Posts Tagged ‘family’

My Life in Pictures: February 2013

February was a short month, but lingering colds for everyone around me and never-ending snow and greyness made it seem so much longer! So my usually cynical self appreciated Valentine’s Day just a bit more, if only for a mid-month riot of red, roses and chocolate.

Preparations for the day: lavender soap wrapped in happy-colored paper and cute ribbon for presents. I was tempted to buy a little craft kit to make a pink stuffed owl for my niece, but I hesitated and then it sold out! So, yes, just left with ribbon for a project for the day. I wrapped it around a bottle of nice Irish whiskey:

My real “craft project”: I printed up lots of my Instagrams and made them into “art.” Framing things makes them art, and that’s my case and I’m sticking to it:


Love Letters to Everyone

I have never embraced Valentine’s Day as a red hearts/chocolates/Hallmark kind of day. I used to be quite cynical about it all, being a grumpy punk, but now I appreciate it as an opportunity to honor love in all its forms. Love doesn’t just mean coupledom to me, though, but largesse of spirit and greatness of heart for all your loved ones, so I like to send out little arrows of appreciation and affection to everyone in my circle.

My Parents

I thank whatever divine spirit caused me to be born to them, for their wisdom and trust and love and generosity. They’ve given me the space to be myself, and that means the world to me.

My Sisters

I’m so proud and honored to be part of our tribe. I’m proud of how we all stand together, and how we support one another through thick and thin. They’re the people I can most depend on in my life, and I’m so grateful for that.

My Nieces and Nephews

My little monsters bring so much pure love and energy into my life. I love how much they are a valued part of my life, and I love being witness to their amazing journeys so far as people — seeing them develop and grow as people has been a great joy. I love all their hugs and kisses and snuggling, for getting to hold their hands or push them in swings as they have their little philosophical conversations with me. I’m excited to watch them grow into fine people. They make my heart so much bigger.

My Friends

So many are farflung. Some I talk to often; others maybe once in awhile. But I appreciate all the laughter, support and companionship we’ve shared over the years, all the adventures we’ve had together, all the far-reaching and searching conversations that bring us closer to one another and to ourselves. So many are my bright lights of inspiration, and I’m appreciative of their graceful, courageous examples of making the most out of life.

My Inspirations

Whether they’re friends or creative colleagues or just supernovas in the universe that just blaze and blaze and blaze through the darkness, I’m so grateful for their love and light and brilliance. On a journey with many bumps and pockets of darkness, where you’re often stranded with no map, my inspirations keep me going.

My Co-Workers

I don’t often write about my job, but I will acknowledge here that I work with really good spirits, and that makes everything so much better!

My Ex-Loves

I thank them for making me wiser in the ways of the heart and spirit, and for being some of my best teachers in being a more authentic human being. Without them I wouldn’t be the woman I am, and I wouldn’t have near as much appreciation for the love in my life as I do now.

My Beau

For love and love and love and love. For everything.


For reading here, and for so many of your gracious comments and feedback. Despite the omnipresence of social media everywhere, so often writing on the Internet still feels like whispering to yourself in the dark. But when I hear from anyone here — and I get lots of heartfelt missives and searching, provocative questions — I truly feel like we’re not alone in this great big world of ours. So thank you!

On Being An Aunt

Being an aunt is seriously one of the best parts of my life. Moving from NYC was motivated in large part by the desire to be closer to my family — my parents, mostly, but also my growing brood of nieces and nephews. These days, I see them at least once a week and love feeling like a regular presence in their lives. Being an aunt is all the fun and cuteness of children, without the tantrums, late nights and mess…and if they misbehave or act up, you can just hand ‘em back to the parents and plead helplessness!

Joking aside, in all earnestness, I take my role as an aunt pretty sincerely and seriously. No one ever really talks about being a good auntie or uncle, though — there are tons of parenting guides, books and sites of all stripes and philosophies, but relatively few devoted to the idea of aunts and uncles — extended, diffuse child-rearing, if you will.

No way would I ever compare the work of being an aunt or uncle to being a parent, but there’s still a pull and resonance there that I’ve yet to see fully explored. I remember the intense rush of love I felt the first time I held my first nephew, and I was in the delivery room with my sister when my first niece was born — because her labor was so fast, her dad hadn’t arrived in time, and I remember bringing her to the scale to be weighed, and watching her open her eyes at me, startled and shocked, as she squirmed on the little metal platform.

There is a gravity and rush of emotion in being an aunt or uncle, and it’s important to me to direct that feeling in a way that makes some kind of contribution to my little nieces and nephews. Whatever impact I do have in their lives, I’d like it to be a good one.

But like I said, there isn’t much of a blueprint for being an aunt or uncle. Most aunt stereotypes are, you know, Auntie Mame types: dotty, eccentric, sometimes glamorous, most often spinster or bitter. Think Bart Simpson’s aunts Selma and Patty, or Harry Potter’s Aunt Petunia. Even academia’s mostly neglected aunts and uncles, with most studies focusing on primary families. (The first comprehensive study of aunts and uncles was published in 2010, according to the New York Times.)

So what’s a well-meaning aunt to do? For me, I take a page from what I call the “Uncle Jesse from Full House book,” which is adapting the cool uncle persona but putting a feminine spin on it. First I had to break down what makes cool uncles so, well, cool, beyond riding motorcycles, swigging beer and playing in bands — breaking down the place you can play in a kid’s life, really. The nice thing about being an aunt — and having that role so narrowly defined, culturally speaking — is that you’re free to invent it for yourself.

What it boiled itself down to, for me, is this: cool aunts and uncles expand the range of possibilities and influences that children are exposed to as they grow up. As a kid, I was always on the lookout for hints on what I’d grow into as an adult. Myself, I had my parents, my teachers, the occasional unmarried family friend, random neighbors and, um, some Buddhist monks to look at for clues. Whenever someone hinted at the remote possibility that life could be lived differently than how I saw it around me, I pounced on it — it captured my imagination, whether it was noticing my mom’s friend’s hot pink strappy sandals or watching my neighbor’s grown-up daughter suntan in the backyard. (Her name was Novella, if I remember: such a great 70s name!)

I keep that in mind now as my relationship with my nieces and nephews grows. I’m well aware that I’m a single, childless lady, a bohemian-artist type, someone who’s traveled, been independent, gone to film school, lived in New York, run my own business and has a boyfriend that I’m not married to. (It’s definitely funny what they pick up: one of my nieces and nephews have a game called “Going to New York to Visit Auntie Kat” that involved them hailing taxis, taking subways, hunting out dim sum in Chinatown and saying very seriously, “I need to go to Sephora.”) At the very least, I can present an expanded picture of how a woman can live out her life and make the most of her existence.

Beyond that, I can expose them to things and experiences that can expand them creatively, imaginatively, intellectually — letting them watch Hayao Miyazaki movies, for example (they love My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away), playing different bands beyond Dr. Jean and KidzBop (favorite moment: playing R.E.M. in the car and being told by my nephew that Michael Stipe “sings like arthritis”), letting them riffle through my art books and piles of pictures from travels to London and Portugal.

I can tell them about the time I was vegan and what that means, about going to a gay friend’s wedding, about grappling with my sample-sale nemesis for the perfect Foley + Corinna bargain. (After which, my niece made me play “Sample Sale” for weeks when we played Barbies together. It involved dolls arm-wrestling a lot.) I find the sharing aspect of being an aunt so exciting.

But being an auntie really has less to do what I show them and more about giving them the space to be who they are and think what they want. I listen to them mostly, as we swing on swings and tuck into beds during sleepovers — we have amazingly creative, ranging conversations on mortality, religion, God and the universe. (Recently, my 4-year-old nephew told me with complete confidence that after we die, we “come back” as a family again together in different bodies but everyone gets to play a different role “because otherwise it would be boring.”) Sometimes, when I’m at a restaurant or place where I see children and their caretakers interact, I’m struck by how little children are listened to — they’re mostly talked at. So I try to remember to sometimes just listen, ask questions, help them develop trains of thought. And just let them figure out who they are — all anyone ever really wants, even from a young age, is to be given the space to completely and authentically themselves.

What’s been interesting, most of all, about being an aunt — beyond the nutty escapades my nieces and nephews and I get up to sometimes — is that it’s made me realize and reframe all the interesting parts of me and my life. Someone once told me that being a parent will bring out the best version of yourself, as well as your worst self, all at once. Certainly, when there are young children in your life that are important to you, you’re much more aware of your faults as a human being — but also what your gifts and strengths and stories are. Those are the things you’ll be remembered for when you’re old and they’re grown-up, I think — that, and the love you give them, of course.


Pic, of course, is of me and my niece and nephew, being silly, which I count as one of my auntie superpowers.

On Telling Stories to Children

I’m not a mother, but children are a big part of my life. I’m a doting auntie and I see my nephews and nieces a lot. They are a big reason why I moved away from NYC and back to my region of origin. I get the distinction of being the “crazy aunt” with them because I lived in a big city and I dress weird and sometimes I drop an unintentional swear-bomb. (I know, I know. I try hard, but sometimes they just slip out! Especially when driving!)

But mostly my role as the eccentric Uncle Jesse equivalent in my own personal “Full House” involves me telling stories to entertain the kiddos. They’re always wanting to play “Story Hour,” and let me tell you — I had some tough instructors in my writing classes, but they were not nearly as tough as this pint-sized set. The minute one of my stories get boring, they simply walk away. Tough crowd!

Kids are so ruthless when it comes to stories. They don’t care so much about evocative language, beautiful atmospherics or penetrating insight. They like action, they like boldly yet simply drawn characters, they like happy, triumphant endings, and a dose of silliness at the right moment doesn’t hurt, either.

The minute something gets slow, or boring, their wide eyes begin to glaze over, they get fidgety, and before you know it, they’ve dissed you for some Barbie coloring book or a wrestling match with their Real Steel action figures, and you’re sitting there like last year’s Disney sitcom princess in rehab.

Funnily enough, I get super-terrified when my nephews and niece demand a story from me. I’ve pitched managers and agents before, but telling stories to the kids in my life makes me even more nervous for some weird reason. Not nervous exactly, but I definitely feel the need to stay alert and responsive in a way that doesn’t exist when it’s just me, my imagination and my fingers flying over the keyboard.

Being the kids’ storyteller makes me remember that stories are, on a basic level, meant to be entertaining: meant to draw people in, meant to enchant and, above all, captivate. You have to weave a spell, and weave it quickly.

There’s kind of a stage fright for oral storytelling, of course, but there’s also the pressure of having to weave a story on the spot. You start to understand how techniques like repetition, stock characters and build-up are so enduring: they help you vamp for time while trying to cook up something new.

But being put on the spot has its unexpected benefits, too: having to invent right then and there makes you un-precious about the act of creation itself. There’s no time or room to be perfectionistic; you simply have to go for it. I’ve definitely had moments when I’ve wondered, in the middle of telling a story, Oh god, what am I going to put in this magic cupboard to keep the kids interested? And then I look at the groceries on the table and think, A haunted bag of potato chips! (They loved that.)

The saving grace of telling stories to kids is that they like to hear the same story over and over again. More than like: they LOVE hearing the same story again and again, repeated ad nauseum. It’s like writing draft after draft, reworking certain crowd-pleasing elements to bring them to the fore and ruthlessly dropping what doesn’t work. It’s live testing in the moment: a quiet hush and wide eyes means it’s working, but the minute my nephew starts punching on his sister, I know that it’s not. (And that’s when I get to yell, “I don’t care who started it, I just know that it needs to STOP!” And then I become slightly terrified that I’m sounding like my mother.)

Anyway: I’ve come to embrace the times when one of my get-along gang demands a story from me. It’s so much fun, and such a good exercise I’m almost convinced writing programs should have an on-going exercise in telling stories to kindergartners. It’s oddly terrifying, but hearing all those kids cheer when you get to that hard-won happy ending feels more viscerally pleasing than anything. Well, almost anything: not quite as good as getting all hugs and kisses from my favorite little ones for taking the time to tell them a tale in the first place.