Saying Goodbye to My Mews House: A Poem

May 4, 2010

I’ve long been of the mind that right before you give something up – a car…a neighborhood…definitely a relationship – you allow yourself to be annoyed by that thing.

It’s not that the thing itself has changed in any fundamental way. It’s just that whereas you once focused on the upsides (he’s cute…he’s funny…my mother likes him), you now allow the negatives to creep in (I hate that shirt…please stop chewing like that…kissing you is so boring.) It’s just normal. It’s how we begin to separate before we say goodbye.

In that vein, as I pack up the last bits and bobs around our current house before leaving it permanently on Thursday, I find myself doing precisely that:  allowing myself to hate all the things about this house that I’ve managed to put up with over the past four years.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot to like about this house, which I’ve often described as an exceedingly well-located closet. I wrote a novel here. I started my blog here. And – most important of all – it’s the place that we first moved into when we decided to throw caution to the wind and move our family overseas four years ago. For that reason alone, it will always be special.

And yet, as we stagger towards the finish line, I’m allowing all the negative things I’ve suppressed about the house to come to the fore.

I’m not much of a poet. I usually leave that to the fabulous Communicatrix and her Poetry Thursday series. But as I take my last walk around this house and pick up the errant sock or felt tip (magic marker) cap or MatchAttax card that mysteriously appears – years later – in the obscure corners of our storage space, I find myself moved to wax poetic.

So here it is – my Ode to a Mews House – inspired by that childhood classic, Good Night, Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. I’m calling it Goodnight, Mews:

Goodnight Mews

In the tiny, cobble-stoned street

without a sign

there was a house

and for four years, it was mine.

And though I’ll be sad to see it gone

Here are some things for which I won’t long:


Goodnight kitchen tiles, that never quite fit

and were meant for the wall – not the floor – but tough sh*#.

Good night shower curtain, which hangs by a thread

And the sweaters I was forced to keep under my bed.

Good night builders, who knew nothing of plumbing

and Good night, next-door neighbors who hated my son.

Good night, storage closet that eventually hits earth

and was home to the rats who made our house their berth.

Good night, Toilet Seat from which I would fall

And the miniature fridge that stands two feet tall.

Good night shower that always floods when it rains

And goodnight darling landlord, you were really a pain.

Goodnight stars, Goodnight air

Good night Mewses everywhere.

*****

For those who are interested, head on over to PoliticsDaily.com to see why I think Gordon Brown will lose this election on Thursday.

Image: Pink Mews by tubb via Flickr under a Creative Commons License


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Five Ways To Stay Positive While You Move

April 28, 2010

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

We’re moving in exactly one week. And so I’m pretty single-minded right now. When I’m not actually doing something connected to the move, I’m thinking about the move.

I’ve fessed up before to just how very much I hate moving. (Some would say irrationally so. I name no names.) But I’m also trying to take my own advice from last week’s volcanic ash crisis and remind myself that “Ce n’est pas gràve.”

And it really isn’t all that “gràve.” In fact, there are a lot of positives that emerge when you move house and they aren’t just the simple pleasures of decluttering.

In that spirit, here are five ways to stay upbeat during a move:

1. Reconnect with your kids’ childhood. One of Gretchen Rubin’s four splendid truths is that “The days are long but the years are short.” She employs this principle to capture what it’s like to be a parent:  how those long, seemingly endless days of reading Good Night, Moon and potty-training dissolve – overnight – into adolescence. Her point is that you really need to savor your kids’ childhood while it lasts because while it may feel long in the day to day, it’s actually fleeting. (I had this same realization last year while re-reading Peter Pan with my daughter.)

Moving helps you to savor their childhood. Because of the many things you unearth as you re-open those frightening storage containers that you hid in the depths of your closet when you first moved in are the myriad art projects, report cards, essays and birthday cards that your kids have done over the years. My own favorite was a picture that my son drew when his (quite progressive) nursery school did a unit on Martin Luther King. I’d forgotten all about this picture, which used to hang above the desk in my old office. It depicts a sort of Monsters, Inc.-style version of MLK addressing an audience with a disproportionately large microphone while saying “I hope that one day Black people and White people can be friends.” Priceless.

2. Reconnect with your own past. You may not have any kids. But you’ll still be forced to take a trip down memory lane as you yank stuff out  of those dusty old cupboards. I found a pair of my father’s orthopedic shoes. He left them here on his last visit to London in October of 2008. We saved them so that we could give them back to him on his next visit. But he never came back. He died, suddenly, of a heart attack in March, 2009. Back when he was alive, I hated those shoes. They were large and clunky and a visible reminder that the body of a man who used to take jump shots in our driveway well into his 50s was slowly giving out on him. (It ended up giving out on him much more quickly than we expected.) But seeing those shoes again actually made me happy. They were a tangible reminder of his presence in our lives. And I needed that.

3. Allow yourself to let go of the *shoulds*. I’ve written before about how many of us go through life tethered to an endless list of things that we feel we ought to be doing, yet never quite manage to accomplish: making photo albums, reading the Bible, joining a gym. During the course of going through my files the other day, I came across some notes from a Hebrew class that I took while pregnant with my son and which I’ve schlepped around with me for (gulp) ten years. The thought was that some day I’d get my act together and really learn Hebrew. Well folks, I still haven’t let go of the goal of figuring out my relationship to Judaism. But I think that I’ve finally acknowledged to myself that despite my best intentions, that process will not entail learning Hebrew (a least for the foreseeable future.) Toss. Ditto my hopes of ever actually using that over-sized fish poacher that we got for our wedding. After twelve years doing noble service as a de facto spice rack, I think it’s finally time for me to dispatch that particular item from our lives. Phew.

4. Imagine new vistas literally and figuratively. One of the most exciting things about moving is that it offers the prospect of a whole new neighborhood to discover. There will be new cafés, new book stores, new dry cleaners – not to mention new neighbors!  I love change so imagining these things is always a way to motivate myself when I just don’t feel like calling the Gas company to request new service or whatever arduous task lies at hand. It’s a bit like singing My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music, if you’ll forgive the cheesy Musical analogy. And change in one’s physical scenery can also furnish a new take on life psychologically. Out with the old and in with the new, and all that good stuff. I really believe that.

5. Trust that things will be better once you make it to the other side. Like childbirth, if you really remembered all the gory details, you’d never move more than once in your life. And yet, most of us do it several times. So, yes, moving is painful but it also does come to an end. And when the clouds part, there’s a whole new world to explore.

*****

For those of you who’d like to hear my latest thoughts on this unbelievably exciting British election, please head on over to PoliticsDaily.com.


Image: Statue of Dr. Martin Luther King by zug55 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Time Marches On: Vienna, And Feeling Nostalgic For The Last Century

January 1, 2010

Yesterday was New Year’s Eve, which is  – as we sit back and contemplate our various “top 10” lists from the past year – often an occasion for nostalgia.

I was also feeling nostalgic yesterday, though my nostalgia wasn’t for what changed in 2009 so much as for what’s changed over the last century. I’m just back from a vacation in Vienna, you see. And unlike other European capitals I’ve visited in recent years — Paris, Amsterdam, Helsinki — Vienna feels decidedly less modern and cosmopolitan. Instead, it’s got that proverbial “Old European” feel, the kind that makes you reach for one more hot chocolate mit schlag, crank up the Johann Strauss and break out the Wittgenstein.

Find out the five things Vienna made me feel nostalgic for from the last century at PoliticsDaily.com

Image: Vienna State Opera by tm boris via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Nostalgia for a Place: When Time Forces Us To Move On

September 14, 2009

Nostalgia is most frequently defined as a “longing for the past.” This melancholy, sentimental feeling might be triggered by any number of events:  we stumble upon a journal from our childhood…we watch a documentary about the Kennedy family…someone dies. Or it might happen when we re-visit a location that has a very specific, evocative meaning for our lives – a first home, our elementary school.

This sort of deep attachment to a place – and the bittersweet emotions it evokes – was the subject of an essay by Judith Warner in her NYTimes.com blog, Domestic Disturbances, on Friday. Entitled “Summer’s End,” the essay talks about Warner’s most recent trip back to her family’s second home in France following the death of a close friend over there. It’s a wonderful and far-ranging piece, encompassing themes of aging, mortality, friendship and nostalgia all in one go. But what I found most moving was the “irrational” (her word) attachment she feels towards this house as a sort of alternate anchor to her “real life” in Washington, D.C., even as she recognizes that time itself has changed the house’s meaning irrevocably.

As she writes: “I used to feel that our life in France was as solid, as permanent and unchanging as our little house. Like our identities there, built in the moment, always in the present tense, it existed outside of time. That has changed. Nothing can be taken for granted anymore.”

This sort of nostalgia rooted in place is also the subject of a small, lovely movie that came out last year called “Summer Hours” (L’heure d’été). It’s also set in France and is about a group of (grown) siblings who must come to terms with selling the large country home their family has held for generations. The two younger children – who clearly symbolize modern France  – wish to be done with the burden of keeping up the house and move on. It’s the eldest brother who- while realizing that it would be most practical to sell the house and use the proceeds to finance various family expenditures – can’t quite bear to part with it emotionally. But he, too, is forced to acknowledge that times have changed, his kids have grown up, and the house no longer has the same meaning or use that it once did.

I felt this way myself this summer, when I went to Cape Cod on holiday. Our family vacationed there every August throughout my entire childhood, but I hadn’t been back in nearly 20 years. And this time it felt very different, because for the first time in memory, my father wasn’t there.

My father worked a lot when I was a child, so we didn’t see all that much of him during the school year. But those three weeks in August were a special time for us, because – among other things – he was around. And so when I went back this time with my own children, I felt his absence all the more. I saw him at the beach, plunging into the freezing cold Atlantic Ocean and screaming “It’s toasty warm!” at the top of his lungs. I saw him at the corner store where he used to purchase his signature diet of coffee, cigarettes and newspapers (and comic books for us). The big treat were the days when he’d stuff all four of us into the trunk of the car – sometimes with a cousin or two in tow – and we’d drive the 1-2 miles to the store in complete, exhilarating darkness. And I saw his craggy, time-worn face embedded a thousand times in the stones that line Rock Harbor.

But because he wasn’t there this time, I now saw the Cape as I imagine others do: beautiful and rustic, yes. But also kitschy and tourist-y: a jumble of roadside clam bakes and miniature golf venues. That doesn’t make it any less appealing to me. But it does make it – inevitably – something else.

And I guess that’s what it means to grow up.

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Image: Las Dunas de Cape Cod by Copepodo via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.


Feeling Nostalgic for Snail Mail

August 18, 2009

As a relative newcomer to the world of Twitter and Facebook, I will own up to being a complete addict (this, despite being informed today that 40% of Twitter is “pointless babble.” ) And I’ve always been a huge fan of email.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t pine for the days when the old fashioned letter was the communication du jour.

Today, I’m over at PoliticsDaily.com talking about the bankruptcy crisis threatening the US Postal Service . I talk about what it means both economically –  in terms of jobs – and personally, for those of us who feel nostalgic for the post.

Have a look

Image: Mail Day! by Warm n’ Fuzzy via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Beam Me Up, Scotty: Are Sequels an Escape from Adulthood?

May 12, 2009

In case you haven’t heard, the summer movie season has officially begun.

Two weeks ago X-Men Origins: Wolverine opened. And last weekend Star Trek hit the Cineplexes.

Many of the current releases are either some version of a franchise, a re-make or an adaptation. And, for some, this trend is a veritable assault on adulthood.

Dennis Palumbo of Huffington Post bemoaned the current dearth of movies for adults, urging those of us who go in for more serious cinematic fare to “get off the couch” as it were (he’s also a psychotherapist). His point:  no one’s going to make movies for adults if we don’t actually go see them.

Another blogger, Lorrie Lynch, made a list of the serious Indie films coming out this summer and then wrote “Grown ups, read on.” (True confessions: I bookmarked the page post haste. I mean, c’mon. Atom Egoyan? In the summertime? Sign me up…)

I must say that I’m sympathetic to some of these concerns. The sight of grown men and women parading around theatres in their velour-insigniad Starship Enterprise tunics and Vulcan ears does give one pause. (For a particularly thoughtful review of the entire Star Trek franchise, read this article by Chicago Reader critic J.R. Jones. He argues that the original TV show was actually quite mature in its subject matter – with its mixed-gender, multiracial crew and Cold War overtones. Over time, however, the series – and movies it spawned – were dumbed down considerably to appeal to kids.)

But for me, the most interesting analysis of this trend was an article in the Washington Post by Hank Stuever examining the effect of  extreme fans (of the lightsaber bearing sort) on the making and marketing of these blockbuster-type movies.

The central question he asks – and I paraphrase here –  is why we feel compelled, as a society, to compulsively remake The Dukes of Hazard or our favorite books from fourth grade. Is it a lack of creativity? Nostalgia? Escape?

I don’t have an answer to that question. But as someone who’s quite prone to nostalgia myself, I can say that I, too, find it moving to revisit signature cultural artifacts – books, movies – from my childhood. I don’t necessarily need to don Lieutenant O’hura’s mini-dress in order to do so. But I understand the impulse.

So go ahead and beam me up, Scotty. But be warned: I’ll be looking for the Indie screening room on the Starship Enterprise when I get there.

Image: Trekkies by San Diego Shooter via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Tips for Adulthood: Five Signs that You Feel Nostalgic for Your Childhood

May 6, 2009

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Today’s post builds on yesterday’s post about whether or not kids are growing up too quickly. Today, in a nod to my own early years, I post about five signs that you’re feeling nostalgic for your childhood:

1. You have an inappropriate attachment to Monopoly. You know it’s bad when you hold up Monopoly as the paragon of a “real game” to your kids (unlike that “junk” they play on the computer). As a recent article in Wired magazine points out, Monopoly is actually a really stupid game because the only strategic question is “buy or not buy” and you spend the whole time trying to reduce your opponent to dust. And yet, I still find myself oddly drawn to the role of deeder (or whatever you call that person who hands out the properties). Then again, my conception of a video game doesn’t extend much beyond Pacman, so maybe that’s what I really ought to be concerned about.

2. You still buy candy necklaces. And eat them. What? Am I the only one who does this?

3. You tear up at children’s concerts. Worse, you sing along. Especially when someone plays Puff the Magic Dragon. The worst part is, it doesn’t have to be my kids who are singing. I was at a farmer’s market a few years back when this pudgy 11 year old girl from the local junior high got up and sang Tomorrow (from Annie). Before I knew it, tears began to slowly fall across my face. Someone next to me asked if the little girl was my child. “Um…no,” I was forced to reply. “I just like this song.”

4. You wish you had a mood ring. Remember those? The ones that told you what mood you were in by the color of the ring? Mine always seemed to be black, which I think meant “nervous.” Pretty much tells you all you need to know about my childhood.

5. You still find yourself attracted to Luke Skywalker. My son had a play date recently with another little boy and they started arguing over whether or not Anakin Skywalker was ugly. (Read here for a great article by Slate’s Emily Bazelon about the enduring appeal of Star Wars for little boys.) I suddenly felt compelled to jump in and defend Luke’s looks. The little boy turned to me and said: “Oh! Do you fancy Luke? He looks very smart.” At which point I had to admit begrudgingly that, yes, I do in fact fancy Luke.

*****

In case you missed it – and because it’s already making the rounds of the Mommy Blog circuit – here’s a link to Ayelet Waldman’s remarkably candid interview on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross, where she talks about her new book, Bad Mother.

Image: New Monopoly Board by Vinduhl via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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