#911Memory

505428_holding_handsFifteen years ago I was on the phone with my then boyfriend, when he said, “Hold on, I think the boiler just exploded,” and put the phone down. After a few moments, he picked up again. “I gotta go. There’s body parts and plane parts all over. I gotta go.” I was still saying What they hell are you talking about when the phone went dead. He worked at the Marriott Hotel opposite the World Trade Center and it was early and the story hadn’t hit the news yet.

Then we heard. And it still didn’t make sense.

Then we heard that a plane had crashed at the Pentagon, and I didn’t believe it.

When the towers started coming down, crumbling, and imploding everyone started leaving work. Everyone in the whole city was leaving work and going home or leaving their homes and going somewhere else. Everyone was just leaving. People had barely started their day when they left.

Except me. I stayed. I didn’t want to be on the streets with thousands of frightened people. I didn’t want to be trapped underground, crushed in a subway car filled with people who were panicking. I stayed and listened to and watched to report sand videos online, all day. I sat in an empty office for seven or eight hours and when I finally walked out at 5:30 pm I walked out into an empty city.

I walked across midtown Manhattan via 34th Street, up Broadway through Times Square, into Hells Kitchen. Like an abandoned movie set of NYC, traffic lights still blinked red, yellow, and green; walk or don’t walk. And there were no cars to care. The light of neon signs already starting to be obscured by ash. I don’t remember seeing anyone on the street at all, although I’m sure were a few.

I walked until I got to the west side men’s shelter where I had a speaking commitment for the 12-step group I was in. It had never occurred to me not to go – I had nowhere else TO go. Here was a room full of men waiting to welcome me, to listen to my experience and hope and my fears, and then to share theirs. And I did, and they did, and I don’t think we talked about the attack at all, we talked about ourselves because no matter what was happening we all wanted to keep whatever sobriety we had. We held hands and I walked out into the empty streets and down into the now empty subway and rode home.

In Praise of Literary Conferences

or:  What Showing Up As Part of a Literary Community Looks Like

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AWP: Boston, March 2013 (brrr!)
That time I shared a gorgeous townhouse in Boston with some of my MFA cohort and wore bunny ears so I’d be easy to find, and because…well, fuck, seriously? Bunny ears!

  • The VIDA prom.
  • Truck loads of indie publishers, but every time I stopped by Soft Skull (publishers of the most recent anthology) to say hi, no one was there.
  • Everything from the very practical: “Landing the Tenure-Track Job without a Book;”
  • to the personally useful: “The Unreliable Narrator in Creative Nonfiction;”
  • to community building: “Being a Good Literary Citizen” (with the fabulous Rob Spillman) and social justice: “Teaching Creative Writing to Teens Outside of the Classroom;”
  • to the bars and dinners and schmooze-fests where my bunny ears were eclipsed by someone in full gladiator regalia I hope assume had a book about to launch.
  • and then,  worth the cost of admission: “my two Stevphens” Stephen Elliott and Steve Almond on cobbling together a living and a life while writing work that matters.

AWP is in a different city each year. Huge, overwhelming and a little like trying to see all of Disneyworld in a day and it’s possible my bunny ears will make an appearance in DC come February 2017.

Brooklyn Book Festival : Brooklyn, September 2014, free!!
Roz Chast (if you are over 40 and have parents, I encourage you to read this) and Robert Mankoff (the only person who understands ALL of the New Yorker cartoons). Darcey Steinke whose Suicide Blonde changed my writing life (and I fell off my chair when I realized she followed me on Twitter which meant I got to accost her and say hi and pretend we were old friends while I sat in front of boypoet Michael Klein [hosannas all around to Lesley University’s poet Steven Cramer for introducing me to that voice and those words] chatting him up and soaking it all in).

Bindercon Symposium : NYC, October 2014 – the debut conference!
One of the unintentional results of Mitt Romney’s mouthful about “binders full of women”? Bindercon – a professional symposium for women and gender-nonconforming writers that has since gone bicoastal and digital. I spent two days surrounded by them and made more new writer friends I’d never have met otherwise!  I was at one of the first planning meetings, but the final product they produced was something so much bigger than I could have imagined. Thanks Mitt (and major props and thanks to Leigh and Lux).

Slice Literary Conference : Brooklyn, September 2014
I love Dani Shapiro. I love that going to see Dani on a panel I found Darin Strauss and his memoir, Half a Life, both brilliant and devastating.

Poets & Writers Live : NYC, June 2014
The day started off with poet Rich Villar. It ended with poet Frank Bidart. And of course all those authors and agents in conversation between the hours of 9am and 7pm. I don’t think of myself as a poetry reader. Apparently, however, I am a sucker for poets because there are poets all over this post.

The Aspen New York Book Series presents ‘The Art of the Memoir’: NYC, November 2015
Since I was already in love with Dani Shapiro and had recently fallen in love with Darrin Strauss, and was following them both on Twitter, I heard about this, and got to hear them in conversation, up close and personal, with Vivian Gornick who (and I apologize profusely, Vivian, if by chance you ever read this) is such an icon in the writing community, I assumed she was dead. She is not. She is very much alive and a fucking pistol and not only would I be happy to look like her at 81, I’d be happy to look that good period. Don’t believe me? Watch the whole thing here (and realize that even educated people pronounce “to” as “tuh” and we should just let it go).

Woodstock Writer’s Festival: Woodstock, April 2016
Staying at a sweet inn on a babbling brook recommended by a man I’d  crushed on for years and never met. And where I finally met that man and we babbled through a three-hour dinner. I made one more new friend,  discovered Jamie Brickhouse, came home having spent $200 more on books, and hit fabulous panels on writing on (and in) recovery, spirituality, and met (and frightened) my grammar-geek icon, Mary Norris. I left more than slightly in love with John Elder Robison and excited because I had one his books on my to-read shelf waiting for me at home.

HippoCamp: Lancaster, PA, August 2016 (tk)
Which, despite its name is not a fat camp.

WORD Christchurch: New Zealand, August 2016 (tk)
Again, despite the name, to the best of my knowledge Christ will not be making an appearance.

Here’s a truncated list of writer’s conferences,
and book festivals in New York, and
yet another resource you can narrow down by area,
and another.

And some of them are free. Now what’s your excuse?

Scribbling all Summer

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April, it was Woodstock, where I fell in love with John Elder Robinson and frightened Comma Queen Mary Norris with my rabid adoration of her grammatical perfection.


tumblr_o86h0jMSor1qb89fso1_1280July in Portland, Oregon, workshopping new work on our family legacy of truth, lies, facts, and fiction with Michelle Tea.


Aug.-12-14-_-Lancaster-PAhippocamp2016.hippocampusmagazine.com_August means three days in Lancaster, Pennsylvania surrounded by nonfiction writers, the brilliance of Mary Karr, the sharp wit and fab scarves of Jamie Brickhouse, and before I leave, some Dutch Haven Shoo-fly Pie. (There is still time to sign up, and enough pie for everyone.)


word-banner960And later in August, halfway around the world, twenty-two hours on a plane and across the dateline with BFF rockstar editor/knitter/feminist pundit Debbie Stoller to New Zealand for the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival. I’ll be on a panel of sex worker writers, in case you happen to be in the area.

Going Solo

Oprah October 2015 CoverMenopause was the best thing that could have happened to me. It’s been nine years since I’ve had sex with anyone other than me, but at 57, I don’t think of myself as celibate or sexless. I’m simply clear-headed.

A promiscuous child of the free-love ’70s and a hard-partier until the ’90s, sex was my currency. If I wasn’t desirable, I felt invisible, and by my early 30s, I was using a color-coded spreadsheet to keep track of all the names, dates, photos, and details. But, I gave up the booze, my estrogen began to ebb, and without them, I lost my sexual appetite. Sex wasn’t making me feel good or important anymore; it left me empty. I started forgetting to be that girl who slept around. Then one night I slid into bed and realized it had been years since anyone else had slid in there with me.

The vodka haze & hormone fog had lifted, and I was left to figure out who, if not that hyper-sexual being, I was. I had to redefine myself. I did stand-up to a room full of twenty-somethings who stared back silently, I got my motorcycle license, jumped out of a plane. Started to love my body for all the other things I could do with it. I chucked my high heels, danced all night in cowboy boots, and went home alone to a new queen-sized bed, sleeping diagonally, corner to corner along with that delightful cliché, a cadre of cats. I posed naked for painters, photographers, and sculptors. I laughed louder, and more often. I spoke my mind. Conversations about life, pain, the world, and hope replaced faceless seductions. The quality of the men in my life changed, from one-night stands to friends and companions. I was free.

Maybe there’s a Venn diagram with my name on it where sex and companionship overlap, but I’m in no rush. I still have sexual desires. But I also have the Wahl All-Body Massager—with two speeds and seven attachments.

 

Previously published in the October 2015 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.

Verbatim & Translation

Overheard at Juju’s bagels. Verbatim.

Scene: Two elderly neighborhood women–let’s call them Myra and Sylvia – playing scratch-offs and schmoozing. Myra goes up to the counter and orders tea for them both.

Myra,  turning to Sylvia: Sugar?
     translation: You want the boy should put sugar in your tea?

Sylvia: Sugar?
     translation: What? I can’t hear you.

Myra, louder: Sugar?
     translation: What, now you’re deaf? Sugar. Do you want sugar?

Slyvia: Sugar?
     translation: You don’t have to yell, I’m not deaf. Do I want sugar? In my tea?

Myra: Sugar?
     translation: Yes. What? You think I mean a pile in the middle of the table? A ten-pound bag maybe?  Sugar?

Slyvia: Sugar? Yeah. Sugar.
     translation: Sugar? Of course, sugar, what do you think? Thirty years you know me, did I ever not have sugar? You have to ask?

Myra, turns to counter man: Sugar.
     translation: One tea with sugar, for my meshugah friend. A lovely woman she is, but a little deaf she is going.

photo by jshdoff 2016
photo by jshdoff 2016