Monday, December 29, 2008

now I lay me down to dream of Spring

In this weird hinterland between Christmas and New Years everything is possible and yet there is nothing to do. I'm at work because I have to be, perched at my desk feeling leftover queasy from my holiday bug, but I may as well be anywhere else for all the work I'm doing.

Being this idle leaves scads of time to sit in the bathtub of myself until pruny, just thinking. This week is always a good—albeit obvious—time to redress the vagaries in my life, to do a systems check, plug up the holes, and recite to myself a little State of the Union address slash pep-talk. For the most part, I think I have 'me' under control, but I can't seem to shake this omnipresent feeling that something is wrong.

And life is too short for that feeling.

So I've set a few Plan Bs to boil on my back burners. And while they bubble, I'll start taking my own advice. Today is all I've got.

2008, I wish you farewell. You were a lousy mistress, but you weren't all that unkind, and for that I am grateful.

Friday, December 26, 2008

I wish I had a river

And now the world has to take down its twinkle lights and pay their taxes.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

in the bleak midwinter

As an unabashed fan of Christmas I realize that this year 'tis not the season. The economy is toilet-bowling, people are hurling their footwear at lame duck heads of state, and New York City has decided to do everything but chase its wanton citizens into the suburbs with a budget full of absolutely criminal tax increases. Meanwhile we've pissed off enough world leaders that I won't be half surprised when some nation, rogue or otherwise, points a nuke at us and calls it a night.

Not to mention the bills, the debts, the rising costs, and the families who can't afford to feed their children. Or the insurance companies who drive up the cost of basic procedures and then refuse coverage. Or the lack of jobs that pay just enough to afford apartments that cost just too much.

To top it off, the weather oscillates between seventy and seventeen degrees. All snow promptly turns to sleet. The streets and stores are filled with shoppers who plod through by rote. We do this because we've always done it; we cut down trees, drag them into our living rooms, try to keep them alive until New Years... We drink too much, we overindulge on cookies and cocoa, and we spend our feebly accrued savings on gifts. Lather, rinse, repeat. And we grow lonelier by the year. Is there not a Cindy Lou Who in all of us wondering "Where Are You Christmas?"

Meanwhile, sensible people turn away from all this pageantry. They don't deck their halls, they don't wrap their presents. They say the whole holiday is just a greeting card frenzy, an annual offering made to appease the retail gods. So they spare themselves the sadness of trying to recapture their childhood suspension of disbelief. Cheers to them; I wish I were that sane.

Humbug. This is the season of hope. Of twinkle lights. The summer of the soul in December. When we try to be the people we wish we were. We owe it to ourselves once a year to be as good, as generous, as kind as we can be to the people we love. To let ourselves feel a little smaller. To remind us that we are more than mere mammals.

Christmas has never been easy for me. I've always had my heart broken by my own bungling hand in trying to make myself believe: in Santa, in flying reindeer, in brass choirs. In mistletoe and love triumphant... but more than that, in the human capacity for goodness. It's not even about Jesus—I'm not particularly religious and anyway his birthday would be in April—it's about us. And we're in trouble.

Every year our illusions are peeled away until, aging gracelessly, the world is bare and we become lost in it. Here I am, twenty five years old (and not particularly thrilled about it), living in a city I hate, a flop of an actress. My father just came out of ball surgery and my mom is hundreds of miles to the South living in a swamp with a bunch of senior citizens. My family fell apart, my dog died, and I've made so little of myself so far. But, goddamn it, there is still this resurgent effervescence once a year. I still am overcome with the urge to spoil the world rotten, come ruin or rapture, and that gives me hope for myself. I am a good person at Christmas. That much I have.

So I hang my socks on the fireplace. I watch cheesy movies. I cry at the same old swells in the same old songs. I leave cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve and I pretend I'm not aware of who makes the bite marks and drains the eggnog. And someday when I have children of my own, I will make sure they never feel this way.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

yes, we did

I have never been prouder of my country.

After Obama took the primary, I put my back into the Fourth of July as I had never done before. I made an all-American cookout happen in a Manhattan apartment. I made cupcakes, wore red, white, and blue, donned my Obama For Your Mama t-shirt and drank domestic beer. I was full of this alien enthusiasm for my fatherland. Suddenly, I was remembering the great words of great statesmen a hundred years dead, white, landed men of priviledge who once tried to make of a new land mass something better. They were human, of course, but they tried and those first steps, however imperfect, however fallible, created the rubric for a country that has always stood for that intangible something better, even—and especially—when it failed to.

I was reconnecting to the America of the history books, taking my private ownership of her—for better or for worse—and thinking that maybe this time we had something to hope for. I can't say I was all that optimistic that he'd win, or even if he did win, that he'd be any different, but I can say that I had hope. I had hope that the evils we've orchestrated on our own soil and abroad may yet have taught us something as we endeavor to grope our way into this uncertain century, that our worst moments may yet have been the birth of our best.

I remember feeling renewed by a candidate who, for the first time in nearly a decade, seemed to have our best interests at heart.

Now, a lot of conservatives and right wingnuts will tell you I don't know my own best interests from a hole in my head. They whine about the big, bad government taking away their hard-earned cash to build schools. They say America is dead when she restricts in any capacity the individual freedoms of her citizens, their right to hold onto their God-given winnings and their God-fearing guns. When their talk-radio virulence is drowned out, and the Jesus rhetoric dials down, there are some good points to be made there. This country was founded almost on a dare. It was an experiment, a government of restraint and informed citizenship. As Lincoln said nearly a century later: of the people, by the people, for the people. The government of our founding fathers ought to be protected, ought never "perish from the earth."

Some of these McCainiacs and naysayers are well-meaning fiscal conservatives who support the left in social matters, but draw the line with guns and taxes. Libertarians. They tell me I am misguided for voting my conscience. They tell me I am sacrificing my birthright in this great country for a few useless social dictums that shouldn't be decided by the federal government anyway. I say they are hypocrites. Forfeit certain freedoms to safegaurd others? To save a few selfish dollars—on principle—they'll vote dog-eat-doggystyle down the line for a candidate who condemns their best friend, their brother, and their heart. What does it matter if women, gays, and peoples of color are denied a few civil rights? Rights which really should be inalienable, but mean nothing if you can't bear arms and keep your tax money, right? And so these cynics vote their wallets and in so doing throw their support behind the Republican Party and damn the rest of us.

The old adage tells us that a young conservative has no heart, sure, but an old liberal must have no money. (No, Churchill never said it.) And, it's true, I am young and poor and idealistic. But I'm also not an idiot. I weighed every issue in this campaign before succumbing to Barackoholic Obamania, before rallying behind the audacity of my hope. I don't believe he'll pay my mortgage or my gas bill. I am not a knee-jerk pseudo-socialist out to rob the rich to feed the poor. I just read the last line of the Declaration of Independence with pride: "we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor." I am more than willing to pay taxes I judge to be fair. And if Joe the Plumber (who is not even a plumber) has to pay $257 more this year when he buys his business, or some corporate wahoos have to sacrifice half a million or two from their bloated salaries, I can live with that. To quote Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr: "I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization." I cast my vote for civilization yesterday.

Some people are afraid this morning. They think the big, scary black man with his rowdy fanatics will steal their pensions and spend them on inner-city crack whores. (or, you know, schools and health care and infrastructure). They think he'll invite the terrorists over for tea and Oreos. Who knows? Maybe he will. Maybe John McCain and Sarah Palin would have done worse, much worse, for our broke and fragile country. Two men laid out their best plays and we chose one. We won the coin toss and we gave Obama the ball.

I still believe in the dormant American Dream and every citizen's right to that pursuit. The president I picked inspires me to work a little harder to get there and wants to give everyone a fair shake. But I need no longer justify a vote that I cast in the company of 63,372,482 others. This year we are spared the narrow margins and the back-and-forth of populace vs electorate. We can forego the blue state/red state battles. The coasts and the Middle can agree to disagree now (to the tune of some very close races in Indiana, Iowa, Virginia, Missouri... Montana.) Electoral maps and long-established demographic lines in the sand have been redrawn. Maybe we have a shot at some semblance of unity as a nation so we may reclaim our place in a world that has watched us anxiously for months and last night started the slow clapping.

We have elected a leader worthy of leading for the first time in a very long time. What surprises me is not that he won, a stunning victory in its own right, but that this morning I feel proud to be an American—in theory and in practice.

Friday, October 31, 2008

god, for a man who solicits insurance

I am not a writer. I don't get paid to do it, I've never been published, and quite frankly, I don't spend much time writing, which, after all, is most typically employed as a verb. Therefore, I don't go about town proclaiming to anyone who'll listen, in a self congratulatory tone, that "I'm a writer." Because I am not. I hope maybe someday I will be, but I hope that will require more from me than drinking lattes in wifi cafes and wearing a scarf.

Half the time, these posers can't manage to form a coherent sentence with two hands and a flashlight, which is fine, really... who am I to judge? But if and when they insist on leading off a conversation with this cockamamie crap about their "work," I am filled with rage. Where is that screenplay they say they've been paid 100,000 dollars to pen? Or, more aptly, where's the check?

In this Internet age of self-branding and omphaloskepticism, it is so easy to pretend you matter. A few minutes logged into facebook and you can thrust whatever version of your self you wish onto hundreds of people you've never met. You can be anyone you want. You can make a liar's first impression. Online you can claim credit for the books you never read and the friends you never made, but you can't fool me.

If one more person I know to be a fool says in my presence, "I'm a writer," with that cheeky little nod that goes along with such salacious assertions, I swear I'll deck 'em.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

strange how it rains here

New York sucks in the rain.

And I love the rain. No matter where you grow up there ought to be a soft spot in your heart for a good rainy day. You put on your rubbers and a raincoat and splash around in the deluge until you retire to the safety of the great indoors for cocoa and Law & Order. Or you can lay limply in your bed—or on your couch—and stare at the wetness of the world. Rainy days are a great boon to the depressed. On no other day can you be so self-indulgently sad and still get away with it. You can loll, you can languish, you can make lasagne and eat it straight out of the pan.

In New York City, rain ruins your whole week. The subways are damp and delayed, cabs are impossible to land, and walking is downright perilous. To get anywhere on foot, you usually have to cross a street or two, but the way our intersections are crafted, the crosswalks become little lakes you have to ford, but cannot do so without soaking yourself to the shins.

If you carry an umbrella, you are an asshole. Sorry, but you are. I've been swiped at and stabbed in the head by your umbrella and it really hurt. It ruined my day even worse. I had to stop carrying an umbrella of my own just so I wouldn't decide to beat you with it.

People with umbrellas are bullies. In the miniature game of chicken any two pedestrians play on any given NYC sidewalk, the one with the umbrella will always assume the right of way. And they will make no effort to raise it to avoid whacking you. They will actually run you into the gutter to get past, with little to no consideration for the fact that you're already way more miserable than they are and you look like a drowned cat.

Rainy days in New York are also a vehicle for predatory opportunists vending rain gear. These crooks come out of the sewers as if on call and start shouting at passersby that they have UMBRELLAS FIVE DOLLARS or—if you're on 5th Avenue or near a museum—UMBRELLAS FIFTEEN DOLLARS. They also have ponchos, which must be their scheme to make tourists stand out even more than they normally do: that way their portrait-painting, pedi-cabbing, useless-crap-peddling brethren know who to target. Of course, these umbrellas are useless. They break within minutes and blow out backwards, but they sell. They sell because those jerks stand there and laugh at you as you pass, holding your purse over your head for dear life.

By the end of the day, the city is a graveyard, the ravaged carcasses of cheapie black umbrellas everywhere, trampled and forgotten.

Also, chivalry is dead.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

why I hate new york

Proof that the subway is not an equalizing force in the class system:

Men who sit straddling two or more subway seats with their knees spread wide, their overcoats puddling around them, and newspaper elbows jutting out in a threatening way to any approaching pancreas. I actually called one of them an asshole under my breath this morning because he wouldn't move to let anyone sit. Because he was a two-seat kind of guy. Because no one else would like to stretch out on their morning commute, to make rush hour a bit more bearable. Honestly, we're a step away from selling metro cards for a First Class car. And shooting the proletariat if they are found trespassing.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

why I love new york

I walked home tonight and it was winter. Fall lasted for approximately one week and now the wind has set in between the buildings and people have started walking with their heads down again. So I walked home with my head down too and I saw a scattering of keys, brass keys on little rings, strewn across the blacktop on Broadway. As if a key truck had crashed hours earlier and no one had bothered to sweep up the debris.

It reminded me of the first time I tried to park in Chinatown, when we saw those dozen pig corpses, hanging from hooks in a delivery truck. Pure New York.