Wednesday, July 23, 2014

We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful

A few months after my move to New York, adjusting and calibrating to life at my new company, in my new neighborhood, I began an informal book club at work. I had connected with a colleague, in another department, on reading, on writing; she used to live in Crown Heights and we cemented our literary friendship over cheap wine at a monthly reading, hosted by a local bar. The book club was essentially the two of us, joined by another colleague and dear friend, discussing the text in tangents, always ready and willing to be distracted with other nuggets, cultural, professional. She and I, outside of the club meetings, began to discuss our work, workshop structures, frustrations, triumphs. We never consummated any discussion by swapping stories, poems, offering our services in polite but constructive criticism. Ultimately, I am both glad for this, and regret it deeply. For me, writing, technically something I do for a living, is a struggle, at best, a distant memory, at worst. Something I clung to, spoke of like an aging cheerleader, grasping desperately for those four years from the past, pretending nothing has changed, time has stopped. I identify with being a writer, no matter how many days, weeks, months, years have marched along, a ravine between me and the last time I sat, diligent, focused on this vocation.

After applying for a position at a renowned writing camp workshop, this year, she was finally rewarded a spot. I said my congratulations, mediated by my phone and social media, teeth gnashed and feeling desperate. I have been moving without purpose, without focus, and thus without challenge and satisfaction, for quite some time, with no one really to blame other than myself. It has been said before, and will be said again, that one of the most insidious effects of evolving social media platforms is the incitement of furious envy, of fear. Either that fear of potential, of what could be, measured by the curated lives of others, or the fear of lacking, of not accomplishing, not experiencing. Such meditations, such wallowing, is nearly always, always defeatist. To sit and compare, the truth of my life, with the shallow facade of the other, is peel away the skin, be disappointed with the striations beneath, to be angered at the pain and the blood. Successes are not finite. Enrichment is not finite; if you indulge, gorge, I can have my share as well.

To write, be a writer, is not merely to think, to feel, there is effort, so much trying and failing and trying again, defiant or maybe stupid in the face of it all. Angst and sadness and joy and contemplation and love must coalesce, take shape, be shaped. This is an important lesson. Toiling for hours in my cubicle, pushing my boulder to the top, dropping it on the ground and kicking it to the bottom for another pass, hard work after hours, in my house, repulses me. Hard work used to thrill me; I was motivated, craving more, knowledge, experience. Now, I feel perpetually exhausted, and need to pull my own body up and out of the tar trap that a steady corporate job sets. But I feel so hungry.  

(image taken from Poetry Dispatch)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Packing Up

I am on the train south, to Baltimore. My parents have moved from my childhood home, the home where I grew up, lost my first tooth, had my first drink, the home were I marked my height along the edge of my bedroom door each birthday, their home for over twenty-five years. A quarter of a century in a single place seems impossible, a sort of bygone and arcane approach to living life. For me, though, it still seems bizarre, untrue, surreal, that I, my body, my being, my mind, has been in existence for over a quarter of a century, smelling, tasting, feeling, speaking, thinking. I travel down to see the new house, only a handful of miles away from the suburban community that was my playground for those years. In that enclave of typical housewife ennui and over-achievement, I forged my first friendships, other girls who were curious and afraid and confident and unsure; some of these friendships I still nurture, still cherish. My friends, my foes, from years of lanky proto-adolescence, from the high school war zone of hormones and emotions brilliant and sharp like diamonds, some have never left this place. Have they found solace, satisfaction, challenge in the pattern, the smooth continual oscillation in the same trajectory of their parents?

My brother sends me a photograph of the old house, now empty. It is a classic Dutch colonial, one of the first built in the development, wise and proud. I have not been back since the Christmas holidays; I did not enter the threshold for a final time, for that last walk through familiar halls and familiar rooms, a suckling of nostalgia, of tastes both bitter and sweet. Certainly, by this point, pieces of our childhood, now forgotten, by me, by him, by our parents, have been discarded; donated to those less fortunate, hauled off to the local dump by a blue-collar stranger with a big truck looking for some extra cash. The rest is packed, organized, compartmentalized, the physical mirroring our memories. Plastic Barbie dolls intertwined in a dark cardboard casket, shards of rainbow Legos rattling, game boards, old books.

I have not cried, at least, not yet, not over this. Uncharacteristic

The new house is stone, steadfast. Out back, behind, a grass meadow stretches; from recent violent storms, it is lush and green, verdant victory. The sun sets, dark descends, and the lightning bugs emerge, just like they did years ago, when we were small, our hands folding to make tiny fists, when we chased them in crazed vector paths, hoping to capture their brilliance in old glass jar, contain it forever.

(image taken from 16 Sparrows)

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Gentrification and Grilled Cheese

I saunter up north along Franklin Avenue to meet the boys at Doris, a relatively new bar, according to hip Brooklyn standards, snug between laundromats and bodegas along Fulton. Walk slow, bask in that ephemeral late afternoon lazy sun. A wide, airy, and tranquil open patio space stretches out across the back; here, they are drinking beers, celebrating a new job. He has never held a steady full-time gig before, the cyclic nine-to-five rhythm, cultural circadian paces; a final toast to freelance freedom. Mismatched picnic tables and white chairs in an askew arc, each emblazoned with a printed page, requesting that patrons keep voices low and conversations quiet and merriment calm, so as to avoid any complaints from neighbors, who want the establishment gone. Inside, we chat with the server, his hair long and knotted in a high bun; he describes in sage detail the process of building the brass bar, long sheets measured and cut and meticulously shaved down to create a sharp, pristine seam. Glass and brass lighting fixtures resembling lantern-prisms, also assuredly handmade, an amalgamation of passion and precision. Donald Fagen croons in the back, emanating vibes from vinyl. The server selects the next record between pouring beer and shaking margaritas. Only cash is accepted. With a clang, with a cling, a drawer swings forward, crumpled bills splayed, splattered with bits of dryingbooze.

Please be quiet, keep voices low; respect the neighbors. This bar is an omen, for some, portending things to come; for others, an oasis. 

After sipping some cocktails, gulping beers, we feast on grilled cheese sandwiches; fontina with truffle oil, braised kale and fennel, chicken chorizo, classic cheddar. Bread perfectly crusted with a healthy dose of butter. I am thankful for my loose black dress, resolve myself to stopping and being comfortably sated, take more bites and become uncomfortable. I could burst, but the night air is a soft, cool tongue, lapping and lapping sweetly, so we drink more, slowly, unwilling to move.

Near midnight, I glide home, coast along astride his ludicrously minute children's bicycle, legs upright and pointed in loose angles to avoid scraping along the pavement. It has been years since I have sat on a bicycle, even more years since that bicycle has been near-minute, one of those where to back-pedal is to brake. We pass a group of old men, waiting idly, perhaps for a local bus, perhaps not. 

"Just let go, girl, let go, you're really flying," they laugh and shout as I pass.

We walk to the farmer's market, along a side street, and stumble upon a pick-up game of stickball, the players a group of old Italian men, a gaggle of small boys, these teams obviously playing this game on this street for decades. Meeting up on the sidewalk, dividing into two teams, just like they did when they were seven years old, limbs gangly, knees scraped, eyes fresh and skin taut. We stand to one side for a moment, watch a few pitches. One old man strikes out, swinging the long, thin wooden bat into the air at each pitched ball with abandon. The next makes contact, the rubber ball flies out into the paved street field, he begins to slowly run the bases.

(image taken from Ephemeral New York)