New York City

26 07 2010

“These streets will make you feel brand new/ Big lights will inspire you…”

Alicia Keys

Every time I spend a weekend in NYC, I feel increasingly conflicted about that city.

It seems like everything I love about New York City is the same thing I hate about it.  There really is no place like it.  I love the way it feels so huge that it just envelops you, physically and psychologically.  The buildings tower over you, the energy in the city is constantly crackling, there are endless possibilities of things to do and people to meet.  You feel completely anonymous there, just a speck in a sea of drama and fast-paced activity.  It’s the center of everything– any movie or play you want to see is there, any shop or museum you want to go to, any kind of food you want to eat or classes you want to attend, it’s right there.

At the same time, I think this is exactly what would drive me nuts about living there.  It’s so huge and full of possibilities that being there for three days just tires me out.  How do you ever achieve a sense of satisfaction there when you’re a “grass is always greener” person like me who constantly weighs what you could be doing that’s better than what you’re already doing?

Most of my friends in D.C. live within a one-mile radius, and there’s only a handful of bars and restaurants that we really enjoy, so it makes decisions really easy.  If I’m with my two favorite people at one of my usual haunts, like Bar Pilar, I don’t spend the whole night thinking about all the other things that are going on in the city that I might be missing out on, because I know that there’s probably not that much.  In NYC, if I’m at a bar in the Village that’s not that cool, it makes me want to rip my hair out because I know that I’ve got college friends drinking on a boat out in Chelsea, work friends in town at a party on the Upper West Side, a close friend from home heading to a really interesting off-Broadway show, etc., and what am I doing wasting my time at a place like this when I could be doing any number of cooler things right now that would only require a short expensive cab ride?!  So many people to call, so many neighborhoods to cab to, and so little money in my wallet!  It’s mentally exhausting.

D.C. is a slow and easy city.  There’s not nearly as much going on, the buildings and houses are all short enough that you can see the rest of the city and trees around them, and there’s such a slew of boring political-types that decisions about who to surround yourself with are a no-brainer.  The cool people in D.C. find each other easily and gloop together.  I can live in a giant air-conditioned house in a residential neighborhood with tree-lined streets in D.C. for the same amount of money that would get me a sweaty apartment the size of a postage stamp in NYC, and let’s face it: I could NOT survive without central A/C.

Sometimes I crave the hustle-and-bustle and crackling energy of New York, and nothing fans that flame more than visiting some of my favorite people who live there and have carved out really interesting lives for themselves there.  But it’s always a little bit of a relief to come back to my relatively sleepy, intelligent, half-Southern little city where I can really relax for a minute and stop thinking about what I could or should be doing.


My Favorite Poem in the Summertime

22 07 2010

This week has been crazy busy, so I’m sorry for the lapse in posts.  As a consolation prize, I will leave you with something better: One of the most beautiful, sensual, intoxicating poems in history.  You have to read it out loud to get the full effect.  I just get lost in it, every time…

Ode to a Nightingale

by John Keats

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the brains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness,–
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs,
Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays;
But here there is no light,
Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves;
And mid-May’s eldest child,
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!
Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain–
To thy high requiem become a sod.

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
The same that oft-times hath
Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep
In the next valley-glades:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music:–Do I wake or sleep?

The Anxiety of Hosting

19 07 2010

This is not me.

Hosting a party is masochistic.  It’s like jumping out of a plane, crying and vomiting and peeing your pants the whole way down to the ground, and then brushing yourself off, saying, “OMG that was so fun!” and doing it again.

It only takes about a week to forget how much you hated hosting that last party, and then you’re ready to get up and do it again.  Hey roommates, you guys mind if I invite a couple people over on Thursday?  Just a laid-back barbeque type thing. Next thing you know, you’re at the grocery store buying a hundred bucks worth of beer and meat and chips and paper plates.  Then you’re at home, trying to frantically clean the house before people get there, and you look up at the clock and it’s 7:15.  You told people to be there at 7:30, so you have to choose between leaving the house a little messy to take a shower or hosting the party with day-old hair and smelly pits.   You obviously choose the shower.

By 7:45, you’re finally looking decent enough to greet people, but nobody has shown up yet except for that one weird dude you only invited because you were worried not enough people would come.  You laugh nervously and say, “No one ever shows up at the time you tell them to.  I’m sure they’ll be here soon. Can I get you a beer?”

An hour of excruciating small talk later, a couple people start trickling in, but none of them know each other so you go overboard trying to make up for the gaps in conversation.


And everyone’s like, uh, we came to your house because you used to be cool. But I think we should get going now.

You inevitably either run out of food or beer or realize that you bought $50 too much of it, and you can’t even enjoy yourself because you’re so busy making sure that there’s toilet paper in the bathroom, that your iPod doesn’t randomly start playing Boyz II Men, and that your roommate’s coworker who doesn’t know anyone at the party has someone to talk to at all times.

Your friends get to show up, have a burger and a couple beers and head out to bars when they get bored.  But you have to stick it out to the end because it’s your party.  “Oh, you guys are headed out?  Cool.  Maybe I’ll come meet you at that really cool bar down the street after every single person here has left and I’ve cleaned up after them.”

But by the time everyone leaves, your personality has been on overdrive for so long that you just want to flop down on your bed and stare at the ceiling for 12 hours, but you can’t because your deck is covered in beer bottles and condiments and remnants of your dignity.

You look wearily at your roommate and say, “That got out of hand,” and she agrees. You say, “Let’s let someone else have the barbeque next time,” and she agrees.  But both of you know deep down inside that the emotional memory of this hosting anxiety is going to wash away sooner than the bar stamp on your hand, and that sure as the Pope poops in the woods, you will be changing your wet pants and jumping off that plane again next week.

Long live the laid-back, BYOB summer barbeque!, You’ll think, as you hand your debit card over to the evil grocery store man.

BYOB my ass.

A Five-Year Reflection on D.C.

16 07 2010

Ever since I moved to D.C. exactly five years ago, straight out of college, I’ve been expecting to leave.  I told myself this city was just temporary, and that I was only coming here because I had other friends coming here and really didn’t know where else to go or what else to do.

Everyone loves to hate on this city– especially the people who grew up around here.  90% of my friends who live here are “planning” to move somewhere else at some point– usually either San Francisco or New York, with the occasional Philly or Chicago thrown in there.  For the first four years I lived here, I was one of those people.  You’re always hearing how much better every other city on the planet is than D.C.:  The people are nicer in Chicago, cooler in San Francisco.  There are much more outdoor activities to do in Colorado, and nobody is stressed out all the time like they are here.  New York is just much more fun– there’s more to do, more to see, bigger energy.  New Orleans has more flavor, Philly and Baltimore are grittier and more “blue-collar,” Phoenix is less humid, L.A. has more attractive people, San Diego is great for surfing, Montana is far more beautiful, Nashville has a better hippie music scene.  All D.C. has are a bunch of ugly, uptight political-types and a lame night-life.

With all of this buzzing in my ear for the past five years, it’s really a wonder that I’ve stuck it out.  But each year when my lease was up, there was something keeping here– either a job, or a boyfriend, or a grad program– so that over the course of my five years here, I was really forced to put down some roots.  I have a D.C. license, D.C. plates, I know all the Starbucks baristas and the people who work at my dry-cleaner by name. Almost all of my closest friends are either here or an easy drive away, either to New York or Charlottesville.  I spent a whole summer doing an internship in Chicago, and while I totally fell in love with that city, I missed D.C. so much by the end of the internship that I purposely missed a connecting flight from D.C. to Charlottesville one time so that I could have an extra 12 hours in D.C. and catch a ride down with a friend instead.

Now, when I think about moving somewhere “cool” like San Francisco or Chicago or London, like I once dreamed of doing, I think about all the people that would no longer be in walking or driving distance, and it’s just not worth it to me.  Obviously, I would eventually make new friends in all of those places, but it took me five years to make the friends in D.C. that I’ve made, and not only are they irreplaceable, but I really don’t feel like starting over from scratch.

It occurred to me recently that there are two kinds of people in the world:

1) The kind who love to move around every couple years and constantly travel, spending a year here, six months there, who really derive the majority of their energy from being in a new place and meeting new people and learning a new language and feeling disoriented for a while.  I have a lot of friends who are like this, and I respect them immensely for their ability to do that.  Sure, they miss their friends and family, but they are willing to only see their friends and family a couple times a year if it means that they get to keep moving.


2) The people like me, who derive the majority of their happiness less from the newness or coolness or beauty of their physical surroundings than from the feeling of being physically surrounded by a relatively large, supportive, high-quality network of family and friends.  I am not ok with seeing these people once or twice a year; I want to see them once or twice a month.  My wanderlust is satisfied by traveling abroad, or visiting people for a week here or a week there–I don’t need to actually move to these places.  I need to be able to have barbeques at my house and invite my favorite people over for trivial pursuit whenever I want, or take a bus up to NYC for the weekend when I haven’t seen one of them in a while, and it’s worth it to me to miss out on snow-shoeing and rafting in Colorado to be able to do that.  Once I am forced to move somewhere, my immediate instinct is to dig my feet in and wiggle my butt into the sand until it makes a clear impression and then stay there as long as humanly possible.

I’m not saying that I agree with anyone that D.C. is as lame as people make it out to be– it’s really not, especially in the last year or so.  And I’m not saying that my surroundings are totally irrelevant to my relative happiness, because they’re not.  Ever since I moved from Adams Morgan to Mount Pleasant, I have been a markedly happier person.  But again, that could be as much because of my awesome roommates as it is the neighborhood itself.

I can acknowledge that there are thousands of other amazing places in the world that I’m probably missing out on by continuing to live in D.C., but my main point is that I don’t care.  I love my people in this city and the surrounding areas, and that is enough to keep me here for a long, long time.

What do you guys think?  Are you more of a type 1 or a type 2?

The Problem of Cultural/Racial Guilt and Accountability

14 07 2010

This is a touchier topic than I normally tackle, so I will try to write about it without offending anyone.

A Jewish friend of mine  moved to Berlin a few years ago, met a German woman and had an adorable baby with her.  He is now officially a German architect and, while he acknowledges that he would like to move back to the U.S. at some point, he has put down roots in Germany, learned the language, and started a business and family there, so he probably won’t be leaving any time soon.

I had dinner with his mother a few weeks ago, and she expressed that it has been hard for her to come to terms with the fact that her son has chosen to build his life in Germany, considering what the Germans did to many of their ancestors.  How can he live there and not constantly be reminded of the Holocaust?

I expressed my thoughts on the subject to her, and I will express them again here.

I am not Jewish, and thus cannot claim to understand what it is like to have relatives that were killed or persecuted in the Holocaust. But I am not sure there are many places on Earth you can live where horrible, large-scale, unspeakable atrocities have not happened, including America.  How can a black man live in Mississippi and not think about slavery or the lynchings and abuse that occurred there at the hands of white plantation owners?  How can a Japanese person live in Pearl Harbor and not be reminded of the atomic bomb that killed his great-grandmother in Hiroshima?  How can a Native American person celebrate Thanksgiving, knowing that that holiday celebrates a time when the English settlers actually murdered many of the natives, spread diseases and stole their food?

I think it’s unfair to associate Germany and all the modern people living in it with the Holocaust, just like I don’t want to be associated with slavery and racism having grown up in Louisiana.  I fully believe that, given the right conglomeration of socioeconomic and political circumstances, what happened in Germany could have happened anywhere.  It could have happened here, or in France, or in Brazil.  But Hitler wasn’t in any of those places; he happened to be in Germany at a time when the country was politically unstable and susceptible to his charisma and bizarre ideas.  It was a perfect storm, and it was devastating and unthinkable, but it should not continue to implicate the people who are living on that random piece of land.

There also seems to be line of thinking (entirely aside from the interesting conversation I had with my friend’s mother, which did not go here) that those who currently belong to an ethno-geographic group that persecuted and oppressed another ethno-geographic group at some point in history should remain accountable for those atrocities in some way or another.  What do today’s white Americans owe to today’s black Americans to atone for centuries of persecution?  What do today’s Germans owe today’s Jews?  Should we carry the guilt or victimization of our ancestors, or should we all be able to start with a clean slate?

For one, I would like to draw a distinction between keeping alive the memory of an atrocity that happened and actually assigning blame to people who had nothing to do with it.  Johann Althausen, the perfectly nice 25-year-old German guy who loves pickles and hates tomatoes and was born in a random hospital in Munich 1984, had nothing to do with the fact that thousands of innocent people were murdered at Auschwitz decades before he was born, even if it was his great-grandfather that ordered those killings.  I believe that he should make an effort to learn about the Holocaust, to understand what happened in his country and why and how horrible it was.  I believe that he should take that knowledge and channel it toward ensuring that he and his future kids live lives entirely devoid of violence and racial and religious prejudice.  But I don’t think that he should spend his life having to apologize or somehow make up for the Holocaust, just because he happens to be German.

I feel the same way about the racial situation in the States.  Yes, we should absolutely acknowledge centuries of racial oppression and persecution and those consequences that still linger and we should continue to teach our children about it so that they can learn from those mistakes.  But should I carry the guilt of my ancestors’ actions just because I’m white, when I have spent my own life in an entirely opposite way?

No, obviously, I shouldn’t.  I will join the fight for equal rights.  If African-Americans are pissed because “nude” or “flesh” colored bandaids are universally the color of white people’s skin, well, shit.  I agree.  “Nude” should come in a range of shades, because people do.

But if you want me to be understanding when the “New Black Panther Party” intimidates voters in Philadelphia because, well, it’s only fair after years of persecution and denying your people suffrage, then no.  Those voters at the poll are not the same people that counted your ancestors as 3/5 of a person and fought to uphold slavery, and they do not deserve your wrath or revenge.  Further, your displays of racism and psychological abuse at the polls makes you no better than those people you’re so angry with, so how can you continue to convince yourself that you are fighting for a good moral cause?

The longer we continue to keep the strife and resentment and anger towards entire ethno-geographical groups alive because of events that happened long before we were born, the more likely it is that similar events will continue to repeat themselves.

No, I Don’t Want to Read Your Happiness Blog.

12 07 2010

Some of my dear friends came to visit me from Charlottesville this weekend, and we got into a conversation about blogging.

“Our friend has a blog,” said J.

“Oh yea? What’s it about?” said I.

“It’s just about her cute, happy life.  She bakes muffins in the morning and takes a picture and blogs about it.  She blogs about her garden. Etc.”

“EW, BLAAAGHHH#@(*%^@(#^%(,” I reacted, pretending to choke on my own tongue and vomit up the bite of pasta salad I had just taken.

J didn’t understand my reaction.  She thought the happiness radiating out of her friend’s blog was lovely and contagious.  But I would rather stick a burning hot needle in my eyeball than read a blog about somebody’s perfect life (especially after my brief, depressing foray into reading Pioneer Woman, which my cousin quickly cured me of).  If you’re going to blog about yourself, blog about how hilariously bad you are at cooking or driving, or that awkward first date you went on last week, or your daily struggles to control your pathological lying.  But for GOD’S SAKE… PLEASE don’t blog about that cute e-mail your boyfriend wrote you, or the thriving produce in your prolific garden, or the fact that you baked MUFFINS this morning for your husband and perfect, towheaded toddlers.  GROSS.

Why do I feel this way?  It’s not the whole “misery loves company” cliché, because, by and large, I am actually a very happy, un-miserable person.  And it’s not that your monologue about your well-earned weight loss is making me jealous, because I could do a masochistic pepper-and-lemonade body cleanse too if I wanted to drop a few pounds from my waistline.  There is just nothing funny or interesting or relatable about people who only talk about how great their lives are.

I’m not just talking about blogs, either.  I feel the same way about picking my friends.  My favorite kinds of people are the people who, when you haven’t talked to them in a while and ask how they are, instead of saying “I’m great! Just made some strawberry cupcakes for John’s birthday, and we’re about to go to Home Depot to look at paint colors for the nursery! How are you?”, they fill you in on interesting details, like: “I’m pretty good.  I didn’t get that raise I asked for, but my boss shamelessly hit on me last night at a company happy hour, so at least I’ll be severely uncomfortable at work for the next three weeks.”  Or, “I’m alright.  I’m heading to the Outer Banks this week with that barista from Starbucks I was telling you about.  Wait, did I tell you about him?  He may or may not be a serial rapist, but at least he has a steady job.”

Maybe it’s just me, but I find perfection to be incredibly dull and alienating. It’s people’s imperfections that make them endearing.   Does this make me a bitter asshole, or do you guys agree?

The Family Vacation

8 07 2010

I just returned from our annual 4th of July family vacation in Florida (the Redneck Riviera!) on Tuesday, and let me tell you: Nothing gives you a clear picture of your own mortality quite like a family vacation.

It’s amazing.  You’re sitting there with a group of people who kind of look like you, but they’re all at different stages of their lives– stages you either have already experienced or will experience shortly.  My little 17-year-old brother is still in that phase where he’s trying to figure himself out.  He listens to music at absurdly loud volumes in his car, sleeps past noon, and boasts about being able to get past the firewalls set up by his school and access Facebook in class.

I remember those days.  We would drink Strawberry Boones Farm before school dances because we hated the taste of beer, but still wanted to be cool.  I would blast Juvenile in the car on the way to school in the morning, and make faces and sarcastic comments behind my teacher’s back in class to cover up for the fact that I was probably getting an A.  We were always trying to strike that balance between being cool, which, in high school, equals being bad, and performing at least well enough to get us into a decent college.

But being around my brother just makes me feel old.  I have to ask him to please turn down the booming Lil’ Wayne music in his car, because shit, it’s 9 am, and my ears are not ready for loud music at 9 am.  Every time I walk past him in the kitchen, he wants to fight or ninja wrestle or otherwise block my way to the toaster, and instead of fighting him back like I used to, I just whine and ask him to please not be so violent because I really don’t feel like going to work with a big bruise on my leg.  Then I say to my Mom, “Mom, have you been letting him play too many violent video games?  I’m not gonna let my kid play violent video games.  Look what it does to their psyches.”

My middle brother, 24, is like a mini-me version of my Dad.  He looks exactly like him, has the same sense of humor and facial expressions, and wears the same button-down fishing shirts with weird flaps everywhere.  He goes to the same law school my Dad went to, is ridiculously picky about food like my Dad always was, and is a similar sports fanatic.  When I look at him, it’s like I’ve traveled back in time to hang out with my Dad in his 20s, and then I look at my Dad and it’s like looking at a fast-forward version of my brother in 30 years.  It’s like I stepped onto the set of that Benjamin Button movie.  And THAT freaks me out.

But the weirdest to be around is my Mom, because she is the fast-forwarded version of me.  We go out on the beach, and I lie out in the sun with no sunscreen because I really want to go back to D.C. with a great tan.  My Mom sits in the shade and warns, “Don’t sit in the sun.  Your face is going to get wrinkled like mine. Do you see my face?  This is from years of doing what you’re doing right now.  I wish I could go back to your age and put on sunscreen and sit in the shade.”

Then I defiantly lie out in the sun for like, one more minute, before submitting to her warning and throwing a towel on my burning legs and scooting back under the umbrella.  “God dammit,” I tell her, “You are going to ruin my bronze glow with your sinister warnings.”  But honestly, when the fast-fowarded version of you tells you she wishes she could go back to the age you are now and do something differently, how can you not do it?  You have to do it.  It’s the closest to time travel you can ever get.

I love family vacations, because it’s good to see your parents enjoying them so much and to know that, even 30 years from now, if all goes well, you are still going to be going to that beach house on the 4th of July and enjoying it with whoever your family is at that point.  And you will look at your 27 year old kid and think, Man. Being 27 was fun, but I’m really happy to be out of that phase.