Protected: The Under Toad

September 22, 2014 Enter your password to view comments.

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

On Privacy

September 16, 2014 § 9 Comments

I don’t want to hit you with a snark attack here, but I have to say a few things about a blog that I discovered two weeks ago. Princess Burlap has changed my life. I found the blog through an ad on another site. It was promoted by a little brown panel with pastel cursive that read: “Autistic husband. Beffudled ovaries. A love story.” And I thought it was some wonderful wit making fun of women’s bloggery. Until I went there, and I realized… no.

The only thing I find more mind boggling than Princess Burlap is the mommy blog upon which her ad floated. I’m not sure why I was there, really, but I can picture myself now, bug-eyed and transfixed, thinking: how does this woman think it’s appropriate to turn her five babies into internet darlings? Is there nothing sacred?

And then I thought, Oh shit. 

Yes, yes, we can all agree that Max is way cuter than most e-babies, but still. Does the web need another doting mother? I know my blog isn’t garnering a million views a day, but even so, I feel compelled to scale back. Discretion is the theme: I don’t want my life to be a public life. I have purposely chosen a career where being public for public’s sake is not part of the game.

Also, I am going back to work in two weeks (!) and I will be working as a civil servant. The courthouse is a public space, where anyone can visit. And, when there’s a trial, people turn out. In droves. Anyone can follow a lawyer who works there home. At the end of the day, we are just people, walking out of the security gates, and away from the peace officers, and down into the subway. We are dispersed by these veins and arteries through the body of New York. I will not be protected when I leave work, and I want my family to be sheltered from the ancillary public aspect of what I do. I don’t want Max or Christopher to have living profiles online–at least not profiles perpetuated by me.

Another piece of this, and the one that various mom blogs–or would-be mom blogs–have me considering, is that Max did not choose this. If Max wants me to work to propel him to Internet stardom someday, then he and I can have that discussion. (To that end, I will encourage him to find help in someone who at least maintains a facebook account.) I’ve been able to control how much I share about myself and my family in this space. But Max has not had that ability. Perhaps he’d make different choices about what to reveal, and what to withhold. The point is: who am I to say? If I have to ask myself that question, I probably ought to shut up.

The purpose of this blog was never to garner readership, although I am so happy and grateful that a few of you seem to come back. Instead I write here to hold myself accountable to memorializing this special time. So, I will keep writing it, but I will mark the posts with photos and personal stories as private. If you’d like to read those, please email me. I will figure out a way to share them.

With love and gratitude to all.

The Citizen Enforcers

March 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

There’s a library I like to go to, but I have trouble there sometimes. I think fascists run the place. At the very least, it attracts Manhattan’s most puritanical thinkers. This library has so many rules, and so many citizen enforcers, that sometimes I worry I’m breathing too loudly. And I’m not one of those people who wheezes through her nose, in case that’s what you were thinking.

I get chided on the regular. Just today, and last week, too. I accidentally transgress about every third visit. For background, here are some of the basic rules: you’re not allowed to have food anywhere in the library, nor can you bring in drinks, except water, which you must keep at your feet. No cell phones, either: not in the stairs, not in the halls, not anywhere.

My first embarrassment came about a month ago. I am a nursing mother, and I need to eat. This library is far enough away from my home that I will most definitely require a snack while I am working, just to get back home. Also, it has been freezing outside. This is not the kind of whether where you can take your apple to the park and enjoy it in the sunshine.

Anyway, sometime in February, I came in to do some writing while my Mom watched Max and the dog at her apartment, a few blocks away. While I was working a blizzard ensued, and I knew that if I was going to push the boy in the bassinet all the way home in sub-artic temperatures with ice and sleet and snow falling, I’d need to up my reserves. So I went to the bathroom and unwrapped a soft, chewy granola bar. I brought it back to my seat in the communal writing room and broke off tiny pieces under the table. I am not exaggerating when I say that I produced not a sound.

But, one wizened patron must have noted the movement of my jaw from across the room, and watched me for a while. As I was lifting a bite to my mouth, she came over to my table, smiling in that superior I’m about to get you in trouble, little girl, kind of way. Norma, a warty teacher at Montessori school used to look at me like that before putting me in the ‘thinking chair.’ In fact, this lady looked a lot like Norma: Thai fisherman pants, clogs, a flowing silk blouse and beads all around her wrinkly neck. When she came to me, she was sure to come prepared. In her hand, the sheet of paper, reiterating the rules that are also written—aggressively, in all caps—on little menu cards placed on each table. She set this paper down in front of me and smiled. FOOD, DRINK, AND CELL PHONE USE PROHIBITED THROUGHOUT THE LIBRARY. THANK YOU FOR YOUR COOPERATION.

“There’s no eating in here,” she whispered. “I don’t know if you know that,” this was a blow, because the little menu card was quite obviously 5 inches in front of me. I nodded, silently, chewing, turning red. “Thank you,” I said, for lack of a more creative response. When I left shortly thereafter, I realized what I should have said. “And there’s no talking, either.” Because just a few minutes earlier, this hag had been giggling with another professorial old fart in their corner of the communal room. Had I stood up and brought them the rules? No, I had not. Nevertheless, I walked home feeling ashamed. I wished I’d dropped my granola bar wrapper on her books as I’d walked out, although that would have been quite aggressive. Still, I spent most of the day shaking the feeling that I’d broken a serious, communal code and that I was a social pariah. (Yes, I am a sensitive person.)

But I also felt frustrated: where does this need for persnickety, finger-wagging come from? Does a young woman silently and discreetly eating a granola bar—obviously intent on doing so without chomping or drooling—really affect the quality of the work environment? It would be one thing to bring a bag of carrot sticks or potato chips, or to smack on a stick of gum. But this seemed like rule tending for the thrill of it. In the end, I was the victim, I decided.

As it so happens, the second hag was recently at me about my cell phone. I was sending a quiet text to the babysitter regarding her question on reheating milk. Although the phone was muted, I accidentally pressed the ‘dictate’ button on my message app, which resulted in a tiny ping. The woman whipped her gray head around at me, and peered over her spectacles, “No cell phones, please,” she whispered caustically. “I know,” I said. Rolling my eyes as I looked back at my computer, but feeling a hot flush of shame on my neck nonetheless.

The next day, I accidentally sat too close to this second citizen enforcer again, not realizing that the heap of manila folders and the keyboard lift all belonged to her. (I’d set myself up while she was in the bathroom, and I guarantee you, I will avoid sitting near to these objects in the future.) This woman really treats the place like her private office. A gentlemen behind me—obviously new to the joint—had not muted his computer, so every email he received or sent went in or out with a Ding! From the corner of my eye, I watched the citizen enforcer bristle at every chime. Finally, she craned her head at me and whispered, “Is that your computer?” She assumed, naturally, that because my device made a single sound yesterday, that I was causing today’s technological symphony. I turned to her with my bitchiest stare and said, “No. It is not.” What I was really saying was, “Keep to yourself, you XXXX.”

I’ve seen these ladies give death stares to individuals who take too long to unpack their belongings, or who rustle their manuscripts and legal pads a little too fervently. When either of these citizen enforcers is in the room, I am literally terrified that a youtube video will spontaneously play itself on my computer, and that I will wither and wilt into nothing. As an aside, neither of these women appears to realize that keys on a keyboard don’t have to be attacked in order to make words appear on the screen. I’m considering petitioning the librarians to add to the rules list: NO HEAVY HANDED TYPING ALLOWED.           

I know they would, because there are an untold number of additional rules in place to protect the sanctity of the place. Just this morning, I took my snack downstairs, out of the library doors. There I sat, in the cold marbled vestibule where people sometimes make cell phone calls. I assumed that if call-making was allowed, then quiet eating would also be acceptable. After a few minutes, when I was just about finished, one of the staff members approached me and said, “Miss, you are not allowed to sit on the stairs.” “Really?” I asked, incredulously. “Can I stand on the stairs?” “Yes, you may stand on the stairs.” So I stood on the stairs, but bent over so that I could look at a magazine I’d brought with me. I hoped that standing on my feet would satisfy the rules book, which I assume was designed to prevent patrons from loitering. Next time, I will try hanging out for an hour or two in a squat position to see what happens.

But I am still here. Probably because I have a heroine, whose defiance of the code gives me such joy that I come back, hoping to see her in action again. This lady is a very old lady—much older than the citizen enforcers. Her hair is absolutely white, her shoulders are deeply bent and she’s quite deaf. She was having computer problems last week and asked—out loud, imagine—for help with her laptop. A small Chinese man came to her aid, and they sat and troubleshooted together. (Neither of the citizen enforcers was in the room.) After about thirty minutes, one patron approached and said politely, “No talking please,” which seemed fair given the length and volume of their conversation. She nodded and took her helper into the hallway.

When she returned, the old lady blew my mind. This woman unwrapped a chocolate bar, right there in her chair, right in front of the bossy menu card (!) and started to snack, unabashedly in her seat. And all I could think was, “You go, girlfriend, you go.”  Is there anything as fun an old lady breaking all the rules? 

Protected: The Gray Cloud

March 12, 2014 Enter your password to view comments.

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Protected: The Big Sleep

January 30, 2014 Enter your password to view comments.

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

a book list

November 13, 2013 § Leave a comment


Is there anything more satisfying than a list? I love how they go from neat and concise to crossed out, marked up or wrinkled, so that the final draft looks like a first draft. Even if I do or acquire nothing on my list, I feel secure just having a sense of order in my pocket. These are the things that must be taken care of; these are the things to get; this is the shape of reality. I love finding forgotten lists in journals or coat pockets because they’re primary source material on what was on my mind when I wasn’t aware of being recorded.

One list I love, which I keep in my wallet and have had since 2010, came from my mother in law, Susan Arnold Murphy, soon to be “SAM” to the babe. SAM is a voracious reader: she reads more than anyone I know. Many of my favorite books have come from her. She always sends books in hard cover, and always buys them from a bookshop that’s local to one of us, usually The Corner Bookstore here in New York or from Left Bank Books in her hometown, St. Louis.

One afternoon after Christmas I asked her to tell me her favorite books. She was reticent at first, and I pressed, probably obnoxiously. But look at this gem of a list! I wonder if her choices would be different now.


The day I was put on bed rest, I asked my doctor if I could make a quick trip to the pharmacy on my way home. He said I could. But instead, I went to the New York Society Library to stock up. I filled a shopping bag with heady books, and I regret that choice. I should have looked at SAM’s folded list and picked out some I haven’t read. Instead I hauled away a dozen lit-major classics: Updike, D.H. Lawrence, you know the stuff.

Needless to say, do not read Rabbit, Run when you are expecting a baby. The least upsetting thing that happens in the book is when Rabbit leaves his wife 2 months before she gives birth. Yes, correct. The writing is great, but sometimes a little too poignant. For example, at  one point, Rabbit has this realization about his son, Nelson:

“The best he can do is submit to the system and give Nelson the chance to pass, as he did, unthinkingly, through it. The fullness ends when we give Nature her ransom, when we make children for her. Then she is through with us, and we become, first inside, then outside, junk. Flower stalks.”

On that note:

1. Keep making babies (& avoid becoming ‘junk’)

2. Read cheerful books

3. Try very hard to find a book SAM hasn’t read and send it off

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the Books & Writing category at We're Coming Along.