Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense

Dear England, That’s Not Bacon

Upon moving to England, I discovered a nation that seemed as in love with bacon as I was. Every sandwich at Pret, every burger, ever salad came with bacon. I thought I had discovered my national identity soulmate, until I started buying some of this bacon-laden food, and discovered:

It’s not bacon.

That’s not bacon:

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And neither is that:

This one came with butter...it's like a little heart attack in a bun.

This one came with butter…it’s like a little heart attack in a bun.

Nope, that isn’t bacon either:

This is cheese and bacon on a bagel. Yes, that cheese is shredded and unmelted. Trust me when I say this is not what you would get in New York.

This is cheese and bacon on a bagel. Yes, that cheese is shredded and unmelted. Trust me when I say this is not what you would get in New York.

Oh sure, maybe it’s Canadian bacon, but we all know that’s just a fancy word for ham. Nobody likes Canadian bacon. Nobody.

Bacon is meant to be narrow and strippy, burnt and crispy. It should be dark red/brown, with charcoal black bits. It is supposed to melt in salty ecstasy in your mouth.

It is not supposed to be chewy. It is not supposed to have gobs of fat that taste like, well, fat, and stick in your teeth. It should not be pink like a pig because I don’t want to think about what animal bacon comes from while I eat it.

So England, it’s time to shape up. I love your ravenous, bottomless appetite for fried food, but the point of frying is to create a yummy crunchy texture…why are you constantly soggify-ing your chips with vinegar (more disturbingly, why have I taken up this habit)? Why is your bacon flat and limp and as sad as a cut out tongue?

Let’s solve this crisis, England. This is my only qualm about our long-term relationship, and it’s as heavy and demoralizing as a wet blanket…which is what your bacon tastes like. I know we can do better. And just as soon as I move out of my vegetarian house, I will show you how.

You are almost there, England. Keep on trying.

This was almost bacon, it just needed a little more time to crisp. I ate this with fried pickles, and THEY were crunchy.

This was almost bacon, it just needed a little more time to crisp. I ate this with fried pickles, and THEY were crunchy.

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Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense, London | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

2013: Reframing a Failure

Since I began keeping track of what I was reading in 2010, the number of books I completed each year has steadily increased. My goal for 2012 was 50, and I handily surpassed it with 59. I didn’t think it would be too much of a challenge to pledge to read 75 in 2013.

For ten months of last year I was ahead of schedule according to Goodreads, who calculate my reading stats. At one point I was 8 books ahead, and I thought: I got this. No problem. In the terminology of your typical sports flick, “I couldn’t lose.”

Ah, the hubris. Pride go-eth before the fall, right?

At the beginning of December, I realized I had only read 66 books. I knew I couldn’t read 9 books in December – December! a month when I had 20,000 words due for my Masters, a weekend trip to France and a 2 ½ week trip home for Christmas and all the holiday madness therein – and I knew I was going to fail to achieve my goal. I finished the year with 69 books read.

My immediate react to this was, of course, searing disappointment. How had I squandered that enormous excess of books? It shows what kind of nerd I am that I was humiliated to have come so close and fallen short.

Yes friends, my life is replete with the first-iest of first world problems.

Still, I am just competitive enough (with myself, apparently) to be super annoyed that I failed. And that’s what it felt like: failure. Once again, I had set a goal, and I had failed to check it off my list.

After a dark night of the soul (look, my favorite activity is reading. I don’t have a lot of drama in my life as I sit around with sheafs of paper, so allow me some hyperbole for the sake of the narrative), I had to reframe my failure.

I failed because I was busy. My life started to turn around in October and November. I got a job. I started hanging out with some new friends and good friends more frequently. I started seeking out the strange and wonderful bits and bobs that London has to offer, going to more events, playing in more of the city. Going home to New Jersey for the first time in a year meant there were many people to see, catch up with, laugh with, enjoy. There wasn’t time to read as I soaked up my parents, trying to figure out how I can be more like them.

I was reading less because I was living more. See, now when you look at it that way, it’s not so bad, is it? (You probably didn’t think it was that bad to begin with.)

There is another vital life lesson tied in here. I fell short on this goal because I picked up three books in a row that I didn’t enjoy, but rather than giving up and moving on to something I would like, I hung around in my own version of purgatory, not reading these dull tomes, but not reading anything else either. I think this is important. I think learning to let go is something I’m still figuring out, and the metaphorical resonances in the bigger picture of my life abound. I have to get better at walking away from situations that are unhealthy or make me unhappy. My fear of quitting (which equates to failing in my mind) is definitely something to work on this year.

A friend of mine wrote an excellent blog on managing expectations recently. Her life and mine are different – I aspire to be where she is in my own writing career, and I admire her perseverance in pursuing writing in a way I still don’t, to my further embarrassment – but I understand the sentiment of expecting a great deal from yourself and feeling like you miss the mark even when you give your best. But looking back at 2013, I have to recognize that while nothing major was achieved, I took a lot of small, significant steps forward.

While I was home in NJ, I turned on my American cell phone and noticed the last text I had sent a friend before I left to return to London last December. I told her I had been crying all day, that London was a mistake, that I didn’t want to go back.

I can honestly say right now I don’t even remember feeling that. In the past 12 months I have come to love this city so hard that no matter what else might be making me bluesy, I have learned to maintain my perspective: I am so lucky to be here, and when all else fails, I am so happy to be here. I feel like I belong here, a feeling I have never had before (as frequent readers of this blog know, my search for a sense of home has long haunted me). I am lucky to have made some good friends this year. I’m lucky to have done some nice travelling this year. I am lucky to be pursuing writing, no matter how much work there is still to do on that front – I’m lucky to be writing the book I’m writing, on a topic that I truly love and find fascinating. I’m lucky that after 12 months of not seeing them, I can still go to my family and bask in their unconditional love and support. I’m lucky that I wanted to cry as I left them again, because how many people have that much love in their lives?

2014 makes me anxious for a lot of reasons: I have to finish this book, I have to figure out what my actual career is going to look like. I only have a year left on my visa and I don’t want to leave England. I still would like to feel a little more entrenched in London, less like an outsider. Every time I open my mouth I reveal my foreignness, my unintentionally loud, friendly, brash Americanness.

Still, I am so lucky that this is my set of problems. I am learning to reframe my anxiety as excitement. I want the world, and of course that’s bound to cause disappointment, because who can have the world? But I know I’d rather set a high goal and standard and dream big and fall short than sell myself short and accept too little and be discontent. As Beckett wrote, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Here’s to failing better in 2014. I have no expectations for this year, only hope.

Well, I have one expectation.

I’m going to read 75 books this year.

Happy reading and happy living. Here’s to a dream and love and laughter filled year for us all.

A small sampling of the books in my future. There are many, many more not pictured.

A small sampling of the books in my future. There are many, many more not pictured.

Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense, London | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Adventures with Vouchers: Flapper Brunch

Summer in London: it happened, folks. It’s just now starting to think about autumn here, but for about a month or so it’s been hot in London. Gross hot. Sticky hot. Don’t touch me hot.
I love it.

And this is exactly why we have seasons, people. I have never been so giddy or grateful for suffocating and sunny weather as I am having gone through the doldrums of this past abysmally grey (look, I’m turning English! Stockholm Syndrome is setting in) winter.

However, sweat-your-balls-off weather is probably not the ideal time to play dress up.

Also, I don’t even LIKE dress up (that’s fancy dress to all my thousands of British readers. While I love the word “fancy,” and give the Brits props for usage, it is still not an appealing activity to me.)

So why on earth would I book a dress-up flapper brunch, a period in fashion history not particularly kind to a curvy lady like myself?

I do not know. I am addicted to vouchers. And absurdity.

And brunch.

But back to the heat. By the time my friend K and I traversed the city and the environs of Hammersmith to the Betty Blythe Vintage Tea Room, our clothes were damp and molded so thoroughly to our bodies we were not too enthusiastic about clothes in general. When we discovered our reservation had not gone through, and the downstairs brunch room was closed because of an electrical outage, we didn’t much care. The sweet pinky French lady at the counter offered to let us dress up and sit in the window on the ground floor, but we politely declined.

I was kinda disappointed – the dressing up was the whole point of this surreal experience – but honestly, there was barely a fan blowing on us. I was too hot to care about anything except shoving food in my mouth hole after the long journey west.

Which is what happened: a pot of English breakfast, a pink lemonade, pain au chocolat, granola and yogurt, and more toast than you can shake a stick at. All for GBP7! Impressive and delicious.

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After a good long chat and bellies now full, the French girl let us go downstairs to play with the available stock of flapper clothing for a few minutes. It was mostly just accessories, and we spent ten giggly minutes trying on hats and headbands and gloves…not a huge selection, but it was actually good fun and we got some nice photos. And none of it would have made the actual eating feel any different – can you even eat while wearing a hat? I think those two activities are mutually exclusive. And clearly trying to eat in elbow length gloves would have ended messily and with much embarrassment – so I’m totally fine with how it all worked out.

We totally won this one: Vouchers: 1, Me – 2

I’m not ready for fall. Come on London gods, let’s keep up the atrocious, debilitating heat just a little longer…at least until September.

A selection of silly, be-hatted photos:

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Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense, London | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Writers Named David: Rakoff

People probably get tired of me going on about my obsession with writers named David. I have a tendency to be a broken record with things I love. Sedaris. Foster Wallace. Rakoff. I recently read books by a Farley and a Lipsky that were both also excellent (though to be fair, the Lipsky book was a transcript of a conversation with Foster Wallace…)

A year ago today, David Rakoff died, so I hope you don’t mind if I let my record skip a little longer…

I met David Rakoff once, in February 2011. Just for a minute, at the end of an event in Brooklyn. I hadn’t read his books yet, I’d only heard a few of his pieces on This American Life, and his rhyming couplets stuck in my mind – mainly because I hate rhyming couplets, and yet the two poems I’d heard him read on TAL were beautifully crafted and erudite. They were touchstones of how to live gracefully in this awkward and fragile human world. At this event, I was ogling Ira Glass (like you do), trying to get a picture, and I didn’t take the time with David that I should have, that I would have if I had already fully immersed myself in his canon the way I have since. But while Ira was running around, trying to get something done, David looked at me fully, he was present with me. I had the strangest feeling that he would have gladly been a friend and mentor to me, if only I had asked.

Little did I know at the time. Once I read his books and listened to more of his TAL work, I often thought of writing to him, of telling him how much I identified with his work, but I procrastinated. And now it’s too late. When I read that he died last year, I burst into tears, and then kept bursting sporadically throughout the day. I felt like I knew him, even though of course I didn’t.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, about how nonfiction writers who insert themselves into their work shape who they want you to see – so that you can feel like you know them, like they understand you as no one else ever has or ever could, like you could really truly be friends. That’s a gift, though a somewhat disingenuous one. Who knows if these writers truly are what they say they are…well, I guess that could be said of anyone.

The thing about the Davids is this: Foster Wallace is just brilliant. He elevates me, challenges me, and yes, seems to worry about the same things I worry about as far as what it means to be human, or lonely, or connected. He had so much roiling inside him, no matter how much he struggled, it seems like it just couldn’t NOT get written. Sedaris was born into a family just begging to be written about, which is not to diminish his talent, because he uses his own special alchemy to embellish his familial lore into art.

But David Rakoff is me. He had to fight for his words. He wasn’t born into a goldmine of stories, though I suppose being gay – and a Canadian in America – gave him some inherent material. But this is the man who said, “Writing is like pulling teeth. From my dick.”

I so perfectly identify with that sentiment, relevant body part or not. It seems like David got a later start in his writing because he was afraid to try for many years. He had to go out and find stories, he put himself in weird situations, he did things he didn’t want to do. He forced himself to experience, and grow. Often the endgame was disappointment or indifference. But he tried.

I live in “afraid to try.” I’m still working on getting to “tried.” I admire the journey he took from one to the other. I get it so hard.

That’s what it seems like he did, anyway. That’s how he presented himself, or a facet of himself. And if he exaggerated that part…well, he made himself completely human. I wanted to know him better. I don’t know if that’s dark magic or not, but if only I could get that kind of emotional truth right.

People always tell me I’m too hard on myself. Someone suggested that I imagine a child, or a pet, or something that I would always treat gently, and try to treat myself like that.

I am on the fence about babies and I have never had a pet, so instead I imagine David Rakoff. I think he might have been a little hard on himself too. And he is certainly someone who deserved to be treated with generosity and kindness. In the minute I met him, he gave that to me.

Writing is like pulling teeth. But when I get frustrated and want to give up and find a nice 9-5 job and never, ever think about being creative again, I think of David, who can’t write anymore. I imagine taking up the torch for him. I can’t pretend to be a fraction as smart or witty as he was. But I can continue to make myself better, to strive to get where he was, and to honor him by emulating him, by writing the kind of stories he might have written.

Anyway, that’s just how I feel. Go read his new book, it’s all rhyming couplets, and I’ve heard it’s amazing. I’m putting it off, delaying the gratification, but you should buy it.

The world misses you, David.

David Rakoff

Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Back to Basics: Unveiling the 34×34

As some of you may remember, this blog began as part of my 30×30, a list of 30 goals to achieve before I turned 30 (trademark Mr. Rob Roan). I only finished maybe a third of that list, but had more fun doing it than I’d had concentrated in any year prior. Two years ago when I wrote up my 31×31 I got derailed by a little incident where I decided to go spend 6 months living on a boat with no access to land and land-based activities many days a week. Then I got home and started thinking about moving to London, so I didn’t even make a list last year.

But here I am, about to enter my Jesus year (33!) and thinking about all that man metaphorically accomplished in his creatively nonfictioned life. I have little interest in being crucified, and think there is little hope I will be resurrected thus ensuring the salvation of humanity, but I thought, hey! Why not try some cool stuff this year anyway? I’m always looking for my own salvation, so if trying belly dancing or hosting a dinner party can achieve that, I’m all in.

I am quite smitten with England and would like to stay here forever and ever, but at the moment there is an expiration date on my visa, so I figure I might as well make the most of being here while I can. Thus the list this year is full of British/European goals, mixed in with the usual things that scare the pants off me, things to focus on my career, and generally inane fun things that I just want to do but never have. My birthday isn’t until mid August, but I figured I’d give myself a running start on this one, just to make sure I get through it.

So please join me as I scare, humiliate, elevate, improve, sultrify, and sillify myself. If you happen to live or be in England, you are always more than welcome to accompany me for an adventure or two.

Please keep reading! Each activity will be parsed and analyzed and laughed over on this very page.

Here it is, in no particular order:

1. Take a photography class
2. Go to 5 European countries/cities I have never visited
3. Run the London Marathon
4. Go to Wimbledon
5. Dye a blue streak in my hair
6. Do a pin-up photo shoot
7. Go surfing in Cornwall
8. Write and submit two essays/articles a month
9. Go kayaking
10. Walk 100 miles of British paths
11. Try 10 British beers
12. Go to Edinburgh Fringe Festival
13. Take a belly dancing class
14. Skydive
15. Try all the British foods on this list: http://www.buzzfeed.com/ailbhemalone/18-weird-and-wonderful-british-foods-you-need-to-try
16. Visit all of London’s major parks
17. Take a cooking class
18. Learn the banjo
19. Meditate every day for a month
20. Go skeet shooting
21. Host a dinner party
22. Write one fictional short story a month
23. Take tennis lessons
24. Drive on the wrong side of the road (ie, drive in England)
25. See the Northern Lights
26. Do all the walking tours in my London walks books
27. Join/create a pub quiz team
28. Pitch a story for radio
29. Submit to “Just Back” until I am selected
30. Volunteer
31. Go to a literary festival
32. Write a haiku every day for 100 days
33. Learn to tap dance
34. Go to 5 nice, unfamiliar restaurants alone

Categories: 34x34, Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense, London | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Little Story for Father’s Day…

A few years ago I ran a marathon, as I wrote about here. It was the Marine Corps Marathon, and my dad is a Marine, so it felt a little special, and I was so grateful that my parents drove four hours to Washington, DC to cheer me on, running around the city to wait for me and hold up homemade rally signs.

I found them somewhere around mile 18 or 19, and by that point I was in bad shape. I had taken a walking break which gave my body time to seize up and decide it didn’t want to do this marathon thing anymore, and every time I tried to run I had a shooting pain from my left hip to knee. I was feeling slow and mad at myself and embarrassed that my parents had come all this way to watch me hobble.

So I walk up to them instead of running and my dad is proudly snapping pictures of me the whole time even though I’m crying. I apologize to them for being such a disappointment and they just tell me over and over how impressed they are and how proud and how I am going to finish and it is all okay.

I stand with them for a little while, but know I have to get going again. I’m about to cross a bridge back into Virginia, and the crowds along the route are pretty light along that stretch. As I am about to leave, my dad asks me if I’m going to run or walk. In my whimpery messiness, I say I don’t know.

He says, “Well if you are going to walk, we will walk with you for a while.”

I hadn’t thought about this story in a long time and then I told it recently and immediately started to cry. That is my dad. He is always willing to walk with me, to do for me, to help me however he can. He would move mountains if there was something he could do to ensure my happiness. I am positive that I don’t tell him enough how grateful I am for that level of unconditional love and support. There is nothing I can do to repay it, and the crazy thing is, he doesn’t care.

So today I just want to thank my dad for always walking with me. I may not always act like I see him there beside me, but I do, and I feel so lucky to have him for my father.

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Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

I am a Domestic Goddess

In my coursework studying creative nonfiction, my classmates and I often discuss what is “truth” and how frequently “truth” gets wiggled in order to create a good narrative arc, or pretty prose. It’s kind of a fascinating question. I have recently been disappointed to learn that some of my favorite writers have blatantly made things up in order to create a good story. It seems like everyone does it – creative nonfiction is NOT journalism, so whether it is allowed in this genre is a great, debatable issue.

Ultimately, it’s all about the narrative. And narrative is a malleable beast.

And that’s how I get to be a domestic goddess.

Last week this happened:

I was home alone but it was Saturday night. I did not have a single soul in this blessed city who wanted to hang out with me all weekend.

I was feeling blue. I couldn’t shake the heart crunch of a break up. It wasn’t a particularly serious relationship, but I was wallowing.

I was swamped with work but my blueness was making my mind run in circles rather than towards productivity. I was procrastinating.

My baking, usually something I’m reasonably good at, did not go smoothly. First, I didn’t read the recipe carefully and mixed the flour and sugar. I was not supposed to do that. If you have ever tried to separate out grains of sugar and flour once they have been mixed – well, you’re a better man than I. I just dumped it in the trash, wasting over 3 cups of good product. I didn’t have *quite* enough butter – damn you, metric system, I was about 20 grams off. I tried to realign things to use margarine instead but I didn’t have quite enough of that either. I decided it would be fine.

It was not fine.

I then tried to soften the butter in the oven (I live in a house without a microwave, and don’t get me started on it). The butter melted way faster than I expected, making is liquid-y instead of soft.

All this added up to create some cookies of mass destruction. You could bruise people with those cookies if you had a good throwing arm or a slingshot.

I unscrewed (yes, unscrewed) a bottle of wine and proceeded to drink the entire thing. Drunk and alone on a Saturday night.

I listened to the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” musical soundtrack and sang along to every word. This is possibly the reason I’m single.

I called a friend and whinged at her about my sadface problems.

***

So that’s the “truth” of what happened.

But with a little bit of editing:

I was home alone, a rare blessing in my house of three where someone is always around and using the communal space.

I poured myself a glass of red wine and blasted my iPod, another rare treat when you share living space. I belted along at the top of my lungs while I turned on the oven and warmed up the kitchen. I baked sugar cookies, perfect for dunking in a cup of milky tea.

While home for Christmas, I only got see see my childhood best friend briefly, so I called her up – it’s so cheap to add international minutes to my mobile phone. We caught up in an edifying, deeply satisfying way. I love knowing no matter how long we go without talking, we can always pick up the phone and talk like we still converse daily. She will always be a part of my life.

***

In that version, I overcame an obstacle and succeeded in having an excellent night, embracing my domesticity and some me-time. If my life were a chick flick, I’d probably add the baking mishaps back in for a bit of endearing, slapstick humor.

And the cookies did genuinely taste good, they were just very, very hard.

Both versions are true. But the tone of each is pretty different. It’s all about shaping the narrative. Which is another way of saying it is all a matter of perspective.

Which is another way of saying fake it till you make it.

I am a domestic goddess. Come, drink wine and eat cookies with me.

Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense, London | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Adventures with Vouchers: Acupressure Massage

I should really read through voucher offers before I buy them.

This week I got an acupressure massage.

I had just seen the word “massage” and the cheap price and thought, “Sign me up!”

Ordinarily, I would have spaced out the acupuncture and the massage, but please see previous post about procrastinating and facing expiration dates.

I knew I was in for a different kind of experience from the acupuncture as soon as I walked through the door: there was my soothing fountain, resting on a mat of fake turf.

The waiting room was spacious, white walls and melon-colored faux leather armchairs. Expansive and generically inspiring nature shots hung on the walls: a mass of trees in blossom, a clifftop view across misty mountains. A very different vibe from the acupuncture place.

I was gently asked to put on some little white slippers, which these spa-type places should realize is not particularly relaxing, at least if you’re me and wondering who else’s funky feet have tred in these slippers previously.

I was introduced to G., my qi master. The staff wore white gis, which I imagine is a comfy work outfit, even if it did make me think of The Karate Kid.

G. spent a good ten minutes talking to me about qi/chi, or the body’s energy system. It all does make a lot of sense, really. That the body and mind and spirit are actually interconnected and one affects the other. Why is that an Eastern philosophical idea? Why isn’t it just a human philosophical idea? Why are Westerners so cynical about this intermingling, why are we embarrassed by talk about the spirit, why can “New Age” ideas only be considered with irony?

Of course, I couldn’t help but think how disappointed I would be if I ever saw G. in a Starbucks. So I guess I’m just another cynical, overly-ironied Westerner, a revelation which will come as no surprise to anyone.

Acupressure massage is not a medical, physical kind of massage. It’s all about unblocking blocked-up qi. It is performed fully clothed (me – well, and him too), and involved deep fingertip-rubbing over the entire body, head to toe, sternum to butt.

As part of the qi stimulating process, G. made noise while he worked me up. It is supposed to be a cosmic noise, a sound that encourages qi flow from master to client. The best I can do to describe it is as a prolonged “shhhh” except it was “chhhh.” It was the sound an aerosol can makes and it would be really bad for the environment if you continually sprayed a can as long as G. had to make this noise.

I get the meditative qualities of chanting, and I have an album of Tibetan Singing Bowls that is supposed to hit different bodily chakras, and I get that too, I can feel the vibrations in various parts of my body. This just sounded like spraying an aerosol can. I may have mentioned that.

But bless him, G. motored his mouth through my massage and dug his hands so hard into every inch of my body that two days later, my sternum still hurts. There is obviously no way this kind of rubbing can be bad. It might be painful at the time, but it does loosen up all your muscles and tensions, and I felt pretty nice afterward.

We chatted again after my treatment, and G. told me that I have huge blockages in my kidneys, which are the body’s battery packs of energy, as well as my stomach, which blocks energy from getting to my lower half. Maybe that’s why my feet are always cold. (G. repeated several times that he is not a licensed medical professional and there is nothing physically wrong with me. Phew.)

Seriously, I don’t want to be cynical. I want to believe in magic. If we don’t think our own bodies are capable of something mystical and special, it’s really hard to expect it from any other part of the world around us. Qi could just be another part of physics: atoms, protons, neutrons, electrons, it’s all swirling around inside us. The idea of energy, positive and negative, is the best way to describe any sort of spiritual views I have.

I want to believe in qi, I want to get in touch with my qi, but I didn’t have any sense of energy release or free flowing radiance in my body. I enjoyed the treatment, but. Sometimes it’s just nice to get poked and prodded. Realistically, I can’t have expected all my qi to start cheerfully flowing after one forty minute session. (But I probably did expect that because I am not realistic.)

G. did a soft-sell for the center’s holistic chanting/movement/meditation class. And I will really consider it. It’s just sort of a pain in the ass to get to the center from where I live. If I’m going to harness my qi and unblock my energy, which sounds like a lot of work in and of itself, I’m really going to need it to be superconvenient.

G. was too genuine and sweet for me to feel that this voucher was a scam, but I don’t know if I really got all that much out of it either. So here’s the new scorecard: Vouchers – 1, Me – 0, Qi – 1

Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense, London | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Serenity/Courage/Wisdom Mixtape

Here’s a short and fun interactive piece for your Friday afternoon, ready for the weekend state of mind.

You know that old chestnut: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”?

Well for a long time I have been trying to come up with a soundtrack to accompany this saying, a way to pump myself up with serenity, courage, and wisdom.

I had started a playlist once in a notebook that is now buried in the wilds of my storage unit, so I’ve had to start from scratch. It’s actually harder than I thought it would be, as there is some overlap with my “Redemption Songs” list, which you can read about here.

Here’s what I have so far:

Serenity:

Let it Be – The Beatles

This Too Shall Pass – Ok Go

Hang On – Dr. Dog

Nothing to Worry About – Peter, Bjorn and John

Let Go – Frou Frou

Float On – Modest Mouse

Hold On – Alabama Shakes

Courage:

Blackbird – the Beatles

Uprising – Muse

Zero – Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Shake It Out – Florence + the Machine

I Won’t Back Down – Tom Petty

There Goes the Fear – Doves

Make Light – Passion Pit

Wisdom:

Rain – Bishop Allen

Nothing But Change Part II – Harlem Shakes

Heart of the Matter – India.Arie

Troubles Will Be Gone – The Tallest Man on Earth

Little Talks – Of Monsters and Men

Learning to Fly – Tom Petty

You Can’t Always Get What You Want – the Rolling Stones

So what do you think? Good or bad? Do you have any ideas? It’s so hard to think of things when you’re actually trying to. But I would love more suggestions. Happy weekend!

Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

On My Second Marriage

For twenty-five years, I was wed to theatre.

In second grade I saw Godspell in the high school auditorium attached to my grade school. My sister’s friends were in it, and I have a – probably incorrect – memory that they acknowledged me somehow as I sat in the audience. In any case, because I knew their real names, I felt somehow “in.” It’s an intoxicating feel, the giddiness of those who become intimately involved with the stage: the feeling that we belong somewhere. I developed a crush on theatre that day.

I saw Les Miserables on Broadway soon after that. Who knows why my parents let me go (I wasn’t even allowed to watch Doogie Howser). I guess they didn’t want me to feel left out, having missed so much family action because I was born much later than my teenage siblings. A need to belong permeates most of life, yes?

I didn’t understand half of Les Mis (French Revolution? Prostitutes?) But my god did I sob when it became clear Val Jean would die. I was hysterical for the last twenty minutes of the show, leaning into my sister and not even watching. Sitting close to the last row of the balcony, I had a visceral emotional experience such as I have only ever felt at live performance. I fell deeply, earth-shatteringly in love that day.

But last year, theatre and I broke up. The manic romance of the lifestyle was no longer enough.

Theatre is romantic: that determination of pluck and passion overriding limited resources. That group effort, a unity of direction and focus. That chance to touch a life, an audience member who feels the words and actions taking place in real time in a deeply resonant bone marrow place. That sense of belonging.

Nothing beats the high of these experiences.

On the other hand, theatre is like a bad relationship: it never pays the rent. At the end of every production, that manic high slides sharply into tears and soul-crushing emptiness. There is no stability; theatre is never satisfied with you. As you peddle yourself in one job interview after another, you get an overwhelming sense that you are never enough.

There is little opportunity to get ahead in theatre. Even after ten years of professional work, I had to fight like a newsboy to get paid fairly on one off-Broadway show. My experience mattered little in an industry that will cut corners by undervaluing people. While I loved my long-ish term part-time theatre gig in NYC, I was constantly looking for something else to survive. That job was a microcosm of a relationship you stay in too long: I loved it and appreciated it, but we were just meant to be friends. No matter how much of my heart I gave to it, I was just not the “one” for it. I would never be full-time.

Now I’m doing this other thing: narrative nonfiction. It’s why I’m in London, to study a craft I only became aware of a few years ago. Theatre is so obvious, it’s a crush on George Clooney. Any old seven year old can have an affair with theatre. Theatre is kind of a whore.

No seven year old wants to be the next Paul Theroux or David Foster Wallace. Complexity of thought and awareness of the wider world only come with age; you learn there are more career opportunities than doctor or ballerina or policeman.  Les Mis was broad enough that even my seven year old self could fall victim to its emotional manipulation. Narrative nonfiction is a personal, hard won discovery. It’s subdued, not flashy. It creates the same kind of life-transforming resonance, but in a private, eternal form: you can touch and carry a book. This writing is more satisfying: it suits my innate confessional need. I can write a story or essay or book and it will live fully on the page, a complete entity. When I wrote plays, I always needed a crowd of others to make my work live, and those crowds were hard to come by.

This is a typical second marriage. I’ve grown up and better understand what is important, what I want. I want a sense of gratification that is less dependent on others. This marriage involves sitting quietly alone in a room most of the time, and being content with being alone. How mature, right?

But I saw the Les Mis movie earlier this week…I mouthed every word to every song, stuck in the recesses of my memory from years of detailed soundtrack comparisons. My god did I cry.

I wish I could have been a part of that movie, to act as one small but necessary facet of group creation. I miss theatre. I ache for that sense of belonging, no matter how ephemeral and fabricated it may be.

My divorce was the right decision for my mental health. Theatre could never love me as much as I loved it. I love narrative nonfiction much less, and my smaller investment of emotion means there is less chance of getting hurt. There is a chance for a mutual and deeply satisfying, if reserved, relationship. Partners who sleep separately, I suppose, rather than having mind-blowing sex every night (a metaphor that is weird but appropriate).

But I guess I’m learning that clichés are annoyingly true. You never really get over your first love.

Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense, New York City | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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