12.30.2008

Coming soon: 2009

So tomorrow is the last day of the year and the first time in a long time that I'll be celebrating New Year's in New York. I'm still not crazy about it, but the siblings are coming down and we're going to a party at co-worker's place. A house party is infinitely preferable to me than a New York club scene; turns out, I really hate clubs if they're not in a foreign country. Sketchy Parisian guys are part of an adventure. Sketchy New York guys are just... well... sketchy.

Not that I need an excuse to get sentimental and muster up some sort of forward-looking goal while looking back at the past (have you ever READ this blog?!), but since it is a new year, I thought I'd do a little listing. I can't remember last year's goals, other than visiting a new country. I pretty much killed that resolution, visiting Hungary and Morocco in one year (plus, does a stopover in Germany count?). Did I do all of the things I wanted this year? Nah. Did I do a bunch of awesome stuff? Hell, yes.

Top 10 awesome things of 2008 (in no particular order)
1. Becoming an employee at Arc90
2. Voting for PRESIDENT OBAMA
3. Moving into my own apartment
4. Adopting Oscar-ooni
5. Attending the New Yorker festival
6. Visiting Agnes in Budapest and spending a week in France
7. Running my first 5k
8. Learning Spanish
9. Attending 2 Bon Iver concerts
10. Being brave when necessary

I tacked that last one on there because it does feel like a significant year of bravery. A few months ago I was talking to a friend about some life and love crap that I was going through. I admitted to her that, regardless of the messes I'd gotten myself into, I was really glad that I could fall back on who I am and count on myself to get out of it. I suppose that sounds either Schizophrenic or arrogant; I don't mean it either way.

I guess I just mean that I'm glad to be my own company in my darkest moments.

I hit a low point this summer and I remember feeling lonely and tired one Saturday morning. I had one of those panic moments, the kind when you're not sure things are going to work themselves out, but from the depths of somewhere, an energy came out of me. I planned a day of visiting the Brooklyn museum, reading in a park, and ended up making friends with a Spanish immigrant here on vacation. I don't know where those energy reserves come from, but I'm so very glad that I have them.

I struggle with what to share on this blog and what to keep private. This all stems from the fact that I'm not sure what this blog is; I am loathe to call it an online diary, a term that makes me want to punch myself in the face. On the other hand, I received numerous emails from readers this year (even people I've never met!) and that has been an interesting and humbling benefit to writing in this medium. You cannot know how much it means to me when I hear from you, how glad it makes me that sometimes what I write about touches you or makes you laugh or ANYTHING. I suspect that those energy resources I mentioned earlier are partially fueled by my interaction with you, readers. Because for whatever reason, in this crazy modern year of 2008, a blog is an obvious way of shouting your voice into the wind.

And sometimes, if you are lucky, you are heard.

Happy New Year's 2009.

xoxo J

12.29.2008

Roads Not Taken.

Oscar and I are in the taxi on the way home from Sarah and Justin's (Oscar's beloved host family for the holidays) and the driver puts on a French radio station.

"Vous parlez francais, Monsieur?" I ask. And we're off, chattering away about Haiti and Creole and politics and the whole deal. I ask how long he's been in the U.S.

"25 ans," he says.

"Ah oui, quand-meme."

He laughs. "Do you know a way to say that in English?" I admit that I don't, that some expressions just work better in French. I sit in silence for a few minutes, absorbing this expression, rolling the letters over my tongue silently. I give him directions to my place from the BQE, pausing briefly at the word for "stoplight." It comes to me, but I'm still irritated at myself for the momentary lapse.

Today at work we talked about school loans and in the subway home, I mused over whether it was worth such a financial price for a Master's in French lit. It is rare to be able to quantify a life-changing experience. But, of course, I cannot imagine myself any other way.

How much is a failed relationship worth? Or the risk of a traffic jam? What about an unknown book at the library or even a recommended film? Surely there are more efficient ways to spend your life, corners to cut and mathematical calculations to minimize risk to your head and heart. I'm just not sure how you find those solutions. Or if you're supposed to.

It seems you can do nothing more than stumble around a bit while you try to figure all that stuff out. And if it takes you a little longer to stumble than others, well, what can you do? If you need to go live in rural France or rural Africa or the center of Manhattan for a while to figure something out, you have to follow that so that it never haunts you. I really believe that.

I don't do ghosts of any sort. The what-ifs are the hardest to swallow, in the end.

12.27.2008

Sticking, stuck.

Today we tackled Dad's side of the family. College acceptances and annual cruises and "where are you off to next?" and "how are you feeling these days?" It's strange to see these gene-pool partners once a year and know so little of their daily interactions.

I've been missing my Nanas lately. I think it's the holidays, though it struck me about 2 months ago when I was crossing 3rd Avenue one night after work. "What was the depression like and did you know you were entering one?" I whisper it silently in my head and wonder what the Nanas would have responded. I miss having older ones in our regular visitation circuit.

So today I whipped out the questions for Pop-pop. Did he ever learn Pennsylvania Dutch and what was his career like as a milkman and then at the bank and where did his parents meet? The time is so precious; I am more aware of annual opportunities to grasp at heritage information than ever before. In the car afterwards, I think about coming down to visit again soon, alone, with a video camera. I am less self-conscious of appearing curious when I am alone.

Now Steve and Dad are at the bar and Mom and Kate are at the gym and I'm alone in the hotel room, reading and writing. One day my grandkids will ask me about how my parents met and what it was like to live through the Iraq war and how many times I fell in love before I met my husband. I have a feeling it will be much like this, like wanting to recreate everything that's come before and predict everything that's coming ahead, all in an effort to place oneself on the map.

In the meantime, I try to hold onto what I can remember, hopeful that some of it will stick.

12.23.2008

I should be packing.

(Do you read Mimi Smartypants? Her blog makes me die laughing. I'm in a short-winded mood tonight, so I'm writing in her style. I am not, however, trying to be as hilarious as she is. I also do not have a 5-year old named Nora. You are forewarned. )

STALKING THE PET RESORT
Matt's wife, Nicole, dropped their beagle, Kismet, off at a pet resort in Soho this morning before work. They're going out of town and so Kismet is going to spend two weeks with a bunch of other medium-sized dogs. The pet resort has a webcam and I literally spent all day with the thing on in the background. Every so often I'd maximize that window and check in on little Kismet; it was the most fascinating thing to see her interact with other dogs and the resort's employees.

I wonder what Oscar does all day while I'm at work.


JUST WHEN YOU THINK NO ONE IS WATCHING
Some people write poetry about watching their lovers sleep; I could never stay awake long enough for that poetic opportunity. I do love watching people while they work, though. I like the faces they make to themselves, crinkled noses and rolling eyes. I like the faces people make when they're thinking, when they're calculating sentences and code and strategy. Once an ex-boyfriend commented on the way I tap my nose sometimes when I'm deep in thought. I guess that's really what you want, right? Someone who cares to notice the little ways that you converse with yourself.


PREY TO YOUR MUSICAL MANIPULATION
Tonight I gave some money to a man playing Christmas carols on a trumpet in the subway. I am more willing to part with my dollars when you appeal to my nostalgia.

Needless to say, I will really be in trouble if someone starts singing French ballads under the New York ground.


WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE
One of the chairs in the living room has become an external closet. If my life were a children's book, that chair would be the bulky shape the kid believes is a monster when the lights go out. I should rectify the situation immediately (the wrinkling! it's getting worse by the second!), but I will probably just lie here on the couch and read blogs while I listen to Ingrid music. Then tomorrow when I'm supposed to leave for Christmas, I will suddenly fly into a fit of cleaning and put them all away in 7 minutes.

It's bad when the laziness is predictable.


YES, I REMEMBER MY DREAMS EVERY NIGHT.
Last night I had a dream that Kate, Steve and I were in an elevator. We'd just been shopping for Halloween costumes and while they found a plethora of possibilities, I couldn't find anything I wanted to be. When we got in the elevator, we tried to go down one floor and end up going down 1,000 floors. We then tried to get back to where we just were and missed it again by 1,000 floors.

I leave it to your interpretive skills whether I am concerned with my identity or social mobility.


CAT & CHEMISTRY
Here is a picture of Oscar, who just jumped on my lap and has now hijacked my left arm to use as a pillow. And yes, I am wearing my Dad's Chemists Have Solutions tee from 1970. Classy.


-- jen smartypants' fingers look longer than her torso in photos.

12.21.2008

Snowy Sunday post

There are some important philosophical changes happening right now in the old noggin. As is typical in these types of recalculating GPS moments, I keep running into the walls that I'd originally constructed to help me get the kind of life I thought I wanted. Goals can be extremely motivating, but only if you maintain and refit them to reality every so often.

This strange clarity stems from a few themes that have been boiling in the background all Fall and my annual review at work last week. All in all, it was a really positive experience and (to my company's credit) completely blew open the expectations I had for myself. As a lit girl transplanted into the world of software, I don't think I've allowed myself to aim for more than fluently following the conversations I'm involved with on a daily basis. There has been a fair amount of anxiety over the past eight months about proving that I can run with the rest of the bunch. Suddenly I've arrived at a moment where I'm not as concerned with proving that I'm smart/intuitive/diligent enough to participate. This is not to say that I feel 100% about everything I'm doing at work (far from it, in fact), but it allows a certain reflection-pause in the hike of what seemed to be an utterly un-scalable mountain last April.

For Christmas, I bought Kate and Steve tickets to Ingrid Michaelson's Holiday Hop and so they stopped by work on Thursday so I could show them around. We had a few drinks with co-workers before the concert, which ended up being the kind of situation you hope will happen when two important groups of people in your life meet. Without exception, everyone was charming and funny and smart.

So there I am, sitting in the Ingrid concert a few hours later, just basking in the glow of awesomeness: work, friends, family, music that inspires. And something important clicked in me, something that I have a hard time defining. I just wanted to let go of everything that had been questioning my happiness. The list of these factors spans from love to location, from my troubles with writing to my troubles with doing laundry often enough. I just had this massive "CHILL THE HELL OUT, JEN" moment.

And so yesterday I made pancakes for Kate and after she left, I didn't shower. I stayed in my pajamas all day and watched movies and worked on Christmas gifts for my Mom and brushed Oscar and took naps. I read the New Yorker and I watched the snow. I was purposefully quiet because I was resting, but also because I was resting up- because I'm very interested in redefining the scope of where I'm headed.

The girls and I had our annual Secret Santa on Friday night and I mentioned that it seems crazy to be almost finished with "Great in '08!", a phrase that has been our mantra for the year. "Fine in '09" seemed like such a bummer, I argued, and then Sarah suddenly said, "NO, wait. Sublime in '09!"

And it was the perfect answer.

I was going to stop there, but I had another relevant thought as I was just playing with Oscar and this laser that I got last week. He loves it and chases it all around the apartment, but there's some small part of me that wants to let him *get* it sometimes. I'm clearly being dramatic here, but sometimes it feels like I'm dangling something totally unachievable in front of him. When I feel that, I usually switch to an actual toy and let him chew on it for a while to get out his frustrations.

It seems like the perfect metaphor for life stuff. What laser beams are you chasing? What are you toiling over that has no chance of being actual? It's the end of the year and a time when we're all making resolutions and trying to rethink how to have a sublime '09. Those questions seem totally relevant.

Happy weekend, guys. I'm sorry I haven't been more regular on FOL lately; I have lots of conflicting feelings about this blog and what it is. It's something that I'll write about soon, but for now I have to go start my day.

Oh, and good luck with identifying the laser beams... that's really the hardest part, isn't it?

12.15.2008

Oscar meets Flashdance.

Christmas came early for Oscar this year in the form of a couple of catnip toys, a brush and the Cat Dancer. People at Petco swear by it.

To change things up a bit, I thought I'd do some quick video action. Here he is on his screen debut: Oscar vs. Cat Dancer. Slight casualty to the Banana Republic shoes, as you will hear.


12.09.2008

Brooklyn Newsletter: Months Eleven and Twelve

Dear Brooklyn,

I fell behind in these newsletters and so this one makes up for two months. NIFW readers will notice that we haven't published an issue in a few weeks as well; sometimes it feels as though I'm running a small business outside of my regular day job, which has become quite demanding of my time lately. I'm tired. Between NIFW, FOL, work and the multitude of other responsibilities that grab my time, I spend much of my days spinning until I crash on the couch watching Christmas shows with Oscar, unable to do much more than lift pasta towards my lips and chew.



This afternoon for some unknown reason I started feeling down and things snowballed until I was close to tears in the subway on the way home. I could feel myself looking for other life things that weren't going well, almost to convince myself of my unhappiness. Isn't it strange how one frustrating moment or afternoon can make you doubt the stability that your recent happiness is based on? I hate that. I hate that the moment things start to feel shaky, I wonder if there's sadness beneath everything awesome going on in my life.


Writing isn't going so well lately. And by that I mean that I haven't gotten up to write early since before Morocco. I got a quick 15 minutes in this morning, but the major issue remains that I don't yet know what I'm writing towards. I'm like a taxi driver waiting for an awesome idea to flag me down; I've got the vehicle but not the goods. It's beyond frustrating to wake up knowing that I snoozed through the early hours and must head off to work, having lost my precious writing time by being lazy. Or avoiding an intimidating blinking cursor on a blank screen.


I know I still haven't written much about Morocco. Know that on the simplest level this is because it was by and large the most stressful trip I've ever been on. I wish I could tell you all that I loved it, that it's my new vacation spot, that it was an adventure of a lifetime. Instead, it was a place where I didn't feel independent in the least, relying on men or money or both to guide me through the days. It was expensive, both to my wallet and to my dignity. Every person we met on an individual basis was kind and generous and incredibly gracious; every person we met as part of a crowd was presumptuous and insulting and, at times, frightening.


I don't write these statements lightly; I have no part of me that desires to be critical in lieu of understanding. But I was genuinely shocked and disappointed by the majority of our trip. Two bright aspects stand out: the opportunity to spend 10 uninterrupted days with my sister and the haven of culture and relaxation where we stayed in Fez. There is no question in my mind that this is where you should stay if you find yourself in Morocco one day.


As for the most popular guy in my life, you'll be glad to hear that Oscar is thriving at his new home. As I write this, he's chasing a toy mouse back and forth across the apartment. He sounds like a herd of wild Tabby Tigers. He's incredibly social and is always interested in new people when they come over. This bodes well for parties and not so well for break-ins, but I'm hopeful that we'll have more of the former and less of the latter. He is a big fan of Charlie Brown's Christmas; last night I flipped through a magazine with the TV on in the background and he was watching it so intently that I laughed out loud. It's good to be around a cat like Oscar; he doesn't take himself too seriously.


As easy as it was this afternoon to snowball things in a negative direction, I'm pretty good at snowballing towards happiness (sunballing?) and most days I am so intoxicated with the hilarious people and small miracles around me that I sunball myself into a great mood. Life in early December is so completely different than it was two months ago I can hardly believe it. The house is right. The cat is right. The job is right. It's like everything has come together in some strange coincidental blend of amazing and I'm both nervous and thrilled by whatever's coming down the pike.


xo Jen

12.05.2008

Winter thoughts.

When I think about it from the gut, without involving the number, I feel uber-comfortable with what I've done and who I've become up to this point in my life. But it's the number that does me in every time. Last night Jess came over for dinner and for some reason it came up in conversation that I'll be 28 years old in about a month. I typed an email this morning and wondered if the hands typing look like 28-year old hands. I passed a store window tonight and wondered how old someone might think I am if they didn't know me, if they saw me on the street, in a bar, at the library, on line at the grocery store.

Having a birthday in January is always so intense because I just about finish getting my New Year's resolutions figured out when I have to confront a whole new age. Last year, I flipped out and refused to celebrate my birthday at all. Leaving 26 seemed beyond believable and I essentially waited out the uncomfortableness of owning 27 until a good four months later when it slid into natural. It's funny about ages, isn't it? Suddenly you wake up and it's Easter and you feel your age again, transition complete.

28 is not insignificant either. It's a good pile of years, a heavy history of song lyrics and commutes home and sideways glances. It's a blur of Christmases and glasses of water and clean socks. It's truly amazing to contemplate all of these elements that make up a life.

Here is a song that I am loving this winter. And here is a post I wrote for work about being part of the software process- I promise that it's geared towards a non-tech audience. Check it if you dare.

12.04.2008

Updates and the like

It strikes me as I make my way to the coat check at the Vampire Weekend concert tonight: I've reached the point where I'm willing to pay someone to hold my coat for me. Financially and socially. I pay the dude $3 and hand over my long coat, then join my friends with a beer downstairs. It's such a simple thing, but reminds me that I'm not in an entry-level job, not walking insane amounts of blocks to avoid paying for a $2 subway ride.

Someone emailed me the other day and asked about love. Have I met someone and have I been on any funny dates lately and what kind of person am I looking for? And rather than making me feel upset or frustrated, I just felt tired reading all of that. Every once in a while it hits me, that I sure would like to share all of the awesome things going on with someone. I mean, everyone wants that, to be able to roll over and say "let's go get some muffins for breakfast and then maybe later see a movie and order take-out for dinner." It's still there, the desire to have someone, but I just haven't met him yet. And that's all I have to say about that for now.

Oscar is a regular Greenpoint cat by now. He successfully scratches his corrugated cardboard instead of the subletted furniture. I feel guilty when I work late, a kind of guilt which I assume will only multiply by a million when I'm actually responsible for human kids at some point. But he's great company and follows me throughout the apartment so that he's always an arms-length away from a head-scratch.

I'm trying to come up with something great to do for New Year's that doesn't involve a bunch of money or time. Part of me wants to rent a car and drive somewhere new for a few days, another part wants to fly to visit old friends, a very tiny part wants to stay here in New York. Great ideas welcome... don't be afraid to suggest something a little crazy. I'm just the kind of girl who likes a New Year's adventure.

12.01.2008

Home.

Sarah sent us a short survey to fill out; she's working on something creative for us for Xmas. "What is your dream vacation?" I pause before typing my response. After all this traveling, where the hell is my dream vacation?

I visualize a globe, spin it slowly in my mind. Nothing jumps out. I reflect back to places I've always wanted to go and that's where I find it: Pompeii. Since 11th grade Latin class, it was Pompeii that fascinated me and gave context to the people who once spoke this since dead language. It isn't the most obvious choice for dream vacations, but no one's judging. I think I'll wait for someone awesomely curious to join me. Dream vacations shouldn't be done alone.

For now though, the itch to travel is scratched. I am surprisingly content to write and watch Christmas TV shows as Oscar snores next to me. Travel can wait. Suddenly a bunch of other priorities have pushed ahead in line.

11.26.2008

Feeling grateful.

Tonight we are reunited, all five of us, full of stories and giggles and guitars and "have you seen this movie!?" and "you DON'T know this band?!" and "hey did you get a haircut?" The cats are confused with all the commotion and scuttle back and forth, cautiously sniffing the bags of laundry we've brought home. It's been years since we've all been in the same country for Thanksgiving.

There are times when the pangs of missing Paris hit hard, times when I mourn a different life that I gave up to come back home. But sitting in our family room tonight with everyone reunited... it's one of my main reasons for coming back.

The past year has been so incredible, I can barely recognize the sobbing girl in Yoga class of a year ago. I'm so lucky to love my job and my friends and my apartment and my new cat. And my new president.

Happy Thanksgiving, guys. Enjoy the turkey and pie.

11.25.2008

The Making of a Cat Woman.

"I'm thinking about naming my cat Oscar," I say to Sima and Jess as we hang around after a meeting. "What do you think about that?"
"I think you should meet your cat first," says Jess. "Then name it." Sima agrees.

I wander into Petco last night, ready to adopt on a theoretical level, pretty unsure on a tangible one. How will I know which cat is mine? It feels like choosing a family member, like looking at a group of people and imagining what they'll be like hungover or with bad breath. You can never tell until it happens.

I tell myself that I don't have to choose a cat tonight, that I can just look and come back later this week to meet the new ones. This comforts me and renders me anxious, as all big decisions do. I am always a wee bit scared of attaching myself to something. Or someone. I'm not afraid to put that out there where we can all see it.

So I walk over to the cages. They each have names on them with photos and paperwork attached. Duchess. Lucky. Molly. Then, Oscar.

There he is, all broad shouldered and sleepy. My jaw is literally on the floor. "Oscar!" I whisper into his cage. "Are you my cat?!"

Oscar is in a cage next to Paris, a thin black feline. For a moment I wonder if she is my cat, if this Oscar coincidence is only there to lead me to her. But she's in the back of her cage, disinterested. Oscar is crammed up against the front, ripe for the nose and neck petting.

At first I think: "this cat is drugged. He is too mellow." But after a few minutes, he just seems happy to have someone petting him. He's older than I thought I wanted, but somehow it feels like a good decision to choose a cat that's been around the block a bit. I ask the woman who is incessantly on the phone if I can pet him.

"That big guy? Oh yeah, he just came in yesterday."
"Really? From where?"
"Inwood. Someone threw him out of the house."

Verbalizing the reality doesn't phase Oscar. He's happy to be more accessible now; with the cage open, he bangs his head into my chest. "Ohhh hi buddy," I whisper. "Do you want to be my cat?"

I'm acutely aware of the danger of choosing a cat merely because of a weird coincidence. On the other hand, what a freakin' coincidence. I ask the woman if I can have Oscar and she asks me a series of questions about the screens on my windows and my past cat experience. I pass the test. Oscar is mine.

Immediately I freak out and call 20 people while pacing the aisles of Petco, among the leashes and litter. I carefully choose bowls for his food and water and a litter box. Before I leave the store, I take them over to Oscar's cage for inspection. "What do you think, dude? Are these your style?" Oscar sniffs in approval, curious about what I'm holding. The woman has drawn a big heart on his paperwork that says "I'm adopted and going home on Saturday!" I almost tear up.

Outside, I call my brother. "You're going to be a cat's uncle!" I laugh into the phone. "Ohhh boy," he says. Like everyone else, he wants to know details, colors, personality. At some point I call Jess, who declares my life one big destiny move after another. And who later helps me find the perfect middle name.

Oscar Paris Epting. Welcome to the fam.

11.24.2008

Oscar the Wonder Cat

There's a ton of stuff to write about lately, but the most recent news is that I'm going to have a little buddy living with me starting from this Saturday! Here he is, Oscar Epting:




He was abandoned in the Bronx and is about 4-5 years old. He is also a good snuggler and loves it when you pet his head. I set up a litter box for him under the sink and newly purchased bowls in the kitchen for his food and water. It's strange, but even just adding one other living being to the house makes it feel like a home.

More stories later about Oscar, Morocco and life. For now, I'm nursing a stupid Moroccan cold in bed. Can't wait to get this guy home to Greenpoint!

11.14.2008

How DO they charm those snakes?!

I had hoped to have time today to do the monthly newsletter that's already a week late. Turns out that will have to happen when I get back from Morocco.

The long and the short of it though is that I'm headed to a new continent. Holy, holy! I'm pretty ready to watch snake charmers and ride camels and speak a little francais with the local people. This week has been hellish, but I made it and now I'm off.

See you in a week.

11.13.2008

Giggling with the Visa girl. Sometimes I love humanity.

Visa service girl: Ok Miss, how can I help you tonight?

Me: Well, I'm just calling to give you guys a heads up that I'm leaving the country for Morocco tomorrow so that my card doesn't get blocked if I need to use it over there.

VSG: Wow, what a coincidence- the guy that called before you was going to Morocco too!

Me: No kidding... well, maybe he's my soulmate.

VSG: That's crazy, he also lives in New York. Are you an artist too?

Me: Nope, but I do love artists! Well, this trip is really shaping up!

VSG: He's coming back the same day as you too... maybe you'll be on the same plane.

Me: Ok, what's your name?

VSG: Antoinette.

Me: Ok Antoinette, here's what I promise you. If that guy is my soulmate and we meet in Morocco, you're coming to the wedding. I will call this number and ask for you. Promise.

VSG: That sounds great, I could really use a vacation! Is that all I can help you with today?

Me: Yep, we're good. Thanks for the heads up about the dude, Antoinette.

VSG: No problem; good luck meeting your soulmate!

11.08.2008

Notes on Writing, 11/8/08

I've been writing. Not everyday, but so far more days than not. It is so much harder than I thought it would be. I've felt more fragile this week, more inclined to cling to people and to avoid being alone. I think it's because my self-confidence is taking a hit during these early morning writing sessions.

Here is what HAS been helpful, though. I keep a notebook next to my computer as I write and sometimes jot down notes about writing. Sometimes they're related to the structure and details of writing fiction; other times they are attempts to cheer myself on. I think I'll publish them here every so often (so long as there are notes to publish). I know that I would be comforted by reading a blog that divulged notes like this and so maybe some of you who write will appreciate them as well.

*Telling a story vs. living a story
*Think content, not implementation
*If it's not working, move on and fill in the blanks later
*Ask Charlie Baxter if he ever thinks he's crap when he sits down to write
*When it's not working, try 1st person or 3rd person
*Ask the character what story she/he wants you to write about today
*Don't jump to interpretation! That's not your job!
*Don't ask "where will that lead me?" It's not important. Don't try to control it.

Good god, this list sounds like a freaking therapy session. I will add only one more thing, both to comfort myself and other writers out there. It is always awful for the first ten minutes. After that it's still difficult, but I begin to make progress.

Cue metaphor about running.

Transfer in Queens

So there I am, walking through the subway station where I transfer, carrying 500 bags that I seem to always have strapped to me. It's a busy time of night, a bit later than rush hour, but still early enough that people are commuting from work. And suddenly, there he is, my 10th grade crush, coming towards me. At first I'm not sure and (honestly) don't feel like stopping to talk even if it is, but then we pass each other and he calls out: "Jenny?!"

The naming is a sure sign of the past.

He looks older, more like his father. He is insanely tall. "Were you always this tall?" I ask him randomly, a few minutes into the conversation. He confides that he grew a foot in college. I am suddenly very aware of how I look in comparison with who I was in 10th grade. I am self-conscious, but try to keep the conversation interesting. He does too.

It's amazing to me how much men grow into their fathers. Almost without exception. Suddenly their necks get a bit wider and their faces fuller and their shoulders broader and their waists fill out. Tall, lanky boys never seem to turn into tall, lanky men. They are, instead, suddenly powerful before you.

Eleven years after our Driver's Ed class together, we run into each other on the subway in the largest city in America. This is what I love about New York- the endless possibility of confronting your past, present and future at every turn.

11.05.2008

Yes. We. Can.

It hasn't sunk in yet. But holy shit. We did it.

THANK YOU, AMERICA for being the place I hoped you could be. I am proud, so proud, to be part of this. I know this world will be a better place because of President Obama.

It is almost too overwhelming to comprehend, but shit I am grateful, I am thankful, I am humbled before democracy.

11.04.2008

Images of November 4, 2008 (stay tuned for updates all day)...

11/4/08, 4:49 p.m.- The NYTimes tracks people's states of mind. Blue for Obama voters, Red for McCain.



11/4/08, 9:30 a.m.- Arabic voting sign in Cobble Hill...


11/4/08, 8:30 a.m.- This message appeared earlier this week on a poster at the local Metro stop.


11/4/08, 8:20 a.m.- A bunch of houses flew American flags today...


11/4/08, 7:50 a.m. - Getting ready to go vote this morning, I listened to Yes. We. Can.


11/3/08, 9:30 p.m. - Polish postcard for Obama at a payphone in Greenpoint:

11.03.2008

Dear America, please vote.

"Ok Steve, I think I need to go, I have heavy groceries."
"Ok, no problem."
"Call me tomorrow when you have news of Pennsylvania! I'll call you during my party to check in."
"You too- don't forget to VOTE!"
"I will, I will. Love you and I'll talk to you tomorrow."
"Hey Jenny."
"Yeah?"
"Yes. We. Can."
"I know! We can! GO OBAMA!"

11.01.2008

Four days left

Well first of all, let me apologize for the non-postingness that's been going on around this here blog. A few people have expressed their concern in email and in person ("so what's this, you move to Greenpoint and you stop posting? What the eff?"), and the reason is really the most timeless reason of them all: lack of Internet. After the first glorious evening of stolen Internet came a solid four days of drought. Now, however, things are BACK ON because the awesome people I work with had a trickly little device that lets you get Internet anywhere on the planet. I am borrowing this until Verizon throws me a DSL bone in mid-November. Yay for modernity!

I know that everyone's wondering how life in Greenpoint is and so here it is: imagine a place where you can walk around in your underwear while eating candy corn and spend your Friday evening watching 20/20 and drinking a glass of wine and writing letters and then spending your Saturday reading a book in the park that's one block from your house and then making dinner party plans for all of your smart, lovely friends to sit around and talk about smart, lovely things. Also imagine that that place is where your friends are going to come to celebrate Election Day '08, otherwise known as *The Day We Are Most Hopeful About*.

Incidentally, I am busy writing an Obama article for NIFW, which should be published later today. I won't give anything away, but I think you can probably tell who I'm voting for on Tuesday. Hot damn, it feels good to believe in something.

Obama '08.

10.27.2008

First night in Greenpoint

This is just a quick one to say that I am really, really happy right now. Please remind me of this next time I forget.

10.24.2008

I found an old journal that I kept from summer 2003-summer 2004 while packing. It's a great record of a trip to Ireland, a year in Clermont-Ferrand, and then three weeks on a farm in Italy. There are so many sections that I love re-reading, but here's one that I'd forgotten from June 11, 2003:

"This afternoon I understood why I had to come to Ennis [Ireland]. The man that I wrote about struck up a conversation with me- he's a monk, born in England... then came here, where he lives in a small village 30 miles north of here. His name is Patrick and whoah, he was interesting.

We talked for about an hour about how people understand each other, religion, etc. He said love is wanting someone else to be happy and I forget how he defined compassion, but he did. He also said that it's important to know emptiness, not in a bad way, but in a way like when you dream something and then wake up and it's not there. He said perspective is like 2 people on two ends of a candle; one argues that the flame bends to the right, another that the flame bends to the left."

10.23.2008

[Insert life metaphor here]

I'm packing. Even when I'm at work, even when I'm on the subway, I'm packing. I'm making lists in my head, imagining which furniture should be moved in what order, debating which clothes I really need to keep. I'm packing; for this week, it's not an act, but a way of life.

Last night I attacked my desk and as I was sifting through the top drawer, I found an insane amount of useful items. Scotch tape! Sharpie markers! Gum! As I pulled apart the drawer, I remembered when I'd organized it a year ago, making sure to put everything in its place.

But you know what happens when you put everything in it's place? YOU DON'T USE IT. You forget you have it. The least organized parts of my desk were the parts that I use the most- checkbooks and airmail stamps and an envelope of upcoming concert tickets were thrown in haphazardly.

One small plastic box makes my point quite nicely. I stumbled across it, filled with the buttons and extra thread you get with sweaters these days, and literally gasped out loud. In all the packing, I'd set aside a couple of billion buttons that have been floating around the room aimlessly for the past year. "I should put these in an envelope or something," I thought to myself just the other night. Turns out, I'd already solved the problem months ago, but had since forgotten.

Let me say that again: I'd already solved the problem, but had since forgotten.

How often do we encounter problems and not recognize that we've already done the work to solve them? What prevents us from keeping those solutions close at hand and using them as tools, instead of marking them 'complete' and shoving them on a shelf to gather dust until we retrieve them?

I found a drawer full of solutions that were too organized to be accessible. I feel sure that part of the problem was that the sheer volume of crap in the drawers made me reluctant to even go through them and maybe that's a first step in being better about organization. When there's less noise, you can better see what you're looking for... and you don't have to strain your eyes to find it.

One more metaphorical vote for Hibernation '08, check.

10.21.2008

Believers, or not.

"Excuse me... I see something in your aura."

I'd already stopped during the ellipses to help her, thinking she needed directions. When the second half of her sentence drops, I am still smiling my helpful smile, now unsure how to proceed.

"I see something in your aura," she repeats.

"Oh." What is the appropriate response to such a statement?

"Have you ever seen a psychic?"

"I... no."

"Please take this." She takes a small flyer out of her bag and hands it to me, then looks me in the eye. "Keep a smile on your face and your secrets to yourself. Call me when you need me." Then she walks away.

What a stunning sham! I am the perfect target, of course, all wide-eyed and orange-coated, wandering through Union Square on a Tuesday evening, visions of adopting kittens in my eyeballs. I'm also ever so slightly superstitious and I'll admit to you that the only reason I haven't ever gone to a psychic for fun is because I'm deathly afraid of the whole "self-fulfilling prophecy" thing.

Keep my secrets to myself! How very dramatic. What secrets? In typical fashion, the mind reels through the files, rifling through Middle School un-avowed crushes and online banking passwords. That's all there is to my secrets, a sad fact that begs a New Year's Resolution for 2009: Be more mysterious. Maybe also: Wear more heels.

I know this is what she says to everyone. I am insanely aware of the hook, the line, the fact that my aura (should it exist), doesn't have something "in it" just because she said so. But! What if! Does that mean that my aura should be cleansed? Or is it a positive thing to have something in your aura? Come to think of it, I was feeling a little stuffy this morning when I woke up...

In the end, THAT's really where Tiffany the psychic gets you- when you've gone so far down the aura discussion path that you aren't even debating its existence anymore. Instead, you're wondering what color it is. And how many Yoga hours you have to log before you can see it yourself.

10.16.2008

Yesterday, en route to the Post Office

"How many passport photos do you need?"
"Two, please. Is that the camera you're going to use?"
"Yes, that's the one."
"Can you tell me where to look? Because last time I did this, the guy wasn't very specific, and I look pretty ridiculous in my passport, and you know, I'm just concerned because passports stay with you for ten years!"
"Really? Ten years?"
"Yep, last time I got a passport, I was 17."
"Ok miss, smile."
"Wait, where do I-"

Click.

Ten new years of travel with a side of awkward smiling, coming up. Sigh.

10.14.2008

Training.

"Were you out running this morning?"
"Yeah, I'm training for that 10k..."
"How did it go?"
"Pretty good, actually... I think it helps that I went to bed at 9:30."


This evolution is strange. Yesterday, inspired by this 10k training program (I'd used the 5k to prepare for last Sunday's race), I poked around the sports shop near work and brought home two 5lb free weights and a green jump rope. $18.45 invested in preparation. The thought crossed my mind as I swiped my credit card: "I wonder at what point these will get donated to charity, donate-able from lack of use."

Then this morning I ran a loop, all the way down Court Street and back up Smith. Not much was open, though shopkeepers hurled up their heavy gates as I jogged into my second mile. The air was chilly and though it's polluted, it feels cleaner to breathe pre-8am.

"I can do this for 8 weeks," I thought. "It's almost nice to be awake so early, to see the city in its groggy state."

It's as if I still don't believe this running is my hobby, that I've borrowed it from someone else for a while, that I'll give it back as soon as they need it. I'm still on training schedules, still holding tightly to race deadlines for motivation. Running is not a pleasure yet; rather, it's an obligation.

We all have to eat our vegetables.

"Yeah, you didn't have to drag yourself out of bed."
"Exactly. And also, it was only 2.5 miles. It didn't seem like such a high number."
"Sounds pretty high to me!"
"Ha, well three months ago, it was high for me too."

10.10.2008

Brooklyn Newsletter: Month Ten

Dear Brooklyn,

When I look back at this month, I want to remember one thing: this was the month of finally getting my shit together. A friend from work sent a few of us a video about doing what you're really passionate about, and as I watched it, I could feel myself getting really anxious. I was completely in agreement with the guy's energy and motivation, but I wasn't quite sure in which direction I should focus it. And then, as if by merely asking myself the question "What do you really want to do?" the answer came tumbling out, clear as day.

I want to write a book.



This is clearly the lamest thing to type of all time. Everybody and their mother want to write a book. Jessica Simpson wrote a book. It doesn't seem to require genius these days to get something published if you're a celebrity. I imagine the story is a bit different for those of us Joe Six-Packs. Writing a book and publishing a book are two different beasts, however, and while I'd like very much to publish a book, I think I should start with the writing of one. You know, the whole cart before the horse syndrome.



So I move to Greenpoint on November 1 and ever since I saw that video, I realized that this move is an opportunity for great change. It's an opportunity to shift gears, to refocus energies, to finally *do* what I've been talking about for years. And guys, I'm pretty freaking scared. I'm scared that I will wake up early the first day and sit in front of the blank computer screen in my bathrobe and nothing will come out. I'm scared that it will all sound like crap. I'm scared that I will lose motivation and start sleeping in and I'm terrified of NOT doing what I really want to do. Because I'm not sure what to do with broken dreams- that's not really my territory.



The past few weeks have been filled with two main themes: winding down my social life and getting it out of my system. I was in a wedding! I reunited with Muhlenberg '03 people at our 5-year reunion! I went to the NYer festival! I ran in my first 5k! I walked stray dogs again! But simultaneously, I've stopped agreeing to social plans past November 1. My calendar (except for that little trip to MOROCCO with la hermana) is wide open for the winter so far, a fact that is both comforting and terrifying all at once.



It's hard to stop being the social one, particularly when it defines who I am to so many of the people I know. But I'm pretty exhausted from 'putting myself out there,' and there's another part of myself that needs evolution- one that needs a bit of quiet to be coaxed out. Will winter hibernation be a massive failure and produce a soppy mess of a Jen? Or will it be just what the doctor ordered?

I guess we're going to freakin' find out. Life is like that.



xo Jen

10.08.2008

Reaching out.

"So do you get back to Russia often?"
"Well, I've been here for 6 months and I've been back twice... I'm going again at the end of October."
"Wow! How long will you be going for?"
"Well, I usually try to take a Friday and a Monday."
"Wait. You go to Russia for the WEEKEND?"
Katerina (from Spanish class) laughs. "Yeah, I know. But I plan a lot for the time I'm there. Like, I get my haircut at my normal place and see the doctor or dentist if I need to."
"Holy crap- you go to Russia for a HAIRCUT!"
"Well, I went for my birthday because it was soon after I got here and I didn't know anybody... you know, it's not really how you want to spend your birthday."
"Do me a favor. Take my number. Call me if you need anything in this country; I completely understand."

10.07.2008

Best foot forward.

This morning Zaki called me from the lobby of the building where I work. He had 25 minutes before he needed to get a train up to Yorktown; he leaves tomorrow for Africa, where he'll live for 6 weeks before he moves to an island in Indonesia for a year to help build a country's economy via microfinance. We'd seen each other early this summer, both with very different immediate lives imagined for ourselves, and now here we are, early October, him headed to Malawi and me to Greenpoint.
* * *

"You do such cool stuff," Dave said to me this weekend, as we talked about life the night before the race. We were talking about my upcoming trip to Morocco or my Spanish lessons, I forget. I thought a lot about what he said on my train ride back to the city.
Here's the truth: I do "cool stuff" because I'm lucky enough to know other ambitious people who do "cooler stuff" than me. Spending time with my friends who are dreamers, with Katie who might go work on a boat this winter, or with Erica who's running around the volcanoes in Clermont, or with my sister who takes vacations in the Ivory Coast.

The ambition rubs off. I'm serious.
* * *

"So this week, the question that we're all thinking about is 'when are we at our best?" Zaki explained a 30-week long reflective quest he and a few friends are involved in. "I do best in small groups, when I'm out there managing a project in another country," he continued.

It got me thinking about when I'm at my best. When do I feel most proud of myself or most energetic about what I'm doing? (Side note: listen to this song to capitalize on understanding the relationship between being "really fucking on" and "the lows [that] are so extreme").

The answer to this question isn't easy, but it gets at the heart of what I think people should think about more often. When are you truly at your best? And why aren't you doing more of it?

* * *

As I write this, I can hear Obama's voice coming from the TV in the living room. Tonight is the second presidential debate. The economy is falling apart (and causing other economies to follow suit); meanwhile, one of the VP candidates treats the scenario as if she's guest starring in an episode of Howdy Doody. Frankly, it's insulting.

Let's not put stupid people in positions to solve difficult problems. It seems as simple as that. Obama '08.

10.05.2008

"Please cheer louder, I need to hear you."

So there was this moment today during the race, a little less than halfway through the course, when we were passing groups of spectators and they were all sort of standing around watching us run past. Every once in a while they would clap a few times and then stop. And I thought: "Please cheer louder, I need to hear you."

This became a mantra, something I repeated in my head for the next few minutes or so, and as the running got tougher, the more I craved someone cheering me on. For anyone who has ever been a spectator, know this: THE CHEERING HELPS. It is the only thing that helps. At the moment when you are pissed to know you're only halfway done and wishing you'd trained a bit more, the only thing that helps is having people yell the cheesiest shit in your direction.

Clearly there's no need to dot the i's and cross the t's on this metaphor; running and living are literary soulmates.

Long story short, I finished the race. I held it together (despite a last-minute panic over leaving my iPod at home and borrowing Dave's iPhone) and finished in 30 minutes, 24 seconds. And when I crossed the finish line and people handed me water and bananas and granola bars, I kind of fell apart for 2 minutes; it was a really overwhelming feeling to feel like you clawed your way through something you never thought you could.

Overwhelming and awesome.

9.29.2008

El mundo de Espanol

I'm not good at writing the upside-down question marks. I also consistently talk about my beer (cerveza) when I mean to talk about my head (cabeza). And my accent sounds like a mix of fancy-pants French and open-mouthed American.

"Un lapiz?" Our teacher, Cynthia de Mexico, gestures towards us and rattles off some Spanish. We are supposed to tell her what it means. My Romance language brain quickly shuffles through the Rolodex of French words that resemble it. "Sounds like lapin, which means rabbit," I think.

I make rabbit ears with my fingers and hop my hand through the air. Cynthia looks puzzled. "No comprendo, Jennifer?"

My classmate Katerina (of Moscow) holds up un lapiz triumphantly. Pencil. Not rabbit. Freaking Russians.

Other than the occasional French-inspired flub, Spanish is a hoot and a half. My amigos in class are an eclectic mix: a law student from Bratislava, a Middlebury professor on sabbatical, an Indian guy on a 3-year UN mission to NY, a Russian translator for the UN. We stroll into class twice a week at 8 am and slowly wake up together, prodded by Cynthia's worksheets and listening exercises. We are all at least bilingual and when Cynthia writes "ser" on the board and starts conjugating, we all know what part of the class this is.

This is the part where we learn the verb "to be."

This is the part where we learn masculine and feminine.

This is when we learn question words.

It's a rhythm I'm familiar with and the fact that it's taught solely in Spanish doesn't bother any of us. We're happy just to watch the language come alive, to understand more in the pages of our workbooks each day, to soak up the joy of attempting to be funny in another language.

It's so. great.

9.26.2008

Is it only 5 years? Seems like 5 DECADES!

After work today, Anne, Rachel and I are piling into a car and making the trip down to our beloved A-town for the old 5-year reunion at Muhlenberg. No doubt it's going to be a weekend of debauchery and reminiscing...

I can't freaking wait.

9.25.2008

Thwarted by Tequila

Jess was telling me the other day about how she keeps waking up at 4:30am for no reason this week. I woke up at 2:48 and now I can't go back to sleep. Can things like that be contagious?

I already have the dull pangs of a hangover because last night a bunch of work buddies and I went out for Margaritas the size of my FACE. I never have Tequila (Spring Break '03 in Vegas cured that!) and I suppose the reintroduction of that vile stuff could be the reason behind my interrupted sleep habits.

It's a nice time of night to be awake though; there's no noise outside, except for the guy who watches the fruit at the stand across the street. From time to time, he'll move his chair around or clear his throat. Probably trying to stay awake among the bananas.

9.22.2008

At least there's Zach Braff.

Scrubs is the weirdest show. They spend the first 28 minutes making wack-o jokes set to electronic keyboard music. And then suddenly the last 2 minutes, they get sentimental about the fiancee whose heart is broken or guy who is accidentally a Dad. Then they play some ridiculously awesome song behind it and pull credits.

What gives?


P.S. Obama '08.

9.20.2008

The things you can rush and those you can't.

Helpful things to do when you are trying to renovate a certain part of your life*:

1. Watch funny shows or movies.
2. Find new music. Erase old music from iPod. Insert new music.
3. Clean closet. Throw out old shoes.
4. Busy up schedule. Walk dogs. Learn Spanish. Give brain new content to obsess over.
5. Try new drink at bars.
6. Smile more at strangers.
7. Avoid songs on repeat.
8. Get perspective by whatever means possible. Walk on a bridge. Sit on the steps in Grand Central. Park yourself on a bench and watch people.
9. Pay bills. Arrange desk. Feel productive.
10. Wait. Longer.


*No guarantees. At least, not yet.


P.S. Obama '08.

9.18.2008

Things that made me smile today

1. Postcard from Mom (on business trip to D.C.): "Hi Jen, GW said to send you his love! I just had to get you this post-card when I saw it..."





2. I'm sorry, I have to link to it. He's specific, he's reasonable, he's responsible. He is a true leader.




3. My new Obama totebag, to arrive next week:




And now for something non-political...
4. Note on the side of the new Trader Joe's, which opens across the street in a week:

P.S.Obama '08.

Dog Days: Cyril and Marvin

So I had this dream. I had this dream that volunteering walking dogs with NY Cares last night would be a connecting experience. I would walk dogs! Stray ones! Who lived in a shelter! And who needed love!

Turns out, connections were not in the stars last night for me and the stray dogs of Brooklyn.

Since it was my first time, the Leader Guy went through the rules and regs with me and another first-timer. Every time the door to the shelter opened, Shelter Guy who worked there would arrive with a new dog on a leash, ready to be walked. It was a little like watching people win the lottery.

"HERE'S PANDA!" he would shout, and Panda would wag his tail and head off down the block with one of the other experienced walkers.

When it came to my turn, Shelter Guy and Leader Guy decided that me and the other new girl should take a pair of dogs on a walk. This was not exactly my plan for dog connecting. And what happened next was even less my plan for dog connecting. Shelter Guy brought out two small dogs and handed me this one:




Please keep in mind that this dog looks very cute in the photo. But in real life, he did not give a shit about me. In real life, this old dog walked 2 inches per hour and peed on every blade of grass growing in the sidewalk and didn't look up to see who was walking him once.

To be fair, I did forget his name. Shelter Guy handed me the leash and said: "Here's Surgeon!" or "Here's Sturgeon!" or something equally ridiculous. I remember thinking "what the F?" but then Leader Guy was shoving plastic bags at me and Other New Girl was waiting for us to start moving, so we set off. Me and nameless dog. To make myself feel better, I nicknamed him Cyril and spoke to him in French. I will tell you that he was equally unimpressed by this linguistic choice.

The second half of the volunteer experience was a bit more exciting. Other New Girl and I brought our kitten-sized dogs back and Shelter Guy disappeared into the shelter to retrieve our new charges. Again, we were paired up. (Is it completely anti-social to want to walk a dog alone??) This time, Shelter Guy looked at Leader Guy and said "Hm... can they handle Marvin?"

Guys, let me tell you that Marvin was a freaking Pitt Bull and I got him because I was wearing sneakers. That freaking dog walked me for about 30 minutes and only slowed down towards the end of the walk, probably due to the fact that he was suffering of LACK OF OXYGEN since I was constantly pulling on his leash and telling him to stop being an idiot. Do you think I spoke any French to Marvin? No, to Marvin, I spoke KNOCK IT OFF.

"No Marvin, we don't live there. Don't GO IN THAT DOORWAY."
"MARVIN CHILL OUT."
"Marvin, stop eating the effing trash."

He was, despite his energy, a sweet dog and I felt bad for him when people avoided us on the sidewalk just because he looked a little intimidating. I stopped us outside a bakery to take his picture, but he was too excited to sit still. Here's the best shot I got of buddy Marvin:



No soul mate dogs last night, and probably for the best. I did get a great workout (and some nice Leash Burn on my hand from the lovely Marvin) and it was good for the dogs. Maybe Golden Retriever puppies next month?

P.S. At work, we read that New York lost 1/5 of its wealth on Tuesday because of this Wall Street disaster.
P.P.S. Obama '08.

9.15.2008

Packing it up and moving to Poland.

Ha! Did I get you? Were you concerned for a minute? Or maybe casually surprised? "Moving to Poland," you might have said to yourself. "What will she think of next?"

I'm not really moving to Poland; I'm moving to Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I hesitate to write about it here because I don't sign the lease for another two weeks and I'm a little bit neurotically superstitious about this kind of crap. On the other hand, I've already told the roommates and so either way, I'm going to need some kind of home come November 1.

There are several really awesome things about this move. Here they are, in no particular order:
1. I will have my own place. Therefore, dinner parties will abound.
2. Possibility of getting a cat increases by 100%.
3. I will be surrounded by Polish people. Seriously. Polish bakeries, Polish diners, Polish grandfathers playing cards in the park around the corner from my place. I cannot wait to learn some basic Polish vocabulary to converse with the locals.
4. Change is good. Change is also freaking scary, especially when it involves new financial responsibilities and different subway routes. But ultimately, change is going to be really, really good.

There are so many secondary positive aspects to this move like an opportunity to focus the next 11 months of my life on my writing, on getting to know a new part of New York, on subletting a furnished apartment that (oddly enough) seems to have been designed for me.

Speaking of newness, new issue of NIFW published this evening. Enjoy.

P.S. Obama '08.

9.14.2008

Top 10: most played songs from my work computer

1. You're So Cool by Hans Zimmer
2. For Emma by Bon Iver
3. This Year by The Mountain Goats
4. Flume by Bon Iver
5. A Better Son/Daughter by Rilo Kiley
6. Skeleton Key by Margot & the Nuclear So-and-Sos
7. Heartbeats by Jose Gonzalez
8. First Day of My Life by Bright Eyes
9. Rocky Took a Lover by Bell XI
10. You Will You Will You Will You by Bright Eyes

--------------
P.S. Katherine and Ben got married this weekend.

P.P.S. Obama '08.

9.09.2008

Brooklyn Newsletter: Month Nine

Dear Brooklyn,

I had an interesting day at work today and although I finally got home around 10pm tonight, I went out on a run. Despite last week's humidity, tonight is one of the first nights that I felt a chill in the air as I ran along the Promenade. The image of Carrie pulling a warmer blanket onto her bed in the "I heart NY" episode of SATC popped into mind, and even now as I like here in bed writing this monthly letter, the breeze from my window has prompted me to snuggle down into the duvet. Fall is coming. In fact, it might already be here.



Tonight after everyone else was in bed, I slipped into my bridesmaid dress and heels to make sure everything still fit alright. Katherine and Ben are getting married this weekend, finally, after nine years together. In every way, they are each other's best friend; watching Katherine walk down the aisle towards her adoring Ben is going to be ridiculously emotional. It's pretty incredible, actually; when I think about the past nine years of my life, it seems that EVERYTHING important has happened to me in that time.

This past month has been noisy with mediocre dates and though I try not to put much pressure on first dates, there sure is something to be said for chemistry. Most times it seems pretty impossible to imagine meeting someone who I want to spend nine minutes with (let alone nine years) from an Internet site or in a bar. I have no other solution to this problem than to continue being myself and hope to attract lovely, smart people, some of whom might also have an extra boost of magic chemistry involved. It doesn't seem like much to ask until you're out there looking, when it feels like the most exotic thing in the universe. I will say this much, though: I feel much better about looking for a while than settling for a lifetime.


The past month has also been filled with ethical and emotional quandaries. What does it mean to stand up for something you believe in and how much am I willing to risk to do so? It becomes increasingly clearer to me everyday that life is easiest lived unchallenged. It is so damn easy to disengage from the world, to decouple from the neighborhood and community one exists in, to solely interest oneself in his or her own needs. And in the same breath, I'll admit that this isn't the life I'm interested in living.

At the risk of sounding dramatic (as often genuine honesty comes across), I refuse to be the girl who smiles and nods, I'm not interested in the least in being popular or liked for being anything other than who I am. I adore people who want to see another point of view, who are willing to suspend disbelief and who want to try life. I am lucky in that I know a great many people like this; I am equally lucky to know many who are not, if only because it affords me an opportunity to appreciate the former.



I walked home from the subway the other night and noticed that there were two bright lights shining from lower Manhattan. It seems that New York is shining these lights all week, given that Thursday is September 11. Seeing the lights from Brooklyn was a very moving moment for me and I think I'll do something special on Thursday to remember the day in my own way.

My bookmarks bar at the top of this screen has a bunch of folders, one of which is labelled "Music." I was flipping through it and came across this song a few minutes ago; I'll link you to it. I like the beat of it even if I don't remember how or when I came across it, and so I think I'll end this September letter with this song and a thought towards those who died seven years ago. We have come so far since then, and yet I still feel the effects of those events everyday. The world was changed, but I believe it can still be good.

I kind of have to.



Love,
Jen

P.S. Obama '08.

9.07.2008

The swankiest of them all.

So Katie tells me she's staying at some Hilton on West 58th Street, so we head over tonight to drop her off. And realize it's not a Hilton hotel, but rather The Hudson, the swankiest hotel shit I have EVER seen. How swanky, you're wondering? Well, there was RAP MUSIC playing in the elevator. And the lobby was so dark that I needed bat sonar to find the bathroom. And we are TOTALLY getting dressed up and having drinks in her rooftop bar sometime this week after work.

I rode up the elevator with her to check out her room and we almost died with the swankiness of it all. Instead of dying though, we ran around the room and took pictures of everything and had an impromptu photo shoot, which I believe is most probably how people like Lindsay Lohan react every time she shows up at a new hot hotel.

"Don't you think it's sad that some people lose their sense of excitement when they stay in hotels like these all the time?" she asked, as we flipped through the breakfast menu ($17.50 for pastries and tea).
"I feel like you can only lose your excitement if you don't have someone to share it with," I said.

And then we got excited again and looked at the $50 hairdryer in the bathroom and checked out the view. Here are a few pics from The Hudson, and linking you to the rest of the batch.


9.04.2008

"You look good, Jen; you look happy."

I immediately trusted Katie's quiet declaration of my own happiness on a rooftop bar earlier this evening. Maybe because of the trust you accord someone who hasn't seen you in a while, the impressive ability one has to pick up on the changes that go unnoticed by others. The last time I saw her, in Paris in mid-July, I was a different kind of happy. I felt a giddiness of beginnings more strongly back then; today I attribute my happiness to the gritty aftermath of endings that I wrote about yesterday.

It's really exciting for me to plan a long weekend with her, showing her the places that I think she'd love in this city (my city? has it become a version of that?). Listening to the stories of her first afternoon in NY (a man selling postcards, so charmed by her British accent, begged her to take some for free), I am relieved to hear that my fellow city-dwellers have extended her a warm welcome. Then again, her enthusiasm for exploring a new place is contagious enough to counteract even the most grouchy of New Yorkers.

"You know, we've hung out in three countries now, counting New Year's," I say with a mouthful of Pad Thai, as we curl up on the couch with take-out. Our conversation is punctuated with French expressions; from time to time we slip into our second language, recounting a conversation that actually happened in French... or not. I spend so much of my time with anglophones these days that it feels luxurious to have two whole vocabularies to choose from, two entire languages to arrange conversation around.

French, I miss you sometimes.

9.03.2008

This sounds preachy, but I don't mean it that way and I'm too sleepy to rewrite.

My favorite moments are not the ones when everything is going perfectly, they're the ones when things have just finished being rough and though they're not totally alright yet, you know the goodness is coming. You can see it just over the next hill.

Also, coincidences are funny things. You just have to keep your eyeballs peeled for them; for me, they usually signify that I'm going in the right direction.

9.02.2008

So I told Andy I would do this race with him a few months ago, and while I had been training for a while, I kind of lost the motivation. By that I mean that instead of running at night, I would sit on the couch and eat chips and guacamole and watch Democrats talk on TV.

Andy has been adamant that I get good running sneakers and I have been lazy on this front, mostly for two reasons:
1. That sounds expensive.
2. That makes this race a reality.

I dragged my ass to the sports store after work tonight and bought some running shoes. And boy, was I into it! I tried on 6 different pairs. I tried on socks. I jumped around the store. I got involved in conversations with fellow shoe shoppers who had run marathons, one of whom directed me to a website to get myself in shape for this upcoming 5k.

As I was getting ready to leave to go for a run earlier tonight, I cornered Jill in the living room.

"Jill, what do I tell myself if I want to stop running?"
"Tell yourself you want to look good for the wedding."
"Ok, that's good. What else? Obama! I want to run for Obama."
"Is this race FOR anything? What about that?"
"Yes! Good one! I want to run for breast cancer survivors- for my Nana and Shauna. And to look good at my 5-year reunion. And to feel healthy."
"Ok, so if you get through all those reasons and you still want to stop..."
"Yeah, I know. I'll be a total loser."

SO GUESS WHAT. I ran. Non-stop. 2.5 miles. In my new shoes. And new socks. And I didn't even need the motivations we'd dreamed up as leverage. What this means is that I have some hope of not keeling over and dying of a heart attack during this 5K shindig.

I think we can also learn a good lesson about the beneficial aspects of avocados, particularly that eating them nightly with yellow corn chips for dinner can do wonders for your running times.

8.28.2008

Yes. We. Can.

I just watched Barack Obama make his acceptance speech for the Democratic presidential nomination and I am at a loss for action, for words to express the kind of rabid optimism and desperate hope I feel for the future of my nation. As a member of the most liberal state in our union, I find my options limited with regard to what I can do to help the person I believe can most change our future; picketing for Obama on the streets of Brooklyn feels inefficient. I come, therefore, back to this space which seems to reach more and more people every week (and how grateful I am to hear from all of you!); I will try to use my words, the only tools I have, to express how badly I want things to change in my country. We are close enough to taste the change; we are desperate to believe that we are not each lonely exceptions in our home land.

There are a few fundamental truths I believe as an American:
1. I can achieve what I want if I work hard enough.
2. I should help those around me.
3. I should not expect that life will be easy, but rather appreciate that I am not alone when facing its challenges.

Corollaries of these truths include the fact that I understand that I must pay taxes. How else should my country provide for me! Also included is the knowledge that a country of such power and wealth may need to help another people, whether in financial or political need. There is no grace in bullying; there is no pride in fixing fights. The America that I cite as the genesis for my values believes all of these things.

On September 11, 2001, I was spending my third day as a foreign student in Aix-en-Provence, France. I was living with a host family who spoke no English and was sent home from my classes early to watch the television. I didn't understand the words at the time, (the language was too fast for me), but I watched images of towers falling and pieced the story together over the days and weeks of the semester that came ahead.

I remember that semester as a time when French people left flowers outside our American Center, when my anger and disbelief towards the terrorists was matched by foreigners' willingness to defend my country. I arrived home in mid-December 2001 to a land that flew flags on the overpasses of highways, to posters of images of firefighters that hung on every telephone pole in Manhattan. The severity and loss of September 11 didn't hit me until months after I returned home when I read an article in a magazine about all of the babies born since the attacks, whose fathers perished that day. I sobbed into the magazine, unhinged, arrogant with anger.

I've now spent much of my adult life under the reign of George Bush and long for the days when we had allies, when our country's arrogant reputation didn't appear in every pop culture movie (Love Actually, anyone?), when I could say the sentence "Je suis americaine" without cringing after the last syllable.

How many times have I been embarrassed, ashamed to admit that I'm an American, particularly after my president makes another faux-pas on the world's stage. How grateful have I been to have the opportunity to travel and, in some slight way, be an ambassador for a country whose strengths and inherent hopefulness have been clouded over the past 8 years!

I do not understand how people my age do not vote; I do not understand how women do not vote; I do not understand how people complain about the world around them and yet do not take the time to educate themselves on the structures through which we can change it. We are ridiculously lucky to have been born in the social, financial, and cultural places where we live; it seems ignorant at best to withhold the gratitude we owe for such luck.

Weeks ago, a friend at work mentioned he wished Al Gore would be chosen as Obama's VP. "Fat chance," I responded, citing all the reasons I'd heard to the contrary. "But that would be pretty amazing."
"So then why not hope for it? What do you have to lose?" he responded.

Our histories and experiences do a pretty decent job of breaking down hope; it is hard work to look in the face of dark odds and believe. Choosing to believe, choosing to hope, is not the easy way out. But it is the goddamn best way, it is the only way we will make the hope a reality.

Believing is not wussy. Hoping is not weak. The two meet, rather, at a crossroads where the truly special people are, the people who have magic inside them.

These are the only people I want to know.

8.27.2008

Stuff, Wednesday.

1. Last night, Jill and I watched Hillary speak from the Democratic Convention and holy, holy, was THAT good. I just want to live in the America Hillary talks about! Is that so much to ask for?! I also would like for the Clintons to adopt me and then Chelsea and I can run for Prez and VP someday when we're 35+. I am dying to see Bill tonight and Obama tomorrow... though I happen to have plans with a boy tomorrow night and wonder if it is impolite to say "hey, having a great time, but can we cut this short so I can go be excited about the future?"

2. Back-to-School is getting me in the MOOD for learning! I can't tell you how many awesome lectures and readings and smart festivals I've stumbled upon over the past few days. Like this one. Or this! Or DEFINITELY this one. Too bad I do not have an expendable "Get Smart" budget. Must work on this in 2009.

3. I've had the worst writer's block at work when it comes to writing the monthly blog post I'm supposed to contribute. I don't know what's wrong with me; I think it's that I'm just so unsure of the audience and do not know what they want to hear. My instinct is to write about my FEELINGS (um, obvi) and well, that doesn't seem very professional. I'll post a link once I pull something together and that way I'll feel a little comforted knowing that MY PEOPLE are possibly reading as well and not just faceless, Tech people on their iPhones.

8.25.2008

"You become."

So I spent this past weekend in Burlington, VT for my friend Jay's wedding. Jay married Laurie, an incredible girl, on a boat and I basically bawled my face off during their intimate and touching ceremony.

The thing is, I sat in 8th grade English class with Jay; I had Editors' meetings with Jay in High School; I slept on his parents' porch on prom night with the rest of our buddies and his parents made us breakfast the next morning. Somewhere along the way, Jay grew up and became a GUY who people talked about in Champagne toast speeches and who made countless lovely friends who filled the boat on Saturday night with their smarts and quips and songs.

Laurie's sister read an excerpt from The Velveteen Rabbit during the ceremony and sitting there, on a boat at sunset, watching two wonderful friends pledge themselves to each other, I felt the love and I knew one truth above all: I must wait for something like this.

I'm going to retype the passage below because you might not have heard it or read it in quite a while. Also posting photos on Flickr for those who know Jay or who just feel like seeing evidence of a stunning couple. The proof is in the pudding, as my buddy Dave says: it appears that Love is out there, existing, surviving, on boats and on land and beyond.




"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with , but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or who have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."