Saturday, January 30, 2010

Temporary relocation, shameless self-congratulation

Just taking advantage of this freezing white-sky endless afternoon to write that I am going to have a change of scene for the next couple of weeks. I'm cat- and housesitting for a former boss of mine and am now, like, halfway across Brooklyn from my own house. By which I mean travel options between the two consist of:

-20 minutes of subway + 15 minutes of walk
-15 minutes of subway + 7 minutes of bus/20 minutes of parkside run
-10 minutes of ride in my father's car

It was very nice of him to drive me here, I think!

I've never been a fan of underanalyzing, so this venture has given me an opportunity to reflect on my life this past year. I c-and-h-sat for these folks around the same time last year, and, goodness, what a lot has changed! Even curmudgeonly old me has to acknowledge that it's for the better. When last the lovely mustachioed Laszlo and I hung out, I had a dwindling part-time internship at a start-up publishing company, a day of store-minding and tutoring at 826, and...not much else. When I wasn't reading (hazy memories of Jonathan Carroll novels and Anne Carson's Grief Lessons spring to mind unbidden upon my return to this apartment), or letting L. nosh on my laptop, I spent my time dragging myself out to cafés (like the sadly-now-closed Tea Lounge) to write job applications and fiddle with my resume. I recently spoke with a friend who's looking for a job, and told her how that's a full-time job in itself. I really believe this; it was quite a taxing workday to sell myself, write scores upon scores of letters, get my heart set on yet another position that wasn't going to work out.

At the same time, even my part-time internship was ending. I emerged from the subway on my ostensible final day of employment to a message from my employer, telling me that he didn't actually need me to come in that day; I came back here and cried.

This place stirs up a lot of positive memories for me, too, though, because it's where things finally started to turn around jobwise. A couple of hours after my pathetic admission of defeat, I got an email from a publishing company offering me an interview; though it and its labyrinthine set of interviews, proofing tests, and meetings did not come through, my current job did. And so here in this very apartment I feel like I began my transition from starving-unpaid-proofer bum to lazy-gainfully-employed-arbiter-of-justice bum.

Socially, I feel like things've picked up too (though they don't quite resume their college high note). Last year I had some people over here for my birthday—unfortunately, what with one thing and another (especially crappy weekend F-train service) not too many of them made it out. Tonight, in contrast, I am shortly to embark upon an epic dinner followed by bowling. I hope this will go well, as I am crap at a) logistics involving more than 2 or 3 people, and b) bowling.

But all and all, onward and upward! And I am pleased to have L. here. No doubt he will reprise his famous role of lying across half the keyboard, rendering typing any words involving left-hand letters an acrobatic feat.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Been stranded in the combat zone, I walked through Bedford-Stuy alone…*

This past Saturday, in order to commemorate the passing of yet another year, I took a walk I’d been contemplating for a while: Brooklyn’s Bedford Avenue, which googlemaps informs me spans a 10-mile stretch. I can believe that; I started at 12 on the nose and finished pretty much exactly at 3:30.

Bedford Avenue is fascinating to me because it winds through so many different universes. Basically it starts at 0% hipster, only to ratchet it up to about 105% by the end. I listened to 5 CDs and made one phone call during the route; the comings and goings of these coincided eerily well with the passing of neighborhoods.

Bedford begins at a pier on Emmons Avenue. Walking up the pier to my starting point, I was struck by the density of birds—I never saw so many swans before. Seagulls perched every which way; old men fed them; children wandered along the side of the water. It almost felt like summer. I wedged myself into the farthest acute angle of the pier and leaned outwards to the water for a moment, feeling, appropriately enough as you’ll see, like a boxer in my corner. Then the National and I turned and made our way up the road. The National’s Boxer is one of my favorite albums ever. Though its “Ada” was recently replaced as #1-played song on my ipod (a count dating since graduation or so) by Ra Ra Riot’s “Can You Tell,” more than half of my most-listened-to 25 songs are by The National. Boxer is good for a crisp winter’s day. It’s moody and dark without being depressive, the instrumentation clean and deliberate. With this soundtrack I studied the totally-suburban houses of Sheepshead Bay, walked past the playgrounds and churches and quiet, tree-lined streets. I felt like I was in a slow episode of Sesame Street, watching the avenues unspool the alphabet in reverse from Avenue Z up.

Round about the border of Orthoxdox-Jewish Midwood, Boxer concluded and I switched to John Adams’s Harmonielehre. I walked through surreally-Sabbath-quiet streets, passed a woman wearing a jealousy-inducing gray fedora and two tiny kids walking solemnly arm in arm. Around here, the houses crest up to opulence and then ebb back down—pink brick monstrosities brush shoulders with ivy-tattered cottages, modest weedy yards with coiffed topiaries. As Harmonielehre triumphantly crashed to its ending, I came up on Brooklyn College and a row of Victorians so similar to my own street, some with the vestiges of holiday decorations still dangling from their rafters. Lovely.

Then Bedford runs into the mega-commercial Flatbush Avenue. At this point I woke from my reverie to field a phone call from a friend of mine. So far, I’d walked along the west side of the avenue, but here I nearly had to abandon this plan; at Flatbush the sidewalk runs out and you have to kamikaze dart across to a filling station and off its island again before rejoining the main street. While engaged in these endeavors, I was nearly run over by a car whose bumper sticker intoned: “Prepare to meet thy God.” Indeed!

Luckily, I was able to put off that encounter, and, phone call concluded, wend my way up through Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, one of Brooklyn’s most fascinating neighborhoods. The character of the buildings changes every single block, keeping pace with the mood swings of my next listening candidate, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, & Thyme (what use is a walk without a bit of S&G?). Each block is unique, from scrubbed, dark brownstones to brick cottages, from sandstone rowhouses to Victorians with enormous yards… A church on the corner advertised the next day’s sermon: “January 24th: The Unforgivable Sin.” Good to know where my birthday stands.

Soon “The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine” (as I'd call my high school on particularly vexed days) came on to propel me up the steep hill toward Bed-Stuy. Once again the city world reasserted itself, crowded, full of storefronts, gentrified and non-. A car service driver tried to offer me a ride; I waved him off. I can never shake the feeling that I’m in some crazy parallel Manhattan over there—disjointed Lexingtons and Parks—or that I’ve stumbled into a founding fathers history lesson, streets suddenly redolent of Hancock, Quincy, Monroe. S&G concluded, I listened to my new Spoon album—propulsive, good for now-tired feet. Spoon carried me through Bed-Stuy to South Williamsburg, where once again I was conspicuous among the Orthodox families out for a Saturday walk. I stopped to admire a cloud of birds looping around and around an otherwise unremarkable brownstone, wondered what its appeal was. I continued past the aptly-named Division Street (and the Cohn Memorial Triangle and its puzzlingly-less-apt street sign “Cohn Memorial Square”) and up to the Williamsburg Bridge, for the last major neighborhood shift.

I put on Clogs to get me through this final stretch, because who doesn’t love clogs? These wooden shoes are made for walking. I mean, Clogs, if you don’t know them (and you probably don’t) is a largely-instrumental band which I learned of because The National’s Bryce Dessner is one of its members. Clogs plays extremely beautiful, contemplative, moody music—a brilliant choice for isolating myself sonically from the oncoming wave of bleary brunchy hipsters, and for basking in my superior musical taste. Oh, hipsters. Even the kids are in on it these days—tiny grubby hands clutching skateboards, wandering the opulent trashy small town. Back in my day... Man. Strolling through this madhouse, I found myself at the shabby edge of Greenpoint, where Bedford deadends. And, whew. Time to sit down in McCarren Park and eat my lunch.

*It was vexing to me that I couldn't title this post so it could encompass both “ramblin’ review” and “ramble in review" in one phrase. Therefore, in protest again the written word, I've avoided the issue entirely, except for this complaint.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Grumpy ol' fart follow-up on "To e or not to e"

Check out 'ninja, whom I love, and his link to the NYT. I am clearly, at least to a large degree, one of the "private people" to whom Woolf refers. Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me is excellent, by the way.

Cheat! Cheat!*

Thought I would continue in the review vein for a bit. To that end: a book “review” of sorts. I will get to a restaurant soon for all you foodfolk, never fear.

My friend of mysterious run-in fame recently lent me Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City. JL and I go back a long way. I tried to read his Fortress of Solitude about five years ago, after tackling the in-some-ways-similarly-themed The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, but I couldn’t get into it. Years passed. I moved to Brooklyn. I became kind of sort of a—gasp—partial hipster. I kept running into Lethem’s gentrification polemics on various websites. I kept seeing the always-intriguing cover of Motherless Brooklyn. I picked up a copy for $4 at the lovely Pranga bookstore, and found that it was the first book I’d loved in a really long time. I read it in the laundromat. I finished it as the G train pulled into Hoyt-Schermerhorn station, appropriately enough. (If you only ever click on one of my ridiculous links, please let it be this one.) I bought Patchwork Planet, an exclusive between the also-lovely BookCourt and one of my boss companies. I read The Disappointment Artist and Gun, With Occasional Music and You Don’t Love Me Yet (which I don’t love yet, but that’s another story). I read, strangely, large portions of each of them at the laundromat as well. I…failed at writing a review of Chronic City and instead wrote about every other Jonathan Lethem book I’ve read. O-o-okay, let’s try again.

Chronic City is a crazy, sprawling book. It’s a Big Novel of Manhattan. Perhaps to prove that he was thinking big, as well as thinking New York, Lethem went on a book tour around the boroughs, over the course of which he eventually read the entire book. I went to the second of these readings, at BookCourt; strolling in about 10 minutes before the start, I was astonished at the large crowd. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read the whole book—I’d seen some ambivalent reviews, and I am loath to start a long novel (there are so many great books out there that I tend to go for quality and quantity when I can)—but I thought I’d give a chapter a try. And what a great chapter it was. Still wasn’t quite enough to make me jump up and buy the book (or begin the slow process of queuing for it in the Brooklyn Public Library’s database), but…my mother asked me at one point if I wanted to read it and I responded that I wasn’t sure, but probably would despite myself. And, hey, look, true story!

To give you some background, Chronic City tells the story of Chase Insteadman, a former child star living in a sort-of-apocalyptic version of Manhattan. Chase is basically a symbolic celebrity; he doesn’t do much of anything these days, but people remember him from the glory days of the sitcom Martyr & Pesty. Chase is also famous for his longstanding relationship with Janice, an astronaut stranded in space, who writes him increasingly surreal letters as the novel progresses. Chronic City charts Chase’s interactions with the city and its inhabitants, particularly one peculiar Perkus Tooth, an ex–Rolling Stone columnist (who bristles to be described that way) and broadside writer, an obsessive about movie minutiae and other trivia. (I thought Perkus’s name sounded familiar—it’s pretty damn distinctive, after all—turns out I’d previously encountered him in the Zadie Smith–edited The Book of Other People.) Much of the novel's action centers around Perkus’s 84th Street apartment (readily imaginable to me because I went to school 3 blocks away), where the characters snipe at one another, watch surreal movies—"Guns don't kill detectives. Love does," Perkus urgently quotes from a Steve Martin film noir—and smoke a lot of pot, particularly the brand Chronic, from which the book derives part of its title. Meanwhile, a tiger—or is it that a story concocted by the mayor’s office to cover up a lovelorn robot run amok?—menaces the ever-unfinished Second Avenue subway tunnels (I wish that state of limbo were fictional!), eagles nest on a highrise window ledge, an artist bores fjords into upper Manhattan, and the natural world increasingly mirrors the chaotic state of its human inhabitants.

Chronic City doesn’t tell a story so much as map out a (mostly) imaginary place and time and set of characters. The chapter I heard Lethem read did this, I think, more brilliantly than any other part of the book. In it, Chase attends a dinner party with a variety of preposterously named characters. He pokes fun at the social mores of rich Manhattan (a thing I could poke you a hole or two in myself) and introduces two of the novel’s main characters, mayor’s-office-man Richard Abneg and socialite Georgina Hawkmanaji, whom Abneg seduces to dramatic effect. I like Lethem’s snarky takes on the high life and consumerism. He has some great one-liners—“Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chain stores”; “…like other truly powerful men Arnheim seemed a bit of a gravitational sinkhole, a place where other men’s hopes had gone to die”—which accompany his consistently satirical take on more drawn-out scenes.

I would give you more details of the plot—or whatever it is—but I’m not sure what I would tell you. In a conversation with Perkus, Chase complains, “It all feels a little plotty to me… I was never one for plots.” Perkus’s reply? “Too bad, since you’re in one.” But Perkus is lying, at least to a degree. Over the course of my reading, I’d keep putting Chronic City down and picking it up again, I think because it largely didn’t have the driving force of plot to push me along. I’d be continually and happily surprised by how much I enjoyed it when I did pick it up—whether he’s talking about snowflakes or the mythical “chaldrons” the main characters quest after on the internet, Lethem has striking turns of phrase and freely dips into philosophical musings. He has some interesting observations about love, particularly as it pertains to Chase’s relationship to Janice and, later, his infatuation with the ghostwriter Oona Laszlo, who, Chase feels, asks him “to generate a love field broad enough to enclose our fear…to reach Janice in orbit…and cover Oona as well, and anyone else who needed to feel it.” It seems to me, though, that the book largely meanders, much like the Chronic-smoking, aimless characters it portrays. The exception to this is the last 60 pages or so, which I read in one absorbed sitting. These contained a lot of action, answered about as many perplexing questions as they raised, and ended on a beautiful melancholy note. But I’m not sure that 60 pages of sudden plot make up for 400 of meandering. I don’t regret having read the book, but I’d refer you to Motherless Brooklyn instead. I can post about that one day if you’d like.

*No, it's not a review of Arcadia, or Antony and Cleopatra, but I mostly wrote this last week, so I feel a bit of a fraud.

Friday, January 22, 2010

I’m not a trained musicological professional but…

Let’s call this post sort of a review.

I fell in love with a piece of music for the first time my junior year of college. Sure, I’d listened to songs incessantly before, pop shaping and pinning down the tiniest details of my life. Hum “I am a Rock” and I taste 10th-grade January air; play anything from The Shins or Iron & Wine on your café soundtrack and you’ll transport me back to daydreaming in Willets Underground. But classical music (Am I allowed to call it that as a blanket term, guys? If the piece I’m going to talk about is from the 20th century?)... That’s a different story. While there are pieces I grew up with—New World Symphony, lots of Beethoven, the strains framing Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery—I never had a symphony that was mine.

Then one fall day I followed some friends to the Philadelphia Orchestra’s opening concert. I don’t remember the company (could’ve been anyone—you’re all musicians, dear friends, aren’t you?) or the other piece on the program. But there was Shostakovich’s 5th symphony. And there I was. A piece of music never gripped me so viscerally before. From the ominous opening to the—seems to me—perfectly wistful melody at the end of the first movement; from the long beautiful largo to the crazy finale march, everything about the symphony made me want to know more. Not that I thought it could tell me a story, or that I could presume to analyze its chords and learn something about 20th-century composition. I just wanted to know every note of that thing, to have it live within me.

And so it has. I feel confident asserting that I am the world’s most opinionated Shostakovich 5 non-musical-scholar. Let’s talk recordings, for instance. I downloaded and fell for an unlabeled version of the symphony. When my ipod broke and the file’s anonymity meant I couldn’t get it back, I was really upset. Just ask anyone in the music library at the time. So I listened to a variety of other recordings until I found out which one was mine. In the meantime, I had plenty of opinions about some of the unchosen few…like the Bernstein recording I acquired, with its slow and thunderingly menacing conclusion. Argh. Thanks to musicological M— I now know a lot about the historical context of the piece. It’s pretty basic knowledge that Shostakovich wrote it in a time of Soviet censorship and oppression. People have argued that the ending is a positive, triumphal vindication of the principles of communism. They’ve said that Shostakovich was a secret dissident—listen to the menacing sound of those final bars. Dance, damn you! Or we’ll kill you. I don’t know which of these is true. What speaks to me is the uncertainty itself. I’m fascinated by moments when two realities seem to exist at the same time. My recording of choice sticks with me because of the way it brings out this ambiguity. There are moments when everything is ready to come crashing down; there are moments when it seems like a note of victory lances through the oppression and promises to get us all where we need to be. Anything could happen.

And so I’ve made Shostakovich 5 a fiber of my being. I’ve listened to it while reading Kafka in the Science Center and on my way to a fancy dinner. I’ve listened to it as I thought my heart was about to break for one reason or another and while sitting on a swing outside my dormitory on a cool sparkling spring night. I’ve listened to it in the morning, disembarking from a train—watch how the bright station is suddenly rendered sinister—and at night drifting off to sleep. (“Yeah, nice bedtime music, if you want to dream about someone eating your babies!” quoth my roommate at the time.) I’ve walked through the city and through the woods with it. If I grow to love another piece of music even half so well (and I might have—more suggestions always welcome!), I will be lucky indeed.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

We’d like to know a little bit about you for our files

It’s hard to work after a three-day weekend. With the regular old two days, you never fully feel you’ve left the office, except for that one glorious moment, Saturday 7:30ish, when the phantom of your alarm wakes you and you roll right back into sleep. But then reality taps you on the shoulder—now’s all right, but Sunday will bring volunteer tutoring, and then it’s basically Monday. Again.

A long weekend, though! Redraws your boundaries. Suddenly you remember what freedom smells like. And it’s a revelation. You revert, as I so recently mentioned, to glorious impractical midnight oil schedules; you busy up your Saturday with full knowledge that you’ve still got two days to recover, to rest, to do whatever it is you want to do. You meet people and deal with your irritating errands and go on unnecessarily long dark cold walks across the Williamsburg Bridge, just because you can. And then—surprise! Happy Tuesday!

I don’t mean to imply I don’t like my job. I do. Just that sometimes—post-holiday mornings and slow Friday afternoons, I’m looking at you—it gets stale here, surrounded by gray cubicle walls only slightly alleviated by the slow accumulation of postcards (thanks, M—, for the duck I received this weekend). There’re only so many times I can scan the internet for the next big thing or pull open a novel or a book of poems while waiting for cases to arrive. Some files—mysterious mafia clippings requested by a far-flung writer, for instance—haven’t materialized since August despite my best efforts. Perhaps they never will.

This morning everyone’s gone to court. I’m sure it’s not actually high entertainment but I envision them sitting in their Tuesday-best suits in the stands at the circus. They munch peanuts and popcorn and occasionally throw things, the better to show off their disapproval. One of them sidles up to the ringmaster, whispers the office’s recommendation. The lion tamers stand in the court’s corners, whips at their sides, poised, ready. Or maybe it’s more of a bullfight—audience leans in closer to watch the elaborate rotational dance of predator and prey. Judge’s robes a sort of matador’s cape.

Don’t feel sorry for me, though, here outside the carnival gates. I’m well aware there’s much worse out there. I am an accomplished misery poker* player, and I concede today my hand is lame. I could be one of these players, for instance. Got a day that can beat mine? Do tell! Schadenfreude, as a friend once said, ist die beste Freude.

*For thems that don't know, now you too can join the dance.

PS: Blogspot, why do you delete my double spaces between sentences? I put them there on purpose.

PPS: Update! I've got 9 new files to deal with! Hoooorah. (You think I'm being sarcastic. You're only 93% wrong.)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Choose your* own adventure

Ah, the glories of the three-day weekend! After a lovely Saturday including a fabulous leisurely brunch, plenty of bear jokes, and the bizarre charms of Eddie Izzard ("In the 1800s Charles Darwin wrote a book, Great Expectations, about an amoeba named Pip. Oh, wait, that was Charles Dickens. Charles Darwin wrote the masterpiece Monkey, Monkey, Monkey, Monkey, Monkey, Monkey, You!") I of course reverted to all my pre-workaday-schedule slothfulness, stayed up egregiously late, and awoke around noon to the sound of rain dripping down the window. (The rain is probably part of why I woke up at such an indolent hour--when the weather's nice, the sun streams through the windows so forcefully that its heat can wake me up.)

I groggily rose and tried to figure out what to do all day. Some people in my neighborhood were starting a movie-watching group, and that seemed promising...but my handy-dandy inbox informed me that the meeting was canceled for today. So after indulging in some piano practicing and granola eating, I decided to partake in my favorite activity: a walk.

I moseyed down to Prospect Park and through it, all the way to the giant Grand Army Plaza library, from which I finally write this post. (It was truly a labyrinthine, if not quite Trial-esque, affair to figure out how to reserve myself a computer, let me tell you.) While walking the park I passed through various points of interest--a candle memorial for Haiti's earthquake victims; the intriguing Lefferts House, no doubt not in its best season; the edge of the zoo, complete with a squirrel acrobat flipping from branch to branch just outside the more exotic barred creatures; the boarded-up carousel. (The ex-horseback-rider in me loves the idea of being able to walk to a ride, however small. What I really should work on is finding about the actual stable on the other side of the park.)

Sometimes when I act out this type of mental tourguiding and cataloguing, I think about audiences in general, and occasionally about this blog in particular. Are these scenic laundry lists the sorts of things people want to hear about? Or would they prefer to read the ridiculous (the woman next to me on the train Friday greeting someone, "Hello naughty girl!" only to then pull out a copy of Why Men Like Bitches, the last word elaborately curlicued) or the analytical (self- or otherwise) or the sublime (I wish)?

And so I conclude that maybe this blog needs a bit more direction. To that end, I poll y'all once more. What sort of thing would you like me to write about? Shall I continue with my tirades and bullet points? Would you like something more structured, such as (likely unqualified) reviews of music, theater, books, and food? Would you like a guided tour of what I think about when I think about walking? Or, at the risk of sounding like a bad self-help book, one of how I got inspired to run after reading this? Or something else? Sing to me, muses.

*or, um, mine.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Things I have not understood this week: A partial list

-High heels. Went to a party yesterday (and this is true of many parties) where all the girls wore shoes like this, if not always quite as blue. I think I see why they call some heels stilettos. Those things could stab someone! I had on boots more or less like these, which seems like plenty of heel to me, even if it only makes me about three and a half (non-deadly) feet tall. Also, relatedly, what is up with shoes with pointy toes? They look creepy and crocodilian.

-People who order a cheeseburger and in response to the waitress’s “Would you like cheddar on that?” ask for American cheese and are disappointed when it’s not on offer.

-The City Hall turnstile’s apparent desire to bar me from entry to the subway system despite saying I can go through. Why the MTA appears to have it in for me in general, what with that, delays, train doors slamming in my face, frozen platforms, rats on platforms, rats on platforms running into other rats on platforms and doing a worried little jumpy dance, etc., etc.

-Café bathroom graffiti. I’m not complaining about this one, but seriously, who sees “Believe in peace” and “Believe in love” on the ceiling and follows them up with “At least you’re not on fire”? Or perhaps it was the other way around?

-Facebook’s desire to send you an email notification about maybe roughly half the messages you receive, rendering planning difficult.

-Running into people in bakeries. Within the space of a week I did this twice. The first encounter was especially strange as my friend had apparently just been in another bakery and hence had no real reason to be at the one I saw him in.

-Clubs which seem to think they are cooler the closer they are to the West Side Highway. Does the U.S.S. Intrepid make you want to dance and/or buy expensive girly drinks?

-Why no one stops me after I have babbled on about either a) how great Brooklyn is, b) cute criminal tricks, or c) dumb shoes for about 15 minutes at cocktail parties.

-Why I can’t write a more elegant blog or a more functional one or a more strangely hilarious one, but instead feel compelled to churn out half-joke half-list half-rant* screeds which regularly clock in at about 400–600 words. On that note, I’m out.

*See the bottom of the page for the one I'm talking about, but it's worth checking out the rest as well.

Monday, January 11, 2010

PS: As for bets

You'd've won if you said: "your face." I turned and the turnstile thingy did not and pain ensued. Cheers for the new week, everyone!

Dem’s the breaks

You ever have a week where nothing seems to go right? A terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad week? My friends, that week has been upon me, and lo, what an exciting week it has been! Since last Monday I have broken:

-My nice companionable headphones of the past six months (That repeatedly-superglued crack just couldn’t withstand the pressure of keeping up with my busy and exciting life.)
-The sidearm of my glasses (Lorgnettes are due for a comeback, don’t you think?)
-The sole of my shoe (Mighty chilly walking on the snow, let me tell you.)
-My train line (You can’t tell me that the signal malfunction at Kings Highway, rendering me 45 minutes late after waiting for a bus—teeth chattering as I busily commiserated with a small girl about how cold it was—followed by a subway which closed its doors in my face then finally another subway…was someone else’s fault? No, sir! My breaking powers are increasing exponentially!)

Plus, last Tuesday night I acquired a tiny splinter in the bottom of my foot. So tiny, in fact, that I can’t really see it, or, as a result, extricate it. But I can feel it there wedged within my sole, my constant companion. With friends like these…

Inquiring words-words-words want to know: What will I break tonight? Or tomorrow? The Federal Courthouse? The Manhattan Bridge? Staten Island? Taking bets!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

There’s no place like home

A few weeks ago a friend of mine said he’d read a survey that ranked New York 51st in the list of happiest states. That not-so-state-ly 51, as well as my friend’s assertion that Louisiana was number 1 and Miami number 2, fueled my skepticism. But it turns out he’s absolutely correct.

Y’all know me. I’m an inveterate New Yorker. So much so that family legend will tell you that when I was little my parents took me to Central Park and I was afraid to step on the grass. So much so that I wrote my college personal statement—my description of myself, if you will—about New York. If that doesn’t prove my love for this whole glorious city, from the MetLife Building to the British Airways ads outside the Midtown Tunnel, I don’t know what does. I can’t imagine I’d be happier if I moved to Louisiana (though tell me, Zoom, if I’m mistaken). I wasn’t any more (or less) content of a person in Pennsylvania (admittedly ranked a paltry 41st) and was in fact actively less happy the summer I spent in middle-o’-nowhere Vermont (18th!).

One of my friends is always talking about moving to California. She describes it to me like some kinda crazy utopia. I’ve never been there myself to verify, but she says people are nicer, everything’s more laidback, the weather is better, etc., etc. Then again, good ol’ CA is only ranked 46th—nothing to write home about either.

While the study doesn’t present any earth-shattering conclusions—happiness is correlated with objective quality-of-life measures like climate, crime rates, cost of living—it still makes me think about the extent to which we are affected by our surroundings. I’m inclined to believe that it doesn’t much matter where we live; our personalities and ways of looking at things tend to stay the same. “Wherever you go, there you are,” as another friend and I used to tell each other in suburban Pennsylvania, where I unexpectedly didn’t miss New York too much.*

But is this the whole story? Or do our surroundings interact with us more than I give them credit for? Unclear. Despite my previous assertions, for instance, I do feel I’ve become a bit happier since I moved to Brooklyn. Or, to rephrase, I wouldn’t say my entire outlook on life has become rosier. But I definitely feel a weight easing from me as the Q chugs its way across the bridge every night. I realize as I write this that yesterday was the six-month anniversary of the day I moved out to my new place (same day as the G train). And yesterday after I got off the Q, I couldn’t help but grin for my entire walk home from the station, as I just about always do. It still feels like such a gift that I get to live exactly where I want to.

What are your thoughts? Should we all up and relocate to New Orleans? Grin and bear it? Did being born in New York destine me to be a cranky old fart? Is ranking for sissies and statisticians?

*Well, except for the time I was browsing my computer’s stock desktop backgrounds late freshman fall, and found that one was a photo of Madison Square Park. I recognized that street sign! Ah, those zebra crossings! That was my city, by God! It took willpower not to just run onto the train home then and there.

Monday, January 4, 2010

I dentity; you dentity; he, she, or it dentities…*

Greetings, fair readers. I hope that you have all had a fabulous start to the new year. I sure have; thanks for asking. I’m a bit sad I’ve not been home ALL YEAR but happy that it’s because I’ve been doing more entertaining things instead. My post is brought to you by the sum of these entertainments, which have left me dizzy, disoriented, and exhausted—not as a result of drinking, I assure you…

I don’t know about y’all (well, I do know about some of you) but I have a bunch of different groups of friends, because I am soooo popular. All modesty aside, I do know people from a variety of contexts, and found myself belonging to several different groups this weekend. They included one gathering of high school friends and several different sets of college ones. Most of the college friends nominally know each other, at least. But they don’t hang out together (unless I make 'em).

So I merrily roamed from one group to the next, drinking frighteningly strong martinis one moment and watching South Park the next, only to find myself arguing the merits of “your mom” jokes or frantically trying to make someone guess Chuck Yeager’s name the following day. In each group, I had fun and I was welcomed. But I never felt it was truly my group of friends, my resting place. Historically, I have waffled about this sort of thing. I remember getting to college and being all grumbly because it seemed like everyone else had a place to hang their hat and I was flitting, an anti-social butterfly, from one gathering to the next. Then, every so often, I’d get a group of friends who would expect me to do things with them all the time…until I got fed up with that and started itching to flit again. I guess I’ve struck a balance right now—I have a few friends I see all the time, and a bunch of others I meet every couple of weeks, or whenever they’re in town. But this weekend I swapped constantly from one group to the next, which brings me to my point.

Oh, really? You had a point?

Why, indeed I did. Namely: the reason I'm so dizzied and disoriented is that I feel like I become a different person depending on which group I’m with. I used to think I acted the same no matter the context (this could mean making a bad pun in an interview, or talking to a very small child like they understood the word “hegemony”; it could also include acting comfortably like myself with strangers). But I’m forced to conclude this is Not The Case. (One of my old professors has some interesting things to say about this; but I don’t have the space to get into it here.) This weekend I was six different people, and it was fun. But I’m a bit tired now, back at the office. I feel like I should put on some sort of workaday me, but I’m not sure which one she is anymore. I suppose this is probably normal. Then again, I'm probably a weirdo.

Any ideas?

*Oh man, check it out...