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Monthly Archives: January 2015

Fimbulwinter

So, we’re gonna get a little snow here in New York City tonight.

The runup to any storm here usually just makes me roll my eyes; I grew up in New England, and saw the Blizzard of ’78.  And what I remember of that is missing only one day of school, despite the fact that the drifts of plowed snow were actually taller than my father.  Here, one inch of slush and the transit system grinds to a screeching halt and people panic and try stocking up on water and coffee and toilet paper, and there’s a day of Impending-Zombie panic and then the whole thing blows over in three hours, once I’ve already tried to battle my way home through the panicking hordes.

Feh.

However, I just had a conversation with someone at work who reminded me of New York’s 2010 snow debacle – in which the city failed to declare a snow emergency during a blizzard the day after Christmas, and was basically caught with its pants down after we got 20 inches.  So the city is a lot more likely to declare emergencies now, he said.  The thing was, the reason why we hadn’t declared an emergency prior to that was because we had been too prone to panicking over snow – and people were complaining about that.  So the pendulum is probably going to just swing back and forth.

2010 was quite a thing, though.  I’d just managed to beat the snow – my father had been keeping an eye on the weather while I’d been enjoying the holidays with them, and strongly declared that I take an earlier train.  And so I just managed to make it to Penn Station about twenty minutes before Amtrak closed down service, and made it home in a taxi about a half hour before the roads started getting impassable.  My roommate at the time, though, was at her overnight job tending bar in Soho and had to carpool home in a taxi at 5 am, and the taxi could go down our street – so she had to walk fifteen blocks through the snow in heels and dig her way up our stoop using her bare hands.  I was already awake when she got in, and all she said was, “Merry Christmas.  Good to see you.  I can’t feel my hands.  Good night.” before heading directly to the bathroom for a 45-minute shower and then to bed.

I did at least check on the possibility of going to work that day; I was working in New Jersey at the time, and had to use both the subway and New Jersey Transit.  The MTA closed first; then the bus to Jersey.  So I cheerfully called my boss and left a message saying that unless they were comfortable with me walking through the Lincoln Tunnel, I was gonna stay home for the day.

The funny thing was that it turned out to be sunny for most of the day after the storm, so I was lured outside.  I suited up in good boots and a good jacket and spent an idyllic couple hours wandering around my neighborhood, reveling in being able to walk down the middle of the (still unplowed) streets.  Some enterprising kids with shovels were already on the sidewalks, hitting up everyone they passed – “need your car dug out?”  I came to the aid of a woman who was stuck in the snow by the laundromat, her car wheels spinning – I ran into the supermarket next door and bought some cheap kitty litter, meaning to sprinkle it under her wheels for traction.  But by the time I came out, she was already gone.  A pickup truck pulled into its place, so I offered the kitty litter to them and went on my way.

Tomorrow is going to be the height of the storm, though, and much more suited for staying in.  I have an article to work on anyway so I’ll most likely be doing that.  Friends are reporting in with similar plans on Facebook.   The people with the best plan, though, are my friends Colin and Niki – they own a house in the Catkills which they rent out, and they were already planning to drive up and check things out as there’s reports of the washing machine being on the fritz.  Plus the storm is actually supposed to be less severe to the north.  So as I write this, they are on the way to their mountain cabin.

I told them, before they left, to track down a copy of Van Morrison’s “I Wanna Roo You,” which is literally about being snowed in during a blizzard in the Catskills.  If nothing else, I told them, it suggests a way to pass the time.

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Doldrums

Good God I hate January sometimes.

My energy takes a major downswing in January each year – it’s actually been down for the past few years, but it always ebbs way back right about now, as I go into a post-holiday crash.  It’s all down to fatigue – I’ve been in a low-energy state for the past few years as it is, due to some bad life juju (finally on the way out, ThankyoubabyJesus), but have always  managed to perk up a bit for the holidays – and to then crash back right after.

At first it’s just fine.  I revel in not having shopping to do or people to visit or errands to run, I can sleep late and just eat leftover cookies instead of trying to bake them and spend my days inside curled up in my jammies all cozy, taking a deep breath after the mayhem of the weeks prior.

But then that drags on for the whole month. I’ve already read most of the books I’ve wanted to read, TV is boring, my roommates look at me funny because I’m usually at home on my ass, and I start wondering whether I should make a doctors’ appointment to discuss my low energy and my lack of concentration and then I look at the calendar and think oh yeah, right, and then in February that starts to change and I start to feel the energy come back.

I’ve started to realize that the sun has a lot to do with it. The sun is at its lowest ebb now – it’s dark out when I wake up, and dark out when I am heading home from the subway. What little sunlight I see is through a window at work.  Whereas in spring and summer, I’m sometimes up before my alarm, as the dawn light slithers through my blinds, and I’m often walking home from the subway rather than taking the bus, just feeling the sun on my face as I walk.  But now, I’m more likely to keep hitting the snooze alarm each morning, not really able to get going until the sun barely starts coming up.

And the hell of it is, I forget all of this every year. I get to this point and every year I worry about how lazy and logy I am – and every year I finally remember that no, it’s just January, it’ll pass.  Which means this ebb is affecting my brain as well.

I’m seriously starting to think I should look into the possibility of hibernation for a solid month after Christmas.  I’d probably be much better off.

Welcome To The Unicorn Success Club –

….Um.  Hi.

I am getting a lot of sudden traffic here because of The Bloggess, so I just wanted to put a disclaimer here for y’all that I am kind of finding my footing in blogging again after a few years’ hiatus, so it’s….kind of rough in here.

So, yeah, welcome, poke around, and bear with me; right now I am on a weird “I must be all solemn” habit which I’m trying to break; it’s kind of like when you’re in junior high and first getting used to having to write Essays or Themes or whatever and you’re really stodgy and serious because you’re new and/or out of practice, but then eventually you loosen up and get comfortable.  So, I promise if you hang in there I’ll get more comfortable again.

In the meantime, just for you, a special treat: another story from college, to match the story about Surrealist Poker which sent you all here: this one features a lot of the same friends that played Surrealist Poker with me, but it involves a “purity test”.  The Purity Test, for the uninitiated, was a really comprehensive and elaborate game of “never have I ever” – it listed a whole lot of slightly scandalous things – most of them sexual – and you were supposed to give yourself a point based on whether you’d ever done any of them.  Ostensibly it was supposed to measure and rate how “impure” you were, but really it was a way for a bunch of people to get all giggly and titillated and gossipy about each other.

So, basically, it’s perfect for groups of college friends, some of whom have unresolved sexual tension with each other, and is a way for them to all try to flirt.

Anyway.  One night the gang of us was doing a Purity Test in someone’s room; he’d just found a version of the test that was supposed to be The Most Comprehensive One Yet, with many more finely-detailed and nuanced questions than usual.  (If you’ve taken one – you remember how rules-lawyery those things always were?  Whether you had someone feel you up one inch above the boob was different from having them feel you up with a hand on your boob, and that was still totally different from whether you had one layer of clothing on, or two, or none, or if one of those layers was a bra, etc., etc., etc.)

We’d known each other for a few years already, and a couple of us had already hooked up with each other, and the group generally knew about most of those instances, so there was a lot of joking and teasing as we laughed over the questions or teased each other about the answers (“dude, I know you guys must have done that…”)  and we’d already been at this for about 45 minutes when we got to a section which asked about having sex with various persons in different professions – a doctor, a police officer, a lawyer, a political leader, yadda yadda.  One of the questions was about whether we’d had sex with any kind of religious officiant – priest, rabbi, like that.  We all marked our answers.

And then a girl named Kim (not me), who’d recently started studying NeoPaganism, started laughing.  “I just realized something, guys,” she said.  “You know, Paganism says that everyone is kind of their own personal religious leader.  So if you think about it, anyone who’s had sex with me can say ‘yes’ to that.”

There was a tiny pause.

Followed by two of the guys silently picking up their pencils and changing their answers.

Baby Got Brain

So, fair warning: we’re about to talk about my butt.

On the whole, I’ve actually never cared too much about my appearance.  I was pretty nerdy and brainy as a girl – much more interested in books and thinking than fussing with makeup or fashion.  And even less inclined to fuss when I grew up; I was never going to win a beauty pageant, but also I never felt like there was a need to try to.  I was more interested in people liking me for what I had to say and think and what I felt – just like I’m way more interested in other people’s personalities than I am their looks.  I make myself presentable, but after that, it’s your problem if you don’t like what I look like, not mine.

However, there is one body part of which I’ve grown secretly proud, after having heard most of my boyfriends praise it – apparently, I’ve got me a great butt.

It’s happened almost entirely by accident.  I always only the most half-assed (sic) of exercise habits – maybe I’ll go to a gym once a week, and I only started doing that in my late 30’s.  Maybe I kayak once a week, or hike.  That’s about it.  But I do have the New Yorker’s habit of walking nearly everywhere – even on a lazy weekday, I usually walk about five blocks to and from the subway and then another block or so to the bus, bookended by walking down four flights of stairs in the morning and then back up four flights of stairs at night.  And it’s always been that way.  On the weekends, I’ve always been more likely to walk to do all my errands if the weather is nice.

And that’s all added up to a lot of work on the legs, which no doubt has included some work on the glutes.  And that adds up to a very toned butt, apparently.

This isn’t something I necessarily advertise, still.  I mean, if I have a date I’ll dress in tighter pants than usual, in an, er, cheeky attempt to show off a bit.  But I’m far prouder of my brain anyway – and if whatever swain I’m attempting to impress doesn’t show any interest in that as well, then…too bad for him, he can have one last look at that butt while I’m walking away.  My butt’s great, yeah, but that’s just one part of me – my brain is even better.  I’ve always thought that.

However – apparently some researchers at the University of Oxford have just learned something quite interesting about women who have big butts.  Not only does the extra fat seem to protect women from some kinds of chronic diseases, it also is a sign that you have a good supply of Omega 3 fatty acids – which are good for brain activity, which therefore means that people with big butts are actually smarter.

So my two favorite body parts have been cooperating with each other all my life.

Bealtaine Do Aisling A Bhaint Amach

It’s actually kind of weird how much of my appreciation for this country’s racial diversity came from Irish people.

Well, really, it’s mainly from two particular Irish people.  Bono was first – the U2 album Unforgettable Fire came out when I was fourteen, and raised a few eyebrows when its track list contained not just one, but two songs about Martin Luther King, Jr.  What was a lily-white Irish guy doing singing about an American Civil Rights activist?….How’d that happen?

But then if you listen to the words of Pride it makes sense –

They got it.  It wasn’t that King was just working for one race – he was working for all races to have an equal footing.  He was working for all people to have an equal footing – towards the end of his life, King was preparing for action that would have addressed poverty and economic classism that was affecting the impoverished of all races, because that was where a big part of our problems lay then (and still lie today).

Also, it’s not as if Ireland being all of one race has excused it from moments of segregation in its past.  A series of laws in the 1700’s severely restricted Catholic people’s rights – Catholics weren’t allowed to hold public office, own guns, serve in the military, marry Protestants, own a horse, own more than a certain amount of land, or vote.

….Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  The laws’ repeal even follow a familiar-sounding pattern – most of them were gradually dismantled over the course of the 1800’s, and were finally all repealed with the birth of the new Irish Republic in the 1920’s.  But there was still a good deal of discrimination towards Catholics to the North; so much so that in the 1960’s, activists in Ulster noticed the strides Dr. King was making in this country, and were inspired to try similar tactics.  The date most commonly given for the day “The Troubles” began was in October of 1968, when a team of activists tried to march through Derry, demonstrating for the right to vote, and the police tried to force them to stop and a riot broke out.  A second march from Belfast to Derry met with similar results.

The march from Belfast to Derry was inspired by King’s march from Selma to Montgomery.

U2 reminds me that King wasn’t just fighting for one race – he had a vision for all of them.

But that’s more about an appreciation for the history.  I said that I had an appreciation for this country’s diversity, in the present.

And that would be due to another Irish person – my friend Cliona.  We’ve been pen pals since childhood, and have visited a couple times – and her eyes on this country always shake up my own. Cliona is one of those wonderful people you can take and plunk down into any situation, no matter how unusual, and she’ll look around her with interest and think “well, I’ve never been here before, let’s check out what this is like.”  She demanded I take her to see a synagogue her first trip here, as she’d never been inside one in Ireland; she wanted to try every different kind of food, explore every last corner of the city. Even the subways were a source of fascination.

And on her most recent trip, we actually spent an hour and a half hunched over my computer on a research project.  She’s a science teacher, and had a series of posters depicting notable scientists from history in the class – and she was telling me she’d recently been challenged by a student asking why there weren’t any posters of black scientists.  She confessed to me she didn’t know of any.

I thought a moment.  “I wonder – do you know who George Washington Carver is?”

“Who?”

I told her what little I knew – that he was a botanist who was researching ways to expand the uses of the peanut, to help create a cash crop for Southern sharecroppers – and her eyes lit up.  We spent a good hour and a half delving into his story, and Cliona wasn’t just sold on putting his picture up, she actually developed a lesson plan right there, inspired by Carver’s drive to better others by developing more value for a cash crop.  “That would absolutely work as a lesson!” she said.  “Have some students try to think of new uses for an Irish crop the way Carver did for peanuts or cotton!”  There is very likely a classroom of students in the south of Ireland to this day that regularly are told to use Carver as an example.

But even that is not the best story I have.

On her very first trip here, Cliona and I spent most of our days wandering around New York – and most of the time, she was in a wide-eyed state of awe.  Every so often she’d see something that amazed her and just stop and stare at it, a huge grin on her face – the Empire State Building, Times Square, Washington Square Park, the Brooklyn Bridge.  I was so used to my usual sidewalk pace that sometimes I’d get a half a block away before I noticed I’d lost her.

Towards the end of her visit, though, I noticed a couple times that she was stopping and staring not at buildings, but at people.  After the third time I’d found her staring at the crowd around us, I finally asked what it was that was catching her attention.

“All the faces,” she said, grinning at me.  “They’re all different colors. It’s just…Look.  It’s beautiful.”

And she’s right.

….By the way, the title of this post is in Irish Gaelic – it’s a line from MLK, U2’s other song about King; “may your dream be realized.”

And Now For Some Fun –

Wow, I’m all serious sometimes, huh?

That’s something I’ve noticed in here – my writing has gotten very serious and somber, much more so than it used to be.  That could simply be a function of having let things slip for a while – I may just be getting used to you all looking in, and feel like I have to Be Impressive.  It’s kind of like – years ago, on a trip to Chicago, I wandered around Oak Park, a neighborhood which is filled with houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.  And most of them were lovely – simple houses with a bit of distinctive shaping here, or a leaded window design there.  But one house stuck out for its excess – patterned stone, carved scrollwork, ornamental stained glass over every window, an ornately-carved door.  According to the map I’d picked up, that particular house was the first one Wright designed by himself, and suddenly the overkill made total sense – Wright was all on his own for the first time, and got panicky and totally shot his wad.

Yeah, people do that.  I feel like people are now looking, and I have to give them something to look at.  I’ll get over it.

And maybe movies will help!  (Yep, that’s a segue.)  On and off, over the years, I’ve tried to see all of the Oscar-nominated movies before the Oscar ceremonies each year.  Some years I do better than others – especially when there were only five of them each year – and some years I just plain can’t, especially now that there can be as many as ten.

This year the list is a somewhat more manageable eight, and I’ve already seen two: Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel.  So that just leaves:

American Sniper
Boyhood
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

Selma and Imitation Game I was already planning on – I actually once worked with the actor who plays Ralph Abernathy in Selma, and his Facebook feed has been blowing up with mentions of the film (plus it looks great).  Everyone has been raving about Boyhood and Theory of Everything as well.

I have to be honest, though, I’m not too thrilled about American Sniper or Whiplash, although Whiplash was a bit of a surprise – didn’t that just come out and only last five minutes?  It looks good, mind you, but the whole thing of a teacher mercilessly riding an student artist may give me a couple flashbacks to some moments in the conservatory where I studied acting.  Welp, I have a month to have my mind changed about the both of those, though.

I Will Need The Following Supplies…

Four years ago, one of my best friends in the whole world – the woman who was my pen pal in seventh grade – flew over from Ireland for an intervention in the guise of a visit.  It wasn’t until two days before she went home that she confessed that one of the big reasons she came to see me was out of some concern – I’d used to do a lot of adventurous stuff, she said, but in the past couple years she’d seen me gradually do less and less, and treat myself less and less well, and that was really bothering her.  Be better to yourself, she urged me.  Do more.

It was one of the best things anyone’s ever done for me, but I wasn’t still completely in a place where I could.  I tried, a little – but money and energy and chance and fate were still not quite on my side.

…But that was then.  And this year, I think, is finally now.

For the past week, I’ve been reading and re-reading the different route maps for two different commuter railroads in the city.  Maybe I couldn’t afford an Amtrak train trip anywhere, I thought, but what about Metro-North?  Can I get anywhere cool on that, for cheap?  And how about New Jersey Transit?  Or the Long Island Railroad?  And what about that bus that can get me up into the Catskills, where else could I go on that?…And wait, while I’m at it, where can I stay in those cities?…

By the end of the week, I was slapping a big wall map of Eastern New York State over my desk and putting up color-coded pins in different cities based on what transit system would get me there, and whether I could stay overnight in any AirBnB home stay.  And I’ve been repeatedly looking at the same two cabins for rent in the Catskills, and have gone all the way into imagining myself sitting outside of one on a deck, in the spring sunshine, a cup of coffee and a book at my elbow and my feet propped up, looking out over the mountains as a deer picks its way through the yard before me.  And I’m seeing this all with the certainty that I’m definitely going to do this.

And it’s the same certainty I’ve brought to a guidebook I just got – something dealing with unusual experiences to be had in New York City.  Things like kayaking among all the islands of Jamaica Bay, or offering myself up as “rail meat” at a sailing club, or an hour in a sensory deprivation tank or an archery class in Queens or a Holi parade in Flushing that’s over 20 years old or free monthly lectures at the Museum of Natural History, all this….stuff that I’d not really been motivated to look into before and it’s just been quietly going on all this time, and I’ve gone from not knowing it was happening straight to Googling “DIY holi color powder recipe” because are you kidding me I am so there.

Some years ago, about the same time as my friend came over, I read something in passing where someone talked about how they’d agreed something was a good idea, but weren’t yet ready to start making it happen; they described their mental state as “I haven’t yet gone from ‘that’s a good idea’ to ‘I will need the following supplies’.”  I think the fact that I’m gathering supplies already means I’m there.