Friday, November 4, 2011

I need a word in another language


This is one of those times I wish I spoke another language besides pidgin French, because I need a word that means "the feeling in your chest where you want to cry, but don't know if it's because you're sad that the person you just spoke to for work at your prison-focused law firm murdered his mother, step-father and, after raping her, his sister, or if it's because you're weirdly awed that he was easy to talk to, that he found a way to survive, that he got married while in prison, where he's been since age 16 after getting a life sentence without the possibility of parole, that he overcame an addiction to heroin, meth and cocaine...or maybe only that he was just a person, like you." Maybe the word I need is something approaching "redemption," but not so trite, so freshman year Humanities paper, or so patronizing, and not in application to this fellow human being, but to me, because I feel that my association with the species we call humanity has suddenly improved in dignity, maybe lurched forward, by a microscopic unit of measurement.

The other night, I felt my boyfriend's breath on my face as he slept. I thought to myself, if I died, this is one of those things that would make me homesick for life.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Secret Resurrection

It's time to bring this thing back, but only if I can do it without anyone knowing (NB: the Fat David Gilmour gif, which I created myself, did not count as a full resurrection, despite the immeasurable joy it brought to this world). I think the reason the internet is littered with dead blogs is because of their constrictive public nature--after a couple posts written in a charming, carefree style about charming, carefree things, afforded by the assumption that no one's paying attention anyway, the author becomes aware of an audience and increasingly feels confined by (probably imagined) expectations of charming, carefree styles and things. Maybe this performance anxiety also stems from the self-branding that results from blogging after a while. I am a young, female adult, so what are my options? Shall I tell stories of how I'm an adorable disaster in my love life? Inventory to an almost pathological degree my findings in the realm of fashion on the internet? Document undertaking a quirky hobby I'll abandon once I reach the inevitable crossroads of "give up" or "get serious"? Even if I don't want to do any of these things, it's sometimes hard to avoid becoming a caricature of oneself (like this rule of three rhetorical question-asking; is it Aristotle or Sex and the City I'm channeling?). This is an expectation at the heart of the available template photos for Blogger, which seem to have pre-ordained that my blog, like all others in my demographic, be about either My Life: One Cupcake At A Time <3 or a self-actualizing journey through Italy, India and Indonesia.

Themes contribute to this kind of oppressive branding, and as you may gather from above, over-analyzing the mundane, as a raison d'etre, suits me just fine. After all, the only other unifying thing that could really occupy numerous entries for me is a phenomenon my boyfriend and I have observed here in Seattle: cars driving around with no headlights on after dark. Yes, that is truly a fixation of mine--why does no one else notice?!!--and the only other possible filler for this blog, besides a Kafka-esque serial novel examining the dark heart of man and set at a store near my apartment called Cartridge World that I don't feel like getting into right now. Until I overcome the physical limitations of documenting the mystery of the former or get a job at Cartridge World to research the latter, I will recount other developments in my world in which I live in:

- A lot of important people in my life died over the past two years, including my dad, which was sudden and awful. It has been horrible, horrible--things like months of waking up from naps, having forgotten that the world is now one with no Dad in it, and then having to re-remember as my sleepy disorientation wears off. I hope that this partly explains why I have consistently been in a bad mood for the majority of the past year. You should have seen me as a barista last summer, holy hell. But finally things are starting to even out for me, I think. Another day, maybe, I will talk about how the grief process made me surprisingly uncommunicative, not only in blogland but with many of my friends, including some from a while back who still don't know what happened. Some uninspired journalist looking for an angle on the tired story of the decline of newspapers should write about the almost comical misfortune of having to verbally compose your father's obituary to friends and acquaintances instead of making the paper do the dirty work for you.

- In better news: I moved to Seattle! A good amount of people here are from the '90s, it really is true. In some ways, these vestiges of our shared common history--men with earnest long hair, women in clunky Mary Janes--is comforting, especially for someone to whom the pleasure of subjecting her 24 year-old boyfriend to the video for "Runaway Train'' is not unknown. On the other hand, your goatee is gross. On the third and final hand, though, I admire your determination to assume the costume and, by extension, the less downtrodden attitude of a pre-9/11 world. Perhaps as a result of this, I have found myself saying "hella" unironically from time to time.

- I started law school at picturesque University of Washington. Some of my classmates' ability to bullshit is so outstanding that knowing that they don't know what they're talking about makes me admire them all the more. As someone for whom life decisions are excruciating (see: lack of ability to decide on a blog theme, above), I have been pleasantly surprised at the outcome of this one, despite concerns that developed the first day of orientation when one of the alums on the introductory panel recommended, as if he were imparting a great truth, that the UW Law School Class of 2013 see "Dead Poets Society." Many of the hangers-on in the legal profession like to speak as though they are imparting great truths, and that's a great truth you can take to the bank.

That's all! No theme = no need for conclusions, hooray!

Car without headlights?!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Fat David Gilmour

He used to be a male model. But he's still a really nice guy!

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Day I Knew I Was Old

Setting: the Chicago neighborhood Rogers Park, outside the Morse Red Line stop. It's like the nicest day of the year so far. Shouldn't I be hanging out in a graveyard?

Three youths are strolling toward me. Thug life, etc. They survey the landscape with a satisfied air of ownership; it seems the lovely weather is their personal doing.

I'm headed the other way, looking for the house of woman I've never met but already gave money to for a piece of African fabric with Barack Obama on it. When I find it, I will ring the buzzer, next to which will be written the woman's name, followed by "Anthropological Consultant." I will wonder sadly if this is the fate of all bozos who graduate from Peace Corps University. I will notice that she pronounces "Kenya" "Keenya," and grant that this is probably because she's actually been there. I will meet her other middle-aged friends, one of whom will remind me of Jean Stapleton but with none of Edith Bunker's sweetness. I will ask the woman, since she says "Keenya" so authoritatively, if she knows what the Kiswahili under Obama's smiling face means. "Something about peace, maybe. Are you staying for potato soup?" This invitation will be extended in an oddly accusatory manner. I will say something stupid about needing to get back to my cat, because the three of them look like witches.

Right now, though, I'm on Morse, and the vainglorious youths have me in their sights.

"Hey, pretty girl...."

We pass. I can tell by the pause that they're checking out my ass.*

One more try:

"I'm over 21!"

*unintentional vulgar couplets: another reason I appeal to horny young men.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Andy Ponders the Months

Last night I was at the Y, running on one of those treadmills with a TV attached to it, which isn't normally my thing but was the closest one on which I could get in an impulsive and fairly illogical seven-minute run before the Y closed and threw me out onto the street like so many indigent Village People. Even less my thing was the realization that by choosing a machine that uses the same principle as the rabbit at the greyhound track to spur couch potatoes to physical exertion, and by then changing the TV to the 60 Minutes profile of Bobby Jindal, it was as if I were unsuccessfully chasing the person on whom the GOP, so the captions told me, is pinning all its hopes and dreams. The alternative, that I was breathlessly pursuing Morley Safer, was not much better, although it is a little-known fact that one of his hobbies is painting depressing pictures of motel rooms, which I find to be endearing proof that Morley Safer, under his cheap sportcoat and soothing yet gravely voice, has the soul of an angsty college kid who feels he is misunderstood. Regardless, since it was the end of the hour, both of these objects in my not-very-good metaphor for unattainable desire were supplanted by an even weirder one: Andy Rooney.

Dear Andy: what sort of meta-risks would I run by offering an ironic commentary on you, O Most Ironic Commentator? What kind of hypocritical new heights would I scale by curmudgeonishly pointing out your foibles, O Most Curmudgeonly Foible Pointer-Outer? Could I ever come close to the acrobatic exasperation and surprising earnestness with which you recite your frustrations with this world in which we live in, hunched over your desk, your hands, powerless to tear down the insipid culture around you, deciding to instead remain clasped and your eyebrows continuing their march, like Sherman to the sea, south into your eyes--representing the only truly interesting development, week in and week out, of your otherwise unchanging act at the end of every show? And could I, in good conscience, mock the man who may not possess the cynical artistry of an H.L. Mencken but nonetheless has more intelligence and heart than your average "Hey you kids get off my lawn" misanthrope, combining the two somewhere in the middle to become the embodiment of what we may most accurately refer to as "a prickly pear"?

I can't. I was going to go for the cheap shot by explaining what it was like to read Andy's grousings in closed caption there on the treadmill rather than hear them delivered in his trademark deadpan, peppered with abrupt pauses to signal an end to the Quixotic attempt to understand aspects of our society that simply cannot be understood, and interspersed with footage and ambient noise to back up his point and, more importantly, to save us from the discomfort of a neverending shot of Andy, staring at us from behind his desk as if we've been called into the principal's office and our punishment is a rambling catalogue of everything that's wrong with kids like us. I was going to talk about how, even with my intermittent-at-best viewing of 60 Minutes in my wastrel young adulthood and, even then, seeing Andy Rooney tempered with the above embellishments, I had already noticed a marked decline in the quality, humor and even logic of his meditations from the levels he showed every Sunday night when I was growing up, and how this was finally confirmed by reading rather than hearing his words as they fled me at approximately 5.8 miles an hour.

Then I pulled up the text of his segment and everything I had thought as I was running last night was still there--but it mostly just made me feel sorry for Andy who, hilarious eyebrows-as-symbol-of-his-unchecked-grouchiness-about-everything notwithstanding, has the melancholy air of someone left behind by the Pied Piper of the Reagan years. However, if he ever decides to quit the world of disgruntled journalism, I think Andy could really have a future in poetry. So that's what I offer you instead. Enjoy!


When I write the name of a month in a script,
I'm always surprised
How some months are spelled. August is easy
But February is strange.
"Febuary" is spelled "FebRuary" and not "FebUary"
The way we all pronounce it.


Today is March 1st, of course. Most of us
Like March but I think either May or June
Would win any vote we took to pick our
Favorite month.
January and February are
Too cold and
July and August are
Too hot.
Some people would probably pick September
But I don't like endings
And I think of September as an ending.


The thing you have to remember is,
Most people don't wear clothes
To keep warm.
For instance, "warm" is not the issue
When women get dressed.
I wear the same suit
All year long.

(This final one is not by Andy but by the lone commenter to his segment posted online. I didn't alter the capitalization):

Ode to 60 Minutes

the Bible I choose to live by
is 60 Minutes,
and 60 Minutes keeps me feeling
thank You

Saturday, February 7, 2009


Facebook's so-called news feed mostly consists of "top stories" like "That Girl From High School You Were Never Really Friends With, Who, In a Weak Moment, You Friended ("friend" is a verb and this is our culture) Just So You Could See What Her Wedding Dress Looks Like is now friends with Some Other Girl That Who Cares." But the other day it served me well by alerting me that my friend Dustin had removed "the macabre" from his interests, which reminded me that the macabre is, contrary to Dustin apparently, one of my interests. I was obsessed with and terrified by ghost stories as a kid and most infamously once made my parents throw away one such book that had scared me so deeply I didn't want it in the house. They had bought the book for me when we were on vacation in Scotland, a place that does the macabre with such verve that the bookstore we got it at was called The Witchery. In yet another example of that not serious but not insignificant lack of parental foresight that I love about them, they let their overimaginative, bookworm seven year-old daughter delve into the book unsupervised, probably enjoying the silence in backseat of the rented Rover rather than the surely irritating but popular is-it-a-fight-or-is-it-a-game? my brother liked to start by stealing my blanket and then informing me that, to get her back, I would have to orally fill out an "application" of his own improvised devising (somehow at age ten he had a cutting wit when it came to bureaucratic formalities. Another in his repertoire involved claiming that, any time I won a staring contest, it didn't count because he was "the proctor" and had the final early lesson in why fascism is so annoying and maybe, combined with the threat of filling out imaginary forms in triplicate, why I dislike rules I don't see the point of). The book's purchase unfortunately coincided with our staying at Borthwick Castle, a hangout of Mary Queen of Scots allegedly haunted by not one ghost but multiple ones, including one of a man who had been burned alive. No doubt my parents told me this story, myopically encouraged by my budding interest in the macabre and unaware that I had just read a story in my evil new book about a disembodied ghost head floating through a wall. And so I spent the whole night at Borthwick Castle awake and terrified to the core, when probably the only scary thing that was going on was a wide-eyed child staring for hours into the darkness. After we got back, I was still so afraid of the book that I finally made them throw it in the trash--a child's pared-down version of an exorcism.

Most of my relationship with the macabre, however, is more manageable and basically means that I love 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' and Vincent Price (although even his appearance [and Nietszche quoting! WTF?!] in the Elvis movie "The Trouble With Girls" can't save that piece of shit) and believe that a perfect October date is walking around Wicker Park and determining which houses are the spookiest-looking. The latest manifestation has been a longing to spend an afternoon in Graceland Cemetery here in Chicago. I go past it every morning on the train and always imagine it being spring and me being down on the paths I see from above, alone among the beautiful, strange, silent monuments. And today it was finally nice enough to go! It was also an appropriately sobering and reflective activity after a night of debauchery on the sad and cringe-inducing, rather than toasting to freedom and throwing your glass over your shoulder, end of the spectrum. Plus there's something about being in a cemetery on a day that feels like the first of spring, not only because a lot of the smaller graves are unexpectedly standing in water but because of the more obvious life and death paradox that this blog seems to be focused on lately.

One of the things I was thinking about while I was there was the different physical representations of mortality and how the graves and monuments reveal what someone thinks or once thought about death. Of course, there are the normal "Rest in the Lord" inscriptions (weirdly, I didn't see one "Rest in Peace" in the two hours I spent there), which are so common that we don't stop to consider what that actually means. But when you add the fact that not a few graves look sort of like beds, it starts to beg the question of what death is supposed to be. Like, death is sleep? And life is toil? In my unscientific observation, I noticed that the small, presumably working class graves seemed to like this theme a lot, which I guess makes sense--if your life is all hard work, then death's reward is rest, although that seems to imply that life is more tragic or at least harder than death. I guess this can be either depressing or not, depending on what you want to believe about life or about death.

Then there are the bigger, fancier monuments. Even the mid-sized ones didn't seem to need much in the way of comforting Bible(ish), Gothic script verse, let alone the "he's not dead, he's just sleeping" idea. Instead, it was as if the owner of this, shall we say, Mercedes E-Class of grave had been successful (er, rich?) enough that there was no need to describe his death as an escape from the difficulties of life. And, in the case of the grave of Allen Pinkerton, founder of the Pinkerton detectives and enemy to all us IWW fans out there who learned at a young age how cruelty is perpetrated by the mighty, whether they be robber baron hired guns or self-appointed proctors of staring contests, not only is there not a word of King James English to be found but instead there's a huge plaque detailing the man's accomplishments, including founding "a noble profession in the hour of the nation's peril." Now, should we blame Pinkerton for being proud in death? Unless he dictated what his epitaph would say, I don't know if we can. So should we judge his grieving survivors for making a laundry list of why he was great and tacking it up on his grave? Again, probably not.

But it is interesting to see how one's social position influences the physical commemoration of their life forever. Obviously this also extends to the really big monuments, most notably Potter and Bertha Palmer's Greek temple/grave that looks over the pond on the northern side of the cemetery. Not only are there no Victorian God references--not only is there not even the brash self-made man's list of reasons why he, too, gets to have a biggish monument--there is nothing except impressive and truly beautiful Classical columns, two sarcophagi and a few torches for good measure, creating an effect of spare grandeur that seems to say more about these people's impact on the world of their lives and even ours than the "RIP" sentiments of the tiny graves in its shadow. Meanwhile, the latter are plain for a different reason, with only "Mother" or "Father," the person's name, dates, and maybe something about never being forgotten, the price of which probably having gone up for every extra "eth" and "thee." There are also those older graves you occasionally pass that have become so smoothed with time that the name is lost and the grave is really just a stone. Does this happen to the big ones, too, eventually? I hope so. Then, despite the barriers created by wealth, race, gender, and class, in the end everyone would just be an anonymous, fragile and perfect human being, having briefly appeared and now gone. Although it would take a glacier to smooth the Palmers' "grave" down.

Still. One mustn't take life or even death too seriously, so after all these, er, monumental reflections today, I ended up at a party where the hosts' cat chased a laser pointer beam around the room until it puked. It was one of the funniest things I have ever seen.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Century Plant

Yesterday, once I got over the daily adrenaline rush of whether I could traverse the entire north side of Chicago to get to Evanston for work on time (really more of a self-imposed challenge; the idea of it mattering whether I'm there at 9:00 am sharp is laughable), after I got my daily arrival reward coffee from the office not-exactly-maker, but rather a machine whose screen promises to "inspire" me (thus we should refer to it as a "coffee experience," maybe? And here I am writing about it, so I guess it is inspirational. Sigh.), and after I had finally settled in to my cube to check Facebook, I realized that I was sick. Sick enough that even the satisfaction of knowing and taking advantage of where the office stash of Tylenol is kept was not enough to make me feel completely better, nor was combatting the chills by wrapping myself in a scarf that made me look, especially coupled with the Sensibly Scandinavian (TM?) turtleneck I was wearing and especially when it came undone and just hung around my neck, like a Lutheran pastor. My brother would be so proud. Nevertheless, since I was already there and fearful of what the Purple Line would hold for me during non-express hours, I stayed, battled through my under-the-weatherness and took today off instead. I slept until noon, getting up only to email my boss and tell her I wasn't coming in, to which she responded with some adorably motherly advice to drink lots of fluids. Coffee is a fluid, right?

And after sleeping off exhaustion probably due in no small part to staying up late watching as much 'Felicity' as my eyeballs (and, sigh, heart!) can handle, I was feeling well enough that I decided I should do something more interesting with my day than laying in bed, drinking coffee and watching shit online. Plus 'Felicity' wasn't coming in the mail until later. Why not the Garfield Park Conservatory, perfect not only because it's free and only five minutes from my apartment but also because I could argue (again, a self-imposed challenge; see above) that this was a perfectly reasonable sick day activity--all that humidity and carbon dioxide would surely improve the health of an invalid like myself, as anyone who uses 19th century logic to justify their actions knows.

I wasn't really expecting to be inspired by the place, though...getting enough inspiration from my daily coffee experience at work, I was more interested in pretty flowers and becoming as warm as possible through no physical effort of my own. But even as I was pulling up to the huge glass building in the otherwise rundown neighborhood of Garfield Park, I saw the tops of the trees looming inside, contrasted against the barren landscape outdoors, and was caught off-guard by the beauty of it. Inside the place, you are enveloped by greenness; drawn into the funny names of the plants--the Boojum tree, for example, named from a Lewis Carroll poem--the weird shapes of the cacti, the horticultural information you never knew and will forget as soon as you've moved on (although you'll appreciate, man, you'll appreciate), the flowers, the cute couples on dates, the ponds where you can make a wish, and, oh yes, the chocolate tree.

I had been to the Conservatory once before, almost four years ago, and I remembered the basic layout of the place and most of what I've already described. I didn't recall, however, the Century Plant. "So named because it is said to bloom once a century," the plaque reads, "the Century Plant in fact blooms after a decade or two of growth. When it is ready, it sends up a single thirty foot stalk which produces an impressive blossom. So much energy is spent growing this flower that the plant dies shortly after. Side shoots growing around the base ensure a new generation of plants." Seriously? There is a plant that embodies major themes of everything from 'Charlotte's Web' to 'The Brothers Karamozov' to, well, Easter?! The English major in me is reeling--why didn't they bring this up in otherwise uninteresting bio classes?!--but I'll leave you to dissect its many meanings in the comments section. For now, it's enough to know that there is a tiny rainforest in the middle of this city, in the middle of this endless winter, where those of us for who are sick of the cold, seemingly dead world outside (if not actually made sick by it) can be reminded that even after the most beautiful and rare things have passed away, spring will come again...even if it feels like a century from now.