Friday, April 30, 2010

Nature Girl

Tomorrow morning I will leave this city of sin for the soul-cleansing purity of the country. My dear friend and I are driving to New Paltz, where we will scamper through the meadows and mountains and breathe some fresh air. I can't wait!

The city can be so stifling -- there is always pressure to be here or there and do this or that... For example, I'm going to some fancy club for happy hour and I have nothing to wear since I can't go home first as I had planned. This means I had to go shopping... Wahh, poor baby! Life is so tough.

If I was just in the country right now, I would be in flip-flops and dirty jeans and a t-shirt and that would be that. So this weekend, I vow to put vanity aside and just relax.

Goodbye, soul-sucking city. Hello, Zen.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My Library

I just found an interesting little snippet in the New York Times. It cites a study proving that children who grow up in a home with a library have an academic advantage -- a three-year advantage, to be precise. Regardless of the education level of the parents, kids with access to lots of books at home are also more likely to finish college.

My first thought was, DUH. Of course kids who are exposed to literature and information will do better in school! When children are surrounded by the potential for intellectual exploration in their own homes, of course it's going to help them in school. I mean, would I have read Romeo & Juliet in fourth grade had the book not been on my shelf at home? Of course not! And would I have graduated college as an English major had the book not been available? Hmm... Well, most likely. I think nerdiness is just in my DNA.

The point is, this article further justifies my penchant for buying and hoarding books. I have always planned on having a library in my home. I simply can't wait for the day that, from the comfort of a big old armchair, I can gaze around the room and see books lining every wall, sunlight streaming in onto the pages of my current literary obsession. My goal to own every book I've read, and those I haven't read yet, is really just an investment in my children's education, right? Won't it be nice to say, "Go read a book. We have 2,000 of them," when confronted with a bored and bratty kid? And all without having to leave the house...

As much as I love libraries, and even as I start to consider more seriously a Master's of Library Science, I don't use them very often. I just got my first library card from the Brooklyn Public Library after living here for more than two years, but I have only been to the tiny library on Cortelyou Road. I have yet to explore the main building by Prospect Park, which I hear is sprawling and beautiful and I have only ever seen from the windows of a cab. Of course, I still strongly believe in the value of public libraries -- not everyone has the money or space or even the desire to own hundreds (or thousands) of books. Plus, there are plenty of terrible books out there, and who wants to keep those books around the house? So although I recognize the social need for libraries and may quite possibly make a career out of them, I still want a library of my very own...

As a child I used to get lost in libraries and never want to leave, but what I enjoyed even more was buying books -- I wanted to see my books sitting on my shelves, knowing that in the inside front cover I had scratched my name in childlike cursive. Sounds selfish, but I really just wanted to be able to revisit certain beautiful passages and interesting characters on a whim. I absolutely hated to return a book I loved -- it saddened me to drop a book that I had fallen in love with through a slot, knowing I was relegating it back into obscurity on the shelves. The only thing that gave me comfort was thinking of the others who had read that book before and would read it again.

In college I loved to wander through the Fordham library finding the strangest books imaginable. I could sit for hours in the linguistics section, delving deeper into the intricacies of language and mind, desperately trying to find some way of including my newfound text into the essay I was currently ignoring. I became an expert at finding books, and I can't tell you how many times I showed fellow students, often those I was tutoring, the magic of discovering what lay in those seemingly endless stacks and how to find exactly what you were looking for. The search itself was, of course, part of the magic.

Of course, I can't imagine that I would have this strong love for libraries and a strong desire to have my own had I not been surrounded by books as a child. Some of my earliest memories involve my mother reading to me -- apparently I requested Goodnight, Moon so often that she hid it from me for a while since she was so tired of it. While she read to me more often, I always loved it when my father did, because he was the one to give the characters distinct voices, as dads tend to do. We didn't have thousands of books or a terribly organized "library," if you can even call it that, but there were always books in the house for me to leaf through.

I also remember when we got our set of encyclopedias, before they were made obsolete by the Internet. I was so excited to leaf through the heavy, alphabetized texts, bound in forest green with gold lettering -- it seemed like I had all the knowledge in the world at my fingertips, and I would just read and read, mostly about exotic animals or historic women. Speaking of women, I also remember spying a copy of The Second Sex on the shelf, which terrified and intrigued me. Upon picking it up I immediately realized I had no idea what Simone de Beauvoir was talking about and quickly put the book back in its place.

I might buy a lot of books, but my new rule is that I buy only used ones. Therefore, the Strand is now my new best friend. And should I dislike a book so that I find no need to keep it on my shelf, well then, back to the Strand it shall go. I only really buy paperbacks (the more beaten-up, the better) because they're light and easy to carry and cheap, so that I don't feel bad when I dog-ear the pages. The only new books I have decided to buy will be The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, which will be leatherbound, goddammit. And someday, I will purchase a comprehensive Oxford English Dictionary, which I will need a magnifying glass to read.

And all those little paper books that I have read and loved and reread and recommended, I will keep forever. They'll stay on the shelves of my apartment, the shelves of my parents' home, in boxes if need be, and someday they will come out and sit permanently on shelves built just for them, and they will be beautifully organized. And I will give my children a three-year advantage on their less well-read peers, and they will never, ever be bored.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Embedded Water

To continue an earlier post about the global water crisis, one of the BBC headlines on my iGoogle homepage today is "Western demand 'hogging water.'" I clicked on it and it lead to this article, which, while focused on the UK, says quite a bit about the consumption of the world's water supply by the West -- we use far more than our fair share.

The article brings up an interesting point about "embedded water," defined as "the water used to grow food and make things." Unsurprisingly, I never even thought about that. Of course water isn't just for drinking and washing, and of course many of those developing countries that have water shortages have to produce goods to sell to richer countries, and those products require water. Duh.

"Embedded in a pint of beer, for example, is about 130 pints of water -- the total amount needed to grow the ingredients and run all the processes to make that pint of beer." This statistic is going to haunt me when I pour pints for thirsty customers at the bar...

So now that I'm feeling thoroughly depressed and guilty for being born into a prosperous society that has water in abundance, I think I'll go get a nice cold glass of ice water. Maybe that will make me feel better... Apathy is really dehydrating.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I have started and deleted no fewer than four blog posts in the past two days. I just started a new one a half hour ago, wrote a few paragraphs, and then saved it and clicked away from it because I was bored with it... Why can't I write? I certainly have a lot on my mind. I've started writing about Brooklyn, about literature, about food and health, about singing, about beauty... All good topics, I think... But let me clarify -- not beauty like makeup and nail polish, but about how lovely the world seemed the other day and how lovely I felt.

Perhaps that's why I haven't had the urge to write... I've been feeling all right for the past few days. Maybe it has something to do with enjoying good literature and eating better food that I can actually digest and having a sing-along the other night with friends and organizing all my jewelry and cleaning my room, and these are making me feel lovely. I even remembered that April 15th is in two days and I have to do my taxes -- I'm getting an early start this year! Right now, I don't feel the need to gripe about things via this blog. Not that I usually complain... Or do I? Maybe something will make me miserable in the next few days and I'll feel the need to wax philosophic and then you can read a rant about leaving New York and about water and puppies and all that crap, but for now, I'm feeling somewhat content and healthy and at peace with the world.

I'm also feeling good about the fact that I've decided with this blog post that I'm spelling out numbers now (except for dates and really big numbers), which from reading past posts I realize I haven't been doing. Stylistically, that is a big no-no, and I'm happy when I can modify and solidify my writing style. Perhaps I should go with AP style and only do that with numbers under 10...or ten... Yes, I'll do that. It's 10. If someone notices me writing something like, "2 days ago..." please make a comment and tell me what a bad English major I am.

That is all.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Country vs. City

As I drove through the streets of Raleigh, NC on Friday afternoon, I thought to myself, "How could I ever live anywhere but New York? How could I ever be satisfied in a little city like this?" As much as I make plans to leave my beloved Big Apple within a year or so, I fear what lies ahead. I have lived in New York since I was barely 18 years old -- I've learned to drink and eat and shop and play and walk and run and scream and cry and laugh and love on these streets... These filthy, crowded, magical streets...

Where do you go when the majority of your most important experiences have occurred in the center of the universe? Where you hear 6 languages as you walk down the street, where you can have any food from any country at any time of day or night, where you never have to go to the same bar and restaurant twice (but you always do), where everyone comes to visit and gawk and then (thankfully) departs again, and where you can walk the same route every day and still be sure you'll never see certain people again in your life... I've discussed before how I love the anonymity of this city, so how could I ever move to a smaller place where people actually know your name?

When I travel, people label me as a New Yorker, and I know they will when I move away from here. But I'm not one by nature, only by osmosis... I'm from Maryland and I always will be from Maryland. As I walked tearfully through the house I grew up in on Sunday, as I gazed into the woods where the birds flitted about and the trees swayed quietly in the breeze, I thought, "How can I ever go back to New York?" As I prepared to leave on Monday, I just lay down for a few minutes and stared out the window, where all I could see were trees and sky, listening to the tuneless symphony of birdsong and wind chimes, and wished desperately that I could stay. I wished I didn't have to return to the insanity of this city, the constant noise, the constant chatter, the millions of words I don't understand, the millions of places to eat and drink and shop, the millions upon millions of people. How overwhelming it all is. I am not a New Yorker.

I'm not a country girl either, however, and especially not a suburbanite... As much as I would love to be home again, driving back country roads and spying wildflowers and deer at every turn, I'm not sure that's right for me either at this point. I just know that in North Carolina and Maryland, things seemed so small and plebeian, so behind the times, with everything moving so slowly... When I came back to New York I realized it all goes too fast, the future is in your face at every turn, everything is always changing and there is always something new and different and unknown... There is good and bad in both of these extremes, and I want both every day. But I can't have both -- that doesn't exist.

It will always frighten me to leave New York for good until I finally do it... But it always frightens me to come back and probably always will. Now that I'm here, I'm back in the swing of things. I went out to dinner and had a drink at the bar last night, and today I'm back to work after my usual morning commute... It all seems so normal. Hard to believe that only yesterday I was desperate to leave it all behind.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


I don't know why North Carolina is called North Cackalacky, but my friends who live there seem to refer to is as such. Southerners are weird... but they are also very hospitable and live in a lovely climate, so I'm glad to be going to good old North Cackalacky for Easter! Tomorrow I'll fly out of LGA to get to Raleigh by about 3:00 p.m., where I'll meet my mother and sister, settle into our hotel, and have a lovely dinner with my parents' good friend Nan, then visit with their other good friend Vince and his sister Peggy. I guess on Easter Sunday we'll drive up to Maryland, and then Monday I'm back in New York. A whirlwind of an Easter vacation, but I'm okay with that. My parents are pretty cool people, and I think their friends are great.

I was raised by parents who surrounded themselves with an eclectic crowd of folks... Musicians and artists and teachers and nurses and massage therapists and librarians... and then those who never really had a set career but just kind of floated through life taking the next job or opportunity that came to them. One of these is Vince, who for the better part of each year now travels around the country in the VinVan, camping in national parks and visiting Rainbow Gatherings. Occasionally he shaves his bushy red beard and gets a job working for The Man... And then he somehow ends up in a fancy hotel in New York City doing some sort of consulting thing I'm not really clear about, and then Nick and I go out to have Indian food with him in Midtown. Weird. I've known Vince my whole entire life and think he's pretty damn awesome.

Nan (real name Nancy), I have also known for just about forever, and again, I'm not really sure what she's done for a living all these years, though she's retired now. She has always been an artist and photographer, and I remember for a while she was a teacher's assistant and shared hilarious stories about the crazy names the inner city children were cursed with (like Iska...pronounced Isaac. Lord.) In fact, when she moved out of her country house when I was in middle school, she gave me a bunch of old issues of National Geographic, which started my collection and which I still have. She always seemed so hip and otherworldly to me, like the coolest grandma in the world, only a child at heart... She has this short white hair and wears crazy glasses and funky earrings and is always working on some sort of art project or is taking beautiful pictures. Featured here is a picture of my dad that she must have taken in the '80s... He's looking remarkably like a hipster with his bushy beard and his overalls, but he was the real deal -- hippie redneck to the max. Anyway, I haven't seen Nan in about 3 or 4 years, and she's really a lovely person with a lovely daughter and a nice little grandson who I guess is probably a teenager now, but who I will always remember as a goofy, brainy little 8 year old. It will be nice to reconnect...

Part of the reason we're going down is to visit Nan, and part is because Vince's sister has cancer and doesn't have a whole lot of time left. My mother adores Peggy, so of course she wanted to spend some time with her. Peggy is a lovely person who has raised a bunch of kids and foster kids and grandkids, and who, when we spent Thanksgiving with her when I was 9, introduced me to "Gone With the Wind," and experience which I will never forget. I guess she's a true Southerner, which I can only pretend to be... Anyway, Peggy has this fiery red hair and penciled in eyebrows and the most pleasant accent I've ever heard in my life. The last time I saw her, I was home for the weekend and I proudly cooked up the best homemade brunch ever for my parents and all their friends -- I'm glad I could share my limited cooking skills with Peggy by making some damn fine eggs Benedict. I hope I'll get to see her at least a few more times after this...

While this will be a very non-traditional Easter, because I can't imagine in a million years that we'll set foot in a church or have an Easter egg hunt or even mention the words "rose from the dead," it will be absolutely wonderful to reconnect with the people who I really feel had a great impact on me during my childhood years and who I am lucky to still know as an adult. Growing up, I always thought of my parents' friends as my friends, too... Since I was an only child who had few friends to drag around with me, and very few of them had children, I did a lot of hanging out with the old folks. Sure I got lucky at many parties and got to run off with any kids who happened to turn up, or I got sick of the adults eventually and yelled at them to turn their music down once I decided it was time for me to go to bed... But for the most part, I was able to talk and eat weird food and it didn't really bother me. I really appreciated the people I was surrounded with growing up and I don't really remember there being any awkward transition between childhood and adulthood, though I'm sure there was. I sat around tables listening to crazy conversations and on porches hearing beautiful live music as a child, as a teenager, and now as an adult, and though the faces occasionally drifted in and out and sometimes I had friends around to share it with, not much changed.

I suppose people have changed quite a bit (and so have I), I just haven't been around much to see it. I've left home for good and I'm not turning back, but still... it's good to reconnect and acknowledge your roots. You can't forget where you come from or the people who made you who you are, especially when those people are pretty damn cool.