Thursday, September 12, 2013

two years ago today...

...I got a call from a nurse practitioner telling me that I needed to come in the following day to speak to the surgeon, whom I hadn't met. I'd had a biopsy days earlier. She wouldn't tell me on the phone that I had breast cancer, so I didn't find out officially until two years from tomorrow. But when the phone call says, "I need you to come in imminently" rather than "everything is clear; as you were," it's pretty damned obvious that there's a problem. So this is, essentially, the two-year anniversary of when life turned upside down. 

It's how I track the passage of time now: That was all happening around September 11. One of my followup mammograms last winter was the day of the Newtown shootings—I watched the horror unfold alongside a bunch of anxious strangers in the breast center waiting rooms. It was the only visit of many to the hospital where everyone was much more upset by outside events than by the fact that they were patients in a breast or cancer center. I learned a few hours later that a close friend lost a loved one in those shootings. And yet I still mark time by how often I have to don a hospital robe.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

just fyi

I've been a tad obsessed with the interface on a site called Medium recently, so a few essays that might've appeared here are there instead.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

budapest, in pictures

Saint Stephen's hand, housed in St. Stephen's Basilica

The view of Pest, from Buda

Saturday, May 18, 2013

more brussels, plus bruges and ghent

When my family reached a cafe for breakfast yesterday, all the booths except two were filled by people. One other place was occupied by a sleeping cat. When another man came in behind us, he attempted to work around the cat, perching his espresso on the table corner, since it showed no intention of moving.

After that entertainment, we spent the rest of the day with my oldest friend. She lived here for a year, and came to see me and show my family around some. She took us to see the Manneken Pis, a famous statue of a peeing boy that's reproduced into any bit of tourist-trap merchandise you can imagine. The real thing is more disappointing than the Mona Lisa. Not only is the Manneken Pis tiny, it's also high up and obscured by an outfit from its extensive wardrobe. So, here is a photo of a more entertaining reproduction, because what isn't better holding a waffle?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

welcome to brussels

Waffles waffles waffles waffles

I am over-tired right now—my family took an overnight flight on Wednesday and then jumped straight into doing things. Upon arrival, we were delayed because a strike at the Brussels airport meant we all had to fetch our bags from the runway and then take shuttles to immigration. Then, my parents had arranged a private tour guide for us. For reasons unclear, the four of us ended up on our private trip on a full-sized bus. I slept through a lot of it. (I also fell asleep on the floors of JFK and Brussels International.) But Brussels seems quaint and cobblestone-y, and any place where every block has French fries, a chocolaterie, beer, and decadent waffles earns my endorsement (at least, that seemed the case in the tourist-friendly areas where we stumbled around, jetlagged out of our brains).

Thursday, May 09, 2013

when ancient met modern

A group of yoga devotees came together yesterday afternoon to listen to Eddie Stern, Beryl Bender Birch and Elena Brower discuss how yoga fits into 21st-century life. We left with swag bags—essential oil samples, vegan energy powders, incense variety packs. When I left the studio, there was an ostentatious VitaCoco truck parked out front. This shouldn't have surprised me—people devoted enough to yoga to attend a lecture on a Wednesday afternoon are the target audience for all this stuff, and shalas can't run on fumes—but it did. Maybe it's because I'm naive, or maybe it's because I don't identify three respected teachers with material goods.

Eddie is my current teacher; I've taken a workshop with Beryl, and I just adore her. Elena is a celebriyogi, no doubt, mostly known in ashtanga circles for being one of John Friend's most prominent acolytes—until she became one of the most prominent teachers to resign her certification after Friend, the founder of anusara, was implicated in a sex and money mismanagement scandal. (I touched on some of this in a piece I wrote at the time for GOOD.)

So while I was more interested in a personal path sort of way to hear what Eddie and Beryl had to say (I know, I know, spoken like a true ashtangi), I was super curious to hear whether Elena would mention anything about her break with John Friend.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

'being a journalist is harder than most people think'

Yesterday I attended "Information on Trial," a daylong conference at NYU's journalism school with Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists, an event to mark World Press Freedom Day.

Here is a bad iPhone pic of Columbia J-school prof Ann Cooper and
New Yorker writer George Packer, during their keynote conversation

George Packer said a few interesting things about the state of journalism during his keynote talk, things that went beyond hysterical "the media is dying" hand-wringing that I hear and read about all the time as a CJR editor.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

the battle he didn't choose

All photos are by Angelo Merendino and are used with his permission

Jennifer Merendino was back in the hospital again. It was a warm May morning, and the 39-year-old was a few days into yet another stay at Memorial Sloan-Kettering to treat her metastatic breast cancer. It had spread to her bones by then, making it hard for her to stand. But she was standing then, in front of a mirror in her hospital room, while her husband, Angelo Merendino, prepared to shave her head before she lost her hair to chemotherapy again. He stood behind her, wielding an electric razor in one hand and holding a camera with the other, finger on the shutter.  

He said, “I've got to make a quick photo of us doing this, of you and me.” She assented, holding onto a support pole attached to the bathroom wall. “I just fired off two quick photographs, then I put the camera down.” The resulting photo was one of many black-and-white portraits that comprise “My Wife’s Fight With Breast Cancer,” which documents, through Merendino’s lens, Jennifer’s 20-month illness and eventual death at age 40 in December 2011.

Monday, April 15, 2013


Last night, I took the subway home from a "Mad Men" viewing party (complete with good friends, great conversation, pizza, apple pie, and so-gross-it's-amazing ambrosia salad). I got out at the 59th Street stop on the 4/5/6.

Between there and reaching my door, I walked by a man passed out on the floor in a bank's ATM lobby, and a woman trying to fall asleep atop a sidewalk grate, fidgeting beneath a thin blanket, right across the street from the neighborhood's newish Whole Foods. It was Sunday around midnight, so there wasn't anyplace open in the vicinity to grab something warm for the woman to nurse into the wee hours.

I'm not the first, or most eloquent, person to articulate this, but: This is not OK, this disparity between how I get to live and how much some fellow New Yorkers are suffering. Team, we must do better.  

Sunday, February 10, 2013

on memoir

The New York Times Sunday Review section had a piece today on memoir and how writing about family involves appropriating real people to use as characters in a narrative that only reflects the writer's perspective. Alexander Stille writes:
The writer is taking events that belong to several people, appropriating them for himself, and turning them into something that feels alien to those who have lived them ... It must have been like seeing someone else wearing your favorite coat: it would look recognizable, but totally different and totally wrong. 
In short, I had not treated my aunt as a human being, as something infinitely complex and, in effect, unknowable. I had turned her into a character in a book. A book in which she wasn’t even the protagonist.
It's an apt summary of something I was already thinking about this week. I published an essay on The Hairpin detailing my dog's diagnosis of cancer and how it relates to my own recent bout with the disease. Reminiscing about my dog, I wrote:
When my family first met Kippy 13 years ago, we didn’t want him. He was part of a litter of Tibetan terriers, and we had our pick. I was in love with a little black lady. My mom was starry-eyed for the litter’s chunky alpha puppy. Nobody noticed the brown guy in the corner. But he picked us, toddling over to my brother and making it clear that, when we left, he’d be coming too.
It was a short passage, apart from the central point, to illustrate how much the dog grew in our hearts, from unwanted to adored. But it wasn't how my brother remembered it. 

"u need to edit this, there is a factual mistake, i wanted to bring him home the first time we met them," he wrote on Facebook.

I replied in a way I hoped would both sound relatively kind and would shut him down. "It's not a factual error because that's not how I remember things, the 'we' doesn't necessarily include you, and it's a piece from my perspective." But there's the rub: I'm the writer in the family, so my perspective is the one the world is going to see, shaped and shined both to reflect my memory and to fit into my artistic vision for a given work. 

My brother was a passing mention in the piece. But in real life, he's a real person with his own internal narrative about events we both experienced and who is also grappling with the impending death of our beloved pet. As I writer, I stand by my right to narrativize my life in my art. And my life includes other people. But as a person, I'm bracing for what may well be a lifetime of listening to friends and family protest their presence in my prose, and I proceed mindful that my ability to tell stories comes with great responsibility.