Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Way Forward

There is something to be said for slow, steady, plodding, gradual, progress. This is the way most science is done. Very few people can reinvent the wheel and reap the rewards that it enables. There is a lot of emphasis in our society on “thinking outside the box”. “Think different” you say? Well, what about thinking only very slightly differently, making it fit in with what we already know, and then releasing it to the world? Most progress is incremental. In many ways this gradual approach is more difficult than punctuated bursts of perceived brilliance because it requires background knowledge and working within constraints, but still emerging with something novel.

Among my mother’s cadre of wise sayings is: “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel”. It was applied to everything from my wedding invitations to my dissertation topic.

Maybe in response to this, and in accord with the silly inspirational sayings like “think different” (of which I fell for like a fool), I have staged my share of petty rebellions. So much of my life has been in response to some kind of perceived oppressive force. It has gotten me nowhere really.

As I race to finish my dissertation—which was meant to forge new ground, but essentially dug its own grave—I am reminded that reinventing the wheel is not always best the way forward. My Mom was right, again.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Art of Interruption

People are uncomfortable with silence. It’s too bad. So much thinking can be done in quietude. Not so, during active, empty, uncomfortable, rambling.

I think it is impolite to interrupt people when they are talking. I feel a deep churn in my gut when I realize, that I simply have to.

I love to listen. You can learn from listening, more than from talking. Layers of information, cloaked in social cues, sparkling with innuendos and thousands of years of biology and culture all terminating in the one wonderful and worthy star of a speaker.

I should not lionize the speaker by listening so intently though. Most people are just talking shit. Saying nothing. Wanting to talk. Wanting to fill something that isn’t empty.

I am realizing that in professional meetings, no one invites silence. The only way to speak is to interrupt. It’s disgusting, but necessary. Can I gracefully interrupt? My first word has to overlap with your last or I will sit there like a modern unpainted mime, making you uncomfortable with my silence while you make me uncomfortable with your unbroken string of breathless thoughtless sounds.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Homemade Gypsy

There is something so sad and deeply painful about Halloween. The homemade costumes that reveal what you hide in your junk drawers and the half-baked ideas you have in your head, that nobody “gets”. All glued together as a patchwork of vulnerability, for the world to see. As a child, you want so hard to be something. That universal yearning is so sweet and innocent, I almost can’t stand to think about it. So your Mom makes it real. You find yourself at the mercy of her versions of your ideas, which are limited by her energy and time. Then, after hours of insisting for this particular scarf, and not that one, you put on a coat as you go off to trick-or-treat, and the whole thing is ruined and even more unclear. You are just you again, but poorly dressed.

As a young adult, on Halloween, you stand around at parties explaining to each newcomer what you are, pathetically, because it is not clear. Because you aren’t clear. Because you want to be something that you are not, and that no one is. Because it all seemed so magical when you birthed the idea, and now the foolishness rises slowly around you and fills the room.

As an adult, it is ok to be silly, and to wear a costume, but some manifestations of this are more uncomfortable than others. This year, Halloween has escaped me. My heart is not in it, or glued to my sleeve, it’s nowhere. I am sad because I miss something, but I can’t tell if it’s youth that I miss or being a homemade gypsy.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Common Ground

“They have a wine tasting every SomethingDay over on 98th street.” “Oh I usually go to the one on 108th, which also has wine tasting.”

My thighs strained. I was wearing shorts, a backpack and carrying a black plastic liquor store bag. I was undignified. They caught me off guard, or something. I walked up the stairs past my neighbors conversation about local wine tasting. 

I gave a smile that was undoubtedly bigger in mind than it was on my face. smirk. smurf. I meant to look friendly, but I am sure I was oozing rude white girl. 

I keyed into my apartment, made my favorite cannellini bean surprise, olive oil, capers, the works. My favorite. 

I opened the bottle of rosé.

As the screw spiraled down into the cork, I wondered. 

I wondered how many people in my building were opening bottles of wine at the end of their days. At the same time. I wondered how it would be if we all opened the same bottle, together. 

We clearly have things in common. We have lived in the same building for 10 years. We have the dry cleaners in common. We have the have man who yells “Glory, Hallelujah” repeatedly in common. The man with three pomeranians and a prosthetic leg, we all know him. We know our landlord is a slumlord (shhhh). And that someone smokes pot in the morning and its reprehensible, but that it smells good. 

But then I remembered how nice it is to be alone at the end of stressful day and I imagined that we had that in common too. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

the dead of summer

Its a mood. Its a few weeks. I should expect stench, ungodly disgust, and skin I can’t un-see. If I wanted to feel like a steaming puddle of filthy rainwater with specks of iridescent oil floating on top, then I am surely home. If I wanted to start melting right out of the ice-cream machine, then hello. But wait! I am well prepared for the dead of summer this year, I lack flip-flops or beach chairs, but I am preemptively dead inside. Take that, summer. I am on to you.

Put your brightly colored straws up your own nose. Laugh at your own hysterical jokes. Fall in love with someone else. Blow pleasant breezes up your own ass. Take that endless orange colored days. You are the same as the rest of the year, only uncomfortably warmer. You chronically disappoint me. You seem to slip away because you never were to begin with.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

we went wild

I love everything about this image; gorgeous leopard, frantic baboon, light hot pink to pale yellow gradient, cool typography, tension, contrast, the wildness. via the always rad miss moss.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Electronic Death

My yahoo email was hacked last week. But chances are you already knew that. Everyone I have known received an urgent message from me saying I was beaten up and robbed. That day I received reply messages from friends I haven’t spoken to in months, even years. I heard from professional acquaintances, former students and my Mom. Some knew it was fake, others thought it may be real, others just wanted to alert me. Because my life is so tethered to my email, it was like electronic death. I greatly value my privacy and it was a nightmare of great proportions that I had emailed my whole life in one click, from Nigeria. 

But, like the Who’s down in Whoville who had Christmas spirit even when the Grinch stole their gifts and roast beast; the hackers reminded me that there are some caring and lovely humans out there on the end of those clicks, some who I should really reach out to more often, probably via my gmail address. 

This is a post from the archives that I wrote about my dear yahoo mail.

I have lived two lives. One, an occasionally joyous although sometimes inexplicably melancholy, living, breathing, face to face life. And the other, a life of silent expressions that confess, console, question, quit, explain, swear and repent. My other life is my yahoo email.

I have had my yahoo email address for 15 years. Its getting to the point that the address gives me an air of unprofessionalism, immaturity and overall un-tech-savvyness. None of which are ok for me to have. I am going to be 34 this year. I might be a professor one day. I live in New York. I just got an iPhone. I desperately need to move on. These days the '' makes even the most dignified names, tacky: or

I have a gmail account and a school address. I never use them. Every day, several obsessive times a day, for 15 years I have signed in and signed out. I check. I check again. I write messages with tears streaming down my face. I write messages in love and in haste. I re-read. I feel powerful and honest. I pour over words and how they sound against one another. I press send. I regret. I wait. I regret. I check.

I don’t like to talk on the phone. So many of my professional contacts and dearest friends are only reached via this email address. If I had to call them, I would be absolutely nowhere. I explain myself far better when I don’t have to speak. I know this can be accomplished on any email server. And this glorious digital age is laden with opportunities to sit at a computer and spill your uncensored guts to an abstract someone (i.e. this blog).

But my whole life is there, on yahoo. Its a dense and unpoetic chronicle. I keep every message. I say too much.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A Home Without a House

I grew up in the suburbs in a big white house. My parents were city kids. Most of their lives were spent on grassless streets, in laundromats and staying inside on Halloween. They moved for us. And as a first-generation suburbanite, it was my birthright to ignore the sacrifices they made to afford our comfortable home. I climbed trees, collected fireflies and worked at the mall. I was safe and lucky and oblivious.

I neglected to understand what our house represented for our family, but I still deeply appreciated living there. I am a stalwart homebody. A continuous theme in my young life was that when I went away—either for the weekend or to college—I would miss the house. Not always the people in it, but the house itself; the sun that hit the floor behind the living room couch, the velvety moss covered stones lining the driveway, the cold attic treasures. All of it.

My friends laughed at me for this. No one admires a homebody, it’s the opposite of cool. But it’s something I have always been sure of, even when I wasn’t sure I was sure of anything. I knew I loved being in that house.

Until I didn’t. After a brief period of moving back in with my parents after college, I had to get out. The feeling was fiery red. It was time.

My brother helped me drive my belongings to my first apartment in the city.

The hot and cold water were on backwards in the kitchen sink. I can’t say I never saw a roach. The toilet leaked. The super never arrived when he said he would. It was unbearably hot in the summer.

I had regressed. I was back where they came from. Was I supposed to repeat this pattern? This is not what I pictured for myself. Its also not what they pictured for me. My very old-fashioned father refused to visit me. He didn’t want to see me like that. Stripped of everything he wanted for me; my privilege dismembered.

This March will mark ten years that I have lived in the same apartment. The apartment which I initially hated then painted, IKEAed, tolerated and now appreciate with a new kind of wise and understanding love. Its pre-war, rent-stabilized and well outside of the flood zone. Some days my suburban upbringing wells up and I snap at the constant horn-honking, the injustices in the laudromat or the oppressive summer heat that lingers on the 4th floor. I know that these are scarcely hardships compared to what others in the world face and mostly, I am thankful for the peaceful sliver of ground I can come home to.

And after ten years, we have a veritable encyclopedia of memories in this place: parties, Thanksgivings, building things, hanging Christmas lights, drinking wine in the evening and coffee in the morning, and relaxing together in our little railroaded place in the wild city. My husband has built almost every piece of furniture that we own. Each drawer, countertop, bookshelf and cabinet fit perfectly in these imperfect swervy old walls. This is where we grew together, our lives intertwining more and more as we sat at the kitchen table looking out at the most beautiful Manhattan Mini Storage sign we had ever laid eyes on. We have done all anyone can do. We manage. We are houseless, grassless and mortgageless.

My husband and I will never be able to afford a house like my parents have until we are in our 50’s, if at all. So much has changed since my parents were young, especially mortgage rates and age at first reproduction. By my age my mother was already living in our house and planting pink impatients in the garden. She also had 4 kids. I don’t have any of those things.

My parents still live in the house, the mossy stones are still in place and we go back on holidays and birthday weekends. But at some painful point I know we will have to pack boxes, sell the oversized furniture and say goodbye. Then, I will be absorbed back into the gritty city—the same city my parents left—with no trace of the big white house or the grass that they worked so hard to let grow under my feet. I will miss it.