Saturday, November 12, 2016

Waking Up.


I am not here to add words or feelings about the election of our nation's first orange president. Several other people have expressed all of the words and all of the feelings much more eloquently than I ever could.

I am here to talk about snoring. On Wednesday morning the house was empty but for me and a very persistent, shuffling bass note note rising and falling in the hallway. After picking up my phone to check results, and then putting down the phone to let reality sink in, I just stared at the wall and felt surprisingly comforted by that sound.

GeorginaThe canine doing the snoring, a rescue we are fostering and who herself has caused a whole separate tide of words and feelings on my part, is obviously unconcerned about recent events. She is safe, after too long not being safe. She harbors no feelings for orange people or elections or the climate or the future. Her chief outrages involve the groomer and being denied the couch. It's pretty simple.

You probably have a sound like that in your life. Maybe it's your kid playing, or laughing at something silly. Maybe it's your life boss saying that one phrase, for the millionth time, to the kid or canine, where they use that special voice they use only with that special being—the way they say good morning, or well done, or you're loved. Maybe it's a clock you treasure because it ticked for someone who lived long before you in another place, and now it ticks for you. Maybe it's the trees rustling off their last leaves and your feet shuffling them along, just like last year and the year before that.

When you dial into that sound, whatever it is, understand that it means you have created a place here, and you have life around you that is more important than any four-year turn of events. You have people and creatures who need you, causes you can support, and kindnesses you can supply. We could all stand to listen better. More. Now.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Yes.

I love this thought, speaking as the child author of an unpublished how-to series on spying.

I think innocence is something that adults project upon children that's not really there. Children--in f you think back really what it was like to be a child and what it was like to know other children--children lie all the time. They have to lie. It's the only way they can do what they want to. They have no financial control. They have no control whatsoever. In order to go where they want to, do what they want to--`Oh, I'm just running down to Joshua's house.' Children do it all the time. And I think when adults become parents that a veil of forgetfulness sort of drips gently over them and I think they just forget how much children depend on lying and secrecy. Children love secret club houses. They love secrecy even when there's no need for secrecy.
-- Donna Tartt


Music: "Feeling Nostalgic" (Less Than Zero score by Thomas Newman)

Friday, July 01, 2016

Independence Day.

The passage below, scrabbled on the back of a flyer, was recently culled from my extensive archive. I decided to share it here because to me it's an embarrassingly perfect expression of pure self-pity, especially the kind you feel when you're a single twentysomething in New York in the 1990s.

I can remember whom this is about, but the details, as well as the feelings, are like one of those faded ad murals on the side of brick buildings, chipped away and barely legible. Like... I guess I cared about this at one point?

Still haven't totally conquered the self-pity reflex, and still don't have a good vantage point for the fireworks, but it's nice to come across stuff like this and recognize freedom from the b.s. of the past.

***

It's Independence Day, and appropriately, I have been ditched by friends, who migrated to Long Island, which in an odd reversal becomes the inside for a day while Manhattan is the outside. Realized that my window faces West instead of East, where the fireworks are, and without any rooftop access I'm able to discern, stayed inside alone and watched the reflection of the fireworks in the skyscrapers, listening and wishing the sound was a thunderstorm instead.

I don't feel independent at all. I feel shackled to this notion I had six weeks ago, when we were walking near his apartment one night and, inexplicably, fireworks began going off, so we watched from the corner. I looked forward to watching the "real" show later that summer with him and his friends, having someone to kiss, not having to wonder whether I'd be sitting alone in my apartment, thinking of him watching the same stupid show while kissing someone else.

Generally I don't really care much for the Fourth, anyway.

Music: "Game for Fools"

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Billable.

The beginning of this year was a doozy, wasn't it? My posts to this blog seemed like they were going to take flight as if it were the mid-2000s again, as if blogging were still a thing. Then the funding for my job went into slow-motion implosion and, well, priorities shifted.

But it's not just that. This blog sometimes feels like that friend you haven't written to in awhile. You really want to be in touch. You're thinking about that person and wishing you could just sit down and talk, like you used to in the old days. But now so much shit has happened, and there's that one email from a month ago that you never even answered—you're such a dick—and the task of capturing everything you've been feeling and wanting to say is hopelessly gargantuan at this point, and you think...

I have to, have to finally write [him/her/that post] this week.

And that never happens, because you waded out a little too far, and now the waves keep crashing, one after another, a new one towering ahead just as you've managed to catch your breath from the last one.

So you pick the easy things. You fall in love with a hibiscus plant at the Home Depot (not Home Depot, THE Home Depot), a store you used to vaguely recognize as the place your dad likes before it became a prime destination for you. You decide you must adopt the lonely hibiscus displayed way in the back because it looks like a full-on sunset in five petals, and even though you don't live in the tropics, what's so bad about pretending to for a summer and then bringing the thing inside for the winter? You just need the huge ceramic pot and the fertilizer and the specially draining soil...


When everything was still frosted over, you said goodbye to your office and set about building your own business as an army of daffodils marched into the garden, early this year because they were fooled into it by humans, and they reminded you that soon the days wouldn't be so dark. 


You'd always wanted to do your own thing, but you'd been afraid to. Plus, you never had an impetus, until life gave you an impetus, along with a new gig that let you set some of your own terms.

You retrieve some items from your collection to play on the turntable that Sir UM got for the house. The records you have are deep. Like almost comically deep, as things stood on April 2. Bootlegs and side projects, collectibles.


Then, exactly two months ago today, the strangest thing happened.



Even though I've emailed myself some Feelings and tried to draft posts, I still don't have the words to address it, and lord knows no one needs me to, given just how much has been said about it.

So, outside of work, it's picking the low-hanging fruit. It's gazing excessively at plants and nail polishes. Finishing out the school year doing lunch-hour reading with a fifth-grader friend. Making dinners and sometimes desserts for me and Sir UM, who is currently doing his own incredibly hard thing.

We look at rescue dogs online, mentally adopting them, getting ready to maybe one day do it for real. We go to Philadelphia so I can watch my college singing group's amazing spring show and visit with old friends.

But see, all of this is taking place within a new framework, a freelance one where every hour has to be accounted for. In the new world, there's no "slow day." No paid hours chatting by the coffee maker or mooning over terrible world events (so many terrible events), no bank credit while you run to the doctor, or go on vacation.

There's just billable, or not billable. For example:

Billable
- The daytime hours doing assigned writing in my sunroom with good coffee, yay
- The weeknight hours spent interviewing a coal expert in Australia or a conservationist in Indonesia, alright
- The time I spend researching and reporting on topics largely of my own choosing, thank you            

Not Billable
- The daytime trip downtown to meet a friend for coffee, heygoodtoseeyou
- The hours spent looking at Prince-related stories, stopitnowstopit
- Yard breaks, justgoingoutsideforasecond

No complaints. I like working on assignment. I like making the deadlines, helping people out. And it's probably a good thing that I now have to think about my time in a much more granular, purpose-driven way. Sometimes, yes, I miss paid vacation days. but wouldn't trade it for anything. The upshot is, every hour is billable to something. Your livelihood. Your loved ones. Your sanity. Your soul. Remember that's always true, whether you're freelance or not: Every hour is billable.

Music: "Same Ol' Mistakes"

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Stop Telling Women to Smile.

On the way back to the office from an outing today, I spent a good few minutes thinking about being told to smile by strangers on the street. I'd just passed a potential "smile" zone that proved to be quiet, but it made me think how amazing it is that women who go around minding their own business all day long still have to deal with so much unsolicited running commentary.

"Smile for me!"
"Smile, it's not so bad."
"Aw, it's not that bad is it?"

This kind of b.s. used to happen to me so regularly in New York that I thought it must be a side-effect of my condition, RBF. Now that I am old, I get it far less often, but it still happens from time to time. What's even more amazing is how this never really registered to me as harassment, or at least not in any real way, because it wasn't hissing or sex-faces, which would happen too.

Then I heard an interview with the founder of this awesome street-art movement, Stop Telling Women to Smile, and realized it wasn't my RBF, and it wasn't just New York and D.C., and furthermore, it really wasn't my motherfucking problem if some random-ass dude feels entitled to tell me what expression to put on my face.

I thought about how unfortunate it was that the younger me always felt obligated to smile in response, to be "polite" somehow. That maybe I should indeed try to go around looking more cheerful. Not anymore, I thought to myself. How ridiculous. Shaking my head.

I swear what I am about to relate is true. Not 10 minutes after this particular train of thought, I get back to the office, walk through the lobby, and get into the elevator. It's me, a younger dude, and an older dude with a mustache that I've seen around the building before.

Younger dude gets off the elevator and then it's me and the older dude for two more floors. It's quiet and I can tell he's just itching to say something.

Can you guess, reader, what he said?

Oh yes. "Smile," I hear from my periphery. "It's not so bad." A laugh.

But of course, I'm not on the street. I'm in an elevator, next to a fellow employee I might see again. So what did I do? I smiled. It was a sour, weary smile, to be sure, but not the stone-cold shutdown I'd been mentally practicing just a few minutes ago.

Sigh. Maybe next time.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Custard.

Early on in our seven-year history, I learned that Sir UM has a soft spot for the egg custard tart. You usually see this little guy at dim sum meals, but during an early visit to San Francisco, he took me to a bakery in Chinatown JUST to get the tart.

My experience of Asian food growing up white in the Maryland suburbs was: "Chinese takeout." In quotes. That's it. Cashew chicken, moo shu vegetables, pork fried rice. No dim sum. No sushi. No Thai or Vietnamese exposure, even, for this Sbarro aficionado. I'm not saying the options didn't exist; they just weren't in the picture for my family.

Moving to San Francisco changed that, big time, but the allure of dim sum remained opaque to me. A poorly lit, crowded room and food on wheels? During the day? Aren't there better things to do with the sunlit hours?

Now, after finally getting with the program via awesome meals in San Fran and New York, I have the proper appreciation for those rattling metal carts, and we happen to have a great place just a few minutes away in the suburbs, not far from where I grew up, that can satisfy the craving.

It's the kind of place where a crowd starts to form by 12:30 p.m. Where the cheesy name and unassuming exterior belie the deliciousness inside. Where the staff bring out forks to put next to the chopsticks when they seat a white person.



Here is where I finally learned about Sir UM's secret.

"Have you ever tried licking the tart?" he asked at the end of a recent dim sum meal, a plate of custards in front of us.

"What do you mean?" I said. Of course I'd never tried anything of the sort.

Truthfully, the tart always seemed extremely skippable, a fairly anodyne conclusion to a meal that involves whirling steam, chile sauce, and meats mauled into bite-size packages. Its charms are somewhat obscured by how pale and bland it looks. (You know, like me.) I'd eaten maybe four in my whole life.

He explained how, as a little kid in Singapore, he learned to hide his secret compulsion to lick the top of the custard tart.

Tonguing a tart is poor table manners, obviously. But have you ever tried? It turns out you get a hit of the sweetness concentrated at the top, while enjoying the silky smooth perfection of the surface.

His "technique," refined over many meals with adults, involves bringing the tart up to your face with both hands, forming a sort of visual screen, and then tilting the tart toward your mouth so that you can sneak in a lick, without anyone seeing, before you take a bite.

I love this for so many reasons, but the main one is how children can always figure out a way to enjoy life in the face of stiff adult opposition, and how adults are so removed from that enjoyment that they wouldn't necessarily know what to police. Among the many crimes I often got away with as a kid: drinking through a straw without holding the cup on the table, letting my ice cream melt into soup, concocting "potions" out of kitchen condiments, and collecting the colorful wrappers from candy that I'd eaten.

So now when we go to dim sum, I work on my technique, bringing the tart up to my face for a seemingly normal bite and going in for the kill. I treasure the secret, even though it will never be as surreptitiously sweet as it was to the little boy who first had the idea.

What innocent joys did you get away with as a kid?

Friday, February 05, 2016

OH: A Bizarre Attachment to Gender Identity via LEGO.


Thursday evening, crowded Metro elevator in the suburbs. A little girl, about five years old with two dark blond ponytails, stands with her dad. She is clutching a LEGO creation.

Stranger Lady, who is a loud talker: "WOOOowww do you have more of those at home?" (referring to the LEGO).

I assume the girl answered somehow, but the elevator was crowded, so I couldn't see the exchange.

Stranger Lady: "That's good, so you can build more COOL things at home. Do you have the PINK LEGOS?" (Expert enough on LEGO to know that there are pink ones, but amateur enough to use the 's' on the plural.)

Dad, tentatively: "Ummmm, yeah, we've seen those, but we haven't gotten any yet."

Stranger Lady: "Oh yeah they have PINK ones for GIRLS. They're great... " (goes into her own ownership story of pink LEGO)

Elevator doors open, people start filing out. Stranger Lady calls after the dad and girl. "You'll love them. They're PINK. For GIRLS!"

Sigh.

I wasn't aware that actually this was a thing until my coworker came up to me whilst I was researching pink LEGO options. I'd come upon this page, and noticed the words in red: "Retired Product." This began a conversation about pink, girly LEGO, and a coworker informed me that there had been a big controversy about it a few years ago.

As a girl who loved tiny pencils, Barbies, and Strawberry Shortcake dolls as much as I loved building forts, playing football, and Star Wars figures, I don't think we should get rid of all girly toys. I DO think that loud-talker, who was not far from my age, should have fucking known better. If you like pink LEGO, you go play with them, lady. We don't need to be telling girls that they should like pink and princesses any more than we should be telling boys to like football and shooter games. Why does this still happen?

Just FYI, the pinkest, foofiest LEGO sets that I could find, using the "girls" search tag on the site and refining to "Disney Princess," are the disturbingly romantic-sounding Sleeping Beauty's Royal Bedroom and Ariel's Magical Kiss.

They are both sold out.





Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Without Warning.

"Huge bombshell," my mom texted last week.

"[He] is leaving [her.] They went back to [state redacted], settled on their new house, and then"

Here the text ended, like a cliffhanger scene in a soap opera. The portentous iMessage ellipsis told me to wait five minutes. And then:

"He went to the lawyer, put the house in her name, went home and told her he would be leaving because he needs to be alone. The house is hers 'free and clear.' He's going to one of his far away places on the 21st and won't be back. Needless to say [she] is completely shocked and devastated. She had no clue."

They'd been together more than 10 years, having met later in life, too old for kids, but young enough to see that the scars from previous unions could be healed, and that it was never too late to be happy.

At Christmas, nothing seemed amiss. They talked about their new house, and the process of selling the old one, which they'd decided was too big for them.

He travels a lot for work. We're told.

My feelings about him as a person, or as an addition to the family, necessarily deferred to one fact: He made her happy. I don't know much about their situation, but I can tell you this: Nothing about the man suggests he "needs to be alone."

That weekend Sir UncMo and I sat at the dining room table having a late breakfast when he saw something through the front window.

"Is that... Is that an owl?"

We left our chairs and headed for the living room. Across the street, a very large, beige presence stood on top of the neighbor's fence.

"What IS that?"

"I can't tell." I went to get my glasses. He went to get his camera.

The Being across the street dove off the fence and flew right in our direction, low and slow. Its wings seemed to span the two of us in the window. It glided past the daffodil shoots that emerged in the odd, warm December and now stood stuck, mid-stride, in the first real cold of January.

"Whoa," I breathed. A hawk. It veered away from us and landed on the front yard lamppost.


Sir UncMo managed to get this shot through the window, but the hawk flew away when we opened the front door to get a better look.

We'd been making fun of the rabbit that greets us in the evenings at home. He (we always assume, without basis, that it is the same male rabbit, dubbed Baxter, Brewster, Bobby, or some mischievous Bunny name along those lines) snacks in the front yard but hops to the edge when we approach, turning his back to any humans.

"They'll never see me here," we imagine he's thinking, his white cottontail like a beacon in the twilight, motionless and waiting for us to pass.

This approach obviously is not going to work with the tsunami of a bird above.

Let's get didactic about it. So far 2016 feels like a hawk. Infallibles like Bowie and Alan Rickman and Glenn Frey are suddenly gone. It's gotten bitterly cold after a period of eerie warmth, and the weather experts are calling for a major snowstorm by Friday. Shit feels unpredictable.

It's been very hard to get out of bed these last few days. Instead of driving to the Metro, I walk so that the biting air will wake me up. I try to focus on my limbs carrying me along, painless and solid, fingers freezing in their gloves, nose running and eyes tearing, blinking thankfulness into every step.


Frozen.

To me it's a crying shame, and I know Adele would agree, that when you type the words "frozen video" into Google, that there is no trace, not a shred of evidence, that Madonna ever sang a song with that title, not to mention filmed a clip where she falls onto the desert earth and transforms into a bunch of birds.



That's because all the results are about Disney's rip-off of Snow Queen.

After all the ridiculously mild weather here on the East Coast, a day of bitter wind and twentysomething temperatures feels like an insult. The calendar reminds me that it's just par for the course, or it should be.

The icy dry weather immobilizes my face, walking to the Metro, and I let it. My efforts to smile and cede the way evaporate with all other moisture. My face is a mask, and I haven't even had Botox. Yet.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Put On Your Red Shoes and Dance the Blues.

"You are to keep your gliding motion, no dancer will be able to move as gracefully as you, but at every step it will feel as if you were treading on a sharp-edged knife, so sharp that your feet will seem to be bleeding." —Hans Christian Andersen, "The Little Mermaid"

January. The Christmas tree is out on the sidewalk. The boxes are put away. The light through the windows, when you finally wake up, is dim at best. The old convertible's windshield is frozen over—from the inside. The new Twitter feed has only three blessed followers, yet somehow the ad algorithms already know it's the right target for the sponsored tweet from Probiotic America about stomach problems.

On Saturday, while I was dragging myself through the day and getting some provisions at the grocery store, this song came on.



It lit me up. "I forgot about this song," I said to myself, lip-syncing shamelessly through the aisles of the store. No idea, like most people, that he was sick. Just enjoyed the moment.

It's possible there were more classic, "better" David Bowie songs. But 1980s singles Bowie is the Bowie for me. "Blue Jean," "Let's Dance," "Modern Love," and "China Girl." With a dollop of later-discovered, earlier-recorded Dick Cavett flavor.



By Monday, David Bowie's technicolor, stoic, enviably cool approach to sorrow permeated everything, because he'd died, and the world was still human enough to respond.

Sir UncMo went to the track below. (Well actually, the a cappella version.) It happens to be the song he sang at karaoke the night we met, but that's not why he played it. He played it because it was as perfect a way as any to note how time doesn't give a fuck when it comes to staggering talent.