Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Impressions of New York

"Our lives were moving at such speed that we just kept going."
—Patti Smith, Just Kids
First there's the eavesdropping, which is generally fantastic—on campus, the subway, the street, the park, any cafe or restaurant. Then there's the combative East Coast style of conversation, back again after I'd left it in Boston four years ago, and New York accents of all varieties, which are still new to me so I can't get enough. And then, of course, what people are wearing. There's the super hip/high fashion sort, really creative wacky stuff, amazing ethnic-wear (YES to turbans), the varieties of Hasidic hats, this year's version of undergrad chic (which appears to be dominated by crop tops, sequins, and boat shoes), not to mention my growing soft spot for the dowdy middle-aged Upper West Side look—baseball hats, Dansko clogs, button-up shirts worn under Patagonia fleece vests. I love it all. I take it all in, as much as I can, at all times. I stand on new friends' rooftops at night and stare out at the city, count the average number of stories, how many windows per floor on street-facing facades, the material treatment at levels one and two, try to see if there are patterns. (Have you noticed how many more maple trees there are in New York than Chicago? Cross your fingers that the conditions are right and that in a week or two the city'll be woven through with red.)

I am a little sponge in red boots, wandering up and down the grid, getting lost below Houston when the numbered streets end. I am having an afternoon ├ęclair with espresso in the front window; an evening donut with coffee in a sticky diner booth. I am walking past the million markets lining Broadway late at night, weaving around the bags of trash being heaved onto the curb by men moving in and out of the streetlights, in and out of mysterious sidewalk puddles and the occasional skittering rat.

I can't wait to go to the ballet at Lincoln Center. I will wear a velvet dress and demand to go to a fancy hotel bar afterward where I will drop a matchbook into my clutch and snap it shut.

Desire and striving feel more palpable here. Solidity and waiting, less so. The rivers and the mouth of the ocean are less impassive than the Lake, less singular. And the bridges make them human—they can be crossed, and even crossed quickly if it's very late and you shell out for a taxi. (Counting how many nights you'll have pasta next week.)

Walking past Barnard campus toward home, you look through the gate and through the lead-lined windows and into the dining hall. All of the girls with their clean hair are eating, talking, texting over their red trays. It looks so warm and young and not for you anymore. Now hustle home and finish that last essay, girl. You got work to do.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Early Experiments in Flight

I don't have much time to write this because I'm supposed to be trying for the millionth time to decipher Derrida... but I just can't help but pause to tell the Internet that one of my best friends married a real swell guy this weekend, which meant that I got to see many of my oldest and dearest friends all at once, and my heart is still so full of love for and from them that I feel I'm not the person I was when I arrived in the Quad City airport last Thursday night.

In my head I'm beginning to sketch out a poem for everyone that includes the Mississippi River and the Tarot deck's Ten of Cups. It also includes an image that I've been thinking about a lot lately, which is this photo of one of the Wright brothers during a practice flight:

I've seen this image or versions of it many times (American corporations love a good Wright bros reference), but it wasn't until last Thanksgiving, when my dad and sister were describing their trip to Kitty Hawk, that I realized the photo's key documented weirdness: during these early, endless test flights, the brothers were flying facedown, parallel to the ground (often only a few feet from the ground), on their stomachs. In fact, my sister pointed out, they were not only supporting themselves on their stomachs, but steering with them as well, because the main mechanism that altered the movement of the plane was not controlled by their hands but by their pelvis.

All hilarious jokes about "pelvic (aeronautical) thrust" aside, I have been thinking about this strange pair of fact and image—about learning to fly with your gut—for a long time. And I would like to offer it up now to all of my beloved, fellow 20-something friends as we circle up and raise our whiskey shots and slowly press forward together into adulthood. I really think we can do it, guys. Love you.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Back to the Future

the great interests of man: air and light, the joy of having a body, the voluptuousness of looking.
—Mario Rossi, c/o Wallace Stevens' "Evening Without Angels"
Currently sitting at my desk in my new room in New York, surrounded by piles of class readings, tweaking out on coffee-on-an-empty-stomach, and couldn't be happier. At long last, I think, the cumulative waves of anxiety (leaving work, moving, going back to school) are subsiding, and I can feel the calm beach stretching out, grounding me.

To be clear: New York and GSAPP ain't no calm beach, but the state of mind I've entered—the one where you're no longer wondering "is this the exact right thing for me to be doing?", because you've already done the thing and now it's time to get on with it—is a beautiful place to be.

Now there is a new city to slowly discover, and hopefully savor. New friends to talk to and wander around with and crank open your heart and mind. And millions of new thoughts to have, and interrogate, and turn over and over until they agglomerate into a project that absorbs you to the degree that, at least for awhile, you no longer care about anything besides hacking away at it day after day.

I'd forgotten that scholarship is a pleasure. A real, true pleasure. And to be inhabiting this funny space right now at the beginning of the semester, when I don't have much to do yet except go to the park with my books and slowly remember how much I love to read—it's quite beautiful. Apparently we remain ourselves no matter how old-and-tired-before-our-time we get. Relationships, careers, travels, marriage (marriages?), The Future: who knows. For now I'm still that kid in stirrup pants reading Beezus and Ramona all afternoon, not noticing that my lemonade is sitting on an anthill.

PS: Speaking of things I love to read, my friend Fowler just posted in his incredibly excellent blog, so we're all in luck.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Of Bishop and Bacon

Why hello again, dear readers. I've been doing some spring cleaning lately, both in the real world and the digital, as I attempt to shake off the staleness that settled in my apartment and my brain this winter. If you've read zees blog before, you might notice that some posts have disappeared. This is because I've sent them back to Draft land where they'll live in peace and invisibility, allowing me to move forward knowing that not everything I put on the internet has to stay there forever. Whew.

In terms of the impulse to edit one's online oeuvre, I'm naturally thinking about Elizabeth Bishop, one of my favorite poets, who published only about 100 poems during her lifetime because she was so exacting. ("[Determined] never to try to publish anything until I thought I'd done my best with it, no matter how many years it took—or never to publish at all," she'd vowed when she was young.)

Friday, March 9, 2012

Big Promises

As God is my witness....
#1 I'll never be hungry again! (thanks to the below homemade granola recipe, which I've perfected over the past couple months)
#2 I'LL WRITE IN THIS BLOG BEFORE THE WEEKEND IS UP!

get it?
got it?
good.
now onto the granola:

Grindin' it Out Granola
1-1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup raw cashew pieces
1/2 cup flax seeds
1/2 cup raw pumpkin or sunflower seeds
1/8 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon Cassia cinnamon
1 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon fresh-grated nutmeg

1/8 cup olive oil
1/8 cup Grade B maple syrup
4 oz unsweetened apple sauce

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Line a baking sheet (preferably one with sides, i.e. a jelly roll pan) with parchment paper. Mix all dry ingredients together in a big bowl. Measure all the wet ingredients into the same measuring cup and stir to combine, then add to the dry mixture. Mix everything up real good, then spread evenly on baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Let cool, then EAT! Or pour into your favorite lidded container(s) and keep for up to one month.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself, PART I

I've had a poster of Picasso's Blue Nude on my wall since sophomore year, initially thumbtacked and now (thanks to my pseudo-adulthood) framed. I've kept this poster around for a number of reasons—mostly because I like its colors and textures, its interesting combination of figurative and feeling, and that it reminds me of the beauty of the lines of a woman's back—but for the past two months or so I've been paying more attention to it than usual.

I began to really notice my Blue Nude again back in March, I think, right about the time that I last wrote in this poor, languishing little blog. At that point I was knee-deep in a swampy malaise composed of late-winter slush and never-ending, largely joyless work. It was a slog and I was a drag and for awhile I could barely see more than three feet in front of me (to loosely quote Andrew Bird). Then one day I came home from work and someone had posted this audio recording of David Foster Wallace's now-famous 2005 Kenyon commencement speech—published in 2008 as This is Water—and I sat down on my tiny couch and listened to it all the way through.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

a mind of winter

Wallace Stevens was a lawyer who ran an insurance company in Hartford for most of his life. He was also one of America's greatest poets, who composed much of his work during his daily commute to and from his office. In 1921 he published "The Snow Man":

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
There are lots of reasons to read poems, but one of the most powerful is that, on occasion, while you are in the midst of unusual circumstances, a poem will come to you and suddenly your mind will yawn open into understanding like a stop-motion flower.

The last stanza of Stevens' poem came to me yesterday while I was hiking home across the city in the first blizzard of the year. I'd gone on an expedition to Target in order "to buy a snow shovel" (i.e. to indulge my masochistic Viking-blooded love of being outside in horrible winter weather), but it wasn't long before the pleasantly bracing walk I'd planned on taking became an hour-long frozen slog across sidewalks and empty parking lots that had been transformed into tundra by the snow and 50 mph winds. (Two miles to the east, 20-foot waves on Lake Michigan were exploding into icy spray against the hard edges of the city's beaches—as captured off to the left here by my hearty, and still partially-frozen, friend Tom.)

Two-thirds of my way home, I crossed the Webster Avenue Bridge and paused on tired legs in the gathering dark to look south down the Chicago River. Through the swirling snow I could see a group of ducks swimming upstream in the dirty water; behind them, half-obscured by the whiteout, the brick chimney of a former factory. There were no cars out and nearly no sound save that of the wind. And then there were Stevens' words:
For the listener, who listens in the snow, / And, nothing himself, beholds / Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.