6.29.2008

"Nothing to be done."

The thing that really kills me about New York is that, for a city based on efficiency and fast pace, there is nothing more tragic than our subway system. And by that, I mean there is nothing more anger-inducing than taking the subway during the weekend.

Last night, tipsy and tired, I waited FORTY-FIVE MINUTES for a 4 train to carry me home from Union Square. Do you know what I could have done with that time? WALKED HOME. And I'm only half-kidding.

The worst part is, I had no idea it would take that long; no one ever does. You stand there, waiting for Godot, wondering where the hell the train is. Could it still be in Harlem? Yes it could. Could it be running on another track? Sure it could. Could the conductor have stopped between stations to eat a burger? I would not doubt it.

This afternoon Goldie and I took the 2/3 up to see Dangerous Liasons with Anne and Katherine and though we left our apartment an hour early, I still had a minor panic attack while waiting for the subway to come. Apparently you need a military degree to get to Times Square, such are the strategic plots one must devise while sweating it out on the platform.

And the worst part? Paris has already solved this problem- with the simple solution of electronic boards that tell you how long you have until the next train. Get with it, MTA!

6.25.2008

Se parler en français, ça fait du bien.

I have a goofball tendency to talk to myself when I run. Not all the time (and certainly not at an audible volume), but usually when I'm nearing the end. And here's the thing- it always comes out in French.

"Ca va, c'est pas grave, t'as presque fini!" I told myself tonight, nearing Borough Hall. "On est bientot a Starbucks et puis Barnes et Noble et puis le cinema et puis l'eglise- et puis enfin, l'appart!" (And if that isn't the most universal sentence to describe an American city, I don't know what is!)

"Bravo, regard ce que tu as fait!" I told myself the other night, finishing up a 30-minute marathon (or at least, what seemed like a marathon only weeks ago).

I'm not sure why things are coming out like that. My days on the Elliptical at NYSC were spent silently cursing at myself to go faster and threatening my own body (Come on! Your sister lives in AFRICA! You can hang on another 10 minutes!). But for some reason, running- and in particular, running outside- has helped me to be a little patient with myself. Maybe because it's such uncharted territory for me and my expectations aren't high to begin with.

It's really easy to get upset with yourself for not doing or being better at everything. But what I'm literally doing when I run- talking to myself using different language- may be a solution in learning how to be kinder to yourself. 'Speaking to oneself in French' could mean 'giving yourself a break.'

And thus a new expression is coined!

6.23.2008

Glimpses of Grace

There is a parking lot behind our apartment building; it's filled with cars and old tires, broken bottles and every so often, a shy stray cat. One of the Middle Eastern restaurants opens out the back into this parking lot, and I only know this because sometimes I eat dessert from the living room window and watch as men in white cooking shirts pour dirty water out the back door.

Earlier I clopped down the stairs in flip flops and stopped in my tracks when I noticed a man kneeling outside the window. I quietly stepped over to see what in the hell he was doing, kneeling on the dingy parking lot floor. This guy, maybe mid-30s, was kneeling on a piece of cardboard, his little paper chef's hat still balancing on his head, his white gym-socked feet folded under him as he prayed towards Mecca (I assume. Could be Brooklyn Law School, but odds are...).

Watching someone pray is so intimate; I couldn't see his face, but his body language was enough to suspect that he was doing some good hoping there on the ground. Does he miss home? Is he away from his family? Does he hate working in a hot kitchen? Does he wish he was praying on a brightly woven rug?

Feels like a lucky day when I catch a little glimpse of someone else's life, someone unlike me.

6.21.2008

Night Swimming

My Mom steamrolls up and down the length of the pool, counting laps. Put her in the water and she is swift and efficient in her calorie burning.

I took swimming lessons when I was little. I know how to do the crawl and the breast stroke, the back stroke and the apple-picking side stroke. I don't use them much.

I lay sprawled out in my back float, counting stars. I watch the Big Dipper blink back at me, just as he did from my roof in Brooklyn last weekend, just as he's done for years from a variety of longitudes and latitudes. My ears, submerged, track the glurps and gurgles of the pipes.

Weightlessness is not overrated.

6.19.2008

Paging J.J. Abrams

It started because I didn't know what to do with my hair this morning. It gets to a point, after 27 years of existence, that you're a little sick of what you've been given.

"Hair! Curly! Bah!" I thought to myself and did what I could to get past the challenge of pre-8a.m. styling.

Then I got into the subway and looked at the faces and hairstyles around me and a big fat truth smacked me across the face: everyone has their own version of the same problem. Some of the people in that subway this morning have been shaving the same face for 40 years! Some of them have been unhappy about the size of their nose for decades. We might not all be fed up with the same things, but we all hit a wall once in a while. I really believe that.

Sometimes when I'm in a public space like the subway, I imagine what we all must look like to an outsider's perspective. Like if an alien came down and hovered above our subway car; we are such charming little beings and I could name thousands of things that I think make humans so quirky and lovable (like the fact that we decorate our EARS with earrings or that we DESIRE for more than food and procreation or that we make time to TALK about life with friends).

I've been having some big thoughts lately and one way that I typically handle these kinds of weeks is going to the movies. I like to absorb myself in another life, a different story, and see how someone else works themselves out of problems and finds solutions.

Well this morning I was thinking about how my life is NOT a 2-hour scripted situation, how I have the possibility of writing my life pretty much however I damn well please. This is freeing, and yet at the same time, utterly intimidating because there isn't a director behind it all and I have no assurance that there's a love interest just after the commercial break. Which sort of explains why none of our lives end up quite as perfect as Felicity's.

I wouldn't trade it in, the freedom in choosing the way I want to build my life, for the knowledge of what's coming up around the corner. That's too dramatic (and not, to my knowledge, possible).

But I sure as hell wouldn't mind watching a teaser once in a while.

6.17.2008

Inner monologue as I got ready to leave this morning

"Oh crap, I want to water the plants because they got dried out yesterday. And I still haven't picked up my dry cleaning from last week. And I have to transfer the cable to my name today... and shit, I'd better do something with that leftover chicken tonight because it's going to go bad."

Sometimes I'm completely taken by surprise by the fact that I'm a bona-fide adult.

6.16.2008

Monday re-cap

A new NIFW issue published last night, guys, and in it is a little Dad's Day tribute to the Padre. Also, there is a picture of me with my Dad that is not unlike this one:




I'm not sure what I'm looking so jovial about in all these little kid pictures. I guess life was pretty damn good back then, pre-heartache, pre-work, and pre-solid foods. It does not escape me that I'm always scrunching up my nose in these photos either; I make the same face after a couple of glasses of Chardonnay.


*

What is up with women reading porn novels in the subway every morning? I am truly shocked and amazed by the reading material headed uptown on the 4/5 trains. Sometimes if it's crowded I get a porn novel shoved in my face; just reading the blurb on the back makes me embarrassed.

Ladies- do you really want to be reading that on the way to WORK at 9am? Isn't there a more suitable time?! I'm only thinking of your needs here...


*

And let's end things with a little nostalgia from the lovely Sarah Mclo...

Me: Oh man, it just started pouring here.
Sarah: What? How can I go out and get food now?
Me: Wait, is it raining in your part of town?
Sarah: Yeah, I just looked out the window.
Me: We're so close that the same clouds are raining on us!
Sarah: Maybe we should sing "Somewhere Out There" together.

6.13.2008

We're friends because we write emails like this.

From: Me
To: Sarah

I just cleaned the kitchen and let me tell you something- it might be my most favorite thing to do while hungover. Jack Johnson in the background (or is it John Jackson? Jake Johnson?!!) and the feeling of morning, with a whole day ahead of me. It's one of the only times I feel truly peaceful and quiet, alone with my thoughts while I sweep and Swiffer mechanically.



From: Sarah
To: Me

I love that you wrote that! (also that your email is like a Swiffer ad… the emotional benefits it should convey :)) But really, I’m so glad your morning is turning out so lovely (it’s Jack Johnson by the way – you were right the first time). What a pensive, optimistic, and productive feeling… enjoy it!

6.09.2008

Brooklyn Newsletter: Month Six

Dear Brooklyn,

It's hotter than hell right now in my bedroom. We got back from our monthly girls' dinner a few minutes ago; Sarah is packing things in the kitchen, Goldrick is attempting sleep, and I'm lying here with a large fan pointing at my face. Early June should never mean 97 degrees, at least not when you live at the longitude of New York. Today I walked down to the restaurant from work and could almost see a cloud of haze a few feet above me, which can only mean one thing: the ozone is falling.




I woke up one day a few weeks ago and realized that I had to get out of New York, had to plan a weekend away or else something bad might happen. Like I'd forget what grass looked like. And so I met an old high school friend in Central Park to commiserate (where there is lots of grass, just in case you were wondering!). He and I have been nomadic since our days at Yorktown High and we ended up talking about that traveling itch that never seems to subside, even if it's placated for a time. "But how can we end up happy while stationary?" I asked him. "What are we supposed to do, keep buying plane tickets." "Yep", he said smiling, "we keep buying plane tickets."

And so I did- I bought plane tickets to Budapest and Paris and home again for early next month and sometimes when I think about my upcoming trip, my heart beats faster as I imagine all the friends I'm going to see and laugh with and all the places I'm going to feel beauty towards. And that makes me think that I might not want to come home at the end; but I suppose that traveling, like love, is always worth it, even if afterwards you feel a bit crushed about it. Because at the end of the day, you still had an amazing time.




There are, of course, also many beautiful aspects of New York. I saw SATC with my best friends on Friday night and took advantage of the nice weather to wander around the village for a while alone. I ended up so lost that I couldn't find my way back to a subway and so, in the mood for a talk, I hailed a cab. The cabbie had lived in Europe but was originally from Africa (a common scenario for our cab drivers here) and we talked about the relaxing attitudes of the Italians and the French, the ways that they can appreciate life while it seems us Americans are working like dogs. But then again, we agreed, no one knows how to give you a fair shot like America. My cab driver arrived here five years ago and started working in the stock room at Duane Reed and finished as the manager of his own store; now he drives cabs at night for the money. It was so sweet to hear of someone's dreams coming true.



As for me and my American Dream, I can't say enough about the ways that software architecture has made me think about the way the world is built. I started reading a book the other day called The Design of Everyday Things and it reinforced the importance of building for functionality, of remaining close to the true needs of whomever is using your contraption (be it a teapot or a software application). There are good lessons in this, lessons about communication and being able to put yourself in someone else's shoes. Dare I suggest, lessons that language students know all too well?

But what if we extend the definition of design to not only relate to buildings and software programs, but also to our intentions for the future? If I am eventually my own consumer of the life I'm building, what kind of life must I build to be happy with its design? What do I need to plan for and when do I need to allow aesthetics to play a role? And who makes up the dream team of architects involved in building my life?

I don't have answers to that stuff, but it feels good to write it.



Love,
Jen

*Good things are happening*

I had a busy weekend, the kind of weekend that probably requires an agent or personal assistant to oversee. Highlights of note:

- SATC with the girls: The depths to which I felt this movie is too much to write about on a blog. I can't find the words to explain it. So if you're curious, ask me sometime in person when you can look in my eyes and know that I'm not full of cheese.

- Transit concert: Ex-roomie Evelyn played a gig on Saturday night in a great little space in a Japanese cultural center. Here's the thing about contemporary music- it's difficult for me to appreciate and jive with. That being said, here's the thing about going to contemporary music concerts once in a while: it makes you a more interesting person. Learning to appreciate something hard and not entirely accessible does your brain good.

-Running: have I mentioned that I've started running? Have I mentioned that it's the most surprising and insane thing that has happened to me in my adult life? And that I sort of love it? And that I'm thinking about doing a 5k? I can't say that I run like the wind yet... so far I run like a little enthusiastic breeze.

-Comedy club: The last time I went to a comedy club, I was wearing a prom dress and acting pissed at the comedian for making cracks about my prom date. Tonight went more smoothly. Mike Birbiglia was pretty freaking funny.

-Writerly: Freelance + Writing + Covering Francophone-ness in NYC = awesome new gig

-Europe trip: Planned! Tickets bought! I'll be in Budapest, Clermont-Ferrand, and Paris (in that order) from July 3-14th. Do let me know if you'll be in any of those cities (or the airports of Frankfort or Rome, where I have layovers...). We should meet up!

6.06.2008

I spek tek gud

So I guess it's time to link you to the work blog, where I have just published my first post. Not to be confused with that other blog I write for every two weeks. Or the blog featuring things to do on Saturday nights (ok, one Saturday night- I haven't planned the next one yet).

All of which confirms the fact that dropping the Education degree for a Writing Concentration back in college? Probably the right choice.

6.05.2008

Toilet, are you freaking kidding me?

Trust me when I say this is not the video you want to be watching at 1am when you're exhausted.

However, also trust me when I say that either I inherited some stellar plumber skills from my Uncle Dick or said video was VERY helpful. Toilet successfully unclogged; bathroom successfully de-flooded.

6.04.2008

NY Neighbors

Yesterday I got on the subway and someone made room for me to sit next to them. Then at the next stop, I made room for someone to sit next to me. By the time we were at the third stop, everyone was sort of smiley and friendly in our area of the car.

And then a homeless man came in.

People ask me for money in the subway on a daily basis; it's interesting to note how homeless or unlucky people ask others for help in different cities. In Paris, the method of asking is playing the accordion. In New York, it seems to be sheer honesty.

"I'm sorry to bother you all this evening, but I'm homeless and I'm pretty hungry tonight."

A man next to me reached into his pocket, I reached into mine, the woman next to me smiled and pulled out her wallet. By the end of it, the guy walked away with about $6 from our corner of the car.

And me? I walked away with a renewed belief in community.

6.01.2008

Green and not green, part II

This little blog turned 2 years old this weekend. Remember back in the beginning? That first tiny blog post is so sweet to me looking back on it now, and it took me so long to write. Look how the text is all screwed up around the photo in that post! Aw... I didn't know how to text wrap yet! Adorable.

I remember the ordeal it was to find a topic for my first post. I was loathe to do the typical "Hi everyone, and welcome to my world!" Instead, I wanted it to feel like it started in the middle of a conversation, as if my thoughts on virtual paper had existed for 20-some years and you were just now tuning in.

Speaking of you, HI! Thanks for coming to FOL so often and sometimes commenting (which I love) and sometimes emailing (which I also love) and sometimes just reading quietly (which I completely understand). You're an important part of the equation because you make up that funny term: THE AUDIENCE. Sometimes I think a lot about what will make you laugh and what you'd find useful to know about the places I go. Sometimes I take photos just for you and once in a while I do something a little wacky partially because I think you might find it amusing later on. I like knowing you're out there, having your own lives around the globe- it makes the world feel a little less unknown.



This pic is from Central Park this afternoon and it was snapped in a section of the Park that I'd never been to before. I'm feeling good about this weekend and the new-ness that happened. From Lucky Charms for breakfast to a walk on the Brooklyn Bridge to discovering a new jazz club and playing pool, it all felt very much like carving a space for myself in this big city. I've also made some good plans for summer travel, including a trip to la France that makes me giddy just thinking about it.

Tonight I published a piece of fiction in the new issue of NIFW, an act that comes with lots of nervous feelings and energy around it. Does that sound crazy? To be completely comfortable writing about wearing my underwear inside-out and yet an anxious wreck upon publishing something fictive?

Well, that's how it goes, guys. You can't be brave in everything you do, but you can try. And now that I think about it, let's make that the slogan for Year 3 of blogging:

FOL: attempting bravery as often as possible.

Do it up!