The Washington Post and the Stories We Need

I am grateful to the Washington Post for giving me the space to share my reflections on the Tree of Life Synagogue in the wake of the violence the community so close to my heart suffered.

The nostalgia around childhood is powerful. At 46, I can visualize my kindergarten cubby and rainbow-colored mat, feel the pebbly summer-camp road under my feet and hear the conspiratorial giggles of my friends gossiping in the girls’ room of my childhood synagogue.

Now that place is one of the most blood-soaked crime scenes in Jewish American history.

Some of the most visceral moments of my life revolve around Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill.

Read the full piece in the Washington Post.

Modern Loss in Jersey City

Last night I talked about death in front of strangers and met some fresh MILKs.

wod jersey city modern loss reading

I traveled to Jersey City’s Word Bookstore on a lovely summer evening. Musicians played on the car free street. Kids rode bikes, adults drank cold white wine at outdoor cafes, and a lovely crowd gathered in the bookstore to hear from Rebecca Soffer, co-author of Modern Loss, and four other storytellers, including myself.  Rebecca has been traveling the country since the book came out in January (listen to her MILK Podcast interview here), inviting people to share their own surprising stories about grief and loss.

At the event, I met Caroline Waxler, Sehreen Noor Ali, and Nicole Savini. They each told terrific 6 word memoirs stories about loss, faith, dementia and cancer, but also about how Denzel Washington impressed a Catholic priest more than he should have, how Joan Rivers killed giving her estranged sister’s eulogy, and how a mother struggles to talk to her daughter about the death of a grandparent. These women all spoke with emotion about their late parents, and their combined vulnerability, bravery and empathy are exactly what make The Modern Loss movement so damn special.

word jersey city mallory kasdan modern loss.jpg

I told a story about something that happened after I lost my mom, involving social media, miscommunication, and how grief can bring out the worst in people. The incident, which still lives with me, taught me a lot about trust and how to treat people. It hardened me in some ways, and kept me an empathetic listener, in others.

Reflecting on the five-year anniversary of Judi’s death, coming up next week, I know that I have grown in ways she would be proud. It has not been easy, but I am working on my family relationships. I am trying to raise good humans with my partner, and in my work, I am promoting voices and creating stories that I believe have meaning. I am trying to find the balance, and emulate my mother’s life by living mine with joy, awareness, and compassion.   

Mallory Kasdan, Rebecca Soffer, Nicole Savini, Sehreen Noor Ali, and Caroline Waxler

Mallory Kasdan, Rebecca Soffer, Nicole Savini, Sehreen Noor Ali, and Caroline Waxler

But back to Jersey City. It’s these events, books, and support systems that can help us get to a safe enough place with grief.  And to know that we can live again, we can morph after a loss and still be ok. We share our experiences, and we encourage others to do so, and it makes us better. A middle aged man last night had just lost his brother and niece, and wandered in from the street because he saw the Modern Loss sign outside the bookstore. He shared his own 6 word memoir with us, and we thanked him for doing so. With all of the terrible noise, cynicism and hatred in our culture right now, what a gift to have a few hours to sit with others, listen, cry, clap, laugh and support. Thanks so much Rebecca for letting me be a part of it. 

How Mallory Kasdan, MILK Podcast Host, Spends her Sundays

(A Parody of the NYTimes column about the Sunday Routines of people, but also how I spent my Sunday)

Mallory Kasdan, 45, host of The MILK Podcast: Moms I’d Like to Know, interviews artist, author, and activist moms in her home studio in Dumbo, Brooklyn. On Sundays, she works, tries to get in a nap and do her taxes, and argues with her husband, Evan, over who will take Miles (7) to basketball and Zoe (11) to Barnes and Noble.

book club mallory kasdan.jpg

TOO MUCH RED WINE I wake up groggy. It’s daylight savings so the only person who really knows what time it is my phone. I stay in bed until people start yelling from the living room.

NO SELF-CARE I do not meditate at my window with the sun streaming in. I did use the Headspace app for about six months last year, though. Just telling you. 

BREAKFAST Evan is making pancakes for the kids, which is a nice, Sunday-ish thing that he does happily and well.  I think about making a goop-y smoothie with kale, bananas, acai, and coconut oil for myself, but I don’t have any of those ingredients so instead I drink 3 cups of coffee with milk and sugar and then eat my son’s turkey bacon and pancakes off of his abandoned plate.

TWO MINUTES FOR MISCONDUCT I break up a fight the kids are having over charger positioning and threaten them a bunch of times with taking away their devices “for the rest of the day!”

To make up for yelling, I force affection on them with kissing and squishing. I attempt to get them and Evan back into my bed for full family cuddle. It usually works. 

screentime kids.jpg

NEGOTIATION Evan and I try to figure out who will do which activity with which kid and who will get some alone time to work out or go food shopping alone. It is a familiar dance.

PODCAST PREP The kids have Hebrew school from 10 AM – 12PM, and I have a guest coming over for an interview at 10, which of course was planned way in advance, since she’s is a mom with her own weekend negotiation process.

Evan showers while I clean the dishes and encourage, cajole, and threaten Miles and Zoe to get dressed and out the door. Everyone leaves, and the next ten minutes are excellent, peaceful minutes.

milk podcast mallory kasdan with rona kobell journalist.jpg

I shower and dress in my MILK uniform: jeans, denim shirt, bun in my hair, hoop earrings and clogs. My guest, Rona Kobell, a high school friend and journalist I’ve reconnected with over Facebook, arrives and we kibbitz for a few minutes. Evan comes back from dropping the kids and helps set up the microphones and sets levels, which is nice of him. He’s a sound guy, which is lucky for me. We jump into my home studio.

MOM JEANS In the interview, we talk a little about mom stuff, just because we have so many other subjects to cover, like high school, gun violence, grief, nostalgia, sex, Aziz Ansari, racism, empathy, privilege, and her reporting. But we show each other pictures of our kids and partners and think super fondly of them because they are not around. This is when, I’ve found, as a mother, you love them the most.

FILM SET NEIGHBORHOOD I take a walk around the neighborhood with Rona and point out all the bizarre things that happen in Dumbo on a Sunday, like photo shoots with ladies in tutus laying on the cobblestones, bakeries where a box of mini petit-fours cost $15, and the crazy amount of selfie sticks on Washington Street. I wonder how I can harness these Instagrammers who clog my street and convince them to follow me.

tutu instagram dumbo.jpg

Rona gets a Lyft, and I walk by a few parks and see people with their kids and am secretly happy that I’m not them because it looks cold and boring. I head home.

LAZY LUNCH Everyone is home from Hebrew school and eating their various meals. I’m lazy so I eat some hardboiled eggs, some cheese, an apple and a banana – no dishes to do! I make some tea and take it into my woman cave and shut the door, and hope no one will knock on it. Evan takes Miles to basketball and I have no idea what inappropriate show Zoe is watching on her ipad. I decide not to worry – she reads a lot, so what could go wrong?

TAXES/NAP I sit in my office and put together my receipts for taxes. It sucks. I hate it. I come close to finishing, and then I tackle the to-be-filed file, the source of endless fights between me and Evan. I end up throwing away a lot of paper, feel high from the purging, and decide that I’m gonna throw everyone’s clutter away in this house. I’m serious.

small business taxes.jpg

I start to get really tired. Daylight Savings, amiright?

I get in bed and take a really long nap. It’s awesome. All the years my kids were too young to occupy themselves… those were the years I cared what they were doing every minute, when I needed them to be at a museum or a show or an event every weekend. I have paid for these weekend naps and I am cashing in.

FITSPO I force myself to put on work-out clothes. Exercising is like writing. I love having done it, but I obsess over when I’m going to do it and I often wait until the very last minute to get it done. Our building just bought a Peleton, so I go down to our basement and do a really hard ride to classic rock, and I’m relieved no one can see how red and crazy I look.  The teachers are gorgeous and fierce and bang on the handlebars and say “Ungh” in a way that’s simultaneously sexy and athletic. I wonder if they take naps.

Evan is home from Fairway, where he got his podcast listening and food shopping alone time (don’t feel bad for him, yesterday he was on a bike ride from 8 am – 4:30 pm).  He makes the kids put away the groceries. They whine. I force them to shower. They whine more. I pour wine. 

FAMILY DINS Evan and I make dinner – hamburgers, roasted potatoes, broccoli rabe with garlic. It's one of the only meals everyone will eat. We all sit together without devices. After one kid has a fit that I cut her hamburger and the other wants me to cut his hamburger, the kids and Evan watch half of a Harry Potter movie while I clean the dishes. Then I stare at my phone for a bit, encourage, cajole and threaten the kids to get in their pajamas and brush their teeth, and Evan and I get into bed and watch High Maintenance and Homeland. 

I take my Zoloft and call it a Sunday.  

 

 

ELLA!

My children’s book. ELLA, came out 3 years ago next month. I'm proud the book that made me an author still has a life, and that there are new readers aging into the story every year. ELLAs are everywhere, and OMG I simply love to meet them!

This weekend I was lucky to participate in two very different storytelling events. The first was at neighborhood bookstore Books Are Magic in Carroll Gardens. I’m in there a lot with my kids and they happily stock ELLA, which makes me happy in return. When longtime standby BookCourt closed suddenly last year just after Trump was elected, it seemed like the last straw in an impossibly horrendous moment for my country and more locally, my book-obsessed community. But Books are Magic came along and filled that void, and now it feels like its always been there. Trump … well, that’s a different book. 

books are magic brooklyn author mallory kasdan ella

BAM’s book buyer Abby Rauscher asked me to come in on Friday morning to speak to some local second graders about writing fiction and creating parody. I was thrilled to meet these awesome kids. The best part about writing and making art is the human connection that comes from sharing that art. When I get to talk to kids about their own writing and illustrations, their ideas and inspirations, it is the most energizing and connected feeling I can describe. Children are so honest, so earnest, and so damn imaginative and funny. It truly inspires me to dig deeper to create more.  

We talked about the process of making a book, from coming up with an idea, to shaping it with an editor, to handing the words over to an illustrator for his/her interpretation. We talked about printing, publishing and writer's block. We discussed parody, Eloise at the Plaza, and how The Local Hotel makes sense as a home for ELLA in 2017, and what it means to update something. It was wonderful fun, and the children walked out, holding hands with their partners clutching their ELLA bookmarks. 

Sunday morning was another event, wonderfully planned by new friend and fellow Brooklyn mom, Dara Fleischer, who works in events for Saks Fifth Avenue. She asked me to come to their newish downtown store in the Brookfield Place mall to read ELLA and host a cupcake decorating session provided by the fabulous Sprinkles cupcakes. It was amazing. I sat in a beautiful millennial pink chair, reading to the kids and surrounded by the most incredible women’s footwear. The lighting was wonderful, the coffee was flowing, and the staff at Saks was incredibly welcoming to all. I felt like Barbra Streisand! My kids were even impressed. 

saks downtown event author mallory kasdan ella eloise parody nyc

I met a bunch of ELLAs, a bunch of MILKs, and some dads too. We filled in Marcos Chin’s coloring pages, I signed books sold by Books Are Magic, and watched kids decorate and tear into some seriously gorgeous cupcakes. There were beautiful silver sparkly Saks purses as giveaways, which my son insisted on handing out to every child.

So thank you to Books Are Magic, and to Teresa Ward, Kristin Smith, Kaitlin Brown and Dara Fleischer at Saks, and Aiyana Coker from Sprinkles Cupcakes. It really was an excellent weekend for me, for ELLA, and for books and community.  And cupcakes.

Mid Life MILKs

Welcome to my new digital home. Here, you can meet the women of my MILK Podcast, and check out my children’s book ELLA. There’s also my other voice work, writing, and radio work for you to see and hear as well. 

MILK (Mom’s I’d Like to Know), started out as a list of writers and artists I admired, and morphed into a framework to connect with them. I’ve always loved radio, and creating a podcast in the context of my other interests and career just made sense. I see now too, that I have been seeking a community of sorts, and the permission to ask questions of others that I hold in my own heart. It’s also important for me to laugh and to find sisterhood in a world that can feel isolating and toxic.

Coming up on my 45th birthday this month, I’ve been focused on retaining memories, doing a lot of looking back at photos and journals and reconnecting with sides of myself I’ve felt distanced from since the kids. It's been sort of a mission, examining who the hell am I right now -- and how did I get here? An interesting thing that’s happened in the midst of this mid-life not really crisis, though, is that I see all of who I am as a positive, even if it means I’m not always appreciated or understood by everyone. To actually feel this way and mean it …. well, YAY being 45.

So. I’m proud of these conversations with my MILKs, and excited to see where this podcast, and the rest of my work will take me. I’m happy to have my output in one place, to be able to promote people I admire and share things I love. Through it, I hope to deepen connections and articulate my artistic contributions. There’s a lot I want to do, suddenly, and I want to make it all count.

Please share the site and the podcast with anyone you think might dig.

Xoxo Mallory

why you need to know Amy Shearn: writer, editor, teacher, mom

She's smart, she's hilarious, and man, is she ever a MILK. She's Amy Shearn: novelist, non-fiction writer, editor, teacher, social mediatrix, mother, and the third guest on the MILK Podcast

Amy and I met when my children's book came out last year, and "liked" each other's posts on Facebook a lot before I took her fiction writing class at The Sackett Street Writers Workshop in the spring. 

Then, we liked each other for real. She is inspiring in the amount she manages to get done in a day, and I loved talking to her. Check out our interview here, and if you like it, please subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.

no brags

We are all complicit in shouting our truths on social media at full volume and thinking that it’s fine. I’ve played along for years – turning my mommy freelance boredom and procrastination problems toward my need to connect with others and to zone out by going deep down the Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram rabbit holes. I put effort towards my online self for sure, sharing my writing projects and weirdo observations and, of course, pictures of my family and I doing picturesque things.

But lately, I’m at an oversaturation point. I’ve been having this confusing existential feeling that if I don’t post a picture or say something cute about what I’m doing, then it’s almost like it didn’t happen.

New channels create new customs, but really, WTF? Ten years ago, did you show your vacation pictures to this many people? When did 673 people have to know that you went apple picking in the fall, sledding in the winter, to Disney in the spring and to the beach in the summer? Can you imagine being in your lobby at work and shouting to everyone waiting for the elevator what you were listening to on your headphones? How is this now considered okay?

I know for sure that my departed Jewish Bubbies would be mortified with all of this straight-up bragging.

Yes, people have always figured out a way to boast, even before Instagram and Facebook. But Jews, given our history of persecution and knowing that usually we were the most hated people in the room at any given time, knew to try and keep it humble and not talk brazenly about any good fortune we might be experiencing in front of our neighbors and in front of God.

There is, however, this sneaky loophole called “Kaynahora.” It’s Yiddish (duh), and translates very loosely to “knock on wood.” The thinking went that by saying the phrase following any brag (usually about children or grandchildren and followed inexplicitly by spitting) that you would be are safe from the wrath of the Evil Eye because God will protect you. Nice, right?

So are we just kaynahoring all over social media by occasionally remembering to say that we are #blessed, or alluding to it by only showing the photogenic moments, assuming that we are somehow safe from the world’s many evil eyes? Can we just not help ourselves because we feel so much pressure to keep up with our FB friends, who may or may not be our actual friends?

Given the number of terrible things that happen to people everywhere, everyday, every minute – natural and manmade disasters, illnesses and accidents, things that ironically the internet makes us more aware of and more anxious about than ever before – I don’t think we have any business bragging about SQUAT. We should be knocking on all kinds of woods and looking around for any possible protection.

And yet we all do it because we are numb, bored and scared of empty space. We create these curated lifestyle magazines online, taking cues from the celebs we follow. We want to capture moments from our lives, for ourselves and maybe our friends from high school, but we want them to be the best ones with the filter that makes them even better, the flattering ones of our asses, the Christmas card-worthy ones.

Why hasn’t all of the information we absorb and disseminate made us more humble rather than less? My guess is that the constant noiseless noise online is making everyone shout louder to drown each other out and therefore not letting us see and hear what we are really doing to each other.

I know it makes me sound old to fret about it, but I do think fondly about time BSM (Before Social Media). It was a quaint era when we weren’t constantly making out with our phones. We looked up when our partners called our names. We walked in a straight line from our house to the subway without doing the texting loll to one side thingy people do now. We slept better, and we were more present. Maybe we got less done, but we did more with less.

I know we’ll get through this giant transition together, just like my great-grandmas and grandmas and mom got through living life and raising kids with their own technology challenges. (Radio? Television? Faxing?) Maybe it will soon regulate or at least feel normal again to talk so much and promote so much and share so much, but, for me, I’m thinking that I need less discussion and chatter and talk of myself and more of something concrete and real that doesn’t leave me feeling so empty.

Maybe someone (my son or daughter, Kaynohora) will create an app to protect us all from our own online hubris.

(originally written as “Kaynahora, Dudes: Why I Knock On Wood Before Bragging Online” and published by Tue/Night on October 27, 2015)

commute

My son is 5 years old with humongous eyes and a way of processing information that is unique to him. His developing brain is a fascinating thing to watch.

He loves the subway, as do many kids like Miles, but what’s fantastic about riding the train with him is how his struggles to interpret social cues often seem to bring out the very best in people. He has given me a chance to reclaim what can be the dreary experience of 20 + years of riding the train, because he is so excited to simply be there, look at the map, to discuss which trains are local and which are express, where the F train begins and ends and where you can pick up the G.

The unspoken NYC Subway etiquette famously does not encourage smiling, eye contact or direct engagement, but to Miles it is just a giant grouping of people going places. He asks the questions many of us wonder as we make up stories in our heads about people while touching limbs and sharing air. His little voice as he asks aloud about his fellow passengers, or regurgitates something that happened to him earlier in the day is pure. I have seen countless charming and surprising interactions between Miles and even the most intimidating characters on the train.

Last week, after the first day of Kindergarden in a new school, where he had fallen in the park and opened up an old boo-boo, we were riding home. It was a hot day and he hadn’t eaten his lunch in the overwhelming swirl of new sensations of the first day. On the train he had calmed down but was working it out in full voice how I cleaned the blood from his knee on the playground and applied a band-aid. While he went over it for the second or third time, a middle-aged, kind of tough looking dude with an earring and a cycling cap across the train was smiling and nodding encouragingly at Miles.

Miles: What’s your name

Man : Victor

Miles: Which stop is yours?

Victor: Jay Street

Miles: Is that your home? Or are you going to work?

Victor: I’m going home.

Miles: Today was my first day of Kindergarden. I fell and hurt my leg.

Victor: I fall all the time Miles. You’re gonna be all right my man.

M: OK. (and with my prompting) Have a nice day Victor.

That’s nothing to most people in most normal places, but in New York we don’t do these little captive chats most of the time unless there’s a reason for it. I actually live for these moments, because to me it is evidence of some larger spirit, or kindness, or curiosity or energy that binds us all together. You can try to squelch it, put it in your giant purse, make a tough face and pretend you’re not watching or listening. But it is always there. And sometimes it can take a child who isn’t familiar with social graces, or is too inquisitive to care to wake us to the fact that we are all perfect beings who seem to be on our way somewhere, but actually, we have already arrived.

Children, with their needs and wants can tax and worry us so much that we forget to see the wonder in their eyes, the amazing in their brains, the beauty in their difference.

personal in public

I’ve always found stadiums and sports arenas fascinating. Like their sadder, more workweek cousins Convention Centers, stadiums are concrete, generic vessels that come alive when people united by a team or a band stream through their entrances. If sports and music are religion to some, then yes, stadiums are churches, and each person shuffling through the restroom line an individual worshipper.

On a Friday night in early July, I stood on the floor of a stadium in Chicago with tens of thousands of other twirling, wrinkled, middle aged people watching The Grateful Dead reunite after 20 years. The following Friday found me at another massive venue in New Jersey with my 8 year-old daughter to see Taylor Swift perform for squads of tween, teen and other variously aged females, plus a few baffled dads and boyfriends.

These two epic summer musical events in the space of one week smacked me in the face with nostalgia, and filled me with a new parental feeling I’ve been struggling to define. I was buoyed by the primal indulgence of entertainment, and felt unironically #blessed for the dual chances to supersize my and my daughter’s joy.

At the Dead show I was with girlfriends from college, and ran into others from all facets of my life. I was giddy and thrilled to be a part of a temporary hippie throwback moment – no matter how constructed. It was a massive party and I was going for it. My pleasure when the music started was both deeply personal and perfectly public. I was free to dance badly with feeling.

I had last seen The Dead in 1995. What struck me as I watched the band and the fans revel 20 years later is how rarely it is that I lose myself in anything these days – and how much I used to take that kind of letting go for granted. Now my energy seems solely focused on solving problems and creating opportunities for my kids and my work. As the band played, I forgot the checklists and lost myself in singing out lyrics and woo-hooing.

My experience was deepened at the Taylor Swift show, as I witnessed my daughter absorb her first concert. Z’s shiny, widened eyes, her fist raised in the air as she mirrored others around her, the adorable poster she and her best bud schlepped to the show – it was all so beautiful and pure. I breathed it in and put a mental photograph in her girlhood scrapbook for both of us. It made me tear up, because I recognized that Z having a formative experience. I was there for this one, and got to share it with her, but I realized as I watched her mouth move and her eyes follow the spectacle of girl power and pop music, that she was already having the kind of interior life I had reconnected with a week before in Chicago.

As I hugged her and we shouted out the words to “Bad Blood,” “Trouble,” and “Style,” all around me I saw girls and women of all ages doing the same. I saw people, thousands of them, standing in their stadium seats with their blinking bracelets and their smiles, looking as happy to be there as we felt. I squeezed her tighter.

A few days later Z left for overnight camp. It is really weird not having her around, which is a non-writerly way to describe her spotless, empty room and the negative space in our home without her loud voice and big personality, but weird is really what it is. Last week she was here but now she’s somewhere in New Hampshire, climbing ropes and making friends and learning archery, and I’m not there for any of it. She is being propelled into the world, but her inner life will always be with her. I hope she nurtures it with lots of music and art and friendship and anything else that reminds her that she is her own person, with her own story, but is always amongst thousands of others right there with her in the stadium.

dead right

A week ago I was headed to Chicago to see the Grateful Dead. I returned from that experience a different person.

I KNOW. How totally absurd and super annoying of me to say that. Like the person who talks about juicing or their dog’s poops or their baby’s personality a little too much, I realize how self-absorbed and trite this sounds. But allow a sister a little hyperbole.

People have been writing all week about the shows in Chicago and in California, and how the 70,000 + crowds each night were lovely and unified and super kind veggie burrito-ish to each other. No pushing, no aggression, just peace, love and sativa. How the music was rich and potent and how time seemed to hover somewhere between 1995 when the Dead played their last show at Soldier Field, and present day, present moment when they took the stage again with a few tweaks to the band lineup and the appearance of the fans. Walking through the streets of Chicago to and from the show was as cozy, crazy, happy and summertime party-down festive as anything I’ve done in years. It brought me back to college and fun and freedom and nothing left to do but smile smile smile. (Sorry).

It was special to go with two dear friends who live far away but will always be my true sisters. I was without my husband and kids and felt worry free and light. I was utterly in the moment — running into friends, high-fiving strangers, and dancing the hippy dance – the one where you don’t move your feet and might whack someone with your roving arms. I liked having to explain to several people that sorry, I did not have mushrooms to sell, but was grinning and giggling like a maniac simply because I was happy.

Now it’s a week later in the life of a mom of two youngin’s going to two different camps with lunchboxes and lost water bottles and pajama day and doctor’s appointments and playdates and living in the most non-peaceful construction zone of a neighborhood in the world. A lot of things have gone down this week, but I’m still smiling and thinking in these bumper sticker-y Grateful Dead song lyrics. I’m waiting for it to wear off and to return to the pissed off weirdo mom person who yells at people looking at their phones while crossing the street.

I can’t fully explain the transformative effect that one concert had on my attitude, but I am internally vibrating. Something shifted while I was reveling in those songs that were so much a part of my teens and twenties. I was having this intimate relationship with the band as they sang, while around me everyone else was having their own personal experiences – equally as intense of course. I felt like a vessel for the music and for memory and for love.

I try so hard to get there — I meditate, I self-medicate, I try to be mindful towards the happy times and to equally feel the sadness, the anxiety, the anger and the disappointments. But this was a time where everything was working. And the blissful memory of that weekend will sustain me.

It is bizarre, but I’m running with it. If you see me you’ll know. It must have been the roses.