Central Park at night: not like Central Park in the daylight. Eerier, wilder, ghostlier, haunted by rollerbladers who travel in packs; a chiseled performance artist undressing in front of floodlights, his bare torso floating pale and dismembered in the dark; Stevie Nicks’ soul sister, all flowing hemlines, bright-lipped beatific smile, crown of flowers in her hair, playing Bach’s cello suites under a Minton tile ceiling; and, best of all, fireflies, gleaming green like algae, soft like stars, rising like campfire licks in the gloaming, in a glade of towering elms.
by A.E. Housman
How clear, how lovely bright,
How beautiful to sight
Those beams of morning play;
How heaven laughs out with glee
Where, like a bird set free,
Up from the eastern sea
Soars the delightful day.
To-day I shall be strong,
No more shall yield to wrong,
Shall squander life no more;
Days lost, I know not how,
I shall retrieve them now;
Now I shall keep the vow
i never kept before.
Ensanguining the skies
How heavily it dies
Into the west away;
Past touch and sight and sound
Not further to be found,
How hopeless under ground
Falls the remorseful day.
On Worth Street, which serves as a kind of border between Chinatown and the courthouses and government offices of Civic Center (a neighborhood I had never heard of until I looked it up on Google Maps just now), someone has taken the care to plant a small but dear garden in Columbus Park. The killer part: the handwritten tags naming every bush, flowers, and shrub. I was disappointed to find that the dahlias were all done for the season but pleased to meet the black-eyed susans and other, stranger flowers whose names I don’t remember; I had to hurry if I wanted to pick up dinner before class. Dinner was eleven dumplings and a free noodle-making show for $3 from Lam Zhou Handmade Noodle; class, a free lecture on bike maintenance basics taught by a Japanese man in a bucket hat and on a BMX; dessert, a $1 egg tart and the lambent midsummer twilight, my heart floating up, up, away.
On average, San Francisco receives less than an inch of rain during the summer months, which was as good a reason as any to sign up for the marathon. It had been three years since my last visit, an interval of time long enough for friends to have babies - yes, plural - and the rental market to go completely barmy. Evidently twentysomething app-developers now pay $2,000/month to live in the Tenderloin (!!!!!). I landed on Friday in time to catch a typically dreamy sunset, the sky soft and smudgy with pastels, then shuddered in the evening chill and wrapped my cardigan tighter. I twice waited in the Ferry Building Blue Bottle line over the weekend, once before the race expo and then after the race. I ate outside, except when I was carbo-loading at Cotogna, in which case I ate with my back to the spit rotating slowly above the wooded fire. I ran the marathon. It was dark when we started and searingly bright at the finish. I underestimated the hills but I felt strong racing down the final chute. I sang my ex-boyfriend’s infant to sleep, taught a few words of French to his trilingual daughter, bumped a knee against his under the dinner table. I had a sit-down dance party with my friends on the floor of our hotel room. I sat and drank wine and laughed myself sick around the dinner table with my relatives, people who barely know me but for some reason unconditionally love me. And I decided I never, ever want to live here. This city of dry summers and perfect stone fruits, ice cream parlors and wilding Pacific, this city of memories, dreams, and ghosts, sweet laced with bitter.
Today is the best day of my professional life (so far).
My coworker: “I can’t believe it. It’s like the eighth day of Hanukkah. It’s a miracle!”
Me: “In this moment I don’t even care how underpaid I am!”
Cab, night, skyline, NYC, drunk. Probably how I’ll remember what it was like to be young.
I’ve been sick and it’s such a drag: on my routine, my philosophy, my energy levels, my spirits. But not every week gets bookended by the brother, or the beach, or expertly battered fish tacos, or eating expertly battered fish tacos with the brother on the beach - on opposite coasts! And it’s not every week that you hear from two ex’s in the span of two days, even if the first is the FaceTime equivalent of the butt-dial, when the second writes to say I probably wanted too much from you, and what I’ve realized is you can’t ask anyone to fix you. What. Do I even say to that.
Saudade is a Portuguese and Galician word that has no direct translation in English. It describes an emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing may never return. The word saudade was used in the Cancioneiro da Ajuda (13th century), in the Cancioneiro da Vaticana and by poets of the time of King Denis of Portugal (reigned 1279-1325).
Mono no aware (物の哀れ?), literally “the pathos of things”, and also translated as “an empathy toward things”, or “a sensitivity to ephemera”, is a Japanese term for the awareness of impermanence(無常 mujō?), or transience of things, and both a transient gentle sadness (or wistfulness) at their passing as well as a longer, deeper gentle sadness about this state being the reality of life. The term was coined in the 18th century by the Edo period Japanese cultural scholar Motoori Norinaga and was originally a concept used in his literary criticism of The Tale of Genji, later applied to other seminalJapanese works including the Man’yōshū. It became central to his philosophy of literature and eventually to Japanese cultural tradition.
This cold, wet, grey, Londonish spring.
I am slowly transforming into one of those people who works all the time, bemoans the state of her inbox, and looks forward to coming home from the office straightaway on a Friday night: hair up, pajamas on, beer please. In other words, an old person. (Except I have a memory of this life, once. I was not old but twenty-six, newly single, nervous and unsure about who I was, whether I was doing a good job at work, learning to swim, blowing my tax refund on a road bike instead of an impromptu trip to Amsterdam, who I loved. In other words, everything.) Such are the constraints of the clock. Only so many hours in the day, goes the cliché. Only so much area in that circle, “a simple shape of Euclidean geometry.” An unexpectedly musical and bell-like line for an online encyclopedia. That summer in San Francisco spent at a firm, in between acquiring a tattoo and an expensive pair of heels, I truly enjoyed billing my time. The type A wonk in me appreciated the accumulation of data - its revelatory properties, its patterns and potential for improvements. (For example, that summer I learned I was a compulsive handwasher with a small bladder. How else could I explain all the time lost to the bathroom, upwards of an hour on a given day.) I also liked how billing laid bare the trade-offs, the “hard truths.” You can work hard or you can party hard or you can sleep, but you must pick two out of three.
Still, the spring hasn’t escaped me. Like a true yuppie mutineer I ask for cold sake with my nigiri and refuse on principle to wear my winter coat. The bodegas are stocked with lilacs and peonies, the trees effloresce with blossoms and migrating birds. Some days it is warm enough for bare calves, pale with hibernation and stark in the spotlight. I haven’t as much poetry in me as I used to, when I was twenty-six and found in my uncertainty a space for acrobatics and flight. I compensate by memorizing other people’s words. I’m down to the last three lines of “The Wasteland” and waiting for the right place, someplace other than the A train during rush hour, to learn the lines by heart. Is that overly precious? Probably. But it’s important, at least for me, to carve out of the clock a kind of sacristy for the things that serve no function other than to move me or give me pleasure.
Things I will write about one day: unsolicited job offers, writing about holidays long after you’ve had them, what it’s like to read for the first time a Korean-American author, sprinting barefoot through lower Manhattan.
He was aware that he did not love her. He had married her because he liked her haughtiness, her seriousness, her strength, and also because of some vanity on his part, but as she kissed him for the first time he was sure there would be no obstacle to their inventing true love. They did not speak of it that first night, when they spoke of everything until dawn, nor would they ever speak of it. But in the long run, neither of them had made a mistake."
I suspect the whole range of love is somewhere in Love in the Time of Cholera.
Learning how to drive a manual in the empty parking lot of a pueblo blanco
Projectile vomiting at the foot of the Seville Cathedral
Fire and stars in Ronda
What it’s like to be an outlander at the Spizzwinks’ Centennial, what it’s like to be outed as a Harvardian in a ballroom brimming with Yale alums, what it’s like to survive a 3 hour acapella concert
Ducking the ex at a scotch-tasting event
Finishing Moby Dick