September 12, 2010

Opening a Door

I dislike opening and closing my bedroom window.  It's heavy and cumbersome and inconveniently located in a corner.  As the weather changes, I just pile on more blankets and sweatshirts until it's so cold that we turn on the heat.  Then I finally close the window and stuff all the cracks with that odd silly-putty substance you find in hardware stores and plastic wrap the interior frame.  Now is an intermediate time, when the weather fluctuates wildly from day to day, but the evening breezes have picked up enough that occasionally the force of it opens my bedroom door. You know, in that way that I'm sure has a scientific explanation involving pressure and stuff.

Because I think in metaphor, this seasonal occurrence has made me think of the axiom, "When God closes a door, He opens a window." How often do you hear that? It's meant to convey a sense of hope and even endless opportunity.  Don't worry about that terrible job interview; there's another right around the corner.  That man that ended things by email?  He doesn't matter because someone new and even better will come along.  But when, you ask?  And if each opportunity is so replaceable, how do you know when it's THE opportunity.  Does it make each new person/job/anything disposable?  Replaceable?

That's so depressing, isn't it?  But I think it's how I've been living for the past six years.  Somewhere along the way I came to the conclusion that nothing was really worth holding on to.  I throw out paper and clothes and refuse to develop attachments to apartments or homes.  That fire in my Cobble Hill apartment?  What a great excuse to move!  Rather than trying to improve on a situation, I've moved on.  On the few occasions I have tried to put down roots, I've been the one left behind.  It's painful, and I'd like to say it's made me stronger, but, really, it's just left me a little sad.

This isn't to say that there aren't great things in my life.  I'm working on my master's thesis.  I have amazing friends, who I wish I saw more often.  My home life is pleasant and conflict free.  I'm finally mostly healthy, and I'm able to make plans for the future.  But the constant flux is wearing and I don't want to make anymore adjustments. I want things to be simple.  So let's work on that, shall we?

September 19, 2009


Occasionally you learn things through social networks. People you only casually know in real life, but know well enough to be "friends" with on Facebook, show up on your homepage and all of a sudden you know that they've just started a business, been accepted into Harvard, or broken up with their partner of five years. With just the sad little status update of "heartbroken" I found out that someone I don' t know very well is suffering the last - the kind of loss and pain that feels like it'll never end. (Until, of course, it does.)

If he were someone I knew better, I would reach out, tell him of my own experiences with a what felt like an epic, overwrought break-up. I'd tell him about the both terrible and kind things people tell you about a person for whom you cared deeply and how, actually, it doesn't matter if the words are kind or terrible, they all hurt. Either you made a mistake then or you're making a mistake now, but it doesn't feel like you can change anything. You do your best to make your friends stop talking about it, but all they can do is ask, "How are you doing?" Isn't it obvious? So I won't reach out to him, not only because I don't know him well enough, but also because there's no need to extend his pain in another direction.

September 12, 2009

Serving and Deserving

There's a movie that I've never seen called "A Day Without a Mexican" (2004):

One morning, California wakes up to find that one-third of its population -- the Hispanic
third -- has disappeared. A strange pink fog envelops the state, and communication outside
its boundaries is completely cut off. The economic, political and social implications of this
disaster threaten California's way of life, and for a group of disparate people (all white, except
for one Latina), the cracks in their private lives are forced wide open. [Netflix]

The pink fog is a little ridiculous, but the premise is interesting. A significant portion of the nation's economy is dependent on undocumented workers willing to do incredibly difficult work. It's hilarious to me that people fear "illegals" stealing their jobs. Picking fruit isn't exactly luxurious work, and I've never heard anyone lust after washing dishes in a restaurant. You can argue that undocumented workers depress wages, and I would agree with you, but our nation is so incredibly dependent on its supply of cheap food and manufacturing that I would also argue that those workers people like to scorn and hunt down on the borders do us a bigger favor than some might appreciate. Look around: something in your immediate vicinity was most likely picked, prepared, manufactured, or served by an illegal immigrant. If you enjoy your quality of life, you enjoy illegal immigration.

All the talk about whether or not illegal immigrants (and I assure you, this is always code for Mexicans and a subtext for a pernicious kind of racism) should have access to the proposed public option in the current healthcare reform legislation has had me thinking a lot. If you want to throw out the ultra-liberal notion that healthcare is a human right, that's fine. If you want to argue that illegal immigrants don't "deserve" access to our health care, you're flat out wrong. I find the "they don't pay taxes" argument completely spurious. They may not pay income taxes (because we legally bar them from doing so) but they do pay local sales and property taxes. (And by the way, the business owners who hire them are also skipping out on taxes.) There are plenty of Americans that don't pay income taxes, and guess what they're not all unemployed, lazy welfare moms (another coded kind of racism). Peace Corps volunteers, a largely college-educated middle class bunch, don't pay taxes, are completely supported by the federal government, and even qualify for the Earned Income Credit. But I think that most people would say that PCV's are serving their country (which is true) and so deserve that kind of support. And so I ask, how are illegal immigrants not serving us?

July 26, 2009


Yesterday I put my old Moroccan travel skills to the test by taking a day trip to Boston. Yes, that would be four to four and a half hours both ways for a total of about nine hours on a bus. Don't feel sorry for me though; it was a very fancy bus with leather seats, wireless internet and lots of leg room (not that I need that). Those things, along with my awesome ability to sleep anywhere and the company of my friend Nicole, made for a pleasant trip. No chickens or sheep were on the bus and no one called out for a mika bag.

Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice, a special exhibition at the Museum of Fine Art, was what had drawn us to the city. Matthew, who biked in from Cambridge, joined us. At first, I bought the whole call and response premise that the curators had carefully constructed. Titian paints a sacre conversazione, then Tintoretto (his younger rival) paints a more dynamic (some might even say "extreme") one. Some of the more compelling visual arguments involved a room full of nudes (appropriately hidden behind red velvet curtains), the Supper at Emmaus, and Saints Anthony and Jerome (in a separate room of course, though the Temptation of Saint Anthony could have been worked into the room of nudes, I'm sure). The argument began to lose steam for me, however, when the wall-texts/curators started making tenuous connections amongst the size and shape of rivals' canvases and their choice of extremely common subjects. I have a hard time believing that Tintoretto was hunting down Titian's canvases in private collections so that he could compete with the older man. Also, some of those objects were sent to Spain, where Titian had an important patron in the King, but Tintoretto did not. The need for competition isn't immediately apparent, but the power of the male ego may be a factor here, too.

One theme that kept popping up throughout the exhibition was the influence of Michelangelo on the Venetian painters. Michelangelo's reach is something that I haven't studied at all. Though it makes sense that his studio assistants would go on to have workshops of their own, and for his works to be seen by his contemporaries, I've always studied him in such a vacuum that I have no conception of him as a best amongst many, only as a singular star that outshone all. Now that I think about that I'm remembering that the younger Raphael was a rising star whose tranquil, orderly style, threatened the older, more tempestuous master. This, of course, may be a Hollywood construction. And by "Hollywood" I mean "art historical." Rivalries create drama which in turn brings in crowds and/or sells books. Wonderful. Maybe in three hundred years there will be an exhibition called Duchamp/Picasso/Pollock: Modern Master Catfight. I, of course, will write an MA thesis entitled, Hannah Höch: I Will Cut You. (Sorry, I might be the only one who thinks that's funny. It really is, you know.)

And now I'm very tired. Noon is a bit early to consider a nap, but you can only study so much German on four hours of sleep. Also, even though I only spent a a few hours in Boston, I accomplished a lot - I met a fellow writer; I doled out love advice; I walked from Copley Square to Cambridge; I doled out living-in-Brooklyn advice; and I reviewed weak masculine nouns. Every weekend should be so productive.

July 8, 2009


If you haven't been thinking about Michael Jackson, you haven't been outside in the last week and a half. Without a television or regular newspaper subscription I've avoided a vast majority of the coverage, or what Jon Stewart calls "obitutainment" - the fine media art of obituaries as entertainment.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Rippy Awards - Celebrity Crypts
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorEconomic Crisis

And a large part of me wants to be above caring about the death of a celebrity. I didn't know him personally (though every reporter on CNN seems to), and perhaps more than any other star I'd like to keep Jackson's music separate from what I (think I) know about his personal life. It's disturbing to think that he could use the same voice both to entertain in dazzling ways and manipulate in a purely pernicious manner, and that I carry it around in my purse on my IPod.

There are two things I'm mulling over in my mind.

The mundane: In listening and relistening to his music over the last week I've become enthralled with just how mundane most of his lyrics really are. They aren't particularly poetic, and they seem to dwell on basic male anxieties about love, sexual prowess, violence, power and the intersections amongst them. He talks about the grind of the 9-5, like he ever actually knew what that was. For a very long time he didn't allow his songs to overlap with his celebrity. He was the biggest star in the world and yet he resisted releasing songs like Lindsay Lohan's treasure, Rumors, or Britney Spears's, Lucky. And when he did point out the troubles with the paparazzi it was usually an angry take, not an "oh-feel-sorry-for-me" whine. There was a tenuous fantasy that his talent existed apart from his life, though the latter would never have been possible without the former.

The glorification: In watching his videos on YouTube for the first time in years, I'm also really struck by his ability, as a skinny kid from the Midwest, to glorify gang culture in New York. This isn't a very well thought out thesis, but in at least two videos, Bad and Beat It, he plays to the old Hollywood conceit that New York street gangs were actually just groups of disgruntled yet very lithe Broadway dancers. Maybe he was trying to distance himself from his slightly disco-esque beginnings and make himself seem a little more testosterone producing, but he also tapped into a strong source of fear and made it look really cool. And no one gets shot nine times. There are definitely some ties to race and expectations of what a Black man would be doing with his evenings in the '80s, but he makes it so palpable. And, well, he seems fully aware of the exploitation.

I'm a little confused by the outright worship of MJ, but hope that our culture will eventually learn how to embrace ambiguities and account for flaws in its icons. Mostly though I'm having my first real case of nostalgia, remembering staying up late to see the premiere of Black or White on MTV and trying to do the Moonwalk until at least the fifth grade. And there was that short time ago in 2007 when I tried to learn the entire Thriller dance because it felt like a piece of bonafied American culture in under fifteen minutes. That's what escape is about and that seems to be what he was best at.

June 29, 2009

Just a Bit

Writing, I've discovered, is a fickle activity. Or perhaps I am a fickle writer. The latter is probably more plausible than the former. Though I have heard writers discuss the need for a twinge of sadness in order to sit down at the computer. I've often used this blog as a sort of dumping ground for any thoughts I needed to get rid of. It's almost like a pensieve, which I believe is a magical made up thing yet a useful analogy nonetheless.

So why haven't I been writing? I've been somewhat happy for the past few months. There are various reasons, which I don't feel like discussing. Sadness for me it seems is a public activity, but I like to keep the good things to myself. This is partly superstition and partly a desire to avoid questions from certain parties. (Conocen quienes son.) Oh, how I dread the questions, because at this point in my life the answers are always changing and even I can't keep up. Why ask other people to?

Also, I should be honest: Readers that I don't know personally freak me out a bit. Don't get me wrong - it's encouraging in a way. But it also feels like a bit of an intrusion. As though there are eavesdroppers on my musings. Why keep a blog then? Well, why have a cellphone conversation on a bus? It's convenient? If I could be so emotionally and mentally consistent, you'd probably be completely bored by me. And, I think, in this era we all have to accept the paradox of the wish for privacy in public forums. Also, as I recently told a dear friend, it's pointless to try to be perfectly consistent if you value the moment you're living in.

I'll try to write more this summer. A lot of things have happened and there are even more things planned. A trip to Boston here, a family visit there; the start of school. Oh, and there's a farm I want to visit. Maybe even a new apartment? For now, enjoy the coming holiday; and know that I'm thinking of you. Also, for everyone's sake let's hope the news is a little less exciting than last week's. Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground) anybody?


April 15, 2009

Two in One!

This is actually quite disturbing, but to someone raised watching My Fair Lady and Funny Girl each Thanksgiving, and Night of the Living Dead and Hellraiser IV every other night, the novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, really combines my love of camp and old-fashioned love stories. Apparently, it has shot up the bestseller list in recent weeks. Maybe this says something about Amazon shoppers that we just didn't know about before, or maybe as the Op-Ed contributor in the NY Times says, it has something to do with our collective anxiety about the economy. We've moved on from sleek vampires, who can only be sustained by the riches and excesses of a negligent society, to zombies, who are undiscriminating and leave behind just the strongest and least likely group of allies. Vampires are surgical in their tactics; zombies a bit more . . .blunt. Feasting on brains just isn't glamorous work. I'm feeling a bit better this morning, in case you're wondering.

Stay Awake, Please

Like most people I find that the days are too short for all that I'd like to accomplish. There's work, studying, reading for information, reading for pleasure, reading for conversation, visiting with friends, and then there's sleep. That last thing has been on my mind a lot - or maybe I should say on my waking mind. For each of the last four days I've probably slept about 16 to 20 hours. Luckily, I don't have any major deadlines this week, and I'm also pretty damn productive when I'm actually awake. This is what my doctor calls functioning narcolepsy. She doesn't actually know if that's what I have, but I've seen two neurologists who concede that it's a possibility. All I know is that when I'm not on medication, I can't keep my eyes open for more than 8 hours at a time. I compensate by walking around, going to the gym, and abstaining from caffeine and sugar or anything else that could cause a "crash." I do my best not to nap, and really can't indulge the urge to sleep very often because it's just not socially acceptable to sleep at one's desk, or place your head on your fellow subway passenger's shoulder. I don't even like it when people's coat sleeves touch me, so I'm not about to relax enough to get cozy with a stranger. Ick.

On Monday I'll go into a sleep lab where creepy doctors (I'm sure they're actually very nice) will watch me sleep and assess my brain waves. It's a little scary to think that I could be abnormal in such a fundamental way, but it'll be nice to have a name for the persistent urge to sleep. Well, other than outright laziness. That's not really a label I want. I'm on the search for non-pharmaceutical remedies to my problems. I'm starting with vegetables, herbs and multi-vitamins, but will move on to acupuncture in May. I assume that my body is weary from the last decade of moving and general upheavals to which I've subjected it. If I could start all over again, maybe I would have gone to Berkeley. Just to be in the same time zone for an extended period would be a treat, and might even help my circadian rhythms help themselves. And just in case you're wondering, I'm writing this now as part of my promise to myself to stay awake until at least 10 PM tonight. Only 35 minutes to go . . .

April 12, 2009

For the Love of Blue

I wasn't very excited about moving into this apartment, but it was the most personal space I could find for the least amount of money in the short amount of time I had to find it nearest the two train lines I needed most. To top it all off my room came with a putrid yellow wall. It looked like the tail-end of a really nasty bruise. Everything else was a bright shiny white but this was just gross. Who picked out this color and then actually left it there? Last week, I decided to spruce up the place and painted over that nasty yellow with a beautiful Florence Blue (or so the paint can told me). I also rearranged my entire room, built a dresser that had been lying around in parts since November, unpacked my suitcase from my visit to California in February and hung up my pictures. This is not normal behavior. Clearly, I was trying to distract myself from something.

A few weeks ago I was feeling a bit at an emotional loss, and decided to do a bit of emotional spring-cleaning. This, for me, generally means erasing old emails, ridding my phone of numbers I'm certain I'll never use again, unsubscribing from newsletters, and "de-friending" a few people on Facebook. There's no confrontation involved, as I don't tell anyone I'm cutting them out of my life; I just do it. It may not sound very mature, but it's a way to exert control over situations in which I, in fact, have none. And, besides, it made me feel better.

I like to imagine that were I to see these people again I would be cold and unkind but I'm clearly delusional. Not too long ago I ran into one of them and to my horror I was friendly and somewhat nice. I never ever run into him, which is remarkable since we live, oh, two blocks away from each other. And, if I had thought about it more carefully, I would have known he'd be at that performance, but I was busy distracting myself from something else that evening (writing, work, the eighty-seven new exhibitions I needed to see), and decided to venture off to the village by myself for a glass of wine and a dark room where I wouldn't have to be "on". But nope, there he was, unknowingly ruining my plan, proving that there isn't a shred of control to be had no matter how many times you erase someone's phone number. And, now, of course, I miss him (which is dumb for a lot of reasons) and refuse to actually tell him, or really, even admit it to myself, because he's really made it quite clear that I'm not all that important to him. Not even a little.

So what's the good of all this? What I realized a long time ago is that I'm actually at my best when I'm frustrated. It's a way to till the soil so to speak - to renew commitments to myself and evaluate what I can do to improve my well-being. I certainly can't control how other people behave, but I can direct frustrations toward something productive. A few weeks ago I was frustrated that I didn't have any published writing samples to show my boss, so I emailed a few ideas to the editors of three magazines I've long admired. All three responded favorably; one piece has been published; I was offered a review of a large retrospective opening later this year; and the third is overlooking its policy of working with "established" writers to consider my project further. How nice for me. I may never resolve my feelings about certain people, but at least this time I got a pretty blue wall out of it. And, oh, how I love blue.

April 11, 2009

Single Payer Government

Let me introduce you to Mouahssine, my gendarme in Morocco. I call him "my gendarme" because whenever I had to go to the gendarmerie I always asked for him, and he was almost always available. Once they woke him up from a nap. That's the epitome of service. Oh, and he was essentially assigned to watch over me. Any time I travelled outside of the Ouarzazate region I had to text him and tell him when I would return.

But I digress. Mouahssine was straight out of central-casting for law-enforcement-officer-in-a-foreign-land-once-occupied-by-the-French. Balding and just shy of pudgy with just past his prime folded skin around his mouth and temples, he had the best blue-green eyes. He smoked at his large paper-strewn desk, while he held meetings, and while he typed on his antiquated IBM computer. The best part: his phone played Tainted Love whenever someone called, endearing him to me all the more.

In order to stay in Morocco for more than twelve weeks I had to apply to be a resident. This meant filling out five copies of a six-page application by hand. At the time, this felt really unnecessary; why couldn't Mouahssine just photocopy my application? With a very sore hand and slightly grumpy demeanor, I listened as he outlined what else I would need to bring him: a letter from the country director stating my purpose in Morocco, my Peace Corps identification, and the entry and identification pages of my passport, all in quintuplicate form, plus a sixty dirham stamp from a local hanut. Being a pretty well-prepared and efficient young woman (and not wanting to make a second two hour fifteen kilometer trip to Ouarzazate that week) I already had all of those things with me and immediately went to my photocopy man up the street, got the copies and returned to Mouahssine's office.

Mouahssine was flabbergasted and elated. How had I gotten the copies so quickly? And then his face fell. I didn't have the proper stamps. I explained how I had gone to five different hanuts and no one had the elusive sixty dirham stamp. He shook his head, "No the government stamps for your photocopies." What? Copies, of any sort, just aren't trusted in Morocco. But clearly you can't have five originals of something, unless you've filled them all out by hand in the presence of a gendarme. . . It was all making sense.

Mouahssine directed me to the royal government offices across the street, where I found the photocopy verification unit. For two dirham a piece a woman looked at the original and then stamped (many, many times) the photocopy, stating that it was indeed accurate and correct. This took an entire afternoon. Only in a culture absolutely suspicious of technology would I be forced to do this. And only in a place where it's every man for himself would the government force such a wasteful tax on the individual. To be fair, I didn't pay taxes in Morocco and the law enforcement resources it devotes to Peace Corps Volunteers is quite remarkable and expensive (though I can't say how effective it is since I very rarely felt safe there). Needless to say Mouahssine was happy that I was able to obtain the official photocopy stamps and he even found the elusive sixty dirham stamp for me.

What all of this reminded me of was the Stamp Tax of 1765 levied by the British in the American Colonies. That caused a major uproar! Really, Americans have just always hated taxes, and this attitude has forced local governments to find a way around it in order to cover the expenses for all those things we take for granted, like roads, clean drinking water and law enforcement. That's why the headline, Cities Turn to Fees to Fill Budget Gaps, was so interesting to me this morning. We expect our taxes to cover everything that could possibly be used by everyone, like law enforcement or natural disaster responses. But what if they didn't? What kind of society would we be? It would be the cruel realization of a nation obsessed with individualism. I don't fish, why should I have to support the infrastructure that allows other people to do so. I don't drive or take taxis, so I only want my taxes to go towards the subway system. Or, worse, I don't live in that unsafe neighborhood, so I won't pay taxes to support extra police officers on the streets over there. Government officials who choose to raise taxes on individual services are just feeding into the mentality that individuals don't benefit from the improvement of the whole system. If a friend gets into an accident she already has to worry about the health insurance bills, now she has to worry about her ability to pay the police, too? That just seems wrong.

What does this have to do with my gendarme, Mouahssine? Not much, really. I was always aware that I was treated differently because of my nationality, receiving more attention and patience than what was accorded to most of my community, most of which was interviewed and lectured to about my safety. Mouahssine admitted to me that he had actually never even been to my poor little dirt road town, even though it was only fifteen kilometers away. It didn't need him, he said, but I did. The latter was definitely true, but I couldn't shake the feeling that if my town had been a little better connected, or not Berber for that matter, it would have warranted a more even distribution of the region's resources. Unfortunately, that's not the kind of society Morocco has, but I certainly hope I've returned to a place that believes in some sort of support for everyone in their hour of need.