Monday, December 27, 2004

a good person inside

i just finished reading the excellent empire falls, a novel about small-town maine with a picture of a diner on the cover and also indication that it won the pulitzer prize. too many people i know would sniff at the book for that reason alone because they scorn conventional markers, suspect that they're suspect, right off the bat. no matter how bourgeois it seems, i'm the opposite: i like approval, i like prizes. in my heart of hearts, i agree with my friend yoni, who once said with a shrug and remarkable air of certainty for a high schooler, "cream rises to the top." he now takes pictures for the new york times.

although i've only ever won one prize, it briefly redirected where i thought my life should go. (my life course-corrected itself, like a car driven by satellite.) several times among the many when i've been an also-ran, not winning also made me reconsider my goals. as you may infer, i take these things seriously. so, if a book has a pretty gold seal on it, i'm more likely to pick it up, and over the course of my reading lifetime, i've been rewarded for this impulse every time except once.

empire falls was not only excellent, it was one of the more excellent books i've read this year. i may as well list my other favorites:
jonathan strange and mr. norrell
vanity fair
life of pi
bel canto
the patron saint of liars
although i've read an awful lot this year, my memory is hazy as to what else. i remember enjoying the most recent lemony snicket; i found the da vinci code and native speaker gripping, like everyone else. i made it most of the way through wuthering heights before abandoning it to finish the compleat works of jane austen. i mulled over the memoirs the distant land of my father and carrie fisher's latest life in pink. there was something by fitzgerald too ... what was that early one of his? and lots more i've already forgotten.

i feel like i should be assessing this past year in some more meaningful way than just by making lists. but too much happened. it's a comfort that this time last year i was scared shitless of this time this year -- yet here i am, alive, healthy, fine. not too different except that for the first time, i have a net worth. i know i have and i know what it is: someone showed me a piece of paper at work related to my brand-new company issued life insurance policy. the guy who showed it to me seemed faintly embarassed it was so small, and i could tell that moment was supposed to be when i turned into scarlet o'hara and shook my fist at the sky, announcing i'd never be hungry again. actually i didn't care that my life is valued so modestly and i didn't make a vow to increase its value at an exponential yearly rate. the number ran to five whole digits; what more can i ask for?

Friday, December 24, 2004

luxury also means free food

for the first time ever, i'm about to spend christmas eve with people who don't think of it as a chance to eat too much and not work the next day (at best) or Someone Else's silly over-hyped holiday (at worst). not christians, exactly; i haven't gone that far astray from my goy-less childhood. but one side of ben's family enjoys the rituals of christmas, and a couple of catholics do play prominent roles. thus there will be stockings, there will be a tree, there will be significance to the night of the 24st.

will it be weird?, i asked ben. it'll be weird, won't it?
he promises no. but i'm -- aren't i always -- skeptical.

so far this vacation has gone nicely. yesterday ben n i, our houseguest, and a college friend we met up with, went ambling through central park in the rain. i tried to walk myself into a zenlike state wherein the rain couldn't touch me. after a couple hours, i gave up and took an excedrin. my pant legs had soaked through by that point and my hands, which an assertive israeli salesperson had slathered with dead sea lotion, rendering them soft, scented, and too slick to properly hold my umbrella, were brick red. but my companions showed no sign of slowing down. i had to take drastic action.

noting a prettily situated lookout point, i convinced the fellows to pause for a minute and watch the ducks. ducks! cried ben. i love ducks. arguing ensued over whether male and female ducks bear different coloring, or whether different coloring denotes different species. once they'd been sufficiently lulled, i suggested that perhaps warmer and more solid shelter, the kind with soothing drinks, might be in order. with the help of the suddenly howling wind, i led my band out of the turgid park and into starbucks. with a tall pumpkin spice latte in my still soft and scented hand (huh, not bad lotion), i felt like moses, having successfully led his people to the promised land. if it were not for me, my people would still be walking through central park, turned perhaps into ghosts by the onslaught of the cold-wind-rain and the night, doomed to walk for eternity chipperly discussing irony and bliss, and whether anyone is actually a philosopher nowadays.

less exciting but more nourishing, i've slept late, watched movies, written my first poem in a while, shopped at Whole Foods, eaten well, and eaten well some more. this is what i chose when i turned down invitations to dc and to maine and i have no regrets.

Monday, December 20, 2004

luxury means not having to go to work

while ben finishes up his last semester of law skool and the weather blusters outside, i'm luxuriating in old episodes of sex and the city. season 1 is adorable. it happened so long ago! carrie can still manage to go it bra-less, miranda still wears severe shirts and ties, and every once in a while there's a shot of the twin towers that knocks your wind out.

then there are the funnier aspects of looking back. the episode, for example, where miranda's law firm thinks she's a lesbian and because it's the only way to get into her boss's dinner party she considers trying it, only to eventually decide, "nope, definitely straight." except she's not! well, cynthia nixon isn't, anyway, and who can tell the difference?

there's no food in the house except stale wasabi peas and honey bunches of oats. i've been dining out on a starbucks gift card i got for christmas. i was supposed to go home to dc today and at the last moment i decided to stay and enjoy all this for a while. a week without work, without ben working, a week to run around the city and hang out at coffeeshops (courtesy of the giftcard) and see if i can start writing again. this year has been wretched in several ways ... i'd love to make sure it ends on an up-note and also that i remember there's also been a lot that's beautiful and much i have to be grateful for.

Saturday, December 18, 2004


holy shit. i finally saw dogville. this is a movie i've been excited to see for the better part of a year, yet just any time isn't the right time to watch a three-hour long anti-epic about what human beings are capable of. i've talked about it, since i posess an inate ability to cheerily discuss movies i haven't seen, notably during my columbia interview. when the gruff, hairy-knuckled interviewer who was terminally unimpressed with me, who conveyed through tone his utter disdain for everything and everyone i loved, asked me what movie i was looking forward to, and i said dogville, even he, this hardbitten, bored, bitter man who was treating the interview like a police interrogation, even he managed to grunt his begrudging agreement with me on the point of dogville. because the movie is that fucking good.

til now, i've taken the movie's goodness on faith. at last! faith, your services are no longer required. in place of faith i have cold, hard experience, three hours of sitting curled-up and wide-eyed on the sofa, whimpering occasionally, certainly enthralled. it reminded me a lot of kill bill v. 1 and 2. in the same way, it reaches inside and twists your organs around; you have to remind yourself it's just a movie, just a melodrama. you have to consider walking away and decide to stick it out. in the same way, it's worth it. the conclusion is astoundingly satisfying, considering its content (which i won't give away).

although people have called the movie christian and grace, the abused main female character, christlike, i thought of it more like a greek myth. still, both versions work. if you go in with an open mind, in fact, i believe you can get any of a thousand interpretations out of it. maybe that's why lars van trier designed his eerie fill-in-the-blanks set. yet despite the finite, limited set's resemblance to a black-box theater, and its prominence in the story -- it's essentially a character itself --, the movie is shot very much like a movie and nothing like a taped play. the narration and division of the story into chapters creates another layer over those two, one in which you do have to use your imagination.

the themes stick with you, too: transparency, opacity; blue america's open criminality, red america's criminal hypocricy; the guilt of frightened thinkers. arguing about whether it's anti-american is a bit like arguing whether the passion is anti-semitic. no one's wrong in an argument like that; you feel what you feel while watching. but don't let the idea stop you from watching. it's too much of an experience to miss.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

the best part of the holiday: presents

christmas is getting more and more grating, what with right-wing nutjobs accusing me of wanting to ruin their holy, holy night. (i love that bill o'reilly claims that this is a holiday celebrating "the philosopher jesus". the philosopher? that's the version of jesus we're celebrating? the one who's an intellectual, an academic, a radical? might wanna rethink that one, bill.) but it is nice to get little reminders from my actors that they care about me.

also from the agents. three agents took three assistants and lil ol me to a japanese dive for lots of meat on a stick, sake and beer. i nibbled on garnish, mostly -- mmm cabbage -- and drank too much and nearly fell off my stool laughing at stories about famous people acting crazy. when i got home, everything was still hilarious, until i made the mistake of thinking about the future again and i stayed up til 2, shivering in bed.

i learned some lessons about business this week. ideally i would like to able to assimilate knowledge, even rude surprises, without becoming a harder or more cynical person. maybe in 05.

at least i made it! three months completed; i've earned my break. no more work until 05, until i've spent some time unraveling and reraveling and watching movies and cozying up with people i love and taking rambling walks. also not until the yummy-looking fleece-lined boots i bought from canada arrive. they're my xmas present to myself.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004


i'm actively angry right now, for reasons i can't go into in such a public forum. i can, however, tell a story.

once upon a time, about ten years ago, when i was a little jewish middle-skooler at my little jewish skool, i had an issue i thought i should bring up at student council. not that i was ever naive enough to believe in the efficacy of even local governments. i mean, please. i grew up in washington. our mayor was arrested for getting caught smoking the crack rock in a hotel room with a woman who was not his wife.

marion barry aside, i had little faith in anything, let alone student government. still, i figured i'd give this a shot. i had an idea worth sharing: that students should write class/teacher evaluations at the end of the year. i had a friend willing to pitch the idea with me. i had the squeakings of confidence, good posture, and good improv skills. what, i wondered, was the worst that could happen?

oh my friends. oh, my friends. the worst was waiting right around the corner.

i made my pitch. the various student council members scattered in desks around the room, trying to appear worthy of the grave responsibility of power, nodded at me. the four older kids singled out to be Treasurer, Secretary, Vice President and President who sat in the front of the room in a row nodded too. but before any of the democratically-elected representatives could speak, a voice cut through the room, a voice with the bass and timbre of a locomotive barrelling through the 9th circle of hell; and a figure burst over me, huge with flames. i cast my forearm over my eyes and fell moaning to the ground as the voice rumbled over me, "HOW DARE YOU..."

i fell unconscious. when i awoke, i found myself outside the wretched room. worried student council reps fanned me and offered lemonade. it took me a while to recover -- for one thing, my hair was tinged with char for weeks -- and neither the Treasurer, Secretary, Vice President nor President of student council could look at me without fury boiling up in their eyes because of what i had unleashed.

in the end, all i had unleashed was a little drama. i got a slap-down in front of a classroom of my peers for making my suggestion. some people defended me; a couple kept their dislike on simmer, and i'm not kidding, for the rest of our tenure at that little jewish skool. a couple years later, the suggestion was implemented anyway and had nothing to do with me. but my key take-away from the experience was, never underestimate the force of a petty tyrant. i will never forget the feeling of having what seemed like a simple, logical idea, trying to present it, and, in response, coming face to face with a middle-skool history teacher cum demon.

that's something i need to know that i didn't learn in kindergarten.

Monday, December 13, 2004


superwoman feels dizzy. needs wheat thins. bizarre breakfast of banana and hardboiled egg, followed by lunch of vegetable udon and diet coke, have left her head spinning. perhaps in conjunction with her crazy weekend o' travelling: to the past and back again in only 2 days. take that, jules verne.

visiting swarthmore included many more ups than downs. i got to see the sparkling New Dorm as well as the freakishly gutted, under-construction dorm where i lived last year. i got to eat at the dining hall, hunched down in a booth hoping not to be spotted, and i got to gorge myself on brunch at Java Joe's. most important, i got to see my swatfriends in their swathabitat. naturally that means i witnessed several naturally occurring acts of dorkiness: one (1) game of taboo, one (1) game of speed scrabble, conversations about *snort* literature.

people said "privilege." i was HOME.

people also seemed to be shadowed by something. not just older, but sad. to the degree that it was almost good to leave again. almost. except that i had a lovely time with my various hosts of the moment, who happily provided alcohol, gossip & cheese. they go so well together. also offered: smoothie, pancake, birthday cake. oh, and by the power of two of them combined, they managed to sew a wayward button back onto my jacket. yay!

Friday, December 10, 2004

buy buy baby, buy buy

ALL i'm trying to do is get in my thursday evening's worth of trashy television. why does everyone have to bombard me with "gift ideas"? marshalls, sears, old navy -- STOP IT. i couldn't care less how low your sweaters are priced, or who you have sarah jessica parker nuzzling. you're a pack of wild dogs, as far as i'm concerned, and i'm this close to having you shot.

what's that you say? grinch? scrooge? tell it to scarborough county or bill oh-"i'm the only defender of christmas"-really. christmas is not going to keel over just cuz of a withering glance or two from me.

witness this illuminating exchange:
ME: hey, honey, are we giving each other hanukkah presents?
HIM: nope.
ME: okay, good. didn't think so.
HIM: hanukkah's never been a big deal to me.
ME: so you just give your family hanukkah presents cuz you have to?
HIM: no! i give my family CHRISTMAS presents. christmas is entirely different.

merry ... whatever. at least we get off work.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

set! no, wait! ... set!

one of my least-favorite games became, over the summer, when i played it compulsively with the other cty RAs, one of my favorites. (witness, in guendlesburger's cty picture gallery. also witness: me, as a zombie, trying to eat my friend tamar's head.) lacking a deck, i hadn't played since, until the always obliging yami supplied a link to a daily game. i've been playing a game a day since, in the hopes that it will help counteract the effects of the television vacuum.

one of my favoritist actors is coming in today to read. ohmigod. she's, like, fo shizzle, of my favoritist. apparently she's extremely high-maintainance too. squeal! i probably won't be able to say a word to her. i will bow my head and whisper how i am not worthy as she sweeps by me into the booth. i am, can you tell?, super psyched.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

holy night, batman!

it's hanukkah! what? how did that sneak up on me? i don't have a candle to show for myself, let alone anything to put it in or light it with. christ, i'm a bad jew. how did i get to be such a bad jew? christ.

i think i'm heading to swarthmore this weekend. this time for real. maybe someone there will feed me latkes & try to soothe my wounded spirit. after all, i lost my month-long subway card; i left my fly open for two hours yesterday before noticing; i can barely get my contacts in in the morning. i'm a wreck. it took one of my actors having a meltdown in front of me to make me feel better. (i have his wild screaming on tape and i intend to play it back for myself over and over again as needed.)

the company christmas party was last night. i was all excited for my first! ever! -- i was envisioning scenes from the apartment, where company employees do the can-can on tables, everyone's groping everyone and drinking tons of punch. well, there was no punch to be had. the entire thing, in fact, seemed much more like a bar mitzvah. i was bitterly disappointed. luckily, the open bar helped me get over it.

happy hanukkah, to those of you who remember it.

Friday, December 03, 2004

plans for the weekend? why in fact i have!

a friend is coming to town and sleeping on our couch, making her one of the distinguished handful who have had that honor. i know the number is still under 10 because once we hit 10, we're totally going to wash that sheet we keeping making the couch with. we promise!

meanwhile, roomie dina has finally finished her papers (yay!) and boyfriend ben has finished his first semester classes (wow!). things look good for the inhabitants of 92 2nd avenue. plus we haven't seen a cockroach in the kitchen for DAYS. i'm proud of all of us (especially the cockroaches. great self-restraint guys.) -- once finals are over, the two of them will have made it through the rocky entrance to grad skool. how rocky is it, you wonder, you who have never attempted? so rocky that i didn't make it past the first classs. a round of applause for my housemates.

me, i've made it through my first 3 months on the job. not entirely insignificant, although, to be fair, a position where even on busy days i can still read through both newspapers that matter, salon, slate, the gawker empire, and manage to get in a crossword puzzle, isn't exactly deployment to iraq.

one of the newspapers that matters has a fascinating article today on modern women's happiness. it has some frank, surprising insights into the more and less generally stressful parts of women's days, including the tidbit that most women rated "taking care of children" as less unpleasurable than "housework," but not much less. ouch. so much for the mommy myth; hello desperate housewives.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004


one of my actors gave me a scented candle today because i'm such a great ... whatever i am. aww. i'm definitely looking forward to the landslide of gifts that christmastime portends. the christmas decorations themselves still startle me. i know it sounds crazy but i've never gotten used to them.

you know what i could get used to? HEALTH INSURANCE. kicks in today, baby. how do you like them apples (of which i no longer have to eat one a day, badumCHING!)? i survived the 3 months of stepping gingerly and throwing nyquil at every malady. this was my first manufactured endpoint, december 1, When My Health Insurance Kicks In. since i don't have semesters anymore, this sort of thing will have to serve.

i chose my general practitioner by the objective awesomeness of her name. ready? DEMOCLEIA. everyone should have to choose a super-cool doctor name when they graduate med skool. like when you get confirmed. if med skool grads lack creativity, the professors could always bring in celebs to do the dirty work. (phinneaus, brooklyn, apple ...)

my brother's in town, interviewing for a job, which means i got a free drink followed by a free dinner last night, and he got a free place to sleep on the couch with minimal interruptions by our minimally-maladjusted cat. not. bad.