Listen to the music: Are we wide awake

24 02 2016

So I can’t listen to Supertramp because it takes me back to high school and I don’t wanna go back, but sometimes I get pulled back and it’s. . . okay?

I am not the first to contradict myself.

Anyway, Charlie Pierce linked to Nena so yes I clicked on it and yes, I enjoyed it. And even felt a bit wistful (as opposed to dread-ful) while listen-/watching.

Then I looked for ‘Soviet Snow‘ (couldn’t remember that it was Shona Laing) and I watched and listened to that as well.  (The vid is bit crowded; better just to listen.)

Then I wondered: why don’t I mind going back with this and not that?

And then I figured: because this is not that.

Supertramp was a part of my coming-to-music, and while I did listen to it through college, it’s very much anchored in that transition to adolescence, to making my way into high school.

The other music—post-punk? New Wave?—hooked me later in high school and carried me out.

That’s a little too neat, but I think that’s what happened. If Supertramp was about going deep—into the music, into myself—the new stuff was about getting out. MTV hit Sheb Falls at some point in the early 1980s, and for the first time I was exposed to music which wasn’t either album-oriented rock (which was my thing) or Top 40 (which was not). There was the Eurythmics and The Police and the B-52’s and the Violent Femmes, the Call and the Fall and the Clash and the Jam and none of it sounded like home and all of it sounded like somewhere else.

And, oh, by mid-high school I was ready for somewhere else.

So here I am, decades older, and even if I have landed in my ultimate Somewhere Else, I am still restless, still wondering what else is out there.


Take it easy

14 06 2013

Another dream about Madison.

It was so vivid, but, of course, it’s now all faded. I was in Madison, with T., in the Union (which, of course, was nothing like the actual Union) and near Lake Mendotat (which, of course, was nothing like the actual Lake Mendota: in my Madison dreams the shoreline is a coastline and lake scallops are oceanic waves), and when I awoke, I was so sad that I wasn’t living there.

Living in that dream-Madison would be so easy; I missed the chance of that Madison-dream.

Of course, that’s just what it was: a dream. Madison is a lovely town (when Scott Walker ain’t around, but it’s no longer for me. I may visit it again on my next sojourn to Wisconsin, and I set a part of my second novel in Madison, but as a real place, it’s not mine.

Part of this is my sense that to live there would be to ‘go backwards’, but more than that, I would always be looking for something beyond what Madison could offer.

This is not a knock on the joint: I’m restless, full stop, and thus unable to indulge he pleasures of staying put.

Then there is the fact that I am made uneasy by ease. Even assuming an identical level of financial uncertainty there as I have here, life in Madison would be easier in every way. You know those t.v. shows or books wherein newcomers are able to find a rich & quirky community life, with beloved hangouts and folks willing to tell-you-what? That would be possible in Madison.

Which is why I can never live there.

Okay, I could live there for a time—for a semester, maybe—but the idea that I would land there and stay there and stay there and there. . . no ma’am.

I’d wonder what I was missing, not just in the what’s-going-on-elsewhere way, but in the sense that ‘this is too easy: what’s the catch’? I always think there’s a catch.

I’m too skeptical, even suspicious, to live easy. This is not a wholly bad thing—looking for something more has its own rewards—but I miss out on the pleasures, and, perhaps, sorrows, of letting it be.

There is a whole other life which is beyond me, a something more available only to those who aren’t searching for that something more.

Let’s run naked through these city streets (part I)

17 04 2011

Restless, I am restless. Again.

I thought I’d be over this by now. I know New York’s my city—where the hell else am I going to live?—so you’d think that knowledge would be enough to calm me.

It does not. Knowing there is no place else does not calm me.

Oh, I could certainly live elsewhere. Had I any knowledge of German beyond gesundheit and Gott im himmel and I’d give Berlin a whirl, and I wouldn’t mind a stay in Budapest or Prague. Or Paris, despite the cliche of, well, Paris.

But could I live, forever, in one of these places? Make them home? If I can’t make it here, I can’t make it anywhere.

Why is this? Is this the consequence of lookin’ to leave since I was thirteen? Bide time in SmallTown, live in Madison—love Madison, but know I have to leave, because to stay is to, I don’t know, to give up, somehow—live in Minneapolis, knowing I’d have to move to wherever I’d be lucky enough to land an assistant professorship, etc. Even when I moved to Boston, allegedly for my last move, I had a sense it wouldn’t take. It didn’t.

New York, however, New York took. It took awhile, but, man, this is it.

And I don’t know what to do with that.

It feels like a last stand, no more escape hatches or retreats across the desert, no more waiting for life to begin.

What am I still waiting for?

My life is more than halfway over and I’m afraid to let it be. I’m in the city I’ve dreamed of in that first escape plan, and I still feel like I’m on the run.

So I’m staying put and waiting and on the run, all at once. No wonder I’m restless.

There’s nothing you can’t do

23 05 2010

New York City is a pain in my ass.

For example, late last night AND earlier today, a local island combo was playing their version of ‘Dancing Queen.’ Great: take two irritants (steel drums and ABBA) and put them together and what do you get?

Closed windows on a warm day, that’s what you get.

Did I mention that the only other tune they seemed to know was ‘Amazing Grace’?


But this is also my city, full stop. I was watching the Jay-Z/Alicia Keys (honey, what’s going on with that hair?)  vid ‘Empire State of Mind’ for the first time (!) last night, and even though the only really good thing about that song is the refrain, honest-to-god, I welled up.

I gave myself over to the song, to the city.

This is it.

Which is not to say that this is all there is. I read a piece in the Times today about a woman who opened a series of hotels in Austin, and the accompanying slide show offered glimpses of local shops and local characters and I thought, Oh, they don’t have that here. And I was wistful, because I knew that as much as I like those local shops and local characters and ways of life which are decidedly not available in New York, I wouldn’t leave New York to live in those other places.

I was wistful because for the first time in my life I knew I would stay.

SmallTown? Great place to be a kid, but once I hit double-digits I knew I was on my out. Madison—loved it. A quarter of a million people and it felt like a big city to me. My world opened up in ways I hadn’t even thought to expect, so what else was there for me to do but go through that opening?

Minneapolis, mm, not so much, but that was largely due to my displeasure with grad school. There actually are charming neighborhoods and funky shops and I still miss my troika of used book stores near Hennepin and Lake, but: No.

Albuquerque is charming in a charmless sort of way, a bit ramshackle and easy and full of the western wide open blue,  but too hot, too sunny, and not enough water. (Still, ABQ, like Madison, is one of the major settings of my second novel.)

Montreal was wonderful, and the only other city which gives, for me, New York a run for its money. If it weren’t for New York, in fact, I might have emigrated just to live in that city.

Somerville? Great apartment, great upstairs and downstairs neighbors. That’s it.

All of this is my belated response to a series of recent posts in the blogosphere about the the absolute and relative worth of New York. Eh, I think, it’s not for everyone—and that’s not a criticism of those not-fors, but a recognition that no place is the absolute Best Place: it’s all relative to who and how each of us is.

I didn’t know that New York would take when I moved here, and, frankly, my first year here sucked: money, work, money, apartment, money money money. I still worry about money, still don’t have enough of it in a city which feeds on it.

Do you need the litany of problems with this joint? The dirt and the crowds and the cutbacks and the roaches and rats and no charm, no quiet, no ease, no let up to the hustle. Nothing is as good as it was and nothing will change the ceaseless changes. This city does not care about me, does not need me, will not notice when I am gone.

But it allows me to be. I have been restless for over thirty years, and will be restless evermore, but in this city my restlessness can roam and I can remain

I must be moving on

1 02 2010

State of the union. Sarah Palin. Bipartisanship. Obama. GOP. Moderates. Health care reform. Financial reform. Don’t ask don’t tell. . . .zzzzz

Okay, no, not really. I care about all of that stuff—tho’ not, obviously, all in the same way.

But I don’t want to write about it.

No good reason not to, really. I’ve got that ol’ political science degree, a long history with American politics, and Oh! leftism to burn! Plus, I never really shut up.

Laziness? Perhaps.

Or perhaps there is one good reason not to: Someone else is already on it.

Now, in conversation, I’m more than willing to go over this stuff, rehash what others have said, reconsider my own thoughts, find out what the other person is thinking—it’s quite enjoyable, in fact. But what makes it enjoyable is the give-and-take, the mutual mulling-over, and our willingness to let ourselves dig in or get distracted down some other conversational path; what makes it enjoyable, in other words, is the other person.

But chewing over an already-well-chewed nugget of political wisdom: eh.

It’s not that all of my thoughts are original (if only. . !), or that an issue which has set off a kabillion other people won’t also set me off. But the main reason I write is to find something out. When writing fiction, I write to find out what happens. When writing nonfiction or when blogging, I write/blog to find out what I think.

This isn’t always the case, of course: there are the rants, and there are times I simply want to record an impression or observation or line of argument. Yet unless I happen to have WordPress open at the moment of or shortly after the observation, or unless an impression was so striking or has so wormed its way into me, I’m unlikely to blog about it. And sometimes I simply want to sit with a thought, let it work its way through me.

As for political commentary, well, it’s rare that I notice something that someone else hasn’t already noticed. Obama runs steady? I think one or two people have already remarked on that. Palin is as good with truth as she is with syntax? Ditto. I might find each phenomenon worth commentary, but it doesn’t have to be my commentary.

(Now, the question in politics as to the role of truth, lies, and lies which believe themselves to be truths—now that’s worth some thought. . . .)

I’m not trying to be precious or present this position as a particularly principled one. This is more about temperament than integrity: I get bored by the repetition, and can only motivate myself with the prospect of discovery.

(This is not unrelated to why I left academia—but that’s another post.)

If it’s already been done, and done well, I pause, applaud—then move on.

Whip it good!

16 10 2009

Oh hell yeah I had to use that lyric for this post.

It is, after all, a review of Drew Barrymore’s Whip It—the second (new) movie I’ve seen since moving to New York. (The first was Children of Men: very good, better than the book. And Clive Owen, oh my. . . .)

Okay, back to chicks on skates. It’s a fine movie—not great, but thoroughly entertaining. Bliss Cavender lives in Bodeen Texas with her football-lovin’ dad and pageant-pushing mom (and suck-up little sister); her only friend(s) are those she works with, Pash and Birdman.

Then (cue the lights and music), she sees a flyer for a roller-derby match in Austin, is urged to try out by a derby-ite (derbyan? derbish?), skates quick-fast, makes the team. . . and away we go.

It’s a bit sketchy, insofar as there are thin bits where there could be full moments, and miss Bliss rather too easily transforms into Babe Ruthless, but what the hell, it’s already two hours long, and it’s not as if the backstories are truly necessary.

Ellen Page is endearing rather than annoying, Kristin Wiig is fab, as is the fabulous (natch) Marcia Gay Harden, and Daniel Stern looks like he’s having a good time. Oh, and Jimmy Fallon does a fine impression of a skanky announcer—so much so that I, uh, don’t think he really had to act all that hard.

And Juliette Lewis is there, too. It’s not as if I’m a big Juliette Lewis fan, but I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for a woman who’s done her own thing for a long time and gotten shit for it—and who apparently doesn’t care.  And her character works.

Oh, there’s a boy, too. Man, I guess; boyish man. In too many ways. Bliss knows just what to do with him.

So a good time was had by all (well, the three of us attending the early matinee), and I will certainly enjoy watching this again when it hits Netflix. (Which I should sign up for.)

Still, I felt a bit melancholy when I left. No! Wait! I didn’t mean that! No sad faces! So, okay, maybe restless is the better term. Yes. Restless.

Why? Well, there’s a scene in the middle where all the skaters and some of the fans hit a party, and it’s all anarchic joy. The band is playin’, the roof is swayin’, and nobody is worrying about anything. Oh, and Bliss gets tossed in the hot tub. (Of course there’s a hot tub.)

And I thought, hey, I remember that. Not the hot tub and skates, but the fuck-it glee of a great unwind, of being a part of something you never thought could exist, and the. . . dammit! bliss of freedom and the sense that there’s more out than you could ever breathe in. That you could toss yourself off the cliff and land. . . in the hot tub.

I’m so dull now. So, so dull. I like control and observation and not making an ass of myself, keeping an eye on the door and my wallet and how much I’ve had to drink. Do you know how many years it’s been since I’ve danced on a table- or bar top? Bounced with friends and strangers to the jangle-pop of a somebody’s brother’s garage band? Jumped in instead of standing back?

This isn’t a call back to my teenage or college years—well, a little bit to my college years. But even if I don’t want to be sixteen or even twenty again, I do want some of that anarchic joy, the sweaty-dancing-laughing-singing-to-the-stars joy.

I’m only halfway through life, so why am I acting as if I’m already nearing the end?

Something more, remember?

Oops, I did it again

15 10 2009

Yes, it’s been out of hand for awhile.

Years, actually.

The endless searching, the belief I found The One, the infatuation, the comfort, the dissatisfaction. . . and the search begins anew.

No, I’m not talking about men (or women); it’s all about the bags.

I admit it: I am a bag whore.

Not handbags, not purses—oh no. Backpacks and book bags, with the occasional duffel thrown in.

It started in college. I didn’t really need a bag (or sac, as I would say when I lived in Montreal) in high school; I kept pens and whatnot in my locker, and simply carried my books under my arm. If (ha! when) I went out, I simply tucked my driver’s license and cash in my pocket, along with a house and/or car key.

But in college, well, no lockers. So I needed a bag—truly. I may have started with a backpack, but I think the first was a book bag, navy, canvas, with a large inner pocket, two smaller pockets,  a zippered flap covering those pockets, and a slot in the back for a magazine or newspaper. The strap was cotton, no cushion. I can even picture the store where I bought it, in the little mall by the Southeast dorms on the Madison campus.

Did I mention I still have this bag, complete with red anti-apartheid ribbon still wrapped around the strap?

There were more, of course. I’d go back and forth on the flap vs. no-flap, and between bags and backpacks. More pockets, fewer pockets; expandable, trim; large, medium, small; rugged, lightweight; easy access, security. A bag for every preference. Almost all of which I still own.

That I was (still am?) a hiker only added to the bag fetish: What was suitable for the trail was not so much for the library, and vice versa. And then it was about day hikes vs overnighters, frame vs frameless, more pockets, fewer pockets. And then the panniers for my bike. . . .


Yes, I know there is No Perfect Bag, only the best bag for the occasion.

But still. I yearn for the bag which combines security for my wallet and keys with easy access for everything else, which is durable and lightweight, which has just enough but not too many pockets, which allows me to be organized and flexible and never ever ever hassled by the bag itself.

That I keep my bags (and no, I don’t know how many I own) helps me deal with my restlessness. When I tired of my 15 (or so)-year old Land’s End bag, I could switch to my five-year-old REI bag. But then I thought, well, I’m kinda in a backpack mood. But the packs I had. . . sadly, no, nothing was quite right.

I’ve had pretty good luck with the SwissArmy bag line (yeah, I know: brand-loyalty-is-for-suckers, but that’s simply a caution against mindless repurchasing, not experience), but couldn’t find one to fit my current needs: smaller, decent wallet security, good main space, with enough-but-not-too-much secondary space. I checked Staples (two of them!) and then an obscenely expensive bag store on Broadway and Ninth (?). Hell, I even popped over to KMart to peruse the packages.


I gave up, bought my Cortland apples at the Greenmarket, then headed to Target for cat food (and Oreos, if you must know).

And then I found it. A ‘woman’s’ bag, i.e., a bag meant for a smaller torso, in disgusting pink and reasonable blue. Not too big, not too small, juuuuuust right. And inexpensive, to boot.

So another infatuation begins.

If only I would spend as much time looking for dates. . . but then again, I don’t suppose I could just pile old boy- or girlfriends in my closet until I was ready for them again.