Friday, June 29, 2012

a letter to Nora.

Dear Nora,

My autographed You've Got Mail poster from the raffle
at Housing Works' "We've Got Mail" event in February.
It's taken me more hours than I'd like to pay proper tribute to you after your passing, but here is my attempt now: a letter to heaven, and I hope it finds you well. You may wonder why write this to a woman I never knew, but as Chris Matthews put it the other night: "Because this is about us."

Your writing was more than words on a page, on a screen. You were a storyteller in every sense of the word: it's because of you that I know that complicated matters of the heart can indeed be put into words, and that none of us are ever alone in loving, losing, or learning to begin again.

I was only a child the first time I saw one of your films. I have loved them ever since. There was something different about the heroine of your stories--the way she laughed, the way she spoke (so eloquent, so real), the way she rolled her eyes and brushed the hair from her face. I so wanted to be Kathleen Kelly (part of me still does today) because even though she lost at some things, she won too, and isn't that the message we all need? You can fall and you can fail--in fact, you will fall and fail a lot--in love, in work, in friendships, in life...but pick yourself up. See, I've had falling outs with friends, and I've made mistakes for 23 years, and I fell for the wrong person once who's since broken my heart every day for two years now...but it'll all pass. I believe it.

Yes, let yourself grieve, and feel every emotion of the pain of what you had and what could have been, but you'll be okay. And, please, don't be afraid to start over.

The themes of your films strike a timeless chord, and even though future generations will never know that familiar dial-up sound, there's still something about the characters and their journey that captivates hearts and souls. "I always recognized in those stories pieces of people I knew and conversations I had had," Linda Holmes wrote on NPR after learning of your passing. "They were like choral compositions where everything else is just pretty sounds, but you can pick out the alto line because you sang it in choir fifteen years ago. You could never reproduce the entire thing without amplification and help, but that one part makes sense."

Sleepless in Seattle taught me something about loneliness as much as When Harry Met Sally taught me about growth. The way I write, the way I speak, the way I think has been subtly influenced by your writing, and you share the credit (and, let's be honest, the blame)--along with Didion and Plath--for the messy and emotional basket case I can be, and the messy and emotional words that have led to these blogs.

From your films to your essays, and your forays into topics of friendships, romance, feminism, aging, and more, the pages of the book you created truly never tired. Charles McGrath's obit in the Times for you ended with a bit of your writing that brought forth the simplicity of why people--why I--adored you:
Ms. Ephron’s collection “I Remember Nothing” concludes with two lists, one of things she says she won’t miss and one of things she will. Among the “won’t miss” items are dry skin, Clarence Thomas, the sound of the vacuum cleaner, and panels on “Women in Film.”   
The other list, of the things she will miss, begins with “my kids” and “Nick” and ends this way: 
“Taking a bath
Coming over the bridge to Manhattan
Pie.”
You saw New York differently than so many, I'm sure of it. You saw life so differently too--not that you lived it differently, but that you knew how to express it differently, and more authentically than most.

Nora...it was nice to have met you.

Ciao,
Traci

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

the way i see it: 'you deserve better.'

I received an email from a good friend earlier today with a very sweet response to a bit of my ranting, with three words I think we're all familiar with: "You deserve better."

I think we've all said that to someone at some point, or heard it from someone ourselves. You deserve better, and you and you and you--so, in theory, we all deserve better. And yet, we all don't think so either. We're always selling ourselves short, letting others walk all over us in hopes that we can be the bigger person. But sometimes, people just treat others like crap. We all do it, whether it's intentional or not.

Perhaps we should all be striving for the patience and kindness we hope for others to bestow on us so it doesn't matter when we're placed on back burners or ignored, and it doesn't matter when someone makes a promise and forgets. If you put enough good out there in the world, some of it is bound to come back to you someday, right? At least we should all try to live a life that encourages compassion.

There will be people who you choose to invest in who will never take you seriously, never see you as an equal. They will forget the things you say, they will ignore you and choose others they may not really care about because you may demand too much: you may demand respect, and we don't like to be told we haven't been respecting others. They will mistreat you, and you will have a choice to stand up for yourself or not. Most often, we choose to sit back because we want to believe that that person we love cannot be that cruel. At least that's what I want to believe. I want to believe people are inherently good, and if that makes me naive, then so be it--I'm a fool.

The world itself is filled with so many things that make me lose faith in the decency of others. I spend my entire day watching the news and there's a lot of shit out there that is enough to incite utter chaos and despair in my brain on the subway ride home. So I don't like to feel like the people I come in direct contact with from day to day are indecent or disrespectful as well. I don't want to be someone who isn't a decent friend or a decent human being either.

I suppose this is just a very verbose answer to the question, "Why do you let yourself be treated like crap?" And the short answer could well be, "I'm not good enough for him/her/them/etc." Really, my answer is that, deep down, I'm sickeningly optimistic.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

-30-.

Wall of front pages from the Newseum's "Covering Katrina" exhibit.
About three weeks ago, Advance Publications announced it would end daily publication of The Times-Picayune, New Orleans' last remaining daily newspaper. The 175-year-old newspaper will be moving to a three-day publication schedule, with an increased emphasis on online news. The decision makes New Orleans the largest city in the U.S. without a daily publication. The Times-Picayune also announced 200 layoffs last week--half of its staff--including veteran journalists and long-time employees of the newspaper. I think This photo via Twitter from Ann Maloney, the paper's arts and entertainment editor, says it all.

(The title of this blog post comes from an old copy editor's code for "end of story." Many staff members announced their layoffs on Facebook this way.)

This news absolutely broke my heart. The Times-Picayune was a great daily newspaper, and it's a shame that Advance Publications chose to go in this direction--especially given that a third of New Orleans' residents, according to NPR, don't have internet access. After reading 1 Dead in Attic, I felt as if The Times-Picayune was more than just a newspaper in a place I'd never been. It was a pivotal part of American history, and one that I watched in real-time through my television back in 2005 and experienced on a whole different level last year at the Newseum.

After I saw the "Covering Katrina" exhibit at the Newseum the first time, I felt unsettled, sick. The second time I went back to the Newseum to see it, I was still upset, but inspired by the strength of the journalists who sought the truth and told the stories buried underneath the water and amongst the rubble.

The Times-Picayune was essential to documenting Hurricane Katrina. "They just wanted a newspaper," the exhibit quoted an editor as saying. And damn, did they report. They stayed the storm, stuck through the horrors--through ruined digital equipment, no electricity, and more, as they biked where they could and did their best to report while also helping those in pain.

The one thing that struck me the most about Chris Rose's writing in 1 Dead in Attic was the resilience of the people of New Orleans. What happened in 2005 was devastating, and the period of abandonment they endured was even worse. To read about the refrigerator museum and the shock over the looting made me think about what my life would be like if my community was turned upside down. The culture, the people, the city...there's something about the spirit of New Orleans that is unique, and to know that The Times-Picayune will no longer be a part of its daily story is a tragedy.

Artifacts from the newsroom during the hurricane, including handwritten
notes by reporters and the white board used to keep track of events.
(Photos from "Covering Katrina" by yours truly.)

Friday, June 15, 2012

can we talk?

Sure we can talk, but can we really communicate? I know, I know--the perpetual millennial problem: "Too many forms of communication! Ah!"

Above: Portlandia shows us how obsessed we are with our stupid smartphones.

But even with all the texting and IMing and emails and tweets, it's possible to feel so far away from someone. There's someone I thought/think I was/am close to, but only when I really think about it do I realize that friendship--one I viewed as so important, someone I call my best friend--is probably in my head. In the year we spent apart, we rarely spoke, and almost never on the phone. Cursory texts and lolsy messages via social networking were the norm. Meanwhile, life was happening and the sharing felt like it had slowed. His belief was that even if we didn't talk, we would still be friends because he believes that friendships will come full circle. Though now that we are back in the same city, and I see the care and consideration he takes to keep up with friends he is now separated from--the texts, birthday presents across the country, etc.--I have to wonder if perhaps I really do exist, temporarily, to fill a void. Perhaps it is possible to measure friendship, and mine doesn't quite hold up.

How many times can one ask to talk before it becomes redundant? How many times can we turn to the friend we feel we're losing or the person toying with our emotions or the family member we know is going through life changes, and beg for a conversation? I'm not sure.

But I'm stubborn. I don't like giving up on people. So then when someone says there were times they thought I wouldn't be around, I have to wonder if I should've listened to my gut instincts and walked away instead of allowed myself to unconsciously be used.

I know I've been on the other end of this all too. I can be terrible at quick responses and thoughtful communication when I'm wrapped up in work or some dumb personal torment. (Note to self: get over yourself. Seriously.)

I suppose this reflection serves to remind myself to not be afraid to invest in people, despite the experience of investing in someone and having them resent you. But like Katie once wrote to me: "The heart is a resilient thing, and I've found that even when I make mistakes or drag things out, I will eventually get over it, though it may take a ton of patience and time. I'm sure your heart is just as resilient! Reminds me of a salamander's tail, haha."

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

blue nights.

"'You have your wonderful memories,' people said later, as if memories were solace. Memories are not. Memories are by definition of times past, things gone. Memories are the Westlake uniforms in the closet, the faded and cracked photographs, the invitations to the weddings of the people who are no longer married, the mass cards from the funerals of the people whose faces you no longer remember. Memories are what you no longer want to remember.”

I just finished reading Joan Didion's Blue Nights, her "follow up" (if you will) to The Year of Magical Thinking. Friends and readers, you'll remember the first time I read The Year of Magical Thinking: it was the summer of 2010 and I was tiptoeing around the pieces of a broken heart. I felt silly for feeling "better" after reading the book because its subject is so painful. The loss of a husband and daughter almost back-to-back is nothing compared to a heartache; it's a different sort of heartache, really.

When Mengfei lent me The Year of Magical Thinking, she prefaced it with, "This helped me get over the death of my guinea pig." I laughed, but after reading it, I got it. Any loss--no matter how big or small--is still life-changing to various degrees. We lose a pet, and our lives are quieter. We lose a person, and our lives feel smaller. We feel smaller.

“Memory fades, memory adjusts, memory conforms to what we think we remember.”

It has been one year since I graduated college and parted ways from some of the most important people in my life. It's been five months since I moved to New York, away from the semblance of stability and community in DC. It feels like a slow growth, but a growth nonetheless, and I'm thankful for the place I'm at now, though there's an absence of "something more."

I hate to be morbid, but as I was reading Blue Nights, the same thought ran continuously through my head: this reads like Didion's farewell to the world. Didion's work has always contained an anxious feeling that death is soon to come, but there was something about Blue Nights that felt so finished, so final. And, in connecting the dots, I have to wonder if this heartbreak has finally come to an end--the heartbreak of living, of loving, of losing.

We can choose unhappiness every step of the way of our lives. We can choose to let the big or the little things break us. In the face of adversity and pain, we can choose to give in. Or, as Didion shows us, we can learn to live, and I do believe that every day is a struggle to learn to live.

But I also believe that nothing is never too impossible to learn to live through. Nothing is too much to ever stop us from truly living. You can go through your whole life putting off the inevitable to avoid pain and loss. Or you can choose to embrace it. I choose to embrace it.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

god only knows what i'd be without you.

When the Jesusita wildfire swept through Santa Barbara in 2009, thousands of acres were destroyed and thousands were forced to evacuate from their homes. It's been three years since the fire, but the story of two displaced creatures still makes my heart ache.

A three-week-old bobcat kitten and three-day-old fawn were rescued from the fire, and while animals of separate species are rarely ever placed together, emergency circumstances forced rescuers to put the two in the same area. And the rest is Disney storybook history:
The bobcat and fawn would not normally be placed together, due to regulations, but the rescuers had no choice.  They snagged the bobcat kitten first, finding it dehydrated and near death.  Later, they brought in the fawn and discovered they didn’t have a crate large enough for it.  No matter – the kitten ran right over to the fawn, and the two became fast friends.
So...yes, this made me cry. Maybe I've just been having a really emotional couple of weeks, but I think there's something so incredibly pure and heartbreaking about this scramble to survive, this clinging to one another because that's all you have after your world's been turned upside down. We see it in tragedy--after September 11 and in the depths of the whirlpool of Hurricane Katrina--and we see it in the day-to-day when we ask people to get coffee or lunch, or when we move to a new city and know no one.

Perhaps what keeps human beings alive (and I mean truly alive, not just merely existing in the same time and space) is interaction with someone of their kind. For someone to understand their struggle, their pain, and who they are and where they came from.

Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but I'd like to think these animals are exhibiting the simplest form of love, something that gets ruined by human beings when we overthink and let our own personal torments overwhelm our decisions. Maybe we can learn something from this.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

away we roll.

The idea of "the perfect relationship" perplexes me. In any relationship--friendship, romantic, family--there will be so many bumps and twists in the road that it's impossible to say with certainty, "Yes, this is it." It seems more natural to just fuck things up. (Or maybe that's just me...?)

There's this episode of How I Met Your Mother where Ted starts dating a girl he dumped three years ago because he thinks perhaps his tastes have changed, and things are great until he decides that the girl isn't "the one," so he dumps her (on her birthday, for the second time, nonetheless).

I can understand that, I think, because I've been there. I've gotten involved with people I had no intention of going anywhere with. I have, to steal the stupid words said to me recently, "dated people to discard them." And it was dumb, but then I focused on other things: finishing school with all of the opportunities presented to me, forging deep friendships with new and old comrades, taking the time for people who matter, and chasing a life that never felt certain (but fuck it if I didn't try, if I didn't do something).

I grew up. I saw what it meant to really try to maintain connections with people (and what it meant to not try and just rely on fate to keep you close), and that is something I value more than the people I discarded. I know, I know--I'm still so young! 23! Who figures out life when you're just 23? That's not par for the course in this day and age. If I'm not lost and confused and just fucking around, then I'm not normal.

Right?
From Shel Silverstein's "The Missing Piece Meets the Big O." Read it here.