Hello, Good Morning!

Campsite at Atlavík, Fljótsdalshérað, Iceland. Photo by Lydia Holt

 

Today Feels Like

A glade filled with sun
Warming us for a moment
Before the wind comes

Good morning Kettle Talkers! It’s another warm sunny day in Brooklyn. I am reminded of the time we were camping in Iceland and the wind coming off a glacier was so violent that it ripped a whole in the tent. We broke camp and drove to the next campsite where we found an idyllic glade filled with sun and, miraculously, no wind. Thankfully, we had been given a spare tent and were able to find a cozy little spot in the sun. The moral of the story, don’t stay in bad situations—find a way out—and always carry a spare tent. Enjoy the sun, wherever you may find it!

Winter Brings Out The Haikus In Me

Inside a Yellow Tulip Photo by Lydia Holt

 

 

Yellow

Winter is still here

Thank God for yellow tulips

I’m waiting for spring

 

 

 

Greetings Kettle Talkers! It’s been months. I know. If you want to see what I’ve been up to while not updating my blog, check out my Instagram. My default setting is hermit so come winter I want to do nothing more than stay inside, sip tea and wait for spring in peace. Thankfully I have two kids and live in New York City which forces me to get up and out even when I don’t want to. One of the things I’ve been doing is writing a haiku a day since the beginning of February. Why? I don’t know. This winter has just been an especially haiku-ish one, for me at least. I’ve collected some of them here for your enjoyment. You can find my daily haikus on Medium and Twitter.

Tea Photo by Lydia Holt

 

Tea

The perfect meeting

Leaves from the earth in water

Fire it and blow

 

Snowfall in Prospect Park Photo by Lydia Holt

 

Winter

Silence surrounds us

Even while the air whispers

Quieting our steps

 

 

Solitude

Winter Sky Photo by Lydia Holt

Silence, you are bliss

Tis the company of trees

That I most prefer

 

To Gales 

Thanks, now my face hurts

My cheeks don’t feel like my own

Throbbing on my face

 

 

Snow Photo by Lydia Holt

 

Winter 2

Bundle up and trudge

Rotate the world, spin, repeat

Look for the sun, up

 

 

Slush

by Lydia Holt

The blizzard is over

Slush awaits on the corners

Wade or jump, your choice

 

Star

Burning, fiery bright

Roiling energy spinning

Pulling small things near

 

Prince Rogers Nelson

Violets in St. Paul's Church Cemetery, Mount Vernon, NY, April 22, 2016. Photo by Lydia Holt.

Violets in St. Paul’s Church Cemetery, Mount Vernon, NY, April 22, 2016. Photo by Lydia Holt.

It has been 11 days since Prince Rogers Nelson (June 7, 1958 – April 21, 2016) left this world for one of never ending happiness where he can always see the sun, day or night. I was shocked by how his leaving put a hole in my chest. It felt so personal as if I had lost my beloved, whacky uncle. The uncle that just the other day had called me while I was in the middle of picking up the kids from school to play me a clip of his latest song then yelled, “Can you make it funkier than this?!” and hung up. Needless to say I have spent these days listening to his music over and over and marveling at his genius.

I follow Jay Smooth on Facebook. He posted a video of Bruce Springsteen opening his concert at the Barclay’s Center by singing “Purple Rain” in honor of Prince. It was poignant and heartfelt but all I could think while watching it was, damn, Prince does it so much better! to which Jay responded in the comments, as if he knew what we were all thinking, “To think that from now on we will only ever see other people perform this…..” He was stating the obvious but it shook me to my core and brought out my inner Florida Evans – DAMN, DAMN, DAMN! I am so thankful and grateful to have seen him perform his music live, to see him dance, strut and spin across the stage while flawlessly playing any instrument he happened to pick up along the way. He was a phenomenal human being.

Prince. Photo from PRINCEINSTAGRAM

Prince. Photo from PRINCEINSTAGRAM

The day after Prince passed, I chaperoned a field trip up to St. Paul’s Church National Historic Site in Mount Vernon with my oldest son’s fourth grade class. It’s quite the schlep from Brooklyn so we took a school bus. On the way back the kids were tired and mostly quiet. I sat next to my ten-year-old boy scrolling through Facebook and Instagram looking at photos, videos, remembrances of the Purple One and sharing them with him. He knows that I love Prince and has heard me play his music but he is also blissfully unaware of anything that is not dinosaur or video game related. Both my husband and I are music lovers. My oldest knows what good music is, likes it well enough and can even play a little “Purple Haze” on the guitar but you won’t catch him listening to it on repeat for hours on end. I hoped that by showing him how people all over the world were paying tribute to Prince that he could get a small glimpse of what he meant to me and what he meant to music. As we sat quietly, bouncing along the BQE, in a way that only the completely innocent can, he asked, “Did Prince play the guitar?” I paused. If anyone else had asked the question I would have thought them an idiot but as I said before, my sweet boy lives in his own world. “Yes. He played the motherfuckin'(said that part in my head) guitar.”

I wrote the following for The Pickaninny Papers five years ago on his birthday and it expresses what I will always love about what Prince brought to the world. Rest in peace my dear Prince.

Prince Rogers Nelson

Very few people have the courage to be who they were meant to be, connecting to the universal being (you may call it God), maxing out their potential and shining a light so bright it can be hard to look at them, although it is equally difficult to look away. These people truly are stars. The word is thrown around so easily these days to describe merely famous people but on June 7, 1958 a true star was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His name is Prince Rogers Nelson. I’m not sure how he walks the earth without exploding, his creative genius is so powerful. In truth, I find my grasp of human language inadequate to describe Prince’s impact on the world. He is being who he was born to be and it is a beautiful thing to behold. Happy birthday Prince!

This Is Not A New Year’s Resolution

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I have been on the outs with my writing since October. My writing thinks I should be giving it more attention and I think it would be easier to learn Korean through watching dramas on DramaFever than to write anything someone else would find worth reading. I’ve written maybe 1,000 words in the last three months. Those 1,000 words were part of an attempt to jump start my writing via a short short story competition. The deadline was ten days ago. I still haven’t finished the story. The annoying truth is that my writing is right. The only way to get out of a writing slump is to write but lately I have had little to no motivation to overcome my writing inertia. As a means of inspiring me to get back in the writing game, a fellow writer-in-quills gave me a book for Christmas, 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories edited by Lorrie Moore and Heidi Pitlor. It’s a thick, hardcover book packed to the seams with meaty short stories but it isn’t heavy. I still marvel at the weight of thick books these days. They are frighteningly light. What do they do to the paper to make it so light? I want to say they bewitch it so that I can envision Endora from Bewitched, floating above massive reams of paper, with her bright red hair and in a purple and green gown, making the soon-to-be book pages nearly weightless with a snap of her fingers. Darren would be there, of course, to give his classic slack-jawed, bug-eyed reaction to which Endora would respond, “Derwood, make yourself useful and catch a fly while you’re at it.”

But I suspect the folks down at the paper mill may be using more of a bird bone type of technique. If I looked at it under a microscope would the paper not be simply flattened pulp but a fine lattice work of pulp threads? Lace pulp? In any case, my point is that the book is a literary and technological wonder and it’s size is a bit intimidating and not made for bedtime reading. I know I can’t be the only person to have ever dropped a book on my face while reading in bed and no matter how light those pages are it would certainly make my eyes water if it hit the bridge of my nose.

I didn’t begin reading the book right away. It sat on my nightstand for a few days before I moved it to the kitchen table where I do most of my writing. I made a cup of tea and sat down to it using a book weight to hold down the hundreds of pages so that I might sip and read with ease. I often debate whether or not to read the introductions to books. At times it makes sense to read an introduction to put the text within a larger context, especially with non-fiction. With fiction I’m not always convinced that it’s necessary but this introduction was written by Lorrie Moore so I decided it deserved a read. It was reading the first few sentences of this introduction that convinced me that any attempt I make to write is like the Delta Quadrant resisting the Borg–futile. Yes, yes, Lorrie Moore has been honing her craft for decades and I’ve been half-assin’ it for one but still, I’m pretty darn sure my chances of making it into her league are slim to zilch. If we were at a track meet, Lorrie Moore would be on the American or Jamaican team with Toni Morrison and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and I would be the on the Latvian team–as an alternate, if there is such a thing. She crafts sentences while I string some words together and hope they make sense. Her introduction was gorgeous, at least what I read of it. I couldn’t finish reading it. I felt like a phony before her words–dogcatcher Herman Smith from Atlantic City, New Jersey caught out by Dorothy and the gang, pretending to be the great and powerful Oz. Actually, I’m not quite that delusional but I love The Wiz and Richard Pryor as Herman Smith is my go-to apologetic fraud.

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Not that it makes much sense within my own logic, but I did go on to begin reading the short stories and didn’t feel at all like Herman Smith behind a silver Oz mask. The stories are in chronological order each with a brief biography of the writer so the authors in first half of the book are mostly on the other side of existence. Lorrie Moore is the successful mentor I want to impress and emulate and the dead writers are like grandparents patting me on the head and smiling at my clumsy efforts. If I were to proudly bring them my latest creation, they would chuckle and say, “Well, would you look at that.” I read their stories free of self-judgment, in awe and admiration. If I ever want to read that introduction without feeling completely embarrassed, I will have to get back into writing training, taking time everyday to sit in front of a blank page, string some words together and rewrite and rewrite and edit and rewrite some more. This is going to take a lot of tea.

A Shaving Brush, A Razor And Love

Pops

Pops

I was getting my Calgon on, watching a Korean drama, and there was a scene where a woman was shaving off her boyfriend’s beard using an old fashioned shaving brush and razor and I suddenly remembered something. I remembered having seen the same kind of shaving brush and razor in my grandmother’s medicine cabinet when I was a child. Someone, probably my mother, told me that the brush and razor had belonged to my grandfather. It is a memory that is both vague and potent. I can’t remember if the wooden handle on the brush was brown or black and I think the razor was in a small metal cup but it may have just rested on the shelf but the memory of the existence of these ordinary objects lodged itself somewhere deep in my psyche as a symbol of something I couldn’t fully understand at the time. In the moment that the memory distinguished itself from the fog of the past it nearly brought me to tears.

It is one of the small sorrows of my life that I never had the opportunity to meet my maternal grandfather, Pops, as he was called. He passed away three months before I was born. By all accounts he was a man who loved life and loved my grandmother. We called her Granny, he called her Honeybunch and his defining characteristic as a husband was that he let his wife be. He did not seek to control her or mold her as her two ex-husbands had. Pops was 20 years Granny’s senior and was 81-years-old when he died. Granny never remarried. I didn’t really get to know Granny one woman to another. After I left for college, I only visited Texas about once a year and when she passed I was only 24, barely an adult and not nearly as curious about her relationship with Pops as my 39-year-old self wishes I had been. I didn’t ask her why she kept his razor and shaving brush or why she had never remarried. Even as I try to recall if I ever asked those questions I hear her, pragmatic as always, saying that it was wasteful to throw away something that was still useful. If she were having a rare moment of sentimentality she might have said simply, “Because I miss him.” And in this imagined memory I see her blinking back tears that she always swore she was physically incapable of producing because her tear ducts didn’t work. That was Granny. She cursed like a sailor and never let on that beneath her tough exterior she was a big mush ball. Pops was one of only a few people to glimpse her mushy side.

Granny

Granny

In his later years Pops went blind. I’ve never seen pictures of him with a beard so I imagine Granny was the one who shaved him when he was no longer able to do it himself. The act of helping another human being groom and maintain their body is not only a physically intimate act but when repeated over time, emotionally intimate and binding. Now, many years after seeing them in my grandmother’s medicine cabinet and in this month that marks 13 years of marriage to my Muffin, I begin to understand why she kept the razor and shaving brush. Granny continued to wear her wedding band long after Pops died but, for some reason, that she did so never struck me as poignant, never brought tears to my eyes. Perhaps because it is a somewhat expected memorial, representative of a social construct more than of a living and breathing relationship between two people. But with the razor and shaving brush, I think about her opening her medicine cabinet everyday and seeing Pops in those objects, feeling if only for a moment that he is just in the other room and not on the other side of existence. In remembering those mundane instruments I can feel the abiding intimacy and love of a lifelong relationship and the lamentation for its loss.

On Love and Embarrassment

textchat

There is something I have been waiting for for eleven years and I have finally received word that this event will take place in February of next year. The news arrived via text message:

“Are you up for the ****** School 4th & 5th Grade Valentine’s Day dance? I’m ready to do the stanky leg! I can’t wait!”

As I have mentioned in a previous post, my clubbin’ days are pretty much behind me so, an elementary school dance is just my cup of tea. The message went on to stress that it is a family dance and included this plea:

“Awww…yeah! Come on Aunt Lyd!”

How could I say no? As in many families, we show our love through hugs, airport pick-ups, harassment and embarrassment, the latter two often working in tandem. A grade school dance handily combines the last two and we (my siblings and I) have been waiting patiently for this time to come. We would never dream of going to one of our kids’ high school dances but grade school is perfect—the kids will kind of be embarrassed but also kind of feel warm and fuzzy about it. I’m pretty sure the school administrators didn’t have aunts, uncles and cousins in mind when they opened the dance to family members but guess what? Brooklyn will be rollin’ up into Central Jersey ready to tear it up. And when I say Brooklyn, I mean me and possibly the rest of my family if I can convince them to come. With the cold, short, dreary days of winter, I find comfort in my Earl Grey but all that caffeine turns me extra jittery but come Day of the Dance, I won’t hold back. I will need all the energy I can muster so I can break out the old school moves. I’m talking the whop (the original, not this nonsense I’ve seen on YouTube), the smurf, the prep, the running man and I might even pull the bump out my back pocket.

The embarrassing lingo I’ll whip out for the occasion:

“Y’all don’t know nothin’ about this here!”
“I’mma put my thang down, flip it and reverse it!”
“Don’t throw water on me, just let me burn!”

If we get the DJ (will there be a DJ or just somebody’s phone?) to play some early 90s house music we could even lead the kids in a double-clap before the beat drops.

It will be a day she will tell all of her therapists about, not because she was traumatized but because it will become a cherished memory of quality family time. It may even be so grand of a day that her friends will tell their therapists about it. Some of you may be wondering why I am so excited about embarrassing my niece? Shouldn’t I be doing the exact opposite? And my answers to those questions are because I love her and no. As much as I’m going on about it, we’re not going to take over a grade school dance but we will gleefully share in her first school dance experience. She may be embarrassed just a smidgen but she will be thrilled just a smidgen more that we (or just I) trooped all the way across the Hudson to be there. When she’s grown, she’ll not only vividly remember her very first school dance but the thought will also make her bust out laughing. That’s right, bust, not burst because I am talking about a next level eruption of laughter and joy and that, my friends, is priceless.

That Old Cotton T-Shirt Feeling

This one has about 20 years on it. Comfy.

This one has about 20 years on it. Comfy.

Lately, during my morning tea sessions, I’ve been pondering precisely what it is that makes for good sibling relationships or to take it a step further, soulmate relationships (not exclusively romantic ones). I said this out loud to the husband while at our local cafe hang out. My husband, insightful muffin that he is, took a sip of his green tea and it must have sparked something inside him because he then pointed at me in the way one does when one has stumbled upon a truth and must impart it to another. His pearl of wisdom: what makes for stable, loving, make-you-feel-good-just-by-being-in each-other’s-presence, soulmate-level relationships, be they sibling, friend or otherwise, is truly knowing and accepting one another with no expectations that one will change or seek to change the other. He’s deep, right?!

Not all siblings have great relationships. I know plenty of people that don’t like their siblings and have no real relationships them but I think my sibling relationships are the first opportunity I had to experience old cotton t-shirt level relationships. When you put on an old cotton t-shirt, it feels light and hardly like you have anything on and simultaneously cozy and snuggly like a blanket. That’s how I feel with my siblings and good friends.

What gives siblings a jump start on solid, ride or die relationships is that, if they are able to grow up together in the same household, they get to know one another while in the midst of the joys and horrors that is the crucible of childhood. You know the good, the bad, and the ugly of each other and also know, through experience, that your siblings are who they are, nothing will change that and you love them anyway. My sister still loves me even though I cut her Malibu Barbie’s, I think it was down to her ankles, hair to a more sensible shoulder-length. I think I thought it would grow back but that may just be adult me trying to make me look better in retrospect.

Once I knew that old cotton t-shirt feeling I didn’t really look for it elsewhere but have occasionally met people with whom I feel totally at ease. I am who I am and they are who they are and everyone is OK with that. When I don’t pursue friendships it’s usually because 1. I don’t have the energy to maintain more than a few friendships at a time. 2. There is something about them that just doesn’t jive with my me-ness. I can’t always put my finger on it but when I can it’s usually something about them that I cannot fully accept—their myopic views on feminism or their undying love of James Taylor’s music. Yeah, I know people LOVE his music but, sorry, while he seems like a lovely human being, his music puts me to sleep. I could be casual friends with a James Taylor fan but we’d never be soulmates, he would always come between us.

When I first met my husband I had a similar feeling—not an “Oh no, he loves James Taylor!” feeling but an immediate feeling of comfort. In the romantic relationships I had before we met, I almost always felt as if I had to subtly shift some aspect of my personality to align with the person I was dating—I was less/more cerebral with some or less/more talkative with others, for example. There were times when I felt like the other person was relating to me as if I were the idea of me he had in his head instead of the person I actually was. But when I met my husband, I was me, he was he (all muffinly and stuff) and we were both blissfully content with that.

All relationships have something to teach us about ourselves, from acquaintances to closest friends. The ones that make you stretch and feel a little uncomfortable and awkward can be world-expanding and great but may not evolve into old cotton t-shirt level friendships. What I think is so special about old cotton t-shirt friendships is that feeling of being allowed to be as you are. It just feels good to be seen, warts and all, and be completely accepted.

First Day of School

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My boys, ready to tackle a new year.

Today is the first day of school in NYC. For me, that means getting back to my day job of working to become a paid writer. It also means receiving hundreds of emails from teachers, PTA committees and fellow parents. For my two kids it means new teachers whose style of teaching may or may not mesh neatly with my children’s styles of learning and a new group of classmates one of whom will probably be an asshole. There is at least one in every single class, I guarantee it. If you’re a parent, and you don’t believe it, it’s very possible that the asshole is your kid. I hear some kids grow out of it but all those grown-up assholes had to start somewhere.

For my oldest son, the asshole(s) used to cause tears of frustration and the ever burning question of why? There was a boy he had known since pre-school in his class and he was a manipulative little so and so—nice and friendly one day and the next, completely ignoring his “friends”. I witnessed it myself on the playground and was flabbergasted. My son came back to me, confused and hurt, why was he being this way? I had to tell him the truth, he’s not your friend. I asked him to list the people he thought of as his friends and if those kids had ever treated him so poorly. My son is very shy so the list was short, only four or five kids, but they are quality kids. “No,” he said. “No, they don’t do that.” Your friends don’t make you feel invisible and purposfully hurt you. That was two or three years ago. Now his strategy is to ignore the assholes and stick with the friends he knows are good people. His next challenge will be giving new people a chance to be his friend.

My youngest wants to be friends with everyone and will work to make that happen so when he runs up against an asshole, he tends to give them more chances than they may deserve. I think he’s learning how to be friendly without expecting everyone to return his level of friendliness or interest in a friendship. We’ll see how first grade goes.

I tend to take my oldest son’s approach to assholes and avoid them at all costs. If I have to interact with them, I am usually overly polite to counter my urge to throttle them with my bare hands.

I am in awe of teachers that deal with kids that are just straight-up jerks, day in and day out, for an entire year without losing their minds. When I chaperone school field trips I marvel at their grit and determination. Yes, they will occasionally lose it and yell but they aren’t snatching kids up by their collars and, as comedian Aziz Ansari witnessed as a young student, threatening to “end” them if they didn’t stop acting up.

After going on several field trips in the last few years I have realized that I don’t like children. I like a select few, including my own, but on the whole—no thanks. They don’t listen and they don’t know how the world works and their varying degrees of knowledge of the rules of civilized society and their inability to listen when in a large group is terrifying. They will walk tortoise speed across a street chatting about Minecraft while cars are barreling down the street at them and completely ignore the adults urging them to pick up the pace so that they won’t die a gruesome death or be maimed. They will screech in delight at carriage horses even after you tell them that horses don’t always react well to sudden high-pitched noises and then be surprised when the horse rears up and kicks them in the head. Thankfully that never happened but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did. (On field trip days, I rush home and immediately put the kettle on!) And the thing is, all of this is happening when the kids are out having fun on a field trip. I can’t imagine adding into this madness of perfectly normal child behavior, trying to teach them in the fifty million different ways that they learn. It seems impossible to the layperson but I guess that’s why teachers get paid the big bucks, oh wait….

With the school year stretched out before us, I hope my boys have fun, make new, quality friends and have teachers that are not afraid of a challenge, determined and happy to be doing what they are doing despite being under appreciated by society at large. As my friend’s late father would say, hope you (us) luck!

Me and Park Slope

Clouds—always changing, always the same.

Clouds—always changing, always the same.

I have lived in New York City for 17 years and in Park Slope, Brooklyn for 12 of those years. New York City has a peculiar way of simultaneously changing and staying the same and of quickly transforming newcomers into New Yorkers. Being a New Yorker, I too have found myself subtly changing as my neighborhood has but also staying pretty much the same.

When my husband and I first moved in together, back in 2002, we lived in one of Brooklyn’s in between neighborhoods near the corner of Myrtle and Bedford Avenues. It was at the intersection of the neighborhoods of Bed-Stuy, Williamsburg and Clinton-Hill where “Oy!” flipped to “Yo!” within the space of a block and which real estate agents claimed was either South Williamsburg or North Clinton-Hill, whichever they felt would close the deal. The building was a former factory newly converted into lofts and was populated, primarily, by very, very, very loud college students. When we realized we were too old to tolerate the parties next door that lasted well into the night, the all-day rock band practices and the occasional pop-up dancehall club across the street, we decided to move. It was the tail-end of 2003 and Park Slope seemed perfect. It was filled with grown-ups and families of varying hues and gender combinations, mom-and-pop businesses of all sorts and sprinkled with greasy, MSG laden Chinese take-out restaurants, dingy laundromats and bodegas blaring merengue, all topped off by beautiful Prospect Park. Former Brooklyn Borough President, Marty Markowitz would tell anyone that would listen that the rest of the world was green with envy over Prospect Park and I would have to agree. Shout out to Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, well done!

We immediately felt at home in Park Slope. At the time, I didn’t realize these sprinklings that I cherished, not because I frequented these places but because they were, in my mind, integral parts of any New York City neighborhood, were actually the vestiges of a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. Even when a real estate agent drove us down 5th Avenue, assuring us that it, meaning 5th Avenue, wasn’t as nice as 7th but was getting better, what she meant by the “getting better” didn’t really register in my brain. All I could see was a beautiful blending of all the things I loved about New York City and didn’t hear the meaning behind her words—that many of those things would soon disappear.

Of course, all neighborhoods change over time and perhaps these changes happen more frequently and with greater speed in New York City and it has certainly happened to Park Slope. The real estate prices for buyers and renters alike never seem to plateau. Park Slope was one of the first places in the country to recover after the housing crisis of 2008, boosted in part, by the building of the Barclay Center and the draw of a great public school. A number of the diverse mom-and-pop businesses up and down the Avenues have shuttered and been replaced with nail salons. There are, at this very moment, at least twenty nail salons between Flatbush Avenue, to the north, and Prospect Avenue, to the south. (Click here to read up on the plight of nail salon workers. It ain’t pretty.) Walking down 5th Avenue on a late night, you might be greeted by the tinkling of beer mugs, shot glasses and moderately loud music but there will be no merengue and no questionable General Tso’s chicken to go along with it.

For the most part, I thought I had come to terms with how my Park Slope had changed. I still loved it and we had a Whole Foods now and isn’t that what all gentrifying neighborhoods really want? *le sigh* (Because ennui is best expressed en français.) But the thing is, some recent experiences have left me feeling like it’s not home anymore.

Here are a couple of examples:
Both of my kids are in school now and they are usually one of only a handful of children of color in their classes and usually only one of two children of African descent. To my pre-parent self, Park Slope was going to be the place where my children would get to go to school with lots of kids from all kinds of backgrounds and have their lives enriched by the experience but I fear that is not happening. As a result, I have had to join a school committee. A school committee. Me, on a committee, in an elementary school, not just helping out in the classroom or going on field trips but on a committee. People! Have I mentioned that I don’t like people in general and including children?! Do you see what gentrification is doing to me?! It’s forcing me engage with the people!

The other day (some time in late May or early June), I sat sipping my tea (Earl Grey, of course) with my husband (he was on a green tea kick) on one of our morning dates post school drop-off, amid my fellow regulars at a local cafe. Across the table from us, two white women (not regulars as far as I knew) were chatting. From snatches of their conversation that wafted over my way, it sounded like they too were parents at our school. So, I’m sipping my tea, scrolling through Facebook on my phone and talking to my husband about the nonsense to be found there before I decide to put my phone down because there is just too much crazy and stupid in the world. I sip. I ponder. I sip and gaze out the window. I breathe. It’s a lovely moment, a mini-haven (see Earl Grey—Black) in my lovely Park Slope. And then, one of the women across from me leans toward the other, covers her mouth and whispers something. I don’t pay any mind except her friend can’t understand what she is saying so the other woman has to speak up a little drawing my attention. I hear in pieces, “You know that mom”, “African-American”, “I couldn’t believe”. The other woman says in a normal voice and matter-of-factly, “Well, that was just inappropriate.” The whisperer says, “Have to watch what I say. Be mindful of my surroundings.” Her friend nervously glanced my way and I made sure to make eye contact to convey, “Yes, I can hear your friend and yes, I can also hear your silence in the face of your ignorant (at best) and or racist friend,” because, up to this point I haven’t given a damn. The lady apparently had an experience with another parent that wasn’t great. It happens. The thing that got me was that she felt like she had to be careful about what she said about this other parent because the other parent was black and she was saying whatever it was near me and thought I would think she was racist because of whatever she was saying. Huh?! I would only think that if she were attributing the black parent’s behavior to the fact that she is black which clearly she was because her friend looked like a swallow just flew up her butt and the whisperer looked in every which direction but mine which was directly across from her. I almost couldn’t finish my damn tea. I say almost because I’ll be damned if some squat, little, closet racist (because you know she would swear up and down the East River that she is not a racist and how dare I hurt her delicate feelings by even insinuating such a thing) is going to ruin my tea time in my mini-haven! The nerve of crazy to come up in MY Park Slope hang out, during MY tea time…. I was so pissed off I had to go home and call my sister at her job.

Park Slope has changed, for the better and for the worse, and it has forced me to change as well; to more fully and actively claim it as my own. To join the school committee and after years of resistance, even join the Park Slope Food Co-op. Yup, even more people time. We took the kids on the Staten Island Ferry one weekend to take in the view of our fair city from the harbor and when I looked back at Brooklyn, I could barely recognize the skyline. Borough landmark, Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower at 1 Hanson Place, with it’s glowing red clock-hands and once the tallest building in Brooklyn (1929-2009), was dwarfed by high rises and cranes building even more high rises. My heart sank a little. Up until then, I had held tightly to the idea that the physical and demographic changes would eventually slow down and at its heart Brooklyn would always be the Brooklyn I wanted it to be but that simply isn’t true and it never was.

Don’t Slap Your In-Laws, Text A Friend

NOTE: This does not apply exclusively to in-laws, in-laws just sounds catchier in a headline than plain old family or houseguests. Also, this is not about anyone in particular and is more about how I manage my personal flaws than anything else.

I am an overly sensitive, moody, introvert and if you’ve read Earl Grey—Black, you know that my home is my haven, my sanctuary. Although I love my family and friends, I have to mentally prepare for their visits days before they arrive because if I don’t, having these kind, loving people over for an extended period of time will feel more like an invasion than an opportunity to spend quality time together. This may have a lot to do with the fact that we live in an apartment, not a house and don’t have the luxury some homeowners do of a guest suite that includes a bedroom, bathroom and sometimes even a kitchenette. Instead, what we have is a spare room/library/playroom and an air mattress. As much as I may prepare myself mentally for visits, I can still find it emotionally draining and stressful, especially towards the end of a visit and that is usually when I make the most of text venting.

Don’t slap your in-law, text a friend or text venting, is my version of not sweating the small stuff when we have houseguests. I love my people, even if they squeeze the toothpaste tube in the middle and have left the bathroom not swaddled in the towel I so carefully laid out for them but in my bath towel. While in my head, I scream, in reality, I take a deep breath. I try to remember that I’m only in the throws of anxiety and these are not infractions worthy of a slap across the face or throat chop.

I want my guests to feel welcomed and at home in our home so when they leave the bathroom floor wet, fail to wash their dishes thoroughly or throw away items that can clearly be recycled, I dry the floor, I re-wash the dishes and I pull that plastic take-out container out of the garbage and do it with a smile dammit! And when my guests, precious little lambs of Jesus that they are, are out exploring the City or deep into another thrilling episode of Matlock, I text a friend or two, documenting every single infraction. Why? Because I am judgmental by nature and when I’m put under the stress of having houseguests, I am even more so; text-venting helps.
I try not to vent to my husband. He’s right there in the trenches with me and there is no need for me to add to the already very complex dynamic of friendship and extended familial relations with gripes about who didn’t put the top back onto the milk immediately after using it and just left it open while they ate their cereal allowing God knows what to fall into the carton. Wait, I was trying to make another point…. Oh yes, so, unless there is a real issue, we give each other knowing nods and grimaces and keep it moving until the visit is done.

The perfect ventee is an impartial listener who gives not one whit about the situation or the people involved. I pick a close, non-judgmental friend, let them know I will be text venting my petty frustrations and when the time comes I let it out. Seeing it all spelled out in a little dialogue text bubble confirms that I am indeed being petty and nit picking but the thing is, if I’m going to smile and nod and be the best host I can be, I need to let it out, regardless of how small I’m being in the moment. It’s either that or losing my shit in the middle of a five-hour shopping excursion to the Ladies’ Mile, and no one wants that.

In text-venting I can get over my petty self more quickly and may not even press send or if I’m really feeling some kind of way about a situation, I get the immediate gratification of an “Are you serious?!” reply from my friend to which I can respond, guilt-free and smugly, “Right?! I’m not crazy! Who does that?!”, and then get back to some serious quality time uninterrupted by the sound of my teeth grinding together. I’m much more pleasant to be around when I text-vent, and for the days that they stay with us, our houseguests are hopefully happy too.