In Remembrance

Man reading newspaper and me

WTC Plaza, November of 1985, bronze statue of man reading newspaper (I am unable to find the name of this piece or the artist, although it is similar to The Man with Briefcase by Seward Johnson, which was found in the debris after 9-11)

On a recent Saturday morning, my husband presented me with several boxes of “stuff” from the garage and politely asked me to go through them. I believe my agreement to do so was in part due to some compromise where he agreed to do something for me that he didn’t want to do either. And so it goes in our 28-year old marriage: I’ll do this if you’ll do that.

In one of the boxes I was surprised to find a few items from my childhood. Not much, however, due to the fact that most of my childhood memorabilia was stolen from my parents’ house by Hurricane Katrina, who had the unbelievable gall to take their house as well.

The first item to surface was a page of poetry, written by me on my portable (manual) typewriter. Somewhere around 5th grade I had hoped and prayed that Santa would bring me a typewriter for Christmas. One of the first things I typed was the lyrics to a song I had made-up while riding my bike to and from the swimming pool across the street from my house. Sadly, that page was not among these papers, but I did find this page of seven short poems, neatly typed out in two columns. As much as I aspire to being a published author, I don’t think a book of poetry is in the cards. In analyzing these poems of a young Michelle, I did note some commonalities that exist in all grown-up Michelle: my love of rice, my desire to travel to foreign lands, my love of reading and being near water, deep feelings for my friend Marian, an obsession with yarn (still an issue), and cats!

Tucked behind the poetry was a torn scrap of green notepaper containing what can best be described as a short ode to my favorite time of day. This little gem is in my own handwriting, and while I can tell it is from when I was young because of the affected way in which I made the cursive uppercase “L”, I seem to already have sensed that returning home after a long day of work is the perfect time of day.

Digging further in this box of treasures I found a short story featuring as the main characters the two little girls who lived across the street from me in 1985. They were next door neighbors and best friends, and when I moved into a small rental house across the street from them, they “adopted” me as one of their own. Some days they spent more time at my little house on Robert Street than in their very own dwellings! In a nod to e e cummings, this little short story contains no uppercase letters. The short story doesn’t bear a title, but after reading it after all these years, I decided to call it “mimi and the tube steaks”.

IBMSelectricIITypewriterOperatingInstructionsI don’t remember actually writing that story, but I do remember, even then—more than thirty years ago—that in my little house on Robert Street, I had converted a walk-in closet in the hallway into a small writing studio. I moved the linens and cleaning supplies to the bathroom and cleared out the other junk that had found its way in there. I went to a thrift store in town and swapped an old beat-up chest of drawers for a small desk. It fit nicely under the shelving on the back wall of the walk-in closet. I ran an extension cord from my bedroom into the closet and hooked it up to a desk lamp and my IBM Selectric typewriter that my boss had given me when the first word processors were being brought into the law firm where I worked. I had visions of manuscripts lining the shelves, patiently awaiting their publication and eventual placement on the New York Times Best Seller List. Update: Has. Not. Happened. (Yet.)

Me on top of Empire State Building

Observation Deck, Empire State Building, November of 1985

The last notable item in the box of junk from the garage was a piece of my writing also from 1985, handwritten on pages torn from a yellow legal pad. Again, I don’t remember writing this, and frankly, I was rather shocked by it as I was reading it. It obviously is a reflection on NYC after my very first visit there in November of 1985. I managed to find photos from that trip that document visually what I wrote about in this piece. With the 16th anniversary of 9-11 in just one month, I share with you today (unedited) my thoughts on the majestic twin towers of the World Trade Center, as I reflected on them in 1985.

I recently returned from a trip to New York City. It was my first time in the “big apple” and so many things rushed through my senses, I felt the need to gather my thoughts on paper.

Atop WTC

Observation Deck of World Trade Center, NYC, November of 1985

My first impression was of the massiveness of the buildings. The streets – both sides – are crowded with them, like soldiers standing shoulder to shoulder, single file, with their proud heads stretching upward to the sky. Some soldiers are taller than others, they are the young ones, new to the streets, each trying to grow taller than their neighbor. There amongst all of them are the twins, the tallest of all—the World Trade Center, with its two mighty towers, 108 stories high. The elevator ride to the observation deck is in itself comparable to a ride at the amusement park. Once on the top floor, one can walk the perimeter of the building—which is totally encased in glass. The eerie feeling of being that high struck me immediately. I had to sit on one of the metal benches which lined the windows around the top floor. After catching my breath, I began to walk around—I am certain my mouth was gaping open—the site of New York City spread out before me was astonishing. The image was no longer of soldiers standing single file, but of a mob of intense people, huddled together, awaiting the coming of some main event.

Brooklyn Bridge from WTC

View of Brooklyn Bridge from atop the WTC, NYC, November of 1985

When an old soldier can no longer march to today’s fast tempo, when the maintenance and replacement of his old “parts” is too costly—he is laid to rest, with the help of a wrecking crew and demolition equipment. And then as quickly as the old soldier leaves; a new, young soldier springs to attention in his place. He wedges himself into the same tired space, bringing new spirit, new architecture, new faces to the street. It is impossible to imagine creating a new structure in NYC, with its crowded streets, the throngs of people rushing, rushing, rushing everywhere. How does the heavy equipment arrive on the scene?

Anne and me in front of The Sphere in WTC Plaza

In front of The Sphere in WTC Plaza, with Anne, November of 1985

How is the concrete foundation poured? How do the large trucks of supplies make their way amidst the thousands of taxi cabs and hundreds of buses? Ah, but everything is possible in NYC. And, soon, the young, tall, proud soldier makes his way among the other giants. People scurry in and out of his revolving doors, up and down his escalators and elevators shopping, typing, learning, serving the millions of New Yorkers and visitors each day.

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Writing to Winston

As I write this on my laptop, I am listening to George Winston’s album December via Spotify. While not actually December, it is ibm selectricthe dead of winter here in the northeast, a brisk and cold 39°, on a cloudy Saturday afternoon. The first time I heard George Winston was back in the mid-80’s, at a friend’s house. Her boyfriend was playing this very album and it was love at first note. He made me a cassette and I listened to it constantly.

This particular time in my history is also an earlier time in my life when I declared I would be a writer. I was living alone in an adorable little dollhouse of a home, the last house on the dead-end of a neighborhood street. I was working as a real estate paralegal by day, managing apartment complexes by night, and doing community theatre on the weekends. Still, somehow, I did not feel fulfilled. I was yearning for some creative outlet that I had not yet found for myself. So, I decided to become a writer.

I went to the town’s one and only thrift store (more of a junkyard, really) and bought myself a small, student desk. I cleared out the walk-in linen closet in my hallway and furnished it with the desk, a small chair, my IBM Selectric, and a table lamp. I filled the shelves, designed for towels and sheets, with literary classics, books on writing, style manuals, and an enormous red hardback copy of the 1973 edition of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, a high school graduation gift from a family that I regularly babysat for all throughout middle school and high school. I went room by room and collected artistic knickknacks and eccentric tchotchkes to decorate my writing space. I stocked the desk with paper, pens, and various other office supplies pilfered from my desk at work. I was ready for my transformation. I was ready to become a writer.

So, on Saturday mornings, after sleeping late (unless I had to show an apartment or answer to an emergency call of a clogged toilet or broken garbage disposal), I would make coffee, pop December into my cassette player and go to my walk-in closet/office to write. I have vivid and visceral memories of the experience, especially on sunny, brisk days when I had the windows open. Even from the interior of my new “walk-in office”, I could feel the cool breeze and hear George Winston’s melodic piano wafting through the whole house. I loved that walk-in office. It was perfect, bliss. Even now, thirty years later, hearing December brings back such lovely memories of my time in that little house.

One of the positives of turning a walk-in closet into an office is that you can close the door and hide it from the rest of the world. No fear of someone reading a rough draft of something that has not been put through the editing and revising process. No pressure to perform or display signs of success at this new activity because no one knows anything about it.

On the other hand, one of the negatives of turning a walk-in closet into an office is that you can close the door and hide it from yourself. The transformation simply did not take place. I remember sitting at that little desk and I remember typing, but I have no idea what I actually wrote while in there. I have no tangible evidence of it, either. I didn’t save anything that I produced from that walk-in office, if I ever produced anything at all.

George Winston is still a favorite of mine, and I have been fortunate enough to see him in concert twice. I love how he has concert-goers bring canned goods to the concert, which he then donates to a local shelter near the concert venue. I love his new work but his older pieces, specifically the songs from December, still speak to me. They have a calming effect on me and they awaken in me that same yearning from many years ago, to be creative, to become a writer.

The little student desk now serves as a vanity where I put on makeup and do my hair. The IBM Selectric is long gone. Today I write from my laptop in our home office, shared space with my husband and daughters. I play George Winston on my laptop, my phone, or tablet. I have embraced social media, actively posting about literature and writing on Twitter, Goodreads, and Facebook. I write articles for a small regional newspaper. I have a binder filled with tangible evidence of my work, mostly essays but some fiction, too. I have been published as a guest blogger on two websites as well as in an alumni publication. I have my own website where my writing is out in the open for all to see and read. I’m still on track for my goal of writing and publishing an essay a week for one year. Is the transformation complete? Am I writer yet? I don’t know. For now, I will keep plugging away at my goal, keep writing to Winston.