6.25.2010

A l'aventure...

Last night I dined with Fanny, the only French friend in New York that I see on a regular basis. She's leaving New York in a couple of months, after several years (and what seems like several lifetimes) for London to go to graduate school. She can't yet imagine what her life will be like there, but one thing is for sure: it will be nothing like it has been here.

We talked about this over Japanese food, the way people are presented with opportunities to completely (like... completely) overhaul their lives. I'm thrilled for her (and jealous in the best way).

"I'm really happy, don't get me wrong," I said to her. "But there is a small part of me that loves the feeling of throwing yourself into a situation that's going to totally change you. Total clean slate, total starting over."

I remember those times, the weeks leading up to the departure date, the bittersweet feelings about leaving what was comfortable and discovering the unknown. For all the times I moved to France (ok, only 3, but still...), none of them were the same. Each time a different city, a different group of people, a different dynamic. The same thing happened when I went to Muhlenberg (although I wasn't yet excited by the prospect of NEW LIFE! and it took me a while to appreciate it) and when I spent the summer at Middlebury. How lucky I feel to have taken those opportunities when they presented themselves.

Fanny and I talked about what it means to have these chances. Some people have reacted to her change in a positive way and others have questioned why she would leave a perfectly fine life here in New York. I suppose drastic life changes are not for everyone- and that's not a judgment. It's a fact.

Tonight I'll board a plane to Chicago and then another one to Cedar Rapids, IA. It feels a little bit like a throw-back to the old days, packing up my things and heading into the unknown. The opening of Dickens' David Copperfield suggests that we are the heroes of our own lives and this image has always provided me with comfort when I'm homesick or nervous about doing something new. Heroines don't cry! They have adventures! What kind of boring life story would it be to always stay the same?

So I'm off to the adventurous plains of Iowa for the next 8 days or so. I'm going to try to stay relatively Internet-free while I'm out there, checking email once at night and leaving my phone in my room all day. I figure that removing myself to the most remote place I can think of to write would not be very productive if I tweeted about it all day long.

It's ass-in-chair time, people. Let the page count begin.

6.22.2010

Have a party for no reason: CHECK.

Chris and I have a Valentine's Day tradition of sitting down with little index cards and writing things we want to do together. Consider it a couple's version of Maggie Mason's Life List. We keep the little cards in this old jewelry pouch in our kitchen drawer and every so often we pick through the cards, looking for inspiration on a boring evening.

Some examples of things we want to do together:
  • Spend a night someplace with a fireplace and make smores
  • Learn to cook something difficult together
  • Make a maze for Oscar
  • Visit a planetarium
  • Homemade movie night with popcorn and candy
  • Buy a house together

Clearly some goals are larger than others.

One of the cards said "Have a party for no reason" and this weekend, we did it! Loosely titled a "Summer Party," we hosted a shindig for about 40 people. There was guacamole and watermelon and lots of beer. The deck proved to be one of the best parts (as we knew it could be!) and we were lucky to have a beautiful Brooklyn sunset behind it all. Here are some pictures to prove how it all went down, most of them taken by my charmingly wasted boyfriend. We had a great time!

(Psst: you may notice some other Eptings in these photos! That's right! The sibs were in town!)











6.21.2010

Les livres de 2010, round 4

Once in a while when we're bored with hanging around the house, Chris and I will wander over to Book Court to visit the books. I like looking at the Staff Picks and last night was no exception; as I perused the new fiction shelves, I couldn't help noticing that many of the books I picked up were written by MFA students. Cue total motivation to write.

One of the other things that hit me last night is the sheer number of books I've picked up this year that I have wanted to read for every reason but the best one: a really good story. Whenever I recommend books to friends, I go back to a few gems that I read about five years ago; they all had wonderful plot and characters, an element of love, and a genius for storytelling.

Last night I swore to Chris that I would start only reading books that I was swept away by, which allowed me to start my 12th book of the year last night and finish it just a few moments ago. Without further ado, the fourth installation of book reviews this year:

9. The Declaration of Independence by Stephanie Schwartz Driver
I'm almost done watching the awesome HBO series John Adams and a few weeks ago, I became obsessed with reading the actual Declaration of Independence. For about 5 minutes, I considered memorizing it and then I thought I should get over myself. This book feels like a little bit of a cheat since it's kind of a glorified pamphlet, but I actually learned quite a bit from it. I don't know if I'd recommend seeking it out unless you also have a dying need to read the founding father's work, but it was worth it to me at the time.


10. An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken
I read this memoir in about two hours. The story was so tragic (married couple is pregnant with their first child and living in France when she gives birth to a stillborn baby) and I had no business reading it. All it did was make me even more anxious about things like fate and death and babies.

But I do not regret reading it for a second. Elizabeth McCracken's story is tragic because of the facts, true, but the way she wrote, so raw and so honest, drew me in and held me there in the eye of the storm. I totally recommend this book if you need a good cry or have an evening to dedicate to an engrossing and complex life story.

It was also fascinating to hear this American woman recount how France has now become a place where she can never return. The wounds are that deep. And while I've never lost a baby in another country, I do know what she's getting at: physical spaces can retain the memories (good or bad) of the events that took place in them.

Here's a particularly eloquent passage:

Perhaps it goes without saying that I believe in the geographic cure. Of course you can't out-travel sadness. You will find it has smuggled itself along in your suitcase. It coats the camera lens, it flavors the local cuisine. In that different sunlight, it stands out, awkward, yours, honking in the brash vowels of your native tongue in otherwise quiet restaurants. You may even feel proud of its stubbornness as it follows you up the bell towers and monuments, as it pants in your ear while you take in the view. I travel not get away from my troubles but to see how they look in front of famous buildings or on deserted beaches. I take them for walks. Sometimes I get them drunk. Back at home we generally understand each other better. (p.132)


11. The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I asked for this book for Christmas and my Mom came through. I'd read two of Ngozi Adichie's books last fall after I saw her at the New Yorker festival, where she was simply stunning. I knew that I would fall in love with her collection of short stories and I kept it on my bookshelf since the winter, safe for a rainy day when I needed a good read.

Last night's moment in Book Court convinced me it was time to bring this one down.

All of the stories are Nigeria-centric and they are fascinating. Arranged marriages and post-war families, Nigerians living in America without Green Cards. Each is quiet and simple and powerful whether you know tons or nothing about her home country. My favorite story was the one she read at the festival, the title piece, The Thing Around Your Neck. I remembered her reading it as I read it at home last night, the way she pronounced some of the words and the way her voice commanded the story.

Here's the opening passage to that story. It's funny and complicated, no?

You thought everybody in America had a car and a gun; your uncles and aunts and cousins thought so, too. Right after you won the American visa lottery, they told you: In a month, you will have a big car. Soon, a big house. But don't buy a gun like those Americans.

So onwards and upwards with this reading list. I am going to stop reading as much non-fiction because it never flies like I want it to. And I would love to hear what books have reminded you of the power of stories... because I am back in the market.

P.S. One of my New Year's Resolutions was to read 15 books this year. I'm excited to say that I'm only 3 books away from that goal... and I still have half the year left! Re-dedicating myself to reading books this year makes me happy.

6.19.2010

The one in which I complain about having friends.

A few minutes ago, I started thinking a little more about what I'm throwing myself into next weekend.

"I'm a little nervous about Iowa."
"Oh, you're going to be great. When you focus on something, you're a force to be reckoned with," Chris said.
"No, it's not that. It's more like... when I think about all of the social situations I'm going to find myself in for the rest of my life and all the friends there are to be made... I guess it just makes me feel tired."

Chris pointed out that I didn't have to make friends in Iowa. Technically that's true. And as I pushed the Swiffer around the sticky kitchen (last night's party left a mean residue), I thought about what it would be like to keep to myself during the workshops, to not make impromptu cafe dates and rendez-vous in the local bookshop with new and quirky people I think I'll like. Thinking through that scenario felt weird, very unlike me, but then I started wondering what it would be like to take a break from being me for 8 days in Iowa.

Do you ever think about this stuff? About what it might be like to refuse the one quality that seems to define you? Being the social person I am and enjoying a myriad of hobbies have been successful for me so far. I'm happy. But what else could I achieve if I weren't worried about keeping up with so many people and events and opportunities?

Sometimes I think New York makes me the least productive person in the world.

If that is true, then Iowa just might be the ticket.

6.15.2010

Voila! It's a garden!

I know that I've banished all talk of flora and fauna to the Birdless blog, but this seemed momentous enough to share here. We've finished the deck garden!

Here's what I mean by that:
  • I'm no longer actively looking for "one more hanging plant" or "another bag of dirt" or "a tree about this height..."
  • We have a grill
  • Everything that's out there is growing (so far)
  • The deck is looking appropriately non-empty

Cheers! My wallet is doing a jig.

Here are some photos of the deck from this morning... we're having a summer bash this Friday and I'm excited to post photos of our lovely friends sipping beer around the blooming squash plants. Now starts the long period of GARDEN MAINTENANCE...





6.14.2010

Words matter.

As a freshman at Muhlenberg, I didn't get poetry. I didn't hate it, wasn't offended by it, I just didn't get it. I liked it as much as I liked some classical music; nice background, something towards which you award a certain amount of reverence, but I couldn't unlock it. I didn't have the keys.

My writing assistant took me aside one evening. She brought a photocopy of a poem from English Studies class and a couple of different colored highlighters. "Draw a square around the verbs," she said. "Circle the adjectives that refer to the woman." "Draw triangles around the nouns that are related to nature."

Suddenly my poem was all marked up, visually decoded. The references to nature stood out. Why were there more in the beginning of the poem? Why were the adjectives complimenting the woman's beauty towards the end? I wasn't yet sure what it meant, but for the first time I had a head start.

I was learning to close read.

*

Yesterday, the Sarahs and Chris and I sat around over brunch in Red Bank, NJ. It was the morning after a wedding and though we spent some of the time discussing the food and the dancing, we moved onto other conversations. Like the importance of close reading. And how Skersh's job as a newly-defended-English-PhD was going to be helping students unlock poems and texts that had previously seemed locked up tight.

"Part of what I want them to get," she said, "is that close reading isn't just for poetry! It's so cheesy, but it changes your life."

She's right. Applying the technique of close reading to everyday situations makes you smarter and hands you the keys. Because for all of the hemming and hawing that politicians do and for all of the eye-rolling coming from those who don't like reading, one thing remains true: WORDS MATTER.

Try this: print out a speech that George Bush made during his presidency. Circle the references he makes to themes like "power" and "pride" and "America." What kinds of words does he use to describe America? Then do the same thing for Obama or Kennedy or Reagan or anyone else you're interested in. What do they do differently? The patterns and adjectives that populate their speech are direct maps to what they're trying to focus your attention on.

Think of the friends you have coffee or dinner with on a regular basis. Imagine a transcript of those chats. Imagine underlining every time he or she talks about being disappointed in a relationship. Circle all of the words they use about not feeling good about themselves. Draw triangles around why they don't like their job. I guarantee you, that's a map to the mega-problems that boil under the surface. People don't talk about what's NOT bothering them. They try to hide it, but it comes shining through. Words matter.

*

So what? So what that people or poems reveal themselves to be centered around certain themes? Big surprise. Or is it? What if you turned the exercise around on yourself? How often are you talking about escaping something? What percent of the words that come out of your mouth are negative? How many could you circle and identify as money-related or confidence-related?

I think this is a useful exercise when done sparingly (if not, you end up tongue-tied and unable to communicate for fear of letting your "issues" slip). Because often, we don't directly talk about what's really bothering us. People pay a lot of money to talk for hours to a therapist, creating pages and pages of verbal transcripts for someone to decode. They're close reading too. They're mapping all of the things we're not aware we're talking about. That's why therapy can be so useful. We pay someone to hold a mirror up to us and reveal the themes we never knew were there.

*

I'm not always close reading. I read my books at night before bed, half-asleep, half-page-pushing to get to the end of The Portrait of Dorian Grey or Uncle Tom's Cabin (of late). I have plenty of lunches and coffees and dinners that pass by quietly, no visual map needed. I'm enjoying the presence of someone's company and I've left my pens and highlighters at home.

But when I need to call for them, they are there, my close reading scalpels and other tools to dissect language. When a politician is particularly insistent on one theme or when I feel a friend slipping from who they are because of a confusing relationship, I feel them tucked into pockets and against my skin. When I need a reality check. A sanity check. A poetry check.

Words matter, both the ones you pronounce and the silent ones. I love that I can count on that, some scientific evidence regardless of blurry feelings. The short ones, the long ones, the funny ones, they stand tall. Lovely words: my friends, my challenges, my mirrors to the world.

6.09.2010

The importance of good work.

I am under no disillusion about the presence of work in my future: I will always work. I really mean that, and I don't include the whole "even if I'm a famous writer who writes novels while surrounded by my African violets at home, that will be hard work!" kind of work. I guess I just like offices.

Some truths:
1. I like feeling productive.
2. I like having friendships and professionalships with my co-workers. There is something awesome about the relationships that develop between people whose brains buzz in the same room at the same time.
3. I like commuting, the act of leaving, of arriving, of passing through the outside world as I move my day forward.

I've been very lucky to stumble into a great gig at Arc90. One day I'll write a long and dramatic post about what it was like to leave Frenchness behind and enter into The Land of The Nerds. Suffice it to say, I am very happy doing a whole host of tasks at Arc: from UI design to client relations to helping make good decisions about this important place. I love it all. And when I don't love it, well, I take a deep breath and I switch gears and I get a chai tea latte. And things are better.

I write this because I just came out of a meeting that's spinning me off in a new direction again. Of anyone at Arc, it sometimes feels like I'm the most randomly-assigned, but I enjoy the frequent switching of contexts. It keeps me fresh.

In this particular meeting, I felt the familiar excitement of a new team and a new challenge. I can't imagine getting that kind of jolt by being a stay-at-home-anything... and though I do think I want to stay home with kids one day (for a certain period of hard-earned-time-off after going through friggin' labor), I don't know that I'll be tempted to extend that for too long.

I feel very lucky to get paid to work with a bunch of smart goofballs. It feels like good work, like earning my living and using the old noggin'... just as those hearty German ancestors would have hoped for me.

6.07.2010

Yes! Awesome perfection!

I have to post about this because this is the sort of mundane thing that makes you feel awesome about the world. And what are blogs for if not that exact thing?! Nothing, that's what. Here's a post about a wedding invitation:

My lovely friend Kathryn is getting married in Portland over Labor Day.

Background: Kathryn and I met each other during our MA program in Paris. She is easily one of the most charming and unique and creative beings I've met. She and I and Blythe and Angela spent a good part of the fall semester meeting at a bar in the neighborhood, ordering sexy sounding drinks and asking soul-searching questions.

At the time, we were all at a bit of a loss when it came to love. Some of us were recently broken up, some of us were headed there, and every one of us had stories to tell. And long lists of books we wanted to read. And culture to dissect! It really was a good time. Writing this makes me miss it, actually.

Fast forward: Kathryn is getting married to a boy named Aaron. I've never met this lad, but I know that my favorite girl-who-loves-rainbow-leg-warmers (Kathryn, did I make that up? I can totally see you in them...) has made a great choice. She knows her heart, as I know mine, and from everything I hear she is very, very happy.

So! Imagine my glee (glee!) when, a few months ago, we got their Save-the-Date. It is SO Kathryn and it is SO perfect and it made me happy to get it:



THEN today we got the invitation. And guys, holy crap do I love it. It is witty and relaxed and it feels like them. You know what I mean? This is something that's hard to achieve over email these days... but you know those Christmas cards or letters you get from friends, hand-written and doodled on? And how those letters and cards just feel like the exact human being that created them? Well that's how their invitations feel. Take a peek:













Kathryn and Aaron, we are so excited to join you when you get married on a farm in Portland later this summer. And you can best believe that I'm going to be shopping for the most fun party dress and heels in all of Brooklyn...

One hot June weekend in 2010.

Please excuse the shirtless man who is running towards the camera and, instead, check out those chalk hearts. Pink hearts of Brooklyn! Aw, Brooklyn, you always know how to woo me.



Speaking of which, I took a short walk down to Pier 6 this weekend to check out the renovated playground area and dock where ferries to Governor's Island will depart from all summer long. It was SWEET. Awesome outdoor play space for the kids in the 'hood and a 3-minute ride to Governor's Island. Is that a dream or what? Obviously we are less interested in the playground and more in the ferry, but hey- if I have to walk under the BQE, I'd rather it be towards a playground instead of a crack den! Just sayin'.



On Saturday I saw SATC 2 with my Muhlenberg buddies and I'll say this: yes, it was ridiculous. Yes, Liza Minnelli was involved and so was Kareoke and yes, reading the plot on a piece of paper will always make the doubtful gloat. But man, I loved it. I loved the issues they dealt with (living together, being married, becoming a mother, getting older) and the way the characters reminded me of the very friends I was seeing it with.

When I think of SATC, I relive my 20's, the past nine years of growing and living. I remember walking over to Sarah's house at Muhlenberg at midnight in the winter to watch a couple of episodes before bed. I remember drinking wine and watching episodes with Maddy and Katie on our last night together in Paris, and discussing the men we'd dated. For many women of my generation, this was the show we watched when we were trying to figure out why he took so long to call and what to do about it. The SATC movies have been opportunities to reconnect with the women that went through it with me... and for that, I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for the show.



Yesterday I saw Babies with Courtney and checked out the Brooklyn Flea and tomorrow I'll go see another documentary with another Courtney and later this week the Sarahs arrive for a few days of lovely visiting before we head down to NJ for Lindsay's wedding on Saturday. Our lives are filled with so many friends, new and old, and I'm so aware of that, aware of how close we live to so many great people. Even Chris said it the other night ("We have such great friends!") and I try not to think about what our lives will be like if and when we leave New York.

I'll leave those worries for another day.

6.03.2010

92 Rivington Tailor

I was born an inch too short. At least that's what Gap or Banana Republic would like me to think. Anytime I buy a pair of jeans (and ohhh the trials and tribulations that causes!), I need to get them hemmed. Not by much, but they're just long enough as-purchased that they're un-wearable.

Enter googling for good tailors. Two years ago I found a place on Yelp or some other review site and I went there after work. On my way, I ran into a random person from High School who was... wait for it... ALSO getting her pants hemmed at the same shop. Cue vaguely awkward conversation for 20 minutes while we waited.

Cut to present day. I bought new jeans last month, victory after a long journey of denim shopping. I tried to remember then name of the place, I searched my email, I even went on Google Maps to the neighborhood that I thought it was in. No dice.

In my mind, I could see it so clearly, a shop on the north side of the street near Delancey and Essex; I had been there in the late afternoon and was blinded by the sun when this girl from High School called out my name. So I trusted my memory and took the train down to Delancey to wander around and find it. Within 5 minutes, I had my tailor shop:



The reason I'm posting this here (I know, blah blah hemming pants) is that they were EXCELLENT. I walked in, tried on the jeans, the guy made one chalk mark, I gave him the jeans, and sat down to read and wait. SIX PAGES LATER they were done. And it was FIVE BUCKS. You cannot get that kind of awesome service for that price anywhere else.

If you need tailor work done in New York, head to these guys. They're on 92 Rivington Street and they are, quite simply, exactly what I needed them to be.