Tuesday, January 27, 2009

think different

I'm going to write a book about counter-intuitive things to do when you're unemployed. Like, join a gym! Mr. Ben and I took this opportunity to join the Brooklyn YMCA because of the pool and the classes and because he told me he'd withhold physical intimacy unless I do something to reduce my stress levels, which are registering at somewhere between Chernobyl and Three-Mile Island and the exposure to which are threatening to turn him into a three-headed dog.

Start an IRA!
I did that the last time I was booted from a job. It has since lost more than half of its value, thanks to the current economy. Still, it makes you feel grown up and responsible to have an IRA, especially a droopy one, since you can join in the chorus of grumbling by real adults about the stock market. Camaraderie is important during these dark times, and to stave off a feeling of isolation while you're spending most of your days at home wrapped in a blanket talking to your dead orchid about the book deal you're totally going to get any day now.

Apply for a mortgage! Maintaining your equilibrium is key, as is a feeling of forward motion. (We are all sharks: we move or we die.) Talking to banks about rates and assets helps you feel more in control, as well as active and connected to the outside world. If you actually get pre-approved and can put in an offer on that fantastic Cobble Hill apartment across the street from your new gym, all the better.

Advertise your capabilities on Craigslist! Just because you've been laid off doesn't mean you don't have skills. You deserve to be paid to help other people do things you yourself have often failed to do, like find a great job and keep it.

Get a fancy haircut. Gotta keep up appearances! This works well when a guy you know offers a two-for-one deal at his hoity-toity studio and you and a friend can each get away with paying only $34 each to look so fabulous no one will notice you're still vaguely green and pulsing from the radioactive stress.

Post pictures of you and your friends looking happy. This will remind you that you have friends and also that you have, at moments, been happy:

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Go Inaug Yourself

While I tried to jet down to DC, my queer Brooklyn posse, which was already in the city, scoured websites and schedules and even called the Secret Service in order to plot our strategy. Around 11:00 pm, they informed me of the plan and though I yelped in protest, I gave in. So it was that after three hours sleep, I got up and got ready to leave at the house at 4 AM and met them inside the appointed Metro station. Even at that hour, Tenleytown/AU was thronged by hopped-up youngsters, many of them looking like they hadn't bothered going to bed at all. The first train that came by was too crowded to board -- and that was the first warning signal of what this crazy, historic, overfull day would be like.

The second signal came at the final station, where enough people to fill a football stadium stood paralyzed by the Metro's insistence on swiping cards again to exit. The roar of the standstill grew until some frightened Metro employee finally made an executive decision and threw open the turnstiles so that the impassioned hordes could pour through. This was 5 AM.

We made it to the southern part of the mall where the ticketless were allowed to congregate, and after doing a lap to consider vantage points we committed to a location. Only then did we realize several key things:
  1. It was fucking freezing.
  2. We had almost a whole workday's length of time to kill
  3. No one had thought to bring a blanket
We took turns sitting on the one stool we had with us and taking walks in vain attempts to keep our feet from petrifying. On one of my walks, I sought refuge in a port-a-potty, hoping it would be a little warmer. Finally, with the memory of the Time-Traveler's Wife vividly in mind, I decided drastic action must be taken, and I begged temporary shelter from a CNN man with his own trailer.

Kind, gentle man, he let Reb W. and me both into his lair which smelled like hot chocolate and which informed us, via several screens, that it was ten degrees outside. "Stay here," he said, leaving us alone to watch one TV count down the hours til the proceedings (4:40 to go ...) until he returning bearing hand and foot warmers. We blessed him and thanked him as we bowed our way out the door. For the first time in 2009, my boldness had won Reb W.'s respect.

Back with the posse, we danced to keep warm, played games for distraction, took pictures of the ever-expanding mass of people behind us, and watched the sun rise over the capitol. Never have I been so grateful to see that busy old fool, unruly sun, which almost immediately began to help us thaw. It wasn't doing the job fast enough so my friends ended up sacrificing belly warmth to tuck each other's bare feet under their shirts.

A few yards away from our camp I spotted John Oliver reporting live from the field for the Daily Show and snapped a few pictures. I have a huge TV crush on John Oliver but in person he looked depressingly normal, so I decided not to throw myself at him, even though I'll bet he too had a warm trailer that smelled like hot chocolate and could have given my feet a hot oil massage to bring them back to life.

After what felt like the entirety of Bush's presidency had flashed before our eyes again, the festivities began. The objectionable Rick Warren made a largely unobjectionable speech, forgoing any mention of hot topics like the gays. I had to laugh when he recited the "sh'ma" in English and said Jesus's name in Hebrew. I guess that's multiculturalism for you?

We cheered for everyone related to the Obamas and glared at folks who rudely booed Bush and his henchman Cheney, looking more diabolical than ever in a wheelchair. The lady behind me put it best as she chided the crowd: "People! What would Obama do?"

We shrieked when John Roberts fucked up the oath, laughed every time the booming announcer voice said "You may now be seated," and swayed in disbelief when the smart, calm, resolute, handsome, strong, thoughtful man I have every faith in came forward at last to assure us, over eighteen and a half minutes, that our years of wandering through the desert were over. The text was thrilling enough but the subtext was even better: It's all going to be okay. This is for real now. It's all going to be okay.

And then Bishop Lowry, possibly hopped up himself, had us all shouting Amen! to his fervent prayer for a time when "black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around ... when yellow will be mellow ... when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right." That's my kind of God talk.

Later, after the festivities finally ended around 12:30, we realized the city had left the millions of us on the mall no way to get home. The parade route had blocked off half of downtown, and the subway entrances were so swamped they looked like temples directly before stampedes. We holed up on the third floor of the Hirschorn, leaning on each other for strength, as we tried to wait out the masses. But, as it turned out, that was a bit like trying to wait for a bathtub full of molasses to drain through a narrow hole.

Despite the fact that we'd been up (and literally up on our feet) since the wee hours, battling soreness, sleepiness, and the beginnings of hypothermia, we decided our only option was to walk, and walk we did, around the police checkpoints and blocked off streets, through winter-savaged gardens and on curbs, over four miles, and some of it at the pace of molasses draining from the bathtub because we got caught up with the masses and could only walk as fast as the cops and traffic would let us. By the time I made it to Dupont Circle where my parents were, I decided I would never venture outside again.

But it was absolutely worth it.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Wistful Whining

My life is beginning to feel like something out of the Series of Unfortunate Events. After a month and a half of paralyzing anxiety, I finally find the right chemical assistance only to have to face:
  • the loss of my job;
  • the paltry amount I will receive in Unemployment Compensation;
  • the impending loss of my apartment (the new owners of the building want to live where we do, no doubt to feast on the tomatoes we so lovingly planted and cultivated in the backyard);
  • a small tumor in my father's pancreas;
  • and all in the most unforgiving winter weather in memory.
I've been reacting in the most logical possible way: either by steadfastly avoiding reality by rewatching action/adventure movies and musicals, or by throwing myself into the job and apartment hunt with the vigor of a young Sabra.

The upshot of these various, often contradictory efforts is that I have a few leads, one semi-solid freelance blogging gig, one future client for my new business as a paid know-it-all, a new membership to the Brooklyn YMCA, and a mortgage application in my future, because what should one do when laid off in a shitty economy except buy an apartment?

This week will be a break from everything. I head down to DC to see Hopey get inaugurated and to hold my father's hand, and I won't be back until Friday, at which point my oldfriend Rebecca is taking me out for an Evening of Fun. This is a tradition for us: when she last had a series of unfortunate events plaguing her, I planned a Day of Fun for the two of us that culminated at Build a Bear where I birthed a koala named Krackden. The best part came at the register where the chipper lady ringing me up had me say the name out loud. With the courage of my convictions and ignoring the resulting look of disgust, I said, "Krackden." He has been a comfort to me ever since.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

And so on

"How are you?" asked Dr. Russian yesterday.

"Well, I was let go from work, I'm probably losing my apartment, and I have a cold. Other than that, I'm okay. How are you?"

The best thing about doctors is that you don't have to make small talk. The best thing about Dr. Russian specifically is that, as a recent immigrant, he has a limited amount of what you might call cultural capital. I have had to define the following for him:

- catholic (as in catholic taste)
- short bus
- NyQuil

He tried to bond with me with about movies, which was a lost cause. Finally I threw out a name he recognized: Ingmar Bergman. "Oh but he is depressing," said Dr. Russian. "I tried to watch -- what is that one? With the Death? The Seventh Seal. Afterward I was almost nauseous."

Oh! Well, what sort of movies does he like?

He considered for a moment and then said, "David Lynch."

Even apart from mandatory check ins with health professionals, I've been keeping myself busy. I attended a great, free introductory class at the Gotham Writers Workshop, followed by dinner with a friend; I went to the second meeting of my book group last night to discuss Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Short answer: Yes, with an if. Long answer: No, with a but.)

I have Man on Wire from Netflix, two action-adventure movies from the library and My Fair Lady. I'm rereading Prisoners of Azkaban. And I'm trying to limit the number of times I refresh the same job pages. Overall my strategy is to be less frenzied, less angry (if possible), and to treat this break as a sort of vacation. A working vacation, to be sure, but still. Thus my compromise is I get out of bed at 8:30, but I stay in pajamas as long as I like.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Day 1 of Unemployment: Part 2

12:30: Friend calls, asks if it'd be okay to drop by. Pause Harry Potter to put on a bra. Remain in pajamas.

1:30 - 3:00: General misery & ill fortune.

3:05: Decide to go to the Coop. Get dressed.

3:10: Doorbell rings! It's the landlord dropping by to tell us that the people who bought our building may indeed want to take our apartment when our lease runs out at the end of March. We could take the 3rd floor apartment, though! Luckily it's astronomically expensive, or I'd have to feel like maybe my luck is turning.

3:30: At the Coop playing bumper carts with the thousands of other shoppers. Who are all these people at liberty on a Monday afternoon?

3:35: Rebecca!

4:30: Rebecca and I walk back to my apartment with our groceries. I rant about my general misery and ill fortune and their potential alleviations, leading to the following exchange:

ME: Wouldn't it be great if I never had to go back to work because I had to go on book tour? Be on the "Today" show? Of course, I wouldn't actually want to go on the "Today" show. They'd probably make me lose weight.

REBECCA: No, I think everyone's more tolerant of writers being weird looking.

ME: Are you calling me WEIRD LOOKING?

REBECCA: What? No! No! You're beautiful! You're the one who said you'd need to lose weight!

ME: And you're the one who called me WEIRD LOOKING!

I can only hope that at some point this day will end.

Unemployment Log: Day 1, Morning

8:30: Wake up after a solid five hours sleep. No point lollygagging about -- must get going! If 2009 is to be a Year of Wow despite this recent setback, there's work to be done.

8:45: Breakfast. Read more condolence emails. Scoped out red carpet dresses from the Golden Globes, which I more or less forgot to watch last night. Kate Winslet looks fantastic double-fisting golden statues.

9:00: Job search begins.

9:10: God this is depressing.

9:15: Why am I even bothering? There's nothing here and anyway I have no idea what I want to do.

9:30: Try to apply for unemployment. Log in rejected because the site insists I don't know my mother's maiden name. This reminds when of when my father said "Bastard" once when I was a kid, and I asked him what it meant. An honest man, he replied, "Someone who doesn't know who their father is." For a while thereafter I assumed a bastard must be someone very, very dumb.

9:35: Craigslist should come with a warning that says "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." Mediabistro, Bookjobs, Monster are no better. Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, guess I'll go eat worms.

10:00: Abandon pathetic efforts in favor of watching the first Harry Potter movie. Will try being responsible again after lunch.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Performance review

I've said it before and I'll say it again, especially when her brilliance is too pronounced to ignore:
Georgia: Dear Carolyn, I am 21 and in my first committed relationship. My girlfriend and I have been together for about eight months and have agreed to be exclusive and to do everything we can to keep this relationship healthy and working. However, I am finding that I don't really like her that much. I love her, but I don't really enjoy being around her. Because I've never been serious with anyone before, I'm confused about my responsibilities here. Can I break up with her just because I don't like her? And if I can just break it off on the basis of the fact that she annoys me a lot, then what does it mean to be "committed" to someone anyway?

Carolyn Hax: You can break up with her because you don't like the way she looks in purple. Any reason you don't like someone is a good enough reason to break up, because people don't want to be with someone who doesn't want to be with them.

It hurts to be dumped, people never forget when it happens, they feel unwanted and angry and misunderstood and a bunch of other things nobody wants to feel, but every single one of these nasty side effects is better than being with someone who doesn't even like you. The chance to be with someone who truly, deeply appreciates them is a chance none of us has any right to deny other people.

Every day you stay with your girlfriend is another day that you limit, if not outright deny, her chance at that kind of rewarding love.

As for what commitment means, at the dating stage, it means you're seeing her and no one else. It doesn't apply in perpetuity until you marry/declare yourselves life partners--and even then, it's generally understood that people do sometimes grow apart or become victims of unforeseeable circumstance.

Overall, 2008 was a mediocre year and I'm glad to be done with it. Here is its performance review, in my book.

Aspects of 2008 that did not meet expectations:

  • the hormone-and-commerce driven Sex and the City movie
  • the oppressively sub-par Burn After Reading
  • the good-but-not-great Wordy Shipmates
  • the overlong and a little bit obvious Dark Knight
  • Doubt, which, though I loved it on Broadway, didn't make nearly as much of an impact on screen
  • the reunion of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio
  • the lifespan of my laptop
  • the economy
  • public behavior of the Jewish people, including Jack Abramoff, Bernie Madoff, and Ehud Olmert
  • my ability to convince Brooklyn College's MFA program of my awesomeness
  • my ability to convince a literary agent to take a chance on my awesomeness
  • my ability to cope with stress (some might say "life")
  • my awesome friend Tara Leigh staying in New York forever and ever

Aspects that met or exceeded expectations:

  • "Wall-E!" "Eeeeeeva!"
  • marriage
  • Montauk
  • Home and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
  • new proto-friends
  • voting behavior of American Jews (78% for Obama! not too shabby)
  • voting behavior of the American people in general
  • Nate Silver
  • Twitter

That averages out to a B-, don't you think? But! 2009, I've decided, is going to be the Year of Wow. If nothing else, it's going to be a year in which I take chances because fuck it, right? Also, I'm medicated now, and those pills are going to be function an extra layer of blubber against the cold of this cold, cold world.


Saturday, January 03, 2009

And New Years wasn't bad either!

One of my ambitions is to become a highly paid Life Coach, in which capacity I will help people make career, relationship, and clothing decisions; learn to love their bodies; and develop a deeper appreciation of literature and film. My sub-speciality will be script-doctoring resumes, cover letters, admissions essays, theses, poetry, doctors' notes, permissions forms, legal opinions, whatever. As I did once for a good friend, I could even monitor the responses to an online dating ad, sorting potential candidates by desirability.

Chapter 43 in my sanctimonious book as a Life Coach, Living a Well-Lived Life, will be about choosing your friends wisely *and* how to recognize when you have done so. Featured in that chapter will be the following advice: reflect on your most recent New Year's Eve experience. Was it satisfactory, socially? Why or why not?

As an example, I could describe my own most recent NYE, which, as all such events should, consisted of several parts:

1) A cocktail party which included both familiar folks and new people to meet;
2) Intimate dinner at the home of close friends;
3) Meeting up with several other friends to attend a fucking wild burlesque and variety show at the Zipper Factory hosted by drag emperor Murray Hill that included full-frontal male nudity, several raunchy acrobatic routines involving a man dressed up as a horny monkey, a stripper singing cheerfully offensive ballads, including about aborting twins ("two for the price of one!"), and more. During intermission, everyone took to the stage for drunken revelry, an impromptu dance party -- with the cast members! -- that lasted almost an hour.

And bless their hearts, my friends stuck it out! Despite alcohol spillage, douchebag straight men in the audience, and the fact that one of them brought her sister who, in turn, brought her boyfriend, who turned out to be a Christian and a virgin; despite the fact that one had to work early the next morning and the increasingly drunken, sloppy performers showed no sign of slowing; even despite the cold, everyone had a great time and no one gave up before it was over. That is how I know just how lucky I am when it comes to friends.

NOTE: Five years in a row Mr. Ben and I crept away to Wanakena for New Year's. It felt strange not to be there, eating and lounging and reading and tramping through the snow and sitting by the fire, and we missed it. We did try to make up for the omission by spending the next two days playing board games with intellectual-types. That did sort of salve the wound.