“The Shadows Will Be Behind You If You Walk Into the Light”

The walls of our new library are intricate. I know this because I read the contracts and looked at the drawings and week by week by week over the last year have watched the steel, the insulation, the water barrier, the concrete blocks, the bricks, and the web of cables, wires, and ducts come together to be capped by drywall and paint. Each square foot of our library involved the work and thought of more people than I can count or name. And they’re still working, adding cabinets, shelves, wallpaper, tile–defining spaces, creating functionality and beauty.

All buildings come together this way, but until now I’ve spent my life existing in them with so little awareness. When I look around our new library as it approaches the end of construction, I see people in the things. Tim’s the sidewalk in front of the entrance; Jen’s the logo out front; Erin’s the display case; Sharon’s the fireplace. I see the day I walked in and the tiler excitedly showed me the floor tile that had just arrived. I see the day the construction manager gave me a brick I lugged back to my office and displayed like a trophy. The people, the moments, are everywhere I look.

The architect of our library loves light. I don’t know if Pete has always loved libraries, but I can see he loves them now. I see Pete in the windows and skylights and LED fixtures that say we see you, you are welcome, square your shoulders, look up.

This is what I love about libraries. Every book on our shelves contains multitudes–writers, editors, publishers, printers, readers. These people bring their hearts and minds together to create something more powerful than any of them could accomplish on their own, something with the power to make a life better. And a life that becomes better makes another life better. And another. And another. No one can say where that ends.

In a few months, we’ll be opening our beautiful new space. The public will arrive, and our library will live and breathe and evolve along with the rest of us, the way all libraries are meant to, and we’ll add more stories to those walls.

On the Bright Side, I Think I Can Add “Wildlife Removal” to My Resume

Around 2:00 this morning, something woke me up. Middle-of-the-night logic decided my sleep had been disturbed by an animal on the fire escape, and so I got up and closed the window. None of this made sense, of course. What I’d heard was a whisper of sound–I’m a comically light sleeper–and even a chipmunk on the fire escape makes a holy racket you can hear two streets over. Also, why did I think I needed to shut the window? To protect myself from a squirrel? It’s true that every once in a while I see a raccoon out there, and I wouldn’t put it past a raccoon to tear out the window screen so it could come in and murder me, but raccoons make WAY more noise because they’re huge and don’t care about anything, so I also knew it wasn’t a raccoon.

Still, like an idiot, I closed the window and got back in bed, which is when I noticed the bat flying around.

I get a bat in my apartment about once a year, and I already had my one bat of the year a couple months ago, which my cat Benny quite helpfully killed and then deposited on my bed for my inspection while I was trying to sleep, so this second bat really seemed unfair, a feeling I expressed by throwing the covers over my head to hide from everything that was happening.

I honestly thought about going back to sleep all covered up like that–I was so tired–hoping that somehow reality would become different by morning, but, no, I realized I needed to get up and deal with the bat. So I arranged my comforter over my head grim reaper style, opened the window, opened the screen, went into the hall, closed my bedroom door, and laid down on the floor since I figured I should probably wait 20 minutes or so before going back in to see if the bat had found its way out the window.

And there was Benny in the hall, curled up right outside my door, looking at me all irritated like I was just really out of line with my intrusion into the hallway. I don’t know why this is, but sometimes when bats get in the apartment, Benny’s like a puma, and other times, he acts like nothing odd is happening at all. This was one of his nothing’s-going-on-leave-me-alone times.

So I petted him, which he seemed to think was okay. I don’t really want him killing bats. I don’t want the bats killed at all–I don’t want them in the apartment, but I also think they’re adorable. I always feel badly about the ones that don’t make it out alive.

It’s possible I fell asleep on the floor in the hall for a while.

When I got up, the bat seemed to be gone, but I always feel worried it’s only hiding out when I haven’t seen it fly out the window myself. That happened one time, too. All you can do is wait, though, so I closed the window, went back to bed, jumped about a foot every time I heard even a slight creak–which is constant in a house that has existed for over 100 years–and finally fell back asleep about fifteen minutes before my alarm went off. 4am logic, which is slightly better than 2am logic, decided to skip the gym and sleep a couple extra hours.

If another bat comes this year, it’s Benny’s turn again.

Quotable Wednesday

“Most grown-up behavior, when you come right down to it, is decidedly second-class. People don’t drive their cars as well, or wash their ears as well, or eat as well, or even play the harmonica as well as they would if they had sense. This is not to say people are terrible and should be replaced by machines; people are excellent and admirable creatures; efficiency isn’t everything.”
-John Gardner, The Art of Fiction

I believe what John’s really trying to say there is that my notebook and desk situations are fine.

In Which I Try Digital To Do Lists and Bullet Journaling, but Eventually Go Back to My Trusted and Familiar Multiple Random Notebook System

I was looking at old posts trying to figure out what I was up to here before I abandoned my blog, and check out this post where I was all cute thinking I was going to change my life using digital to do lists and reminders. Oh, the naïveté. I can’t remember exactly what made me abandon Wunderlist, but probably what happened is that I kept writing in my notebooks and eventually forgot the app existed. This basically also describes my relationship with Twitter, although, to be fair, I remember Twitter every few months or so when I feel like I have to promote something or get some crazy idea like that I’m going to teach people better writing practices in 140 character bursts.

I don’t know. This is just the kind of thing I do sometimes.

Over the last couple years, I’ve been taking a stab at becoming someone who keeps organized notebooks and doesn’t just write in whichever of my dozen or so active notebooks happens to be handy, but that’s not been working, either. I so admire someone like David Sedaris, who has a meticulous and organized way of keeping his notes and diaries and who actually saves his notebooks instead of periodically shredding or burning them when they don’t seem useful anymore or contain something horrifying. I’ve also been listening to the Tim Ferriss Show (I was skeptical when one of my coworkers told me to add this to my podcast queue, but I enjoy it), and half the people he interviews describe how they have shelves of the same size and color bespoke notebooks, which they’ve been using to archive the details of every conversation and experience they’ve had since birth. Of course, a lot of these people also do things like run ultramarathons or ride the 1928 Tour de France route on a bike without gears, so they do a lot of things I don’t do.

I did dabble in bullet journaling somewhat successfully during my Notebook Organization Period, but that’s broken down over the last few months as well. I think the beginning of the end was when I got a peek at the bullet journal the librarian at The Strong National Museum of Play keeps, which is illustrated so beautifully that it should be published as a coffee table book, while mine looks more like it was put together by a deranged person on an acid trip.

Lately I’ve gone back to my multiple-notebook home, where I am clearly happiest. I have a few Field Notes assigned to specific subjects, which Field Notes are good for, although they’re equally good for random notes. Something I often do with notebooks is start them thinking they’re going to be devoted to one particular topic, but then they evolve into lists, overheard conversations, ideas, and doodles. Just last week, I started a new notebook that I decided was going to be devoted to my daily to do list at home, and that’s where I wound up starting this and a few other entries I intend to post here, which was on none of my to do lists.

A lot of other writers do this, too, I know–they just don’t talk about it much, as it isn’t a system that seems recommendable. Marc Maron talks about cryptic notes on found bits of paper being part of his process, and the way Meg Cabot has Mia including class notes and grocery lists in her notebooks in The Princess Diaries series (which I’ve been relistening to over the last few months–I love those books so much) makes me think Cabot does this as well. I think my problem has been not trusting that the methods that have helped me generate all my best ideas and write a book are good enough for being the administrator of a sizable organization, which, when I write it, seems silly. Maybe other people should be wondering why they don’t have a pile of raggedy notebooks on their kitchen table and a few more in their work bag. Maybe I have something figured out and should stop worrying about it. Organization and efficiency are a priority in some endeavors, but not most of them.

Like my ongoing love-hate relationship with caffeine, I imagine this is not the end of this story.

Renewal: Part 2 in a Potentially Ongoing Series

Now I’ve updated my bio, schedule, and speaking topics, since those were all crazy out-of-date. I also finally figured out how to update my social media sidebar, which I’ve been trying to do for two days, except it still won’t let me add Instagram. Instagram is the American Express of social media platforms–it doesn’t feel like it has to play nicely with third party software, but people keep using it anyway because there are things you can do with it that you just can’t do with the other platforms.

Maybe tomorrow or the next day, I’ll write about something interesting, by which I mean my new obsession with making frozen custard.

Renewal

I just updated my domain and the software here and deleted spam comments for the first time in I don’t know how long. I can’t remember passwords for accounts I made two days ago, but somehow I manage to remember this one. WATAT will be celebrating 13 years of existence at the end of the year–maybe it’s time to rethink what I’m doing (or not doing) in this space.

It strikes me that my first-ever post (“Hi world! I don’t know what I’m doing!”) remains valid.

May Your Days Be Messy and Bright

As I think is true of many people, my Christmas lights philosophy comes straight from my father. It doesn’t matter if the lights are one color or multicolored or even if they match. What matters is that there should be a lot of them. My dad’s theory is that if it isn’t potentially visible from space, it’s not Christmas. I can’t say whether the transmission of this philosophy is nature or nurture, but it feels closely related to other things my dad passed on to me, like a love of heat and fires and some goddamn decent water pressure.

Something my dad tried to pass on to me that didn’t stick is tree identification. When I was a kid, my dad ordered hundreds of saplings through the mail every year, mostly evergreens, that he lovingly planted and cared for through the spring and summer. Sometimes I’d go out with him while he was planting, and he’d talk to me about how you could tell the difference between one tree and the next, but none of it stayed with me even beyond the conversation. At the time, I just liked being outdoors and seeing what my dad was up to, since there were always good odds he might be talked into starting a bonfire. And so now every year when I go get my Christmas tree, I look at the labeled rows thinking that what I want is a nice tree, but I am unable to articulate what a nice tree is.

Since I moved to the city, I get my trees from the Boy Scout lot at the end of my street. I get my friend Jason to come help carry it and set it up, and it’s become an annual test of strength for him. Last year, he attempted to carry the tree upstairs by himself and wound up sinking to the floor like an elevator on the landing, shouting, “I can’t move!” That was a funny story I liked to tell that irritated him for a few months, but then the other night when he was walking down the road with this year’s tree slung over his shoulder, he laughed about it, “Remember how I got stuck under the tree on your stairs last year?”

Time always changes a story.

This year, our friend Kevin came to help, as did Jason’s wife Amy, as we were combining this venture with a night out. Jason and Amy had been spatting, which I believe is another important part of the Christmas tree process–a little tension among loved ones in the air–and we were all talking about everything but Christmas trees on our walk over to the lot. We were the only customers there when we arrived, and so a Boy Scout came straight up to us and asked if he could help. I am not by nature a person who asks for help ever, but I have been working on changing this thing about myself, and so I said, “Yes, I need a tree. Do you have a favorite tree here?”

The Boy Scout was maybe 12 and was stymied by this question for a moment. Then he said, “I like these ones,” and he took me to a row of trees whose name (sorry, Dad!) I can’t remember, but the first tree I saw was the one I wound up bringing home.

I strung the tree up with lights this morning, about eight strands in a bunch of colors and shapes. I feel like it could use another string or two, and I was thinking maybe I could make an effort to get lights that match, but the truth is that the 12-year-old picked out a nice tree for me, and it is bright and peaceful here in my living room. So much of the holiday season causes me anxiety, but there is something satisfying about bringing a tree indoors and filling it with light and color. My hands are sticky with sap I can’t scrub off, I have a cup of tea, and my cats are nearby snoring. I’ll read and bake cookies this afternoon until it’s time to go out for a concert at the church next to the Boy Scout lot, and then it will be more reading with the cats by the light of the tree.

Some days I feel like what I have here is everything I’ll ever need.

Pictures of Pictures of Pictures

On our recent trip to Maine, Tammy and I took pictures of each other, like this time, when I caught Tammy doing this:

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And she caught me doing this:

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This illustrates a bit of the difference between Tammy and I. Tammy is having a nice time there in her picture. In mine, you will note that my one hand is gripping the rock because I am in a place where I should not be standing, so much as taking a picture.

I was on more solid ground here:

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Taking this picture:

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That was the day we got split up and lost in the woods for a couple hours. The above two photos happened before we got lost. We didn’t take many pictures after we got lost, because we were trying to find our way. I had to stop and take this picture, though, because wherever you go, there you are:

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Ten Years Later

When my husband realized he was dying, he insisted on taking pictures.

From the time I was a little girl, I’d been someone who collected snapshots in albums, but I’d lost the habit in those final few years of Brian’s illness. I was so tired, and we were so often in hospitals. I began to question the worth of almost everything that felt frivolous as my twenties wore on, like photos and decorations and even cake.

A few months before he died, though, Brian realized that death has its power and that people do whatever a dying person asks them to do. For the first time since I’d known him, Brian got assertive. He told me to take pictures, and he told people to get in the frame and smile, and we did what he said. I didn’t understand why Brian wanted this. We used 35mm film back then, and he knew he was never going to see those photos.

Ten years later, I think I understand.

I woke with the certain knowledge that Brian was dead that morning that seems so long ago. I had been sleeping on the couch, and he was in his hospital bed an arm’s length away. I called to him and went to him and shook him, but he was gone.

I’d had weeks, months, years to prepare for this, but I realize now how young I was, only 30, and how hard I’d clung to the idea that while I knew that life could be unfair, it couldn’t be this unfair, not really. I was shocked to find that I didn’t end when Brian did.

I could tell you about screaming and sobbing and falling to the floor. Those things happened, a blur. What I remember most clearly is settling into stillness, alone in the house, how I sat there a long while before I forced myself to get up, to go to the phone, and to call for help–not for Brian, for a change, but for me.

It was almost a year before I got it together enough to get that film developed. All that time, though–even through those first few months I can’t remember–I kept taking pictures, and now I have ten years’ worth of albums. I get them out sometimes and look at them when I’m feeling sad. Photos are moments, of course–edited, staged, chosen. They don’t tell the whole story, but when I look back, I see that through the years I fought grief, depression, and despair, I was also happy. There I am with my godson Lucas, in picture after picture smiling. There’s the arrival and growth of my godson Maxwell. There are holidays and hikes and vacations.

And then there are the photos from the months when Brian was dying: Brian, me, family, friends. Everyone smiling. Brian recognized this beauty for what it was and wanted to document it, for someone if not for himself. Maybe for me. The people who were there those couple months keep showing up in my albums after Brian disappeared. I have the last photo of him, of him and his dad at a baseball game about two weeks before the end. That was the last time Brian left the house, too. He wanted to go to the baseball game, he told me, and he wanted to see the progress of the construction on the new YMCA, and then he wanted to stay home until he died.

“Bring the camera,” he said.

Brian was so loved. I never knew anyone who didn’t love him, but even if that weren’t true, no one should die like that, of cancer, so young. The biggest grief Brian ever knew was his own life slipping away. He didn’t get to live long enough to learn about the kind of grief I went through, the kind that slowly, slowly taught me how to live again, differently, better.

“You’ll be okay,” Brian said to me not long before he died. “You always land on your feet.”

He had no idea what he was talking about, and also he was right. I still have to work to not get lost in knowing that I don’t deserve this amazing life I have any more than Brian deserved his death, but I am alive, and I am grateful to be alive. Every day. So grateful.