blindness, outsiders, writing

Running Blind

An essay I worked on *feverishly* for weeks is now up on the Hairpin. It’s about jogging in America’s biggest cemetery. Bonuses include: rare eye ailments; Gangnam Style; desiccated squirrels; sustainable farming; people whose last name is Fuck; and, you guessed it, my adulterous parents. What, you don’t understand how I was able to combine all that? You gotta read it.

Every morning, when the massive, black iron gates open, I jog past the ragged stonewalls towards the old mausoleums. I jump over tombstones and weave past undertakers. Western Queens doesn’t have a big park with old trees and ponds; what we do have is Calvary Cemetery, America’s largest graveyard. Wedged between the Brooklyn-Queens and the Long Island Expressways and carelessly dissected into four jagged parts, Calvary borders Sunnyside, Woodside, and Maspeth. With more than three million burials, it is big enough to accommodate my lifelong fears of death and dying, of seeing too much without being seen.-1

I am an Anxious Person. I am Anxiety. Give me a cold, and I see myself dying from lung cancer. Give me a kitten, and I’ll think of its agonizing demise. Give me love, and I see death. Yet my fear cannot hold me back. Gates beg to be scaled, kittens want to be held, and oceans have to be crossed. Calvary is where the heimlich, the familiar and homey, meets the unheimlich, the uncanny, the hidden that has to be kept out of sight. This was the first thing I saw when I arrived in New York from Germany. Since then, I have walked that precarious line. Narrowing my world to accommodate my fears has never appealed to me. I like to give my fears ample space. I want them to become complete, so I can fully understand them; so I can move on from one fear to the next.

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literary journalism, outsiders, reading, review, stereotypes

Of Long-Winded Female Writers and Role Models

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Just out on The Hairpin (very fitting considering the title of this blog):

One recent morning I awoke cranky and tired due to one too many Cosmos and a third night of insomnia. My first book was published a few months ago and I naively thought I would finally have some time to relax, some time for “pure happiness.” But it suddenly seemed like the real work had only begun. For months now I’ve been struggling with… let’s call it exhaustion. Yet again the difficult question loomed: how do we writers experience and accept obstacles without being buried alive?

As I sat on the couch griping, my husband tossed me The Long-Winded Lady by Maeve Brennan (1917-1993), an old-time New Yorker writer of the kind they don’t make anymore. Or if they do, theNew Yorker doesn’t publish them.

“You’ll love it,” he said. This would not be a workday, I resolved guiltily. I grabbed the book and one of the cats and went back to bed, sulking.

I was surprised to catch glimpses of an answer to my question in Brennan’s short sketches of life in New York, the city she called “half-capsized (…) with the inhabitants hanging on, most of them still able to laugh as they cling to the island that is their life’s predicament.” Somehow her short profiles of the invisible, the fragile, the mean, the lost and the lonely—the seen-but-immediately-forgotten—lifted my mood. They are the types we run into on the subway or at the bodega, mostly bypassing them, the way we try to bypass our own opaque emotions. In Brennan’s work a broken heel, a sudden rainstorm, a collapsed stranger, provide a window into her complex inner and outer worlds.

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