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
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


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.


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.


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. )

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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?


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.


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


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.


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.



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.