Humans of New York Does a World Tour & I Cry in Public

Screen Shot 2014-08-10 at 4.55.55 PMI have been following the Humans of NY guy for a while. If you’ve been living under an internet rock for the last few months, Brandon Stanton is a photographer located in New York City who walks the streets of the city taking portraits of people going about their everyday lives and asking them questions. He then puts the pictures and stories up on his incredibly popular website and on social media where he has amassed more than 8 million followers. While it might seem simplistic, he’s giving the world an opening to really see the people of New York City.

Since his blog hit it big time – I mean he has a book out that I totally bought for my stepmom for Christmas last year – he’s had the chance to do some cool things like photograph the Met Gala for Vogue and ask his questions of people like Anna Kendrick, Neil Patrick Harris, and Bryan Cranston.

Right now, he’s partnered with the UN and is doing a world tour and photographing the people not of New York. The photos coming out of Iraq are incredible, and the stories are, for the most part, heart breaking. The people captured talk of war, loss, family, love, and longevity. I have to make myself finish the stories sometimes because I’ve teared up a sentence or two in. They are a strong reminder that I have it pretty good here – something I have never denied – and that my petty problems like unemployment while I can still pay for an apartment in one of the most expensive cities in the US are small and selfish.

I guess the only reason I’m sharing all this is to make the small portion of people who read this who maybe weren’t already following Humans of New York make an effort to do so. He’s everywhere. And the pictures he’s sharing and stories he’s telling are a reminder that the world news you may only see on TV is about real individual people who are surviving any way they can.

Oy this is short

I’ve been saying “oy vey” a lot lately. There’s no reason. It’s just been my expression of choice for confusion and exasperation.

Everyone seems to have paired up? All my friends are suddenly part of a couple? Hilariously, it’s not a new thing. It’s a thing that has always been true. And I really enjoy the significant others whether they are male or female. Sometimes I’m actually closer to the significant other than to the person I originally became friends with.

Don’t judge me for ending a sentence with a preposition.

Is it loneliness? Is it the desire to be around other people that makes other people scoff when I claim introvertedness? I really am an introvert. I regain my energy from alone time. I feel better after a morning on my own than I do after a week of hilarity with the best of friends.

But yes, I’m single and though I have delightful friends who I consider +1’s all the time and who I drag to every single social event I’m forced to attend, I’m still walking to the farmers market alone (gag me) and sitting around wondering what to do on a Saturday night.

When did everyone pair up?

How does that happen?

#stunted

Commemoration & Ink

Today is apparently National Tattoo Day…well there’s some question about it but I’m going to embrace the idea.

I have a lot of tattoos. I got my first tattoo when I was 17. It was a birthday gift from an older friend, and my mother signed a notarized statement saying that she gave permission for the artist to ink me.

It’s a butterfly. Everybody have a good laugh.

I decided to actually write about this because today is also the 13th anniversary of my mother’s death. She was 55, diabetic, in fairly good health, and then she was dead. It was a massive heart attack on account of heart disease we later learned. I was 19 and living in London. Yes it was every bit as horrible as you can imagine. You really don’t have to say you’re sorry in the comments. I’ve told this story a lot, and it’s been 13 years.

At that point, I had gotten another tattoo – a symbol for strength on the back of my right shoulder. Yes you can laugh at that one too. In the years that followed I gained a tramp stamp of flowers, a dragonfly on the front of my left shoulder and another symbol on one hip. That brings us to 2010. I was out of graduate school and living in DC working in political offices where I could pass for unblemished with simple clothing choices.

I decided I wanted my ink to mean more, and at the time I was making a decent living, so I found a wonderful tattoo artist in DC who could and would sit down and work with me to reform all the work I already had done. Susan was amazing and the first female tattoo artist I worked with. I wish I could go to DC for every touch up I need.

She was the first tattoo artist to tell me not to call it a tramp stamp. A woman’s lower back is a beautiful place to tattoo, and you should embrace it. She was the first responsible artist who made sure I had snacks and beverages when we did long sessions. She even helped me find a new artist when I left DC and wanted one more piece done. She went above and beyond.

Berkey_bwbackOver the course of six months she etched one of my favorite quotations from Little Women across my back, linking and covering old ink so it was one cohesive piece. And then right before I left DC, she performed tattoo triage on my lower back, turning flower vines I pointed at on a wall when I was 20 into a gorgeous vine of dogwood tree flowers that stretch from one hip to the other.

Both pieces commemorate my mom.

Though I’ve added to my back piece in the years since with a compass that more people point out than not, these two large pieces that are almost always hidden by clothing are my favorites. In a weird way, they are even more special because they were done by a woman – one who at the time I was going to that studio was the only female artist on staff and clearly loved by her coworkers.

So happy National Tattoo Day. Don’t let anyone tell you your lower back ink is trashy or that you’ll regret it when you’re older. Sure I have some pieces I pointed to on a wall permanently affixed to my body but they all remind me of very specific moments in time that I never want to forget. And the only people who get to see all but two of them are ones that I very selectively choose.

Yes, I have one more piece planned. I just haven’t found the right artist yet.

#StrongIndependentWoman

0bcaac22c449f145f4991d47dd019dadA hundred years ago, I’d be gainfully married and probably toting about a passel of adorable, always filthy, rug rats with disarming smiles by thirty one. But it’s 2014 and no one gets to auction my hand to the highest bidder anymore. I have been single for the entirety of my adult life as a result. Revoke my feminism card (HAHA I’d like to see you try) but there are some things I find difficult to do and they almost always lead to stories like this.

Even admitting that much is difficult for me to say aloud. I pride myself on being overwhelming self-sufficient to the point of obnoxiously capable. I have moved myself from state to state with only hired hands – mostly because there are some things even brawny men-types need four hands to move – and I am comfortable working a cocktail party on my own, bouncing from person to person and conversation to conversation. All these details aside, I’m only 5’3 and there are – I’m going to say it again – some things I can’t or am no longer willing to attempt if only to preserve what little flexibility and goodwill my body will still allow me.

One of these things involves my air conditioner. It’s not a terribly intimidating thing but it weighs about half as much as I do or feels like it to me. This summer, for the first time, I asked for assistance with installation. My considerably taller and stronger and more male friend came over and lifted it into the shoulder-height (for me) window and locked it in place with the window frame. I was grateful. My room would again be cool and breezy.

And then night fell. I turned off the lights. I comfortably rolled over under my light blankets with the fan running. I was generally looking forward to a peaceful night of comfortable sleep.

*ping*

That’s when I discovered the horrible truth.

*pingping  ping*

Directly above my shetland pony of a hand-me-down AC unit that has seen me comfortably if loudly and not all that attractively through previous summers sits a monstrous beast of an AC unit that belongs to the apartment above. It cools a much larger and hotter dwelling. There are small children who run to and fro through the rooms creating heat and generally running amok. Condensation builds and it drips down because science and gravity will it so.

*pingping ping pingping ping*

It dripped right down onto my AC unit, and it wanted to drive me completely mad.

“No,” I said to myself that night, lying in the dark and not giving into my insomnia over a few little noises. “This will not stand. I will find a way to fix this tomorrow.”

And this is where the #strongindependentwoman hashtag was born. Because I’m a capable, independent female, and I will not impose on my friends any more than is absolutely necessary. I am resourceful. I am a problem solver. I am the glue that holds shit together dammit, and I will not be beaten by a little dripping!

Fast-forward 20 hours, and I have done what I thought was the impossible: the AC unit sat on a towel on my bed, and I was only slightly dripping with sweat. I proceeded to launch myself through the window (talk about an ab workout) and was sitting half inside, half outside with the window sill digging into my butt, a roll of duct tape around one wrist and a flimsily constructed barrier of hand towel plus plastic wrap clenched between my knees. It was a success! The towel would cushion the sound, the plastic wrap would keep water from dripping through the towel as happens when water strikes the same place again and again and again, and the duct tape would hold it all together and attached to the metal grating around the window unit.

See? I Can Do It Myself.

But then I had to get back inside. And let me tell you, 5’3 sitting in a windowsill that is shoulder height is a precarious place to be. I slid and slouched forward, stretching forward with a toe to get a foothold on the radiator.

Gravity took over.

I slid faster.

My hip caught.

Thinking back, I probably could have broken my neck if I hadn’t arched back to keep my chin from hitting the window, or my leg if I had hit the bed at a slightly different angle. I don’t always think these #strongindependentwoman things through all the way. A spotter probably would have been a good idea.

My #strongindependentwoman-ness got me a bruise the side of a grapefruit on one hip, a twisted joint that made walking around for the rest of the night fun, and a scrapped palm. The bruise is now pleasantly yellow and gross now and almost dips below the line of my one pair of shorts.

Then I got to heave my trusty shetland pony of an AC unit back into the window. It was a matter of independent pride dammit.

Perhaps next time I’ll just suck it up and ask for help? Or I’ll break out the #strongindependentwoman hashtag again and the more social media-connected of my male friends will conveniently show up before I do something stupid.

But also, when I’m being pestered by pings next summer, I’m going to ask my dad why he hasn’t found me an eligible suitor I can marry for love not money yet.

Image via Pinterest

I Read Ahead

I read ahead.

I’m not ashamed.

I get into a story. I get about 50-100 pages into it, and I have to know what I’m reading towards. I’m impatient. Don’t blame me. Blame the story for being good. Blame the parents who gave me my way all the time as a kid. I’m the youngest and I was spoiled rotten. Blame my awesome brain.

But really, I’m kind of weird. I like spoilers.

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I like knowing the outcome. The fun part for me is how it gets there.

I’m not allowed to talk during Sherlock anymore.

The first time I watched Sherlock with my old roommate and my other friends, I started to talk, got yelled at, and she said “Oh yeah she does that…” because I have an uncanny ability to unwind procedural story lines and name killers frighteningly early. We now fondly refer to this habit as Sherlocking and names are called whenever anyone does it. It causes oodles of laughs.

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The whole point of this is to say that I am nearly half way through Magician King by Lev Grossman, and last night I read the last five pages because of course I did, and I am still bouncing over the fact that it was almost nonsensical in terms of predictability. I mean, I had inklings about things and such, but the end game was SO NOT WHAT I WAS EXPECTING.

Now I can’t wait to see how he gets there.

Go read Harry Potter for adults immediately. It’s tons of fun. And there’s sex. And magic. And Brooklyn.

Yeah do it.

This is really short.

Opening the Drawer on an Old Manuscript…again

I’m usually the last one to join the party.

Unless it’s a real party. If it’s a real party I am obnoxiously on time.

But I kind of find entertaining things late? I started watching The West Wing half way through season 7. I don’t go to midnight showings. In fact I usually don’t see things until they are out of theaters. I know what happens in them because of social media and that’s enough for me. I can find the necessary information. The habit even extends to books. I started reading Harry Potter shortly after book five was published. And I read the Twilight after the first movie was out because the company I was working for included me and my boss and our interns, and all of them were completely and totally obsessed with Robert Pattinson. I’m totally throwing them under the bus here.

I reacted to the Twilight books much as everyone else did meaning I inhaled them in all in one weekend.

They weren’t good. But they weren’t good in the way that your fourth or fifth piece of candy at Halloween isn’t good. They’re entertaining, and they make you a little crazy, but they’re not fulfilling or stimulating beyond the first rush of sugar.

The one good thing that came out of reading those books aside from a new interest in Laura Marling and a quickly passing obsession with Robert Pattinson (shut up he was pretty for a second there and then he hated everything and it was hilarious) was that I became indignant that something I considered so aesthetically and socio-psychically damaging and awful could be so undeniably successful.

And I started writing. I wrote and wrote. I wrote 411 pages. I had a charater. I had a plot. Stuff happened. I finished it, and I edited it. I printed it out and gave it to ten people to read. They liked it. I wrote a horrible query letter, and I got rejected a lot. Everybody does. I had some interest from one junior agent who gave me some really good editorial advice and told me to come back when I had worked on it for a little bit more. When the edits were in place, and I’d cut 50K words, and it was tighter. I thanked her gratefully, and I got to work.

procrastinationThen I got tired, and I put it in a drawer. I put it in a drawer because I’m a better editor of other people’s work than my own. I put it in a drawer because I’d been writing it for 2 years, and I was tired.

And now it’s been 2 more years, and things are happening my brain again. I listened to some great writing advice on an episode of the Nerdist Writer’s Panel, and I suddenly wanted to work on it again. The manuscript is sitting in various states in various harddrives in my digital drawers around my apartment. It’s in a couple of my digital drawers too. It’s in various states of disarray much like my real life dresser drawers. But ideas are turning over in my head again. Everything I see on Tumblr turns into a tiny little writing prompt that makes me want to open up Pages and get back to Lizzy and her adventure.

It feels like the morning after spring cleaning and the moment when you finally wipe away all the dust on your books. It feels like I might actually accomplish something with it this summer, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll get my proverbial shit together, edit my manuscript, and get it on the querying bandwagon again.

I might need pep talks along the way.

I might need to be yelled at occasion.

I probably am going to have to step away from my book elf story I’ve been working.

But I’m kind of excited anyways.

talk-to-some-food-about-this

Surviving Mother’s Day Since 2001

photo 1The year is littered with land mines. Some are obvious, some less so.

I never really know when one will hit: standing over a stew in the dead of winter and dropping in frozen peas – never fresh – and remembering the time I did put in fresh (really fresh completely raw) peas and she ate it anyways; rolling over in bed at 3 AM and turning the last page of the book I stayed up to finish just like she would have.

The obvious ones are just that: her birthday, Christmas, the anniversary of her death, and today.

For all that it’s been thirteen years this July since she died, there are moments where it still socks me in the gut. I moved recently and found an envelope of photos from one of my siblings’ wedding. It’s the kind of thing I’m sure were actually returned to her that year. All the happy pictures of the groom at various ages. I don’t know why it’s in one of the boxes I’ve been carting around the East Coast for the last decade, but I’m fairly certain it was just one of those things that got put in my pile of things when we emptied her house. I am the keeper of albums, the repository for memories no one else remembers, the dishes that have no recipes.

photo 5Maybe it’s a girl thing. Or an only daughter thing.

My mom was pretty awesome. She had three kids. She loved being a mom. She loved being a mom so much that she went back to school at 50 and became a registered nurse so that she could get jobs at hospitals where they needed lactation consultants. We were all Le Leche League babies, carted around to meetings throughout our childhood and far more knowledgeable about breasts and reproduction than any normal 10 year old. There were years and years of embarrassed “Mom don’t” and “Do you have to?”s as she approached strangers in department stores, grocery stores, restaurants, anywhere really to coo over their babies and somehow unintrusively ask if they were breastfeeding.

She boycotted Nestle in the 80s because they were donating formula to poor countries with poor refrigeration and not explaining to the mothers that their babies would get sick – and could die – if that formula wasn’t kept chilled. I didn’t have a Nestle Crunch Bar for years, and I still default to Hersheys habitually.

She had a hundred cats, way too many books, was depressed, bought things for grandchildren that wouldn’t arrive until she’d been dead for 5 years because she was so excited to be a grandma, was diabetic, had the worst taste in wine, and drank grasshoppers in the spring with my godmother.

photo 3She died unexpectedly. There one day on the other end of the phone and gone the next. There’s a lot about those weeks and months that followed that I still don’t remember.

If I could call her on the phone today and say “Happy Mother’s Day” I’d do it right this minute. She would probably still be in bed, pinned by 3 or 4 my feline siblings and a stack of books. I imagine her voice would be groggy, but she’d tell me she loved me too and to call her back later.

Surviving Mother’s Day since 2001. It’s a thing I do now. Go hug your mom for me.

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