The Resurrection Volvo

ljubljana_car_crash_2013Just about nine months ago—the Tuesday after Valentine’s Day, to be exact—I hit a carload of nuns.

It’s not like I was trying to or anything, though: It was the middle of the morning, a misty winter day. I was driving on a quiet street in the part of Washington, D.C. that’s sometimes called “Little Rome,” owing to the number of monastic institutions surrounding the Catholic University of America. From the right lane, the carload of nuns made an unexpected wide left-hand turn passing in front of me, and my Honda ran right into their left-side passenger door.

With a pop and the faint burning smell of sulphur, the airbag exploded into my face, like a kind of giant, surreal mushroom.  I put the stick shift in park and—amazingly collected—turned the radio and then the car off, and got out calmly.

These were young nuns, twenty-something, in long habits—one of whom came running over with: “Oh my gosh, that’s not cool.” [Read more…]

Thank You, Black Southern Belles

southern_magnolia_tree_drawingIn the twenty-plus years since the Internet became a feature of our lives, there have emerged a couple of articles of conventional wisdom that I, for one, find pretty dubious.

First, there’s the claim that “everything on the Internet lasts forever,” usually made in reference to warnings about the dangers of teen “sexting,” or work emails that are discoverable in lawsuits.

I can personally attest that the “Internet is forever” claim is less true than you would think: once when I was leaving a job and was told I could have a copy of my archive of 75,000 emails over eight years, the task was somehow botched, and the day-to-day record I’d assumed I’d have forever—the trail of messages marking my wedding planning, mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s, and the birth of my first child—was lost forever.

Another trope that has grown more recently—as folks’ awareness about algorithms has grown—is to remark on the uncanny way that digital ads so perfectly match our demographics and interests.

Sometimes, though, that “perfect matching” can yield some pretty unexpected—and in my case, thought-provoking results: A few weeks ago, an ad popped up on my Facebook page inviting me to like a website called [Read more…]

My September 11 Story, and Ours, Part II

1024px-010915-N-3995K-024_Old_Glory_at_ground_zeroFor Scott Simon, and for Bill Craven

Continued from yesterday.

In the back of my closet, inside a cellophane folder where I keep the rarest papers I own, there is a plain piece of unremarkable 8 ½ by 11 printer paper. At the top of the paper is the inscrutable coding “TC2001091307CD22AM.”

Just to look at this piece of paper makes me shiver, a bit, in recollection. Here’s why:

The first days after September 11 were just as bewildering as the one that had come before, though the daily schedule picked up again almost instantly—this was, you see, the circumstance for which the phrase “the new normal” was actually created. [Read more…]

My September 11, and Ours: Part I

1024px-Aftermath_from_a_terrorist_attack_of_the_Pentagon,_September_11,_2001_010911-N-HT706-077For Scott Simon, and for Bill Craven

Yesterday was the fifteenth anniversary of September 11, and for those of us who lived through it, it can be dizzying to realize that there are now high school students who weren’t born when it happened.

It has been one of the two signal public events of my adulthood. The other was the inauguration day of President Obama. The minutes and hours of each of those days were suffused with a sense of historical moment: on one, I was a thirtyish new bride; on the other, I was a massively pregnant forty-year old, hoisting a celebratory thimble of champagne with neighbors while the television and heating blasted.

In both cases, just about everything turned out differently from what we expected.

Fifteen years later, my sense is that in the rest of the country that is not New York or Washington, September 11 is so distant that it is merely a touchstone of rhetoric from political discourse: “If we don’t X, the terrorists will win!

But for those of us who lived there, the memory of the event courses on, like an underground river that can flood back up at any moment. [Read more…]

The Neglected Garden, Part II

14374480496_991ff96353_zContinued from yesterday.

The dollhouse my father was building for me was still unfinished when he draped a boat tarpaulin over the top, to protect it against the summer rain. The doctor had told my parents that there was a tumor in his lung. He was being sent to the M.D. Anderson hospital in Houston, along with my mother.

My oldest, married, sister was coming home to take care of me temporarily, along with my 22-year-older brother, who had bottomed out back home after a period of college-dropout wandering. Together, they cobbled together a backyard party for my eighth birthday, and in the now-faded, garish color of the Kodachrome prints, the unfinished, covered dollhouse is visible.

Four months later, my father was dead. It was the coldest winter there had been in my lifetime. For the first time, a crust of sugar snow dusted the brown pecan leaves that had scattered, unraked, across the yard. [Read more…]