I’d meant to be blagging more here while mostly home, really I had. Despite the slow reopening here in NYC we are still mostly home, though home has been compressed some with the restart of our small renovations stopped in March when everything stopped, suddenly. The non-normalcy of the apartment over these pandemic months has been frustrating, for sure, with even less space than usual for us all to be here all the time. But in a small, quiet way I’ve been grateful for the non-normalcy, too — things are not normal, and likely won’t go back to normal either.
I hope that the new normal is more just than the old normal. I’ve been to two protests, feeling sometimes strange about being around so many other people, though grateful that most folx are wearing masks (with the notable exception of the police, who are mostly not that I have seen). I’m on tenterhooks as I imagine many of my fellow NYC residents (and especially my coworkers) are as we wait for the city’s budget to be finalized, mentally cheering on those at Occupy City Hall as I catch their updates on Twitter. Will we all know more next week, once the new fiscal year begins?
And still wishing I knew what was going to happen.
Pretty sure this is the first spring in two decades without a visit to the botanic garden. Yesterday we decided to walk around the perimeter and see what we could see from the sidewalk.
Peering in through the driveway gates we saw some tulips in the distance. Also a b/w kitteh snuck across the driveway, clearly enjoying the lack of crowds on a gorgeous spring day.
Someone had left a bagel on each of 4 tree stumps along the way, why? (Some of these are from trees lost during hurricanes and that weird tornado in the early teens).
Looking down at the tracks for the S train, used to stand at the back of the children’s garden for ages to watch for trains when the kid was small.
A lone red tulip near one of the administrative buildings, we never realized there was a path along this side.
Hard to see the tiny purple flowers amid the yellow flowers at the base of this tree with an interesting trunk, but trust me they’re there.
Pretty witch alder against that super blue sky.
The cherries are past, but the esplanade is still pretty. (Also grateful for the lovely cherry tree at the end of our block for our pink snow fix last week.)
I liked these very bright green borders up near the north entrance.
The park just next door has a view down into the azaelas, tho I accidentally focused on the fence rather than the flowers.
Light pink azaleas, plus the edge of a new cement structure in an area that’s been under construction for a while.
A closer look at the new structure. Can’t wait to see it for real when we can visit again. /fin
I’m generally pretty cynical about positive psychology/self-help advice, and my inner crank often resists the encouragement to practice naming and noting the things I’m grateful for, usually can’t quite convince myself that practicing gratitude will help. But it is helpful, actually, once I can quiet that crank down.
I miss doing so many of the things in the city that I want to do. The past few days I’ve been reminiscing about a visit I made with a few old friends last fall to the Thain Family Forest in the NY Botanical Garden in the Bronx. It’s a beautiful old-growth forest (within the city limits!), paths through trees and the Bronx River meandering through. That section of the Garden is kind of fusty, not as flashy or manicured as other areas, and when we visited it was uncrowded and quiet and lovely. Of course NYBG is closed right now, but wow after 9 weeks mostly in the apartment I would like to walk through that uncrowded quiet forest so, so much.
Back to gratitude, though. It’s also true that I’ve sometimes felt weighed down by the very enormous number of things in the city that I want to do. From expensive to cheap to free, there are so many places to go and see, so many places I haven’t yet gone and seen despite having lived here for my entire adult life. It’s not a contest, there’s no checklist or award for Doing All The Things in NYC, and as I’ve stayed inside I’ve been grateful for the lifting of that particular, small weight.
“I wish I knew what was going to happen” tweeted a friend of mine a couple of weeks or so ago. (Insert what has become the usual time has no meaning in a pandemic comment here.) I am wishing that, too. As a person who has always preferred to plan, to be in control, to know, this is a hard time. And still: grateful it’s not as hard as it could be, me and mine still healthy and safe and employed and able to buy food and wine and toilet paper.
Some views of our surroundings look normal, try to convince me that things are the way they used to be. There’s the shelf at the front of our apartment with the tv and games and records and the very neato paper art given to me by a good friend last December. But turn my head to the side to reveal the not-normal, a box of supplies for a stalled renovation, quarantined postal mail on the shelf near the door, waiting for a day or two to pass before reading and filing, just in case. The sewing machine out on the coffee table for weeks as we perfect our sewing of masks out of my stash of fabric. Who knew my hoarding keeping old plaid pj pants and other odd cloth bits would have come in so handy? And I am apparently a genius for keeping a couple of pairs of spent tights, which as it turns out are perfect when sliced up for mask ties, soft and stretchy and comfy.
We are trying to get out when we can, lucky to live near some big green spaces, though many many other people also live near these spaces. I try not to fixate on the still not insignificant numbers of people not wearing masks, especially the runners/cyclists who can be hard to avoid when they come from behind. Mentally high-fiving fellow mask-wearers, trying not to visibly stink-eye the mask-avoiders. There was a time not long ago when I was so much less judgmental about my fellow park-goers, I hope I can get back to that again.
A couple of weeks ago (for real!) we realized we hadn’t driven the car in a long time so drove out to the beach at Riis Park. I’ve been to Fort Tilden a few times about a decade ago but never to Riis Park. I think it always felt too far away and too crowded and too solely-beachy — beaches are not my favorite thing, and at Fort Tilden there’s a fun short hike to get to the beach which was pretty empty the times I’ve been. But our drive down was fast and easy, traffic very sparse, the same all over the city as many (most?) people are staying inside, saving lives, flattening the curve. The neon signs flashing those messages repeatedly all along the Belt Parkway made it feel like a disaster movie, the joy of no traffic cut through with the anxiety of disobedience. Does being in the car count as inside? Did our drive and socially distanced mask wearing beach walk unflatten the curve, even a little bit?
I have found it difficult to read beyond checking the news and state website 2x/day, really trying to keep the endless scrolling in check. So many books all around me (physically and digitally) but attention in such short supply. I suddenly noticed that the New Yorkers had been piling up on the side table and indulged in a Saturday afternoon spent mostly on the sofa to try and work my way through them. The oldest dated from March 3rd, and so it was an archaeological read through the changes happening in this city and the world, from just before things closed down to things beginning to close down to now (-ish, I’m still a couple of weeks behind). Admittedly it was a bit of a wallow, thinking about the last (and second to last) restaurant we ate in and the last movie we saw. It’s hard to believe that it’s been as long as it has, even as we don’t really know how long it will be until things change again. I wish I knew what was going to happen.
I haven’t been on the subway in 16 days, haven’t physically been at work in 9 days. That last time into work was just to check on a few things and grab some stuff from my office; I’m close enough that I could walk in, and with campus closed it was easy to stay at least 6 feet away from the few people I did see. We are all settling into our new work and college and working at a college from home situation, 3 people in (thankfully) 3 apartment rooms mostly online (though some of us are in zoom rooms more than others). The adults in the house have been fairly busy with work the past few weeks, actually, and while I do cast longing glances at my pile of unread books, I’m grateful that we are healthy and employed. We are so lucky.
I’ve found myself saying in several conversations this week — mostly proffered as one of the many reasons we are all so exhausted right now — that the cognitive load of this situation is incredibly high. It’s not just that we’re all washing our hands constantly and not touching our faces and trying to stay in as much as possible. It’s not just that we’re all suddenly working remotely, adapting to new methods of doing our work and collaborating with colleagues as well as new “office” space(s). It’s not just that the pandemic is evolving and changing so quickly while efforts by the federal government range from useless to dangerously misleading. It’s not just that we can’t travel to get to family or friends out of town, if anything were to happen to them. It’s every single one of those things at the same time.
While I consider myself to have a fairly robust tolerance for change, I am also fairly dependent on routines and habits. But while I continue to eat the same thing for breakfast Monday-Saturday, that might be my only routine that hasn’t changed recently. Every other routine and habit has gone out the window. I miss it all, even the parts I didn’t like that much, that I grumbled about or rolled my eyes at.
It has been a lot, it is still a lot. This weekend I’m trying not to work (much), and instead seeing if I can bring some focus to establishing new routines. The drastic reduction in physical activity is one of the things that’s hit me hardest. I’m no athlete but before this I did go to the gym a couple of times each week and do a ton of incidental walking and stair-climbing (like so many of us in NYC), and my body is very unhappy with the combination of less movement plus my somewhat less ergonomic workspace setup. My karate teachers are teaching our class online, and now that the weeknight session is a bit earlier than when we’re in person I can do that one as well as the weekend session. I need to figure out some other ways to get more movement into my day, and find a relatively uncrowded time for taking walks around the neighborhood or park. Maybe I’ll get my bike out and try to work some long rides into the week.
I’m going to have to let go of many of my preferred ways of doing things, because they’re just not possible anymore. I guess we all are.
Weird, weird, weird. This winter that is not a winter that is almost over is weird, and it is getting me down. It’s 53 degrees right now, will be the same and raining tonight and tomorrow. Raining! Sob. I have all manner of different kinds of outerwear, as is usual for many of us who live in cities and commute using feet or public transportation, but this year I am realizing that what I don’t have is a respectable-looking coat for when it is 40 degrees and raining. Which it has been for so so so many days this “winter.”
I am pining, pining for snow. Less than 5″ is what the official total is for the winter so far. Many winters we can get a guaranteed dose of snow when we travel to the northlands to visit family. But this year schedules dictated that our travels were just after xmas, and while there was some snow on the ground while we were there, it was not enough to nerd (cross country) ski. And in fact it also rained during our stay, and THEN had the nerve to dump a huge pile of snow the day we’d planned to leave, which necessitated our leaving early so we weren’t snowed in. The worst.
I love snow in the city, so quiet and busy-dampening. I’m so grateful to live so close to a park big enough to ski in when there’s snow. We walk through that park all the time year round, but skiing is a different way to see it. My all time favorite is when the snow happens overnight and there’s a snow day, extra found time to ski in the morning and read and snuggle with cats in the afternoon. A gift.
And there’s the lingering climate dread that this warm winter brings, too. Flowers coming up all over the place, buds on the trees, it’s just not normal for the winter. I’m trying not to be all doom and gloom but wow, it’s challenging this year. I miss you, winter.
Oh 2019, let’s cut to the chase: you were a hard year in so many ways, and my lower reading count isn’t the worst of it, for sure. Still (and similar to the prior year), making time to read was challenging for me last year. I managed to read 28 books total — not awful, I suppose, especially since some were quite long. But I also had some bare spots in the year, times when I read very little or not at all. Unsurprisingly the low-reading times were also typically-busy times in the semester, especially May and October through early December.
I’m continuing to struggle to stay awake while reading in the evenings, which I think has more to do with the state of my sleep in general (aging, sigh, not for wimps!) than it does with what I’m reading. Though it’s frustrating to have to go back through a few pages each time I pick up a book when I realize that I dozed off the last time I read it. I did find more success with short stories last month, and I have several books of stories in my to-read pile, so maybe that should for real be my strategy for the busy times of year? (I think I’ve suggested that to myself before.) And over the past week or so during the holiday break I’ve read at my old usual brisk pace, the result of lovely long stretches of time to devote to reading (and cat snuggles).
If you’d asked me before starting to write this post whether I found the fiction or nonfiction that I read last year more compelling, I’d probably have said the nonfiction, though looking through my list now it seems like the books that made the strongest impression on me are all fiction. But I did read some standout nonfiction this year, especially Tressie McMillan Cottom’s Thick and Other Essays, a National Book Award Finalist. I’m as ever in awe of the brilliant way that she writes theoretically-informed popular essays (with endnotes!). I read part of this on a plane with the kid reading over my shoulder, it’s that good. Also terrific (and highly recommended) were All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir, by Nicole Chung, and two other books of essays: What If This Were Enough?, by Heather Havrilesky, and Call Them By Their True Names, by Rebecca Solnit.
Two books that I read all in a rush and that made me kind of queasy were The Last Cruise, by Kate Christensen, and The Power, by Naomi Alderman. The former was recommended by my pal Jenna, and I think I read it because I am scared of/grossed out by cruises and I wanted to indulge that. But wow, it was weird — started slow, building the characters for the first third of the book, then things start to go wrong and keep going wrong, and at the most wrong part it just ends, like that! I saw The Power on the shelf at a volunteer shift at Books through Bars and remembered that I’d wanted to read it so grabbed it from the library. In this speculative future girls and women develop a muscle that lets them shoot electricity out of their hands, making them physically stronger than men. And then the stuff you’d think would happen, happens: power is abused. Oof, I found both of these books disturbing and unputdownable, so recommended, I guess?
Some of my summer reading was kind of intense, in part because the summer was kind of intense: I turned 50 (and dyed my hair purple!), the kid graduated high school and went off to college in Minnesota. Definitely one of the best books I read this year was Family of Origin, by CJ Hauser. She’d written an essay called The Crane Wife that made the Twitter rounds, and her writing was so lovely that I put this book (her most recent) on hold at the library immediately. It did not disappoint: a beautifully written story about the ways that messed up childhoods can mess you up and you can bring that mess with you into adulthood until you finally let that mess go. On a whim I picked up Future Home of the Living God, by Lousie Erdrich while walking by the new books shelf at the library, remembering that I’d heard good things about it. And whoa, also: intense, a dystopian future story about a Native American woman with white adoptive parents from Minneapolis who gets pregnant right at the start of a weird reversal in evolution that leads to political collapse, but also really about her relationships with her birth and adoptive families. Summer family feelings, it was me.
Quite unintentionally I seem to have ended the year on a hopeful fiction note. In early December I read Exhalation, the most recent book of short stories by Ted Chiang, which Jonathan had gotten for his birthday. I felt a bit guilty because there were so many other books in the queue ahead of it, but it was so lovely, and he’s such a thoughtful and smart writer. The final book I read last year was Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie, finally completing the trilogy that I started reading two (!) years ago. I’d sometimes struggled to dig into the first two books — they are plot-heavy and complex, and my tendency to fall asleep while reading made it particularly difficult to stay focused on them. But I’m so glad that I kept going, the finish was so satisfying. Both books have lots to say about time and humanity and the future and the past, and have me thinking about how we can continue to care about and take care of each other as our world hurtles into an uncertain future.
I didn’t make the reading goals I’ve (somewhat offhandedly) set for myself for the past couple of years: to read what we have in the house, and to read more older books that I’ve not yet read. So those are still goals, I guess. But maybe here in the first year of a new decade (and the first year of my new decade) I should instead be a little less prescriptive, a little more accommodating of the unpredictabilities of sleep schedules and work variations and life events?
This year’s goal: read a book most days. That’s it.
Here’s my 2019 list, most recent reads at the top. As usual, the * means ebook and the ~ means we own it (as opposed to borrowed from the library or someone else). I coded The Training Commission as an ebook even though it was really a serial novella delivered via email. It looks like I was proportionally light on ebooks during the second half of the year, compared to prior years. There were for sure books that I’d wanted to borrow from the library as ebooks that weren’t available, which is a drag (yes, I’m glaring at you, restrictive publisher licenses).
~ Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie ~ Exhalation, by Ted Chiang Our Bodies, Our Selves Menopause, by The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective The Ship Beyond Time, by Heidi Helig * Convenience Store Woman, by Sayaka Murata ~ On a Sunbeam, by Tillie Walden * What If This Were Enough?, by Heather Havrilesky Family of Origin, by CJ Hauser Weapons of Math Destruction, by Cathy O’Neil The Casket of Time, by Andri Snær Magnason Future Home of the Living God, by Lousie Erdrich Becoming, by Michelle Obama The Power, by Naomi Alderman Improving Survey Questions: Design and Evaluation, by Floyd J. Fowler ~ How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? by N. K. Jemisin * The Training Commission, by Ingrid Burrington and Brendan Byrne Infinite Detail, by Tim Maughan ~ Thick and Other Essays, by Tressie McMillan Cottom * Eloquent Rage, by Brittney Cooper * Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi * The Poet X, by Elizabeth Acevedo There There, by Tommy Orange * The Last Cruise, by Kate Christensen * An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon ~ Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir, by Nicole Chung *~ Call Them By Their True Names, by Rebecca Solnit ~ Binti The Night Masquerade, by Nnedi Okorafor
“How’re you doing?” “Fine, good, weird? It’s weird.”
Even though we’ve officially been empty nesters for more than 2 months, I still find myself having some variation on this conversation when I run into folks I haven’t seen in a while. And it’s definitely weird, though perhaps not as weird as it was initially. The grocery bill is lower, the apartment is quieter, there’s less to clean during chore time on Sundays. One of the cats was initially confused when I moved to a different chair at the dining room table, but he figured it out eventually (and is right now camped out on my lap as I type).
This should not have seemed so sudden, but it still does. I’m sure some of it has to do with apartment living, in which we’re all more in each others’ space than I was with my family when I was in high school (in a house in a suburb). And there’s the bigger kind of realization, too. I mean, kids grow up and become more independent (we hope). In reality this is (should be) neither sudden nor unusual. What did I think was going to happen?
It’s been weird and surprising to realize that I do have more time, suddenly, actually. On the run up to the start of the semester people would ask “What are you going to do with yourself after he goes away to college?” which completely puzzled me at the time. I mean, he wasn’t a kid anymore, he had a summer job and made (or warmed up) many of his own meals and did his own laundry and vacuumed his own room, what was I even doing for him anymore at that point? But it turns out they were right, I do have more time. Even though I still can’t quite figure out what I used to do with it before.
We have been trying to go to the movies more, and to pay attention to the movies more, especially revivals and thematic film series. After Jonathan Demme died a couple of years ago we completely missed the retrospective at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and I am still very grumpy about that. “Something Wild” and “Married to the Mob” played a huge role in our mental construction of an image of New York City before we moved here, and it’s been ages since we’ve seen them. (Plus the sountracks, swoon.)
Soon after that tragic miss I started paying closer attention to the film listings in the paper and elsewhere, so when BAM screened “After Hours” we *did* catch it (go us!). (That was also 2 years ago, though honestly time is so weird recently that I’d have said it was earlier this year, maybe as long ago as summer last year, though my calendar proves my brain wrong once again.)
“After Hours” is another foundational NYC movie for us, and it held up in lots of ways. The gorgeous empty streets of soho, the east village, and the lower east side late at night, so long ago that there were no fancy buildings anywhere, just the occasional dive bar or punk club. The always amazing Catherine O’Hara and her classic line “it’s not boring.” Remembering how different and sometimes difficult it was to go anywhere to meet anyone before we had pocket computers.
But there are other things that stand out glaringly as kind of awful, as is not uncommon with media from 30+ years ago. We left the movie feeling really bad about how Rosanna Arquette’s character is treated by Griffin Dunne’s character specifically and by the film generally. He picks her up at a diner and goes back to her place, then there are some references to her having been burned in the past which left scars, then he ghosts her when she’s in the bathroom. He comes back later to find that she’s killed herself and, while he does report it, he then goes on with the rest of his night (he’s been trying to get home and encountered innumerable weird obstacles). It’s lazy and misogynist and disappointing to rewatch, which is a bummer.
Redeeming Rosanna Arquette is not the only reason we were glad to see “Desperately Seeking Susan” at BAM last month (really for real last month!), but it was definitely a lovely aspect of the movie. (It was hard to pick just one movie in that series on women directors — part of me really wanted to see “Suburbia” and “Decline of Western Civilization” to really dig into the me-as-a-high-schooler mindset, but it’s hard to see movies on weeknights and to be out multiple nights in close succession.)
It was so so funny to see Madonna as Madonna, really, not acting at all — it was super early in her career, with only her first album out (though the internet tells us that she got super famous in the middle of filming the movie which made for an interesting challenge as shooting wrapped up). Lots of old NYC nostalgia here too — Love Saves the Day, the store where Madonna trades her jacket for the fancy boots — was still open when we moved here, though it’s long since closed now. And wow that Port Authority bathroom scene, I still can’t believe that the NYT article last month didn’t even mention it.
Not that there wasn’t any sexism, even with a woman director. When Rosanna Arquette is being chased by a mobster and ends up falling down on the street, the cops pick her up and of course assume she’s a prostitute. <insert eyerolling emoji here> But she gets to ditch her cheating narcissistic husband and change into excellent new clothes and leave the boring suburbs for the city, a much happier ending for sure.
So three weeks ago I dyed my hair purple. Not all of the hairs, mind you — really it’s more like purple highlights, though since my hairs are now more gray than not there are some fairly bright purple areas along with darker purple areas. While it’s faded a bit it is truly purple, esp. near my face. I think the folks I live with are used to it now, but I still have moments when I catch a glimpse in my peripheral vision or look in a mirror and think omg! my hair is purple! When I put it up it’s clear that the purple’s mainly on the top layer of hair, and the effect is like my normal gray + brown mix with a puff of purple curls on top.
I kind of love it. I really love it.
For a variety of good, silly, and just plain outdated reasons, this is the first time I’ve ever dyed my hair, though I’ve long wanted to. One advantage to waiting this long is that the gray means no bleaching is required, the dye can go right onto the hair, which saves time and is less damaging so yay for that. I also spent some time thinking about colors. When I was much younger I wanted burgundy, then later a very dark blue. Green is my favorite color but I’m too pale not to look ill with green hair, I think. The kids are all rocking a lovely teal bluish-green this summer, which makes me think of mermaids, but I think I’m too old for that. Purple is MUCH more mature. :)
It’s been weird to have what the salon called “creative color” as my first hair dyeing experience and at my advanced age. My pithy response to folks’ comments has usually been “had a big birthday, not a tattoo person.” Just as I’m getting more comfortable with the usual less visibility for women of a certain age, I’ve done something that results in more visibility. Sometimes it’s been fun — an enthusiastic complement from a woman at the gym (who was wearing a purple shirt), texting photos to pals and getting right ons in return. Sometimes it’s been a bit nerve-wracking — I had a couple of meetings with administrators + others at work right after I did it, when the color was brightest, and I found myself wondering how it would go over (it was fine). Someone said it was cool, someone else said I was brave, lots of people liked it on Twitter.
It’s been fine, really, and I mean for real it’s only hair, right?* Though a recent conversation with a colleague who works in IT reminded me about how easy it is for women not to be taken seriously in male-dominated spaces, and I wondered again about the impact of purple hair, which I imagine many would put directly into the unserious judgement bucket. Another friend said my purple hair might normalize it a bit for others in the workspace, which I acknowledge may be true even as I internally am annoyed that normalization is even needed because our bodies, our business.
And I’m (as usual) probably overthinking this, anyway, because it’ll likely be faded completely by the time the semester begins in late August, when all of my usual meetings and commitments start up again. I’m already a bit sad about the fading and thinking about when I’d feel comfortable to dye it again (and maybe dyeing it at home?). But for now it is summer, and my hair is purple, and it is awesome. <3
I spent part of this year’s first summer Friday in Manhattan getting some of my hairs dyed purple (more on that in another post), which I just realized was the latest recent outing to NYC places from my past. I’ve been in NYC for longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere else, and while the Manhattan time was only the first 7 years, it looms large in my brain and personal history construction.
My Manhattany spring has included pizza with the CUNY Pie folks nearish to the location of grad school #1, lunch with two of my most-admired fellow department chairs only a few blocks from our old apartment in Chinatown, dinner just south of Midtown along a walking route I once took home from work, and hair stuff that had me walk by a building where we looked at an apartment when we were first moving here. That last one always makes me laugh: the apartment was on Crosby St. just south of Houston and it was a pretty 4th floor walkup with exposed brick and actually within our price range. But, as NYC newbies we were nervous about the location, which seemed too quiet and dark at night. Of course once we’d been here for a bit we realized how wrong we were — and we only learned much later that we could have been Bowie‘s neighbors!
The nostalgia that has accompanied all of these outings has taken me by surprise, though it probably shouldn’t have. Last week I found myself thinking about maps and augmented reality, layering the routes and memories of the me of 20+ years ago onto the NYC of today. Sitting in that restaurant near Midtown it struck me that our view was only of older buildings, no gleaming glass and metal buildings rising higher than anything else in the neighborhood, and it was easy to feel the past muscling in on the present. But the train home over the Manhattan Bridge brings the present back quickly, downtown Brooklyn awash in construction. The past is still present to me there, too — we used to buy our xmas tree in the space replaced by the huge arena where I attended not one but two graduations this year.
I’m sure it’s probably completely normal to feel like all time is the present when there’s a big life change about to happen. I think I’m looking for ways to fix memories into something like permanence, which of course is impossible. But I think I’m also trying to remember what things used to be like as a way to convince myself that things will be okay after the big changes to come. It’s not totally uncharted territory, just a new layer on the old map.