31 December 2007

Where to start?

It's that time of year again...

Time to forge a new path and accept the passing of minutes, hours, days, weeks. Time to sum up your entire year's successes and failures in pithy remarks we call "resolutions." Time to cast away the lead weights that you have tied around your ankles.
I have always had a tough time with turning points or any sort of change. I seem to never be happy with where I am in the moment but rather live in the past or the future. One of the main problems about this particular change, from 2007 to 2008, is that for a while there I was perfectly happy where I was in the moment. Remember how I talked about the "Something Good" moment? I had months of that moment and then proceeded to lose it because of the extenuating circumstances surrounding my disaster of a year. I know you should cast off feelings of negativity, but I don't quite know how to let go of the blame factor-- those things that I feel interfered and ruined that moment. New Years last year felt like the beginning of something...and then so much went wrong. Life happened, I think the saying goes. How exactly do you let go of that anger, blame, disappointment, and worst of all, the hope? The hope is the worst part, because it leaves you dormant, stagnant, being a Miss Havisham and hoping that the thing that gave you such extreme happiness might possibly stumble back into your life. That hope makes you think that the world might not be so blighted...but at the same time, it freezes you. I don't know how to break free from being frozen by everything that's happened, good and bad!
On the bright side, I know that I've already taken some steps toward positive change. While the conficts with Former Employer from Hell still exist, I do now have a new position! They even know about my plans for graduate school and support them wholeheartedly, so I don't have to lie about my intentions to leave. I really feel waves of goodness about this job. I think that I may finally be appreciated for who I am and the strengths I bring! My energy will be an asset, my quirks will be complements, and perhaps life will even regain a glimmer of fairy dust. I'm also almost done with my graduate school applications. Once those are in (and the GRE is done) I will feel such a sense of relief.
New Year's is hard for everyone. For me, it will always be associated with loss (of my grandparents) and gain (of love), paradoxically. But one thing I will always be sure of is that it will never be the WAHOO!!! celebration that it is for so many. It's a good thing that I will be with some of my friendship soulmates tomorrow...perhaps if I lose it at midnight, one of them will bestow upon me a supportive shoulder instead of the customary smooch.

"Come to your senses,
Defenses are not the way to go
And you know, or at least you knew
Everything's strange, you've changed
And I don't know what to do to get through
I don't know what to do...."

24 December 2007

Blog vacation

My head is full of muck-- residual former employer complications, job prospects, GRE, applications...but I'm trying to forget all of that (except the latter two-- a prospective grad student never sleeps!) for a few days. So forgive me for not writing...but I'm hanging out with princes, princesses, and one very special mouse (oh, yeah, and my family.)
If dreams can't come true here...well then, where can they?

23 December 2007

I'll settle when I settle

trying to tell myself this...

Ok, for the record, can I just put it out there how much I DESPISE it when people try to impose their personal beliefs on others? Everyone has his or her own personal path that will be followed in his or her own time. Forget the boss who tells you to change your personality to conform to the masses; forget the dating guides that give you one step-by-step plan to "snag" a man; forget those well-meaning friends who instruct instead of just listening and being supportive; and forget those religious zealots who approach you in bookstores or on street corners and dare to tell you what your path in life will be because you have not "accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior." Note to these people: the world is full of an infinite variety of types, lifestyles, and faiths, so who are you to judge which one path is the correct path?
Let me explain what provoked this paroxysm. It all started with synagogue. (As quoted from Samantha Who?, "It usually does..."). My father was in town for the past couple of days and I agreed to go with him to synagogue this morning and stay through lunch. My dad is far more religious than I am, and so he chose to go to an Orthodox synagogue, which of course I was fine with even though I rarely go to synagogue on my own and find the Orthodox culture to be quite foreign. So we're sitting at a table with two couples at lunch, one newlyweds and one a middle-aged couple, and of course the attention turns to me, the only single person at the table. "Are you seeing anyone???" My father chooses this moment to play up his religiosity (he often does this when he's surrounded by Orthodox folks) and quips, "No, she's single, so you need to find her a nice guy so that she can get married soon! Ha, ha, ha." Of course they all join in the joke, while I sit there stupified. I then am privy to an assault of [ridiculous] statements including, but not restricted to, the following:
"Oh, you're only 23? I don't know what your dad is talking about. You don't to worry until you're 25!"
"You need to get married young because that's what God wants."
"These people who wait until their 30s are ridiculous. You have to get married in your 20s otherwise you don't have enough energy to run after the kids."
"You gotta make them wait for marriage. You can't give anything before marriage [aka sex or living together] otherwise they have nothing to look forward to."
First of all, I love how all of this is directed at a woman, while men are encouraged to play the field and then settle down. Secondly, there is no room for personality differences! What if you have no idea who you are (um, hello? Yeah, that's me) and don't think that you should ally yourself to someone for life when you yourself are a mystery? What about focusing on self-discovery? And what about being discerning in your search for a companion? I'm not expecting perfection-- but I am not going to even give a chance to a guy I don't feel an initial spark for, and I would never settle down with someone I don't already know very well and feel absolutely sure of. Thirdly, I really think there is a lot of merit in living with someone before you're married, and to each her own! And finally, who are you to tell me what God wants, and where are you getting your statistics about child-rearing? I would rather have a successful marriage later than a failed marriage now, and I don't think I'm capable of success until I work some things out in my own life.
Worst of all, even though I have these strong convictions, I still walked out of this lunch feeling like a complete failure and an old maid. I actually cried! Ok, did feminism never happen? Did we revert to Jane Austen's time or the musical L'il Abner? You know, "Seventeen last spring, still without a ring"? Are we going to be having a quilting bee next week?
I'm finding my own way, and I will thank you not to judge me by your arbitrary standards. Whatever you do with your life is fine, but I've got more than I can handle with my own messy, thrilling, up-and-down life. I don't need to add a permanent mate into that disaster. In the meantime, I'm truly trying to channel the wisdom of, um, Eloise, and suggest that I was RAWTHER upset by today and RAWTHER than worry about this, I'd like to focus on little enjoyable things. Like hot cider, mittens, and (Eloise's favorite) hats. And a not-right husband does not make a very good hat.

22 December 2007

The words

so simple...

“she tries to say”

She braves
the cold a protective shield
of winter
armor wrapped around her face
And her hair
smoke-stained flows in the
breeze like a velvet cape
behind her. Half-light
shimmers and settles on
her cheek like a crescent moon

His face—his hand writing
the words
on a fogged-up window

She pauses trapped
by tears in her
throat squeezes her
eyes shut like an oyster
protecting its pearl
To wish, to
But her star burns in its dark
quilt like love letters
Forever sealed

and the words—

They die upon her
lips like snow
singed under morning’s

21 December 2007

Quick, quick!

I'm on my way out the door to see one of the final productions of The Drowsy Chaperone, which unfortunately stars Bob Saget at the moment. Has anyone seen that episode of Entourage where Bob Saget guest-stars? Ew. That's all I can think of. To think that this is the man who taught little Donna Jo, Stephanie, and Michelle Tanner valuable lessons while creepy music played in the background.
Another random thought-- last night my friend and I went to see The Sound of Music on the big screen and the Chelsea Clearview cinema. That film is so magnificent. I want to be (or at least meet) Julie Andrews. I adore her. And Captain Von Trapp...there's a certain regal appeal of Christopher Plummer in that movie. He's just so noble! And I defy anyone to find a better musical theatre love song than "Something Good." Did you know that it was written specifically for the movie and was not in the original stage production? However, I can't imagine the show without it. Everyone who has been in love knows that feeling, that "what did I do to deserve this amazing person" realization, which Richard Rodgers (sadly, Oscar Hammerstein died 9 months after the show opened on Broadway; the last song that he wrote was "Edelweiss") expressed so simply in his lyrics: "For here you are standing there loving me, whether or not you should. So somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good."
Also before the show they showed the trailer for the Mamma Mia movie that comes out in the summer. I am a little too excited. Not only are Pierce Brosnan (who is #1 on my freebie list) and Colin Firth two of the possible fathers, but Amanda Seyfried plays Sophie, the bride-to-be. Amanda is famous for playing Karen Smith in Mean Girls, but I think of her fabulous portrayal of the murdered Lilly Kane on Veronica Mars. Plus, she can SING! I am always wary about musicals being turned into films because they tend to pick names rather than talent (case in point: Sweeney Todd. It looks great and is getting rave reviews, but there is no way that Johnny Depp's or Helena Bonham Carter's voice can stand up to Sondheims operatic score). But Mamma Mia looks like something special...
One last thing. Do yourself a favor and check out Dwight Garner's blog, Paper Cuts. My favorite feature is the playlists-- Garner asks an author to construct a mix tape and explain why the songs are significant. A past list included picks by Emma Brockes, who wrote the fabulous What Would Barbra Do? How Musicals Changed My Life. My favorite-- although an older list-- is by Joshua Ferris, author of the critically-acclaimed novel Then We Came to the End. He pairs his picks with books that match the mood. And here we go....
Joshua Ferris’s September 2007 Playlist:
1) King of Carrot Flowers Part 1, Neutral Milk Hotel. These perfect two minutes, no more, no less, begin the best album from the 90s. “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” moves on to tell the partial reimagining, fractured and imagistic, of Anne Frank’s grim fate, but in this song young love is brutally contrasted with a dysfunctional marriage, and it captures both euphoria and heartbreak in equal measure - somehow in two short minutes.
What to read: The Diary of Anne Frank.
2) Louisiana Saturday Night, Don Williams. The only song that manages to rhyme “bow” with “floor.” Also the only song to include the lyric, “Yonder come the kinfolks in the moonlight.” The happy family enjoying this Louisiana Saturday night have single-shot rifles and one-eyed dogs and bellies full of beer and a possum in the sack. Not unlike a Saturday night in Williamsburg. Mel McDaniel does
a fine cover.
What to read: Erskine Caldwell’s Tobacco Road.
3) Into the Open, Heartless Bastards. Here is how it happened: one day I was not listening to this song by the Heartless Bastards, and the next I didn’t know how I could continue life without listening to it 24/7. Then I had to pace myself, knowing that the effect of a good song has a certain half-life, and not wanting that effect to end. And then one day it started to end because I had listened to the song too many times. And now I can listen to it again dispassionately, as if it never meant everything to me. But I have the memory of the day when I was in love with the song and the memory is why I listen to it now.
What to read: Experience by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

4) Little Darlin’, Benjamin Biolay. When I introduced my younger brother to this sing-songy French ode with the Jimmy Rodgers-Carter Family sample looping in the background, I could tell he was transported almost beyond anything he had listened to before. I’d felt the same way the first time I’d heard it. Was it the song, or our particular genetic disposition? Either way, he told me of putting it on a mix which he gave to a friend, and the friend said the mix was great except for this song, which the friend considered a kind of silly novelty. This made my brother, to his dismay, entirely reevaluate the friend’s appreciation for music and even his depth of character, as part of the good world had fairly been set before him. So good a song, it is dangerous to share with friends.
What to read: Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity.
5) Aguas De Marco, Antonio Carlos Jobim & Yeah! Oh, Yeah!, The Magnetic Fields. A duet of duets, one infectiously romantic, the other cynically murderous. Whatever Jobim and Elis Regina are singing about on “Aguas” is hardly the point. Jobim’s smitten playfulness and Regina’s erotic smile come straight through the speakers. Contrast that with this lyric from “Yeah! Oh, Yeah!” Claudia Gonson: “What a dark and dreary life / Are you reaching for a knife? / Could you really kill your wife?” Stephen Merritt: “Yeah! Oh, yeah!” The only proper way to listen to these two is back to back.
What to read: Love in the Time of Cholera & Othello.
6) Ahmad’s Blues, Ahmad Jamal. “Poinciana” is pretty, but “Ahmad’s Blues” is where Ahmad Jamal out-Monk’s Monk with his fingers like rose petals one second and cherrybombs the next. The bass and drums stay very, very cool, a pair of cats sipping Courvoisier at the bar, while the piano’s in a bathroom stall doing something much darker.
What to read: Jack Kerouac’s On the Road: The Original Scroll.
7) Sparring Partner, Paolo Conte. I first heard this soulful tune in the lesser Francois Ozon film “5×2.” Valeria Bruni Tedeschi dances along to its early strains in the movie’s finest scene. In fact the dance is the diamond that gives purpose to all the rough surrounding the film. Subsequently I listened to it over and over again in a ride out to California, and now I think that there must have been nothing else playing from the moment I left New York to the time I arrived in L.A..
What to watch: Francois Ozon’s Swimming Pool.
8) The Dead Flag Blues, Godspeed You! Black Emperor. This song scares me the way a barren road at dusk with its telephone poles bent over the blacktop might scare me. It’s apocalypse rock with train whistles and violins drenched in slide-guitar melancholia and it starts with some dead-earth narrator incanting, “I said kiss me, you’re beautiful, these are truly the last days.” Listen to it alone in complete darkness and try to convince yourself you’re not the last living person on earth.
What to read: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
9) Glow Worm, The Mills Brothers. This is the song my wife chose as the one she would dance to with her father after our bride-and-groom dance, and I remember them practicing before the wedding. I think it is a fox trot, although I’m probably wrong. My wife and her father can both fox trot. But when the time came, her father told her to scrap the practice and just be led by him. Maybe he had had too much to drink, or maybe he was simply overcome by the moment. Watching them, you would have thought they had been practicing for years.
What to read: Visitors, by Donald Barthelme.
10) While You Were Sleeping, Elvis Perkins. I may listen to a song a dozen times and find it perfectly fine but not particularly engaging. Then it happens one day that the lyrics stand up and say what they have come to say, and I am perhaps a better version of myself that day for my ability to listen, and the song deepens in a way I could not have expected. That’s how I discovered the deceptively simple artistry of “While You Were Sleeping.” It’s a sweet song with an undercurrent of sadness at how quickly time passes.
What to read: New and Selected Poems, by Michael Ryan.
11. Summertime, Part 1, Sam Cooke. I got “The Man Who Invented Soul” and didn’t care to find “Summertime” included. I was more interested in Sam Cooke originals and had never taken to the song when Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday or Chet Baker sang it and didn’t expect much more from Sam Cooke. But his interpretation is a revelation. His phrasing is exciting, his humming is gorgeous and the eerie operatic backup vocals evoke the morning fog of Catfish Row slowing burning off in the brightening sun.
What to read: Thomas and Beulah, by Rita Dove.
12) A Stone, Okkervil River. “A Stone” was a creeper, or what I have heard called a grower, which requires an untold number of listens before a period of appreciation sets in. The miracle of growers is that somehow you know enough to keep listening, the song is instructing you to be patient, and with only the vaguest intuition you are patient. And then, as it happened with me with all of Okkervil River’s “Black Sheep Boy” but especially with “A Stone,” I penetrated the scrim of inaccessibility and fell endlessly through the sound into deeper layers of understanding and appreciation, until it no longer made sense to remember my life without the song in it, almost so that I believe that I must have been born with this fairytale song of unrequited love and that it only had to be written and performed and that I only had to demonstrate nurture and patience to discover what was always there.
What to read: Joyce’s The Dead.
13) Yellow Ledbetter, Pearl Jam. It is hard to reconcile your very personal relationship with a song - private, intimate, inviolable - with the first time you hear it played from a car window. It must seem frighteningly out of vogue to choose this B-side from what became a populist album of radio hits, the ubiquity of which was inescapable in the early 90s, but I am convinced there was a time when only myself and a few other avid bootleg addicts knew of this perfect, now perfectly overexposed ballad, with its sub-Lear nonsense lyrics, and for that brief spell before the world took over, I was alone with a song that moved me unlike any before it.
What to read: No Logo, by Naomi Klein.
14) Cocktails, Robbie Fulks. Steve Albini produced Robbie’s first album, the cult-classic “Country Love Songs,” which included the great single “She Took a Lot of Pills (and Died),” a loose interpretation of the life of one of my step-mothers. On “Cocktails” Robbie sings, “One to wake me up every morning / One with a buddy at noon / One for the road every evening / Till I found out pretty soon / It took two to wake me up every morning …”
What to read: Raymond Carver’s Where I’m Calling From.
15) Static on the Radio, Jim White (with Aimee Mann). Jim White reaches for the great beyond in this lovely ballad about ghost ships and words in the mouths of the dead. He ends up with more questions than answers, but the song itself is proof of something unspoken and unspeakable.
What to read: Ultima Thule, by Vladimir Nabokov.
16) San Tropez, Pink Floyd. There is a song that you pick up at some early age and carry with you through life the way you carry an old copy of a favorite book, with its outdated cover and cracked spine, and which sits idly for long stretches of life while you go about your business forgetting that it is there. When you come to it again you recover the thing itself and its magic but also those two or three memories, chunks of time-space that have been assigned to it to distinguish between periods of haze, and this is what is meant by adding it to the soundtrack of your life. This song off the “Meddle” LP, a very un-Pink Floyd ditty with a simple tune and playful lyrics, will always be a suburban house in winter, my parents gone, an empty fireplace, too many cigarettes, a girl who was kind to me.
What to read: Worshipful Company of Fletchers, by James Tate.
17) Don’t Worry About the Government, Talking Heads. Every playlist should end with a song by the Talking Heads. This one comes from their first LP. David Byrne’s persona here is a distant relative, a happy na├»ve cousin to the one found in the band’s later perfect paranoid pop number “Life During Wartime.”
What to read: 1984

20 December 2007

The Last 1 Year

Insomnia strikes...and I know the reason.
Who would've thought that time could pass so quickly? A year ago tonight, at pretty much exactly this time, I remember having the world's largest grin stretched across my face and having this feeling, this sense, of possibility... How odd that exactly one year later I am sitting in the dark, in my apartment, by myself, battling insomnia and an inundation of memories. Did you know that "to inundate" literally means "to overwhelm with water; deluge"? I never realized how apt it was that I frequently described feeling utterly dominated by whirlwinds of thought or emotion as something like drowning.
Time likes to play cruel tricks on us, I guess. I don't think I've ever previously recalled exactly where I was or how my circumstances were different one year, to the minute, before the present moment. I am right now, and it gives me the bizarre sense that my life is some sort of collage with captions. Or a juxtaposed black-and-white photo spread in an art magazine. Or even a cheesy movie montage, with the appropriate soundtrack, of course-- "If You Leave" by Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark seems cruelly appropriate, with the closing strains of "Don't look baaaaaaaaaaaack..."
Anyway, I found the video (in the post below) of Dorothy Loudon singing "Fifty Percent" from the musical Ballroom. To me the song is a study in mixed emotion and subtlety, of looking back and examining the present, and of the importance of what is unsaid. That's why the visual is necessary-- is the song triumphant, terribly sad, or bittersweet? Watch it and let me know what you think.

Fifty Percent - Sung by Dorothy Loudon

19 December 2007

Today I was sitting in a charming Upper East Side cafe, studying for the GRE (per usual) and drinking a latte, when this darling old woman sat at the table next to me. I should have known that she was someone special when she first walked in, because the staff dropped everything they were doing and ran over to give her hugs, kisses, and free hot chocolate, even though the cafe was swarming with the children from the school across the street who had just ended their school day. She was petite and I could tell that she was quite old, but her skin seemed oddly un-wrinked. I soon learned why everyone was so charmed by her-- and it wasn't just that she was charming!
Her name was Annie, and she was 85 years old and lived across the street from the cafe. She described herself as a "social, talkative person," and she told me that a considered the banquette to be the social portion of the cafe. She gives disclaimers whenever anyone asks if the seat next to her is taken-- "Yes, of course you can sit here, but you have to agree to let me talk to you and to tell me about yourself!" From a younger person-- specifically, from one of the many New York Guidos, this could be both imposing and obnoxious. But from Annie it was a welcome distraction. This was the sentence that sucked me in, when we were talking about my disusting nail-biting habit and how I'm trying to save money by not getting manicures: "Honey, you can't live your life by not doing things! When I was 72 I thought I was going to die so I traveled all around the world, and I'm still here today." She may also be better-off money-wise than I am, but just a hunch... But the point is that this extraordinary woman decided at age 72 that she wanted to live life to the fullest before she ran out of time. She told me about trips to India and Scotland, Norway and Monaco. And she also told me about how she fell in love when she was a nurse at Bellevue. He was a doctor there, and he always sat alone in the cafeteria, looking sad. Annie was sitting with her fellow nurses when she noticed him; she said to them, "Excuse me, girls, but I am going to make that lonely doctor smile!" They bet her that she couldn't. She did.
If someone can have that zest for life and that lack of regrets after 85 years, shouldn't I after twenty-some-odd years?
In a tangential matter, I saw Juno yesterday. In addition to being completely charmed by the movie itself, especially Ellen Page, I fell in love with the soundtrack. The quirky, deceptively simple lyrics by the Velvet Underground, Kimya Dawson, and The Moldy Peaches reminded me about the little things in life that provide so much joy-- slushies, orange tic-tacs, old school rock and roll, and that one person who "gets" you. In the words of Nico, "I'm sticking with you, 'cause I'm made out of glue."
Also, the lyrics of Anyone Else But You remind me of my fabulous freshman roommate (and Oxford partner-in-crime) Jenny. She used to play it on her computer on the nights when we would close our door to our bizarre freshman floor, light her scented candles, and be snarky :-) She's still one of the coolest people I've ever met-- here is a photo from one of our impromptu late-night photo shoots in England.

17 December 2007

Refuge from stupidity

Here I sit at Starbucks, taking the diagnostic test for the impending GRE and feeling stupider than ever. Why in the world do I need to know the word "larychmose" in daily life? (by the way, it means tearful...I guess I'll just think of Andre and Ricky from Project Runway. "What happened to Andre?") So, on the advice of the man sitting next to me, I am "letting my mind breathe." And checking out one of my favorite blogs, Oh Joy!, which today linked to the New York Magazine feature on "Reasons to Love New York." How can you not be cheered when looking at this?
The picture is of children at Books of Wonder, a fantastic children's bookstore right by Madison Square Park (and as an added incentive, the Cupcake Cafe is inside). First of all, way to go New York Magazine for promoting independent bookstores! There are far too few of them left, and Books of Wonder is a gem in the middle of the city. I walk in and feel like Kathleen Kelly. The writer of the article interviewed children on their favorite books and their favorite parts of those stories. So cute!
Another favorite "favorite" is titled "Because the UES Isn't Interested in Being Cool." I love the UES, the far-east UES. It's a corner of unpolluted New York City whose charm isn't replicated anywhere else on the island. A commentator who goes by the name Blubrry_Scone (how fantastic is that!? Blubrry_Scone, I hope you somehow stumble upon this blog and that we can go for tea and scones together...) captured my rapture in this post:

Thanks for this. I pass Neil's every day on my walk home to 70/2 from the 68th
St subway. It's usually just before 9, when those red neon loop-de-loops you can
spot from three blocks away abandon post with a sizzle. Lex goes dark, albeit
for the efforts of Italian eatery Lumi across the street, holding true to its
name with a bustle of indoor activity. Your footsteps actually echo. Standing at
this intersection, done most satisfyingly with a cafe au lait and chocolate
croissant in the left hand and some idiot's change from the street-meat cart on
71/3 in the right, you realize this storybook scene is owing in homage neither
to London, nor Paris, nor any other sweeping metropolis worthy of emulation. It
is the emulated, the last great neighborhood in Manhattan.
12/17/2007 at 3:04 pm
Lastly, there's "Because You Can Find Love Underground." I think the title speaks for itself. Remember Patrick Moberg, who created this drawing and a website in order to find his missed subway connection?

Well, he found her, and so did lots of others...

Sans Merci

This wintry, chilly weather makes me think of one of my favorite poems, by Robert Graves:

She tells her love while half asleep,
In the dark hours
With half-words whispered low
As Earth stirs in her winter sleep
And puts out grass and flowers
Despite the snow,
Despite the falling snow.

Graves wrote the poem for Beryl Graves, his wife and muse. I have often mused (no pun intended) about what it would be like to be that source of inspiration, that outside impulse that caused the artistic fountain to flow. Grave's words have such intimacy-- for Beryl he felt words weren't necessary, sentiment in that space of a small bed on a frozen night would be almost tactile. "Half-words" and drowsy murmurs while "half asleep" were enough, enough to cause blooming from covered, snowy ground. It is not often that one feels beyond words with someone, or furthermore, like someone else inspires you to be your best self and produce your best art.
I have felt this way once before, and that feeling was exhilarating and frightening all at once. The love of this person created art in the everyday for me-- I would walk down the street and the colors of the flowers, the architecture of the buildings, the sights and smells would converge into a source of bliss and enchantment. I did feel like the best me I could possibly be-- but how healthy is it to feel that way because of another person? In a way it was parasitic, instead of symbiotic. What does the artist do when the muse is busy, or away, or fades out of one's life? Replacing the muse with another is an option that many artists do: Andy Warhol with Nico, for instance, when he ceased to be enamored with Edie. It's also an option that many people indulge in relationships.
The other trouble with musehood is being trapped into an unrealistic, simplified version of oneself. You are frozen. You are framed. You are Gatsby-fied (remember Daisy's voice? Gatsby wanted to freeze that essence into that image of a kiss that he held in his ghostly heart). Robert Browning was fascinated with this paradigm. Tennyson explored it in "The Lady of Shalott"-- why do you think she couldn't go out of her bower and was continually "half sick of shadows"?
It's an interesting dilemma. On one hand, you can have "half-words" and cause someone to achieve their greatest potential. You can have an intimacy beyond speech. But, on the other hand, you can be "half sick of shadows"-- you realize the shadow of musehood is empowering and great, but you know that in one way or another you will be hideen in that penumbra... And how can a shadow exist without the object which casts the shadow?
But the idea of being a muse is just so ROMANTIC! Maybe I will just have to settle for having it as a nickname...which I have, for many years now!

16 December 2007

Why I was born in the wrong era

As a car alarm wails outside my window, I can't help but think that I dwell in my own little world sometimes. It's a madhouse, a Victorian, Bohemian, retro-fied existence that bears little resemblance to what is outside. I go out with beer drinkers and order kir royales. I collect cameos and fantasize about high-waisted skirts and blouses with ruffled collars. I wish I had a shiny brass old-fashioned key to open the door to my apartment. I love red/black roses and old storybooks. I am Eloise meets Audrey Hepburn meets Jane Eyre meets Jessica Mitford meets Joan Jett meets Sara Crewe meets June Carter meets Lucy Westenra in Dracula...and I long to set my dinner table like this:I would decorate every surface with Black Magic roses accessorized with hanging Swarovski crystals.I would dress like Natalka Burian, who owns the East Village vintage store/bar "The Hanger" and was last month's "Lucky Girl" in Lucky Magazine. I can't find any pictures of her to post here, but she resembles Zooey Deschanel and reminds me (from what I've read) of a grown-up Eloise. Oh, and the names of the cocktails served at her bar include the "Jackie O," the "Halston," and the "Hepburn." And maybe I would add this fantastic necklace by glitteryblue made out of old watchworks.Or this one, to remind me that no, no, no, I must never give up. My life was made to be a mad tea party with meaning and cuddles under lots of blankets and kind words and good books and true people, and that is that.

14 December 2007

5 things I love right now

About to go out after yet another waste of space day. Good thing it's just dinner and drinks with Kate, because I'm developing that lovely sea lion-like chest cough. But before I hop in the shower, I have to make a quick post about five things I'm adoring this week. In no particular order....

* This incredible chandelier that my new friend Catherine (whose amazing art I will blog about shortly) has in her apartment.

* Zooey Deschanel, in many different forms. The anticipation of her new CD with M. Ward, her performance in the holiday classic Elf, her cabaret group (with Samantha Shelton) "If All The Stars Were Pretty Babies," and her quirky look and humor. She's an emblem of old-school glamour, indie culture, and being true to oneself. Way to go, Zooey!

* This New York Times article about a woman's devotion to her stately Victorian home and its preservation. The house is featured in this month's Atonement.

* This red shoe print by photobird on etsy. The red shoe obsession continues...

* Kir royales. Oh bubbly, how I love thee! Especially when combined with cassis...

I believe

To say that this is a difficult time of year is a huge understatement. A lot of warm memories, but also a lot of loss.

"But that wouldn't change the fact
That wouldn't speed the time
Once the foundation's cracked
And I'm...still hurting."

"My heart is riding on your wings."

12 December 2007


Today I continued my studies for the GRE, which is slowly becoming the bane of my existence. I have HORRIBLE memorization abilities, and to me all of the vocabulary words sound the same. Furthermore, I can't look at a word and immediately be able to tell whether it is a verb, noun, or adjective. I mean, the word potentate? Doesn't that sound like a verb? You know, something that should mean "to make more potent"? But no, it means a leader with great power. I've also been exploring the glory that is the mnemonic device. I just have to associate the word with something in order to be able to remember it-- for instance, "pugilism." It means "boxing." Why this is a word vital to my development as a person is beyond me, but I have been remembering it because a "pug" and a "boxer" are dogs that look alike. They don't really look that much alike, but the device has been helping me nonetheless.
Today, though, I realized that maybe I should not be focusing on the verbal. I am pretty good with words. But math...math is another story. I have not taken a math course since senior year of high school, and today I found myself blanking on the concept of slope. I heard the word "y-intercept" and it may as well have been a different language. Special triangles? Volume? What the hell is a sector? I pretty much need to teach myself all of highschool math in a matter of weeks. Maybe I should get this monogrammable shirt from J. Crew and just monogram a bunch of formulas just over the cuffs....Kidding!

11 December 2007

Seeing red

I found a pair of grown-up, punked out ruby slippers! Now all I need is a large paycheck...
And in honor of my love of all things sparkling ruby and gothic crimson, I've created the first ever "Shadows Bring the Starlight" mix-tape. Think of the imagery associated with red-- fire, roses, and just general passion-- and the songs will speak for themselves:

1) Love Song for a Vampire by Annie Lennox
2) Cherry, Cherry by Neil Diamond
3) Ruby Shoes by Jessica Andrews
4) Crimson & Clover by Tommy James and the Shondells
5) Furious Rose by Lisa Loeb and Ben Lee
6) Eternal Flame by the Bangles
7) Ashes by Embrace
8) 99 Luftballoons by Nena
9) Jekyll N Hyde by Ella Rouge
10) Little Red Shoes by Loretta Lynn
11) Brushfire Fairytales by Jack Johnson
12) Because It's Not Love (But It's Still a Feeling) by the Pipettes
13) Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash
14) Sunny Came Home by Shawn Colvin
15) Red Skies by The Fixx
16) La Vie En Rose by Edith Piaf
17) Science Fiction Double Feature from the Rocky Horror Picture Show
18) Knock on Wood by Rachel Stevens
19) I Melt With You by Modern English

10 December 2007

Redeem with ruby slippers

I'm still very frustrated, but I can't handle signing off for the day on such a negative, depleted note. I found this picture from J. Crew and couldn't help but be charmed-- when I was a little girl I desperately wanted a pair of ruby slippers! (I still sometimes do).
Another item on the childhood want list? A fancy dress coat was a must, accessorized with bows. I was Victoriana-obsessed even back then! To this day, I still want a fur muff.


I've presented myself here as a pretty idealistic person-- generally believing the best in people, thinking good things come to those who do good, and that the evil get their due in the end. Well, right now I am so disillusioned that I'm contemplating revising my entire universe.
What did I just find out, after being on the phone with the Department of Labor for an hour (after an entire week last week when they sweetly apologized in an automated voice for the fact that their system was "down")? That my former employer is contesting my unemployment benefits. That is just par for the course, right there.
I don't know how much more hostility, guile, and disgusting behavior I have to endure at the hands of these people. For almost a year and a half I was belittled and unappreciated. For six months of that time, I was downright abused. What do people say when I tell them what I suffered? "Wow, that sounds worse than The Devil Wears Prada." That's an understatement if I ever heard one. People do not deserve to have doors slammed in their faces. They do not deserve to be told they are stupid during department meetings. They do not deserve to do incredible work and be prevented from attending the meetings where the results would be presented, so that someone else could take the credit for my toil. They do not deserve to work their hardest, hours overtime, and have that all be for naught because of enduring prejudices against their personalities. And most of all, they do not deserve to have the people who could have stopped the abuse stand idly by and claim that they saw nothing and I was overreacting.
After what I endured for these months, another person might have said "Farewell, world." That is not who I am. I am someone who fights injustices, not someone who gives in to them. I was made to feel so bad about myself, to think that I was worthless, to be driven into depressive depths the like of which I have no verbal capacity to describe. And you know what I did about it? I showed them that something was very, very wrong, and instead of recognizing it, they shot the messenger.
I've talked to my parents about this, and they claim that they could see my employer had abusive tendencies from the first week I started working. If that's true, then I feel so stupid. I could have stopped all of this before it spiralled out of control and came back to eat me.
I feel like shriveling up into a ball. But ridiculously, something inside me is still cleaving to those ideals that the nice ones finish first. Something is harkening back to every fairy tale I've ever read and reminding me that the witch ends up incinerated or melted, while the heroine ends up dancing in a color-changing dress or finding her dreams in her own backyard. Stupid, stupid, idealistic me.

09 December 2007

We be jamming

I had brunch at Cafe 202 today-- pancakes with creme fraiche and blackberry compote. Delicious. Next in the lineup was a stroll through Chelsea Market, which always delights me with its old-world charm. The Chelsea Market Baskets store, especially! I prefer no-name brands from far-away countries. Saw some strawberry-rhubarb jam, which made me think about strange forms of comfort...

When I was younger, we used to go to Girl Scout camp in the summer for a weekend camping trip. We hiked through the woods in the dark and illuminated our path by chomping spearmints and watching the sparks fly from our mouths. We made American flag pendants out of safety pins and tiny beads. But what I remember most of all is making the sun jam. At that young age, it was thrilling to make with our own hands something that we'd only seen on grocery store shelves.
Now I only buy jam. I scoff at jellies-- they are the poor man's jam, watered down and unspreadable. Jam needs to be plopped, dolloped, layered, and jelly simply isn't capable of doing that. On nights when I have no food in my apartment I can make a supper out of bread and jam. And in the words of the little badger cub Frances in Bread and Jam for Frances, "Jam in the morning, jam at noon, bread and jam by the light of the moon, jam...is...very...nice."
Does anyone remember that episode of Friends where Joey asks, "Remember when your mom would send you to the movies with a jar of jam and a spoon?" I think that sounds heavenly. In fact, if I don't find an interim job soon, I may have to explore the old plan from college-- moving to Colonial Williamsburg and being a jam maker. Of course, it would be far more satisfying to take in as much of this city as I can, try to forget the past and embrace the future, and come back at the end of the day and have a wonderful cup of tea and bread with jam on lovely vintage floral china...Oh, the simple things in life.

you're toast and jam
and you're cotton candy
you're double rainbows
beside a setting sun
you're wood burning outside
there's a fire growing
you're sweet as green apples
you must be the one
~chantal kreviazuk

beautiful reflection in Chelsea Market

07 December 2007

Break from thought

I have been thinking far too much about choices. Yes, I feel that in the next few months I will be moving at warp speed, doing about eight different things at once, but I can't obsess and obsess all of the time. Back in college, whenever I was writing a literature paper, I would skim over the book, make a quote outline, make a thematic outline, read literary criticism, make an outline of those ideas, and then try to come up with a comprehensive thesis and the process by which I would prove it. At some point, rather than bringing clarity, my over-examination would render me completely clueless. I would begin doubting the points that I had previously thought were innovative or brilliant. Often, in the process of untangling and outline-writing and thinking, I would end up forgetting what the book was about! This once culminated in a The Great Gatsby-related meltdown. So I'll put my thoughts to rest, for right now.
I have been looking at lots of other blogs for inspiration. Going back to the writing a literature paper metaphor, I used to peruse many different sources of literary criticism before I even came up with a paper topic. Other people's ideas help me to develop my own. I never plagiarize-- but I definitely use those ideas as a launching off point, usually as a way to start my paper (I liked to begin with a quote) and then seque into a related or contradictory stream of thought. So in my inspirational blog tour, I uncovered m. writes, which I think is streamlined, quirky, and beautiful (three favorite adjectives). I like the "stream of consciousness" style of posting, which I have used a bit on my blog. A lot of the posts involve recent thoughts, topics of interest, or beautiful pictures. It's beauty in every form. So Marta, I hope you don't mind me borrowing from your "dear diary" post and trying to make it my own. Here goes:
I love the smell of: ginger. I used to have a "ginger ale" shower gel, as embarrassing as that is. I thought it smelled fresh and delicious-- like a jolt of "wake up" energy. WAKE UP!!! IT'S GINGER!!
I love the sound of: little kid giggles, especially when they're playing with their daddies.
I love the taste of: cranberry gel in a can. For some reason, unless I know that the cranberries were originally in a can-shaped cylandrical mold, they are meaningless to me. And I love the taste of tears, which may be a bad omen.
I love the sight of: the hands of someone I love. I like to trace the lines of hands and compare his larger, tougher hands to my tiny, delicate, bitten ones.
I love the feel of: being bundled, happy, safe and secure where I am in the moment. It usually involves soulmates, blankets, tea, cold feet turning warm, or all of the above. Unfortunately that type of satisfaction happens less often than it should...but I'm working toward being able to bundle myself in my own layers of comfort and security.
My hands are small I know
But they're not yours, they are my own
But they're not yours, they are my own
And I am never broken.

05 December 2007

My decision process, in pictures

New York has some really beautiful sights and places that have become meaningful and special to me over the past year and a half. Can I really leave all of that behind?
Like The Upper East Side, by Central Park...

                                                                       Or Bryant Park, in any weather...
                                                         Marie's Crisis, where my inner freak lets loose...
                                  And Magnolia, which provided solace on so many dreary days of work doldrums.
But then, DC has a certain appeal. The peace. The trees. The tons of friends I have there. The academic atmosphere. What to do?

03 December 2007

Cat's cradle

WAY too many hands...

Arrrgh, my head feels tangled and STUCK. Did you ever play that game Cat's Cradle when you were younger? I did-- I was pretty good at it, making Cup and Saucer, Eiffel Tower, and Jacob's Ladder easily and then untangling my fingers from the loop of string. Well, right now it feels like I have one massive tangle, way too many hands, and a flurry of swearing and cursing inhabiting my mind.
Today I've focused mostly on moving as soon as possible. Picking myself up and throwing myself into life in a completely different city, with new people and new problems to distract me. I called DC area graduate schools-- is it strange that they make the education program websites as hard as possible to understand? like they're trying to weed out bad educators?-- and apparently I can start classes as a non degree-seeking student as early as mid-January. I can then compile an official application, become a degree-seeking student, transfer the credits so that they apply toward my education degree, and pursue my MEd and student teaching minus the courses I took as a non degree-seeking student. Phew! Which then means that in a little over a month, I need to choose a school, get them the information they need, break the lease on my apartment, find a sublet for six months (prior to student housing), move, deposit my furniture in a storage locker, find a job to allow me to pay rent and live, and not pass out from overexertion.
But then all of these doubts creep back into my head, just as I start to think that yes, I can do all of this, and yes, it is the right decision. I haven't even had time to investigate DC schools and see if that's where I want to go. What if NYU or UVA have the graduate programs that were meant for me? Then there is the fact that whereas I've always said that I had no good friends in New York and maybe I should just pick up and leave, that is no longer true. I have found a few friends who have been unbelievably supportive and who possess the same sort of artsy, contemplative, fun, and quirky personality that I do. Knowing that my friend Kate lives three blocks away and is always up for lazy bonding has been a huge help in the past couple of weeks, and having way too many people cram into my apartment and pop a bottle of champagne to celebrate the end of workplace abuse turned that day from one of confusion to one of triumph. I love my English cottage apartment and have no idea how I would find one I like as much elsewhere. I have no idea how to find a job in DC, and isn't being unemployed in DC just as dangerous/pathetic as it is in New York? And then there's the biggest knot, the one that stubbornly refuses to be untied: I feel like moving is admitting failure and giving up. In more than one capacity. It's saying, "I couldn't do this," but most of all, it's saying "I'm putting physical space now instead of just verbal space...and in addition to dumping the bad times, I'm dumping the good times too." It's a reality check in the worst way: being forced to realize that things are permanently severed with someone I cared/care about through my own departure, my own clearing of the premises.
I didn't want to get that personal here, and I feel that this entry is straddling the vague/clear threshold. But one last thing I will say before I continue to try to make decisions is that one of my dear New York friends has recently started a blog as well (sparrowsoul.blogspot.com) and yesterday posted an entry called "how I learned love." One thing that I can say for the last year, with all of its ups and downs and ambiguities, is that I without doubt learned love, when I was just starting to think that I was incapable of it. But in the past year I loved with my entire being, fingertips to toes, in dreams and while awake, and that is a pretty spectacular accomplishment.
"white. a blank page or canvas. his favorite. so many possibilities..."

02 December 2007

Gleaming life

"The Boggle Hole is a cove tucked beneath cliffs, where a beck runs down across sand to the sea, from an old mill which is now a youth hostel. They walked down through flowering lanes...Here was abundance, here was growth, here were banks of gleaming scented life."
Writing yesterday about Possession made me think about my own travels through England, to places that my peers missed in their quests to "do Europe." I loved Yorkshire. I loved the people, their friendliness and lack of wariness about strangers. I loved the moors and the cliffs. I loved the mulled wine served by every pub, the rough accents, the mist that pervaded the air. I took several trips up there, and it is because of Possession that I made a trip to the tiny cliffside community of Robin Hood's Bay. Something about the place breathed life-- the water, the eroded cliff, the tidal pools. I walked along the road from my tiny bed and breakfast on one cliff to the next nearby cliff, then down an incline, to the Boggle Hole itself.
I loved going off by myself. Now I try to keep myself busy, because too much thinking is a bad thing. I'm still very much in recovery mode, much to my dismay. I think my problem is that once I make my mind up to move on from "the cracks" and the many different forms of broken hearts out in the world, I have no idea how to proceed. It makes me think of this quote I once saw, although I have no clue where it's from: "When your heart gets broken, you start to see the cracks in everything. It's my belief that the world is out to harden us, and it's our mission never to let it."

01 December 2007

Possess me

For my bookclub, I've been reading The Thirteenth Tale, which I love so far and which reminds me of one of my favorite books, Possession by A.S. Byatt. Possession is one of those books that lends itself to hot chocolate or earl grey tea and dreams of the moors-- but it also lends itself to about three months of plowing through Victorian letters and journal entries, academic theory, and stories of isolation, art, myth, and love. You can't rush this type of book, and I recommend reading it with a pen by your side to write questions in the margins.
A lot of the book investigates biography and scholarship, which is of course of immense interest to me (on my road to understanding myself and seeking those out who understand me). Biography is about being recognized, not just for the steps that you took but more for the things that you felt. Judith Thurman writes about this phenomenon in her new collection of essays Cleopatra's Nose: 39 Varieties of Desire, in which she covers both Possession and another sort of favorite "autobiography," Jane Eyre. Of Charlotte Bronte, Thurman writes that "the gauntlet that she throws down so defiantly but yearningly to her heroes, suitors, friends, critics, readers, and biographers is the challenge to recognize her." Biographers and scholars should investigate and write with that same sort of "imaginative sympathy and penetration." This is why the modern scholars in Possession are so fascinating to me-- they differ from the thieves and collectors (scavengers, if you will) by finding what their subjects intended to say and reflecting that out in a type of verbal mirror. I seek that type of recognization in my good friends, loves, and family, but it is harder to find than you may think. There are far more scavengers than there are looking glasses, when it comes to "kindred spirits" (to borrow a term from Anne Shirley).
Back to Possession. Some of the passages are so gorgeous that I just have to share them here:

"They say that women change: 'tis so: but you
Are ever-constant in your changefulness,
Like that still thread of falling river, one
From source to last embrace in the still pool
Ever-renewed and ever-moving on
From first to last a myriad water-drops
And you-- I love you for it-- are the force
That moves and holds the form."

"They took to silence. They touched each other without comment and without progression. A hand on a hand, a clothed arm, resting on an arm. An ankle overlapping an ankle, as they sat on the beach, and not removed...One night they fell asleep, side by side, on Maud's bed, where they had been sharing a glass of Calvados. He slept curled against her back, a dark comma against her pale elegant phrase."

And, one of my favorite poems that Byatt includes, by Robert Graves:
"She tells her love while half asleep,
in the dark hours,
with half-words whispered low:
As earth stirs in her winter sleep
and puts out grass and flowers
despite the snow,
despite the falling snow."