Month: May 2015

The Final Reunions I Never Had

There are reunions you look forward to in life. For these gatherings, you plan to lose a few pounds ahead of time, book hotel rooms and rekindle memories by looking though old photo albums and yearbooks. And then there are the impromptu reunions. They are the unplanned, emotional and raw. I keep an altar of sorts on my nightstand. It’s a place to reunite the spirits I love. The ones who were taken from us too soon. *** I met my friend Chris Vicente in a Nazism and Fascism class in college during our junior year at Penn State. He had just returned from a semester in Rome, and I was immediately drawn to his Euro style: the horn-rimmed glasses, the bouffy, big 80s hair and a fabulous fashion sense. We didn’t know each other, but figured we should. And that’s how the friendship started. Turns out we shared a birthday (July 8), a passion for life, dancing and a love of men, although I didn’t officially discover that Chris liked boys until much later …

What the Bullied Girl Taught Me

Reunions are like reflections. At least, that’s the thought I had after a recent high-school class reunion, though I could apply the same sentiment to family reunions, or really any encounter with people I haven’t seen in years. For at least a moment, you flash back to how you remember them — and yourself — at that time. Then there’s the inevitable question, “what have you been doing since I last saw you?” A friend once told me our reactions arc over time, much like our responses. At early reunions, like the five- or ten-year, familiarity still tends to run strong. You’ve stayed in touch with many old friends. They know what you’ve been doing. The range of individual achievements and failures remains fairly consistent. Many graduated college and got their first job; some got married. I was moving to New York. I was on my way up. By the 15th year, though, you start reflecting on the things you had planned for when you grew up. Because now you are grown up. You are what you are going to be. Is it what you thought? [pullquote]By …

Snapshots of a 100+ Person Family Picnic

When I was a teenager I loathed family reunions. “How is school?” “Where do you plan to go to college?” “Do you have a boyfriend?” Questions that have no real answers. Adolescent hell. I loved my aunts and uncles, and even when I was at my most socially awkward, “I hate it,” “I don’t know,” and “hell no” seemed like dismissive answers, and would have for sure gotten me in trouble. I opted for “Fine,” “I don’t know — University of Maryland, probably,” and “Uh, no.” Simple and marginally true. Our summer picnic on the Chesapeake Bay and the yearly Christmas party were non-negotiable family obligations, however. And even at 15 I knew that these huge events — and my family — were too important to skip, no matter how I felt about it. My grandfather was the oldest of 18 siblings born over a span of 20 years. No one in his generation moved from the DC area, so these gatherings were glue for them and their children, and eventually my generation, the great-grandchildren. …

What’s Your Best Reunion Story? [VIDEO]

Are you still the same nerd at your high school reunion? When you're at your annual family get-together, is your aunt still pressuring you (at 45) to "settle down and have kids, already"? Tell us your funniest, most ridiculous reunion story. Bonus points for forgotten names. It's super easy to record a video right from your phone or screen and hit submit, so join us in the fun. You'll have 22 seconds to tell your story and you can redo as many times as you want to get it right. And don't be disappointed if it takes a few minutes for your video to show up; we're doing some light monitoring behind the scenes.

Reconnecting with Lenny from Leningrad

The other night I was nestled in bed like a snug bug in the rug, or some other insect facing imminent extermination, about to drift off to sleep, when suddenly I had a thought. This in and of itself was not remarkable, as I often have thoughts, and the ones before visiting slumberland tend to range from “I wonder if I have an undiagnosed and incurable disease” to “I hope that North Korea putting Austin on the To Attack List isn’t giving Austin NYC-type delusions of grandeur.” But that particular evening, I had a different thought. See, after spending time working on my masterpiece I wondered why I never bothered to look up Lenny from Leningrad on Facebook. In case you hadn’t yet hacked into my computer to read a draft of From Russia With Baggage (working title), from the age of zero to 9, when my parents and I left the Soviet Union, Lenny was my boyfriend. That was in 1975. Or 1976, I’m not great with dates. I liked Lenny because he did …

Margit’s Note: Don’t You (Forget About Me)

We relate to people through certain time chunks in our lives — the high school chunk, the college chunk, that first job, the second, the time we moved to Chicago, the time we moved back. We have all these various “eras” that include different friends, favorite haunts, routes we drove, routines we’ve long since replaced, various versions of ourselves. Facebook has kept some of us in touch, blending our eras into one big slush pile of pals, but in-person reunions truly take us back. “Remember when Louis did that lawn job in Elliot’s front yard?” “Holy shit, yes. He had some crazy car.” “He had a Camaro!” I hadn’t seen or talked to Luke or Emily or Mana or Mark in 30 years but here we were conjuring up 30-year-old memories at our high school reunion. How short we (girls) hemmed our school kilts, terror-inspiring teachers, the nice ones, too (Mrs. Allen!), walking to school across the golf course, smoking clove cigarettes in the parking lot. “Wait, didn’t you hook up with him?” Thirty years on, some things …

My Never-Ending Quest for Seriously Comfortable Summer Shoes

“Size 10 and a half if you have ‘em?” I handed two shoes to the sales person — a sleek silver oxford and a squishy-souled FitFlop sandal. Comfy shoes. I looked just across the crowded Lord & Taylor shoe department to see a crisply-habit-ed nun, legs crossed demurely, waiting for something or someone. She smiled at me. (I was working on the Faith issue at the time, so of course I took this as some prescient moment. Anyway. ) When the shoes arrived, the silver oxfords were a bust: beautiful but ouch-tight and narrow. At this point in my life, I simply can’t wear anything that remotely hurts. Wrenching them off, I slipped on the FitFlop. Thick black straps, a cork sole — they weren’t the belle of the ball but they promised podiatric pleasure. GLORY BE if they weren’t the most comfortable objects I’d ever slipped on my feet. Like walking on air. No, as if I simply didn’t have feet — just fluffy clouds attached to my legs. They didn’t look half bad …

Trading a Favor for Shoes in the Soviet Union

  My toes felt scrunched. The nails I’d forgotten to cut pushed against my white tights and the new, stiff leather. “How are they?” my grandfather asked. He’d just brought over these shoes from his house and the moment he took them out of the box I was in love. The most beautiful things I’d seen in the short, seven years I’d been alive, they were lacquered, a chocolate brown color and had a great big buckle in the middle. They smelled of leather and sported a very small, square heel that to me put them in the same category as my mother’s platforms. And they were made in Japan. For the 1970s Soviet citizen this may as well have been the Manolo Blahnik workshop. Foreign goods — and foreign shoes, in particular — captivated us. We were stuck behind the Iron Wall and forced to wear the ugly, shoddy creations of the planned Communist economy. The few of our citizenry who traveled abroad always came back with their suitcases bursting with goods for both …

Big Foot: Life in Size 12s

At nine, I was already one of the tallest kids in 4th grade — you can always find me in my tortoise-shell cat glasses in the last row of class pictures — and I must have had one of, if not the, biggest pairs of feet among the girls. I can’t recall the size cutoff in the girls’ shoe department but my mother must have known I was already pushing it. I suppose hope sprung eternal in her, too. My mom loved to shop, and she imparted that love in me from an early age. Back when I was a girl in suburban St. Louis, some of our best days involved wandering the racks and doing our version of “the ladies who lunch.” Fortified, we would set out on our quest once again. But nothing could prepare me for that fateful day in 1970 in the girls’ department at Stix, Baer & Fuller. I had gathered the cute styles all my friends were wearing, handed them to the salesman and sat patiently with my mom …

Dr. Strangeloafer: How I Learned To Stop Wearing Leather And Love My Shoes

Some people, like me, give up leather because they don’t fancy the idea of wearing animals’ skin. Others are trying to go a bit easier on Mother Earth in general (even as a byproduct of the meat industry, leather has a massive carbon footprint and the chemicals used to process it are just as nasty as — and often much nastier than —the stuff that goes into faux leather).* For all I know, there may be a third, kinky group that’s just really into wearing plastics. Who can say? One constant: We all have to work a bit harder to find good-looking accessories. I’m no hippie, and I’m not especially interested in filling my closet with pleathery fast-fashion pieces that fall apart after a few wears. So what does a girl have to do to get some solid non-leather shoes around here? Consider a pair of high-fashion jellies.  For the last two summers, I’ve lived in a pair of black Melissa x Jason Wu “Artemis” sandals, and I’ve gotten compliments on them in Hawaii, Istanbul …

A Love Affair with Blundstones

When you work long days that merge into nights, running around, climbing up and down ladders and scurrying over catwalks, your shoes swiftly become your best friends. Freshly graduated from the University of New South Wales, a Bachelor of Arts degree under my belt, my dreams of working in the theater were giddily realized after I miraculously landed a gig as a lighting technician at the Sydney Opera House. This was 1984 and the joint had only been open for a dozen years. There were old-ish guys that worked backstage who proudly boasted they’d helped to build the place! I was the third female ever to be hired in the lighting department. We were all called “sparks” or “electrics.” The stagehands were known as “mechanists” and they were a bigger and more dominant crew. I only ever saw one woman in their numbers. I was a green and keen kid — 20, almost 21 — and utterly thrilled to be working on real live proper theater. Operas, concerts, ballet, rigging lights in the Exhibition Hall …

Margit’s Note: Well-Heeled

Earlier this year, at the South by Southwest festival, I witnessed a friendly debate between two rock star science and tech leaders…  over high heels. “What shoes would Steve Jobs wear? … We need to give women permission not to give a shit,” said Lindsey Shepard, VP of Sales and Marketing for of GoldieBlox. Mae Jemison, the first African American astronaut countered, “Hey I love my heels… Why do we put things in the context of men? When do we get to determine the standard of behavior?” Okay, so the panel had nothing to so with shoes; it was about “Diversity in STEM” and 90% of the discussion focused on how to coax more women to become engineers or scientists. Still, this moment struck me. Even the most brilliant minds care about footwear — because it makes us feel and look good (yes, rare that the two align) as we code, as we give a talk, as we walk a mile. And at this point in our lives, we’ve had a handful of decades worth of footwear …

How Music and Loss Led Me to Become a Pastor

I don’t know when exactly it was that I realized that I wasn’t going to be an opera singer, but I do know when I realized I was going to be a pastor. Growing up in Montana, church was my favorite place to be and my favorite thing to do there was sing. It seemed that singing was my gift, so with one degree in music under my belt, I moved to Maryland to begin a master’s degree in opera. I worked my way through my graduate school by being a soloist in a large synagogue, a director of music at a Baptist church and working at the University Bookstore where I met a cashier who would one day be my husband. In 1994 my husband and I were married and moved to NYC so that I could pursue a career in opera. [pullquote]In choir, they were not “men living with AIDS.” They were musicians and not every part of them was sick.[/pullquote] I’d lived in the city for nearly a year when I received …

My Daughter’s Mysterious Illness — And My Own

Exactly one year ago, my teenage daughter got sick. Really sick. One day, out of the blue, she woke up and couldn’t get out of bed. Up to this point, my then 14-year-old daughter had been a wildly healthy, state-championship swimmer who played the cello in an honors orchestra, earned straight A’s in all her classes. She was heavily involved in leadership positions in our church and in an assortment of other extracurricular activities at school and in the community. She’s beautiful, talented, smart, kind, friendly, and if you were to ask anyone from a neighbor to a stranger meeting her for the first time, “totally put together.” And then on March 19th, 2014, she woke up achy all over, vomiting, with a high fever. The first day of illness, I just assumed my daughter had the same flu that was running rampant through our community; the classmates of both my children had been sidelined for days with a terrible flu. I had no reason to believe my daughter was experiencing anything different. [pullquote]I was …

Comfort and Oy! Raising Kids in a Mixed-Faith Household

When my daughter was eight years old, she came home from school troubled. “Someone in my class said that Santa is not real,” she said. Her younger brother laughed. “But of course Santa is real! Otherwise, who’s that guy at the mall?” Thankfully, my daughter seemed satisfied with this answer. I sighed with relief and, not for the first time, thought, “I am completely unequipped to handle this Santa stuff.” I grew up Jewish, in a suburb of Boston. We celebrated Chanukah. We did not have a Christmas tree, or give each other Christmas presents. On Christmas day we did what all Jewish people do: we saw a movie and then went out for Chinese food. Many of the kids in my neighborhood, and in my school, were Jewish, so it never occurred to me to feel left out, or different. I married an Episcopalian, and while neither of us is terribly religious, both of us feel it’s very important to pass our family traditions on to our children. So we celebrate both Easter and …

Keep Climbing: How Bouldering is Similar to Recovery

Athletic, I am not. Drunk or sober, it makes no difference — “active” activities have never been an important part of my life. They’ve never been a part of my life period, with the exception of reformer Pilates, which I only recently started seriously practicing on a regular basis. I was into doing at-home yoga for a time, but that was back when I was often quite sauced, so my video-guided workouts consisted of a few cat/cow poses, maybe a couple of downward dogs, followed by a straight-up vodka martini while I sat back on my mat and watched the rest of Rodney Yee’s masterful technique. It was just a couple of months ago that my husband convinced me to try indoor bouldering, courtesy of Groupon’s discounted class and weeklong membership to Brooklyn Boulders. And THEN I remembered that I not only liked it, but I had also made a metaphorical connection to recovery while our instructor was explaining the basics of the bouldering technique. And once I hit that climbing wall myself, I realized just how …

Four Rabbis and the Get: My Jewish Divorce

“He shall write for her a bill of divorce and place it in her hand.” (Deuteronomy 24:1) Anyone who has been through a divorce will tell you that it’s a pretty horrific process, no matter how amicable, how mature or how quick. Separating yourself from another person — lover, best friend and confidant — is painful. By all counts, I had one of the “best” civil divorces possible. There were no fireworks. My ex and I used a mediator, and the overall cost was reasonable. The whole process took less than a year. But that was just our first divorce. Before I get to the second divorce, let me tell you about the wedding. It took place at the summer camp I attended for many seasons as a child and young adult. I walked down the aisle in a canvas gown and Jack Purcell sneakers to the tune of  the Sex and The City theme song. Our campy nuptials even included a sing-along rendition of “You’ve Got a Friend.” To this day, people tell me it …

Margit’s Note: I Say a Little Prayer

I stand at the top of my cushy workout mat (it’s decidedly not a yoga mat) and stretch to the sky. A fire engine roars down Flatbush Avenue as I whisk it out of my mind. I close my eyes, breathe in, give thanks, offer prayers to my ancestors (my Zimbabwe-born neighbor hipped me to that one), the health of my family and friends, hope that the girls in Nigeria will be returned, to the people of Nepal, to the men I worked with at the Bowery Mission who deserve a second chance, a request to allow God’s breath to blow through me in whatever way the spirit deems necessary, and hope that today will be a good day. For now, this is my religion — my faith. Growing up Lutheran, with a mom we affectionately dubbed Kirche Frau, attendance was generally enforced and Sunday school was de rigueur… even if my sister and I used my confirmation necklace as a punk rock medallion when we transformed my brother into Billy Idol. I always have …

My Kids Don’t Need Me Anymore and That’s Just Fine

I celebrated my first official Mother’s Day 24 years ago. When I think back on what I loved most about those early days of parenting, what floats to the surface seems both obvious and surprising. It wasn’t how cute my son Nick was, though both he and Peter, the brother who followed two years later, were ridiculously adorable. It wasn’t how delicious their downy heads smelled or how gummy their smiles were or even how incredible it felt to hold their little bodies in my arms. What moved me most about being a mother was how much my children needed me. The fact is that as infants they needed me for everything, and without me, they would not survive. What a sense of power I felt. I had not only given life to these miraculous creatures, I was singlehandedly sustaining them with my nourishment and nurturance. No one has needed me like that before or since. Lots of new moms complain about the infant days, which consist almost exclusively of feedings and diaper changes, carried …

The Plate-Spinning Act of Being a Transgender Parent

A little more than week has passed since Bruce Jenner’s “coming out” interview with Diane Sawyer, which was seen by nearly 17 million viewers. To many of us in the transgender and gender non-conforming community, the interview has come to be viewed as a watershed event of sorts, primarily because it has prompted a conversation about transgender people in all corners of the country. People who may not have previously been interested in transgender issues are now discussing them, whether around the water cooler in the office (do they actually still make water coolers?) or as a part of dinner time conversations at home. I’m making the assumption here that families still do, on occasion, actually share dinner together. Regardless of where they are happening, the fact remains, that they are happening — in greater numbers, perhaps, than ever before. Venues aside, it’s clear that these conversations are contributing to the national narrative and shedding further light on the larger issues of workplace discrimination, homelessness and suicide that continue to plague large segments of the …

Role Reversal: When My Mom Went Back to School

Four days prior to Christmas, I was the idiot running around Target with a cart full of decorations to put up around my home because apparently I need to invest in a calendar to tell me that a major holiday is fast approaching and perhaps I should think about, you know, participating in some way. Here is photographic evidence of my 10 p.m. Friday night shenanigans. Unfortunately there is no selfie of my look of panic as I decided how many strings of lights I needed for a yet-to-be-purchased tree. This past holiday season was the first in which I had to take the lead. There was no mother around to purchase a tree and make sure the cat didn’t try to use it as a jungle gym. She wasn’t there to put out the photos my younger brother and I had taken with Santa or to tell me which ornaments should go where. I don’t know about your mother, but my mother always just made the spirit of Christmas and all that encompasses it …

I Learned To Be a Feminist From My Single Mom

She just stood there, not moving, staring at a closed door. I was standing behind her, having come to the same complete stop as she did. I was confused as to why she wasn’t moving anymore. I was seven. Then it dawned on me: she was waiting for me to open that door for her. She didn’t tell me as such; she showed me. That was my mom. The household I grew up in placed a high premium on manners. There was a way things worked, and it was not to be fucked with. That last sentence, for example, would not have flown in my house. My sister and I were taught all about elbows and tables and sir and ma’am and eye contact and, of course, door holding. Though we resided below the Mason Dixon line, barely (Bethesda, Maryland), this all had nothing to do with Southern concepts of proper behavior. In fact, it had more to do with feminism. I am a feminist. I have been one my whole life, though I didn’t …

TueNight Labels Nancy Gonzales

The Unapologetic Soccer Mom. Got a Problem?

You’ve probably seen the Soccer Mom video that explains the three different types of soccer moms: the one that sits and reads a magazine or book and has no concept of the game; the overprotective mom slathering sunscreen on her kids, with orange slices at the ready during half time; and the one that knows every detail and every player in the game. The last, while well-intentioned, is probably the most annoying of the three. And that’s me. I am a Soccer Mom of the highest degree. I didn’t start out that way, hell, I didn’t even know much about the game. I’m a creative type, a graphic designer who would spend more time making elaborate birthday cards for my kids or sifting through estate sales for fantastic, bizarre finds. When my daughter was in the second grade, my husband was our daughter’s coach and I’d just stand on the sidelines yelling, “Go Purple People Eaters!” or “Go [insert team name].” But after a few years of this, a competitive nature began to emerge. I tired …

Margit’s Note: Are You My Mother?

Last year in our “Mother” issue, we talked about the simultaneously hilarious, humbling and, ok, sometimes irritating experience of turning into our Mothers. This year, we’re honoring the many ways women play the role of Mom— even if you’re not a biological one. Our approaches to motherhood are hotly debated (and, um, there are Dads too!) from a consequence chart to a hearty slap to keep them safe — and if you haven’t read it, read Ylonda Gault Caviness’s piece “What Black Moms Know” in the New York Times. The parenting role ebbs and flows, but our Moms are always our Moms. Contributor Stephanie Battaglino says it best: “As a parent, I have embraced the fact that, as we transition from the active parenting phase of child rearing to a more ‘consultative’ phase, we have to let them go. Our kids need to find their own way and create their own individual reality.” We here at TueNight are all about the diversity of experience, especially as it relates to being a so-called “grown-up.” Being a Mom is no different. So this week, …

Mommy and Mookie: Living Up to Our Nicknames

  I reluctantly befriended my mother on Facebook last month. It was a move I’d resisted for obvious reasons. I regularly fire f-bombs and reveal snippets from weekly sessions with my psychiatrist. Plus, I have a weird phobia that one of these days someone with whom I’ve had sex will tag me in a post about my vagina. And it won’t be euphemistic. In fact, it’ll be horrifyingly accurate. It might even be a selfie that I sent him while we were sexting. I trust that my partners have more discretion than that. But you never know. And when it comes to the fear of social-media humiliation, your mind spirals into worst-case-scenario thinking. And, I mean, we’re all capable of being crazy muthaf*ckas on Facebook. Until a month ago, I’d taken a hiatus from Facebook for nearly two years.  But when I became active again, my mom’s name popped up in my “people you may know” queue. So I sent her a friend request. I should tell you: My mom had sent me a friend …

Talk TueNight: What’s In a Name? [Photos]

Last Tuesday, over 50 people joined us for storytelling and conversation about “Names” — the ones we choose with a purpose and the ones we get by happy accident, the ones that let us know we are loved, and the ones that seem like a bad joke. Held at WeWork Park South, we heard from Penny Wrenn, Siobhan Adcock, Kathleen Warner, Neil Kramer, Naama Bloom, and TueNight’s Margit Detweiler, all read their fabulous posts from that week’s issue. Amy S. Choi and Rebecca Lehrer, co-founders of one of our favorite websites, The Mash-Up Americans, moderated a panel on names, identity and ethnicity with Mash Up contributors Sharda Sekaran and Sy Yang. Mash Up contributor and panelist Sy Yang let us raffle off one of her unbelievably soft and gorgeous baby blankets, which are good enough for adults, and make great shower gifts. Here is HelloFlo founder Naama Bloom reading her story about changing her name. Attendee Dori Fern listens in with a cold brew.  Amy S. Choi, Rebecca Lehrer of The Mash-Up Americans and contributors Sy Yang and Sharda Sekrahn had a great discussion about …