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."

8.21.2008

I think it's the 2nd person perspective...

I like it when products talk directly to me with their marketing text. Like on the container of Guacamole I bought tonight:

Because Yucatan Guacamole is handmade not machine processed, you may find a harmless piece of seed, stem or avocado skin. This is a natural and normal part of providing you with the purest guacamole you can buy, made of 95% avocado, 5% seasoning and the highest standards for quality and excellence.

Don't they sound so freaking friendly? Not un-delicious either.

8.18.2008

Sometimes I arrive on our landing, struggle with my keys to unlock the door, and fall inside, arms full of bags and groceries. As I haul them to the kitchen to put everything in its proper place, the strange feeling comes over me: I'm a grown up.

There are other times when it hits me too. When I'm walking home from the library or coming out of the subway steps towards work. When I send Christmas cards. When I fold my towels, fresh from the dryer. "I am an adult," it occurs to me. "I made this life."

To be honest, I'm not lonely very often. For whatever reason- be it personality, an incredible amount of luck, choosing a friendly environment to live and work in- I mostly enjoy everyone around me. I meet people on park benches, I joke with them on line in Starbucks, I help them fold their umbrellas when their hands are full. I like to treat people as if they happened to be a guest staying in my place; be gracious and hospitable and welcoming to anyone, anywhere. This is a winning formula.

There is one time of the day when this all sort of falls to pot and that remains the odd minutes between turning the light out and falling asleep. Last night I couldn't sleep and thrashed around for hours before I tuckered myself out. In the meantime, I came up with all sorts of scenarios for how unhappy I was, how sad and lonely human existence is. I have a flair for the dramatic when I'm tired but not sleepy.

Why does that happen at night? Why do we feel more vulnerable, more alone, less loved? It's in those moments that I wish I weren't an adult, but still a kid in my parents' house, at a time when no one expected me to be sharing a bed with anyone but myself. When it was perfectly acceptable (in my heart and others') to be a single entity- alone, and not yet cognizant that alone can all too often mean "without."

Suggestions for the sleepless moments? You can email them if you're shy. I won't mind.

8.17.2008

I like watching the track and field events for the Olympics, mostly because a small part of me loves seeing us get our asses kicked so badly. Isn't it interesting how some countries dominate certain sports? The Africans (and Jamaicans) rock out the running every time. I love it.

*

Today I wore my new Obama tee-shirt for the first time. It was part of my "hungover and basically dead" look. I noticed people were nicer to me in the bagel store and Starbucks. Do they also love Obama? Or do they recognize a post-bachelorette party hangover when they see one?

*

Last night Sarah and I were talking about e.e. cummings at the party (obviously). "Well remember how you loved him since you saw that movie with Cameron Diaz a few years ago and she read that poem at her sister's wedding?" she said. Just this spring I bought a book of e.e. cummings' poetry in Grand Central one morning on a whim and stumbled across the most beautiful poem of all time. Never once had I imagined that I'd already encountered the poem years earlier.

"I mean, when I went to see the movie, I looked for that part because you'd talked about it so much," she continued. "You don't remember?!"

Vaguely, a memory came to me of watching that movie and being incredibly touched by the wedding scene. Vaguely, and then stronger, I remembered Cameron reading a poem about a heart.

"Oh my god, you're so right!" I exclaimed, a bit tipsy. "I'm the same as myself! I'm still affected by the same things! I'm still the same self!"

Indeed.

8.15.2008

Crankypants of the Cranky Castle.

That's me. Right now. At 1:40am.

I really love NIFW, but sometimes it kills me. Sometimes the freaking computer shit kills the joy of the creativity in the project. Steve and I made another one of his cooking videos last weekend (and it's hilarious, if I do say so myself) and Microsoft Movie Maker is taking so long to save that I've aged 5 years since I last hit save. And it's only at 72% done saving.

All of this to say that there will be a new issue up tomorrow for you all to check out. You know, unless it breaks me first. Enjoy.

8.13.2008

Unstoppable.

Dear Michael Phelps,

Alright, I have to ask: what are you listening to on that iPod? Angels trumpeting? Instructions from your dolphin overlords? Kelly Clarkson?

Love,
J

P.S. If you procreate with Natalie Coughlin, your baby might have gills.

8.11.2008

Brooklyn Newsletter: Month Eight

Dear Brooklyn,

I don't quite know how to start this month's letter; I've been doing so much grand-scale thinking lately that I'm loathe to delve into that pot yet again. Fanny and I had dinner two weeks ago, both of us walking a balance beam between "I'm alright" and "I'm somewhat of a mess." I walked her to Grand Central afterwards. "What are we going to do, the two of us?" I asked. "Hope for miracles," she said. So we threw pennies in a fountain. Boy, am I glad to have a friend who isn't afraid to chuck spare change into the abyss with me.




Happily, none of the self-doubting moments in the past month have anything to do with that big old expensive continent called Europe. I had such a good trip. It was the perfect combination of newness and old friends, gorgeous sunny days and gray contemplative ones. I spent two nights in a bar in Clermont with Erica, chatting with Christophe the barman about the state of the world, the way our countries are different, the way we ourselves are the same. I met up with Suffragettes, a true sweetheart, who reads this blog and got a coffee with me at the base of Montmartre on my last evening in Paris. I took planes and trains and cars and used my own two feet walking miles along the cobblestone streets. And now, it seems that Europe and I have built a committed relationship. We know we're not leaving each other and though we don't see each other frequently, we're going to be alright.





On the home front, time marches on and I can't believe that Katherine's wedding is in a month. I brought my bridesmaid dress home on the train with me this morning and now that it's here in the apartment, it's starting to feel real. Our friend Katherine is going to have a HUSBAND. There will be a WIFE present at our monthly girl dinners. And I'm so excited to be part of their day, to go back to Muhlenberg where we will no doubt be nostalgic and emotional about how far we've come since Prosser '99.




I signed up for Spanish last week. Starting in late September, I'm going to spend my Monday and Wednesday early mornings at the Cervantes Institute, learning how to say my name and age and where I live- in Spanish. It feels like the right time to do this, like a good moment to launch myself into a new culture and language that I don't know at all. I'm thinking of planning a trip to South America next summer as incentive; a year of Spanish lessons and I should be able to chat with the local baker about his favorite music, non?



I feel very lucky to now be at Arc full time; I've never been at a place with such a concentration of brilliance. I realized the other day that, for the first time in quite a long time, I felt smart at work. Not talented at a language, not well-read due to experience, but as if my brain had a little something extra going on. I wonder a lot if it's the influence of all the science and math brains that brings out another way of thinking. And all those boys. They sure do think different, them boys.



But I remain incredibly grateful to know such strong, brilliant women around the world. On my last night in Paris, Katie, Mad and I lounged around on the bed, making flip books and watching SATC. We bounced from French politics to sex to war to music. At one point we wondered aloud what would happen if the US and the UK went to war, how we would feel being on opposite sides of the fight. And it was strange to think about that, strange to imagine something larger than ourselves pitting me against them. Because those girls are on my side. I may not have a clear definition of what 'my side' is, I might not be able to show it in pie charts or fancy vocabulary words, but I think you can feel that sort of thing. And in the core of my core, I feel it.

I am one lucky girl.


Love,
Jen

8.09.2008

Big dreams, small wallet.

Dad: How was the big shopping trip?
Me: I can never look at a mall the same way again after reading that book on luxury.
Dad: Why?
Mom: She was examining all the tags to see where the silk was made.
Me: I just... I just know that Old Navy tee-shirts are going to fall apart in 2.5 seconds, even if they ARE $6.
Mom: Then she tried on some fancy pajamas.
Me: Well, I just wanted something a little luxurious to wear to bed! But I couldn't buy them, they were ridiculous. I felt like I was Hugh Hefner.
Dad (laughs): Jen-o, I hate to tell you this, but you don't make enough money to shop luxuriously.

8.07.2008

I was never much of a concert-goer. If the concerts came to me, well, I'd probably attend. Like when Guster came to Muhlenberg and Leigh and I befriended each other in the front row waiting for them to come onstage. I'd walked about 40 steps from the ML dorm; not much of an investment.

I do, however, love music and whatever I'm listening to is typically indicative of my mood. A few weeks ago at work I was playing around with my IM settings and chose one with music notes. "Ah yes, I AM listening to music, this is a good one for me," I thought. And then, four hours later, realized that AIM was actually TELLING people what I was listening to. I may or may not have been listening to one song for four hours straight. That song may or may not have been a show tune. Yikes.

I never know what the correct response is at a concert. When the band plays a song I love, I just want to sing and be involved and maybe crawl on stage and look deeply into the lead singer's eyeballs. Clearly, this is not permitted. I find concert behavior to be both intensely intimate and necessarily distant at the same time, so I don't often go. In a perfect world, I'd attend a concert in a cubicle with a clear view of the stage; privately permitted to show the emotion I want to feel, still accessing the magic that is a concert crowd.

A few of us from work went to see Margot and the Nuclear So-and-sos last week and it was pretty ok. I only know a few of their songs, so much of my concert experience was spent wondering about what it must be like to look out and see people affected by you. And how many of the boys in the band were in love with the pianist and how many she'd kissed. My mind is a bit too wander-y at a concert for music that I don't know inside and out.

Bon Iver is coming in December and I am not even hesitating, I am GOING. Bon Iver makes me feel better just seeing his name. Bon Iver makes me believe in the kind of love story that sends a broken man into a log cabin all winter to write about a broken love. I imagine him wearing flannel and chopping wood to build a fire he will moan and croon to later that evening. His music is, of course, more beautiful than most because it seems to come out of a necessity, a therapeutic need to glob feelings onto some form of art, just to get them away from himself, just to have a moment's peace.

In fact, Bon Iver is a group of 3 guys, but I always think of the main guy, Justin. That's probably very unfair to the other two, but hey, ONE GUY went into the woods. If Bon Iver's in your city, RUN to buy tickets. If not, download For Emma, Forever Ago and sway a little in the privacy of your bedroom. It's alright, no one's watching.

8.05.2008

I gotta spend more time in this Borough.

Lux to the ury
The lovely Anna (of Middlebury in Paris) brunched with me last weekend and lent me this book, which I have been glued to ever since. It's insanely detailed about things I knew nothing about (Coco Chanel! How to make perfume! The Japanese!) and for some reason, it's fascinating and not snobby, like you'd assume.

Since I started the book on Sunday, I've decided that I need to be a bit more luxury-oriented in my life, and by that I mean that I should get my shit together. Like make my bed in the morning. And eat my lunch in the kitchen instead of at my desk. And wash my face before bed even when I'm tired and cranky. Small steps towards a classier me.


Bloomberg and the hot dogs
I headed to the Brooklyn Public Library tonight after work. There was a crowd of people outside the entrance to the park and a few people on a stage. As I sifted my way through the group, I noticed a hot dog stand with a sign: FREE HOT DOGS. "Holy crap!" I thought, and immediately got on line.

"Shit, is that Bloomberg?!" I asked the guy in front of me.
"Yeah, that's the mayor," he said and then he told me that the rally was against crime. One of the men on stage with Bloomberg reminded us to tell our friends who have guns that they must be registered. Ah, America.

After my library shopping, I passed through the rally again and this time stumbled into free BBQ chicken! Cookies! Ice Cream! Soda! Cotton freakin' candy!

This just in: dreams really do come true.

8.03.2008

We are at the local pub after work and I've launched another silly question to the group. My specialty, in potentially awkward social gatherings. Feed the girl a Smithwicks and watch the questions spill out.

"If you didn't have this job, what would you want to be doing? What would you want to be doing full-time?"

Two of the boys launch into careers in porn. Conversation tends in this direction for a while, too long to reel the question back, and I let it go. But suddenly, someone remembers. Jen! You haven't answered!

I am bashful with my response, given the hardcore, too-cool-for-school discussion about bringing happiness to people via Pimpdom. I am not cool enough for this conversation; this is the part where I excuse myself to the bathroom, where my Westchester-upbringing betrays me, where my wink-wink-nudge-nudge goofiness errs on the side of gentle.

"Published author," I mutter. Someone points out that this is not a career, that this is a goal, and so I agree to "Writer." Writer, Pimp, Rockstar. We all sit around the same table. Though my bar stool feels miles shorter.

*
There are days when I am sure of it, surer than anything else: I will write. I pack my things and head to Starbucks, where I type furiously all afternoon, a chai tea latte as my company. I imagine holding a piece of finished work, feeling the cover between my fingers. I am unshakable in my determination on these days.

Then, surprisingly, I am tripped up. Perhaps by a successful day at work or a stretch of time distracted by other passions in life. On these days, the hunger is dim. It seems enough to read the most beautiful poem in existence and know that nothing I write will top it. Perfection has been achieved and all there is left to do is bask in its rays.


*
Yesterday, groggy, I turned on my computer. And there, in my inbox, an email from someone I know only through the Internet. She is grateful to have read my piece in the newest NIFW; she is complimentary about what I write. She has found strength in my words when she did not have strength enough to write them herself. And the NIFW project is important to her, as it must be to others, she says.

Sweet reminder that we do not write to a faceless void, that we write to express, but also to send out feelers towards the human race. I am Jodie Foster in Contact, I am Morse coding to the universe. "Is there anyone out there?"

There is nothing in the world like connecting.

8.02.2008

Man on Wire, Exquisite

Man on Wire is a documentary about a French man who (illegally) walked a tightrope between the World Trade Center towers in 1974. The film is a beautiful story about the events leading up to the daring feat and those who helped him pull it off.

It was in the middle of watching the film a few hours ago that I realized what draws me to French culture. At one point, Philippe speaks about the reaction of the American public to his tightrope dancing; he remembers that Americans wanted to immediately know why he had done it. And in doing so, he suggests that they somewhat missed the point of doing something beautiful and surprising.

American culture is known for its optimism, but French culture knows how to appreciate slivers of beauty. There is a spontaneity, an acceptance of the dark side of life, and a willingness to appreciate the exquisite, be it in a moment or a pastry. Without knowing how to put words to it at the time, I adored this about living in France.

Mission for the week: find something exquisite and appreciate it for what it is.