Saturday, June 25, 2011


Very proud to be a New Yorker today, after the folks up in Albany finally got it right last night. It took a long time, but in the end the timing is impeccable as New York City gears up today for another Pride weekend.

I remember attending my cousin's wedding sometime in the spring of, I want to say, 1996 out in Washington State, and how he and his wife-to-be had the officiant acknowledge even back then that though we were celebrating a joyous occasion, until all of their loved ones had the same right to such a joyous occasion, their own beautiful celebration was tempered by sadness.

I remember thinking on the morning after President Obama was elected and Proposition 8 was approved, how sadly ironic an occasion that was, and how grateful I was to come from a family whose progressive worldview goes back generations.

I wrote my grandmother a letter that week thanking her for enshrining in her children and in her grandchildren such a sense of justice, such a sense of fairness and fair-play.

Our "fierce advocate" may have let us down these last two years, but four Republican senators up in Albany crossed the aisle last night and chose to treat all of their fellow New Yorkers with respect.

Today I am proud to be a New Yorker, and can't help but feel a certain sense of coming full circle: this beloved city, this huge state*, the birth place of the gay rights movement as we know it, is once again in the vanguard of civil rights.  And yeah, that makes me a little bit teary-eyed.

*With the passage of same-sex marriage in New York (the third most populous state in the Union, after California and Texas) last night, the percentage of Americans living in states that recognize marriage equality has more than doubled, to 11% of the total population.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

flooding in devil's lake & the new nook

I reserved the tickets months ago for the same trip this June that we did last June:  the Lake Shore Limited from New York's Penn Station up along the Hudson to Albany, then veering westwards toward Buffalo and on through Pennsylvania and Ohio and Indiana to deposit us in downtown Chicago on the sunny southern shore of Lake Michigan. Then a five-hour interlude of wandering within a two-mile radius of Chicago's Union Station (oh the sunburn that ensued) before climbing aboard our home-away-from-home for the next two days: the legendary Empire Builder, that great train plowing through Minnesota and Wisconsin, across the plains of North Dakota and Montana, through the Idaho panhandle and eventually up into the Cascades and down to the western seaboard of northern Washington.

It was quite the trip, quite the adventure, and we loved it so much we decided to do it again this year.  But late Tuesday night I got an automated phone call from Amtrak informing us that our train from Chicago was canceled, that there are no alternate forms of transport along that route, and please hold to talk to a ticket agent.

There is severe flooding in North Dakota, and parts of Minot and Devil's Lake are being evacuated, and all train service has been shut down.

Now we are booked for a different route, and once the dismay and frustration abated, the excitement kicked in.  The first leg, up to Chicago, is the same.  But from there we are taking the Southwest Chief to Los Angeles via Missouri and Kansas and Colorado and New Mexico and Arizona. And then we are taking the Coast Starlight from LA all the way up to Seattle. And it will be gorgeous and wonderful. But also very, very long.

All told, this is 96 hours and 40 minutes on three different trains, from Saturday afternoon to Wednesday night.  This is a lot of reading time, and it's not like I wasn't neurotic enough already about what books to bring when our trip was going to be a mere 65 hours and 10 minutes on two trains.  Even then, I had a pile of books that I was attempting to narrow down to three.

I started emailing titles to Evan yesterday morning to put on his Nook, and then I started obsessing over monopolizing Evan's nook just because of my own stubborn refusal to purchase such a thing myself (or to acknowledge the world of ebooks as a viable alternative to "real" books).

Finally, last night, in the middle of a long rant to the poor dear boy about reading in general and what books to bring in particular and the evils of turning literature into mere content and so on and so forth, I somehow finally convolutedly ended up at a terminus: that I will go buy myself this Nook before we leave on Saturday. And then I will dump all my newly acquired young adult dystopian fiction into it.  And my pile of books. And Erica's lovely birthday gift, A Visit From the Goon Squad.

I told Evan last night, though, that even with my brand new nook full of lots of things I want to read, I'm still going to bring one or two paper books.  Because an old-fashioned girl like me? I can't quite give up the pleasure of sitting curled up in a train seat, legs draped over the armrest, window to the right of me, fingers flipping the pages of their own accord as I pour over the words in front of me. And I can't quite give up the odd little pleasure of placing my bookmark (someone's business card, some folded up wrapping paper, a library reserves card) each time further and further in, and seeing so physically the progression of the story as you read it, as it unfolds.  (Even if the Nook does have a little bar across the bottom indicating how much of the book you've read, it's just not the same!)

But I'm pretty sure now that I won't run out of reading materials and I won't get bored.  After all, last year I ended up only reading one book the entire trip out.  Much of the rest of the time was spent caught up in Final Fantasy I (yes, I) and staring dreamily out the window while listening to the Boss.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

flowers from lauren

(aka FinleySquared)

book(s) & train(s)

Well, dear readers, I need your help.  I've got a cross-country train trip coming up in a few days and I've spent the evening perusing my bookshelves and have managed to narrow down my selection to... eleven.  Help me get it down to three.  Please. Votes welcome (nay, required...) in comments below.  Thanks.

1. Hard-boiled Wonderland & the End of the World / Haruki Murakami

2. The Appointment / Herta Muller

3. Dark Places / Gillian Flynn

4. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time / Mark Haddon

5. The Outlander / Gil Adamson

6. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil / John Berendt

7. September 11: West Coast Writers Approach Ground Zero (including the indomitable Susie Bright)

8. Little Bee / Chris Cleave

9. Brief Histroy of the Dead / Kevin Brockmeier

10. Columbine / Dave Cullen

11. Room / Emma Donoghue

Monday, June 20, 2011

best. birthday. ever.

Every few years I get the mad hatter idea of throwing a party.  Usually it goes okay.  Sometimes it doesn't.*  And every once in awhile there's an evening that's just so much fun it leaves me smiling for days. Saturday night was one of those kinds of evenings: full of such good friends, such delicious food and drink, such an amazing and patient boyfriend, and at about 10 o'clock a glance at the door to see my brother, whom I had forgotten had a conference in DC last week, standing there in the doorway grinning, 6-pack in hand, saying, "I heard there was a party..."

This morning a patron came up to the reserves desk, took one look at me, and said, "Wow, it's not every Monday you see anyone smiling."  Well, it's not every Monday that's the eve of turning another year older and yet also the eve of a year that's already proving to be so great. (Also we are going on vacation in four days. That never hurts. And also, there will be dinner at Gennaro tonight and dinner at Company tomorrow, both meals with dear friends.  That never hurts, either. And so the smiling continues.)

*Once, there was almost fisticuffs. Seriously. A conservative Republican and a bullheaded Liberal, after hours of drinking, mere months after GWB's re-election. It was not a fun evening, to put it mildly.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

clarence clemons (not in my words)

My friend Ben and I both grew up listening to and loving Bruce Springsteen -- in all of his incarnations but most especially with the E Street Band. Ben drove my brother down to Philadelphia one fall to see Bruce and the band perform there. My brother and I drove our mother up to the Pepsi Arena in Albany once to see Bruce and the band perform there. My ex-boyfriend and I braved the beer guzzling frat-boy holy terrors that populate the stands at Giants Stadium -- twice -- to see Bruce and the band (once with a surprise appearance from Emmy Lou Harris: truly a special experience) perform there.

Ben has a way with words, especially when it comes to music, that sometimes moves me to tears. I've shared them here before, and once again today I found myself so grateful for his particular worldview:

As soon as I heard the news last night about Clarence Clemons, I turned on "Jungleland." I’m embarrassed to say that I listened to the song through my horrible sounding computer speakers. I held those little speakers in my hand. As Clarence’s sax solo began, probably his most famous, I carried the speakers into the living room so my family could hear it. Although I think they all ignored me, I continued to listen. That sax solo vibrated through those speakers, right into my hands, and through my body. I got goose bumps then, and I’m getting them again now just thinking about it. Out of the hundreds of concerts that I’ve been to in my life so far, I’ve seen Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band more than any other. There’s a reason why Clarence always got the biggest applause out of anyone on E Street–Even bigger then The Boss. That’s because, as Bruce would say, Clarence was "The Minister of Soul" and "The Secretary of the Brotherhood." There was something about The Big Man. He seemed approachable and likeable, but at the same time, so much cooler than I could ever be. Today is not a sad day. Instead, I’m trying to imagine how great your solos must sound in heaven, knowing that your body, which has been failing you for the last couple of years, is without pain. God’s pretty lucky. As of last night, he now gets to say the line, "And the Big Man joined the band."
(Ben Bloom, 6/19/11, 7:34am)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

other people's weddings

Someone, another stranger on the far side of the country, bought my chuppah yesterday.  I have to admit, I wasn't convinced anyone would.

This is becoming a thing, it seems. ('Tis the season, and all that.) I am becoming a wedding knitter. And I like it. I like it a lot. I like imagining my work being part of such an important piece of other people's lives.  I like it for people I know and love, and I like it for people I've never met or heard of.  I like it all.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

bridge, 6.14.11

(as brought to you by 
guest photographer 
Evan after returning the 
Phish-following rental 
car to New Jersey)

Monday, June 13, 2011

in the pink, or, staving off the buzz cut

I've been fighting off that old compulsion lately to shave my head. Again. The last time I succumbed to said compulsion was five years ago, June 2006, right before my thirtieth birthday. I started letting it grow out in March of 2009, so it was short for a long time (and adorable at Nathan's wedding, not that I'm biased or anything). Next week I will be thirty-five.

There are so many reasons to love the buzz cut!

The feel of wind caressing my scalp, when I am first readjusting to the quarter-inch look, is a feeling I love beyond most others.

Using bar soap instead of shampoo and conditioner makes for a damn quick shower, and also saves money!  I can go showerless for days when sporting the short 'do, an act of rebellion otherwise curtailed by overly oiled locks (and now that I'm dating my beloved hippie, who wants to take me to Rainbow Gatherings and sleepovers in the woods, this is definitely a bonus for an urban girl like me).

I can perhaps convince myself that a part of me is still that twenty-year-old girl who first chopped it all off back in 1997 (even though most of me is very glad not to be).

Self-inflicted haircuts means no hairdresser anxiety -- and believe me, this is no small thing!

So I've been flailing in the other direction instead, growing into a girlishness that for years I publicly despised but sometimes undeniably craved.  I've been sporting dresses every so often in lieu of black corduroys (though this began last summer when it got so damned hot).  I dragged Jill to get pedicures last week (talk about role reversal) -- and picked pink polish!  And finally, I recently bought a skirt -- a tropical gaudy confection in white and pink and green -- and I absolutely adore it.

Erica had to remind me the other day that unlike my all-blacks, I should remember not to wear this skirt on a daily basis -- people might notice.  This was when she came over to trim and dye my hair. Pink(ish).

But there is still a huge part of me that wants to run around in sandals and tropical print skirts with my toes sparkly pink and my hair buzzed close.  Is that really so very strange?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

yet more haunting...

Memory Tapes "Yes I Know" from Najork on Vimeo.
(Thanks, Karen, for sharing this)

glasses & ghosts

It's that time of year again, and I've been doing my end-of-semester clearing of the office desk.  Mostly this involves trying to remember the questions and problems resulting in that book pile accumulating dust on the corner of said desk these last few months.

One of the books in question is a ratty old 1963 edition of Seymour Lipset's Political man: the social bases of politics.

I was flipping through the pages of this particular book recently (gently, trying not to dislodge any more than absolutely necessary from its frail dessicated binding) when a card fell out.  One of those doctor appointment cards.  For one Mr. Charles Tilly, dated Monday, Dec. 10, 1951, 4:15pm.  (You can tell it's authentic by the way the 195 are printed while the 1 is handwritten, and also by the old school telephone number and the yellowing edges.)

Charles Tilly died a couple years ago here in New York City at the age of 78, which would have made him a mere 22 at the time of that long-ago doctor's appointment with one William P. Beetham who, it turns out, was a rather renowned Boston-area ophthalmologist.

I started taking a class on social movements and "contentious politics" with Charles Tilly, who was on the Columbia faculty for the last decade or so of his life. I dropped out of school a few weeks in to that particular semester, and though I never got around to taking another class with him after I came back to New York, I never forgot how engaging he was, how dynamic and funny and compelling.

I don't remember him wearing glasses, though.  And I've been wondering at the improbability of this card turning up sixty years after the doctor's appointment in question.  Sixty years on, and there it's been in this book on my desk for the last few months.  Did someone -- a colleague, a spouse, a child -- finally go through his office and return all his library books last winter?  Did he keep it intentionally or was it just one of those things, those tidbits, that linger, tucked away in an old coat pocket or wallet?

It seems almost like fate, or a last faint haunting echo, though I don't really know how.

Thursday, June 09, 2011


What I had when I was little* , salvaged from the amazing cast-offs on the streets up in Riverdale right before the big-garbage pickup days.

What I would have wanted instead.

*Sans furniture, missing one wing, and usually housing injured refugee Barbie dolls fleeing from the horrors of amputation by Maccabbee, our beloved canine, who had a soft spot for gnawing their little hands and feet.  Or the Nazis.  Or life on the Russian Steppes.  Because I was a historian's daughter, after all.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

in my aunt's & uncle's house

I am often amazed by my family.  We are a clan full to the brim with frighteningly clever and successful people:  lawyers and academics and doctors and physicists and presidential advisers and urban planners and marine scientists and environmental lobbyists.

But what I am thinking of right now are not these measures of success, but rather about my aunt's and uncle's house in Olympia, Washington. I am remembering how I scampered through it as a child, usually on the prowl for cats, only to get caught up in running my fingers over the stitches in my aunt's quilts, down the smooth and rough edges of my uncle's woodwork.

Their home was such a tactile place, full of things just begging to be experienced: the bathroom with its huge tiled bathtub (big enough for swimming, at least if you were small enough) and its attached greenhouse and its fish tank in the window; the waterbed irresistibly perfect for (gentle) roughhousing; the fruit leather drying in the oven after an early morning harvest in the back garden; the workshop full of found wood -- jagged and sharp and giving off that unmistakable tangy scent of cut trees.

I've been thinking about this tonight because a friend shared this link (thank you, Constance -- it's lovely, and yet so easy to get lost in) and it reminds me of my uncle's kaleidoscopes.  I have two of them, gifted to me for my high school and college graduations, and more recently a gorgeous bowl which now lives on my Dan Bookshelf and houses my bead collection.

I love that in the midst of career and family lives, so many of my relatives have a certain tendency to lose themselves in creating earthy beautiful things: quilts, wooden bowls and clocks and kaleidoscopes, soaps, sketches and watercolors, gardens overflowing with flowers and herbs and fruits and vegetables.

in which the llama-monster discovers the new air conditioner (and likes it)

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

feeling haunted

Every once in awhile there's a movie that haunts you in its simplicity, in its beauty, in its aching, stunning sadness. Sometimes it's the entire movie, sometimes it's just a scene, just a moment caught there forever in your head. For me, Tom Tykwer's Heaven was one of those kinds of movies. Jacob Estes' Mean Creek. Michael Polish's  Twin Falls Idaho. Kelly Reichardt's Old Joy.

I watched Last Night last night, while waiting for Evan to get home from a weekend road trip to Michigan and Ohio. It was supposed to be just another entry on my list of end-of-the-world / alien-invasion type movies that I've been watching in his absence, mostly ridiculous things like Carriers and Zombieland. I imagine it must have gotten on his nerves, coming home after being away for almost a week and finding me so distracted, in moments so far away.

That last scene, the circling, the oncoming light: it's proving difficult to get this one out of my head.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

someone else's wedding

Someone bought this shawl earlier today for her best friend's wedding.  The notion of one of my pieces being part of such an occasion -- especially for someone I've never even met or heard of -- just tickles me pink.  So to speak.

Friday, June 03, 2011

'these are my intentions...'

It's another Friday night and Evan's on the road following his beloved Phish, leaving me to my own devices. I got home a couple hours ago from a lovely dinner at New Leaf Cafe with friends Jessica & Andrew, who had decided this perfect near-summer day was a good time to take me out for my birthday.

That would be my 35th birthday, which is still almost three weeks away on the actual first day of summer.  Not that I'm counting or anything.

I put itunes on shuffle and after awhile Bruce Lee came up, and I was sitting Indian-style (can you still say Indian-style? Sherman Alexie would say yes, so I'm just going to stick with it) on the couch knitting away and smiling (this song unfailingly makes me smile) and getting into this wonderful Bruce Lee groove (aided, no doubt, by the mojito and the glass of wine at dinner) and was so momentarily devastated when the song came to its inevitable end that I had to go surfing for a bit more Underworld.

It's left me feeling horrifically old.

Of course there was Born Slippy, soundtrack to the mid '90s Trainspotting moment*, crooning to my twenty year old self so sadly its almost but not quite upbeat anthemic lyrics ('you had chemicals boy i've grown so close to you...').

Then there was Dirty Epic, listened to over and over (and over and over and over) while riding trains and walking through Prospect Park on crisp autumn afternoons and through Lincoln Center late at night hoping to run into a girl I'd been pining for, and who had not been pining for me (' freeze dried with a new religion and my teeth stuffed back in my head...').

And during that same time there was Push Downstairs, not to be mistaken for the more driven, more annoying Push Upstairs), so intrinsically connected to the aforementioned girl and all the embarrassing writing** that ensued ('her voice so intentionally smiling and a cloud's between us, these are my intentions...').

I think it's not a bad thing, this turning 35, this being a decade past all of that, this closing in on middle age.

*I remember going to see Trainspotting at Lincoln Plaza Cinema, that funny underground movie theater, with Charlie and Aaron and Maria.  We were all in love with one another , or someone else all together, or both.  We went back to Charlie's afterward and spent the night smoking pot, drinking tequila, and numbing our tongues on salt & vinegar potato chips and strawberry clove cigarettes, each of us longing after someone in the room and none of us doing a damned thing about it, at least not then.  Oh the trials and tribulations of college life.

**the japanese maples are aflame again--
it's that time of year, and a few weeks ago we
talked about garter snakes and that's about it.
i love you. i guess that's it too.
these are my intentions when we speak of faith--
not poisoned apples or mute forked tongues
staring down the fire.