it me

[editor offers me a chance to GET REAL ANGRY about sexism]

me:

me:

d85a6f5443148134ca0eecf60f6ebfb0

me:

200

me, after submitting draft: “Did I go too far? [sees editor’s title, snorts with laughter] I DIDN’T GO TOO FAR ENOUGH!”

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true

There are a lot of things true love is, and here are just two of them:

True love is sending your exhausted husband home from the hospital overnight because there’s no sense in both of you going without sleep, and never regretting it during the long, lonely, sleepless night.

And true love is sitting in that rumpled hospital bed in the faint light of morning, hours before he could possibly be planning to return, hearing distant footsteps two corridors away, and knowing those are his footsteps, coming straight to your room.

 

of one’s own

My beautiful, sleek MacBook Air is really and truly dead, and I would like to memorialize my fallen friend.

If that sounds over-emotional, I can understand. But it was a gift from The Fella, who saved up for a whole year to surprise me with it. It was both a huge (expensive) treat and a symbol of faith in my writing. He knew that I needed my own computer, not the one we shared for years, and when I could not even afford to dream of it, he made it happen.

No longer having to share a computer was, for me, the modern equivalent of Virginia Woolf’s “a room of one’s own” — it gave me all the breadth and time I needed to grow as a writer, to value my own work as much as my husband’s (paying) writing, and to let my instincts and impulses move me to write more than my (and his) schedule.

On that MacBook, I wrote my first published article. On that MacBook, I stored my first paying contracts and received my first money for writing. On that MacBook, I earned my first income in several years. On that MacBook, I learned how to edit photos to accompany my first published recipes. On that MacBook, I applied for a dream job, a job so far beyond my then-current hopes that I assumed I was applying just for practice, and on that MacBook, I learned to my astonishment that I got it.

That MacBook gave me freedom and hope and opportunity. I am so grateful for it. I know it’s just a hunk of metal and plastic and circuits, and now that’s all it will ever be, but it was also a little box of dreams. And I made them come true.

the mother of all fears

Bunny Lake dolls

“Movies about mothers – mothers’ relationship with their children, children’s relationship with their mothers – can trade in easy sentiment or melodrama. But motherhood isn’t all swaddling and coddling and comfortable archetypes. In the rough terrain where a woman becomes a mother, she can feel she’s been corralled, her personality, her persona, her entire independent self suddenly defined largely by her actual or idealized connection to a child. These three thrillers tap into the poignancy and pressures that many mothers face, digging into the complicated web of social expectations in a world that both mythologizes and devalues motherhood, while translating the everyday tensions of caregiving into the language of the fantastic and the grotesque.”

Today at The Toast, my essay about motherhood as depicted in Bunny Lake Is Missing, The Others, and El Orfanato.

cookie cutters

Let me tell you about my cookie cutters.

Memory is a tricky thing, so bear with me. I was small when these memories formed, and at the distance of decades, it’s hard to tell the difference between true memory, corroborated reconstructions, and childhood imagination.

But I remember the cookies. I’m certain the cookies were exactly as I describe.

My Uncle B and Aunt M (really my father’s much older uncle and aunt, and rather terrifying in demeanor and voice) gave the same gift each year: a homemade cookie cutter shaped out of an old tin can and a tin or box of cookies made from their own collection of cutters. Uncle B made the cutters and Aunt M made the cookies, every year until I turned seven and we moved away.

Their cookies are among my earliest memories, and certainly my very first memories of Christmas. They were rolled vellum-thin, baked ’til they were just tinged with brown at the edges, and decorated with sparse perfection, a dragée here and a sprinkle of colored sugar there, just enough to lend some details to their shapes. The first one I remember is a whole train of sugar cookies – a locomotive, a string of different cars, and a caboose. I think (but I can’t rely on such an early memory) that there might have been a puff of smoke riding jauntily atop the train.

My family accumulated quite a collection of perfectly turned, finely detailed cookie cutters from this unlikely and intimidating source. My mother passed some of them on to me over the years – when I moved into my first apartment, when she moved to a new home, when I baked Christmas cookies in her new kitchen.

One Christmas over a decade ago, I pulled out my cookie cutters and baked and shaped and frosted cookies. And then, overcome with memory, I washed my hands and sat down at the kitchen table, adrift in the faintly sweet scent of sugar and butter, and I wrote a letter to my Uncle B. It was my first letter to him since Aunt M had died a few years ago, and the second letter I’d ever sent him, excepting my childish scrawl on the thank-you letters we’d send for those cookie gifts.

I wrote about using his cookie cutters that day, how these cutters had always symbolized Christmas to me, and of my fond and formative memories of their cookies. I thanked him both for the long-ago cookies and for the cutters, and I let him know they had been long and well loved.

He didn’t write back, not surprisingly. My family isn’t close-knit, and I was one of a swarm of great-nieces and great-nephews. He probably had little idea who I was, probably couldn’t pick me out of a group as a child or an adult.

In fact, I found out this was more-or-less true a few years later; he could only identify me by my remarkable resemblance to my mother. At the reception after a family funeral, Uncle B walked up to me and my sister, looked at my face, and announced imperiously “You must be one of [_____]’s daughters!” I told him he was right, and I told him my name and my sister’s.

His stern craggy face washed over with softness. “You’re the one who bakes cookies,” he said with wonder, and this man – who’d rarely smiled at me and never hugged me or even shaken my hand – pulled up a chair and sat down knee-to-knee with me, his hand reaching out gently over and over but never quite touching me, and talked. And talked. And talked. All his hardness smoothed away; he was full of memories himself, and he found me to share them with. When it was time to leave, he hugged me. And then he did it again.

I’m grateful whenever I have a chance to revisit that story. It’s a potent reminder that those small thanks are always worth sending, because you never know how meaningful they may be to the person you’re thanking. It’s a reminder to be grateful, to be mindful, to be kinder than necessary. It’s a reminder to keep trying – and failing, but trying! – to be my best self.

[This story is cross-posted to Metafilter.]

established

Establishing my food-critic cred: my slapped-together ten-minute lunch includes a tuna melt (tuna mixed with labneh and scallions, grilled between local-ish American cheese on English muffin bread), red potato salad (also in a dressing of labneh, olive oil, lemon, and scallion), green beans with butter-toasted almonds, and a dish of fresh pineapple spears. These are the joys of preparedness, chickadees.

Establishing my blogger cred: I changed back into pajamas to eat it.

Establishing my willingness to experiment within highly gendered expectations: am wearing new shoes with said pajamas and watching the “Sex and the City” pilot for the first time. For the latter, I credit Emily Nussbaum. For the former, I have no excuse.

Dear Dad

Dear Dad, I was thinking about “Macbeth” again this week, and the cat i’ the adage. Whenever I read that, I think of talking to you.

Dear Dad, I got some new cartridges for those pens you gave me when I first went back to school. Thanks for thinking of me, and for knowing how useful it is to have brightly colored pens so classmates don’t walk off with them.

Dear Dad, it might be about time for me to have a BLT. I never have one without thinking of that midnight with you. I wish I could take you to the neighborhood restaurant where I sometimes get them. You’d hate the noise and love the fries, and you would have been as vexed as I was that they called themselves Hot Suppa but weren’t open for supper, and as weirdly relieved as I was when they fiiiiinally started serving during supper hours.

Dear Dad, not too long ago a community member asked for help decoding his late father’s document full of punchlines without the jokes. I was able to explain one of the jokes and to tell a little story about you and me, too.

Dear Dad, I’ve been in pain for a few weeks now — nothing serious, but unpleasant and even scary sometimes. The Fella has been unsurprisingly amazing and thoughtful during all that time. I wish you’d met him. You’d love and trust him with all your heart, just like I do. I think you’d love him for himself, not just because he loves and cares for your daughter so sweetly and unfailingly.

Dear Dad, I’ve spent a lot of years unwinding my complicated feelings about my childhood and the ways my parents coped with (or didn’t cope with) your own grief and heartache before I was born, and how that affected my own adult relationships and my own childless state, and I know that I might never come to the end of that skein.

But it gets easier and easier to reconcile that complex snarl of feelings with the simple love that I feel for you and Mom, and to say it over and over: Dear Dad, I love you. Dear Dad, I miss you.

ducks

“Hey, I got quoted in The Atlantic.”

“What?”

“I’m reading an Atlantic article about an AskMe thread, and they quoted me… OH WHOA, they blockquoted me.”

It was a good thread: full of compassion, laughter, and condolences. MeFi member dmd (identified in The Atlantic as Daniel Drucker) posted this question: “My father passed away this morning. I’m going through his file, and I came across JOKES.TXT … which contains only the punchlines. Can the Mind please tell me the jokes?”

He included the list of punchlines, and one by one, community members popped in to offer their sympathy and answer the question. (It’s worth pointing out that MeFi guidelines require AskMe responses to answer the question above all things; a response that doesn’t answer the question is promptly deleted. In a condolence thread, it’s possible that a response offering only condolences miiiight stand, but it’s by no means certain.)

By the time I saw that thread, someone had already explained the punchline about the ducks, but I was able to add a suggestion, and a memory of my own:

O9scar outlines the riddle above, but it’s worth mentioning that this one works best deployed not as a joke but as a casual bit of trivia tossed off when you see a V of birds in formation.

Person 1 [points to birds]: Hey, y’know when you see birds flying in V-formation? And sometimes one side of the V is longer than the other? You know why that is?
Person 2: No, why?
Person 1: More birds on that side.

If you do it casually enough and your friends are sufficiently curious about random subjects, you may even be able to use it on the same person more than once. I caught my own much-missed father with that gag several times. My sorrow for your loss, and thank you for that happy memory.

As MeFi member HotToddy (quoted in the Atlantic‘s closing paragraph) says in the MetaTalk appreciation of that thread, “What an amazing thing, your dad inadvertently arranging for your friends to tell you jokes all day long on the day he dies.”

My own father would have loved to be involved in this discussion — and now he is, through my memories and my story. I love you, Dad.

fancy

My brother-in-law J. had, among his collection of tin toys and keepsakes, a can of… peanut brittle. Uh-huh. A faded, peeling, scratched-up old can, smelling strongly of basement mildew, promisingly labelled peanut brittle.

But when you opened it, did you find delicious peanut brittle, as the label indicated? You did not! When you twisted and pried the stubborn lid from the tarnished old can, HORRIBLE SNAKES would fly forth!

And I mean HORRIBLE SNAKES: musty old fabric, worn away with time, here and there the sharp spikes of the spring ends poking through. Even if they didn’t scratch you when they sprang out, trying to cram them back into the can was a tetanus-tempting chore.

So one Christmas, I bought J. a new set of Snakes in a Can. (Note: I couldn’t find peanut brittle, but apparently the Snake Nut Can company is still doing booming business; I was able to find one immediately at the toy shop across the street from my apartment.)

When I wrapped my Christmas gifts at Grandma & Grandpa’s house, J.’s daughter A., then not quite six, wandered in to help. I showed her my gift for her dad and asked her advice: should I leave the can in its packaging so J. would know it was a joke can?

Or… should I remove the wrapping so he would think it was a can of fancy nuts?

A.’s little mouth twisted in delight. Unwrap it! Take it out of its packaging! Let him open it all unawares! FANCY SALTED MIXED NUTS! He’ll never know! Y’know why? Because it doesn’t say peanut brittle!

She even helped me take off the cardboard-and-plastic packaging and wrap up the tin of FANCY SALTED MIXED NUTS prettily in tissue and ribbon. When we exchanged gifts the next day, I said “Oh, J., I have something for you,” and asked A. to fetch it from under the tree and deliver it, which she did, snickering and flicking thrilled, guilty looks at me the entire time.

J. put on his best poker face, accepting the present and unwrapping it nonchalantly, taking his sweet time and sparing me only one keen glance as he unwound the ribbon.

A. stood by, hopping from foot to foot, choking back her guffaws. Once, she almost fell over.

And then: “Oh! FANCY SALTED MIXED NUTS. Mmm. I love these, thanks. I think I’ll open them… right now.” J. leaned in toward his little daughter.

She took a huuuuuuge step back.

J. and I both almost burst out laughing. But we managed to hold it in…

… unlike the snakes, which sprang out into the room as A. and J. and everyone else started laughing. “Oh, snakes! YOU GOT ME!”

It was a good Christmas.