The Airing of Grievances

Happy Festivus!

Happy Festivus!

Today, in the United States, we observe Festivus, the fake winter holiday of choice for many of my nonreligious, childless peers. Though I’ve never gone in for feats of strength (because what a farce that would be), I do think the traditional airing of grievances is worthy of consideration.

I occasionally write about terrible things here, but I try to limit them to the truly important, not the merely annoying (unless we are talking about grammar). But I’ve been thinking a lot lately about emotional overload — how so many little things can accumulate in a person’s brain until an explosion becomes inevitable. I’m not big into whining, which may be part of the problem. I am, however, somebody whom others often whine to, which also seems like a contributing factor.

Last night, my awesome former intern called me up from Los Angeles. I hadn’t spoken to her for many months, not since her move west, which preceded mine by a few months. I took the opportunity to unload on her. (Thank you, and sorry.) The physical relief that I felt afterward was amazing. It was like I had been cut free after spending two weeks trapped in unattractive, binding underwear from the 1800s. I don’t remember the last time I let loose in that way, but I think it may have been years.

The value of a periodic brain spew cannot be underestimated, something the creator of Festivus obviously understood.

I have about half a dozen things on my mind that are of real importance (don’t worry, I won’t go into them here). But then there are all those other things — the niggling, inconsequential, stupid bullshit that gives you pause and makes you raise an eyebrow and fantasize about kicking somebody in the face.

These are just a few of my most irritating (and petty!) things.

  • I have come nowhere near meeting my goal of posting here every day in December. Grr!
  • I hate how every time I order an eggnog latte with nonfat milk at Starbucks, the cashier makes a point of telling me that the latte will still contain fat because of how eggnog is very high in fat. Yep!
  • The holidays are a time of rampant apostrophe misuse, eg, “Merry Festivus from the Smith’s.” NO. You don’t pluralize your family — or anything else — by adding an apostrophe. You do it by adding a plain, unadorned S, something we all learned in second grade at the latest.
  • I don’t give a shit whether you wish me Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Blessed Solstice, Hooray for Chanukah, etc, etc. I will take your cheer in good faith. What gets me is the politicization of the greeting. Like, you’re making some huge important statement by choosing one over the other? Get off your religious/secular soapbox and try this: “Thanks, you too!” Everybody wins.
  • Those gigantic plastic toy trucks/shopping carts they have in grocery stores. Why.

    Like this.

  • Like towels, there is only one correct way to fold the paper bags that coffee comes in.
  • Jacqueline Winspear, a person who is very bad at writing mystery novels but who is somehow extremely popular. The covers of her books say she is British, but I don’t believe it for a second.
  • My vision is getting noticeably worse and one of my wisdom teeth finally came in. I have neither the cash nor the insurance to deal with either of these things.
  • Congress.
  • Closet cases.
  • Members of Congress who are closet cases.
  • HBO canceled Bored to Death, a hilarious and witty show about mysteries, Brooklyn, marijuana and comic books. It’s a massive travesty.
  • Every person who has ever commented on this photo of mine, despite the fact that I renamed the photo to prevent them from commenting. Check out how many of them have posted their personal information in public. These people should not be allowed on the Internet; they are why scammers persist in what they do.

That should be about sufficient to carry me through to next December 23. What a relief! Merry Festivus everyone.

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The Best & Worst of 2011, News Edition

What is the best news you got this year? The worst?

Once this year, on a single occasion, there was news that inspired and uplifted me, news that was so terrifically wonderful that it made me feel like hugging people in the street. It wasn’t personal or specific to me, and it is the answer to a future question. So I’ll leave it for now.

I’m not sure about the best news that I, personally, got this year. (And what a strange construction: getting news, like it’s something to be physically acquired.)

In retrospect, what has probably turned out to be the best news was my oldest friend saying that we could rent his house in Portland. I remember staring out my kitchen window at the downstairs neighbors’ dog and anticipating his words, hoping the conversation was leading where I thought it was. At the time, it seemed like a really solid option, something that had the potential to catalyze our escape from New York City in a big way. But I didn’t feel relieved or elated; I felt hesitant. I remember thinking, “There would be many things to work out, but surely it would be so much easier than Craigslisting from three-thousand miles away. Hmmm. Hm.”

And it was.

But it has turned out to be so much more than the path of least resistance: We live in a comfortable and cozy place, with front and back yards, in a great neighborhood, with many parks, bars and restaurants.

Another backyard friend

Backyard and friend.

So what initially felt like an extra thing to consider, one more item on the ongoing list of shit to think about, has turned out to be fantastic.

Just now, I asked RZ: “What was the best news that you, or we, got this year?” He thought. “Maybe the time we heard that renting this house would be an option?”


And then he echoed the other thing that I had been thinking, “But this year hasn’t been full of great news. It’s mostly been bad.”

As great as 2011 has been in so many ways, it’s been tremendously sad in others. While I have done many nice activities, much of the news I have received has been terrible:

All of these things suck in ways that will change the people involved forever and ever. There will be therapy and medication and, in some cases, permanent senses of loss. I so wish one of these was the worst news of the year, but none of them hold a candle to what was. For two days, I felt like throwing up.

And here’s the thing, a few million other people probably felt the same way. Because, like the Best News I referred to at the start, the Worst News wasn’t mine and it didn’t involve anybody I had ever met.

It’s the kind of thing that happens sometimes, and is always inexplicable and horrifying when it does, but it probably doesn’t ruin your week unless it happens nearby. It’s not right, but there it is: Humans are geographically selfish. Without going into too much depth, this summer, a small boy in Brooklyn went missing. When he was found two days later, it was in pieces, some of which were down the street from me. The cops caught the perpetrator, who was not able to shed any light whatsoever on his actions. (Click at your own risk.)

This event did not make me feel less safe, but it did make me feel as if there really might be evil forces in the world — something I absolutely do not believe. Maybe, in part, it’s because it feels like a collective failure: None of the family’s millions of neighbors were able to protect one of the most vulnerable members of our community.

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My Shoes for Today are Invisible

For today:

What shoes are you wearing?


I know. This is where I get all braggy about working from home. I did have some on earlier — a pair of red TOMS — when I took the fat cat on a backyard adventure.

I’ve never been a huge fan of shoes. Ironically, this leads me to spend more money on them than on any other item of clothing. My once-per-year Zappos spree is researched thoroughly beforehand: I want shoes that are awesome, but not trendy, comfortable, but not frumpy and especially, they need to hold up over a couple of years at least.

I haven’t bought shoes in a store since 2005.

Part of this has to do with my feet being large. I wear a size 11, which is no problem for running shoes and hiking boots, but seriously limits options for more fashionable footwear. Especially in New York, for some reason. People run smaller there.

Like astrology, I have never understood the point of whatever shoes are the most popular. A year or two ago, everybody was wearing those “gladiator” type sandals. Why? Also, those ’80s-style booties with shockingly high heels. Seeing those things pounding the pavement leave me with precisely the same feeling I have when I’m in the grocery store and I hear Katy Perry singing her one song.

It’s not hate, or even dislike. It’s befuddlement. I would never in a million years look twice at shoes like that, and yet, hundreds of thousands of ladies apparently feel differently. What is the reason for this? It’s not nurture: When I was growing up, my mother had so very many pairs of shoes that my grandfather built a special cabinet for them.

On second thought, it probably is nurture. Breakthrough! All those boring hours spent among the shoes in department stores, watching my mom try on pair after pair of identical tan huaraches? That is why I buy shoes online.

Once, also in 2005, I was purchasing my very first business suit at Banana Republic in Soho when the saleswoman asked what shoes I was planning on wearing. “I have black loafers with a one-and-a-half-inch heel,” I replied. “No, no, no. You need to get a pair of high heels with pointed toes for your interviews!” she said. “They’re so much more professional.”

Professional? To me, they look contrived. (Because, um, nobody’s toes end in a point.) I would feel like a poseur wearing them. That’s maybe the least helpful feeling when embarking on several weeks of interviewing. Just because you feel like a whore doesn’t mean your feet need to look the part.

I eventually got a job that didn’t require me to wear the suit very often, let alone pointy-toed heels. It was there that I learned that most ladies are very observant regarding other people’s shoes. This was an enormous revelation. To this day, I rarely notice what shoes other people are wearing.

In New York, women who work in offices typically have one drawer or cupboard dedicated to work shoes — fashionable heels that are too expensive and too uncomfortable for the rigors of commuting. They wear comfortable shoes, like flip-flops or sneakers, to work, at which point they change. Friends who live in other, cleaner cities have spoken of a reverse phenomenon: They wear their fanciest shoes until they get to their desks, where they pull out the flip-flops they wear until it’s time to go out to lunch.

What is this Mr. Rogersian impulse to change shoes?

The only time I could ever be bothered to play musical shoes was in winter, when it actually felt liberating to pull off snowboots and replace them with flimsy, shiny things that would have disintegrated in two seconds had I worn them outside.

My one dedicated pair of “work shoes” were aubergine and made entirely of synthetic materials. They were ugly as shit. I threw them into the trash on my last day of work. Good riddance.

My shoe apathy eventually became part of office lore. I would often walk obliviously into meetings with mismatched shoes, non-mates that I had shoved on under my desk in a hurry. I would begin to speak earnestly about something or other, only to be interrupted by a shout of laughter.

I don’t miss having to wear shoes, but I do miss causing that kind of office hilarity.


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The Word Oregon, Persimmons, Photographs

Jenny would like to take a brief moment to revisit reverb10. The first prompt last year was, “One Word. Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?” If you responded to that prompt last year, does the word you chose for 2011 accurately capture this past year for you? If not, why not? If you didn’t do reverb10, what one word encapsulates 2011 for you?

I rarely go back and look at previous posts that I’ve written (is this self-defeating?), but today’s topic forced me to revisit this one from December 1, 2010 — a year and a week ago.

Guess what, you guys?! The single word I chose in anticipation of 2011 was Oregon.

I’m sure glad we ended up moving, otherwise this post would be taking a turn for the depressing right about now.

It’s not that I don’t miss New York. I definitely do. And it’s not as if Oregon is all persimmons and sunshine, because it has its downsides too.

But there has been a surprising amount of persimmons and sunshine.

For real.

Two days ago, I was walking through Northeast Portland on my way to deposit the rent check. That day was a crazy bird day. Maybe it’s because it was cold and sunny, or maybe birds just get manic at a certain time of year. I had started my day taking pictures of the western scrub jays out my office window. Robins and starlings were fighting over the holly berries in the neighbors’ trees. But the jays were the loudest. It was a regular avian ruckus.

Western scrub jay

Western scrub jay

These birds are loud and annoying and possibly a bit sinister. In college, a flock of them terrorized my sweet cat for months after she offed one of their kin. They would dive bomb her whenever she went outside.

After a while, the sun came out, and I set off to pay rent. I walked along in a fog until the unmistakable chatter of starlings broke through Bon Iver. I looked up and saw a flock in the most surprising tree I’ve ever seen in the Pacific Northwest.

Starlings, persimmon tree, Sabin water tower

Amazing tree in the Sabin neighborhood.

This is because it’s a persimmon tree, a fact I established via the squashed specimens on the ground. I associate this fruit so strongly with the Middle and Far Easts that coming across this tree seemed a little bit like finding the forest lamppost in Narnia. Later, I learned that the trees can grow in a variety of climates, but are cultivated mostly in Asia and Central Europe. So it’s not so strange that one can grow here in Portland, just that one is.

I ate a persimmon once. I remember thinking it was disgusting, but I’m reserving judgment. The starlings seemed to think they were delicious.


Starling, persimmonOn balance, New York provides far more opportunities for surreal experiences than Oregon. But this was right up there with the best of them. Such a shocking and transcendent spectacle. I kept thinking, How am I the only person who is seeing this?

I first learned about persimmons in college, when I read this beautiful poem by Li-Young Lee. I hadn’t read it in at least eight years, but it was one of the first things I thought of as I walked away. I still find it intensely moving and evocative. Maybe it’s time I gave them another try.

by Li-Young Lee

In sixth grade Mrs. Walker
slapped the back of my head
and made me stand in the corner
for not knowing the difference
between persimmon and precision.
How to choose

persimmons. This is precision.
Ripe ones are soft and brown-spotted.
Sniff the bottoms. The sweet one
will be fragrant. How to eat:
put the knife away, lay down newspaper.
Peel the skin tenderly, not to tear the meat.
Chew the skin, suck it,
and swallow. Now, eat
the meat of the fruit,
so sweet,
all of it, to the heart.

Donna undresses, her stomach is white.
In the yard, dewy and shivering
with crickets, we lie naked,
face-up, face-down.
I teach her Chinese.
Crickets: chiu chiu. Dew: I’ve forgotten.
Naked:   I’ve forgotten.
Ni, wo
:   you and me.
I part her legs,
remember to tell her
she is beautiful as the moon.

Other words
that got me into trouble were
and fright, wren and yarn.
Fight was what I did when I was frightened,
Fright was what I felt when I was fighting.
Wrens are small, plain birds,
yarn is what one knits with.
Wrens are soft as yarn.
My mother made birds out of yarn.
I loved to watch her tie the stuff;
a bird, a rabbit, a wee man.

Mrs. Walker brought a persimmon to class
and cut it up
so everyone could taste
a Chinese apple. Knowing
it wasn’t ripe or sweet, I didn’t eat
but watched the other faces.

My mother said every persimmon has a sun
inside, something golden, glowing,
warm as my face.

Once, in the cellar, I found two wrapped in newspaper,
forgotten and not yet ripe.
I took them and set both on my bedroom windowsill,
where each morning a cardinal
sang, The sun, the sun.

Finally understanding
he was going blind,
my father sat up all one night
waiting for a song, a ghost.
I gave him the persimmons,
swelled, heavy as sadness,
and sweet as love.

This year, in the muddy lighting
of my parents’ cellar, I rummage, looking
for something I lost.
My father sits on the tired, wooden stairs,
black cane between his knees,
hand over hand, gripping the handle.
He’s so happy that I’ve come home.
I ask how his eyes are, a stupid question.
All gone
, he answers.

Under some blankets, I find a box.
Inside the box I find three scrolls.
I sit beside him and untie
three paintings by my father:
Hibiscus leaf and a white flower.
Two cats preening.
Two persimmons, so full they want to drop from the cloth.

He raises both hands to touch the cloth,
asks, Which is this?

This is persimmons, Father.

Oh, the feel of the wolftail on the silk,
the strength, the tense

precision in the wrist.
I painted them hundreds of times
eyes closed. These I painted blind.
Some things never leave a person:
scent of the hair of one you love,
the texture of persimmons,
in your palm, the ripe weight.

Since it worked out so well last time, I guess I’ll choose a word to project onto 2012: create.

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Goodbye, Native Land

Front yard

Goodbye, tree

I’ve been reading Daniel Deronda by George Eliot:

A human life, I think, should be well-rooted in some spot of native land, where it may get the love of tender kinship for the face of earth, for the labours men go forth to, for the sounds and accents that haunt it, for whatever will give that early home a familiar unmistakable difference amidst the future widening of knowledge: a spot where the definiteness of early memories may be inwrought with affection, and kindly acquaintance with all neighbors, even to the dogs and donkeys, may spread not by sentimental effort and reflection, but as a sure habit of the blood.

This book was published in 1876, a full century before my parents got married and moved into the house that my dad had spent a few years building from the ground up. Yet I have never found anything that so well expresses my gratitude for my well-rooted beginnings.

In the previous post, I wrote about how the only real life-changer I’ve experienced was moving out of my parents’ house when I was 18. What I didn’t say was how lucky I was to have lived there until then.

That house, that neighborhood gave me a sense of belonging that was so profound that I didn’t know it existed until I left. There were no donkeys, but there were a substantial number of dogs and horses whose names I knew.

In high school, I would go for early-morning runs in complete darkness. I didn’t take a flashlight, because I didn’t need one. I will never know another place better.

I think that’s because the understanding came about authentically rather than intentionally. I think that’s what Eliot was driving at.

The neighborhood where I grew up backs up onto federal land, part of a forest that stretches over a thousand miles, from British Columbia to Bakersfield, California. My friends and I would go exploring there sometimes. We had no conception of the vastness — that if we started walking, we could lose ourselves forever — but I think it was ingrained into us in a way that it wasn’t in kids who lived just a few miles up the road. At the age of 8, knowing that you can be in the wilderness within ten minutes, without your parents knowing about it…well, no wonder Brooklyn always seemed so crowded.

This intense connection to a home place has made me aware that other places are not my home, to varying degrees. I have seen that, for other people, other neighborhoods and towns and even public transit systems are native territories, which have shaped them just as much. Having a true home can be alienating in some ways, but it’s also illuminating: What about this other place is ingrained into its natives, the way the vastness and the juniper is in me? What is the affect of this place on the people who live here? Would they be able to adjust to the pervasive quiet of where I come from?

This has helped me to see the best of places. It has helped me to be open.

One of the very best things about where I grew up was being able to see the Milky Way on a dark night.

Here’s a surprising thing: I may never go to that house again. I might never even be in the neighborhood again.

It wasn’t what I expected when I moved out West, but that’s the way of things.

This month, I’m blogging with some friends. You can do it, too! Jenny has a really good explanation, with many of our prompts; if you are interested, leave a comment and I will share the ever-evolving Google doc with you (email addresses will not be published).



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Romantic Comedies, LaMichael James, (No) End Zone

Val opened a can of worms with this one:

The idea of the End Zone: That getting married, having a kid, getting a job, etc. is a self-contained accomplishment (rather than a whole new set of challenges). And how our movies and pop culture feed into the idea of this moment of completion, of spiking the ball.

Sports references notwithstanding, Val provided a movie trailer to illustrate her question. She couldn’t have picked a better one. I hope you haven’t eaten recently:

In October, I stopped reviewing movies after doing it for a solid year. For the first time in my life, unless your name is Roger Ebert, I saw more movies than you. I saw movies that I never would have seen otherwise, awful ones, many of which were romantic comedies. I had seen the trailer for this movie in the theater, and I had also seen some of its production on the streets of Manhattan. When I watched the trailer again just now, I felt such intense relief: This is one less romantic comedy that I will have to watch in my lifetime.

Rarely, a rom-com will take me by surprise and I will find it enjoyable. Usually, these are so far-fetched as to require a holistic suspension of disbelief (no possibility of real-life application); there is no love at first sight (gag); and the non-story elements of the movie (dialogue, cinematography, sets, setting) are all top notch.

In her response to this question, Val referenced When Harry Met Sally as one of her all-time faves. I’m not a huge fan of this movie, but it isn’t in the same class as most rom-coms:

  • Harry and Sally knew each other for a really long time before getting together.
  • They didn’t even like each other when they first met.
  • They grew to love each other over the course of years — and after being totally aware of the other’s foibles.
  • Their (admittedly irritating) characters developed.
  • The writing is pretty good.

By contrast, New Year’s Eve is an exercise in cynicism. It was not made by people who are compelled to tell stories or who even like the movies; it was made by businessmen who have produced similar movies and have found it to be a lucrative formula, one that works because it preys on people’s irrational desires.

That’s what advertising is for, not movies.

If you must, watch it on TV or download it illegally. Please, friends, do not pay to see New Year’s Eve in the theater. By doing so, you will be supporting an industry that prizes pointless cinematic santorum over truly interesting, original or (at the very least) good-hearted movies.

I honestly believe that romantic comedies make people’s lives worse. It sounds ridiculous, I know. But I regularly see people internalize rom-com ideals, judge their lives against them and find themselves lacking. Then they are sad.

Rom-coms are the emotional equivalent of porn — fine in small quantities, but overexposure can only lead to real-life disappointment.

So no, I don’t believe in the End Zone.

This is not to say that I’ve never been caught up in it — going to college, graduating from college, moving to New York, getting married. In the moment, it can be as exhilarating as LaMichael James rushing 72 yards into an actual end zone.


But what happens after LaMichael scores a touchdown? He doesn’t say, “Now I can finally be happy because I’ve scored and everybody is cheering for me!” No, he turns around and goes back for another kickoff. I sure hope he has fun maneuvering past those linebackers, because that’s as good as it’s going to get.

The closest I’ve ever come to realizing the End Zone was when I went to college. I had serious expectations that my life would improve by leaps and bounds once I broke free from my parents’ rules. (There were a lot of rules.) And that’s just what happened. My life really did take off. I found I liked figuring out my own rules. And thanks to my parents’ rule that required me to spend my senior year of high school applying for scholarships, I was even financially independent from them. I trotted (or maybe sprinted) out from under their thumb, and I never looked back.

This change coincided with all the others that happen when a person heads off to college. So in that way, it was less arbitrary than a lot of the other “if only” goals people set for themselves. Becoming totally independent from my folks at 18 didn’t make me happy, but it did give me the freedom I needed to pursue happiness in my own way, without worrying what they would think.

It turns out that freedom is one of the few actual requirements for happiness, along with having purpose, close friends, just enough money and contributing to your community. (I learned those things by editing books by this man, who, incidentally, loves romantic comedies.)

The thing is, if my happiness or well-being would have depended on finding “the one” or getting married or moving across the country (in either direction), I would have been totally out of practice by the time those things happened. Like cooking, happiness is a skill. You can get advice about it from books and TV and the Internet, but it takes effort. Somebody can’t suddenly waltz into your life and make you be a good cook. The most you can hope for is that he’ll introduce you to a few new techniques and enjoy sharing dinner with you. Which will certainly make cooking more fun and rewarding.

As long as it was something you enjoyed in the first place.

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Val gets totally excited to read her horoscope each month until she remembers they’re utter crap. What’s your view on horoscopes?

I worked on this for a few hours on Saturday, but the result was humorless and gave the impression that I spend a significant part of my life thinking about how much I hate horoscopes. This was because I had just spent several hours making my annual paper chain, a task I find ultimately rewarding, but highly irritating at the time.

This year's tree

I'm pretty happy with how it turned out.

Regarding the horoscope question:

  1. I do not give them any credence whatsoever.
  2. I do not understand how they are supposed to work.
  3. I sometimes read them anyway.

When I was 23 or so, I worked at a coffee shop in downtown Eugene, Oregon. One of our most regular customers was a kind and lonely man who was brilliant in his own way, but who nevertheless ascribed to the various intricacies of astrology and other New Age-ish type things. One day, after he gave a particularly impassioned spiel about how so-and-so was making a mistake by doing such-and-such when Jupiter was something or other, I said: “Look, I was born on the same day in the same hospital as two other people I have known for years. Our lives are totally different and we’re not the same in any way, except for that I think we all probably don’t believe in astrology. I just don’t see how outer space can influence things like financial decisions, which were invented so recently.”

He responded, “So you’re an Aquarius, huh?”

Touché, nerdy customer, touché.

That was the first and only time that I ever came close to believing.

Generally, horoscopes feel like an inside joke that I have no interest in understanding — like fantasy sports or opera. It always gets me when people assume that I should know what various signs and events signify, because they might as well be speaking a foreign language. A friend will say, “My new boss is really smart, but man is he ever an Aries!” Or, “My sister drives me crazy; she is such a Gemini.” And then look at me knowingly. I have no idea what those things are supposed to mean. Not the faintest inkling.

This year's treeNevertheless, this site is one of my occasional procrastination devices. Mostly because I like how the writing and I appreciate an outside perspective, even if it’s totally random. The advice is always sound, but I don’t believe that this has anything to do with astrological accuracy. The writer, Rob Brezsny, has a uniquely compassionate and whimsical view on the world and ways to live a better life. I feel certain that the advice filed under “Aquarius” is no more helpful than what I would find under “Sagittarius.”

Many people say they read horoscopes “for fun,” that they don’t really believe them or think they are real. My brain doesn’t work that way. I don’t read horoscopes for the same reason I don’t consult tarot cards, psychics or palm readers: They encourage a type of magical thinking that I find disempowering, even when I know it’s bullshit.

I respect many people who feel differently.


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Skyscraper Swan Song

Yesterday, I went on the record and committed to writing every day in December. What I didn’t say then, because it was still up in the air, is that a few other interesting people have joined me in this. I can’t explain why that makes this exponentially more fun. You can do it, too! Jenny has a really good explanation, with many of our prompts; if you are interested, leave a comment and I will share the ever-evolving Google doc with you (email addresses will not be published).

Here’s what we have for today: What’s your favorite building you’ve walked into this year?

This is a good, and terribly hard, question for a person who has recently abandoned New York City.

Marble Collegiate Church and the Empire State Building

Marble Collegiate Church and the Empire State Building

Buildings comprise the landscape, even the geography, of the metropolis. When you get off the train at an unfamiliar exit in Manhattan, you orient yourself via the Empire State Building; in Brooklyn, via the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower; in Queens via the Citigroup Building. Reflected against the vertical acres of glass in the Financial District, the city’s spectacular sunsets take on blinding dimensions. Even on my most NYC-hating days, I never became blasé about the Chrysler Building, the Flatiron Building, the Woolworth Building, St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Human beings made them! Without drafting software or safety equipment!

The funny thing about those buildings, with the exception of St. Patrick’s, is that they are best appreciated at a distance. From the sidewalk outside, the Empire State Building seems like any other building in Midtown, with a Walgreens and a few restaurants on the street level. Unless you really crane your neck, you’d never know you were standing next to one of the most famous buildings in the world. Some of them have gorgeous lobbies, but the offices where people actually work are usually soulless and bland, with the same buzzing lights, scuzzy beige carpets and windowless cubicles found in every office park in America.

Plus, I don’t believe I’ve set foot in any of them in the past year. Which seems dumb, but there it is.

For most of 2011, the buildings most central to my life have been movie theaters: I spent more time at cinemas this year than any other type of business. I really miss them, even the shitty ones (the Union Square Regal has never not smelled like barf), but especially the great ones, like the Angelika and Landmark’s Sunshine Cinema. I am inexpressibly lucky to have had them for my office for so long.

My affection for those movie theaters increased with the number of movies I saw and reviewed and the work-life freedom they represented. If they had not been movie theaters, I never would have loved them.

Then there are the countless blocks of beautiful old nameless buildings where people live out their lives. These may be the buildings I miss most. We found out recently that one of RZ’s great-greats lived just a few blocks from where we did, just after emigrating from England. It may have been on the very street pictured below, a few blocks away at most. How many of our ancestors lived in these row houses before heading elsewhere?

Park Slope


The most famous buildings in New York no longer exist. I was never inside of them, never saw them in person. But one of the very last things we did before we moved to Oregon was to visit the just-opened 9/11 Memorial. That thing took forever to be completed and made so many people really mad. Ten years of fighting went into its construction. The actual Twin Towers took only five years to complete. People even argued over its grand opening — there wasn’t enough space for all the families and the first responders. Everybody freak out!

9/11 Memorial

It’s a real shame, because it turned out to be maybe the most beautiful place in Manhattan. Amidst the craziness of the Financial District and all of the terrible decisions and human suffering it has come to represent, there is a massive public art project. The rushing water drowns out the sound of traffic, and even the voices of people standing a few feet away. Every type of person — every age, ethnicity, economic class, religion, sexual orientation — is represented by the thousands of names that surround the waterfalls.

It boggles the mind that so many years of hysterical finger-pointing could have resulted in something so tranquil amidst one of the least-serene zip codes on earth. It’s peaceful, it’s lovely, it’s only a little bit sad. If I worked nearby, I would go there to eat lunch every day.

The 9/11 Memorial opened only a few weeks before we moved away. I feel so lucky for that brief overlap.

9/11 Memorial


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Talk getting nowhere

Japanese maple

Please do not try to find a connection to this picture in the post below.

Last year, I posted to this blog twenty-eight times during the month of December. This was because of something called #reverb10, essentially a month-long blogging challenge designed for reflecting on the year that is nearly over. The impetus to write every day was fantastic, and I wanted to replicate it for this year.

But I didn’t love the #reverb10 format. It ended up feeling a lot like mental masturbation. Publicly. As somebody who has seen others jacking it in public at least a dozen times, I can confidently assert that nobody wants to see that. Plus, blogging tends toward the onanistic even at the best of times, so #reverb10 made for a lot of self-indulgent posts and, ugh, blogs about blogging.

So I wasn’t disappointed the other day to receive an email informing me, and a lot of other people, that #reverb11 wouldn’t be happening, at least not officially. But shit, it was also confirmation that I would need to come up with things to write about for thirty-one days straight. Including weekends, when the Internet resembles an Eastern Oregon ghost town with a tumbleweed rolling past the burned-out saloon.

I took this as my inspiration for today:

October, talk getting nowhere
November… December… remember
We just start it again

Perhaps you are familiar with these words. They are from the song “Please” by U2, about the Troubles in Northern Ireland, off the 1997 album Pop. I haven’t actually heard it in years. I think I started thinking about this song because my friend Valerie got to meet Bono the day before yesterday.

This was my favorite song on the album, which was their last that I really, truly loved. I was 17 at the time, so when Bono exhorted, “Please, please get up off your knees,” I obviously heard a reference to oral sex. (Actually, he was asking Northern Irish politicians to stop being guided by religion. So, pretty similar.)

My very first act of rebellion is closely tied to this album: I cut a math class with my friend Chris, also a stressed-out teenager, to purchase tickets to see U2 on their PopMart Tour without our parents’ permission. I should mention that the show was located more than 100 miles away from our town.

If we would have asked our parents, we likely would have been shot down (I would have for sure). But we didn’t. We went ahead and acted. It was exhilarating.

I recently came into possession of the t-shirt I bought at that show. But that’s another post.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of talk getting nowhere. Other people have too — it’s what inspired them to take to the streets, to occupy, to demand action from their elected representatives. I’ve also been thinking about it on a more micro level. This is because, in 2011, I’ve been surrounded by failed relationships. If you’ve never experienced this, I don’t recommend it. Many of the people I care about most have been really, really sad. If a barrage of sad people doesn’t make you at least a little bit down, you are probably a dick.

I still don’t understand why some of those connections frayed; in some instances, it was probably for the best. But in every case, talk failed. Hearts were broken.

Japanese maple

The move was worth the front-yard maple alone.

As a person who writes for money, I have this idea that positive, effective communication can solve everything. Are you being insensitive to my feelings? Well, it’s obviously because I haven’t explained them well enough to you, here, let me try again.

Except, maybe not. Maybe you’re just an asshole who doesn’t give a shit. Or maybe I need to close my mouth and take responsibility for my own emotions. Probably both.

Saying the right things doesn’t change anything. I’ve finally learned that relying on talk alone only serves to create more of the same: The next year, the next president, the next relationship — they’ll play out just like the last one. That is, unless our behaviors change.

RZ and I talked about moving to Portland for at least two years before we just did it. Now that we are here, I realize that I can’t blame the things that aren’t going as well as I’d like on being homesick, on New York being stressful and cold/hot and annoying. Getting up every morning, living my days the way I truly want to and connecting with other humans  makes me happy.

Writing here makes me happy.

Riding my bike makes me happy.

Putting in the work sucks, but it also makes me happy.

Knowing that I don’t have to be sad just because other people are … doesn’t make me happy. But it helps me to not be sad.

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Why I Work From Home: Mid-Afternoon Mushroom Feast

Another ridiculously fantastic lunch concocted by my buddy who I’m married to. We’ve been spending a lot of time together, so it’s fortunate that he is pretty great.

This one has a variety of mushrooms, onions, garlic, hot pepper flakes and, obviously, fried eggs. With cilantro on top. Rustic and perfect.

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