Last week’s great read: Private Lives, by Jane Smiley. Smiley’s 2010 novel is a portrait of a woman from St. Louis who marries an eccentric scientist and moves with him to California, spanning from the 1880s through World War II. It is an unusual story in that I have not seen a novel which bridges this particular time period before, and with interesting implications. Smiley’s narrator enters life referencing grandparents’ behavior during and after the Civil War, and her husband’s actions during WWII provides the narrative’s crisis point. Critics also pointed out, correctly, that this is another work in Smiley’s oeuvre examining the sometimes troubled nature of women’s roles in marriage, certainly as it was then structured. Elizabeth is very nearly sent into an arranged marriage, or at the least one without a lot of what we might consider romance. My interest in this novel was also piqued by its location, near San Francisco. Owing to the historical period of this story, the characters are also touched tragically by the great earthquake of 1908. Smiley’s rendering of that event is particularly gripped with despair.
I know I allude to Big Changes Afoot in my life this summer, and I am not kidding. Let’s make a (partial) list of the mostly happy events, shall we?
- Graduated from master’s program. Booya!
- Finished intense consulting gig amidst graduation and ongoing work. Yes, I owe some “hi how are you?” emails.
- Completed student job. Shot into ether known as “unemployment”.
- Moved from NJ to Queens.
- Searching for Ginsberg’s next house for us to move again, oh, August 1.
- Career plans/long-term employment search underway, in earnest, but I did push pause during July for the…
- Short-term, “survival” employment search. Hello, tri-state area! You’ve probably heard from me recently. Yes, you can still hire me part-time. Ginsberg’s catnip is not going to pay for itself!
- [Happy stressors, personal life]. Which make 1-7 as enjoyable as possible and life overall a lighter and happier thing. Still, adjustments abound!
Go big or go home, amirite??
I’ve been through similar transitory summers and feeling as though everyone else is on some fabulous vacation while I’m…not. It’s why I felt that this summer was going to be a blip, and I was not going to actually experience it in a restorative or enjoyable sense. No, this was destined to be another of the lean hot stretches during which I could only imagine the fall and relief in the form of cool nights and a more stable (or “known”) routine.
I do try to stay in the present when I can, but sometimes I need to perk up. Part of my daydreams involve incorporating a more relaxed and confident mindset as the “new” normal. I imagine waking up and knowing just where I am, after Ginsberg and I sleep easily through the night with familiar and comforting background noises. I can take the longer mornings I’ve discovered I enjoy–with time for exercise, organizing, and a more gentle start to the day–then going into work where I am engaged, challenged, and able to contribute valuably to my team. I imagine rushing to get to a yoga class and then home, where I can write a little if I like. I see a bright, warm, living space where I welcome friends and cook, and we relax by doing not much of anything. Or going out to eat and walking home at leisure. Most of these events are precluded just by being in grad school, so you see where #1 alone is a boon!
Fall. I know for others living in the moment and continuing to enjoy a fantastic summer is ongoing, as it should be, but some days, I hope the universe forgives me for needing to daydream about a not-too-distant future instead.
At long last, I have returned to New York!
The move from New Jersey was every bit as fabulous as every one of your moves has been. Also, I get to do it all over again in August. So enough said on that matter.
Right now, my post-graduate school days are terribly glamorous. I finished my campus job a week ago, moved to my first sublet, and am currently out on the job market. (My tagline: I want to write and collaborate with others to make a difference. Yes, I mean it!!)
Obligatory Whining Section: That is all well and good, but I am in need of rest and relaxation. I still have not had a summer weekend which did not include homework, packing, moving, unpacking, resume and cover letter drafting, or some form of migraine battle.
However, there are bright spots and lovely friends in my midst, so despite all of the above, life is beautiful these days.
I plan to write more–certainly more frequently–going forward. It is an incredible feeling to realize how much time you get back simply by completing graduate school. (Yes, let’s thank Captain Obvious for paying a visit here at Ginsberg’s House.)
Cheers! Hope you’re enjoying a marvelous summer out there!
I’ve been needing to get back to attending a regular yoga class for quite awhile. This is well documented elsewhere, but practicing at a studio in New York can become prohibitively expensive (over $18-20 per class) when you’re in my world of Ninja Finance. I’d made lists of the low-fee, pay what you will, etc., courses at studios I intended to investigate over this past fall.
That did not happen. Naturally school continued its maddening tendency to interfere with, you know, having a life, and lo and behold I arrived into 2011 with one of 2010’s resolutions still unchecked.
I’ve started practicing at Sonic Yoga in NYC; they have a student discount, the classes are challenging me, and the people are very friendly. I’m already feeling calmer, happier, and more serene than I have in such a long time, so finding any way I can to do this is going to remain a necessity during these last stressful, hectic months of grad school. After which I promise you can get snarky with me if I disappear for months on end.
Here’s my favorite thing I’ve done in the last little while:
SUCH a great stretch for your hips. Have a peaceful week.
One of the sad realities of graduate student life is that more often that not I’ve had to put off reading or writing that I’m extremely excited about.
So it is that I’m just now writing this entry in praise of one of the two great memoirs I’ve read recently, Keith Richards’ “Life”, which was published a few months back. (My thoughts on the other, the brilliant “Just Kids” by Patti Smith, is forthcoming, I promise!)
Richards refers to women’s bands as “chick’s bands”, is intensely peeved and preoccupied with outrunning law enforcement worldwide owing to fairly open (and often heavy) hard drug use, and refers to Truman Capote as an “old queen”.
Let me tell you something: despite all of the above, I must confess I am now a little bit in love with him. He’s always been my favorite Stone, because when you listened hard to that impossibly deep catalog he and Mick and the others created, his guitar riffs and just plain genius were unmistakable to an old-school rock fan like me. How about this: he came up with the riff for “Satisfaction” in the middle of the night, when fortunately for us all, he half-awoke and used a bedside tape recorder to lay down the skeleton? That tale has been told before but finds its way here as well.
Sure, there are also the colorful episodes involving his best pals, downright tender and poignant musings on his epic brotherhood and decades-long falling out with Mick Jagger, and some great recollections of his boyhood in England.
Two themes stand out for me, one of which was pointed out by Liz Phair in her review of Life in the New York Times. He provides wonderful bits of insight and observation about what it is to be a writer (in his case, of course, of songs, but these bits transcend genre.) How about, upon realizing that one is a writer, you then realize, “to provide ammo, you start to become an observer, you start to distance yourself. You’re constantly on the alert…Which in a way, makes you weirdly distant. You really shouldn’t be doing it. It’s a little of Peeping Tom to be a songwriter”. That realization is both critical and endlessly weird to many of us; when I had it at some point a long time ago, I started thinking of myself as walking along the yellow midline of the road of life, always with one foot in, and one watching and listening, soaking it all in.
He sums it all up in my favorite line of this book: “I’m here to say something and to touch other people, sometimes in a cry of desperation: “Do you know this feeling?”
So, those two–and many other–sections are substantively wonderful, but then he takes it over the top for me by way of a few food-related riffs. First of all, do NOT crack the crust on Keith Richards’ shepherd’s pie. Ever. Just, NO. And while I cannot honestly condone his behavior, his response to someone getting a spoon in first, or running off innocently with some spring onions meant for a late-night bangers and mash supper he’s cooking, the fact that these episodes end with him basically threatening people’s lives kind of cracked me up, because, um, well, we won’t go there angermanagementcakes.
Bonus: his recipe for bangers and mash is included. I may have teared up with adoration right then. Not going to lie.
Definitely a great time for rock aficionados, and perhaps writers as well. I’ve been spending time during this break revisiting the Stones quite a bit as he mentions their process, and my god do they hold up.
Now, to have a nip of Dr. Daniels in the man’s honor…
Continental Airlines called me at 8 p.m. or so on Christmas evening. I was trying to grab a nap so that I could muster the energy to partake of family movie time. After all, it’s been a VERY long fall and I needed my beauty sleep.
ANYWAY. Their automated message ended like this: “…sorry to inform you that your flight is canceled.”
That’s right, Snowpocalypse 2010 was bearing down on New York, and clearly no one was taking any chances. Great! Safety! Except Ginsberg is here holding down the fort, and I have calendar items such that I couldn’t just hang out and putter around in Cleveland for a few days until we’re dug out. So the game of Beat The Blizzard began.
My brother got me the last available ticket on a 2 a.m. train to Washington, where I had the last seat on a 4 pm train up to Penn Station. Barring the invention of warp speed, it was the best anyone could do. So there I was in the middle of the night on Christmas, making what can only be described as a getaway, and not in an awesome sense.
11 hours later, Washington DC seemed to be minding its business with nary a snowflake in sight. I endured the layover enjoying my fabulous read (about which another post) and we started up the coast.
By Wilmington, snow; by Philadelphia, blizzard; by Newark, I was honestly kind of nervous about the last two legs of my trip to come: from Penn Station to NJ, and then from my PATH station home. Well. Our train started skidding into Penn Station and sliding backwards; we had to actually back the train up and build up enough momentum to get over the frozen rails to deliver us into the whiteout. That’s when the real fun began.
It is one block from Penn Station to the entrance to the PATH train. When we emerged into the blizzard, there were still cabs, because while this may be a Snowpocalypse, it is still Manhattan. Of course, they did me no good what with needing to go one block with a wheeled carryon through about 6 or 8 inches of snow.
Two minutes in, my hat, coat, gloves, and suitcase were covered in whipping snow which felt like little stinging pellets. At that point I still fantasized about a nice toasty cab finishing my journey. Also, a nip of bourbon. I’m rationing the good stuff, but I thought enduring this situation merited a drink.
Tra la la, I exited the PATH train in Jersey only to find that NJ Transit, those wise souls, had suspended all bus and light rail service. There were a couple of cabs on the street, but they were stuck in front of the station. Basically, after a few stressful minutes of deliberating and not wanting to risk someone else’s life or vehicle, I knew I would have to walk home, literally “uphill in the snow up to here”. I put on every garment I could muster, even wrapped my travel blanket around me like an abaya, and started the mile and a half home.
Strange things happen in those kinds of literally painful circumstances. For instance, I discovered that it is not melting snow that freezes your eyelashes together, but frozen sweat from the effort exerted when the snow is too deep to drag your suitcase so you must instead carry it. I chortled bitterly, realizing that my entire life in academia schlepping heavy book bags must have been meant to prepare me for this evening. Then I cursed worried I was going to throw out my back. I sang songs to myself in my head. (Thank you, U2).
I tried to keep my face covered and my body moving. Despite choosing the route I knew by heart, I managed to get lost in the whiteout, trudging along in the middle of the street moving aside into the 3-foot drifts when the snowplows came lumbering along. There were others moving along that way too. Some were laughing and hurling snowballs, but the rest of us were silent and plodding. We were all late from Somewhere, and I don’t know about them, but I was getting a little scared. Too long in the cold goes from unfunny to dangerous at a point, and my growing nausea and ice-caked extremities were concerning.
Some never-ending time later, I turned a corner and realized I had made it to the elevator up the Palisades to my neighborhood, but that elevator wasn’t working either. Like magic, a group of people arrived and as we silently turned to ascend via the emergency staircase, a guy gestured towards me and took my suitcase. He carried it the rest of the way home for me, and I am thankful for him because I was nearly spent by the time he and his cohort appeared. He put the bag in my vestibule and turned to disappear into the night. I was so disoriented I don’t know if I’d ever recognize him, and I don’t know his name, but I will always remember him.
Then, at long last, inside to a hot shower, soup, and bourbon.
Someone called earlier and asked cheerily if I’d gone outside “to take a walk in the snow”. “No,” I replied. “I’ve seen it.”
[sappy haiku redacted for fear of ruined rep]
I think life is getting more fun. It sure is more scary, more lively, more vivid than it was for a long time. I also think of myself that, as Rosie O’Donnell once put it in a favorite film of mine, “You don’t want to be in love. You want to be in love in a MOVIE.”
That is correct.
I’m not nursing a heartbreak or anything, just musing that certain things are more complicated than I thought. I have this safety-blanket love for listmaking which consumes those small spiral-top memo books that come five to a pack at Staples. They’re my real diaries, I sometimes think. Everything from grocery lists to items for a trip, cryptic abbreviations indicating a bar where I’m to meet someone, and then a name, and each time I open a door my stomach flutters and my fingers twitch, wondering when I’ll get to someday pull out a notebook and point to a name, saying, “See? This is where we met. And then I picked up cat litter and tomatoes.”