Friday, November 30, 2012

Sharon Lockhart | Noa Eshkol at the Jewish Museum

My friend the dancer/dance scholar Judith Brin Ingber came into town. We had a bit of work together, and she invited me to go with her and her husband to the Jewish Museum to see the Sharon Lockhart/Noa Eskhol exhibit.

I like Judith very much, and so I said yes without even checking what I was going to. I also trust that if she's inviting me to something it's probably important for me to know about. And so in the middle of the work day, we hopped a cab over to the East Side and spent 45 minutes in a fascinating exhibition about a woman (Noa) who created an entire system of dance notation, as well as a dance technique that was quite architecturally based. There's no way I'll do justice to explaining what she accomplished, so what I'll tell you is that there are giant video screens in the exhibit, and I could dance along with the dancers on the screen—trying my best to master the precision of the movement. Also, that Noa created "wall carpets" which are essentially quilts that she made without ever cutting the found material that she used. (She would layer it, but not cut it.) I want to try out her sewing method.

It's good to remember that if I'm willing to pay for a cab, I can get over to a museum and see one exhibit in the time I go running on a lunch break. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Shadow Post: Yiddish Tango

Sometimes I do something that's too private to write about in public, and so I write about something else instead. What I'm gonna write about kept me up very late though, so I slept in a bit (If we can reasonably say that sleeping til 7 is sleeping in) and I have to dash this off and get to work. So it was the Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer Risk Taker Awards—the annual fundraising gala celebration of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ).  We honor people who have taken great risk in their lives for racial and economic justice—whether or not they are Jewish. This year we honored Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz, Eric Ward (scroll down to read his bio) and ACT UP.

I can't tell you how inspiring this evening was—inspired by the brilliance, the daring, the thoughtful balance of self and other, the poetry, and the humor with which these people have spent their lives organizing. If you don't know them, I urge you to follow the links above, and to delve as deep as you can to see what they do.

The Meyer Awards are also the social event of the year in which I feel most central and connected to a large friends circle in NYC. This year, because I didn't organize it (although I did get to help in a number of ways) I had the time to think about what I would like to do there that I don't usually. When a friend wrote and asked me if I had the lyrics to my all-time favorite Yiddish tango, I found an unexpected opportunity. I didn't have the lyrics available. They weren't on my computer, but I have transcribed the song before, so they were probably packed away in a box somewhere. So I decided to transcribe it for her, and I fell in love all over again. Before and after work, I listened and listened to it, re-uncovering its funny, precise, and evocative descriptions of Jewish Argentine life.

I had such a good time doing this work. I remembered when it was my main work, and felt a great deal of sadness that so many of the hours in my day are spent not transcribing Yiddish tangos (and let's use that as a metaphor for creating art in general.) But also, I had such a great time doing this work. And then when it was done, and I kept singing it again and again, I realized I'd love to sing it at Meyer. So they offered, and they accepted, and for the first time in ages, I performed in public. So much more to say about this, but remember a couple sentences ago when I wrote about having to get on the subway and not spend most of my time creating art? I have to do could finally compile the book of Yiddish tangos I've been talking about compiling. In the stolen moments before I go uptown.

So thank you, friends, for asking for help, and thank you Marjorie and the rest of JFREJ for all that we do, and thank you Eric, and Melanie, and ACT UP for your particularly brilliant thinking, writing, organizing and acting. And thank you Hannah and Jenny and Avi for making music and inviting me in.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

Remember how a couple weeks ago I was running on the treadmill and watching Millionaire and then Cuomo got on the TV and told us all about the state of emergency and then when I tuned back in, Millionaire was over? That's not what happened this time. This time, by chance, I started running at 12:30 PM, which I then discovered was just when Millionaire starts, and I watched the whole thing which means I ran for 1/2 hour, not including warm up and cool down, which is pretty great for the middle of a work day. Also, the smarmy college boy lost pretty quickly, with only $1000 and the smart woman got $75,000, which made me happy for her. Also, it seems like Achilles probably died from a puncture to the posterior tibial artery.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The (almost) perfect black insulated shirt

So right after my Google calendar stopped working and then my online booking system duplicated a bunch of reservations and then when the head of technology at the JCC was at my desk helping me with these things, right in front of him, my hard drive crashed—right after all that, I left the office and got a replacement black insulated shirt, because I keep losing my perfect black insulated shirt.

There's a perfect black insulated shirt. It has good lines. It is very thin. It is very warm. It looks good enough with a skirt or jeans. Usually I can't find this shirt. I go to sporting goods places and they hug me in places I'd rather not be hugged. And then I find it and love it, and then bizarrely, once I have it and after I rely on it with my very core, I lose it. I lost it three years ago. I found another I actually liked better. I lost it last year. I have been without for the entire Fall. I've tried some on. They didn't flatter.

I was slightly chilly all day today, and so when a dybbuk got into my computer, I got up and left the office and walked over to EMS and found a black insulated shirt. It's not better than the last one, and it's not better than the one before. In fact, it's worse than both of them. But it fits, and it's warm and it was on sale, and then I discovered that I get 20% for working at the JCC, so I chose it.

If I would have found a perfect one, I think I would have felt joy. As it was, I felt that I was doing something for myself, and that there was the possibility that I could have felt joy, which is probably a good thing to aim for in any of these efforts. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Cloud Atlas

I finally saw Cloud Atlas. What greater joy than an over-the-top, epic movie with friends in the middle of a cold weekend day?

But the deeper joy will come once I get to talk about it with Karen. (Although talking about it with Patricia, Amanda and Dan was pretty fantastic.) (I don't get to see her very often, Amanda and her insightful sarcasm can reliably make me laugh.) (I loved her critique of Halle Berry's limping.)

Keeping this post short, but I'll take a 5-day weekend any time. Now, back to work.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Two movies!

I'm going to keep this post short, because I have a lot of other stuff to write and do, but prompted by my own post yesterday, I saw two movies in one day! At two different movie theaters. And it even worked to take the car and find parking at both places, so Josh and his broken foot wouldn't have to hobble too far or suffer the subway. We were late for Skyfall, and didn't get to sit together—he was way up front and I was way in the back. And then we were early for Silver Lining Playbook, because I thought it started at 7:15, but it started at 8:15. But that's OK, because we were first in line, and that put us in perfect position to see when Nina and Mickey strolled up (unbeknownst to us) to see the same film, so we ended up with a date.

And all this after an already excellent day in which I got to dive into two creative theater projects. I spent hours in the morning translating an incredibly complex Hebrew poem (no, I don't know Hebrew. I worked from five different translations of it, plus all the scholarly writing I could find about the poem itself, plus a couple about the language in the poem, plus bible passages, plus a conversation with Josh that touched on the social and political history of the two main settings of the poem that influenced the metaphor choices in the work. I love doing this kind of writing—trying to stay true to the intent of the poem in its original language, which (for example) I read contains a great deal of slant rhyme, and so I shifted the English language to include the same.

And when I got done with that, I got to work on a Yiddish poem project with Josh and Abigail—a project that we hope is going to turn into an animation knitting lots of yarn.

And when I got done with that, I hadn't written my speech for the 16th Annual Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer Awards, which if you are in the New York area, you should come to (nobody turned away for lack of funds) and so with that still on my to do list, I sign off for today.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Life in Pictures

My friends Patricia, Dan, and Amanda have an annual day-after-Thanksgiving leftovers party which has become one of my favorite annual traditions. There are about half a dozen people who I met at the party, and whom I only ever see there. There are a couple children who I've seen grow up—one of them in particular who I barely know, but have seen transform from a rambunctious little toddler into a wordly tween. I've met Jesse Eisenberg at this party. I met someone fabulous who invited me out for lunch on what turned out to be a date, but I was already with someone and then in later years I got to see them with their new person who they eventually married and got pregnant with. I've discussed the racial, political and historical context of zombies vs vampires. Finally one of my favorite parts of the party comes at the very end—a special trade secret super-fun something that happens once most people have left (and for which I have always stayed.) OK, I'll tell. After everyone leaves, a few people stay and formally judge everyone else. What food they brought, what they wore, what they talked about, who they're together with, how their kids act, their new haircuts, their recent life choices ... I just love this, and feel I also have an annual party so that I can also have a small judging session at the end.

This year, however, I did not stay for the judging, so that I could high tail it over to see the new Bond film. I've been wanting to see a movie for weeks. I want to see Skyfall, Lincoln, The Sessions, Cloud Atlas, Silver Linings Playbook.  I'm afraid I've missed Seven Psychopaths, The Master, and Abraham Lincoln Vampire Killer. I'm going to want to see Not Fade Away, This is Forty, Zero Dark Thirty, The Hobbit. The only things I did see in the past 2 months are Argo and The Perks of Being a  Wallflower. Independent film? I haven't even looked at what's playing at BAM or IFC or Film Forum in weeks. Let alone Filmwax, my friend Adam's incredible film series in Brooklyn that I have somehow never even been to.

So with the weight of supporting the entire film industry resting on my shoulders, I dashed out of my favorite part of the party to see the new Bond film, and wouldn't you know it—the 8:30 screening was sold out.

So I guess my special selfish joyful thing of the day was going to the party that I enjoyed thoroughly, even though I didn't stay til the end. I met someone new this year. Someone I hope to see in years to come. Someone who told me that there's now a big screen theater inside the Brooklyn Central Library. (I can't find a link to the actual theater online, but I found a link to the movie in the screening series she saw.) So now I have a new movie venue, and hopefully I can free up enough time to actually go there.

Friday, November 23, 2012

My Own Private Turkey Trot

When I owned a house in Portland, my favorite Thanksgiving tradition was cleaning the gutters. First thing in the morning after I had my tea, I would take out the ladder and clean 'em out. I have been away from Portland—and my house—for 10 years now, and I'm not lying when I say a Thanksgiving doesn't go by when I don't miss cleaning those gutters. (This year I actually live in a house with gutters, but they are up very high, and my landlords take care of all that stuff.)

It was an odd and ultimately wonderful day. I spent most of it home alone cooking and setting up borrowed card tables while Josh went to the ER for an X-ray on what turned out to be his chip-fractured foot. I tuned into an Alec Baldwin marathon on the radio most of the day and cooked, occasionally texting with Josh at the ER and with Andy and Jesse about our dinner plans.

For the most part I enjoyed myself. I only grumbled when I had to clean and peel the potatoes for mashed potatoes and clean, peel and julienne the root vegetables for a salad—both of which Josh had planned to prepare. But I did it, and hey—I wasn't at the ER getting a hard shoe and a cane. (Although if it were me at the ER I would have preferred to come away with a soft shoe and an umbrella.)

Anyhow, this is all just context. So Josh is in the ER, and I am home cooking, and I don't have gutters to clean, and good friends are on their way over later, and I get to ask myself: what would I like to do that's just for me today? That might approach bringing joy into my life?

And the answer was pretty simple. I'd like to go outside and get some exercise. It was over 50 degrees, the sun was out, the sky was blue, the turkey was in the oven and needed basting every 30 minutes. So I put on my running shorts and shoes and went out for a run in the park. Past lots of soccer players, past a group of ganja smokers, past other joggers (actually most of them passed me) and into the day. It was lovely, and I knew I'd appreciate it later when we were sitting down for a big meal. (I did.) I even swung by the house, basted the turkey, and went out for a continuation, which was one of the more delightful parts of the run.

That's all. Simple pleasure.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Paperwhite Narcissus

I love them so much! I love planting them. I love waiting for them to grow and bloom. I love the first moment the first bloom pushes open. I love the fragrance that fills entire rooms. I love how they make me think of my mom. I love everything about them, and today I planted them.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

You're gonna have to work harder than that to get it out of me.

Like probably most of you, I have a small selection of movies I can watch repeatedly, for one reason or another (usually because they're really good, my primary example being Casablanca.) Like probably most of you, I have a small selection of movies I'd call my guilty pleasures, for one reason or another (usually because although good, there's something embarrassing about liking them, my primary example being Earth Girls Are Easy.) Last night I watched a movie that falls in the intersection of the venn diagram of these two categories—a movie that I can watch again and again, and that I am significantly embarrassed to tell you about. No, like really embarrassed. How embarrassed?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Maria Freakin’ Zifchak

Sometimes my own job transports me. Tonight was one of those nights. Seriously, if you love opera or other classical music, and you want to hear an amazing concert for almost no money, you should come to PREformances with Allison Charney. One minute you’re in a lobby full of strollers, and the next minute you’re in a pretty nice 240-seat theater, and then Maria Freakin’ Zifchak comes on stage and blows your mind with her incredible voice.

The program is called PREformances because famous musicians sing and play things that they are soon going to play somewhere famous, and they want a chance to try it out in front of an audience before they do it in front of their fancy audience. But these are very high-level musicians, so it’s not like they’re going to mess up horribly, or do the stuff they really don’t know how to do yet. So the concerts are amazing. And intimate. And did I mention cheap?

I know it doesn’t totally count as a thing I do just for me, because I was really doing it for other people, and running a reception afterwards, and taking care of the artists, and greeting the donors, and getting the W9 forms, and handing over the petty cash, and texting the caterer, and coordinating with the house manager, and folding the programs, and working with the new tech guy. So it doesn’t totally count as a thing I do just for me, but when Maria Freakin’ Zifchak opened her mouth, I was transported to a place where I forgot, for one aria, that I was actually at work.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Women Who Run with Knives

I wanted to get my knives sharpened and I wanted to go for a run, and it was getting latish in the day and I didn't had time to do one and then the other and still get to soup swap and finish moving boxes around. And that's how great ideas are born.

I wrapped up my knives in several layers of newspaper, and then in a canvas bag, and then I put on my running shoes and headed out to the park. I mean, what could go wrong?

I'm just messing with you. Nothing went wrong at any point (get it? point?) in this adventure. I ran to Park Slope to drop off my knives to get sharpened, and I ran back without the knives. And all I got was this lousy blog post. And a couple of jokey free associations. Like with Running with Scissors, which I read and obsessed over back when it came out.

And later when I told my soup swap friends, they free associated to Women Who Run With the Wolves, which I have never read, and don't even really know what it is except that I just looked it up to link to it and I see that it's about women and mythology, which in theory should be incredibly interesting to me (I wrote my undergraduate BA thesis on feminist Wicca) but in reality (or my projection of reality) seems like I'd run away quickly from it (maybe while holding 5 dulled sharp knives?)

I think this is one of the weirder blog posts I've ever written, but it's actually instructive in terms of taking pure selfish joy time for myself—in that I tend to be a person who is OK combining unusual activities, colors, or people, and when I do, I am often delighted with the surprising combinations.
And while I might not be describing the particular delight I took in running with knives, it does make me smile to have done—and written about—something for which I must admonish: don't try this at home.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

I sat on an $11,466 sofa

I can barely believe I am about to say publicly that I had a thoroughly enjoyable time ..... shopping. If you know me, and even if you don't know me that well but you recently read my Ikea post, you know that I don't enjoy shopping. For pretty much anything (except maybe Williams Sonoma cookware, which is actually true, and not just a way to get this hilarious send-up of the catalog that Karen showed me into my blog. (Aside: I hate catalog and online shopping just as much and potentially even more than in-person shopping.) (Another aside: I just remembered that I love bookstores.) So aside from bookstores and potentially Le Creuset, which I don't actually buy—I just swoon over) I hate shopping. And so it comes as a surprise that Josh and I spent a thoroughly delightful late afternoon and evening shopping for sofas. We had made a list of stores that sell eco-friendly sofas, which I know doesn't answer all the questions that this article brought up, but at least helps, and we mapped out a plan to get to all of them in some reasonable order, from Soho to midtown. But then we missed the B train (when is a blog post going to go by without my commenting on the B train?) and hopped on the Q train and reversed the order of our entire trip.

I had never even experienced, let alone noticed/heard of the huge fanciness that is ABC Carpet and Home, but it was on the list, and so we went in. Five floors of home decor—already the kind of place that would normally send me running for the door, but I was committed to this project, and so we went to the top floor, and started to explore. We saw a $900 that was marked down to $650 if you bought the floor model, and a bunch of stuff that was too ugly to even consider. We kept wandering and found a couch that looked excellent, and was super super comfortable. When I picked up the price tag, I laughed out loud. That great-looking, super-comfortable couch cost $11,466. I mean, what do you do with that, except maybe sit on it a little longer and take a phone call?

The rest of the trip stayed pretty enjoyable, and even brought us to a potential purchase, but here's what I might have loved the best: the first sighting of daylight savings lights.

Friday, November 16, 2012

I love an old cemetery

On my way to work this morning, which now involves a 20 minute walk to the 2 train because there seems to be an awful lot of "police activity at Barclay Center" that delays the B train in the mornings (why is there police activity at 8:30 AM? Is "police activity" maybe a euphemism for "we messed up when we built the Barclay Center, and it's really fucking up traffic?) I decided to duck into the cemetery on Church Avenue near Flatbush. I'm pretty sure this is the church of Church Avenue; here's a bit of history of the area. A gorgeous little stone deal, with an old cemetery with stones dating back to the 1700s. I grew up in a town with an old cemetery in the center—I (and many kids who grew up in Harvard) walked through it most every day when we were young, taking the footpath from the school to the General Store, or to sit on The Wall.

So I was on my way to work, and it was brisk but sunny out, and I had left on time, and I was going to the reliable train, so when I got to the cemetery, I decided to duck in for a while, and try to imagine what it might have been like when this part of Brooklyn wasn't full of honking cars and vast stores with questionable goods (about which I heard the following comment a couple blocks before I got to the cemetery: "This store is so bootleg.")

And it was lovely. And a reminder of the preciousness of this life, which we all depart on a certain date, and if we are lucky and have lived well, we have people who care enough to mark that, with a stone or just in their hearts.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ikea, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways

I first went to Ikea during my Never Done year, and while I took a lot of very pretty photos, there was not one physical object I wanted to take home except for lingonberry preserves. No really, not one.

About a month ago, I put out a call to people to get advice on what kind of bookshelves I should get that aren't Ikea, and people chimed in with good advice—including several people who ignored my ban on Ikea and told me how much they love their (UGLY) Billy shelves. So blah blah blah I got a bid on some shelves from the Gothic custom people, and Josh looked at about a million other places, and when it all seemed complicated and expensive, I gave in and said I'd go to Ikea for some shelves. But when I got there (and only after I'd spent something like 90 minutes there) I realized that everything in Ikea is ugly. No really. Everything in Ikea is UGLY.

Oh, am I offending anyone?

I should also mention the fact that there are people in Red Hook who are living without basic needs met, and the FEMA headquarters appears to be in the Ikea. Which doesn't mean anything about Ikea; it's just an odd shopping juxtaposition. Which I don't need, because I'm already a horrible shopper, if the goal of shopping is to buy what you need. If the goal of shopping is to buy only what you really need, then maybe I'm an excellent shopper, because I pass by stuff I don't need so effectively that I usually leave stores empty handed. This time, after spending 90 minutes scheming and measuring about bookshelves, after having started out knowing that they aren't what I love but that I was committed to them because they're cheap and efficient, after 90 minutes of that, I left the store with a digital turkey thermometer and some lingonberry jam.

So maybe you're wondering where the fun, joyous, selfish part of this was?

Yeah, me too.

I tried to salvage it by enjoying how fast I could walk through the vast space—satisfying the type A part of my nature by following the arrows faithfully, going going going, fast fast fast, past the ugly ugly ugly crap crap crap. That was actually pretty enjoyable.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Dan Bern

I listened to Dan Bern's newish CD—Drifter—while I unpacked boxes of papers that had been stored away for some years. I recycled plenty of papers that didn't matter anymore but I also found plenty of delightful things, like a letter from Josh's mom and photos of some little girls who are now grown women, and my eyeglass prescription and a magazine that my mom was published in (Country Living: Dry Your Own Flowers)—all while listening to Dan Bern sing with his poetic lyrics and his driving, rocking twang.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Letter from E. B. White

I admit this is a pretty pathetic excuse for taking selfish time for joy, but at least I left my desk for 4 minutes and went up on the roof of the JCC and picked some lavender from the rooftop garden, and brought it back to my desk where I could smell it and remember to chill out.

And then I left work at 5 PM on the dot to go to the movie theater closest to my house for a 6 PM screening of Cloud Atlas, but got there at 6:11, and they had started the film 7 minutes earlier. (I guess when the film is almost 3 hours long, they skimp on the trailers.)

And then I took the bus home and used the rest of the night to finish solving all my phone tech problems that have been plaguing me since maybe May. I'm actually writing this while I'm on hold. I've been off and on hold now for 3 hours. (Hey! I'd just be getting out of Cloud Atlas!) Instead, Love Actually is playing on the television, but I'm not watching it. (It's OK, I don't really need to watch it. I pretty much know it by heart. I once used it as a structural model for a multi-story line screenplay.)

Should I just keep typing stream of consciousness as long as I'm in the phone hold cycle?  Because now I've been in the phone hold cycle for 3 1/2 hours. (I got to talk with someone for a while there—I'm not that slow a writer.)

No, I shouldn't. But when I am done with all this and have been tech successful, I will do one more thing, even if it's just something like reading a good short poem, before I head to bed. I will get back on here in the morning and tell you what it was ..............................................................................

Chapter I.
Before Breakfast

   "Where's Papa going with that ax?" said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast. "Out to the hoghouse," replied Mrs. Arable. "Some pigs were born last night."
   "I don't see why he needs an ax," continued Fern, who was only eight.
   "Well," said her mother, "one of the pigs is a runt. It's very small and weak, and it will never amount to anything. So your father has decided to do away with it."
   "Do away with it?" shrieked Fern. "You mean kill it? Just because it's smaller than the others?"
   Mrs. Arable put a pitcher of cream on the table. "Don't yell, Fern!" she said. "Your father is right. The pig would probably die anyway.
   Fern pushed her chair out of the way and ran outdoors. The grass was wet and the earth smelled of springtime. Fern's sneakers were sopping by the time she caught up with her father.
   "Please don't kill it!" she sobbed. "It's unfair."
   Mr. Arable stopped walking.
   "Fern," he said gently, "you will have to learn to control yourself.
   "Control myself?" yelled Fern. "This is a matter of life and death, and you talk about controlling myself?
    Tears ran down her cheeks and she took hold of the ax and tried to pull it out of her father's hand.
   "Fern," said Mr. Arable. "I know more about raising a little of pigs than you do> A weakling makes trouble. Now run along!"
   "But it's unfair," cried Fern. "The pig couldn't help being born small, could it? If I had been very small at birth, would you have killed me?"
   Mr. Arable smiled. "Certainly not," he said, looking down at his daughter with love. "But this is different.  A little girl is one thing, a little runty pig is another.
   "I see no difference," replied Fern, still hanging on to the ax. "This is the most terrible case of injustice I have ever heard of."
   A queer look came over John Arable's face. He seemed almost ready to cry himself.
   "All right," he said. "You go back to the house and I will bring the runt when I come in. I'll let you start it on a bottle, like a baby. Then you'll see what trouble a pig can be." 

When I was young, Charlotte's Web was the first big kid's book I read all by myself, and I finished reading it, sobbing, insisting that I read the final chapter to the rest of the family, in the car on a roadtrip. When I came to the sad sad end, I declared through my sobs, "That is the best book I have ever read in my entire life, and I am never going to read another book again!"

My mother wrote a letter to E. B. White telling him that story, and as was his wont, he wrote her back. She apparently followed up with another about an article he wrote in 1975, to which he also responded. I have his two letters framed, and I just hung them on the wall the other day.

It's a little hard to read. It says:

April 29, 1971

Dear Mrs. Levison:

Many thanks for your letter. It is a treat to get a letter written in longhand from someone who knows how to use a real pen. And it was a pleasure to read your kind remarks. Please give my best to your daughters --- I'm glad the younger one has resumed reading, after my book almost brought the thing to an untimely end.

E.B. White

Monday, November 12, 2012

Porco Rosso

On Saturday Josh had really wanted to go to an industry screening of Rise of the Guardians and I wanted to go to Barbes to hear a friend play music (this is a total turnaround from usual. Usually I want to go to a movie—and I love industry screenings—and Josh wants to hear live music. But I didn't want to shlep into Manhattan, and the movie didn't sound very interesting to me, and the live music was in the neighborhood.) Anyhow, I cut him a deal. If we didn't have to go to Manhattan, we could watch an animated film at home.

I had just unpacked my DVDs, and knew I had a bunch of Miyazaki films, including some I hadn't yet watched. Josh got to pick which one we'd see, and he chose Porco Rosso, a story of a seaplane pilot in the Adriatic, in the interwar period, who got turned into a pig during a devastating dogfight in which his best friend was killed.

The thing that was completely enjoyable about the film was that it was set in a stunning Adriatic landscape. I can't remember ever before watching an animation and thinking to myself, "Wow, it is beautiful there." A surprise pixelated escape. (And also a surprise girl-power theme.) And a movie date with Josh without having to go to Manhattan on my one day off from going to Manhattan.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


I unpacked art! Discovered old friends. Remembered how cool it is to come from a family that creates art. Photographs by my father. Embroidery by my mother. Paintings and paper cuts by Josh's mother. (And a spectacular print that his father bought—so he is represented as well.) Also paintings by Ellen Langford and other friends. But the one one I missed the most was a print by a Portland painter, Eaglin Al Sharif. Here's a bad photo of it. You might want to come over to see it in person.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

I'm missing my uncle's 80th birthday party

I don't know that this really counts as joy-seeking me-me-me time, because it wasn't joy-seeking. (So, no, it doesn't count.) But it was me-me-me. (Literally.) I spent many hours on the phone with the Apple help people, trying to fix my Apple calendars and email—in particular my account. ME ME ME.

On the positive side of the equation, I can now send email from two different accounts (but not three, which is another whole issue—why do I have so many email addresses?)

On the negative side .... oh, they are too boring. There are still many negatives. And they have to do with megabits per second. Boooorrriiinnng.

I have a weekend ahead with lots of duties—rescuing more of my flooded stuff from Canarsie (if I can figure out how to get a truck with gas or a "man" with a van) and work and more computer stuff ... and I don't have a clear thought about what I'd like to do that would be happy-making. I think this is mainly because there's something I wish I was doing that I'm not. My uncle is having his 80th birthday party in New Hampshire tomorrow ... and I have to work. This has pretty much been breaking my heart since I found out it had to be on a work day for me, and I've been pretty much dealing with it by pushing it out of my mind. You see, I really love my family, and I really love my uncle in particular, and I love big family gatherings, and this particular gathering is just so damned celebratory.

I just noticed that I'm writing about the thing that would have brought me joy this weekend had I been able to go. And so I guess my job is to find some things to do that don't push that out of my mind, but that let me hold it in my mind while also engaging with someone else that makes me happy.

Friday, November 9, 2012

10 weeks til I'm 50

Earlier this week I noticed that it was 10 weeks til I turn 50. I'm a sucker for this kind of marker, and started to think about My Life with Capital Letters. The main impetus for me to do the Never Done year (the real Never Done year, not this joy-seeking year) was the approach to 50. I felt like my life was becoming less expansive, and I wanted it to become more so. I was afraid of the diminution that can accompany women into their later years.

So I set out to expand and discover. And now, two years later, I can say that the year was incredibly valuable for a host of reasons, but that my day-to-day life does not feel more expansive. It feels less so, due in part to having stopped freelancing and started commuting daily to a job job. A good job job, but still a job job.

So when I notices that there's 10 weeks til I'm 50 (let's call it 10-50) I started to think about what I want going into the next half of my life. And then I went to the gym. I ran on the treadmill, I lifted weights, and I stretched. Strength and flexibility. That's what I want to gain—physically and emotionally—going forward.

So I went again. But this time I tried to make it joyful, so I figured out how to turn on the TV, and I tuned into a real guilty pleasure while I ran my three miles: Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.

And I was enjoying myself, for about 6 minutes, until Governor Cuomo cut in with a State of the State address. Not as frivolous as Millionaire, but  certainly valuable to watch. The numbers he spoke about were staggering. Sandy cost $50 billion to the mid-Atlantic region, and $33 billion in New York. $33 billion. The woman I had been watching was heading towards winning $25,000 when she got cut off for the Governor's message. (15 minutes later, when his press conference was over, and I was still running, she was no longer the contestant.)

I kept running, I had a good stretch afterwards, and I thought about how much strength and flexibility it takes to live in this world.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

It was a dark and stormy night ...

... and I put on my snow boots and my long down coat and walked outside into the wet snow. Why? Because it was beautiful. Why? Because it was the first snow of the year. Why? Because I wanted to feel the weather that people without homes would be feeling. Because I had never walked in my neighborhood in the snow. Because I like to connect with people who are also outside connecting with the weather. Because it looked like this:

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Sasha Obama!

I thought I had failed my day of seeking joy.  I just didn't take the time during the day. And by the time I got to leave Manhattan the trains were a mess again.  But I made it to Brooklyn and into Ester, Ben, and Lara's living room with Logan, Abigail, Ilana, and eventually Kyle, and they had snacks and a TV and three computers and special access to some special toolkit thing that let us see results broken down in incredible detail. I was supposed to go to a big party, but I heard that it was going to be incredibly crowded, and I realized I wanted to be with closer friends in a smaller configuration. 

And although the evening was tense, and although I knew before I knew the results of the elections that no matter who won, we still need to fight for the kind of democracy we believe in (Obama has deported more immigrants than even our past Republican presidents did)—and even though it was technically not still November 6 so it doesn't really count toward that day of joy seeking, I wept with joy when the newly re-elected President and his family took the stage.

And also, speaking in recognition of the emotional intelligence of youngest children, I would like to say it brought me incredible joy to see Sasha Obama remind her father to wave "behind you" when they first came out on stage, because he was only waving to the front and the sides, and for the President to respect—and do—what she said. 

There's so much more to say, but as you might imagine, I'm pretty tired and late for work this morning, so let's leave it here. With deep thanks to people who worked so hard for marriage equality, Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Baldwin, Barack Obama, death with dignity, Obamacare, affirmative action, and everything else you worked hard for. Thank you for people who helped people get to the polling stations to exercise their right to vote. Thank you for participating in democracy.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Taylor Mac on Percoset

First day back to work on the subway and it felt miraculous. Easier going than coming back -- I walked to the 2 train, and it took me—slowly but surely—all the way to 72nd Street. On the way back I stopped at the Public Theater for my joy time, and to get there took a very slow 2 train to 42nd Street, and then got caught in the Manhattan evening crush of people waiting for the N train, because the R train only ran to 34th Street. But it did come, and it did get me where I was going. I think the algorhythm for traveling by subway in the city right now might be something like this: [REGULAR COMMUTE X 1.6] + 20. Which is pretty amazing, considering there was salt water filling up much of the system 2 days ago.

Anyhow, I met Avia at Joe's Pub to see Taylor Mac's show of music from the 1830s, only it wasn't a show of music from the 1830s because ... well it might have been because of the hurricane, or it might have been because Taylor is passing a kidney stone and he's on Percoset, or it might have been because he's tired and just didn't pull it together. But he did a show, doped up, mostly of old material, but he did do 3 or 4 1830s songs, and I did enJOY them.

I also enJOYed introducing Avia to Taylor's brilliant performance style, and in that way it was cool that he was doing a bunch of old standards.

And then the long ride home on the train that took a long time to arrive and then didn't actually go where I live ..... but once again, it got me over the river and it got me within striking distance of my house, and I am grateful.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Recovering my flooded tools

So I lost some stuff in the flood too. Not anything compared to the loss of life or the loss of homes or the loss of all the contents of homes or the loss of cars or the loss of medicines, but I had things in my friends' basement, and some of it got destroyed. Mostly tools. My beautiful compound angle miter saw is toast. So is my hand-held jigsaw. A beautiful door that I co-built with an ex many years ago, that has gorgeous stained glass by another friend seems to have survived.

Then there was my toolbox. It was covered in mud and it smelled foul. If you've been in one of the  flooded houses, you know the smell. Salt water, mold, fungi, oil, sometimes sewage, and lord knows what else. It's in people's walls, and under their floors, and in all their belongings that got waterlogged. And it's in my toolbox. After spending the morning and much of the afternoon with my soup swap, cooking hot meals for donation, I finally got the courage to open it up. The tools were wet and rusty and muddy and stinky. I put newspaper all over the floor, and I used a combination of anti-bacterial wipes, steel wool, and old underwear to clean each little hand tool til it shined. I'll probably have to throw out those with wooden parts. I wouldn't have predicted that I would have found joy in this activity, but the truth is that with a few exceptions for favorite small tools (my awls and my 6 inch ruler) I had never paid such close attention to the construction (casting, joinery, tempering, etc) of these gems. But as I sat on the floor assessing if I could save each one—scrubbing and abrading and wiping—I started to think about the people who made the tools, and the love and attention they must have given in the creative process. And a little flicker of joy passed over me as I thought about the connection between those craftspeople and me, and as I wondered if they could possibly remember my particular tools for any particular reason.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Michael Jackson Dance Party

It was an exceedingly odd day.

I cooked a bunch of food for a dear friend who I couldn't reach by phone, who lives in Canarsie—not only in a flood zone but near a water treatment center. She keeps kosher, so I cooked the entire vegan dish in the one pot I have never before used, and stirred it with utensils that Josh went out and bought for me. After I cooked the food, Josh and I dropped a bunch of donations with Nina and Mickey to bring to the most central distribution place in Brooklyn, and then went to pick up Marjorie for a day of service. We headed out to Canarsie first, and when we got to my friend's place, I was surprised to find we were at a big building instead of a house. I thought maybe it was her son's place, so Marjorie went up to the apartment, expecting pretty much anything but to find her there. I thought I was going to meet her son and ask him where Lisa lives, but instead, I knocked on the door, and Lisa opened; she was home eating shabbat lunch with her husband. She had been away for the entire storm, and had just returned. Then ensued the most awkward and dear interaction I've had in years. She invited us in and hugged me, her husband, who speaks very little English, had no idea who I was and certainly didn't know Marjorie. Lisa wanted to know why I was there and how I knew how to find her. (The computer.) She invited us to sit with them and eat some lunch. I called to tell Josh that they actually lived there and were home. Josh came up. As soon as he got there, Lisa's husband brought him to wash his hands and put on a yarmulke. We pulled the table out. We had more awkward talking. We got Josh to talk Russian with Lisa's husband. Everyone was sort of confused and delighted and embarrassed and out of place and we three tried not to stay too long and Lisa tried to make us feel incredibly welcome even though we barged in on her with a giant tub of hopefully kosher enough food. After a while, we gave more hugs and left, and Marjorie was added to the invitees list for the Shabbat dinner Lisa and I have been planning for a while.

We stopped at Dana and Kathleen's, to pick up some more of my items that flooded in their basement, and it was the first time Marjorie and Josh had seen their place after the flood. We didn't stay too long, because it was getting later in the day and we wanted to get to Brighton Beach to volunteer with elderly Jews.

We couldn't find the elderly Jews. We couldn't even find the building that was supposedly the home base of all the Brighton Beach relief efforts. But just as we discovered this, we got a text from Naomi who told us where to go to volunteer on Coney Island. So we drove down to Coney, and pulled up at Tom's Restaurant on the boardwalk, and immediately got briefed on how to go into an extremely hard-hit neighborhood and get out information about shelter, safety, food and water supplies, FEMA, insurance, and medical care. We went door to door with flyers, but we had also brought our own supplies of baby wipes, toilet paper, and granola bars -- and we handed them out to people who needed them. We asked people if they were hurt. If they had immediate medical needs. If they had electricity, water, and heat. If they needed to go to shelter. People showed us their destroyed homes. They showed us where looters had broken in when they were gone. Where the foundation was caving and making their house unsafe. The water line. The entire contents of their home on their lawn. We met a woman who had been without her blood pressure medication since the storm washed it away. She said she wanted to go to shelter, but we couldn't get through to 311. We took her to the FEMA lot, and got on a city bus with a city worker who spoke with her, and she decided she really didn't want to go to shelter. Naomi figured out how to get her her medication, and placed the refill order. We drove her over to the RiteAid that hadn't been shut down (although when we got there it smelled flooded.) She got her medication and popped a pill in her mouth immediately, and within 5 minutes said she felt better. She looked better too. At that point, she decided to go back to the FEMA lot and talk with them about how she filled in an application but whenever she calls they say they can't find her in the system.

I'd like to take a step back and tell you that this woman is one woman in a city filled with displaced people in a region filled with displaced people in a much greater region that extends beyond the United States filled with displaced people. She is a former city worker, an African immigrant, a very together-seeming woman with three kids and a small house and a community, and she was just done in by this storm. She was terrified by the rising water, and the fear it would sweep away her skinny daughter. Her home flooded, and when the water receded but she was out, it was looted. Her car (or maybe her friend's car—I didn't exactly understand—was destroyed. Her medicine was swept away. She's cold. She couldn't stay in line long enough to get blankets. And here we were, Saturday, the first people she'd seen who could offer any kind of help. She told us that it's hard to know what's rumor and what's true, because they've been cut off from real information. She told us her neighbor died in the storm. She was simultaneously traumatized/in pain/in need/ and incredibly appreciative of our help. And she was just one person. And we were just untrained volunteers. And we hung in there together figuring things out as best as we could. She kissed me tenderly when we parted, and she hugged Naomi, and then Naomi and I went back to join the others.

We eventually got cold and ready to stop for the day, and we drove back into the heart of Brooklyn, where the street lights work and the streets are not covered in beach sand, and I dropped off Naomi and Marjorie, and Josh and I thought to go to the Food Coop to buy food to cook for donation tomorrow, but it was a zoo, so we headed to the Golden Farm Market on Church Avenue. It's a store I've grown to love for its produce and tea and smoked fish and pickle and nuts selections. But it's also a store, we discovered upon arrival, that's being boycotted now going on 2 years, because the owner was only paying $4/hour, no sick days, etc etc.

So we left there too, and ended up in the fancy health food store near our house. We picked up our few things, and then headed home. At this point I was wiped out, and hungry, and cold. We heated up some dinner, and Josh tried to find a movie on TV, so we could just curl up and relax, but something didn't work with the TV. He trouble shot it while I got some caramelized onions started in the slow cooker, and when he determined that there wouldn't be a TV movie I looked around to see what the joy-seeking part of the day could bring. A bath? A good book? A game? And then I got it. I pulled out a Michael Jackson compilation that Rupert made me one year for my birthday and popped it into the CD player. At the end of this long strange day, we took off our shoes and danced the night away. An MJ dance party! And it worked—I was transported to that place that only MJ can take us—and I do think it was a place of joy.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

After Midnight

It was a particularly tough day to seek joy. The weight of the world felt heavier than it had in previous days—as I was neither out helping nor in the relative denial of the Upper West Side. Instead, I worked all day from home, which I really appreciated, especially considering that it allowed me to work all day instead of use precious hours commuting.

But as I was sitting on my cushy chair building performance programs and editing marketing posters and talking with artist representatives, Mickey and Nina were in a 10 1/2 hour gas line, and friends were mobilizing across the city to bring supplies to people in need, and the weather started to get colder, which made me feel scared for people living without heat, especially people without homes at all.

And yet I have this commitment to myself, and I do believe in it. And so I decided to take an easy path, and reach for joy somewhere I can reliably find it: in the theater. I went to Williamsburg to see Target Margin's lab productions of two Yiddish plays in translation: After Midnight by Samuel Daixel, and Cripples by David Pinski.

You know what it's like when you go to the theater, if it's good. You get transported away from gas lines and floods, and you sit in the moment—moment to moment—and go on a journey.  This isn't a forum for theater criticism or review, so I don't need to be thorough in my reporting, but After Midnight is a pure delight of direction and acting. It might also be a delight of writing, but I might have dismissed it on the page for being cute and simple. On the stage however, it was whimsical and global, with the kind of biting social commentary that Yiddish plays are often known for. It also had a Shakespearean quality—with late night action in a forest with naive nature sprites who are somehow wiser than humans.

After I was done being transported I came back to my neighborhood and made Hurricane support plans for the weekend (make donations, carry food and medicine to homebound seniors, cook hot meals.) Hopefully this will bring if not joy to people who are deeply affected then at least comfort.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Say Cheese

Josh finally made it in from Montreal. He took the Magic Bus (I was going to link to the M60 route, but it's a post-hurricane service advisory right now) from LaGuardia to the 106th and Broadway, and showed up at the JCC in the late afternoon. I was ready for a break -- had been working steadily all day without one, so we went out for a walk along Central Park West, to see what the park looks like. (The park looked fine where we walked -- barely saw anything, actually.) We cut in along 83rd Street, and I remembered that there's a farm to table grilled cheese place there, which even has some gluten-free bread.

I want to step back for a moment and say that one of the things I've noticed about this joy-seeking project so far is that although I'm not the best at feeling pure joy, or maybe because I'm not the best at feeling pure joy, that I think the greatest value may well be in seeking joy, regardless of if I find it. In fact, not just the value, but the actual practice is probably the seeking not the finding.

So we went into the fancy farm to table grilled cheese store, and we ordered sandwiches and we put together some beer with some rosemary lemonade, which was a spectacular combination, and we talked with the guy behind the counter about how he fared in the storm and he asked us how we fared in the storm. Josh mentioned that he'd been stranded in Montreal. The guy said, "Really? I got stranded too." I asked him where he lives. He said he lives at 111th Street. I asked him how he could have gotten stranded at 111th Street. He looked at me, and then admitted, "Well basically I just didn't want to leave my apartment for a couple days."

I mean, what do you say to that?

Except maybe smile, and sit down to eat your fancy grilled cheese with the tired guy you haven't seen in a week.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Oxcart Tavern

I had another little weird skin thing removed from my arm. I delivered supplies to the local shelter. I spent another day in the muck helping my friends dig out, and also recovering (but sadly, not rescuing) my own precious items that drowned in their basement in the flood. I got home, carried my muddy silty icky stuff into the house, I got my own muddy silty icky self into the shower. I was about to sit down and read something, feeling a little bad that I had no candy and would not be a candy-distributing house, when I got the call that friends were meeting for a burger and a beer at the Oxcart Tavern, where I've been meaning to go but hadn't yet had a chance.

So I got dressed and went out through the roving bands of skeletons and train engineers and Dorothy. (There were a lot of Dorothy costumes.) I saw more downed trees I hadn't seen yet—one right through a car—and I walked past the block where Jessie and Jacob got killed, and I tried to balance out the truths of their deaths with kids out trick-or-treating, and also all the other destruction from this hurricane, not to mention from global warming in general, and was thinking about all this as I came to the corner where my friends were gathering, and saw even more friends gathering as well. The wait was very long (over an hour I think) to get a table, and I felt no impatience. We finally sat, and we ordered drinks and appetizers and meals, and we talked and drank laughed and tried on each others' glasses and had just a strangely normal time of it. Truly delightful.

By the time our food arrived, I had to pack it up and take it for dinner the next night. Again, I did not feel impatient about that. I just took it home and put it in the fridge, and got myself to bed, because I had to get up very early the next day to fill my car with friends and co-workers and drive into work in Manhattan.  This might be glaringly obvious, but it's so important to keep things in perspective in these times. Like, maybe you've noticed that this post is a day late. Well, I was out of internet from Monday til this morning. And again, I was not impatient about that. It barely even registers on the list of ways people are affected this time. I hope we can all continue to keep these things in perspective. And as it happens, keeping things in perspective is one way to come closer to feeling joy.