Monday, August 2, 2021


I have a ritual now.

When I finish a chapter, or need a mental health day, I take myself to the beach during the week. While it seems like a run of the mill exercise, for a person like me who has to will herself to stop working and take a break for her own sanity, it requires planning, effort, and a willingness to take time off. I have to feel like I’ve earned it, which I’m sure has its own issues that I don’t need to discuss here. Any weekday spent rapturously separated from the throes of my computer’s grasp feels like an act of rebellion against the 9 to 5 workday, whatever aspects of sanity exist that people have to exchange for paid time off (I do not know because I have never had PTO myself), modern work culture and, well, myself. For as much as I can discipline myself to sit in front of the computer and work, I am still learning how to discipline myself to step away from work. But going to the beach helps.

The ritual is this:

At the first sound of my neighbors’ heinous children running across the floor and screaming loud enough to wake the dead, a morning phenomenon that has haunted me since February, I plug my ears and continue sleeping. Then, I wake up whenever the hell I want. I prepare a beach bag, shoving next to the usual suspects of towel and sunscreen whatever book I am currently devouring (at this moment it is Lulu in Hollywood by Louise Brooks) and whatever unread copies of New York Magazine that have piled up in the last few weeks. Taking a sandwich or a bagel for the train, I make the journey to the Q and get off at Brighton Beach.

With my “My Other Bag is Your Mom” tote bag on my shoulder, I traipse past the cafes and supermarkets advertising in Cyrillic. Then I’ll encounter the elderly Russian grandmas and grandpas on the boardwalk who generally do not give a fuck. Their bellies in their swimsuits are swollen and wrinkled and proudly receiving the sunlight, their gray hair swaying in the salty breeze. I wish I had their confidence at all times, the fearlessness of exposing my skin to the sun in full view of others. But even when I am by myself I gingerly and with no small amount of hesitation remove the cutoffs and white tank top I am inevitably wearing as if there is a committee of judges with their eyebrows raised observing my every movement, curve, or fold. My heart catches a little before I sit down and swath myself in sunscreen. Of course nobody cares except me. Amongst the grandmas, I slowly become freer, a “fuck it” of my own passing across the headline news of my brain.

And then? Nothing. The sun. The ocean. The issues of New York Magazine and the book in my bag. I’ll cover my body in sprays of sunscreen and wonder what it might be like to have someone there to spray my back one time. Then I will quickly remember that if the only reason I want someone around is to spray my back then I’m not just fine but happy on my own. Perhaps what I should wish for instead is the ability to twist my arm upside down and backwards well enough to ensure I don’t end up with a collage of red spots in places I am currently unable to reach. But for now at least, I am happy to endure the spots in exchange for the joy of my own company, the coordination that does not have to happen before or after I leave the house, the ability to wake up at an hour of my choosing, and the delight I take in knowing that I can enjoy the silence and the only person I have to satisfy today is myself.

Part of that satisfaction also comes from reading and reading until I don’t want to anymore. There is something about reading at the beach that zooms me through books the way a parent drags a child across the mall during the holiday season, speedily and without interruption. Pages turn to the sound of the ocean, the radiance of the sun on my shoulders, my nose, my back.

If I want to go in the water, I’ll put my valuables in a ziploc bag and bury them in the sand under my towel the way Alissa taught me to, doing my best to make sure I can still find them afterward. I walk toward the water, surf rising toward my ankles, then knees, shivering as it touches my stomach and then quickly splashing my head under the water. I always hope I look like Phoebe Cates getting out of the pool in Fast Times at Ridgemont High but I know I eat too many hamburgers for that, so I will smile and continue to teach myself that being myself is more than enough and anyone who disagrees can, frankly, suck it. It is an ongoing process.

After what is at least two rounds of the surf-dry off-sand combo, I will walk the 20 minutes to Sheepshead Bay, skin warm with sun, traces of sand sticking to occasional patches of sunscreen. I amble past the vicious swans and boats of the eponymous body of water and the Brooklyn teens anxiously gazing into their phones on streetcorners waiting for their friends to show up and do the same. My destination is Randazzo’s Clam Bar on Emmons Avenue, its bright blue and yellow awning punctuated with a bright red lobster. I love this place because it’s been in the same family for some 80 years, at its current location for over 60. It feels like someone’s grandmother is in the kitchen every morning making their famous red sauce (I prefer the hot version). I chuckle to myself every time the waitress sets the menu down in front of me, amused by the fact that I think I might actually order something other than their calamari--excuse me, “gal-a-mad”--appetizer but knowing full well I won’t. Because why mess with perfection? The plate of crispy battered squid arrives in front of me. I eat it with a fork and knife even though I’m not sure how the locals might feel about that, but I imagine it’s significantly better than eating a piece of pizza that way.

Satiated, I’ll walk toward the Sheepshead Bay Q and begin the journey home, sun spilling into my eyes from the west, one last kiss of sun before I enter the train. And then tomorrow? Back to work, not as if it never happened, but because it did.