Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Dear 2012,

The thing I most want to do in this moment is make a giant list of all the wrong that occurred in the year  of our Lord 2012. I want to wallow in it, highlight it, point out how unfair everything that ever happened in 2012 ever was. I want you to feel sorry for me. I want to feel sorry for myself. For not being skinnier, for not being in my 20s, for not becoming a famous blogger, for never seeming to do the things I really really really want to do. For failing to do everything perfectly, including choosing the right career and keeping an impeccable garden. I realize while writing this that my greatest sin, in my own mind, it not achieving perfection.

Because there's the times that I do those things that I really really really want to do. And those wonderful things get covered up by clouds of self doubt, by some need to tell myself, hey you really ought to have done better. I'm always raining on my own damn parade. Truth is, the failures and unexpected twists that have made up this past year are the very things that have gotten me through it.

This year, I really really really wanted to know what it felt like to live in New York. You know, the glam, the hustle and bustle, the opportunities. So I just did that, went to New York and acted like I lived there for a few weeks. And it worked, I totally felt like I did live there. Nothing glamorous happened save for a dirty martini at sunset atop the Met. Except that everything glamorous did happen including a rained out Shakespeare in the park performance, dollar oysters around every corner, art appreciation lessons from a stranger at the Brooklyn museum, frog legs at Coney Island, matinee ballet amid fur clad seniors, and standing-room only Mets baseball. In New York, the glamour is in the grit.

After visiting Ellis Island, whose museum on American immigration is truly inspirational, I did a quick search on their website just to see if there were any relatives who'd passed through. Without much searching at all, I found a record from 1922 of my grandfather returning to the US from Turkey. The document indicated he was in Constantinople on business.

My grandfather died when my father was small, so I never knew him and neither did he. We knew next to nothing about the man. Maybe because my grandmother was too devastated to talk about him, or maybe because she didn't know him well herself. We will never know. But staring at that computer screen in my friend's studio apartment in Manhattan suddenly brought the man to life. Next to his name on the Ellis Island manifest document was a short description of his trip length and purpose, as well as his date of birth and an address in Brooklyn, New York. Now, we'd known he'd been born somewhere in New York, but we didn't know anything about his childhood or young adult life. For the first time in my life I needed to know everything there was to know about this man.

I stayed up all night and spent the next few days feverishly researching documents and family trees, pouring over census records and Ancestry.com. Meanwhile, my friend helped me find a long-term rental apartment in Brooklyn, steps from Prospect Park. I lugged my possessions up seven flights of the stone, World War II era building and into my new digs on the well-heated top floor apartment with a view of the neighbor's window across the breezeway and my very own rusted fire-escape. This was definitely the ideal New York living I'd been striving for. After settling in a bit, I took a walk to orient myself to the nearest subway stops, grocery stores and outrageously bad coffee shops I would learn to love in the weeks to come. And there it was, under shady sidewalk trees, lined on both sides with iconic brownstones behind wrought-iron fences, Greene Ave. The street my grandfather had listed as his address in 1922.

I laughed at serendipity and hung a left, admiring the homes and tiny flower gardens, looking for #1622. These brownstones are definitely pre-1922, I thought, his house is certainly still standing. As I passed #34 and #35, it occurred to me that 100 degrees was not ideal conditions for such a long walk. It was good enough in that moment to simply walk where he walked, to exist where he existed.

Turns out #1622 no longer stands. But in the weeks that followed, I found much more than an old brownstone. My obsessive family research led me to my grandfather's siblings (who we never knew about) and their children and their children. I looked one of them up in the old-fashioned Yellow Pages and called the number. And she answered. Without much explaining at all she knew who I was and on my very last day in New York I got to meet her, at Grand Central station, amid the definition of hustle and bustle.

Just like that my father, who never had an uncle or aunt or any family at all, had a cousin. And I, who'd imagined my summer wistfully drinking cocktails at jazz bars while writing poetry on napkins, had discovered that I didn't need to know what it was like to live in New York, I was freaking from there.

In the end I ought to have done a lot more than I did in 2012. The year, as a whole, was far from perfect. Exactly where it should be.


  1. This was by far the most open, reflective commiseration, of 2012 that I've read so far. I relate to your moments of self doubt, not fulfilling your own ideals of or expectations of yourself and I think the way you've responded to it is beautiful. Thank you for sharing your personal story. Perhaps, someday I will feel capable of doing the same.

    1. Thank you for reading Rachel. I have been struggling lately with the direction of my blog. This year I'm just going to try and be as open and real as I can. I'd love to hear your story when you're ready.

  2. I loved this entry - what an amazing and brave summer experience you had - missing you! -Rae

  3. Wow. That's amazing! Isn't it wonderful to do family research? I always find myself in detective mode too, so I also ended up doing some research on my grandparent's old house that was a two-room schoolhouse. It's amazing what you can find. I'm glad that you grew you family in 2012. It seems like more than a worthy cause! :)

  4. I haven't visited your blog as much as I'd like to. There are some gorgeous pictures and you have a nice writing style. I can relate to your whole first paragraph. I'm not a famous blogger either, don't have an impeccable garden, and have a list of things I'd love to have done... but life goes on. I get blogger envy too, but just keep going on my own path... and trust that it will take me where I need to go. I wish that for you too. Just do one step at a time. Feel whatever feelings you have w/o denying they exist. I tried this the other day, when I felt really yucky and emotional, and pulled up a welcome mat for those feelings, and said "hang out if you need to," and they went away on their own.


Aloha Saturdays with Maggy reader! Thank you for your comments, I love hearing your thoughts and feedback.


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