Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Maybe all this year-end top-ten stuff is getting to me.

Two nights ago I decided I’d make a list of things that helped shape me into who I am. (Then, browsing the internet this morning, I found this link. Hmm.) Here I present to you, more-or-less-chronologically, my list of game-changers. Blame them or sing their praises as you will:

New York, New York: Born in Queens; lived on Manhattan’s 16th Street ’til the age of two before moving a block uptown; recent gleeful transplant to Brooklyn. My roommate A—’s mother once asked me, “Do you think growing up in New York spoiled you for living anywhere else?” My response, “Um, yeah.” I do like to travel, and consciously chose a college outside what I like to call my small town (and damn, I’m provincial), but now I’m back for good.

The Green and Gold School for Young Ladies: Seriously, you try going to an all-girls’ school (or any one school) for thirteen years and see if it doesn’t make you turn out weird. Also, try being virtually the only person who doesn’t live in a one-square-mile radius of the school you attend. I blame many things, including my preoccupation with walking vast distances (the first time I walked home, several miles, was in fourth grade), on this one.

Mrs H.: Recognized, and encouraged, my sense of humor when I was only seven. She would go around the classroom once a week for surprise “desk checks” and if your desk was neat, she’d give you a sticker to put on it. Being the competitive, completist, shiny-appreciative soul that I am, I really wanted to get a sticker every damn time. I had a stuffed dog toy I would sometimes bring to school. One day I got back from gym class or something and—surprise!—desk check. No sticker for me: my desk was filled with shredded newspaper. Mrs. H. informed me the dog had done it. Yup.

The Strand: You think if I hadn’t lived a ten-minute walk from the world’s greatest bookstore, I would’ve grown up to be nearly so obsessed with books? You think if I hadn’t stocked up on 97-cent advance reader’s copies since my childhood, I would have developed an interest in books from the pre-publication side? Maybe, but I’m a little skeptical. Also noteworthy as the first place I had a real job. I’m pretty sure I was driven a bit (more) crazy by the summer basement heat, to say nothing of the middle-school antics of some people…

Music: In his Republic, Plato argues that poets pose a danger to a well-ordered society. I think in some ways he’s right, if I conflate music and poetry here, as I think the Greeks would—listening to music has a huge effect on my mood. Hearing a sad song or one that I associate with a bad time in my life can make me really unhappy (all that hard rock in eighth grade took a toll). Listening to something upbeat can have me grinning for no reason at all as I walk down the street (“The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side,” anyone?). Also, I’d like to have a moment of silence here…

as I blame music (and the manufacturers of the walkman, discman, and ipod) for my deafness. Whaaaat? I can’t hear you!

Anterior Cruciate Ligaments: Had I not torn (both!) my ACLs (exactly a year apart! in semi-final field hockey games! which we were winning until I was cruelly felled!) my life would have been different. Goes without saying that I would probably be in better shape (though I’ll say it anyway). And I probably never would have gotten involved with theater. I only really took it up because I couldn’t play sports (or, like, walk without crutches) with a knee brace on. And I probably only got to operate the light board because it was a stationary job. Countless light operations, light designs, stage managements, technical directions, assistant directions, and directions later, I would argue that these injuries were pretty formative. And I’ve got such a nice pair of symmetrical scars.

The Lady I’ll Call Mrs. Myth: Told me I could not be the president of the club she advised (and whose presidents she unilaterally appointed) because, as she put it, “Some people are leaders, and some people aren’t, and you’re not a leader.” I am unsure whether I have become more of a leader since then, but this has been a fairly constant refrain in my ears.

Science Center: Seriously, my college’s Science Center Commons has to have been the place I spent the most formative (and possibly most, period) hours of my college career. (Some might call this a remarkable feat since I took exactly one science class. They did have a lot of psychology, math, theater, classics, and English classes there, though!) We’d veg out there for hours, do homework, declare our majors, study in our pajamas (sorry, N—, know you hate that), watch people through the giant birdproof windows, wave at them like the Manatees of Social Retardation that my friend thought up once, burst into song… I made friends sitting in the lounge (one of whom introduced herself by revealing she’d been following our marathon afternoon-long conversation). I made enemies, maybe (like the time I accidentally kicked someone in the neck who tickled my feet). I slept in the comfortable chairs and woke up to find two terrifying demonic friendly faces shoving a smoothie straw to my lips. After I graduated, friends in the class years below me would wander through expecting to see me. Once one of them came up behind a blonde girl and tried to surprise me, but it was a stranger. Oh, Science Center, how I miss thee.

Modernism: Arguably my favorite class material and my least favorite class experience in college. I felt a bit like Gregor Samsa whenever I stepped foot in my professor’s house for seminar—large, ungainly, disoriented: a monstrous vermin. Time seemed to expand and contract and twist in curiously Modern ways; I could put down my drink on a tabletop and never be sure if it would reappear. People would whisper and it was always about me. It’s hard to look at the world the same way once you get to a point where you write your Honors Exam essays about memory, heroes, and romance and come out of the test worried that you wrote the same essay three times.

I was considering writing about the Play-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named and how it wreaked trauma on my psyche (or about the middle school classmate who asked me in all sincerity, "Do you ever brush your hair?") but instead, I’d like to go out on a more optimistic note, and list…

Friends: Cheesy but true. All of you (and I know you’re all reading this ’cause you’re my friends. right? right.) have transformed my life in one way or another, whether you accompanied me to Strand to get your Gossip Girl fix, formed a posse to support me after I was called a Not Leader, hung out with me ’til 6 AM, offered your condolences about Modernism, or did so much more that there’s no point going on because I'll never approach a complete list. Thank you.

Monday, December 28, 2009

To e or not to e

How do you feel about electronic readers? In my oh-so-exhaustive research, I find:


Space-savers: My mother, inveterate mystery-novel reader and long-suffering car companion of my father and sister, likes not having to carry a stack of novels wherever she goes. She doesn’t know what or how much she’ll feel like reading on a given vacation. In addition to storing half the western world’s whodunits, her Kindle can also display the New York Times and all sorts of other fun stuff. I agree that an ereader makes sense for her space-saving concerns.

Environmentalists: There are environmental reasons to endorse ereaders, at least in certain situations (though research begins to suggest that the gains may not be as great as previously hoped for). The vice president of a large publishing company once came to speak at my college; he pointed out that ereaders are extremely useful for non-book book-related documents. His office uses ebooks to pass around memos, to circulate manuscripts, etc., etc. Think of all the paper they save. I am all in favor of electronicizing much of the tedious paperwork that surrounds both my day and superhero fly-by-night jobs!

A fictional example that further drives this home for me comes from the book I’m currently reading, Shahriar Mandanipour’s Censoring an Iranian Love Story. In it, the narrator explains that his government ostensibly allowed all books to be published, but in fact never let many of them leave the print shop. He gives an example of a book of his which is to be published; the government’s censor finds 13 objectionable words or phrases, which, the narrator explains, will involve reprinting approximately 190,000 pages. He imagines the ocean of oil that will have to be sold to pay for the forest of trees that will have to be chopped down—all to print his collection of short stories. “A book,” he writes, “for which so much damage is inflicted on nature, whether a masterpiece or trash, is a murderer.” Strong words against paper books, to be sure. The narrator goes on to explain that over time, the government changed policies so that electronic files were used to preapprove books before they reached the print shop. You can imagine that, while this does not solve the fundamental problem of censorship, it does cut down on environmental damage, to say nothing of the costs saved by publishers who don't find themselves with a pile of suddenly unsellable books.


Next to that last one, my reasons in favor of print books seem a bit puny. But I’d like to offer them.

Publishers: I have, for starters, some concerns about the book business’s ability to survive electronicization. Obviously, I’m biased here—I want publishers to succeed because I’d like to work at one. It’s too early to tell what effect ebooks will have on publishers (and bookstores) large, independent, and in-between. I read contradictory evidence every day about whether they help or hurt paper sales; about whether they will ultimately replace printed books. An old boss of mine has some interesting thoughts on the subject; while I can’t find the original article I read, this proposal of his new project sums up a few of his ideas: of particular interest to me, digital communities and limited-edition print books. I think the idea of a limited run for collectors makes sense. I do like art books (and have made a few of my own through a class). The idea of wedding visual form to words in that way interests me, though the resulting prices don’t as much… I do have some reservations about the communal nature of reading, though—

Completists: I think this is where I, Ye Olde Fart Misanthrope, really come down against ebooks. I want my books to be tangible. I like to sit down in a quiet place, pick up a book, flip through its pages. I like to turn those pages as I read, and to turn the last page and close the book. This literal/figurative act of closure is an important part of my experience of reading a book. If I had an ereader, it wouldn’t be the same. I would never finish a book, put away one object and move on to another. Instead, I would click out of one screen and into another. Small difference, you might think, but a large one for me. Done is done. When I go through googlereader, I have this sense that it’s a Sisyphean task. Read and read and read that newsfeed; you will never get to the bottom of it. Authors and publishers envision Endlessly! Interactive! eBooks! Books that will link you to commentaries, books that will update themselves after the publication date to reflect the Real World, books that will let you write fanfiction and meet new friends and God only knows. Ol’ Grumpy Solitaire doesn’t really want those things from a book. She is a completist. (She hopes not this kind.) She wants to finish the damned thing and then move on. A book is her escape from the internet, from the outside world, from the everchanging ebb and flow of conversation, new information, and so on. (This is probably why she prefers novels to nonfiction, though she reads some of each.) To ultimately come down on the side of escapism is too heavy-handed, maybe; books can certainly teach us and bring us into closer community with ideas, other readers, and the world at large. I’m just not sure that that is their primary mission, as many ebook advocates (including those I admire!) seem to suggest.

If you’ll excuse your correspondent, she has to go turn off the internet now and resume reading her novel.

(Also, somewhat relatedly, I sympathize with the authors in this NYT piece that ran Sunday.)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

You might say the idea for this post came to me in a dream

The other day someone told me, or maybe I read, that the only thing people like less than hearing about other people’s problems is hearing about other people’s dreams. I can’t imagine why this is the case—after all, my dreams are endlessly exciting! As you will see here (sort of).*

Once I had a class where we had to keep a dream journal. It turns out that a large number of people don’t remember any of their dreams ever. I am not one of those perhaps-lucky souls. My memorable dreams range from the appalling-yet-hilarious** to the mundane*** to the plain bizarre,**** yet most of them are governed by an ineluctable sort of logic.

A friend of mine has the best dreams, some of which I’ve been known to relate to others, despite the opening sentence’s sentiment. She has dreamed that I was the king of a desert island in a teacup (okay, maybe retelling that one is a bit self-serving), and that she took the π train to 98.6th Street. Another friend of mine dreamt (and if she’s reading this, she will argue that “dreamt” is not in fact the only word in the English language that ends in “mt,” even though it is) of a cheese platter covered in quotations like, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” It was called a Socracheese.

My favorite type of dream is the one where I’m flying. No airplane or wings or anything like that; I just jump as if the earth’s gone trampoline, and soon I go higher and higher with each successive leap, until I’m suspended in flight. Sometimes this dream happens in a hallway and sometimes out over by LaGuardia; sometimes it’s in an imaginary Arctic you can only reach by skinny ice-caked highway.

This morning just before waking I met a new yet strangely familiar dreamscape. I was reading through my email (you’d think I would be able to escape this compulsion in my sleep, but no) when suddenly I was barraged by a bunch of instant messages. One of them, from a former boss of mine, was apparently about favorable press his company had recently received. I tried to read what he wrote but it piled up too quickly. R—, I typed, you’re writing too fast for me to keep up. Then my attention was diverted by another message, from a dear friend I have not heard from in some time. He sent a link to a video clip of Muppets in an airplane. A gleeful shout emanated from the kamikaze Muppets just before I woke up: “The plane’s crashing! You’re going to liiiiiiive!” I can think of no better benediction for waking.

*By all means, feel free to comment with some dreams of your own, if you’ve got any, good, bad, or ugly. Fair’s fair.

**In this case, a self-parody of my desire to minimize conflict: in the dream, a friend tried to stab me. Change of scene: suddenly, I’m instant messaging with him and the thought runs through my head, “You just tried to stab me and now you’re pretending everything’s okay. I don’t want to fight with you, but this feels pretty awkward.”

***My mother informed me that my new boss is unmarried (which is not true, as verified by a quick google search after waking).

****A giant dog ran up to me and I kept calling it a bear. I woke up to my cat running over my face, hitting the headboard, and skittering off in fantastic pinball fashion.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Winter is the best of times, it is the worst of times. Winter is a contradiction of terms. For starters, there’s less to see, but you see more of it. Vast stretches of towers uncovered by trees; people’s faces scarcely visible atop approaching-spherical layers of sweaters, coats, scarves, hats, gloves. There’s something comforting about these woolly bundles making their way across the suddenly angular landscape; something nice about seeing the streets without their usual dance of greenery.

I’ve always loved winter a little bit, though not unreservedly. It helps that I am notoriously cold-resistant—have been from an early age. The head of my school used to see me walking into the building on chilly kindergarten mornings and ask, “Where are your mittens?” I have since acquired mittens, more or less, though I can’t say I always wear them. I also have two—count ’em, two—winter coats at this point; some days I bother to put one on before going out of the house. Today I even donned a coat to go across the street at work. The times, they are a-changin’.

I find that people are ambivalent about winter (those that don’t hate it with a fiery, summery passion, that is). On the one hand there’s all this festive, good-cheer, hail-fellow-well-met stuff going on. The holidays, of course, and their attendant decorations; the holiday markets that sprout around the city’s more notable parks; the proliferation of warm-weather drinks at Starbucks (peppermint hot chocolate: the taste of winter); children lobbing snowballs in the park. And simultaneously everyone complains—the cold, the sleet and slush that quickly gray with age, the darkness getting earlier and earlier (up ’til today anyway). I, for instance, always conveniently forget until around 4 o’clock that it’s going to be dark by the time I leave work, and am invariably disappointed.

Snow exemplifies this winter ambivalence for me. All the news on Saturday was that there was going to be a big blizzard. I wondered if I was going to make it back home to Brooklyn from Manhattan, even though when I got in around 1 there was only the barest sprinkling. The snow increased until all my dinner companions wanted to do was sit in the window and watch the light and white mingle over Union Square (“Plow!” cried one, delighted); by the time I made it back to Brooklyn with a friend, en route to a party, we were fighting an uphill battle to scale Park Slope. Being the harebrained individual that I am, I decided to walk home afterwards. Prospect Park was beautiful in the constant onrush of flakes. The streets were still save for a few brave shovelers and a contingent of gleeful kids rushing over to the park, sleds in tow. I felt like a one-woman snowplow making my way through the extremely residential streets surrounding my house; I was an explorer, staking my claim to unmarked territory. I fell asleep as the snow glided dreamily down over the fire escape, the Victorian roofs, the sycamore branches. No matter that I was soaked through from my walk; making my way through the snow’s procession was beautiful and perfect (if a bit too reminiscent of "The Snow Queen").

Yesterday I awoke to a stalled landscape. The snow had quit falling; the closest we got was briefly airborne shovelfuls landing haphazardly on streets and yards. I had to don boots to walk out the door; on the subway steps, MTA workers advised caution and sprinkled salt. The train tracks were still unearthly white, but elsewhere the city moved along on its Sunday best business, piling up and graying every which way.

The aftermath of snow is never as perfect as the process—I guess that’s probably true for just about everything. No one likes static, or cold feet. By the time my birthday rolls around in late January, everyone’s ready for those leaves to come back and obscure the streets with shade, ready to put away those winter coats and let mysterious jingling loose change, Metrocards, and assorted other surprises lie in wait for next year. Winter’s a nice place to visit but we wouldn’t want to live here.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Tradition, tradition!

Have y’all got exciting holiday plans? I hope so. Feel free to share, to provide a counterpoint to what you’ll read next.

For my family, the holidays have traditionally been a period of puzzlement. What are we going to do? Where are we going to do it? This year we have the added complication of postponing Hanukkah until my sister gets home from college (tomorrow, in fact—close call). When I was little, we went to my aunt’s house for Christmas (her ex-husband is Protestant, so they got in the habit of celebrating); now, we frequently visit family friends up in Westchester who make the most amazing jello salad. It’s true, I assure you. One notable year, we stayed home. But did we give in to stereotypical Jewish Christmas activities? No! We ate Thai food and read books. I feel that my Christmases have been defined a great deal by reading matter, surprise, surprise. A couple years back, I was perplexed to find myself wide awake at 6:30 (you can imagine how happy this made me); I read the entirety of J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace. Another year I read the great British kids’ fantasy story Otto and the Flying Twins. I think I’m going to take a page out of that book, so to speak, and try out Michael Chabon’s Summerland this year.

We are not Christian, obviously, or indeed very religious in any stripe. Apocryphal family stories from our formative years include my sister coming home from kindergarten and inquiring whether Passover was when Jesus passed over the houses; I, at around the same age, am reputed to have informed my mother, “I get that Jesus Christ was a really great man—but the son of God?” In many cases, I admire the sincerely religious, but I don’t think I ever could be one of them. I’ve only sat in temple a handful of times; church a few more maybe (impostor!). I maintain that seeing Chanticleer’s Christmas show at the Met is akin to a religious experience, but I guess I can’t say for certain.

A holiday ritual I have wound up creating for myself involves walking around and seeing what I can see. There are several lovely old churches by my parents’ house; the year I read Disgrace, I strolled through Stuyvesant Square and could hear the sounds of the Christmas service within the church facing the park. Last year, I took a wander over to Dyker Heights, a neighborhood so crazy-Christmas that they run tour buses there. I also walked around Kensington with a friend. We came upon a churchyard full of luminous angels, one of which had toppled; I righted it, prompting my friend to mutter something about fallen angels. We giggled for about half an hour. Now that I've moved, I enjoy exploring my own neighborhood's Christmas plumage, though I remain a bit perplexed by the mechanical glowing reindeer that appear to sort of “eat” the “grass”…

Here is a poem I wrote that Disgrace-ful year. Happy holidays, all!

I wake up early, squint out
my open window at the dawning
of a day you believe. One year, younger,
I laid out socks dangling
from the side of the television
in the living room and slipped
small gifts inside, wanting to bless
our household with a tiny
dose of Christmas morning wonder, curious what
it would be to wake and pad
on woolly feet into a bay-windowed
cookie-spiced Christmas-treed living room,
to shake for a final unknowing time
the gift-wrapped bundles spread out like rafts
on the rug's blue sea, navigating bravely,
beribboned, to shore. Now, I still
don't know. So I walk
the quiet early streets surprised
by blue sky. Joy to the World pipes from
open church doors; I pause
a moment at the threshold before tracing my path
home. After cannibalized Christmas
dinner I'm drawn to the roof, the city sky so clear
you can trace constellations on the night.
Old and steady, yet so often
lost from view. Who knows what stars
will stay the same, what spangled lights
will sprout from next year's window boxes.
Now, I feast my eyes on buildings
and bridges. I raise to them a quiet
palm in thanks, not quite
an act of prayer.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wakey wakey!

You know what I don’t like very much?

No, Nora, please tell us! Which of the multi-faceted and variegated things you don’t like very much could you possibly mean?

Well, adoring public, now that I’ve gathered enough waking hours to coherently write a sentence, I will tell you. I don’t like mornings!

I’ll start by saying that I’m a night person, as just about anyone who knows me will tell you. My ideal sleep schedule in college was 2 AM–10 AM. I am quite witty by the time 7 or so at night rolls around. I have been known to experience brilliant revelations at midnight, and not even all of them are alcohol-fueled.

Since moving to my new apartment, my mornings have marginally improved. My bedroom window now features a lovely view of the house next door surrounded by trees, rather than the top of a parking garage. The sunlight now comes right through the window, which is a nice way to wake up every day. Except when it’s drearily foggy and overcast. Except when the sun guilts me awake me by saying, “Dumbass, get out of bed already—it’s 11!” Yeah.

Mornings have historically proved difficult times for me. Though I did used to wake up at 6:30 prior to college—sometimes even 6 for morning sports practice—alas, I have not maintained this skill. I did sign up for an 8:30 class freshman fall…but it transformed into an 11:30 one by some scheduling quirk, and I’ve never looked back.

I’ve tried various ways to cope with mornings, none of which have fully succeeded. Coffee helps, but you have to get up to make it or buy it, at which point you have already passed the worst stage of waking. Listening to music is the most effective solution I have found. For much of my senior year of college I would wake up, take a shower, then get ready to the tune of several songs by ABBA—a ritual so ridiculous it would make me laugh and cheer me up. I don’t do that on a regular basis anymore, but would like to take this opportunity to give you a sampling of songs I have listened to in the morning lately: Roxanne, Take On Me, Eye of the Tiger. My taste is great before I’m sentient. Maybe I’m reverting back to the comforting sounds of an ’80s childhood.

I should note, optimistically, that my processing time for mornings is getting a bit better. Once, back when I was working at the venerable bookstore, I timed how long it was from when I woke up to when I felt I could utter a coherent sentence. The answer? About three hours. Nowadays, I have got it down to an hour or so—at least, the coworker I talked to yesterday morning at 8:45 assured me I was doing all right. I could, like, um, put, uh, words. Together. And stuff. I hope that my continued 9–5 employment will aid me in the quest to be coherent in the mornings, and that one day I will bound brightly out of bed ready to speak in the full (and convoluted) paragraphs I can manage at more civilized hours, for example, 1 AM.

Until that glorious day, maybe I’ll reinstate the ABBA.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


I have decided to scrap my "working" title for this blog (someone-needs-more-work) in favor of this one. Why the change of heart, after such a long and venerable history of posting? Let's call it Christmas spirit.

Whenever I hear a really powerful piece of music, suddenly the whole world is technicolor. The commute home is mind-bendingly brief. ("How does it feel," I ask my dad on the phone, "to live 15 minutes away from Carnegie Hall?" It feels less remarkable to him than it does to me, evidently. Though maybe it's 'cause he is not now, nor has he ever been, a resident of Brooklyn.) The sky over Union Square is crisp and clear and you can see Orion. The Bill Bryson essay I'm reading is the most hilarious thing I've ever read. People call me with their problems and I dispense good advice. There are too few hours in the day to do everything I mustmustmust do (please note that I finished this entry at 12:30 AM, and please note that I have work at 9). I'm Eloise, ready to drop some water down the mail chute. Wake up, everyone! Time's a-wastin'.

Sunday night I went to see John Adams's El Niño oratorio about the nativity. The venerable Mr. Adams (once described by the NYT as "the Care Bear of the American avant-garde"), for thems what don't know him, is a Minimalist-esque contemporary composer who has written a ton of works orchestral (check out Harmonielehre!), chamber (Hallelujah Junction!), operatic (Nixon in China's "News" aria!), and so on, as well as, lately, the hilarious Hell Mouth. His employment there of various links, both literal and not-so, has inspired this blog.

I tend not to be so good at listening to classical-music-with-words-in, as many of you fine music-makers/-majors/-ologists can attest. But something about El Niño let me stick with it, maybe because it was mostly in English and when it wasn't, Carnegie Hall provided a nifty side-by-side translation, allowing me to read along instead of tune out (as I do to such great effect with supertitles). The patchwork of sources Adams used really appeals to me--recitative from the Bible or Bible-studying sources, soloist poems by figures secular and religious, an ensemble piece from the Wakefield Mystery Plays. The most powerful (I think), as well as the final, source is Rosario Castellanos's "Una Palmera" (translated here a little differently from Adams's version). I'm fascinated by the idea of creation as a poem of sorts--see also the jawdroppingly beautiful conclusion of Chanticleer's rendition of John Tavener's Village Wedding and T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets.

But even more than the poem idea, I love how Adams weaves his idiosyncratic set of sources together into something more than the sum of their parts. I have sometimes described the works that speak most to me as "pieces with stuff in them" (never said I sometimes described them well)--to use Eliot as an example again, Prufrock gets to me because it weds huge concepts about modernity and futility and absurdity to concrete details like measuring a life in coffee spoons and gathering the universe up into a ball.

And so I dub this blog Patchwork Oratorio. I hope it will bring together a series of previously-unrleated sources (seems like they might often be objects; another title I considered was "The Object Lesson") and make some sort of cohesive crazyquilt whole. Not as beautiful as El Niño, to be sure, but I hope to operate somewhere along those lines.

A tiny puppy, knowing only joy and trust

Today I would like to conduct a sort of poll, after a long introduction which, you will find, essentially constitutes the entire post. Another thread running through the entire post is links to various songs; all of these are available for free listening online. I recommend you check ’em out. Should be appropriate for work (except perhaps “Radio,” with its refrain of “fuckin’ good, fuckin’ good”), provided your employers are not alien overlords or overly sensitive to references to Christopher Walken.

On Wednesday night, I went with friends to a Jonathan Coulton and Paul & Storm concert. Don’t know if you know these dudes, but they’re pretty silly, to put it delicately. Paul & Storm’s “Your Love Is” basically made me laugh ’til I cried the first time I heard it. (Let me state for the record that I respect—and expect—that your taste may not be the same as mine.) I also find Jonathan Coulton’s “Skullcrusher Mountain” completely hilarious even after repeated relistens. (And by "repeated relistens," I mostly mean that once I bought someone a stuffed pony and for a week I had this song stuck in my head constantly.) Anyway, while on occasion JoCo at least will do something semi-serious, both bands are essentially humorists. Their live shows are quite an experience. Imagine the biggest crowd of nerds you possibly can, multiply that image by 50% and then envision all of those cool dudes being asked to “Arrrrr” like a pirate periodically (“Dejected arrrr!” “Hopeful arrrr!”) by a couple of funny-looking fellows on stage. At this point you will begin to get the idea. P&S especially have the audience lovefest thing down; their pirate song takes about 15 minutes because the audience keeps calling out things and P&S keep making jokes at the expense of absolutely everyone. They are the only opening band I know who perform for an hour and get as many cheers as the headliner. (For the record, I think I prefer them to JoCo, at least live.) On top of all the running gag madness, after JoCo’s set, P&S announced it was his birthday and brought out (reduced-price, turkey-shaped) ice cream cakes so the whole audience could join in the celebration.

But it’s a funny thing. (No pun intended. This time only.) Listening to “Chiron Beta Prime” at work the other day was not without its charms. Nothing says happy holidays like “[message redacted].” But the experience of a live performance is something else. Everyone comes together in this strangely warm-and-fuzzy-beyond-the-sum-of-its-parts way. Hearing one of the songs on a computer, or walking around with it on an ipod, is not the same at all. At the show, I’m convinced I must buy the songs—all of them!—but the next day the magic wears off and I’m content to stick with “Your Love Is.”

I have had a similar experience with They Might Be Giants, also talented musicians and comedians; also totally off their rockers. A live show is a fun place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. In fact, I think I prefer the above-mentioned artists in some ways, ’cause I would argue they’re more purely funny and good for the moment; TMBG are more musically innovative but don’t transcend my label of “silly music.”

The nonpareil of this genre for me is One Ring Zero. I got to know them because one of my employers published a book-and-cd set with them which totally blew me away. The songs by the authors are hilarious (check out “Radio,” penned by one Daniel Handler—a.k.a. Lemony Snickett) and the performers are totally endearing. The first time I saw ORZo, they won me over enough to buy one of their CDs (something I rarely do anymore) with their somewhat plaintive, “We also write our own stuff!” after the riotous applause for Margaret Atwood’s “Frankenstein Monster Song.” Plus, their home venue is the awesome Barbès, an atmospheric little bar/performance space in Park Slope. I try to see an ORZo show whenever I can, no matter that the songs don’t change that often; there’s something infectious about the live performance, something raw and delighted and accordiony and thereminy that I’ve never found at any other concert. ORZo also occasionally stray into serious songs (even on their album about mannequins—inspired, I was pleased to learn, by the ones at 826), and their members have various side projects including much more classically-inspired pieces in addition to some pretty nutty things (check out for the former; for the latter). ORZo are one of the things in life that genuinely always make me feel better when I encounter them.

And so I ask you, dear readers—all π of you—would you be caught dead listening to silly music? When you’re drunk? Only to commemorate a festive occasion? Never? I am curious because of my own mixed feelings. Maybe I should call this blog “Mixed Feelings.” Then again, maybe not…

Please stand clear of the closing doors

Here’s another thing dear to my heart: the morning commute. Oh, you’ve got to love stumbling to the train station, past the mysterious “NORA” graffiti that appeared on the outer wall one day (no relation—I think), and onto the freezing/boiling/rainy/grimy subway platform to wait for that elusive clanking creature. When it arrives, it’s usually crammed with all sorts of people: loud groups of students, couples huddled together, hipsters reading Ye Newe Fashionable Novelle, old ladies with large pocketbooks taking up several seats. Once, a baby on my train woke up around DeKalb Avenue and started SCREAMING. Dude, I wanted to tell him, I understand. If I woke up on the Q train, I’d be screaming too.

However, right around there, amidst the deafening shrieks, my luck starts to change. If you ever find yourself on a Manhattan-bound Q train, about fifteen seconds after you round out of DeKalb, make sure you’re looking out the window. You’ll get a perfect view of this crazy art, installed in the ’80s and restored earlier this year. It feels like I’m in on some sort of secret as I watch the busy commuters around me not see it at all. Occasionally someone one will notice all of a sudden and it’s great to see their faces. And occasionally someone will notice because I’ve made them—those who know me can attest that I’m a big fan. Let’s take the Q back into the city! I will tell hapless guests. There’s a surprise! For some reason the word “surprise” can conjure up terror, confusion, and/or nervous giggling in my visitors—am I really that evil, guys?—but most everyone is happy to see it.

The Masstransiscope vies with the next portion of the journey for the Best Scenery Award. Because soon after the rocketship fades from view, the train’s out on the Manhattan Bridge tracks and you’re faced with skyline. No matter what else is going on, I always look out one of the windows for the duration of the crossing. I have a hard time picking which one, though—Navy Yard smokestacks, traces of midtown, that beautiful sweep of water cresting up against the park? Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty, helipad?—the jury’s still out. We glide into Chinatown, rumble past clothes on lines and the buildings of downtown, and I can almost-not-quite see my office building. Though I used to have a much simpler commute, I can’t conjure up any nostalgia for the vast ratty dim tunnels of the 4/5.

'Cause waking up is hard to do

In my first non-introductory post, I would like to consider an object valuable to me: my thermos. Caffeine is a key component of the words-words-wordsy lifestyle. I first started to drink coffee sometime in high school, probably as a result of secondhand caffeine poisoning from the fumes percolating around my parents’ house. I still well remember the afternoon—walking back to high school for tech week as the snow gently, scenically, whitely drifted down around me and my cup of steaming darkness—when I realized I’d been drinking coffee every day for a few weeks. Not so much the social drinker I'd always believed myself to be, I was a real live addict. Oops.

Several caffeine-obsessed bosses later (“Umm, R—, would you like coffee if I step out to get some?” “Oh, I was praying you’d ask! Here, get a cup on me!”), I have comfortably settled in at the edge of the black expanse of coffee addiction ("No, really, just a tiny, tiny bit of milk!"). And last winter I came upon a miraculous invention: the perfect thermos.

I am pretty picky when it comes to accoutrements. This is probably why last week marks the first time I bought an umbrella without being under imminent threat of monsoon. It may also be why I have historically been lacking other such necessary components of a (lady) human existence as a scarf, a nice wallet, and a purse. All the thermoses I’d ever seen in 22 years fell into the category of Avoid. Sure, it’d be nice to carry around my coffee and not kill all those coffee-cup trees, but if I’d have to look at the blasted object every day, it had better be a nice one. And one brilliant morning, blearily walking to 826 for tutoring, I saw the perfect one—this sleek shiny creature.

Now my coffee addiction had found its perfect container. The thermos was great. It didn’t leak and it kept the coffee hot, or the iced coffee cold. It provided an interesting conversation piece, as well as endless fascination for the little kids at the tutoring center. It also pretty quickly earned back its keep—some of my favorite coffee places, most notably Gimme! Coffee in Williamsburg and SoHo, will give you a discount (35 cents!) if you bring in your own container. And even if there were the occasional head-scratchers (Dear Starbucks, Why did you pour my drink into a paper cup to make it, then pour it out into my thermos? Love, Me), on the whole, life was good.

So imagine my disappointment when I discovered that my thermos was broken. A portion of the insulation somehow chipped off, which meant my darling had sprung a leak! And, worse luck, once I hied it to Gorilla to get a new one, it turned out they’d discontinued them. Oh, the horror!

Last week, again walking to tutoring, I contemplated getting a maple latte. Nah, I thought; I’m pretty full from lunch. I don’t really need one…and then my eye was drawn across the street to the glorious display of new shiny thermoses. Needless to say, I picked out a new one right away. Turns out they even give you a free drink with it, rendering the total cost $11 or so. Sweet.

As someone who’s a bit ambivalent about consumerism (man, I really love me my pile of books, but do I really need an iphone? more new clothes? a hairdryer? a winter coat?), I am similarly ambivalent to report that the Return of the Thermos more than made my day.

An introduction of sorts

To start, I’d like to reassure you that I’m more skeptical of this endeavor than you are. More words? On the internet? At all my jobs (one regular, eleventy-seven freelance and counting), I come into contact with all sorts of words. Some of them are quite useful in facilitating the safe passage of readers, documents, criminals, etc. etc. Others are, to be polite, appalling. I recently received a request from some poor fellow who believed that apostrophes were meant to be demoted to commas and strange abbreviations were best rendered offset by "quotation marks." He did me the favor of surrounding all this bounty with a flock of ambient parentheses. And then there are the hours I recently spent for one job (guess which!) poring through correspondence so conspiracy-theoristic that I looked up after a while afraid that the Martians were coming for me, or maybe the punk rockers. And, lest you wonder, published authors can fill me with a similar sense of dread and awe at the ingenious number of ways in which we can and do abuse words. I’m sick of books where the author confides in you on page one that most of his sentences should have been edited out. And, conversely, sick of authors who have charged themselves with the heroic mission to excise as many words as possible, leaving you with a lumpy subject-verb pudding. So I’m only going to write the words I want. No more, no less.

Please understand that I’m not a language prescriptivist, at least not entirely. I don’t think that everything out there has to be grammatically correct (though everything of mine does, goddammit!) or that some sorts of experimental work aren’t quite lovely, not to mention distinguished. I don’t want to suggest that my esteemed correspondents don’t deserve the things they convolutedly request, or that I’m drawn to well-worded rants from psychokillers any more than the rest of you.

All this being the case, you may ask, what makes the words I want to write worthwhile? First, let’s remember a dear supporter of many of us, one Dean Bob Gross, who made a class of nervous overachieving freshmen recite in unison, “No matter what you say or do to me, I’m still a worthwhile person.” I would like to extend this blessing to my words—on the internet, they’re my proxy, and you can’t unworthwhile ’em. Second, I like to think I’m pretty entertaining. People have been known to laugh at my jokes. Or at least to laugh nervously at the fact that I’ve said something rude about their mom (I’m sorry! She’s a really nice lady!), or called a senior member of the office “dude” without thinking. Still, that’s good enough for me. I’m not really sure what my mission statement is here. Something to entertain me, entertain you, and make you think a little differently about some tiny random topic.* What else does a writer do, for good or ill? After all, my reading material has me thinking way more about the Martians than ever before.*Please feel free to drop in with your own thoughts as well, in this handy-dandy comments section. Despite what I say about too many words, I am happy to hear any (preferably entertaining) feedback/know someone is reading this besides me and the three people I have harangued incessantly about it. (Hi guys!)