Stay awake

27 11 2008

Given so much killing, this would not be the worst way to live:

027

(From a building across the street from Temple Emanuel-El, on Fifth and 65th.)

—–

So this is a bit of a cheat—I adapted this from a comment I left elsewhere:

I grew up in a small town in the Midwest, moved to successively larger cities, and now live in New York City.

Needing to get out of the house today, I bopped over to Manhattan and strolled through Central Park. It was a bit late—the light was low—but I could catch a few images of this grand and humble place:

01510211

(stretched this one out a wee)

(jacked the contrast on this one)

I wandered around the neighborhood east of the park for a bit, taking in the discreetly exclusive apartment building between Fifth, Madison, and Park, exchanging greeting with doormen leaning out of doorways, and peeking into warmly-lit restaurants serving dinner this Thanksgiving. This is the genteel and lovely New York of near-past movies, recalling generations of families lucky enough to live within those warm lights.

Not that most New Yorkers have done so, of course. This was (and is) a city of working people, crammed together in slouching tenements which call forth a history neither genteel nor lovely.

Still, it is as easy to fall in love with the romance of hard times as it is to yearn for a sepia-lit life overlooking the park. To live amidst the tumultuous grace of history!

One of the things I love (and mourn) about this place is precisely that sense of history: when I walk through the Financial District early on a Monday morning I see the old iron sconces on the side of one building, the Art Deco doors on another, and the amazing mosaic at the entrance to the ITT building. It’s all still there.

Except, of course, it’s not. The old tenants have moved out and a pharmacy or bank or Starbucks has snuck in, and where o where is the idiosyncratic New York I moved here to find? Where is our tumultuous grace?

It’s there and it’s gone. New Yorkers are constantly bemoaning the loss of the ‘real’ city, the one which existed when they were teenagers or first moved here or yesterday, the city which justified the high prices and the crowds and standing-room only train cars. But this is the real city, today, and while I wish there were still Italians in Little Italy and working-class Jews on the Lower East Side, there are Poles in Greenpoint and Russians in Brighton Beach, hasidim in Williamsburg and Crown Heights and mosques in Bed Stuy. The Hare Krishnas and Scientologists lurk in the Union Square train station, and I even saw one brave soul setting up a McCain/Palin table not too far from the saxophonist. People from California and Cameroon and Oklahoma and New Zealand are tucked into corners all over this city, criss-crossing and occasionally bumping into one another. There’s the Stonewall Bar and the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine (finally fully open this Sunday) and the wrecked earth from the Sept. 11 attacks posed in Battery Park.

This city erects and erases and absorbs its histories and cultures, mystifying and horrifying and, finally, gratifying those of us who are still learning when to hustle and when to slow down.

Where is your tumultuous grace? It’s there and it’s gone, wherever you are. Pay attention, wherever you are.





U li la lu lau (pt I)

25 11 2008

Good question. (Dammit!):

What are you expecting to see, that you’re not seeing? A plot? This is a serious question.

When I first read this, I thought Pfft, plot. Nooo.

And then I thought, Well, maybe. (This is where the ‘dammit’ comes in.)

Because I keep blowing apart my plans, I think that the plans don’t matter. But they do: I am simply not able to carry them out. Plans and plots aren’t the same, but I think I often use plans as plots, i.e., as narratives into which I can insert myself and give meaning to my actions.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as long as I recognize that I’m the one creating the narrative. Too often, though, I think that I treat these narratives as pre-made, dropped out of the sky or fashioned like set pieces to be rolled on to an empty stage; or, to put it another way, plot is something which happens to me.

But, of course, it doesn’t, and treating my life passively, waiting for something to happen, feeds both that passivity and my confusion with my life. I was a restless teenager, couldn’t wait to head off to BigTenU, couldn’t wait for my life ‘really’ to begin. I disintegrate, blah blah, go to grad school to hide and recover and hoop-jump for the Ph.D., which would then lead me to the serious (grown-up!) life of a professor. So that doesn’t take, and I think, Well, you’ve spent most of your life trying to end it, now that you want to live, perhaps you should, you know, live.

Okay! I’m gonna do it! I’m gonna live my life! (Cue sound of wheels screeching to a halt. Birds chirp. Uncertain looks around.)

I have, for the most part, given up on plans. This isn’t all bad: it’s forced me to think about what I want to do, what I can do, and who I’d like to be and become, even if I do often fret about rather than answer these questions. But perhaps I need to rethink this—especially because I do too often fret about rather than respond.

[Stop. Rest chin on palm. Squint at screen. Sigh. Curse.]

Shit. I have to recant: I haven’t given up the plans and plots, I’ve simply sublimated them into these questions, inflating them beyond the practical and sending them up into the sky (where at some point the answers to them will drop down. . . ). I think I’m being practical when, really, I’m a-lyin’ to myself.

Why the sublimation and inflation when the questions themselves can actually be answered? Because I think I have to provide The Answers and the once-and-for-alls, that, these questions only have to be answered once, and then I’m done.

Ha. For all my philosophical skepticism and uncertainty, I’m a right-proper self-authoritarian. (Could ‘plot’ be another name for ‘order’?) So I need to allow the dissenter some space, to say, Hey chickie, working answers, you know, work. I can deal with drafts for my writing, so why not with my life? Not in the sense of ‘rehearsal’, but in the sense that this is what you do: you try, and do over, and do over, and do over, and move on. And if writing draft one or two or five is all writing, why can’t living here and then here and this way and that all be living?

Insert Lolcats caption here: Life. Ur doin’ it. . . alreddy akshully.

(That sounds better than Getchyer head outta yer ass. Or clouds, as it were.)

The questions aren’t the problem, and even a little fretting isn’t all bad. But I do know that worrying about getting the story right can get in the way of writing the story; I know enough to write, and then to clean it up in the rewrite(s). And in these stories plot doesn’t descend over the characters, but comes out of them. Even if I had different ideas at the outset, I let my characters take over and veer away, if that’s what makes sense. I don’t worry about it; I let them be.

I don’t worry about it because, as I’ve told people, I write to find out what happens: If I knew at the outset, I wouldn’t bother writing.

Dammit! Look what you’ve done, C.: A goddamned lesson!

Still, not a bad one. And if I don’t remember, smack me upside head every once in awhile, to jar it loose.





Once in a lifetime

23 11 2008

I have a little problem with reality.

Mainly, it’s something that’s out there, a place where I ought to belong, but I can’t quite come up with the password or secret handshake or underground tunnel or whatever the hell it takes to gain entry. I can see it—I think—but then I fall back and wonder, Hm, is that it?

And if reality is over there, and I’m over here, then where the hell am I?

I blame my confusion on (at least) two things, one of which was my, ahem, extended stay in grad school. As high school and college friends were off doing the things regular people do, I was buying pizza at 2am to eat with fellow grad students in the computer lab. They took out car loans; I took out student loans. They bought suits for work, I washed my jeans.

Yeah, that’s a little glib, but not much. They were becoming adults, and I was becoming. . . a grad student. I got older, sure, but plotzing over a stalled dissertation is not the usual path to adulthood. And I finished—yay!—but then what? A coupla’ post-docs, and resignation from a profession I never got the hang of. A move to Bummerville, an escape to New York City, and. . . this.

Not that I have a clue what ‘this’ is.

So: When did you know you were an adult? When you left home? Got your first apartment? Moved in with your boyfriend or girlfriend? Got a mortgage? Got married? Had kids? Got divorced? When you look at your life do you say, Yep, this is mine? Or do you find yourself in the midst of a Talking Heads song: Well, how did I get here?

I know, we don’t all have to live the same lives, and it’s not as if anyone’s life is going to make sense all the time, but shouldn’t I be able to recognize something in it as mine? Or, more accurately, shouldn’t I be able to recognize myself somewhere in all of this?

Yeah, the second reason may play into this, namely, that long personality-destroying depression, but, really, how long can I continue to point at my voids and blame them for my. . . voids? Besides, don’t people without a history of self-destruction gape at their own lives, too?

So, what do we do? How do we know we belong where we are, or where we’re going?





Where was I?

20 11 2008

Fascinatin’ discussion on a number of conservative sites (Douthat at the Atlantic, Rod Dreher at CrunchyCon, Christianity Today mag) on whether Obama (ahem: President-Elect Obama!) is a Christian. Or whether he’s a good Christian. Or Orthodox. Or orthodox.

All this based on a 2004 interview with Cathleen Falsani of the Chicago Trib and parts of Dreams of My Father. The key for these commentators is not just what he said, but what he didn’t say. He’s insufficiently Nicene! He’s Arian! He denies the divinity of Christ! He doesn’t know how many angels dance on the head of a pin! (Okay. I made that last one up.)

Goodness. These gents are behaving like jazz fans or vegetarians: if you don’t line up exactly—OUT with you.

For the record: I like jazz and am vegetarian-ish, i.e., I don’t know who the drummer was in that session on Blue Note in 1954, and I occasionally eat fish.

Not very orthodox, I know.

_____

I like to read thoughtful religious and conservative posts, and not (just) in a know-thy-enemy kinda way. I think it’s important to remind myself that ‘the other side’ also contains a fair number of thoughtful people, that I can find good criticism of my own positions, I can learn something about which I know little, and, yeah, that sometimes ‘the other side’ isn’t so far away.

That said, Rod Dreher at CrunchyCon has lost his mind when it comes to Prop 8 and homosexuality. One commentator in response to his hysteria (viz. his header: Gay mob assaults peaceful Christians) put it best: ‘The Russians are coming!’

Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t understand why some folks are upset by Prop 8, and saying mean things to religious proponents.

Doomed. DOOMED!

_____

An article in the New York Times a week or so ago, about the various and too-often violent clashes in India, contained a great line:

One observer (gotta go back and get his name) accused the various sides of engaging in ‘offense mongering’.

Offense mongering. Excellent!

_____

I’ve given up on NaNoWriMo.

I’ll still work on the story—which would never have made it to novel status, anyway—but I’m no longer chasing those 50,000 words.

As I discussed with C., cramming for words doesn’t really work for me, and I’m worried that stuffing in all those unnecessary adverbs and adjectives is wreckin’ ma teknik.

Still, I’m glad to have written what I have, and glad to have participated in this. I wouldn’t have known, otherwise, how this race for words could be so disruptive.

C., however, is bangin’ away, and says that this kind of pressure is just what she needs to kick her in the head. In a good way.

_____

Abortion.

Oh, criminy, I can’t even start. Can’t. do. it.

Let’s just say that women are apparently not to be considered.

_____

I’m an adjunct professor, so should probably blog about the execrable position of adjuncts in academia at some point.

But I have to get up early tomorrow to go teach.

_____

My dad is home, and expected to recover fully.

The docs said he is very, very lucky.





Everything in its right place

18 11 2008

So when my mom got to the hospital this morning, my pop was sitting up in bed and talking to the speech therapist.

Good news. Gooooooooooood news.

He’s not all back, but enough that he’ll be going home Tuesday.

I spoke to him a few hours ago. It was good to hear his voice. He asked me how I was, and I told him how I get into Manhattan early on Mondays, and like to take pictures. Well, he said, New York seems to suit you.

So even though he doesn’t know I blog, and even though he doesn’t particularly like New York, these pics are for you, pop.

0021I do like those tall buildings, I said.

039

And this one is for a site he did appreciate on his last (and, he told me, it would be his last) visit to NYC:

038

Be well, pop.





My father’s waltz

16 11 2008

I didn’t have access to the Internet for a few days, and I thought that was a TRAGEDY!

Then I got a voicemail from my mom, telling me my dad had had a stroke.

Ah.

He’s in the hospital, has a slight weakness in his right hand, but otherwise retains his large motor functions, still has his gag reflex, and is able to walk, go to the bathroom, and eat. (He did need assistance to get to the bathroom, but this may have been due to the pre-MRI sedatives.) He was supposed to have that MRI today, but was still too agitated even after sedation that the docs had to call it off; tomorrow, with the help of stronger drugs, he’ll get his noggin scanned.

He’s not talking much, but, again, he’s been drugged up. It’s clear to the docs, however, that the stroke occurred on the left side of his brain, so that his speech has been affected is unsurprising. He was, at least, able to respond to a nurse who asked him some basic questions about eating.

And you know the whole hide-the-pills-in-food thing pulled on children and pets? They do it with adults, too, in my pop’s case, applesauce. (The nurse noticed he was tucking the applesauce into his cheeks, but he did eventually swallow it.)

I get along with my family, but in many ways we are not close. As I’ve joked with friends, there’s a reason I live a thousand miles away. Still, when one gets a voicemail informing one of a parent’s medical crisis, well, one feels every mile of that separation.

I’m worried about my pop, but I’m worried about my mom, too. They are extremely close: they met when my mom was in 8th grade and my dad a sophomore; began dating two years later, and married two weeks after my mom graduated high school. My pop was in the Air Force then, so they spent some time apart, but for the past 50 years (yeah, they celebrate their 50th anniversary next year) they have been inseparable. There’s no one the other would rather be with.

They are also very clear about wanting to preserve their independence, and to live their lives as fully as possible. Some years ago they filled out living wills, authorized my sister to carry out the terms of those documents, and have told each of us (sister, brother, me) that they have no desire to have their bodies preserved beyond what they would consider a decent life. My siblings and I respect that.

So while it’s too early to form any long-term prognosis for my pop, I am concerned what this stroke means for that decent life, for their shared life. I use the singular deliberately: they became adults together, became the people they are today together, so while they are most definitely individuals, I think they understand themselves as a necessary, beloved, part of the other.

I hope that will be enough to pull them through.





Johnny, are you queer?

13 11 2008

I used to be straight; now, not so much.

It’s an odd thing, in the midst of one’s life, to shift from one position to another, from one side to the middle.

Is that what bisexuality is? The middle? I guess, if sexuality is to be stretched across a linear spectrum (‘On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you measure. . .’).

I don’t know that sexuality is to be stretched across the linear spectrum.

Despite having once written a (very bad) conference paper on the biology of sexuality, I claim no expertise on the origins or development of sexuality. Yeah, evolutionarily speaking, het sex makes sense, but so what: while we are also evolutionary creatures, we are not only evolutionary creatures. Besides, what about the urge to reproduce requires orgasms?

Where was I? Oh, yeah. So I’m bi, but I don’t know that I’m bi in the same way someone else is bi. (Then again, when I was straight, I don’t know that I was straight in the same way others were straight.) It’s not that I suddenly want to sleep with every woman or have threesomes or feel the need to alternate man-woman-man-woman in my affections.

Nope, it’s much simpler than that. Although I do have all kinds of attractions to all kinds of people, in almost all of these instances, the attraction isn’t sexual. (This is good, as it would be awkward if I wanted to sleep with my friends. Some people could manage that; I couldn’t.) But, sometimes, I am intensely attracted to someone, and want to get to know him (and now, her) in a variety of unbiblical ways.

And that’s it. Before, if I happened to find myself physically attracted to someone, that person was a guy. I didn’t question this. Then, about a year and a-half ago, I was jolted by the recognition that, hm, I could be physically attracted to a woman.

Whoa! Jolted is the right term: Where the hell did this come from?

I have long had friends who are lesbians, have joked about who I’d jump the fence for, said that while I wasn’t turned off by the thought of sleeping with a woman, I wasn’t particularly turned on by it, either. Yeah, I said, I could sleep with a woman and probably enjoy it, but I don’t think she’d get much out of it.

Have I been in denial all this time? Nah. I think that before I wasn’t attracted to both women and men, and now I am.

Why the switch? I came to this realization around the time I finished my first novel, when I was still a bit dazed at the fact that I had written a novel. So, at one point, when talking about both the novel and this bi-recognition to M.P, I mentioned my bewilderment. Maybe these things are connected, she said. Maybe in opening yourself to the writing, in letting yourself be creative, you let out other parts of yourself. M. is much more willing to call upon spiritual notions than I am, but what she said made a kind of sense to me. I have no other explanation.

As a practical matter, however, little has changed. I was alone then and I’m alone now. Being bi, I tell people, just gives me twice as many ways to screw things up.

Beyond such bitter-tinged glibness, however, there is something real. On a political level, I’m no longer just a gay-positive straight chick, acting on principle and on behalf of friends. In fact, a big part of the reason I’m blogging about this now is in response to Prop 8. I don’t live in California and I have no desire to marry anyone, but that my fellow citizens could take away a constitutionally-recognized right to marry doesn’t just offend my principles, it slices at the possibilities of my own life. Denouncing Prop 8 without coming clean—coming out—feels like lying. Liberation can’t be built on lies.

But this is not mainly a political issue for me, largely because I’ve always supported the ‘gay agenda’. No, this is deeply personal, and deeply disruptive of my sense of self. As mentioned in previous posts, it’s not as if I previously had a strong sense of who I am, but I’ve been able in many ways to treat this as a philosophical puzzle. Having my sexuality thrown into question—thrown open—forces me out of my abstractions and into the actual world. Before, I could think idly about what a possible future relationship looked like, how we’d deal with each other, etc., and continue in this nice, smooth, speculative groove. I was operating in default mode, unquestioned and unreal.

No more. I’ve been tossed out of myself, and now have to decide whether to crawl back into that (appropriately adjusted and resealed) groove, or take this chance to find something new.

Take a chance, I know, take the chance! But I’m so used to crawling. . . .





There must be a passion in the language

11 11 2008

NaNoWriMo is stealing my time and leaving me out of sorts.

Bastards!

Okay, so I’m doing this to myself, and I’m glad to be writing again, but I’m not at all sure this exercise is good for me. It’s all about the word count, so I find myself adding adjectives and adverbs just to boost the numbers. Yeah, I tell myself, when I go back and edit this sucker down to a novella, I’ll take out all that excess. Still.

And still again: It’s nice to know I can crank when I have to. I’m behind (of course), but zipping out over a thousand words an hour is cool. Some of these words are crap, but I got them out.

And still for a third time: I wonder if I’ve permanently lost my poetry mojo.

Ah, hell, two years ago I didn’t know I had novels in me, so maybe the poetry is taking a snooze, somewhere about my third vertebra.

I am missing the blog, however. Another way of thinking, on pause.





Sandra at the beach

6 11 2008

My expectations are few:

Guantanamo: close. Torture: stop.

That’s it. More? Yeah, more would be nice, more would be more than nice, but if an Obama administration cannot accomplish these two very basic acts—no matter what else it does—it will have failed.

As for other happenings on Nov 4:

Prop 8 passed. Hey, gays and lesbians, bisexuals and the transgendered: You/we don’t count! (Oh, feel free to keep being, y’know, gay and all that, but please keep it to yourselves. Do that, and you get domestic partnership laws! That’s good enough, doncha think?)

And all you/us straight folk out there who think anti-gay laws and referenda have nothing to do with you: check out the Arkansas ballot measure which prohibits any unmarried couple from fostering or adopting children. The measure—which passed, natch—was explicitly aimed at prohibiting gays and lesbians from taking care of children. To get around an Arkansas Supreme Court decision which prohibited Arkansas’s Child Welfare Agency Review Board from, mm, discriminating against gays and lesbians, ballot proponents widened the prohibition to include all unmarried couples (ie, ‘individuals cohabiting with a sexual partner outside of marriage’).

I tried to find out if Arkansas allows single people to foster or adopt children (although the statute states that ‘It is the public policy of the state to favor marriage. . . over unmarried cohabitation with regard to adoption and foster care’), but was unable to do so.

Why should unmarried straight folks care? Well, in addition to reasons of principle (equality, dignity, and all those other silly et ceteras), it’s clear that those transfixed by same sex attraction have no problem flattening singles on their way to buttress the married.

As the commenter on Rod Dreher’s Crunchy Con website put it:

S
November 5, 2008 8:36 PM

I’m not gay and I don’t have any particular dog in the race over gay marriage. I’m not particularly for it, but given the tax subsidies and other benefits given to “married” people, I can see why a seriously-committed gay couple would want to participate.

What is really starting to gripe me is the whole focus on “marriage” is the foundation of our civil society, yada yada yada.

Well, I’m a heterosexual single. I’d like to feel like I have some contributing role to play in the betterment of society even though I’m not married.

There’s a pretty huge demographic of unmarried, never-married heterosexual adults. We matter, too.

It’d be nice to think so, wouldn’t it?

I let loose of fair number of words disclaiming any kum-by-ya sentiments, and am not bothered by the combative aspect of politics.

But, underneath it all, I hold to the basic belief that there is no us-and-them, there is only us. To strip away the dignity of the despised among us to strip away our dignity.

Grumblegrumblegrumble.

Okay, how I square this with understanding of difference and pluralism and the Other, well, that’s going to have to wait for another post. For now, let’s just say that this ‘us’ is a mixed bag. . . .





At last

5 11 2008

Perhaps I should wait until January, when he officially becomes the 44th president of the United States, but I’ll probably be all cranky and same-shit-different-day-ish by then.

So, for a day or two, I’ll enjoy.

(from HuffingtonPost)