Sunday, October 31, 2010

Thursday, October 28, 2010

in the mailbox tonight

(or, yet another reason to laugh and cry at the state of New York politics)

oh nanci how i love you

Funny how you can know a song practically your whole life and then be listening to it one morning on your iPod on your way to work and a particular line you never noticed before will leap out at you, leaving you momentarily aching and breathless.

I had one of those moments this morning while listening to a song so comfortable, so worn and loved and old and known, that I didn't think it had anything new to offer.  And yet caught up in the cliches and silliness and catchiness is this line, sung by this feisty fragile woman with her big old guitar, and something in that moment left me reeling.

"These broken wings are gonna leave me here to stand my ground..."

(Nanci Griffith, Outbound Plane)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

from the comments, or, when dangers call

I was gratified to get feedback on a recent post about a knife (and secretly relieved to learn I'm not the only person who sometimes feels these things), and wanted to share this gorgeous quote:

"Kinves, on the other hand, are about cutting the Gordian knot. They offer immediate gratification, the opportunity to make decisions first and live with the consequences later. The sharper the knife, the quicker that choice is made - almost quicker than thought itself... Each cook finds the tools that pull their temperament and their kitchen work into some sort of synchrony. I have always been an anxious and impatient person, and this was especially so when I was young. That sharp carbon-steel knife allowed me to grasp anxiety by the handle and point it away from me. I tended to agonize over decisions; here was something that made them for me, lickety-split. To pick up a carrot and cut it into bite-sized chunks was to confront a series of choices, however inconsequential, and resolve them immediately, chop, chop, chop. Of course, being young, I didn't realize that grabbing anxiety by its handle is like getting a tiger by the tail - the sense of relief is only momentary."
(Jim Thorne, Pot on Fire)

Thanks, Katrin, for sharing this (something about it resonated deeply), and thanks, ladies, for sharing your compulsions (and your decisions to not follow them).  I loved reading your comments and look forward to more of them - I can't tell you what a pleasure it is know that some of the things about which I find myself thinking sometimes resonate with people I know and respect and care about.

Monday, October 25, 2010

lunching with the professors

I had what I perhaps egotistically imagine was a somewhat unusual college experience, in that I went to the school where my father had been a professor (and eventually chairman of the history department -- I remember family friend Bill and my father joking once that though he loathed being Chair, at least it would get him an obituary in the New York Times) until his death a year and a half before I arrived on campus, a ridiculously angsty and constantly clothed in black teenager.

Barnard College is a small school and is, as one professor said at the memorial service the school had for my father (in the long-gone Lower Level McIntosh, for those of you who remember that ill-planned student center), in many ways one gigantic, convoluted, complicated family. This may have been a little more true for me than for most students.

Some of the professors who had been particular friends of my father's kinda sorta took me under their wing a little bit during my years on campus.  There were three in particular with whom my family had been close, though a whole plethora with whom I still exchange smiles as we pass each other on Broadway or Amsterdam Avenue or College Walk.

One of these three would sometimes take me out for coffee (my idea) and orange juice (his idea) and affectionately lecture me on going out in the winter with wet hair (I was usually coughing and sneezing and sniffling back in those days) and finally bought me a fancy new hair dryer (which I sometimes remembered to use until the summer I shaved all my hair off for the first time, but which I kept for many years after that) to keep the colds away.

One of these three asked me to babysit his kids up in the suburbs once or twice and always made (and continues to make) a point of asking after my mother, my brother, my self.

One of these three, our beloved Santa Clause Gone Bad (or at least ironic), canceled at least one recitation on the eve of Thanksgiving when he knew my mother was in town,  and found me not too long ago on Facebook where he now helps keep me honest and grounded rather than all caught up in things like the strangeness that is the roll-call of video-contributors for Dan Savage's It Gets Better Project.*

My mother, even sixteen years after leaving New York for the wild wild west of her birth, continues to make an annual pilgrimage back east.  We don't always manage to see the Professors (I have a half-formed suspicion that she, like me, worries just the littlest bit that we will bore them or somehow not fit into their intellectual worlds without the mediation of my father, her husband), but thanks largely to my-former-professor-turned-FB-buddy, plans were made for last Thursday and Mom and I were treated to a delicious lunch in the brand new faculty dining room in the Diana Center.

It's an odd and endearing tradition, this lunching with the Professors, and one that I hold very close to my heart.  Sometimes a bit awkward, sometimes a bit sad, often enough funny and and always interesting, but more than all these things. These were my father's friends and colleagues and it means a lot to have them still a part of our lives rather than disappearing into the ether, as it would have been so easy for them to do. For that continuity, and for their years of kindness, I am grateful.

*Contributors now include everyone from the usual celebrity suspects to heartfelt common-folk to President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and Speaker Pelosi.  It makes you wonder where the Republican voices are in all of this, and why they don't want to publicly encourage LGBT kids to not kill themselves in response to bullying

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


I have always believed that it goes without saying that we should know the infrastructures of our jobs.  I expect my staff to be comfortably familiar with the ins and outs of our library and any questions pertaining to it:  its policies, its hours, its floorplan.  I expect that I and my colleagues know these basics and more:  the ins and outs of Columbia's 20+ libraries, the ways in which we interact with other library systems (NYU, New York Public, the other Ivies, etc), the Library of Congress cataloging system.   I know that DS557s are books about Vietnam and that DS557.7s are about the Vietnam War and that the HV6400s have exploded since 9/11 (no pun intended) because this is the category for books on terrorism. I know that GNs are anthropology and HQs (rather humorously) encompass queer and gender studies and PSs are fiction and BSs are bibles and dictionaries tend to be in reference collections but you can almost always find older editions that circulate.

I do not know how Congresspeople get picked for all the various committees that (theoretically) help to run our country.  I have not memorized the Constitution and all of its amendments in chronological or any other order. And I definitely do not understand how it has come to pass that the Pentagon has leap-frogged ahead of the White House in regards to Don't Ask Don't Tell and is now instructing its recruiters to recruit openly homosexual men and women.

But I do expect our politicians, the people we elect to represent us and to govern this vast and sprawling country, to know and understand these things with the same familiarity that I have developed within my own job of choice.

I do not expect my fellow Americans to send to Congress people like this.  And I do not understand how this woman can even hope to be on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when she does not have a clue about the intricacies of our own government, let alone anyone else's.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

boys & their bridges

You never really forget it -- that moment in which you first learn that someone you love is gone; the way the earth shifts, falling silently away from you.

Inevitably at some point every October I find myself thinking about Matt and that moment at the movie theater in Yorktown Heights, the evening of October 11th, 1997, a Saturday.  Ben and Alan and I had gone to see Kiss the Girls (to this day the thought of that movie makes me cringe, though I couldn't tell you a thing about it) and we ran into Jordan Faris and her boyfriend, and we chatted a bit, catching up on family gossip and neighborhood gossip, until she abruptly said, "Did you hear about Matt Narad?"

I thought she must mean he'd won a scholarship or an important debate tournament or gotten early admission to some great school, but no.  He had jumped off the Bear Mountain Bridge earlier that week, had washed up a few miles south a couple days later.

Matt was one of my brother's best friends, and the one to whom I felt most like an older sister.

One particular summer, one of the summers I was lifeguarding at the lake, he had learned to sail a little Sunfish and he and a friend would sometimes come visit me in the afternoons, bringing soda and peanut butter sandwiches.

That same summer we flew to Idaho together where he spent a couple weeks on Harlow Point Road with the extended McNeil clan, swimming and fishing and sailing and eating (though you wouldn't have known it to look at him, grinning and tousle-headed and scrawny as ever).

I hadn't seen Matt for almost two years before he committed suicide and one of the most difficult parts, for me, was trying to integrate these sun-drenched memories with the horror of a boy standing alone on a bridge, so angry or sad or frustrated or scared that it begs understanding.

I've been thinking about him more this particular October than in recent years, or even, God forgive me, this last decade.  There was another boy, wholly unknown to me but almost the same age as Matt, who recently jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge, mere blocks from my home.

I've been thinking about these boys, these teenagers, these lost souls, and how we failed them, and how their impetuousness stole from them any hope of outliving their adolescent woes, their insomnia-laced three o'clock in the mornings.

I couldn't tell you why Matt did it, even though the thought crossed my own mind once or twice over the years.  I'm grateful that, for me, it never became more than mere thought, and that I never found myself on a bridge looking down at that same river rushing up against cement pillars, frothing and cresting its way south to the sea.

(Basia Bulat, I'm Forgetting Everyone)

Monday, October 11, 2010

a friend's leaving

It's funny how quietly integral a person can become to one's world: sometimes seemingly overnight, sometimes more along the lines of a glacier, incrementally becoming a part of the ground upon which one walks.

I first met Dan while visiting my brother in San Diego back in February of 2003.  Eventually he found his way back to New York and at some point offered (via Nathan, who had also found his way back to New York) to stay at my apartment and cat-sit during one of my trips west.

Somehow over the course of a few years this became routine.  I would buy plane tickets and then frantically email Dan in the hopes he'd be available to look after Novita-love or more recently the Llama-monster, which he magically inevitably was.  Then I would try to treat him to dinner and he would try to say no and we would have a rather awkward exchange and then eventually he would accept.

It took years before we began to think of each other as friends in our own right, and even then for a long time it was always mediated through Nathan.  But then somehow Dan joined one of my weekly dinners with Nick, and then somehow he started joining us regularly, and then somehow we had developed a little trio.  And then our weekly dinners expanded to include Evan and then sometimes Sarah, and there you have it. (I know I've written about this many times before and yet it still takes me by surprise, this act of being a part of such a circle, of creating a routine that almost needs no planning, no intention, that just is.)

He's been talking about leaving New York City for so long that even now, on the eve of the eve of his departure, there is a part of me that can't quite grasp the concept.  He has become like the air, intrinsically important and yet so constant as to go almost unnoticed; at first peripheral and now at the core of things, of some of the people most important to me.

He's been talking about leaving but a part of me assumed it wouldn't happen, and now I find myself feeling bereft in ways I had not anticipated.  I will miss the most reliable and wonderful cat-sitter ever, of course yes, but also his interest in seemingly everything, his vast book collection, wry smile, choppy hair, and the fact that he always laughs at my stories (and remembers them).

We're having one last weekly dinner tomorrow evening, one last hurrah.  Nick and Dan and I will meet at five and head on down to 1020 for a couple drinks while we wait for Evan to make it up from Chelsea.  (Dan, despite his tea-totaling ways, has always been patient and, I like to think, perhaps amused with the rest of us liking to put a few away.)  Then we will walk down to Awash for gluttonous gorging on a huge platter of vegan Ethiopian food (and may they, fingers crossed, actually have the much coveted carrot & green bean dish that is so elusive and so delicious).  Then we will walk over to Central Park West and catch our respective trains:  Nick heading south and off home to Brooklyn; Evan and myself heading north to our nook in the Heights;  and Dan, well, usually he just goes walking for a bit.

He's been staying with us on and off since the first of the month and has been generous beyond reason with his cast-me-offs (books and CDs and kitchen supplies and a bookshelf and an only slightly worse-for-wear Aeron chair).  I keep hoping that he will come back to the northeast some day, and have promised that these cast-offs are merely on loan, however short-term or long-term that may be.

Dan has had a set of my keys for years now, the better to come and go around my departure and arrival dates during his weeks of cat-sitting.  This has also been useful these last weeks as he moved stuff out of his place and into mine, and then during his days of staying here.  A part of me wants to ask for them back (he will no longer need them, and what with my mother arriving in three days time, I'd like to have a set to offer her), but a part of me wants to ensure he's never without them.  Where I am, I want him to know, will always be home to him.

This, in the end, is one of the reasons I am so reluctant to leave New York, one of my deeply-rooted reasons for staying:  people so often seem to come back.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


A friend gave us this innocent-looking little ceramic paring knife yesterday.  It's already proven perfect for peeling and slicing up last week's delicious CSA apples, and I'm sure will prove perfect for many other kitchen happenings.  The problem is that every time I look at it, just sitting there all innocent-like, I have this strange and irresistible urge to run my fingers down the blade, if only to prove to myself that it's not just a glorified plastic picnic knife.

Resisting this compulsion all day has led to strange rambling thoughts (just ask Evan) about The Subtle Knife. Not the whole book, though I adored the whole book, but rather thoughts of the knife itself.  Its (in my imagination at least) smallness, its discreteness, its ability to cut through the fabric of worlds; the wraiths that are brought into existence with each slice and dice of the subtle knife, each rending of that world-separating fabric, and the souls those wraiths feed on, leaving empty husks in place of men.

It's gotten ridiculous, to the point where I don't even want it out drying in the dish rack but don't quite know what to do with it. It of course won't stick to the magnetic knife rack where I can keep an eye on it, but I don't want it in the cutlery drawer, just begging to be grabbed unawares.  I am hoping that I will wake up in the morning with all thoughts of it magically disappeared in the night, and that I won't have to run my thumb smoothly down its blade to determine once and for all its true or imagined danger.


sklar's new roommate

Thursday, October 07, 2010

for booklovers, new york lovers, map lovers

Thanks to Bookstore Patti*, bookseller extraordinaire, this is where I've been wasting a fair amount of time recently:

A Literary Map of Manhattan

*Like her on Facebook here

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

oh how i adore independent bookstores

(Or, as Norman once said, "Celebrate your independents.")

head troubles

For the most part, I don't often think about my lack of depth perception.  (Though to this day one of my all-time favorite movie moments is that scene in Wayne's World where our intrepid hero is in bed with his girlfriend and they show him looking at her first through one eye and then through the other, with him saying, "Camera One, Camera Two."*  This is how I see all the time, except I do it with both eyes open and end up seeing double sometimes and get lots of headaches.)

For the most part, as I said, I don't think about it much.  The body learns to compensate for any number of deficiencies, and given that I've had this particular deficiency since the tender age of six months, my body has learned to compensate pretty well.

But then there are these odd moments every now and again when it comes crashing back in.

Like being made physically ill by Avatar, just for example.

Or the time a few months back when I reached for a door handle and, well, you know how when you know you're going to be pulling on something heavy your body preemptively starts to lean back?  Let's just say I've learned not to be quite so preemptive, as I completely missed the door handle and barely caught myself from crashing backwards onto the sidewalk.  In front of many people.

Or those moments of crushing vertigo when descending or ascending stairs, especially stairs with no backs or stairs made of glass, like at Apple stores or Soho's Uniqlo.  (And that scene towards the end of season one of Dollhouse, when Alpha is still playing Kepler and terrified of the stairs?**  Love, love, love that scene.)

And then there was the other day, in the bathroom at work, when I reached over to get some paper towels and thwacked my head into the paper towel dispenser.  As Nick pointed out, that one was special even for me -- a motion, a physical action, performed almost daily still getting the best of me (and with the lump, if small, to prove it).

Yes, it's been one of those weeks.  Sore of head and bruised of ego, though luckily, at least, no one was around to hear the crash or the ensuing curses.

* Take a look at this nifty little  online depth perception test.  I can't do the first part at all but I can do the second part with both eyes open.  What about you?

**Stephen Kepler: The stairs lack risers!
Paul Ballard: What?
Stephen Kepler: The vertical part that makes the back of each stair is called a riser.
Paul Ballard: I know what they are!
Stephen Kepler: No, no, wait! Please. Sometimes when I go on stairs that don’t have risers I get this feeling, this awful sensation, that’s somethings going reach out and grab my ankle, like a claw or a tentacle!
Paul Ballard: This is life or death!
Stephen Kepler: It could be a hand! An ordinary hand!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

girl troubles

I don't know how women do it, these daily acts of being a woman:  the grooming, the shaving, the eye-brow plucking, the hair-styling, the wearing so stylishly of skirts and dresses.

I bought this adorable corduroy skirt recently, soft and velvety and fawn-colored, just shy of the knees and with the sweetest little bell-shape.

I love it, I really do.  And I put it on this morning, and pulled on some charcoal-y stockingish things and my black high-heeled clunky boots and my lace-trimmed black camisole and my burgundy-ish eyelet long-sleeved hoodie, and walked out the door feeling tall and sexy and cute.

Only to have my adorable little skirt riding half way up my thighs and no end in sight before I even crossed the street to the bus stop.  So I spent the bus-ride to work berating myself for not bringing along a pair of pants to change into (just in case...), and wondering how the hell I'll get through the day with the constant not so subtle tugging down of the skirt as I clomp my way around the library, and back across campus again to meet my boys for dinner.

I love my skirt, I really do.  But apparently women sometimes also need slips.  Or something.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

five years

Today is the Fort Tryon Medieval Festival, which, as I was just saying to my new office-mate, I try to go to every year and every year, after about fifteen minutes, I start wondering why I bothered going.

Sometimes I get caught up in the rituals, in the traditions, of my life, and this is one of those traditions.  (As evidenced, in fact, by my very first blog post here on the Darker Mind, five years ago today.)

Today, you see, is the Fort Tryon Medieval Festival and I am at work in my basement library instead of wandering amongst the knights and their ladies and the leather crowd and kids with face paint and over-priced pickle vendors and the never-ending lines at the too-few food carts and the kitsch and not-nearly-funny-enough jesters and incongruous belly dancers and sellers of cheap swords.

I know the Festival is ridiculous but it's also a rite of passage, a rite of seasons: something that unfailingly drives home the fact that another year is beginning to approach its end.

Evan and Nathan and I have been hashing out Christmas and New Year's Eve plans, or at least beginning to contemplate the hashing out of such plans, but only today does the encroaching cold seem real, marked out by the inevitableness of the Festival even if I can't be there.

It is a perfect day today, crisp and hard-edged and blue-skied, clouds so high and bright there can be no threat of rain.  I don't remember a rainy Festival day -- it is always as it is today, which seems particularly strange after last week's torrential rains and tornado winds.

It's been a strange five years, heartbreaking and beautiful and full to the brim with love and for this, despite the oncoming winter, I am grateful.