Archive for the 'being sad' Category

what happens when you aren’t a piano prodigy

You have to understand, my dad is a brilliant pianist. He could always play, from the time he was a little kid. For no reason that anyone could explain or understand, he could sit down and make music. He never learned to read music, but if he heard something, he could play it right back, so when he finally took lessons from a local teacher, he fooled her for months. “Can you just play it for me so I can hear how it should sound?” he’d ask when she gave him a new assignment. She’d play the piece through, and he’d instantly memorize it. Later, he’d pretend to be studying the notes on the page. She was furious when she discovered his trick, or so the story goes.

When he grew up, my dad bought a grand piano and then was too poor to fix his car for a whole winter. My parents were barely in their twenties, proud of their tiny square house, running their own tiny business out of the basement, and there was this sleek, giant Yamaha grand filling the whole living room. Almost a decade before I was born, that piano was my dad’s baby.

When I was a baby, he sat me on his lap while he played, my hands on his hands.


(I don’t have a photo of that, but here I am as a baby, with my hair looking much like a wig, playing)

And of course, when I was old enough, he taught me some pieces, and eventually signed me up for lessons. He still couldn’t read music very well, but he wanted me to learn, so I was sent to a piano school that specialized in early classical training. The word “pedagogy” floated around in the halls.

I don’t know where my ferocious competitiveness came from. It’s been there for as long as I can remember, an engine too big for my body, eternally revving. It wasn’t enough to just play—I wanted to be the best.

I dreaded the finger exercises. I was bored by the endless arpeggios. The flick of the thumb under the third finger going up the scale—the movement had to be perfectly smooth, subtle, the arrangement of the hand needed to stay even. I wanted to play Rachmaninoff, with the crashing depths of the low register. Lush, chocolate-y Brahms. I wanted to play cascading Debussy, with the blur of rich sound, and Chopin, of course, with the delicate right hand trilling up at the very top while the left hand ran darkly around the bass. I wanted pounding drama and thunder and thrill. I wanted to close out the annual recital with a show-stopper. I was jealous of the kid who got to do it, while I was still playing in the middle of the pack. I was also terrified of performing.

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the one thing you think gives your life meaning

I sang at a bar mitzvah recently. The boy was very nervous, but he did well, and it was all the more victorious after because he’d been so nervous. Everyone was cheering for him. When he finished his Torah reading the whole congregation let out a collective sigh, half laugh, of relief and support. He was pleased, but he wasn’t thrilled. Towards the end of the service, he leaned over and whispered to me, “I was really hoping my friend would come, but I don’t see her.”

There was a certain girl.

He’d mentioned her at the beginning too, assuring me that she’d be there to witness his passage into Jewish adulthood. But hours later, after the bulk of the Hebrew had been chanted, she was still missing. “I’m a little disheartened,” he told me, during the mourners kaddish. “I don’t see her here.” I didn’t know what to say. “I’m sorry,” I said. “But you’re doing an amazing job.”


(it’s really hard to read Torah. source)

Sometimes you are doing fine but the one thing you most want to happen doesn’t happen so it doesn’t feel like enough. It doesn’t feel finished.

There have been a bunch of pieces recently, and since I became an adult, about my generation and whether or not we are spoiled and entitled and obnoxious or just totally screwed. Or maybe we’re delightfully free-spirited? I remember when Yahoo started publishing those lists of college majors that would result in homelessness and starvation. My major tended to be on those lists, or wasn’t even important enough to make them.

Next came the articles about how it didn’t matter what our majors were—we were never going to catch up.

Then there were the articles about how we were never going to catch up but instead we were going to sit around complaining about how we deserved to be famous and stuff. Because we had inflated egos and we’d all been given a trophy and now we all thought we all should win.

Now they’re saying we’re all looking for meaning.

I don’t know. I think it’s really hard to describe a whole generation, because of all the individuals in it. Because of all the legitimately different situations.

But here’s me:

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Kate on December 11th 2013 in being sad, fear, motherhood, work, writing

woman gets hit by truck, dies

My friend Yvonne swore that she had an orgasm when she smelled caviar for the first time. I didn’t believe her, but I loved her stories. She had fly-away hair and big necklaces and her vivid lipstick had always gotten on her teeth because her mouth was always in motion. She was glamorous.

I don’t know what made me look at the local paper on my parents’ table when I was over there the other day, but I saw the headline  “woman hit by truck, dies.”

“It’s terrible,” my parents had been saying, “A woman died crossing the street—just down the road, you know, by the light.”

“That’s terrible,” I said.

I kept reading the article, and I kind of had a feeling. But maybe I’m just imagining the feeling retroactively.



When I was fifteen, I joined a writing group at the local arts’ center. Everyone else was over fifty. When you’re homeschooled you do lots of stuff with people over fifty, because they’re also around during the day. Yvonne was immediately one of my favorites. We used to “get tea.” That meant we sat around talking forever in a coffee shop. She’d worked at one of those homes for disabled kids, back when they just locked them all up together and left them screaming in their own excrement. It broke her heart. It hardened her. She said it taught her what the world was secretly like, but she was also a poet. She was divorced, but she’d been married to a man who loved music more than anyone else loved music. All he wanted to do was go to the symphony. She liked to watch him loving music. He was the best listener.

I didn’t understand her poetry. It was fluid and random and dexterous. I was writing a fantasy novel about a young queen who is not allowed to fall in love but she does anyway. I had lots of descriptions of the gowns she wore. Yvonne was in her sixties. She threw her head back and laughed. She said, “Don’t knit your brows like that, you’ll get a crease.” She was tall and graceful. I never put my shoulders back because I was embarrassed about my big nose so I was trying to hide in my hair, even though I was also cocky in plenty of ways.

I can’t believe she got hit by a truck when she was crossing the road and she died. Minutes from the house where I grew up. Meeting a friend. For tea?

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Kate on December 3rd 2013 in being sad, family, fear

the truth about morning sickness

I know intellectually that there is a baby in there somewhere, a very tiny one, but my brain mostly interprets the pregnancy as illness. An ongoing, relentless illness that crushes me into bed and sits on my stomach and won’t let me up except to vomit. And vomiting isn’t a relief. You think it will be, for the few minutes afterward, when your body remembers that it used to be, when you were normal-sick with a stomach bug. But this isn’t a bug, it’s an infestation. No, it’s a baby. It’s a baby.

I had to cancel everything.

The people I had to tell said, “Well, it’s good preparation for motherhood. You don’t have control!”

But I was going to use these months, I thought feebly. I have so much to do. I’m supposed to finish a book. I’m supposed to get a book deal before I have this sudden baby, so that I can feel satisfied about having done something big with my career before everything is different. The impending baby sometimes looms large, like a loss or a magical, unknowable portal that I am headed straight for. Like knowing if you keep going that way you’ll drive off the bridge, but your hands are glued to the wheel. What was I thinking? I think, on the toilet for an hour because I can’t poop, crying and humiliated even though I’m alone. But then I’m so exhausted and weak that I can’t remember my own ambition. What was it that I thought I wanted to do with my life? Why did I care?

(since I spend so much time with it these days, I kinda wish mine was nicer. source)

“Did you have morning sickness?” I ask desperately, when I talk to relatives.

“Not really! I felt good!”

And then I have nothing to say to them. I am afraid of how I will sound. Self-centered. Wimpy.

Someone said to me, “I was sick, but I didn’t focus on it. Maybe you’re focusing on it too much.”

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Kate on January 31st 2013 in being different, being sad, fear, pregnancy

horrible fragility

I used to think that if I could change something about myself it’d be my nose. I’d give myself this straight, fine, elfin nose that authors are always ascribing to the faces of graceful women characters. The kind of women who look good even when they’re really tired.

And then I thought that it would be my neck. To be a graceful woman, you need a long, slender neck, according to so many movies. I have watched too many movies, probably. I probably care too much about grace.

And then, later, I thought, no, I need my legs to be different—longer, leaner, more coltish. Coltish because we women are always basing our beauty on very young things.

But right now, I don’t really care about any of that. If I could change something, it would be inside my head. I would change this strange fragility. This dangling blown glass orb of my mind that catches the light and spills tiny rainbows everywhere, but that is always waiting for the fall. That shudders at being brushed against, spinning, bobbing, set into frantic motion.


Of course I’m a writer, I think sometimes, when I’m angry at my mind. Writers are classically depressed, stereotypically anxious. Writers dance along the thin line of sanity, slipping eloquently over sometimes, describing it in all the right adjectives.

Writers are often a little unhinged.

Or maybe they just tell us about it.

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Kate on September 14th 2012 in being sad, fear, life, perfection

the ugly woman detective

I can’t stop reading mystery novels. All I want to do is read murder mysteries, especially if they are set in England (Scotland is also good) and people have parlors and there are words I’ve never seen before but I can chalk them up to me not being British and still feel good about myself. I prefer my murder mysteries to sound vaguely old-fashioned, even if they were written in the 90s. I prefer the characters to believe firmly in the proper protocol, even if they have to break it.

But even if a book has to be set in America, and the detective has to be all swashbuckling and rebellious, I’ll still read it, as long as it’s a mystery.


Right now I’m reading a book by Elizabeth George (thank you, people on Twitter, for the recommendation! This post is dedicated to you!), and I am in love with her ugly woman detective. Her name is Barbara Havers. I am only on the second book of a long series, so I don’t know what will become of her and how her ugliness will factor into her fate, and I don’t know how the class difference between her and the dashing, high born detective she works with (in a supportive position) will play out. But I do know that I really like that she’s ugly. And I really like that she’s angry about being ugly. And I really like that she’s at the center of the books anyway.

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Kate on July 19th 2012 in beauty, being different, being sad, body

getting rejected from volunteering. (seriously. it’s a thing)

This piece appeared originally in Thought Catalog, but I wanted to share it here in full, because I told you guys I was going to apply, and I was all excited about it, and here is the sad ending to that little story about me trying for a second to be a good person. 

I am good with children. And I’m not just saying that — there’s real evidence. I ran a summer camp for little kids when I was fifteen. I tutored 12-year-olds at my synagogue for seven years, and once I overheard one of them in the hall saying to her friend, “Kate is the coolest teacher. You’ll see, when you get her next year.” I felt like I’d just won a gold medal for being awesome at life. Or, you know, teaching.

I like kids. I want to have them one day. Sometimes I feel strangely confident when I think about being a mother. More confident than I feel when I’m faced with something like weird colored water coming out of the shower or the question of which recycling bin to put the egg carton in. Raising an entire child? Bring it.

But something just happened to me that has shaken my confidence and tested my faith. Big Brothers Big Sisters rejected me.

(I want to! I want to start something! And I can play a couple chords on the guitar!! I have stuff to offer!)

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Kate on June 26th 2012 in being sad, Uncategorized