Most of the music I listen to these days falls into one of two categories: Classical and Opera or Songs I Would Sing at Karaoke. So when I started cleaning out my iTunes library in an effort to scratch my minimalist itch, it was truly surprising to me to see how many songs I had not thought about in years that quickly, clearly, and strongly evoked a specific time and place in my life. Also how obsessed with Kylie Minogue I used to be. Fever, along with Zwan’s Mary Star of the Sea and Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks/Moondance, will always be the soundtrack to the golden summer I spent in San Francisco when I was 20 and an intern abusing the auto-pen, the way OK Go’s Of the Blue Colour of the Sky became the soundtrack to the reality check of a summer I spent in San Francisco when I was 27 and an intern walking past pantsless men on the way to the office.
Like a true American I think productivity is a virtue and yet I waste a lot of time. More so now that I’m journaling on a consistent basis, which is really one part journaling to three parts wasting a lot of time. That’s why I obsess over setting resolutions, plans, benchmarks, deliverables, and deadlines. Also because I am so obviously a type A, still cleverly disguised as a type B (I hope). And that’s why I skim a lot of content on the Internet that is of no added value to my life. Also because I am a human being who lives in an industrial nation.
But beyond this obvious contradiction, the more interesting way to think about this paradox is the toll that work takes on our sense of selfhood, even for those of us who love our jobs enough to be paid in magic beans. After long days at the office, all I want to do when I get home is curl into a laziness coma: prop up my feet, pour beer directly onto my frontal lobe, eat something high in sugar/starch/fat/MSG. Definitely not making that podium: writing these goddamn journal entries. So, if most of your time and energy is preoccupied by your job, how is it possible to live with mindfulness, intention, and agency? Other than by becoming a Buddhist monk or winning the Powerball and quitting your job, I mean.
My NYC bucket list, in the event I (am made to) leave (in a body bag):
Tour the Federal Reserve
Attend an auction at Sotheby’s or Christie’s
Breakfast at Cafe Sabarsky
Hear music at the Village Vanguard
Read in Septuagesimo UNO, the smallest park in the City
Tour Gracie Mansion
Walk through Green-Wood Cemetery
Spend an afternoon at Argosy Book Store
Visit Poet’s House
Eat brunch at Shopsin’s
As a broke graduate student, then a broke Congressional staffer, then a broke law student, every stick of furniture I owned in my twenties was from the budget-friendly holy trinity of Ikea, Craigslist, or Ikea via Craigslist. I didn’t mind. After four years of extra-long twin beds and dormitory furniture, it was a delight just to pick out something of my own, something that would reflect my taste and sensibilities, however evanescent. I even thought it was fun, “the hunt,” whether that meant wandering through the Ikea showroom and thinking I could nest with little more than my spit, some twigs, and an allen key, or sifting through all the crap on Craigslist with the hope that those hours would leave me with a rare nugget of gold in my pan. It was all part of being adventurously “poor,” i.e. young, idealistic, and so sure that if I wanted to cash out I could. Like building a fake wall with sheetrock, plywood, and a six pack of beer, it was simply the price one paid (or didn’t, ha ha) to work in public service. For years, that sense of conviction, and the occasional tasting menu, dressed up any sense of shabbiness in my life. Also, it helped that I lived in a really nice apartment; I didn’t know it at the time, but it would end up to be the nicest apartment I lived in for the next ten years. (Thank you, NYC. Not.)
Now that I’m a broke thirtysomething government attorney, things haven’t changed too much. When I moved to NYC, I took most of my furniture with me - it was the height of the bedbug epidemic and I was nervous about purchasing anything secondhand here - and dressed it up with exposed brick and, in my one concession to covetousness, a deeply discounted Madeleine Weintrub rug from ABC Carpet & Home. Even after Peter moved in and we moved to a bigger place, we continued to furnish our home with the holy trinity, supplemented by Ikea hacking, CB2, or Amazon. Being on a budget wasn’t as adventuresome as it once felt, but staining and varnishing wood cut to order from some shop off Bowery or spray painting the legs of a coffee table on the street felt crafty and a little illegal. Also, Peter didn’t care about anything other than what was holding up the TV and Playstation, and I had developed an allergy to acquiring and owning stuff.
I say “too much” because some change is inevitable. Like today we received our new dining table from West Elm, the first time in my life I haven’t had to haul a piece of furniture I bought back home. The two delivery men walked in, unwrapped the pieces, and assembled the table before my eyes; they might as well have been Cinderella’s fairy godmother, waiving a magic wand. And last week I started physical therapy for my knee, which persists in making itself heard. As Steve Nicks says, “Yes, I’m getting older, too.”
My love for New York City has been abundantly documented on the blogojevich, but every so often I read something that makes me think my head must not be on straight. Like this article in Town & Country* about dog parks in the city that are so elite and exclusive you have to apply to get in and pay a membership fee upon acceptance, or put yourself on the wait list. What. Is. This. Since you have to compete with a million people for everything here (housing, schools, jobs, a subway seat, a piece of the subway pole, cronuts, etc.), I don’t know why I’m so surprised, but this is coming from someone who thinks it doesn’t get better than sitting in the (free) dog run in Madison Square to play with other people’s dogs.
*For the record, my first and only time picking up this magazine.
Doing God’s work now.
Last night I attempted to watch One Day, which was so terrible that I stopped watching after 20 minutes and read the Wikipedia summary instead. I was disappointed to learn that only one of the leads dies.
Legitimately good romantic comedies I should rewatch:
…if I feel like some Woody Allen: Tie between Annie Hall and Manhattan. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite. On the one hand, Annie Hall is the ur-modern romantic comedy. On the other hand, the first five minutes of Manhattan. Flip a coin.
…if I feel like a non-Woody Allen love letter to New York City: When Harry Met Sally. In an interesting coincidence, my college roommate and I each rewatched this movie when we were single and in our late 20s, and we independently noticed something neither of us had noticed when we saw this movie in college. Sally is 31(ish) when she and Joe break up and she reconnects with Harry. 31! In 1989! That’s, like, 40 in today’s years. Very progressive, Nora Ephron. Also checks the Meg Ryan box. No Sleepless in Seattle (boring), no You’ve Got Mail (so-so).
Runner up: Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
…if I feel like some Julia Roberts: Pretty Woman, of course. I know this is a movie about a prostitute with a heart of gold. But I didn’t know that when I first saw this movie, at the soulful age of ten. And now I don’t care. The reason I love opera, La Traviata in particular, and why I will watch Runaway Bride if I see it on TV. But not Notting Hill or My Best Friend’s Wedding.
…if I want to pretend I live in London: Sliding Doors.I love this movie for two reasons which have nothing to do with the parallel universes: (1) Gwyneth Paltrow’s short blonde cut and (2) John Hannah as a romantic lead. I mean, John Hannah as a romantic lead! What inspired casting.
…if I want to pretend I live in London during the holidays: Bridget Jones’s Diary.The same college roommate and I saw BJD at Brattle Theater in Harvard Square, one snowy December evening. Afterwards we loudly shrieked, “Why don’t we have boyfriends like Colin Firth?” The guy walking ahead of us looked back, saw us, and quickened his step.
…if I want to imagine living in Paris: Amelie. If you don’t like this movie, you probably don’t like corgis or pinwheels either.
…if I want to relive high school in a safe space, “heart on its sleeve” edition: Say Anything.
…relive high school, “guilty pleasure before Health Ledger’s accidental overdose” edition: 10 Things I Hate About You. Bonus: Allison Janney as the erotica-writing guidance counselor.
…relive high school with a sassy redhead: Easy A. I have made no secret of my love of sassy redheads. See Anne of Green Gables, Dana Scully on The X-Files. Bonus: Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci as the parents.
…relive high school, “90s nostalgia” edition: Clueless.
All are movies set in high school that feature real teenagers, even if they are played by twentysomething adults.
…if I feel like some Adam Sandler: 50 First Dates. (But probably because I haven’t seen The Wedding Singer.) You would not guess it but I have a soft spot for Adam Sandler - I saw Big Daddy twice in the movie theaters - based almost entirely on the strength of his performance in Punch-Drunk Love. Then I rewatched PDL last year and discovered that, like Radiohead, it is way too depressing for me now.
…never: Love Actually. Is. The. Worst.
Commuting is one of my least favorite things to do, next to eating squash and looking at my paycheck. In law school I lived close enough to walk to class by cutting through Morningside Park, which wears the seasons on its sleeve and so makes for an unusually picturesque jaunt. Even the 150+ steps come with a reward, a panoramic view of Harlem. These days I live one block away from the subway but in that block a lot can happen. The north side of the street is home to a movie theater to the east and a Chuck E. Cheese to the west, and they share a dumpster that, as long as it’s not freezing outside, emits the most incredible smell: fake butter popcorn + the inside of a dirty diaper + vomit. The south side of the street connects to an alley where several rats make their home; I put the odds at 1 in 5 that one runs across your path.
Today, as usual, I took my chance with the rats. As I was walking by my dry cleaner’s, I heard, then saw, a man taking a piss by a tree.
My first thought: “it’s been awhile since I’ve seen that.”
My second thought: “I should write about this.”
My third thought: “This does not seem like the appropriate response.”