Sunday, February 27, 2011

The dying art of handwritten letters....

"Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls. For, thus friends absent speak." - John Donne

My parents immigrated by leaving for "vacation" to other Eastern block countries with their last stop being Vienna. That is where they asked for and were granted asylum. They spent the next 2 years there and in the States working furiously to get me to join them. It is during this time I believe my love affair with letter writing began. After all what could make a 5 year old happier than letters from parents who were so far. They connected us more than the rare call they could make. My mother kept many of my letters and they really capture a child who is missing her parents and a bit confused as to why they left her behind. They are the archives of a childhood that was happy even under difficult circumstances.

I still love hand written letters and notes. I gladly spend my limited "free" time perusing greeting cards and getting excited at finding ones that fit perfectly for the recipient. I know I am in the minority when I say I still like personalized stationery and non-picture Christmas cards.  I have good stationery because it still is worth spending my money on things that provide such pleasure when looked upon.  Putting pen to paper will eventually be a thing of the past and that in itself makes me bit misty.

It made me sad when I learned that script will no longer be taught in schools, that future generations will not understand the pleasure and pain of looking for a communication in the mail, that the art of letter writing is dying out.  Some of my favorite books have been collections of letters written between friends and/or lovers.  An oddly spelled text is not quite a Byron in the making...or maybe it is and I am just not seeing it. The irony that I am currently capturing this in an electronic medium, however, is not lost on me. I will end this with a plug for 2 places that have beautiful, distinct, high quality, creative stationery products and which I have shopped at. Papyrus, a chain, with what I have found to be the best greeting cards and, independently owned, for stationery. These 2 places understand that a piece of paper with a beautiful design is actually a vehicle that will carry an emotion.

"What a lot we lost when we stopped writing letters.  You can't reread a phone call" - Liz Carpenter

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Green Acres....

Westchester is the place for me.
Suburbia is the life for me.
Land spreadin' out so far and wide
Keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside.

New York is where I'd rather stay.
I get allergic smelling hay.
I just adore a penthouse view.
Dah-ling I love you but give me Park Avenue.

I was born, raised and in love with cities.  I lived in apartments for most of my life and find no need to say that with an apologetic tone.  My husband grew up in a house and though we are both children of Queens we come from parts that are quite different.  He had the lawn, the backyard, single family dwelling experience while I grew up with my father cursing as he looked to move the car for alternate side of the street parking and learning to walk gently to not disturb the people underneath us.  I swam in public pools, he swam in the pool in his backyard.  My husband took school buses or was driven, I took public transportation or walked with friends to and from pretty much anywhere.  Going into the city was an occasional event for him, I frequently took the subway into the city from my neighborhood and even walked on the days we weren't on the subway. So it was inevitable that when we decided to buy something our backgrounds would cause some serious disagreements. 

I wanted to see what we could afford, nothing it turns out, on the tip of the upper West Side or Brooklyn.  I dreamt of Pre-war buildings with molding, hardwood floors, and tall ceilings.  He dreamt of those too but in a house.  I wanted my kids to grow up in the City, parks, diversity, and yes adversity.  He wanted peace and quiet, kids playing in the backyard.  The housing market was nuts when we were ready to buy and in the end that was the deciding factor....the  "are you sure that was a bedroom and not a closet" apartments that were within our considerable budget translated to a 3 bedroom "cozy", code for small, home.  We did agree on a location that was as close to a city experience as possible, diverse, with a self sustaining town, not surrounded or dependant on strip malls.  Our kids do not often play in the backyard because they go to the town parks, they take a school bus but are equally at home on the subway, where they go quite often with their Mother who will never lose her love of New York. 

My first day, 8 months pregnant, in our new neighborhood ended in tears and dirty looks for being dragged to the 'burbs (yup I was owning no responsibility in the decision making at that stage).  However, 7 years later with a host of new, amazing, like-minded, dynamic set of friends (most who are former city people) I really like the choice we made.  My kids are benefiting from all that my husband and I both chose this location for. 

Now I am off to read the real estate section so I can look at those lovely pre-war apartments for my retirement.....

Sunday, February 20, 2011

My Younger Self

I passed by a girl in her early 20s the other day who looked a lot like I did at that age - the thing that made me notice her was her outfit.  It was one that I had donned a lot in my early 20s, particulary when I was going out dancing.  It made me wonder if we could go back in time and speak to our younger selves what would we say to them.

Would I tell that young girl that black eyeliner should be worn less heavy in the day time and without the bright red lipstick?  Help her avoid the bad choices that she makes, steer her toward thinking more before dropping out of being pre-med because it took time away from her social activities, have her not smoke as much, see that the troubled boys she fell for didn't want to be saved, fight her parents a little less.  Maybe I would encourage her to laugh as much as she did, enjoy her travels throughout the world, go dancing as much as she did and keep the friends that she makes.  I would give her a hug and tell her that there are times she should follow her heart and not her head even though it will be broken, encourage her to kiss a little longer, wear her skirts as short as she wants, and look in the mirror and see more than the imperfections. 

Actually I would probably stay silent and not tell her a thing.  It was the good and bad choices that helped me become more confident and grow as a person.  What would you tell your younger self ? I could not disagree more with the saying "youth is wasted on the young" is isn't, they "waste" their time by devoting it to pursuing pleasures and they should because they have a lifetime to stay within the lines.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Medicine for the Soul....

"Medicine for the soul."  ~Inscription over the door of the Library at Thebes, how true this is for those of us who are lovers of the written word. 

I have always loved to read, since I could that is.  I remember losing myself in the wardrobe that transported me to Narnia, toward the hills that brought Jane to Mr. Rochester, to darker passions and erotic places with Anne Rice, re-energizing my inner child with Harry then bidding goodbye to Hogwarts, and most recently chasing bad guys in Sweden with a tattooed girl and her friend Mikael.  I look forward to moving on to new places where I stop and linger for a few days or longer and revisiting my memories of past stops.  It is still thrilling for me to walk into a bookstore where the staff knows my tastes and leads me to a  discovery I may have missed on my own.  

I turned to books as an only child for companionship. I write fictional stories as an adult to make up a life which in reality is not within my grasp, nor one I would necessarily want to do more than read about.  I make up tales for my sons which carry them to far off, made up places and always land them back safely in their beds.  I am hoping my sons will continue their current love of reading and stories be they in books, ereaders, or the tales they spin for their friends.  My well-thumbed collection of books has bound me deeply, passionately, and with strong opinions to friends who too found refuge in the pages they turned.  So if you are a reader, think back to those passages that have given you great satisfaction, brought out an emotion or just make you smile in remembering them.

It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it.  ~Oscar Wilde

A book must be an ice-axe to break the seas frozen inside our soul.  ~Franz Kafka

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Curse of the Tiger Mother and other Motherhood Myths ....

MOTHER....could have end this blog by writing that one word and leaving the rest to the reader to fill in.  We all have them, love them, fight them, get angry with them, seek their approval, revel and grow in their love, have complicated relationships with them and miss them if they are no longer with us.

In light of all of that how could being a Mother be anything less than the most complex job in the world.  As if those expectations were not enough there is also the added pressure of books, articles, TV shows and every other available media vehicle telling me how to be a Tiger Mother, Friend Mother, Fun Mother, Smart Mother...Wonder Woman had it easy compared to this and I don't even get the hot outfit with the gold lasso.  All that "helpful advice" screams "You are not doing this job as well as you could be!!!" to us Mommies.  After doing this gig for 6 years I find myself still conflicted.  I have days when those 2 little men in my house look at me as if there is a halo above my head and others when I think "Man, some therapist is going to be buying a new Porsche with all the time she will be billing for this".  I am the Perfect Mother and The What The Hell Was I Thinking Mother.  I am strict and fair, wrong and right, and often too tired to even think about what kind of Mother I was that day.  

My friendships with other Mothers have confirmed that most of us are not sure we are doing this right but we are all committed to being the best at it.  We could all use a little more time for ourselves, a little less unsolicited helpful advice from books, the media and other experts (public and personal).  Until I became a Mother I never knew how much love a person is capable of nor did I know that I would be so devoted to another person's entire existence. Being a Mother is the best experience I have chosen to have and I am hoping that the therapist will give us a family discount.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

It Takes Two ....

I am an only child and have been perfectly happy with that situation since I can remember.  I do not recall when I stopped asking for a sibling but it was when I was quite young.  I am only child who has surrounded herself with twos.  Like Marvin Gaye wrote "One can have a dream, baby, Two can make that dream so real".

I have 2 best friends, 2 fathers (mine and my Mother's husband), 2 Mothers (mine and her best friend), 2 uncles, 2 sets of cousins, 2 sons....seeing a pattern? I also find that I am a product of two different sets of cultures.  I am European by birth and American by choice.  I am at home and a visitor on both of these continents.  It is duality that is the basis of many of my interests (travelling, foodie, New York phile, lover of arts, history/current events junkie - your call on which continent you think contributed to these, I already know) and also the foundation of who I am politically, spiritually, morally and emotionally.  I still am fond of the moniker a friend of mine gave me years ago...Socialist Republican. I do not like not having choices, variety of opinions and the ability to use them in different situations.

My reality has always been that I am an only child and I do not know if it would have been better, worse or the same had I had sibling(s) but my life has been enriched by my 2s. I find, like all other, stereotypes about only children are rarely correct and that our behaviors are shaped by a host of external and internal factors.   My friends have been the chosen siblings I never longed to actually have.  I am an only, however, I have never been a lonely child.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Written on the subway walls

I love the subway...there I've said it and am sticking to it. Sure it is dirty, there are vermin, it is crowded, smell funky and a multitude of other dismissive complaints. I am not blind to any of these things but I still love the subway.

I love it for the way I can get to almost any destination in NYC and (because even w/price increases) it still is a relatively cheap way to do it. However, it is not these things that led me to my long affair with the various letters and numbers of trains I have taken. It is the people. John Rocker's infamous quote "I'd retire first. It's the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the 7 Train to the ballpark looking like you're riding through Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It's depressing... The biggest thing I don't like about New York are the foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything up there. How the hell did they get in this country?[3] "- the very reasons I love the train and New York. I believe the best world is based on diversity and that the subway is the best proof we have that we can coexist. John Rocker of note Koreans, Vietnamese, Indians are Asian (dumbass) and this immigrant speaks better English, along with a few other languages, than you do!

I watch as people with disparate looks and of different beliefs sit together in this hurtling steel device and are willing to be nice to one another. In times of crisis there is no where that handles it with more humanity and grace than New York.  Yes, there is shoving and sometimes rudeness but the reaction of New Yorkers (real ones who live in the outer boroughs -sorry Manhattanites who rarely are raised there) to these outbursts is scorn not acceptance. New York and the subway bind strangers together because they are not easy places to be, uniting their inhabitants by equal opportunity and equal aggravation. To all the John Rockers of the world you are missing out with your bland dismissal view of a world without color, diversity and the occasional "stand clear of the closing doors".