Wednesday, October 29, 2008

We Say It's a Slow Burn

I forgot this was out there in the universe. It's not all that uncommon for people to drag a camera crew around the Greenmarket, and sometimes they stop and ask you questions, although you never get to see what it finally looks like. I am not at my best -- and I will spare you the million things that I'd like to change about my performance....

Check it out.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Back from the Brink

What a lag! I've been thinking of you, I just couldn't seem to get it together.

--Kip and I hosted our annual pumpkin-carving fete last night. Cory took first prize with his spider-web pumpkin, and Ross nabbed second place with his one-eyed, slightly-goofy, slightly-adorable looking pumpkin. Kip had it in his mind that this was some kind of Oktoberfest thing, what with brats and beer, but when it came down to it, I didn't really want to cook anything as boring as that -- not without a grill, at least -- and so I made pulled pork tacos with rice and beans. Also, a veggie medley for Joe. Plus this amazing tomatillo salsa with green apples. I thought it was good. People seemed to eat it up. Note to everyone: When you serve tacos, chop more cilantro than you think they will eat, and the same with cheese. (Props to Cory and Sean, friends who I adore, who made the long-ass trek from one borough to another.)

--While I was in Chicago, I saw about 30 minutes of The Duchess, the new movie with Kiera Knightly. We sat in on that one before seeing Burn After Reading, which was the movie we bought tickets to see. Ms. Knightly is absolutely amazing in it -- nobody does that period piece stuff like she does, it's like she was born to play The Duchess, and I sort of want to see the whole movie now. SPOLER ALERT!! Does she eventually just trade babies with the other girl?

--I'm reading at Nowhere Bar toward the end of November.

--Someone told me the other day that they thought healthcare was something that should be "earned" and not just "given away." This, naturally, changed my opinion about this person. I wondered what a person is supposed to do if they get cancer and yet they haven't earned their right to healthcare yet? And what is this person's criteria for earning your healthcare? Rising to a certain class? Whiteness? Ugh.

--The best news: I am feeling optimistic. About everything.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Off to Chicago / My Sisiphean Moment

I am off to Chicago for a few days of frolicking through their city blocks, seeing beaucoups de old friends, and hopefully eating lots and lots until all I can do is lay flat. I'm back in the middle of the week.

People ask me sometimes what it's like to work at the Greenmarket. One of the things I sell is maple candy, and just because today was one of those days where the sun is shining, the leaves are beautiful, the breeze is cool--and the people don't stop asking the same friggin' question over and over--I thought I would sort of be grumpy about the whole thing and give you this, the standard exchange:
-How much is the candy?
-It's $15 per pound, with no minimum.
-Can I just get a few pieces?
-Yes, there is no minimum.
-Well how much for a little bit?
-It depends on the weight.
-Well, like how much?
-Anywhere from about 50 cents up to a pound.
-But I don't want to buy a pound.
-I said there is NO MINIMUM.
-So how much is just a little bit?
Now try that 9,000 times in a row.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Material World

I read this afternoon that Liz Rosenberg confirmed that Madonna and Guy Richie are planning a divorce. The first thing I thought of was a poem by Sharon Olds, "Summer Solstice, New York City." This is how the poem begins:
By the end of the longest day of the year he could not stand it,
he went up the iron stairs through the roof of the building
and over the soft, tarry surface
to the edge, put one leg over the complex green tin cornice
and said if they came a step closer that was it.
I pictured Madonna in her English castle, surrounded by telephones and assistants and stylists and hairstylists and makeup artists and emails and photos to approve or not approve, five or six syringes full of liquid pink B12 rubber-banded together on the side table. I saw her surrounded by her estimated $400 million net worth, by her three children, each born to a different father, by her rows upon rows of Givenchy and Gautier couture. I saw her there, now at the end of her longest day of the year, and saw that she could not stand it.

I don't know if it seems shallow, or naive, or melodramatic, but I feel really sad for her. I'm sure it sucks for him, too--but I don't know him very well. I've known her my whole life--or whatever her she has constructed for us to know in the last twenty-five years--but so what? What, in the end, is the difference? She was there when my my mother pulled the VCR's plug out of the wall after she heard Madonna say 'Fuck' ten times in the Blonde Ambition Tour. She was there when I realized that I was maybe moving a little too gayish in my gym class when 'Open Your Heart' came on the radio. She was there when I was walking across the Christopher Street Pier, 'Express Yourself' on my iPod--the sunset and the moon and I felt like anything was possible.

I thought of Ms. Olds' poem because it speaks to the subtext of suicide--and also of divorce--which is the fundamental question we, humanity, always carry around, and that is: "If she can't do it, how can I?"

Oh, Madonna, we love you, get up.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Dispatch from the B61

I love the B61. I am riding it from Carroll Gardens to South Williamsburg. My day job--that would be the one where we teach kids critical thinking skills through interaction with visual art--is contemplating a location change. Rather, we are being forced to location-change due to rising rents. (New York City, I love you; Landlords, eat shit and die.) So, as a tester-outer, a kind of see-how-shitty-this-actually-would-be, Nick and I are meeting to look at the possible space on South 6th Street--a lovely 4th floor corner office--and ask probably tedious questions of the current tenant. "Does this sun get too hot by this window?" "What about the radiator?" "Is it loud when the subway goes past?"

As we saunter around the chunky lucite furniture and fabulous Eames conference room chairs--the office currently belongs to a set dresser/prop house--she answers all the questions politely, encouragingly, as if she herself were the agent getting the commission. "The light is warm, but in the winter you'll really love it." I even feel the need to ask about where the electrical outlets are, and she points, "All that is plugged in back there, you just can't see it." Somehow this makes me feel secure. About the trains going by on the Williamsburg Bridge--fifty feet from the window--she says, "You know, it's New York, the subway is just there and you get used to it." This made me think again of the bus. What would it be like, I thought, to only take the subway one or two times a week, which is a distinct possibility, should things go down this path.

If you take the bus, you move at a more appropriate speed--only walking, which is clearly not an option at this distance, provides a more natural pace. The bus allows time to notice the sort of things I like to notice, or can't help but notice: the textures of the trash heaped up by the corner, the kind of buttons on the cuffs of the lady standing by the curb.

I could also decide to become a person who bikes from here to there. But, you know, I have a lot of fear surrounding that. As you well could imagine. But I am not adamantly opposed to it. It's something I'm interested in it as an idea. (I say that a lot, whatever it means. I think it means "I am scared to death of this, but it is also intriguing." Other things that I am interested in as ideas: culinary school, moving to the beach in northeast Florida, touring with Ani Difranco for a year and writing a book about it.)

But, the bus is so civilized. The people who ride it often know each other from the same long, bumpy trips they take to and from home every day at the same time. They talk, they ask about each other's children. They ask about each other's doctor's appointments and weird skin anomolies--it's sort of like hell on earth, and a writer's fantasyland, all at once.

Not that bus riding needs a lengthy defense, but I offer this, as my closing argument: If you are standing outside the subway turnstile underground, and you don't have the fare you need, you could stand there for a half hour before you have enough money to get you where you are going. And then you'd have to find a Metrocard machine that works. Or you'd have to con someone into giving you a swipe from their card. But if you get on the bus, and discover that you are out of change--I've seen it happen a dozen times--everyone in the front half will dig through their pockets as if by command, and donate what they have. It's a small thing, but to me it feels like a miracle. It's a small act of forgiveness performed between strangers, in public.

Sorry there's no closure here. I don't know what the outcome is.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Surface Temperature, Part 4 of 4

Many years ago, I wrote this short story, "Surface Temperature" -- I think I was 18 or 19, or something like that. It's mostly bad, but there's something charming about it, sort of, maybe. It's a bit heavy-handed. Lately, I've felt the need to go back and read things I wrote long ago--maybe it has something to do with turning 30. Or maybe not. So, for what it's worth, part 4 of 4:

I have come to a conclusion. When everything is blown up, all you have is what is behind you. No matter what you plan to do, how many experiences you hope to live, who you plan to marry, what you want to be when you grow up, where you want to buy a house, and what you want done to your body when you die - none of that matters. Because all that can be taken away, and it will. I hear people who are thirty years old asking each other "what do you want to do with your life?" They talk as if life somehow begins as soon as you decide that it has. They're waiting for the defining moment to alert them to the fact that life has indeed begun. But the thing is that waiting doesn't get you anywhere. Waiting is what those people back at the grocery store are doing. Waiting is what that man selling kites is doing. Waiting is dying, and they're just doing it slower. I can't live that way. I'm afraid of dying that way.

So here I am sitting on the sand with just the ends of my toes in the water. I wiggle them back and forth and the heavy sand covers them. I move my ankles a bit more and the sand cracks open to reveal my now nuclear skin. Funny, it still looks the same. The air around me is becoming more and more chemical. When the wind blows now, it smells like boiling ammonia and ozone. My UFO kites block the sun and spin a shadow on my chest that dances across my torso and shoulders. There is no one, as far as I can see.

What is my life? I am terribly disappointed in what I have accomplished so far. But there it is again, so far. In a few hours there won't be anything left to desire. All I've ever worked for, hoped for, asked for, has come down to this moment, and all I have to show for it is a couple of UFO kites.

I shove their strings deep into the sand and pile more on top so that they are well anchored. I pull off my swim trunks, then lie down again. The chemical air is blowing across my entire naked body. The heat is greater now, and the sun has moved directly above me. I move myself down onto more of the wet sand. I shift my weight from one shoulder to another to push the sand out from under me, making a hole. I wiggle and writhe until there is room enough to cover my whole body. I slide into the hole I've made and begin to cover myself up with wet sand. I even cover my face. I'm taking a hint from those turtles. I move down into a hole in the sand to wait for the surface to cool, so I can come bursting out to make a mad dash towards life. My UFO kites are flying like tethered birds above where I'm buried. I wonder will anyone see them. Every few minutes (or every few seconds, I've lost all time now) I check the surface of the sand for coolness. Only it gets hotter and hotter each time I check. I'm beginning to wonder if it will ever again be cool to the touch.

I eventually fall asleep. When I wake up (who knows how much later) I check the sand above me, knowing that now is the time. But it's still hot. The sand feels so hot that I think it might be cool at first, but I know that feeling all too well from standing barefoot in the road as a kid. I don't have enough guts to burst out like the sea turtles did. I'm too afraid of what I might find out there. I'm too afraid of how hot it actually might be.

I can only wait. Wait like those poor crying mothers in the freezer case. Wait like the kite salesman. And the waiting feels like dying, only slower.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

What Happened on the Train

A few things happened on the train Tuesday morning.

1) I started reading again.
A Book of Common Prayer is my favorite of Joan Didion's novels, and whenever I've been struggling with concentration, with having no interest in anything written, with the desire to disappear into the games on my iPod--which I have been doing for the last 6-8 weeks--I go back to this novel. Every time I read it, I find new things, or things I'd forgotten re-appear. Grace Strasser-Mendana, the narrator, is stronger this time for me than she's ever been before; perhaps foolishly, I always thought it was a novel about Charlotte Douglas. Perhaps this is what happens when you read a good novel--but I started wondering if Grace and I are any different. We, Grace and I, seem to view the world as an accumulation of evidence. I could be projecting this on Grace, as well. I still feel that it's true.

2) I reconsidered my notion of bandwidth.
The circus takes up all of my energy: emotional, physical, creative. It uses up all my patience. It uses up all my critical-thinking skills, my sense of aesthetics, my concentration, my ability to simply decide between the lemonade or the Coca-Cola. This is not the first time I've discovered this, but it seems that every year I am re-learning it anew, as if part of what drives me (us?) forward year after year is the ability to forget what happened last year. There must be some medical term for this, some psychological condition--I think it has to do with the drug making you forget the reasons you need it, or something--although this drug is a hugely-important, amazing part of my creative and social existence. Not damaging, just exhausting. Anyway, all these things are the facts of the situation, without interpretation. And most of me would rather leave this story at that. Because, for me, the facts are the interpretation. (Just like Grace in A Book of Common Prayer.)

The other part of this idea of running out of bandwidth, was that, feeling all these things that the circus makes you feel, (plus a huge sense of accomplishment and joy,) I thought again about this argument I'm always having in my head with Virginia Woolf. "A Room of One's Own vs. The Truth of Modern Life." Think of working mothers, I always say. Think of those refugees who write memoirs in crowded, foul-smelling camps covered in barbed wire. (Hers always felt a bit like the argument delivered from a place of leisure. But yesterday I began thinking that maybe she's right. Maybe I'm being a bit too too.) I've not written anything of any substantial merit in months because I just didn't have any room of my own. My brain was full, the bandwidth had expired. Okay, Virginia, you win this one. For now.

3) The writing came back.
Poof, like magic. The words aren't pouring out of my fingers yet, which is the real work, of course, but the sounds of my characters talking, the textures of their pants, the lengths of their dress hems, the leafy, worn ends of magazines stacked by the toilets--all that came back. Quietly, insistently, easily. As if the fog just blew away.