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Category Archives: Carpe Gaudium

Des Rêves Entre Mes Deux Mains

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So, this was a blog before the Movie Crash Course came along.  And while I wasn’t saying much, one thing that did get me talking a lot was how much I liked Paris.  ….Actually, “liked” isn’t a strong enough word; I flippin’ adored it.

I visited for the first time for New Year’s Eve 2016, and loved it so much that I went back again only six months later.  I gushed about it so much that when I got back from my second trip, at least three co-workers asked me if I shouldn’t seriously think about moving there.  ….And I did, for about five minutes; then realized that it would be untenable for a number of reasons; as much as I love Paris, I love New York more, and this feels more like home.  Also, from talking to a couple of expats, it would be nigh-impossible to get a residency visa.  (If I ever win the lottery I’m getting  a second apartment in the 11eme arrondisment on Rue Charonne and going bi-residency, though.)

There isn’t even anything I could necessarily point to about Paris that caught my heart; it’s more about who I am in Paris.  I’m more indulgent, I appreciate smaller pleasures, I live in the moment more.  It was after my second trip that I came up with the expression “carpe gaudium”, a Google-translated Latin for “seize the joy”.  I can get a little too ascetic at times, and I think that’s bad for me; I want to be more engaged with the world, open, in the moment, and effusive.  And Paris reminds me how to do that, and also reminds me that you don’t need a lot of money to do that, either.  While moving wasn’t an option, I did gush after my return in a starry-eyed Facebook post that “I’m going to be making annual visits to Paris for the rest of my life!!!”

….Weeeell, that didn’t happen.  The only reason I was able to make that second trip was by begging my parents for help with the money; I was underpaid at my job and had some debt I was politely ignoring by paying the minimum towards it every year.  I did finally get out of that job the following year, but didn’t feel right planning a trip only a couple months into a new job; so I didn’t go in 2017.  I was gearing up for a mid-September trip last year, but then needed some dental work and had to dip into the travel fund I’d started to cover it.  Then the thing I did in mid-September instead was to put on my big-girl pants and take care of some financial hygiene – build up that six months’ worth of emergency savings everyone recommends you to have, and wipe out that debt once and for all.  I’d started a small savings account for a travel fund – and I sighed and decided it was going to be better served as my emergency savings fund.  “….Paris will still be there,” I told myself.  “This will just take a couple years.”

Fortunately, a couple of tiny windfalls have come up recently which are helping that a lot.  I’ve been keeping careful track of the debt, and right now….barring any major life upheaval, I very well may be debt free by the spring of 2020.  And as soon as I’ve paid off the debt, all the money I’ve been applying to that will go into the savings, and I’ll have 6 months’ worth built up by Christmas of 2021.  That is not that far off.  My travel is pretty much set for 2020 – a couple of family engagements have been forecast – but 2021, I think I will finally be returning.

But this is 2019 and that means I’m kinda stuck here.

However: a major spelunking into one of my storage closets reminded me that “oh hey, I have a lot of crafting stuff I’m not using.”  I also live near some amazing thrift stores, with things that are begging to be re-purposed and gussied up and done over.  And – polishing up finds from the marches des puces is a very Paris thing.

was going to head out to Staten Island today, but the snow is going to make that transit path a little too hairy; so I think, instead, I’m going to hit up a couple of Williamsburg junk shops, wander down to a craft store and then head home for some crafting, making a bit of Paris with my own hands.


Well THAT Was Easy

…So, uh, I think I may have the next job lined up already.  We’ve done the deal verbally, still waiting for the paperwork.

Job hunting is never fun for anyone, but for me it’s especially fraught because the first time I ever really had to devote attention to such a search was right after the financial collapse of 2008/2009.  Before that I sort of stumbled into both a day job and all my theater gigs pretty quickly; my very first post-college job came via a call from my university’s internship office that came the morning after graduation, and I just stuck with the person helming that particular project for the next eight years.  Then I kicked up the theater career and signed up for temping, and got easily placed in spots for about ten more years, with one gig lasting four years alone (and it probably would have gone on even longer if the economy had lasted).  So the first time I ever tried to deliberately look for a job was in 2009, when such a search usually dragged on for months and months while your savings dwindled and your debt soared and you were living on ramen.  That…was kind of a scarring experience.

So I was girding my loins for a very, very lean year while I was searching – only to have this come along in under a month.  And I realized that my last job search was also comparatively quick.  It’s given me food for thought – and the space to dream a little bigger.  I’m still going to stay put at this new place for a good while (even when it’s fast, job searches suck), but I’m also seeing that this is letting me turn my attention back to “hey, you were going to try eating out more” and “ooh now you can get wonton skins, didn’t you want to use that cookbook more?”

Part of the idea behind the Year Of Challenges was just to get myself out and moving around more – because that’s how you find more connections and more things to involve yourself in out in the wider world.   Life doesn’t have to just be a slog to your job and then a slog home, and I had forgotten that.

Case in point – I was looking for a place to see one of this year’s Best Picture nominees, and discovered a little teeny community space up in Greenpoint was showing a couple.  I went out to one last night – it’s a tiiiiiiny theater space, which they also use for art galleries and video gaming contests, with an equally-cozy coffee house as well.  There were only four of us there for the movie, so the guy behind the concessions counter came in to offer us all a free glass of wine as well, for the heck of it.  I was intrigued enough by the space that I chatted with the staff for a few minutes after, even suggesting a couple films.  But it got me thinking, as I was heading home, that if I ever wanted to launch some kind of a local movie event, they might be down with that….

I mean, I’m still a train, two busses and about fifteen bucks in a cab away from doing that.  But the fact that I even was thinking along those lines is a sign of hope that I haven’t felt in a long, long time.

The Whirlwind Begins

So. I said I was going to start writing more about other parts of life on this blog more often, and keep it thus when I send the movie stuff out into its own blog (now anticipating a 2019 rollout).  And towards that end…

Alex is now departed for two weeks, and I took advantage of that to start the whole planning-of-Christmas-decor overhaul.  I mentioned that I was going to go for a kind of rustic homespun repurpose-junk-you-have-around-the-house vibe; so towards that end, I just started the day by pulling out everything I owned that could possibly be pressed into service as a decor element.

Y’all, it’s covering half the floor of the living room.

I have about ten jars of various sizes and shapes; three bags of pine cones; about 20 candle containers, about ten pounds of candle wax (some of it already even colored red), wicks, and a pint of “Mountain Lodge” candle scent to make my own candles; about five iron-look metal candle holders, one of which even is shaped like a spray of pine; a cheap ceramic cupcake tier stand; two lanterns; two sprays of fake greenery; a wood dough bowl; about six baskets; an antique souvenir drinking glass from the Christmas railroad my uncle used to manage when I was a kid; cookie tins in about five different sizes; two bark berry baskets; a bark-covered planter just big enough for two candles; an enamelware pot I found in the street (someone had drilled a couple holes in the bottom to use it as a planter, but then got rid of it); an Ikea planter in white metal that I could make look like it’s enamelware just by touching up the edge with a Sharpie pen; an antique Santa doll that is riiiiiight on the edge between “cute” and “creepy”; a teddy bear that’s squarely in the category of “cute” (it’s in a wee little green coat with matching beret); a metal TV tray that I’ve been meaning to fix up with a bit of paint; and about seven or eight other random collectible Christmas themed geegaws.

I even have craft projects – I stumbled upon a couple tutorials for making wee little skis and sleds out of popsicle sticks, and have the popsicle sticks to make them up.  I just need a pack of jewelry findings.  I’m also going to attempt to gussy up some of my umpteen mason jars with ribbon or burlap or something, and am even entertaining picking up some cheap plain white mugs from my local dollar store and stenciling something on them (a pine cone? a moose? something like that).

I also have only 75% of the top floor of a Brooklyn brownstone to decorate (even though Alex said that he has no objection to decoration, he would probably not look kindly upon my festooning his actual bedroom or office in his absence).  I’m seriously considering temporarily relocating some things to the hall closet to make room.

But that will come after the apartment gets a much-needed deep clean and polish. It’s not a mess or anything, but it could be gussied up some, with an emphasis on organizing and decluttering.  And fortunately it looks like the only things I may have to purchase are those dollar store mugs and a bit of burlap and ribbon.  And a couple of new covers for some throw pillows that I needed to get anyway.

….But you are all in luck (if you wanted to see any of this), because I have a new camera!  After that mishap with my old one, I’ve been in a sort of a round-robin conversation with Colin and my parents (Colin recommending new cameras, my parents hinting heavily that this could be my Christmas gift), and right before Thanksgiving my father discovered that one of the cameras Colin suggested was part of a local Black Friday sale.  My parents have never done the Black Friday thing before, so they got really into the idea of doing it just this once, waking up at midnight and driving two towns over to get it.  We met up this Saturday, and they presented it to me, telling me about the crowd like they were anthropologists presenting a set of findings.  ….I’ve yet to open the box, so I don’t have a picture for you now, but sometime after I’ve given the apartment an initial clean I’ll try to get you the “before” before I deck the halls for the “after.”

Everything Under The Sun Is In Tune

I showed up at work today armed with a pair of eclipse glasses I scored at the last minute (Niki had a spare – thank you!).  About mid-morning, I found out that Pink Floyd’s song “Eclipse” was exactly the right length as the peak was supposed to be, so I downloaded it, thinking I would play it precisely when the peak hit us here in New York.

I was getting nervous about an hour before, when a bank of clouds started to roll in – right where the sun was going to be.  But then at 2:30, fifteen minutes to peak, i head down to the street with glasses in hand.

Now, if you’ve never seen a pair of eclipse glasses, you don’t expect much.  They’re flimsy cardboard with plastic film lenses; and if you look through them ordinarily, you can see nothing at all.  I’d been playing around with them at home this morning, and it was as if I were blinkered.  So I wasn’t sure what I would see when I got down to the street and put them on.  There was a small cluster of people from a couple of the surrounding office buildings, trying to simultaneously shield their eyes and peer through their fingers; the residual light from the sun was just too overpowering.  I put on the glasses and had a look up.

And I saw a crescent sun.

“Oh WOW.” I blurted out, making a couple people’s heads turn.  A cloud obscured it almost right away, so I snuck out of the direct path of pedestrians, waiting for the cloud to pass.  Knots of people were standing around me, discussing the eclipse; the group right next to me was a four-man team of young men in the starched-shirt and khakis uniform of bankers.  “Where is it?” one asked, looking up.

“It would be that way,” I cut in, pointing.  “Except that there’s a cloud now, so you can’t see anything.”

“And how long is it? Will it get all the way dark?”

“Nah, we’re only going to get like 70% of it.  It started at like 1:30 here, and then it’s at its peak in about 15 minutes; and then after that it’ll start moving away and it’ll be all done by 4.”

“If only it wasn’t for that cloud!” another one grumbled.

“Yeah…but we got like 15 minutes until its peak.” The cloud started to pass a bit, so I took another look through the glasses again, as they talked on, unclear what they were looking for.  Then turned to them.  “Anyone want a look?”

“Sure, I’ll try,” one said, dubious. He put them on.  “And where would I look, right up th-WHOOOOOOOOOOOA!” he gasped when he finally saw it.

“Ooh lemme try!” one of his friends excitedly asked, reaching for the glasses.  “So you can really see it?…..OMIGOD!”

A pair of women behind us saw them react, and heard me laughing.  “Wanna try?” I asked them.

“Uh, sure….” one reached for the glasses, and stepped over towards us, putting them on.  “WHOA FUCK!” she gasped.  Her friend had another similar reaction.  And so did the family of Japanese tourists that was passing by at that moment when I let each of them look in turn as well.

One of the bankers asked to borrow them again, trying to figure out how to hold them in front of his camera and get a picture.  “Here, I’ll hold them for you,” he offered, gesturing to my iPad, and we clumsily tried to get a picture, me fiddling with the camera on my ipad and him balancing the glasses in front of the lens.  The clouds covered the sun again, and I told them to also take a look at the shadow of a tree near where we stood.  “If you look at those shadows,” I said, “they’ll be all crescent-shaped too.”

“What about a pinhole like those guys over there?” someone near me was pointing at another cluster of people nearby, fiddling with a couple pieces of paper.

“Yeah, that’ll work too; it works for the same reason that the shadows look different – there, look!” and I pointed at the ground, at the dappled shadow of the tree near us.  Someone else had my glasses while I got a picture of the filtered-leaved shadow, chuckling as I heard yet another person blurt out their awe.  They handed the glasses back to me when I was done, and as soon as they did, another person asked for a look.  And then another.

I was down on the sidewalk for about a half hour, but spent most of that time loaning my glasses out to strangers.  At one point I was informally assigning numbered turns to people (“Okay, ma’am, you’re next, and then you here on my left – they asked just a couple seconds before you on my right did, guys”).  But everyone thanked me profusely after a look. I even went back up to my office and grabbed one of my colleagues and dragged him down, telling him it would just be five minutes (his reaction when he put on the glasses and looked up – “whoashit, yeah“).

I came out to look at an eclipse. But I ended up being more charmed at the sight of everyone around me all being struck with awe and excitement, and all of us turning into children for a while.




Speech After Long Silence

It’s hard to blog when you think the world is going to end, and you are watching your country turn into a fascist state.

Like many, I was thrown by the escalating tension between President Trump and Kim Jong-Un, and the threat of nuclear weapons.  I think I’ve mentioned in here before that I was very young when I learned about the existance of nukes, and because of that, nuclear weapons basically became my biggest fear.  You know how when you’re a kid, you know exactly what the Monster Under Your Bed or The Thing In The Closet looks like? How you’re afraid to go into a dark room because you just know that when you turn on the light, it will be standing there, and you know in perfect detail what it is going to look like?  Starting at about age eight, my Thing In The Closet was a mushroom cloud.

And it’s hard to write when your inner child is cowering in fear that the Thing In The Closet that you thought went away has suddenly come back.

And then fear gave way to sorrow at the events in Charlottesville.  …Although, to be honest, first there was anger – which I turned into jumping on Twitter and ripping off snarky comebacks against any supporters of the Unite The Right march, and to writing to employers and teachers for any of the men who had been confirmed and identified.  But there were just so many of them, and the breadth of the ignorance they had about history, the First Amendment, and racial equality was making me feel like it was all futile and adding to the problem.

I’ve also just been low-energy in general for the past couple weeks (taking steps to fix it, I think I know what’s going on), but that plus fear and anger and sorrow has left me without much energy to do anything except for fart around on Youtube watching kitten videos.

But you know, that’s okay.  I believe that you don’t have to have to turn yourself into a total ascetic when you are trying to work towards improving the world; you can speak out against apocalypse and at the same time notice and appreciate fun and joyful things. I’m sure even the most militant of activists, one whose Facebook feeds are nothing but reposts of notices about rallies and one who spends all of their spare time making things for the next action, feels comforted and gladdened by the feeling of companionship they get from their fellows. There is always a way to step back and notice what’s good.  You can do both.  In fact, you should do both; it’s how you keep your spirit together and give your soul a chance to rest, catch its breath and get ready for the next round.

I think I’m going to start to take more notice of things each week that have pleased me like this.  Big, small, ridiculous, corny, inconsequential – it doesn’t matter.  I’ll post them at the end of the day Saturday, or on Sunday morning; I suspect that the more good I take note of and write down, the more I’m going to see.  Things like:

  • As I was running errands on Saturday, a man on a bike rode past me – and he had his two children on the oversized seat behind him, giving them a ride.  One of the kids was holding on – but the other had arms flung out wide, pretending that they were flying.

I’m In The Money

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So I grew up in New England, and we tend not to talk about money all that much.  Especially if we’re having money difficulty; we go all stoic and stiff-upper-lip and try to “make do and mend”, resorting to repairing things that break instead of buying new or waiting for sales or reverse-engineering our own solutions.  Or just going without.  This is the kind of approach that can be carried too far, of course – there have been times that I have been almost pathologically afraid to spend money on myself.  Also, all the frugality in the world isn’t going to help you if you’re just plain not making enough money to begin with.

That latter state was my lot for the past couple years.  But – the new job has fixed that, and then some.  And it’s taken a couple weeks to sink in, but….I’m starting to get into it.

Now, I’m not going totally bugnuts, buying up entire racks of shoes or renting a yacht to go to Martha’s Vineyard just for lunch or anything like that. I’ve maybe spent more than I should on books, but the bulk of the money I got from my first paycheck went either to paying down some debt, starting a nest egg, or finally getting some long-needed house stuff. (Hellooooooooo, replacement window blinds! Welcome, stash of bulbs! Hi there, no-longer-threadbare pillowcases!)

When it comes to things I’ve been buying sheerly for pleasure, they’ve actually been comparatively modest: a couple yards of fabric to go towards a quilt I’ve been working on (yes, I’m making an actual quilt), a couple pounds of candle wax to round out the candlemaking stash Niki gave me (rather than buying the actual pre-made candles, which was getting costly), or a couple of utterly gorgeous French cookbooks (I make no excuse because I don’t need one dammit).  Or going to the occasional movie.  Or just going out for ice cream or dinner or lunch.

Or actually paying people back.  The thing that saddened me most about being so cash-poor for so long is that my friends have had to cover me more times than not – never anything big, just a couple extra bucks here, an extra five there, whenever we went out.  Or even the convenience move – if a group of us were gathering for a movie run, it would always be someone else who’d say “I’ll pick up the tickets and y’all can just owe me.”  It would always be someone else saying “what the hell, I can put dinner on my card and y’all can just owe me the cash.”  We usually settled up, I told myself, but it would always be someone else making that initial convenience step.

Tonight I am seeing a movie with a few friends; we were planning our attack this morning, and in the middle of the discussion I popped over to the movie theater site and just got our three tickets without even thinking.  “I got our tickets,” I emailed back, “so we can all just meet there.”

“Oh, great! Thanks!”

And the feeling I get simply because I am able to do that – and may even be able to cover them for a car to get them home after – is a feeling that I have been missing for a long time.

Prendre Plaisir

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Somewhere in my travels this weekend, I ended up at a bookstore and was browsing the sale section – and when I saw a huge, beautiful book with the title French DessertsI immediately walked to the cash register with it.  Hey – that’s two of my favorite things right there in one title.

And it really is beautifully done – the focus is on the simpler dishes that people make for themselves at home rather than the fantastical things you’d find in a patisserie.  There are cakes and tarts and such, but instead of elaborate things like a religieuse or a caneleanything where I’d have to wrestle with piping bags, they have simple fruit tarts or plain cakes or puddings.   It’s exactly the way I like to cook – just pick good ingredients and get out of their way.

And I have some extra time after work and a lot of rhubarb and strawberries, and that means I can make something for my book club tomorrow – and that something will be the strawberry-rhubarb crisp bar cookies from the Smitten Kitchen, something I discovered a year ago.  They’re almost perfect – just sweet enough to feel that you’re having a real treat, but low enough in added sugar that you can get away with telling yourself that they make an acceptable breakfast food.  (I ate my way through one batch last week all on my own.)

I also have some lemon-verbena herb-spiked sugar syrup in the fridge, from when I was trying to cut back my lemon verbena plant; it gives lemonade an extra kick.  And I’ve just finished a glass.

So, I am now about to enter my kitchen, where I will make the strawberry bars, and then make a shrimp and noodle salad to chill in the fridge while I stir up some strawberry-laced blancmange and a French take on a chocolate panna cotta.

Yes, this is as life should be.