What I Wrote in 2015

I woke up this morning, on the last day of the year, and thought about writing. I consider doing this often, just getting up and writing. Then I did what I do almost every morning. I hit snooze on my alarm and rolled over. When I finally did get up, after hitting snooze a few more times, I had just enough time to run out for coffee before starting work. (My actual work that I get paid to do.) This, I thought to myself, is why I can never get any writing done. Then I proceeded to get angry at myself for not writing enough this year, for not publishing anywhere other than my own site, for giving up on the novel I’d started, for constantly feeling like I don’t have anything to say, for worrying that no one reads or cares about what I do put out there, for getting caught in this same negative thought cycle all too often.

I decided to stop being angry and to do a thing I had promised I would do more often this year and in the future. I decided to be nice to myself. All of the things I didn’t do this year? I told myself that it’s fine that I didn’t do them. I can do them or not do them later. And all of the things I did? They’re great! I did them.

This lead me to make a list of things I wrote that I liked this year. So, here are the things I wrote that I liked:

I wrote about having crushes.

I wrote about traveling to Iceland by myself.

I wrote about being a fan.

I wrote about getting naked with my friends at the spa.

I wrote about losing my job.

I wrote about talking to strangers in New York City.

I wrote about losing my uncle twelve years ago.

I wrote about what I listened to and what I read.

And I’ll write more next year. Just probably not right when I get up in the morning.

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Flannery

When I was in fourth grade, my family took a trip to Washington, D.C. My memories of this time are few and hazy, though I remember being excited before we went. As a young nerd, two of my favorite things, in general, were museums and U.S. presidents.

I remember that on the drive down from New York, we stopped in Maryland to eat at a Bob’s Big Boy, which my parents were not happy about. It was my brother Jim’s birthday. We stayed in a hotel, something that, as a large family, we didn’t do often. There was a pool there, which thrilled me and my siblings.

I remember standing in front of the White House on a gray day, my youngest brother at the time beside me in a stroller. We went to Arlington National Cemetery to see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame. I was sad to find out that the Kennedys had had a baby who died. Growing up Irish Catholic, I was sad to hear about most misfortunes that befell the Kennedys.

We visited Mount Vernon, which I remember being some kind of colossal failure, I think mostly because it was unseasonably hot and my siblings were cranky and bored. At the gift shop, my parents bought me a book. It was full of small biographies of famous American women. I spent the drive home reading it, memorizing details from the lives of women like Edna St. Vincent Millay, Margaret Mead, and Flannery O’Connor, none of whom I’d heard of previously.

Flannery O’Connor was of particular interest, her first name being my last name. I worried that, perhaps, I could never become a famous writer because there wouldn’t be room for two people with the name Flannery in American letters. (Her actual first name was Mary, a fact that has never left me.) However, I felt a kinship with her. She too was Irish Catholic. She had liked animals, which were very important to me as a nine-year-old. She was also, of course, bookish.

I didn’t actually read anything by Flannery O’Connor until my senior year in high school, when our teacher, herself a devout Catholic, assigned several of her short stories in our AP English Literature class. Reading those stories, I felt as stunned as Julian’s mother after she is knocked in the head with a pocketbook at the end of O’Connor’s “Everything That Rises Must Converge.” I hadn’t expected the violence, the sharp observations of human behavior, the mysticism. It was then that I became a Flannery O’Connor devotee which I knew, somehow, had been inevitable.

I saw earlier this week that The Paris Review tweeted, in honor of her birthday, this 2012 blog post with a recording of Flannery O’Connor reading her classic story “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” Since listening to it, I’ve been thinking about my favorite O’Connor stories, which I’ve shared below. (I’ve linked to the stories, if I could find them on the internet. I can’t promise that the text will be perfect, as I didn’t read through all of them.)

I find that I go back to these and other stories often, both in my mind and in rereading them. My relationship with them has changed over time. When I started writing more seriously, focusing on short stories, I experienced O’Connor’s writing less as a reader and more as a writer. As my relationship with Catholicism grew weaker, I felt less emotionally connected to her expression of spirituality and more intellectually interested in it. Even though I can’t recreate that feeling of being hit over the head that I experienced when I first read her work, I know that Flannery O’Connor has affected me as a reader, a writer, and probably as a human.

Remembering our first encounter, my reading her short biography in the backseat of my family’s car, looking at a photograph of Flannery supporting herself with crutches on the steps of her Georgia home, I think about the little ways in which life is strange and mysterious. And I’m grateful for them.

Haley’s Favorite Flannery O’Connor Stories:

5. “Wildcat”

6. “The Geranium”  / “Judgment Day” (“Judgment Day” is considered a rewrite of “The Geranium.”)

Also, if you’re interested in the life of Flannery O’Connor, I recommend Brad Gooch’s biography Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor

Advice For Yesterday, Today, the Future

“How old will Haley be when Aidan graduates from high school?”

One of my brothers, I can’t remember which one, sincerely asked this question last year while all eight members of our nuclear family sat around our kitchen table eating dinner. Though I hadn’t been paying attention to the conversation, I began to answer.

“I’ll be,” I said.

“Thirty,” Aidan finished.

Aidan is the youngest.

“No, I’ll be twenty-nine,” I said. “You’ll be seventeen. I’ll be twenty-nine.”

“Yeah, for like one more month,” he said.

My birthday is August 3. Aidan’s birthday is August 5. We were born almost exactly twelve years apart.

“Still, I won’t be thirty yet,” I said.

***

Aidan is still a few years away from graduating from high school. I’m still a few years away from turning thirty. But I thought of that exchange while I was sitting at my brother John’s graduation last week. Nine years ago, I sat where John was sitting, on the steps to our high school, sweating through my white satin dress while speeches were made and honors awarded. I’d imagined what it would be like to graduate from high school since I was little. I’d also thought about the graduation days of my siblings and wondered what my life would be like when I watched each of them receive their diplomas. I would be twenty when Jim graduated. Twenty-one at Tori’s graduation. Twenty-four at Dayton’s. Twenty-six at John’s. Twenty-nine at Aidan’s.

Now: Four down. One to go.

Has my life on the day of these four graduations resembled anything I had imagined?

Well, no. Not really.

As a teen, I thought that after one graduated from college, all of the things that were supposed to happen in life just happened. Kind of like The Game of Life. Get a job, make money, find a partner, buy a house, have children. Or whatever the order is.

I certainly didn’t consider the possibility that these things wouldn’t happen easily or at all. I thought that by now, I’d be zooming along that road, maybe stopping on the “Get Married” tile. (I don’t need to tell you this, but I had a very skewed sense of when certain milestones should occur.) I wonder what seventeen-year-old Haley would think of poor (literally poor), partnerless, twenty-six-year-old Haley. She’d probably judge her. But I – twenty-six-year-old Haley – would tell her to calm down. (Even though she hates it when people tell her to calm down.) Like, you’re going to do some fun, weird, interesting stuff in the next ten years. Also, some shitty stuff will happen. But it will make you wiser and a better human! And also, you’re never going to “figure it out”, so just enjoy doing the things you like to do and stop worrying.

All that being said, I still worry. But not really about achieving adult “milestones”. Mostly about if I’m spending my time wisely, how to fix perceived mistakes, and whether I’m drinking enough water.

***

Perhaps this isn’t the most fitting time for me to be waxing philosophical about life and my past and current selves. This year isn’t a big anniversary of my own high school graduation. My youngest sibling doesn’t graduate for another three years. And I am a few years from finishing out my twenties.

However. There is a reason I was thinking about all of this and I’m getting back to it now.

Again, I was thinking about all of this because my brother John graduated last week. He’s going off to college – Go Irish! – in less than two months. I didn’t give a toast at his graduation party last week and I probably wouldn’t be able to say in person the things I want to say to him as well as I can (I hope) here.

As the fifth of six, John’s in kind of a tough spot. He’s not the baby – though he was for four years – and he could never hang with the big kids, as hard as he tried. Growing up, he took endless shit from those of us at the top. We demanded that he leave us alone, stop telling us pointless stories, and accept defeat in the epic wrestling matches that took place in our basement. And then, after being horribly mean to him, we’d ask him to love us. (He was very cute and also the best cuddler.)

Somehow, John made all of that work for him. Today, at eighteen, he is a kind and loyal friend. An improved storyteller. A fierce-as-fuck competitor, a runner who is always thinking about how to win. And also, still very cute and the best cuddler.

I don’t know how much John thinks about the future. Probably at least a little bit, since the future plays such a huge role in the last few years of high school. But if I could give the John of today a little bit of advice – and I only will if he’ll let me – I would tell him to chill out on thinking about the future. Or I guess, think about it, just don’t have any expectations. Literally, nothing ever turns out the way you thought it would or wanted it to turn out. Learn from the choices you make and the things that happen that are out of your control. And – this is lame but I’m going to say it anyway – always try to find the humor in whatever situation you’re in. It makes things easier.

Good luck, Johnny. (Even though I don’t think you need it.)

Christmas Special

While I was home for Christmas – indeed, as Christmas was happening – I was asked more than once what I was going to write about when I wrote about Christmas. My family, I think, really likes when I write about them and was excited by the prospect of my writing down and preserving all of the funny things that happened while we were together. This still surprises me since I was nervous about writing about them at all when I first started this blog. But I’ve discovered that, honestly, I could write really shitty things about them on here and they would (maybe) still think it’s great. Partially because they love me and partially because they’re all as egotistical as I am. Anyway, this is all to say that I’m about to write about spending Christmas with my family.

Christmas for us, as you can imagine, has always been kind of a big production. Now that everyone is older, though, it felt smaller. Or more relaxed or something. It’s been a while since we’ve had a Santa-believer in our family, so it’s not really that I’m missing that part of Christmas. It’s more that the majority of my immediate family is made up of actual adults now and everyone is just way more civilized.

I spent the night before Christmas Eve and most of Christmas Eve Day making cookies. And of course, I did some last minute shopping and wrapping. My family went to 6:30 mass which was kind of painful for several reasons but I don’t want to give God any more reasons to smite me, so I won’t go into that. When we got home, the first thing we did was take our big family picture in front of the Christmas tree, which was also a painful experience. This year I think we let my dad take five photos before calling it quits, for fear that we were going to kill one another. Afterward, at dinner, my brother Jim suggested we all share our highs and lows of the year. My low was having to go to work every week day and my high was feeling like I improved as a writer. Two of my siblings had the same low, which was having mono. My dad’s low was getting hit by a cyclist while crossing Seventh Avenue. My brother John’s high was deciding to attend Notre Dame next year. Those were pretty legit things that happened. I guess this year wasn’t as eventful for me.

We always open our Secret Santa gifts after dinner. This year, I honestly had more fun giving gifts than receiving, which is kind of a lame thing to say but…it’s true. I felt like I did a pretty good job picking out stuff for everyone I had to buy for. (Well, I’m not totally convinced that my brother Aidan liked the bow tie I got him, but I guess he’s keeping it.) After we finished our gift giving, we all played a game, which has become a tradition. Last year, I made the mistake of buying Settlers of Catan for my family and trying to teach them to play, forgetting that none of them are as crazy nerdy as I am. That led to a lot of confusion and complaining so this year we played Apples to Apples, which was a big hit. After a little while, we kicked our parents out of the game and played Cards Against Humanity, which was an even bigger hit. I mean, I usually have a lot of fun playing this game, but having to tell my fourteen year-old how to pronounce “bukake” made it even more ridiculous. (Also great: having to explain how to pronounce “Hutus and Tutsis” to my eighteen year-old brother, who pronounced those words like a spell from Harry Potter.)

one of our many sibling selfies from christmas eve

one of our many sibling selfies from christmas eve

On Christmas morning, I woke up feeling like I was kind of hungover, which was confusing because I had only had two glasses of wine the night before over the course of like six hours. My entire face hurt and I had a really sharp headache and a little bit of a stomach ache, so I decided that I had a blood clot and was going to die. I worked myself up into a frenzy and spent all morning silently freaking out and then trying to calm myself down. Anyway, I got some nice presents from my parents on Christmas morning. And then I helped my mom make breakfast.

We spend every Christmas with our good family friends, the Hudsons, who conveniently live down the street. We joined them at their house in the afternoon and had a really nice day, eating and chatting and fighting over how many years we’ve been doing Christmas together. (It’s either 20 or 21 years and I guarantee no one will figure it out during the next twelve months and we’ll all bicker about it again over dinner next year). After dinner, a ton of friends and neighbors came over for “dessert”, which is actually just a really, really big party. I’m not going to lie, I might have been…overserved. But when is a better time to be happily hammered than Christmas?

I woke up the morning of the 26th 100% sure that I was not going to be able to make it to my grandmother’s for our second round of Christmas. It took me a few hours, but I eventually got ready for the day in between bouts of catnapping, as well as drinking and then throwing up water. While my dad, one of my brothers, and my sister were watching my brother John run in a race, my mom drove Aidan and I up to my grandma’s house. Luckily, I did not have to use any of the three plastic bags I’d stuffed in my coat pocket in case I needed to barf. In fact, I felt pretty all right by the time we arrived and was able to go to town on some appetizers, all the while reminding myself that I’m not allowed to eat or drink ever again after this year is over.

Other than feeling zombie-ish until approximately 7 pm, it was a nice day. Nice in that way spending time with your family is nice. It was nice to see all of my cousins and aunts and uncles in one place because I probably won’t get to see everyone all together again until next Christmas. And it was nice to see my grandma (La) so happy that everyone was there.

That evening, we drove another two hours to my other grandma’s house. I was a little terrified during the car ride because my parents kept saying things like “drive slowly” and “black ice!” before we left and it was really dark and kind of snowy and my sister was driving. However, we got to Binghamton all right and found my grandma (Kay) sitting on her couch with CNN turned up so loud that her living room tchotchkes were trembling. I got a good night’s sleep and woke up just in time to get ready for 11 o’clock mass.

I don’t usually go to mass on Fridays – um, or any day actually – but this was a special occasion. My mom’s brother Jim, the third of the ten children in her family, died unexpectedly 10 years ago, on December 29, 2003. My family was skiing in Vermont when we heard the news. I’ll never forget the next day, driving with my mom the six hours from Stowe to our house back in Westchester to pick up our clothes for the funeral and then another three hours to Binghamton, crying and disbelieving that what was happening was happening the whole way. The days weren’t good ones for our family. They don’t feel like they’re so far off; I remember so much of them so clearly. But, when I think about it, ten years worth of events really have happened since then.

The memorial mass was said in the chapel of the high school my mom attended. I’d never been inside before and it was interesting to see the place she’d talked so much about. Most of our family members were there for mass, as well as a good number of my uncles’ friends. Afterward, we had a lunch at the Ancient Order of Hibernians, which is I guess the most Irish-Catholic thing you could do in that situation. The Binghamton chapter looks like a bomb shelter from the outside and an Irish bar crossed with a fraternity basement on the inside. I was very tempted to have a Guinness just because but then I remembered that I had wanted to “detox”…so I had a Diet Coke instead.

We went back to my grandma’s house after that. Basically, I spent the next 24 hours sitting in various places in her living room playing Pokemon X on my Nintendo 3DS, which is very cool because I probably did the same thing – obviously, it was Pokemon Red Version on a Gameboy though – on Christmas vacation fifteen years ago. Of course I spent time with my grandma and my great-aunt Honey and my cousins but like, I really did mostly play Pokemon. (I know. Yikes.)

So, that’s kind of it. We drove back home the next day and my sister very kindly drove me back to Brooklyn and now I am on another week of vacation. (Yay!)

To my family: Did I leave anything out, Flannerys? I know there were a lot of jokes and stuff I could have included here but I feel like they’re a little too insidery. Like, whenever I read our group texts to my friends they just kind of chuckle and say “that’s funny” but I know they’re really thinking “Haley, pleeeeease stop talking about your family we get it.” I guess what I’m saying is that I’m really trying to be better about reading the proverbial room. (I don’t think that’s the right use of “proverbial” but I really just want to finish this post and don’t want to look up another word.) Anyway, thank you to all of you who made another Christmas so great, or at least so fine that I really don’t have anything to complain about, which we all know is very rare!

Notes from the Sidelines of a High School Cross Country Meet

Last weekend, my brother John raced in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Cross Country Championships.  He was seeded first in the Class C race. (New York State divides its public high schools into classes based on size.) John is a fierce competitor and has worked tirelessly to get to this level in his high school career. As a senior, this was his chance to be the first boy to win a state title in Cross Country from Bronxville High School. And of course, it was his chance to win a state title for himself, which I think is just as important.

I haven’t watched many of John’s races. Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis may have noticed that I don’t discuss sports very often. Or at all, really. I’m just not much of a sports fan except during tennis grand slam tournaments and the Olympics. My family, however, is all about sports. More of my siblings are All-American athletes than are not. And everyone in my family considers themselves a fan of most major American sports and, specifically, New York-based teams. I tried for a long time to be like them. But the fact is, I’d rather spend my time reading books and doing things I like than trying to learn the rules of football, which is just never going to happen. Anyway, I digress. All I meant to say was that honestly, I would have gone to more of John’s races had I genuinely been interested enough in the sport of running to sit through meets that last for hours and hours. But I only really care about him. That’s why I just show up to the important stuff, like State Championships.

The race was early on Saturday morning in Queensbury, NY, which is north of Albany. My brother Jim, my sister Tori and I drove up together after work on Friday. We spent the entire three and a half hour drive having a sing-a-long and also, looking for a McDonald’s. (There are surprisingly few along the New York State Thruway). When we got to our hotel, we settled into our “suite” – which was just a very large room that we were sharing with our parents – and went to sleep. Or, everyone else went to sleep. I was up the entire night due to a combination of the Diet Coke I drank at 9 PM and my dad’s snoring.

In the morning, we got ready and headed over to the local high school’s, where the day’s races were to be held. Jim and I drove together and eventually I joined my mom around the starting line. My dad and my sister were up in the woods, where they were planning on running around to catch John at different points in the race. John had quite a few people cheering for him that day aside from our immediate family. The Bronxville girls’ team was running later in the morning, so there were other parents and coaches around. And my mom’s good friend Barb, her daughter Emily and Emily’s one year-old son came out to support him as well.

When the race started, we saw John for about a ten seconds before he and the other boys ran up into the woods. My mom, as she is during all of my siblings’ races, was very anxious. She just wanted John to win. We all did. After about ten minutes, we found spaces along the straightaway – I think that’s what it’s called – before the finish line and waited for the end of the race. Finally, we could see John from afar. He was easy to spot in his bright blue and white striped uniform. He was in the lead.

 

john xc

 

As he entered the final straightaway, he looked strong, but the boy in second place was right on his heels, gaining momentum. They both zoomed past us and I lost sight of them about ten meters before the finish line. That was when John lost the race.

I had no idea what was happening. All I did was hope that he had won, though I had a feeling that he hadn’t. I kept looking toward the finish line but couldn’t figure out what the outcome was based on anyone’s reaction. When I turned around, I saw Barb and Emily. “I think he got second,” one of them said. My mom ran over to us. “Second,” she said, sadly.

I didn’t see John until probably twenty minutes later. By that time, all of us had recounted what we had seen and what we hadn’t, who had told us that he’d gotten second, how strong he looked at every point in the race. “Hey,” everyone said. “Second place is still pretty good.”  And that is, of course, the truth. However, when you’re competitive – like John is, like everyone in my family is – second place is good, but it’s just not good enough.

When he finally came around, each of us hugged John for a really long time. He was clearly disappointed. Not angry. Just bummed.

“Thank you for coming,” he said to me.

“Of course,” I said. And I meant that. Of course I would have been there. It was a big race. I wished that I could have done something for him. That the outcome had been different. But, I will say, I have never been prouder of John. For the rest of the day he was composed, complimentary of others, and very, very gracious.

 

jim, john, me & tori

jim, john, me & tori

 

We watched his teammates on the girls’ team win a state title as a team. I saw a few other races from a distance. Mostly, I felt cold and bored. The temperature was in the 30s and I wanted to go home. My family and one of John’s coaches got pizza at a restaurant down the road from the high school. We were all in better spirits by that point, John especially. Afterwards, he, Tori and my parents went to the awards ceremony. Jim and I drove the three and a half hours back to our parents’ house.

Back in Brooklyn that evening, I was hanging out with some friends and told them all about John’s race. Most of them seemed to…not get why I was upset that he had gotten second place. I tried to explain that I was proud of him and that, yes, second place is good. Obviously. It’s one place away from first. It was just hard to see Johnny get second place when I knew that he’d worked so, so hard to get first.

Later on, I was playing a game with a few people. “You’re so competitive,” someone said to me, after I’d lost a point or a round or something.

“Yeah,” I said. “I know.”

“It’s obviously hereditary,” they said. And that is the truth. Even though I don’t care much for sports, I am deeply competitive, like the rest of my family. And also, like the rest of my family, deeply loyal.

Seeing John get second place was heartbreaking not because it felt like it was happening to meIt was because I knew it was happening to him. And I want him to have all of the success and glory and happiness that he deserves. But someone had to get second place, which, when you think about it, is much better than a lot of other places.

 

john & me

john & me, post-race but pre-pizza

 

Johnny, you’re a fighter, a leader and, most importantly, a gentleman. I know you’ll continue to do great things in your last year of high school and beyond. And I’m so happy that you’re my brother. I am so proud of you.