Be with this moment

As I have mentioned previously, I quote romantic comedies with a somewhat comical frequency in my everyday life. One of the more unexpectedly profound moments in Sweet Home Alabama (spoiler alert) is when Melanie (Reese Witherspoon) tells her fiancé Andrew (Patrick Dempsey) that she can’t marry him:

MELANIE
Andrew, you don’t want to marry me.

ANDREW
I don’t?

MELANIE
No. No, you don’t, not really. You see, the truth is I gave my heart away a long time ago. My whole heart, and I never really got it back. And I don’t even know what else to say, but I’m sorry. I can’t marry you. And you shouldn’t want to marry me.

ANDREW
So this is what this feels like.

The simplicity of his statement, paired with his shocked expression as he struggles to process everything she’s said and what it means for his life, is a touchstone of cinematic empathy for me (it’s okay to make fun of me for that). I picture Patrick Dempsey’s stupefied face every time I hurt someone or watch someone struggle with disappointment, and I can’t count the amount of times I’ve stood stunned myself in the face of heartbreak, identifying with him completely. His response is most typically how I process let-downs now, usually echoing his exact words to myself. So this is what this feels like.

The scene continues as his overbearing mother, played brilliantly by Candice Bergen, shouts, “That’s it?! You’re just gonna let her humiliate you with some bullshit about an old husband?” Dazed, he replies in the same calm, detached manner, “Yeah, I think I am. Excuse me.”

(I really love this movie.)



For as long as I can remember, I have adopted a style of depersonalization to cope with fear, hurt, upset, anger, disappointment, and so on, detaching and looking at the situation from the outside as an abstraction. I frequently cite a point of trivia from neuroscience that seemingly conflicting emotions, such as dread and excited anticipation, are identical signals in the brain – it’s simply a matter of interpretation whether they are experienced as positive or negative. Stepping outside oneself, upsetting events are still novel, and in a certain light, our capacity to hurt or fear or experience anything intensely can be kind of abstractly beautiful. I guess that’s why depersonalization works. We can step back and say, “Wow, I can actually feel my heart sinking, how about that.”

I have felt myself resisting conscious experiences since the election, either sinking into altered consciousness / escapism, or sublimating and floating somewhere outside of myself. I am either deep under the sea or up in the clouds, with no desire to deal with the sinking ship of emotions in the present tense. Not surprisingly, that has its own problems, especially when so much of my mental health strategy involves being as Present as possible. I am on familiar ground here, and I have caught myself hiding inside my mind, but I don’t want to be emotionally sequestered anymore and especially not for the next four years.



I’ve been reading books on meditation and philosophy lately, especially Thích Nhất Hạnh. They have been incredible and perfectly-timed reminders that we have a seemingly infinite capacity to bear pain or hurt from others and that the resilience of the human spirit comes, always, in compassion and being fully present. Quite literally getting on the ground (through sitting meditation) and being with this moment.

In Pema Chödrön‘s excellent book Living Beautifully: with Uncertainty and Change, she outlines the importance of groundlessness and why we should not resist situations that cause trepidation or an unsettled sense of confusion in the universe. Citing the concept of samsara, which she defines as going around and around, recycling the same patterns, she identifies kleshas as the force behind the samsara turbine of pain. Kleshas, she explains, are the “conflicting emotions that cloud the mind,” such as anger, pride, jealousy, and despair, which are the mind’s attempt to escape groundlessness. When we give in to them, our preexisting habits are reinforced, and the wheel continues to spin, paradoxically keeping us even more inescapably trapped in the feeling of groundlessness.

Instead, Chödrön and everyone who’s gotten further in Buddhism 101 than me recommends trying to be even more present, feeling every feeling, reflecting on ourselves having these feelings, and while not obsessively dwelling on the kleshas or just going numb, living through these moments. By being with them, instead of trying to get away from them, and facing reality head on, we can find meaning and inspiration to make changes. In short, take the Patrick Dempsey approach, “So this is what this feels like.”



I have found myself stepping back a lot, limiting the amount of attention I can give to news items (I suspect there will be no shortage of think-pieces and disheartening headlines on our ensuing chaos), trying to keep political conversations focused and specific, seeking positive action instead of anger or despair, choosing my battles or when to walk away, and trying to get into the present tense with this surreality, which includes a lot of world and existence outside of our government and the unconscionable behavior of some of my fellow Americans. Slowly, I am starting to find a path – not out, but through – that gives me a tiny bit of hope and reassurance. It’s not terribly pleasant, but hey, at least I’m feeling again.

I already resent the amount of mental energy and emotion I have spent on this election and the current state of politics in the world, but I am resolved to not let it be in vain. I’m going to transform it into more beautiful thoughts, ideas to help people and the environment, substantive art, acts of compassion, and energy toward progress.

I am reclaiming my present. So this is what this feels like.

Some ways to get through this mess

I have been mulling over what to say, if anything, because in a lot of ways I don’t want to remember this week or the way the results of this election made me feel. I took a full day on Wednesday, heartbroken, to just grieve. And then I decided that I will not let anyone take away my hope, joy, or love of this country, so I am moving from heartbroken to the “hell hath no fury” phase.

In days that have felt as uncertain and dark as those in the wake of our greatest national tragedies, some people keep showing their resiliency and compassion because humans can be amazingly strong and inherently beautiful. So I’ve decided to collect some of the things that reminded me of the best of humanity that is shining through and some of the things I’ve done or thought about this week that have helped me feel better, in the hopes that they can help restore some faith or give encouragement to persevere. Remember:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

1. The Subway Therapy Post-It Project in the NYC Subway




© Levee, subwaytherapy on Instagram

In a beautiful project started by the artist Levee in Manhattan and spreading throughout subway stations around the city, thousands of New Yorkers are writing messages of support, love, and inspiration on Post-Its as Subway Therapy. It is a simple and beautiful expression of solidarity and hope, especially for commuters facing uncertainty and threats to their safety and security in the US. I encourage you to look through the photos on Levee’s account and those using #subwaytherapy to see some of the incredibly touching and heartfelt emotions running through my beloved city.

2. Safety Pins to Show Solidarity




Via New York Magazine

After the UK shockingly voted yes on Brexit, Brits started wearing safety pins as a gesture of solidarity to show immigrants, refugees, and vulnerable members of the population that they were safe and had many people who wanted to protect them. I had been thinking about how to convey this sentiment to my neighbors and community members, but I thought wearing a Hillary Clinton campaign pin or some other overtly political slogan (“Still With Her,” “Love Trumps Hate,” “Stronger Together” etc.) can be confrontational or hostile in a different way. The point isn’t about partisanship or us-versus-them, it’s about solidarity with those who are now put at greater risk. I really like the safety pin symbolism and will be wearing one on my jackets and bags in the foreseeable future, along with everything else I already do in public to try to let people know I am their ally and will do everything I can to protect others.

3. Researching NGOs and charitable organizations and deciding to get more actively involved




© Steve Winter, Tigers in Bandhavgarh National Park, India, via National Geographic

One of my deep concerns is the potentially catastrophic and irreversible damage that can be done to the environment if most campaign promises are kept or platform policies are enacted. The fear was especially pronounced because I just watched Before the Flood last weekend, and, yikes, it’s urgent. Through tears, my mother helped me research a number of international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and nonprofits doing significant work to protect the environment and combat climate change, and I have been inspired to make some major life changes in the coming months (of which, more soon). Sometimes just seeing the incredible work being done all over the world by organizations unhindered by our government is enough to restore my faith in humanity because I know that no matter what happens here, that work will go on.

If you are in the mood to sign some petitions, let me suggest:

  • Tell Congress to reauthorize funding for the Multinational Species Conservation Fund (MSCF) to help protect tigers.
  • Tell the White House: do not allow Myron Ebell, a famous climate change denier, to lead the EPA transition.

There will be a lot more of this kind of thing regularly on my Facebook and Twitter.

4. Remember all the Nasty Women voters out there and our phenomenal strength



This election struck a raw nerve for every woman who has been sexually assaulted (which is, let’s be real, pretty much every woman you know) or treated as lesser for being a woman. It reopened a lot of old wounds over and over as our friends, family members, colleagues, neighbors, and all kinds of people in our lives brushed aside a candidate bragging about sexually assaulting a woman, excusing or even embracing misogyny, and taking an aggressive and incredibly ugly tone toward Clinton. I have tried to explain to men in my life how it feels to spend 35 years constantly diminished, objectified, and reduced because I am seen as a woman first and a person second, no matter my education, talents, accomplishments, or what’s in my heart and soul. It became crystal clear that some people truly haven’t understood – and maybe never can understand – this experience, so I was not surprised when they also didn’t understand the big deal about having the opportunity to vote for a woman for president.

To be clear, I voted for the best-qualified and most deserving candidate with the platform that most closely reflected my values and concerns. That she was a woman is extraordinary. My mother and I headed to the polls in our respective states at the same time to try to be as “together” as we could in voting, and we texted each other afterwards with irrepressible beaming smiles and tears of elation streaming down our faces. Neither of us were prepared for how incredible it would feel to cast that vote, and we were absolutely exuberant. We had both been scrolling through a secret Facebook group, crying at incredible stories and posts of women voting in pantsuits, symbols of the suffragette movement, wearing their grandmothers’ and great-grandmothers’ jewelry or their mothers’ Equal Rights Amendment t-shirts, describing what casting that vote meant to them and their families.

And though the election ended in an unforeseen disaster, no one can take away the fact that a woman was not only a viable candidate, but received the majority of the popular vote, and we got to vote for her and share what that meant with all the other badass, emboldened women out there. In the aftermath, we are more determined than ever to keep holding each other up and making the world better for everyone. Whenever I get shaky in my confidence about the future, I remember my friends and the legion of other women out there who have my back. With that strength, we can do anything.

5. Thank our girl, and actually listen to her words



It was surprisingly therapeutic to write a letter to Hillary Clinton thanking her for the honor of voting for her and the inspiration she has given me. At the time of her concession speech, I was in such shock I could barely process what she was saying, let alone wrap my head around how she was so calm and strong when I felt alternately like screaming and curling into a fetal position for four years. I reflected on her class and dignity throughout her campaign and realized it should have been expected that even in defeat, she would be a model of grace and poise.

“I have, as Tim said, spent my entire adult life fighting for what I believe in. I have had successes and I have had setbacks. Sometimes really painful ones. Many of you are at the beginning of your professional public and political careers. You will have successes and setbacks, too. This loss hurts but please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.”

Watch it again, or read her words. It is truly inspiring. She really has been our champion, and it felt wonderful to tell her so.

6. Celebrate the history-making victories women did have in this election




Kamala Harris, via Yes! Magazine

It is tempting to see the new GOP majorities in both the Senate and House as a portent of doomsday, but we can still celebrate the 6 women who won historic firsts, increasing the diversity of representation in government and badassery everywhere. And if that doesn’t do it for you… how about more legal recreational weed?

7. Tell your friends and family you love and support them



Some of my friends were facing existential fears this week, uncertain about their continued freedom and safety based on their race, sexual orientation or gender identity, religion, immigration status, etc. Looking at the revolting instances of swastika graffiti and white supremacist hate speech, women in hijabs being assaulted in Walmarts, people of color being called unbelievable slurs and having their lives threatened in gas stations, and girls as young as 8 or 10 having their genitals grabbed with the justification that it’s allowed now… these are not unfounded fears. Beyond bullying, there are dire threats to the rights and freedoms of the LGBTQIA+ community, women’s reproductive rights, people with disabilities who may now be denied essential health care if the Affordable Care Act is repealed as promised, Muslims who have been mischaracterized for months as complicit in this “radical Islamic terrorism” nonsense, and immigrants who genuinely don’t know how worried they should be about being detained or deported.

How can you even begin to comfort someone who is facing that kind of danger?? I have been admitting to these friends that I don’t know how to help yet, but reminding them that I will always love and support them and that they are not alone in these fights. I think this week gave a lot of people the feeling that the country had turned its back on them or didn’t care about them, so as much as I can, I’m trying to counteract that. Sometimes just hearing that someone truly cares can give enough strength to get through another hour with insensitive coworkers or loudmouthed relatives gloating. And of course, there are other things we can do too. But don’t forget to reach out and share your heart with those feeling even more vulnerable than before.

8. Remember that life is a lot bigger than the government



It took me a while to grasp the full truth in this quote and even longer to feel comforted by it, but eventually it sunk in. Politicians come and go, and the stuff they deal with is really important, but it’s not everything. Art has the power to change the way you see and experience the world and transform your mind. More than ever, art is essential for healing and understanding each other, and I have important work to do.

9. Put your hands to work making something for someone else



Knitting is one of my favorite stress-relieving hobbies, but I haven’t wanted to go near my knitting basket this week. I didn’t want anything I made to carry the memories of this week and remind me of it every time I looked at my projects. While researching ways to help veterans, I came across the suggestion to write letters to service members and veterans through Operation Gratitude, which I will be spending some time doing this weekend. I poked around their site some more and learned about the Handmade with Love project to send handmade scarves, hats, paracord bracelets, and other items included in care packages. I cast on for a scarf immediately and have been focusing hope, love, and peace into each stitch.

I looked a little more on a charity knitting group on a board I belong to and found another great project, Allied Aid, which sends hats, gloves, socks, and other needed items to refugees being held in Greece. For sure, I will be sending a package of hand-knit items to them too.

I found that thinking about how to comfort, help, and protect other people really did make me feel better about the world, so I will be adding more volunteering to my regular schedule too.

10. Enjoy the cognitive dissonance of the “awww” feeling George W. Bush’s latest project gives you



I cannot believe what I’m going to say, but I actually said, “Awww, that’s really nice!” when I read about George W. Bush’s current project, “Portraits of Courage.” The former president has been painting the portraits and getting to know 98 veterans who were wounded carrying out his post-9/11 orders. These portraits are included in an exhibition and book, the proceeds of which are given to support “veterans and their families [to] make successful transitions to civilian life with a focus on gaining meaningful employment and overcoming the invisible wounds of war.”

I like to believe this project is in some ways his personal penance. I truly appreciate that he is using the arts to support veterans and sharing their stories.

11. Read, learn, think, cultivate empathy even when it’s tempting not to



For a few weeks now I have been reading a book of essays on sustainable forestry and I guess what you could call the philosophy of ecological conservation by Wendell Berry. His words about the life cycles of forests and man’s relationship with them are feeling intensely metaphorical and instructive for a bigger lesson in how to mitigate the harm we may do and consider the long-term implications of our actions. (More on this another time too.)

There is great solace to be found in the literature, history, and philosophy of other times, when mankind seemed at a similar breaking point of hostility or hatred for one another. The lesson I keep seeing, repeated as loudly as all of our mistakes, is that empathy and compassion are absolutely crucial, and they are most necessary at the time when we are least inclined to practice them. While in the stages of grieving this week, I went to some dark, angry places, and I’m not proud of the ugliness that came out of my mind. Some of it was spiteful, anarchistic, destructive, personally hateful, dismissive, judgmental – all the things I was accusing others of being in my more frustrated moments. I’m still processing where I fall on everything, but I know I need to at least try to empathize and understand where others are coming from, even if they would not make the same effort in return. This one will be an uphill battle, so I have been reminding myself over and over that I fight for the side of the planet and humanity… all of it.

12. As necessary, disengage



I unfollowed the friends and family members who were posting taunts, gloating, and sharing an endless stream of mean-spirited memes and articles on Facebook and Twitter, and I will decide eventually if there is a place for them in my life anymore. I happen to have a malingering cold this week, so it’s been a relief to disengage when I need to and focus on healing, physically and spiritually, to step back and reassess through a less emotional lens when I can. However you voted, this election cycle has been exhausting and upsetting, dredging up all kinds of negativity and hurt. It will take time to get past the divisiveness that has become habitual, but I think the only way to do it is to come back together when we are whole again, whenever that may be.

It it tempting and sometimes irresistible to read the flood of “tragedy porn” style disastrous headlines and stories, to get into frustrating circular conversations with people who are thriving on your hurt and fear, and to give too much of yourself to worrying about hypotheticals. This is not to diminish what is going on in any way, but limiting your browsing time when it gets too upsetting, or only going through your regular real news sources can help keep things in check. All that noise will be there when (or if) you’re ready for it again.

Remember that you are under no obligation to listen to postmortems or I-told-you-so sessions. If you focus on proactively opposing and countering the most heinous of the proposed changes, you will feel a lot better than those dwelling on what’s already happened. Or, you can let it be someone else’s problem for a while. Sometimes in my life when I’ve made a terrible decision I felt the need to tell anyone who would listen why I thought it was right, and the best thing for me was to be left alone with the consequences of what I’d done. Your mileage may vary. Garrison Keillor has a particularly humorous take on this approach that, honestly, gave me a snide bit of cold comfort.

13. But speak up where it counts



I can’t count how many petitions I’ve signed and letters I’ve written to my representatives this week. I was doing it last week too, against the Dakota Access Pipeline threatening the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s water supply and sacred sites, and I will keep on doing it until my fingers fall off or I get put on a blocked-callers list. As we have seen, we have a far from perfect system, but the only way we can make our voices heard (short of being a billionaire and lobbying) is en masse, contacting our representatives and speaking our minds. Tell your Senators and representatives in the House how you want them to vote, and tell them your concerns and ask what they are doing about it. Remember that despite all appearances, the government is full of our employees, paid with our tax dollars, and they are responsible to answer to us. Make them.

14. Prioritize self-care



I recommend some quiet, meditation, and reflection without all the noise. A walk around outside does wonders, even if you spend the whole time coughing and wheezing like I did. Eventually I will get around to writing a post I’ve been drafting in my mind of nice things you can do for yourself anytime at home, but here is a shortlist:

  • Take an aromatherapy bath or shower. I especially recommend lavender essential oil in a green tea soak.
  • Make yourself a cup of tea or hot cocoa or your hot beverage of choice, and sit down to drink it with no other distractions.
  • Reorganize a closet or shelf in your home, or refold your sweaters. (This may be just me, but I find this kind of thing incredibly soothing.)
  • Cook a meal entirely from scratch, or using as few processed ingredients as you can. Really experience every ingredient and the way they are transformed together into something that nourishes you.
  • Write down all your thoughts and feelings in a notebook or journal. Putting words around experiences starts to make them understandable and manageable.
  • Listen to music with headphones on and your eyes closed. Refuse to think, and just be with the music.
  • Take a nap, or go to sleep early. Sometimes you just need to shut down and start over.

15. When all else fails, there are always these Joe Biden memes




Via Buzzfeed

Seriously, this list of Joe Biden memes is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. Joe Biden will never not be funny.

Why Halloween is the Very Best Holiday

I’m not sure why, but I often feel compelled to have a list of superlatives on hand at all times. We’ve talked about this a little before, so I like to have my answers prepared. I also imagine a scenario where someone darts up to me on the street like, “Vicki, quick, what is your favorite cookie? President Obama needs to know, don’t keep him waiting!” I don’t want to be the person hemming and hawing between chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin while the beloved leader of the free world taps his foot and sighs.

For as long as I can remember, my favorite holiday has been Halloween. There have been years where I sat it out, usually due to bronchitis and once an ugly break-up, but in my heart, it’s the clear winner, and here are 13 (ooh, spooky!) reasons why.

1. It is a celebration of pure imagination.




(From 2010 when I went as Tippi Hedren’s character Melanie Daniels in The Birds. Yes, I am perfectly aware how I could use that hot pink pussy bow blouse this year.)

Every part of Halloween invites creativity and getting carried away with one’s imagination. Choosing a new identity for a costume, working out how that idea will be communicated, and going out into the world as a fantasy self, a scary ghoul, or literally anything you can imagine is wildly exciting and fun for children and adults alike (or it should be). Decorations allude to the supernatural, party games evoke gross-out anatomy or enactment of fantasy superstitions, and you can enjoy all the dark and twisted parts of people’s minds without worrying for their psychological well-being.

2. In the northeast, it falls at the perfect time of year.



Admittedly, many of my feelings about Halloween come from growing up in suburban New Jersey and living in Connecticut and New York my whole adult life, so there is some subjectivity here. But generally, the weather is just cool enough to have a crispness to the air, but not so cold you can’t enjoy being outside for hours at a time. As autumn is my favorite season, Halloween feels like the peak moment of colorful falling leaves, harvest type stuff like apple-picking, and it closes the door on summer to usher in the holiday season of Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, etc. It hits at a solid point in the school semester, usually after midterms but before heavy back-half projects start becoming pressing, when there is still plenty of time to catch up before Thanksgiving break. It is practically synonymous in my mind with the feeling of leaves crunching under leather boots and the faint scent of woodsmoke in the air – that time is heavenly.

3. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups



Whenever my family discusses holidays (which is with what I suspect to be abnormal frequency, come to think of it) I announce that Halloween is my favorite, and everyone sort of nods and someone says, “Yes, of course, because of the candy.” But it’s not just any candy. Reese’s Peanut Butter cups are magical sensory joy, and around Halloween you can find them absolutely everywhere, even the miniature ones wrapped in autumnal foil at like your gynecologist’s office. Think carefully – is there actually any other time of year you allow yourself to unabashedly eat a full-sized Reese’s peanut butter cup? Their packaging looks like the living embodiment of Halloween, and so many of my neighbors used to give out the single-size cups that I felt like Halloween was an elaborate Reese’s harvest. I know this has probably become far less common with the huge surge in peanut allergies, but it seems like everyone has a specific favorite Halloween candy that they’d never buy for themselves during the rest of the year. I won’t even get started on fun size Snickers.

4. The spirit of inclusivity.




(Image via Buzzfeed)

While yes, Halloween started in a religious context (like every other holiday, let’s be real) it’s one of the only ones that doesn’t intrinsically exclude anyone on the basis of culture, race, religion, ability, or creed in its modern, secular form. Yes, some people still choose not to celebrate it because of their religions (Jehovah’s Witnesses, some Orthodox Jews, etc.) but if they chose to celebrate, they would be welcome to do so. People try very hard to politicize Halloween, especially in election years, but it’s sort of like an anarchist of a holiday in that it refuses to be co-opted by any one group. Everyone can incorporate some sort of costume into their everyday lives, even just an orange sweater and sunglasses as a nod to the day. Halloween is for everyone because it is fundamentally about fun and bringing everyone together to be silly and creative.

5. Every bar and club in the city has something going on.




(Yes, of course I will be bhangra dancing.)

There is a weird myth that Halloween as an adult sucks, and every year some one of my friends reposts this Oatmeal strip as definitive proof that they are right to stay home and scoff at Halloween. Nonsense. I am very lucky because my closest friends through high school were the cast and crew of our musical theater program, so we all loved getting dressed in elaborate costumes and pretending to be other people or creatures (literally, it’s what we did for fun all year). We had great parties that often included cheesy zombie films and a lot of screaming and dancing, and that is exactly how I want to remember being a teenager. The house I joined in college threw various costume parties year-round (this may be part of why I joined) and went all-out for Halloween. In NYC, you have your choice of thousands of dance parties at just about every club, and if you wander into a random bar, you will at least find a good happy hour special and some black cat or pumpkin decorations. The sheer volume of people out in the city (and those who come in from Jersey and Connecticut to join them) reinvigorates every place, and if you keep your act together and focus on having fun, you will.

6. Unbeatable people-watching (dogs too).



You can learn so much about your friends by how they dress for Halloween. Everything from the choice of costume (or choosing not to wear a costume) to the attention to detail and execution tell you about their character in manifold ways. When you meet people in a bar, they communicate so much more about themselves on Halloween than any other night because they’ve let their guard down and let some of their true selves out. If you feel claustrophobic, you can grab a sixer and sit in Union Square to watch thousands of people’s imaginations traipse by. On the weekends leading up to Halloween, you are practically guaranteed to see some painfully adorable kids and dogs in costumes, and if you get really lucky, you can see middle aged men from your neighborhood riding the subway home at 4:30am dressed as M&Ms or Flava Flav, singing dance songs to anyone who will listen.

7. Genuinely silly entertainment.



The novelty songs are ridiculous and dated, but unabashedly fun. The pet costumes are next-level adorable. The television episodes with your favorite characters sporting Rocky Horror Picture Show garb are delightful. The movies are not scary enough to actually be haunting or disturbing (I’m thinking Elvira-level because I’m a chicken about actual horror films), and they don’t try to teach you a lesson or moralize beyond, “Watch out for dudes in hockey masks with machetes!” and, “Thank goodness the zombies are defeated!” It’s spooky in a fun way that can take its mask off at the end of the night and say, “Hey, it was all pretend, now let’s eat some candy.”

8. It’s an occasion to teach children manners or a reminder that most kids are actually really sweet and well-behaved.



My mother has become a Halloween grinch and says she hates Halloween because of all the bratty kids stomping on her porch, not saying “trick or treat,” demanding candy, then pouting when they can only take one piece and not saying “thank you.” It seems like things have changed a bit in her neighborhood, but I was raised to be almost obnoxiously polite, and I treated Halloween as a time to pop in and say hello to all our neighbors. I said “Trick or treat!” then “Hello Mr. or Mrs. So-and-So,” and I reminded them who I was if they didn’t recognize me. We talked about my costume, I complimented their decorations, occasionally they invited me in to take a picture or give me a glass of hot cider (I know, I know, but only the people we knew very well), they asked me how soccer was going or what my favorite subject was in school that year, I thanked them profusely even if they gave me a Dum-Dum or Good ‘N Plenty (ugh), wished them a Happy Halloween, and made sure to walk carefully down their steps and walkways, not stepping on any flowers or landscaping etc. It drove my brother crazy in the years when we still trick-or-treated together because he wanted to hurry up to go to other houses, but I was busy chatting and thinking I was just adorable.

It set a precedent for how to interact with our neighbors and other adults that I remembered throughout the year, and it gave me practice responding graciously to compliments on a pretty dress or answering questions about myself when it would have been easier to be shy and hide behind my brother. I try not to be a total creeper in talking to strangers’ kids, but I am always pleased when I tell a parent, “I love your daughter’s costume, that’s so creative!” and they encourage their child to say “thank you” and tell me all about it. Kids light up when you recognize their costumes (like how do you know Cinderella?!?) and it gives them a chance to safely talk to people about something sort of impersonal, but also personal enough to them that they care about it.

9. Pumpkin carving




(via Halloween Tiger Pumpkins)

It is a ridiculous tradition to scoop the guts out of a gourd, carve a face or something into it, put a candle or LED in it, and leave it outside to rot on your porch. And yet, I absolutely love pumpkin carving. I love seeing the goofy and cartoony faces on pumpkins that kids obviously drew themselves, and I love the intricately shaded, artistic carvings some of my friends do. I feel like there aren’t enough opportunities for sculpture past the Play-Doh years, so pumpkin carving is a necessary creative outlet for the generation that never learned to whittle or woodwork. And I got to use the good kitchen knives, so win-win.

10. It is the day before my birthday, which is All Saints’ Day and the start of Día de los muertos.




(via Huffington Post)

I know, this seems like a trivial point of self-absorption, especially in light of point #4 above, but my birthday is on All Saints’ Day, a beautiful Christian holiday in the western / Catholic tradition that celebrates all the saints, known and unknown. It is part of a cycle of festivals, followed by All Souls’ Day. It is generally a time to reflect on the loved ones we’ve lost and remember them. It’s a cool time of year to balance darkness and light, and to learn about things like Día de los muertos and various rituals around death and remembrance worldwide. If children are interested in learning about spirituality and other cultures, it’s a good time to discuss that, or to learn about the difference between fictional witches and Wiccans. Or to start discussing death and what it fully means, without it being associated with the specific death of a loved one. I know that stuff isn’t strictly fun, but Halloween serves an actual purpose spiritually for some, so it’s interesting to investigate if you are inclined. On a personal level, I always thought of Halloween as a laying-to-rest of the past year, and awakening with a new life on my birthday – that’s why I tend to make birthday resolutions instead of New Year’s. And it doesn’t hurt that all my friends felt obliged to share their Halloween candy with me as a kid.

11. No gifts / feasible at every economic level




(via Village Beer & Fine Wine)

It would be flat-out strange to give someone a Halloween gift or basket or money-filled card (this does not apply to my grandparents, naturally). There is no expectation that you get your boyfriend or friends anything except maybe tossing them a lollipop or showing up to a party with some pumpkin ale. Kids can put together costumes out of clothes and items from home if they don’t want to buy a licensed character costume, and they’re celebrated for their creativity. Party decorations can be as simple as tissue ghosts, a 99-cent package of spiderwebs, or nothing at all and you just say the house is haunted. Don’t want to buy candy for trick-or-treaters? No problem – just pop an empty bowl on your porch with a “Please Take Just One” sign.

12. Wholesome, dorky activities, often with historical underpinnings



Halloween is the time of year where you can go to a farm and run through bales of hay with cardboard skeletons popping out or take a hay-wagon ride and somehow it feels festive, instead of like a bunch of straw poking through your jeans. There are always great Halloween-themed activities and events at the historical preservation village near where I grew up, and they hosted educational visits for our Brownies troop with an added history of witchcraft, Halloween traditions, or spooky local superstition component to make it thematic. If you’re into running, you can find all kinds of Zombie 5Ks and child-friendly costumed walk-run events. They don’t conflict with family time or drinking time the way Turkey Trots or St. Patrick’s Day events do – Halloween is its own thing, and it’s just for fun.

13. David S. Pumpkins



Any questions??

Also, I found this image of a hula dachshund in an image search, and I can’t keep it to myself.



So whatever you do to celebrate the very best holiday, be safe, kind to others, and have fun! Indulge your inner child and go all-out at a costume party, or stay home and Netflix up some silly movies. Keep a vigil for the Great Pumpkin, or just scroll through your social media feeds and gush at everyone’s ridiculously cute kids. Do whatever you want – that is the great gonzo madness of Halloween!

On being single and turning 35

When I was young, I took certain biological conditions of my existence for granted. I assumed I would find the love of my life in college or shortly thereafter, that we’d get married, and that I’d have children in my early to mid 20s. My mother was 25 when she had me, and her mother was 25 when she had her. I realized as I approached my 25th birthday that I would not be following that tradition, but surely, I thought, it was right around the corner. I believed I’d met the right person and that our life was leading in that direction. I was laughably wrong.

This November I turn 35, which I have customarily treated as the expiration date on my childbearing years. I’m not sure where I got that number, although since Facebook thinks all I’m interested in is menstruation and reproduction, articles on fertility pop up all the time. In one from The Atlantic originally published in 2013 called “How Long Can You Wait to Have a Baby?” which came up again this weekend, I re-read how a lot of our culturally-accepted understanding that 35 is the start of fertility decline is based on French birth records from 1670 to 1830. And today I read how the one thing I believed to be true, that all a woman’s eggs are present at her birth, may not be true.


Frida Kahlo, The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Diego, Me, and Señor Xolotl, 1949, oil on Masonite.

In truth, I rather enjoyed the poetry and Keanu “whoa” moment of a meme I saw once (and of course can’t find now), declaring, “The egg that became you formed in your mother’s body when she was in your grandmother’s womb.” That’s a pretty profound expansion of one’s physical existence beyond the borders of known consciousness. But it’s also okay with me if that’s not accurate. I know of many examples in my family and others where women continued having healthy babies well past 35 and 40, and my doctor, like everyone else in my life, says I worry too much and my age shouldn’t be an issue. But I think she’s assuming I’m not going to hit pause for another 5 or 10 years while I get the rest of my life together and find a suitable partner.

Beyond feasibility, there are other factors to consider in having a baby, like the increased odds of some chromosomal mutations and genetic aberrations with age, or whether I personally should be passing down my DNA at all. Maybe the love of my life turns out to be someone who’s unable to have children in the traditional way, or maybe it turns out I’m unable to carry a child to term (you don’t really know until you get pregnant, right?). I always thought I’d have plenty of time to work those questions out, but I’ve wasted a really lot of it. And I would like some time to get to know the person with whom I’d be creating another life and be reasonably confident the world would benefit from a combination of us.


Self Portrait as the Sea, 2016, digital collage

So turning 35 is a bit sad for me. Even if it’s not the actual end of my chances to have biological children, it’s a lot closer to the end than 25 was, and I haven’t made any better progress in dating men who want to marry me and start a family. If anything I’m back-sliding on that front. Men my age like to freak out when I say upfront that yes, I want a real relationship and yes, I’d like to get married and have children sooner than later. Maybe I’m supposed to pretend I don’t care or that I’m so chill all I’m thinking about is brunch tomorrow, but that would be a lie. I’m not trying to waste more time, but I’m also not going to settle for the wrong person just because he might be my last chance. I’d rather be alone forever than unhappy with the wrong person again. I’ve always been okay with adoption, an option that would give me more time, but that’s by far the more difficult and expensive path, and from what I understand, preference is still given to married couples with healthy bank accounts. I don’t imagine saying, “I don’t know, I’ll trust the universe and figure it out” is the best approach to getting approved to adopt as a single parent if it goes that way.

Occasionally in quiet moments preceding mortality-based “What the hell am I doing with my time on this planet?” type panic attacks, I like to ask myself, “Do I even want children?” I think about the ways my life would change, how expensive and exhausting and challenging kids are, and I can’t honestly say I know for sure I’d be a good mother. I’m nurturing, I try to do right by people, I have a pretty strong sense of responsibility when it comes to caring for pets or other people’s children, so I assume I could get my act together for my own, but I don’t actually know if that’s true. Would I be able to put on a good face in the depths of depression and act like everything’s okay so my kid has a normal childhood, or would I make them miserable and unhappy because I still can’t manage my brain chemistry and need a lot of quiet time? Children can’t process that stuff easily, and I don’t want to damage someone I’m supposed to be encouraging to dream and hope and love.



I’ve always believed I wanted a family because I had a pretty great childhood and family means so much to me. Some bad things happened, I had some struggles, but my parents were always there for me and helped me through it. We had a lot of fun, and I am so grateful that my parents made our family such a priority – we ate dinner together every night, no matter what, and we all talked about our day, discussed current events, and truly knew each other as people. I dream of having that, instead of eating by myself at midnight if I get around to cooking. I’m very close with both of my parents and my brother as adults, and so in addition to the years of cute little people cruising around and energetic family life, I’d like substantive relationships with my children as adults too. My mother recently told me she and my father had a “No Assholes” policy when we were kids, which is to say they would not tolerate brattiness, unkindness, temper tantrums, selfishness, materialism, passive consumption of media, lying, or any of the things that would enable us to grow up into boring, asshole adults. They were quite young when they had kids, so their intent was to raise people they enjoyed being around. And then they spent a lot of time with us and did their best to help us be good people (they still do). I think that’s what I want.

But… I don’t want it with the wrong person. I have dated some great guys, but also some appallingly terrible ones, and I worry about my judgement and ability to pick the right person for me. I have deals with a few friends and family members that if they ever see me dating someone who seems like another jerk, they need to tell me immediately and not let me waste time trying to spare my feelings. I tend to only see the best in people and latch onto it, so I need to start being slightly more objective and honest with myself about misgivings, if the plan is to have a child with a man whom I hope to be the love of my life.

I know a lot of people who have chosen not to have children, and it seems like they have very happy, full lives. I also know a lot of single parents who are happier than they ever were in a relationship with their children’s parent. Maybe the universe has something different in mind for me than I’d always planned for myself. I know I will do my best to find the meaning and beauty in whatever iteration of family life or solitude I end up in, but I’d like it to be by choice and not by default. I have been saying for a while now that if I were still single when I turned 35 I’d adopt a cat, and I’m having commitment issues even with that. How will I know when it’s the right time to move on from plan A to something else? When do I stop looking for a life partner and just enjoy men’s company for what it is? Or does it just happen quietly one day, when some more time has passed, and I ask myself why I kept sabotaging relationships and clinging to my solitude, then decide I must not have wanted a family after all?



Fujikasa Satoko, Plant Growth, 2013, stoneware with matte translucent glaze, at the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts

I have spent most of my adult life trying to fix the things I think are wrong with me and trying to make my life better (it’s been one of the themes of this blog since 2014 at least). All of my goals for personal growth, improved health, financial stability, positive life experiences, cultivating relationships with truly good people, and aligning my existence with my values are directly compatible with meeting a soulmate and raising a family, so it’s not like I necessarily need to shift focus or do anything differently. If anything, I should probably focus more on them while I can, since I’m not sure I would be able to get a lot of exercise and meditation in with a newborn around.

I recently read the infinitely-quotable book How to Love by Thich Nhat Hanh, who always makes life seem so simple and gentle. He uses an extended metaphor of gardening for how to bring love from oneself out into the world to share with others. I was especially taken with a line on aspirations:

If you have a deep aspiration, a goal for your life, then your loving of others is part of this aspiration and not a distraction from it.

I’ve been thinking about this over and over, as I think about what goals I want to set for my 35th birthday. I need to adjust my mindset to one where love, and nurturing my relationships with love, are back at the center. If I want to bring love and family into my life, I need to make myself a garden where love can grow (both metaphorically and yuck, yes, physically). Whatever form that takes, I need to welcome it with gratitude, and I know I won’t get there any sooner by being impatient about it.



So this year I am going to try to actually celebrate, instead of grieve, and be grateful for the opportunities I’ve had, instead of resentful that time passed with no more progress toward a family. I will try to enjoy the unanswered questions and unsettled conditions as mysteries of possibility yet to unfold. I’m going to keep trying to be more open and honest and present day to day, to be more of myself even when it would be easier to give up, curl into a ball, and make decisions I’ll regret years from now. I always tell other friends who are upset about being single that you can’t meet the love of your life until you’re both who and where you need to be, to be right for each other. So maybe it’s time to start taking my own advice and make the best of things as they are, instead of how I might wish them to be.

And maybe it’s time to look into adopting that cat.

Complacent is complicit

A few years ago, I wrote about what I believed to be a racist incident on the bus in Staten Island. When I got home, I made a formal complaint with the MTA, I wrote that blog post, I posted some things on Twitter, and I gave further details through several follow-up phone calls with the MTA. But I was deeply ashamed of myself when someone asked me if I said something while it was happening, and I had to admit no, not really, I sort of made an upset face and grumbled a little along with everyone else. My objection was obviously so opaque that a fellow rider mistook me for being complicit in supporting the bus driver’s almost certainly racially-motivated mistreatment. I haven’t forgotten the shame of knowing I should have done more.

Later that summer, Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson, and Eric Garner was killed by police a few blocks from where I lived. I saw my neighborhood erupt in protests, and it was the first time I heard “Black Lives Matter” being chanted. I happened to be moving out of Staten Island the weekend of the biggest demonstration, and I had to keep begging my way through barricaded streets with a truck to get between my building and a storage locker I’d rented. I supported the protestors, both in their message and their right to peacefully protest, but I didn’t stop to join them in solidarity because I had too much stuff going on at the time. And back then, I foolishly wasn’t sure if it was “safe,” if I’d be seen as an ally or as part of the problem.



As the number of black Americans who died through extrajudicial executions and lethal force by police escalated, I didn’t know what to say or do. I felt like maybe it was pandering or lip service if I posted hashtags or articles, I worried it would appear to be some kind of self-promotion (on Twitter especially), and I thought I didn’t have anything to say that wouldn’t be insultingly banal and potentially damaging to the message being spread by friends who were better educated on the issues and more directly affected by the systemic racism threatening black lives. It was a feeling of paralysis, where I didn’t know if I should apologize on behalf of white people, start calling out friends who went the #alllivesmatter and #bluelivesmatter route, write letters to my representatives, or just cover my head with a pillow and cry.

I think a lot of people didn’t know how to respond, and the tone was guarded, if not outright defensive in the early days, when it was still possible to believe these were isolated incidents. I understood that response because I was raised to believe with all my heart in egalitarianism and to stand against racism and other forms of bigotry. I didn’t want to believe it was really happening so brutally. And in my mind, if I wasn’t racist, how could I be part of the problem?

I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me after I got back from India the next summer, when my personal life was imploding, and it became viscerally, painfully real to me. The threats to black lives were not just abstractions of systemic racism, and the violence done against black Americans and other people of color didn’t just start in 2012 when Trayvon Martin was murdered. Coates argued – and I agreed – that the violence is built into the system, and some people are so stuck in the system that they can’t even see the everyday, depersonalizing violence anymore. To continue in the system with complacency is to be complicit in perpetuating the violence.

I realized that not speaking up and not joining in the protest against extrajudicial executions, cover-ups, falsified evidence and reports, and systemic racism while it’s happening is not okay. For as talkative as I am with my friends, I can be shy and tend to clam up in public. I would cling to the WASP prerogative of minding my own business, but I realized that letting people say racist things in front of me on the subway or in my neighborhood gave the message to my neighbors and fellow riders that I agreed and was complicit in the racism. It has not been easy, but I’ve been making myself speak up in the moment instead of just posting the ugly things that were said on Twitter or Facebook (or, let’s be real, tearfully texting them to my mom). I recognize that as a white woman I have undeserved privileges, and I’ve been trying to use them to intervene or deescalate situations in person, or at the very least reintroduce humanity into interactions where someone is being mistreated because of race or perceived religion. I know that’s not anywhere near enough, but I do think it’s important to show people they have an ally and an advocate in me, that I will try my best to help them if they need it, and I will be an honest witness if anything bad happens.



A well-meaning friend suggested to me, when I was particularly upset about Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, that dwelling on it wouldn’t change anything, and I should focus on my art and my own life. I have asked myself often, as I imagine a lot of people have in this election cycle, how I might have responded to Hitler’s rise to power and the beginning of the Holocaust. Would I have gone about running my business as usual, meekly trying to stay out of the Nazis’ way and hoping it all blew over? Would I have rebelled, protecting the Jewish members of my community and other persecuted groups and helping them escape, or would I have focused on keeping my own family safe and been afraid to speak out or take risks? If I were alive in 1968, would I have marched for civil rights and equality, or would I have quietly enjoyed a white suburban existence and hoped for the best?

It haunts me to think of the consequences of complacency, so when I was once again reeling from the shootings of Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott, I asked myself these questions again. I came across a quote from Desmond Tutu, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” I couldn’t get that idea out of my head, and I couldn’t stand sitting at home passively wishing things were different. I decided to go to a Black Lives Matter rally and march in Manhattan last week, and as unfoundedly nervous as I was, I reassured myself that my role was to listen, and to show solidarity and support. I abhor the idea of anyone feeling like they are seen as lesser or even hated in our society because of their race, so it was important to me to take a stand for what I believe in.

I don’t think it was a coincidence that the very first sign I saw as I approached the group in Union Square read, “White silence is complicity.”



When I got home that evening I read Martin Luther King, Jr.’s letter from the Birmingham Jail, which I strongly recommend as a relevant and worthwhile read on injustice and the spirit of the Civil Rights movement. In a passage that feels like it could have been written yesterday (save for the anachronistic term “Negro”) Dr. King expressed surprise and disappointment that the group who most let him down were the white moderates:

“I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

He continued to challenge the idea that “law and order” means anything if it is used to reinforce or deny injustice and inequality:

“I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”

(Seriously, give it a read.)

In recent weeks, I’ve noticed an increasingly ugly backlash against the Black Lives Matter movement, and the inherent bias at work is so glaringly obvious it’s nearly blinding. People exculpate their ignorance by saying the media is biased (for example only showing looters in Charlotte, but not the hours of peaceful prayer ceremonies and nonviolent protest before), they cling to absurd alt-right theories that Black Lives Matter is some kind of terrorist organization trying to incite violence (literally the opposite), they lash out at football players and fans who protest by kneeling during the national anthem and claim it is an insult to veterans and the military (ugh – that will be probably become its own post), and they twist and turn through every conversation to reframe the narrative as one where the issue is exaggerated or imagined, and no matter what, it’s certainly not their fault. I’ve been losing a lot of respect for friends and family lately, I’ve been unfriended, I’ve worn my thumbs down texting, and I’m starting to feel exhausted and like there is little hope for substantive change in my lifetime. I am still trying to argue with people that an historically oppressed group of Americans has the right to feel oppressed when just about every week they see a black man extrajudicially executed by police, and they are still trying to justify why it was that man’s fault. Or to be woefully ignorant and interpret critiques of the use of excessive force as condemnation of the police at large, or any of a host of other deflection tactics.

But I keep wanting to ask: What do you have to lose by listening and considering an experience other than your own?

I refuse to live quietly and complacently anymore in a country that would rather let innocent people die or people of color question the value of their lives, than to examine and try to change their inherent biases. I refuse to let fear or self-centeredness rule my decisions, and I will not let injustices go by without comment anymore. Like many white people, I could have the luxury to be passive and pretend these issues don’t affect me, claim I just want to stay out of the fray and mind my own business, but that will never sit right with my conscience because, to quote Dr. King again, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

The climb is steeper and more uphill than I thought. So my goals in engaging my friends, family, and self will now start a little simpler.

  1. Listen with empathy and compassion.
  2. Think critically, do research, question the media, and examine your biases and those you see in others.
  3. Acknowledge there is a real problem, and that it’s your problem too.
  4. Recognize that complacency is complicity, and that if you don’t stand up for what’s right, you are standing on the side of oppression.
  5. Ask: what can I do to help raise awareness, fight injustice, and make life better?
  6. Do the work with joy and pride, in a spirit of love and compassion.

I need to believe humanity is capable of improving, and that eventually we’ll all get on the right side of history. But I see it starts one person at a time.