Wednesday, January 28, 2009

To Pee, Or Not To Pee

I was going into the city to audition for a talkshow which I found on Craigslist. Every so often I suffer a grand career crisis (usually precipitated by hearing one of my successful ibanking friends discuss how iphones are actually more trouble than they're iworth,) in which I see my ipenniless life flash before my own ieyes. 

I am scrounging around in some imaginary dumpster funneling old tuna can drippings into an empty coffee cup when I come to, and when I come to I'm in one of two places: scouring facebook for pictures of people who I didn't like in highschool whom I secretly hope will fail miserably right along with me, or scouring Craigslist for the perfect dream job which has simply eluded me until now. It's going to have flexible hours and great health insurance, and I'll get to play with kittens and babies and make music and blow bubbles and rate gourmet chocolate on a scale of delicious to super delicious and drink morning mimosas. All I have to do is find it.

I found a link asking for college students to talk about problems. I've got plenty of problems and used to go to college, so I felt I was qualified and wrote as much in an email. Cut to a few days later when I'm sitting in front of a green screen being interviewed by Andrew WK for an Adult Swim talkshow. For those of you who aren't unemployed men aged 18-25 who enjoy ironic heavy metal or absurdist stoner humor, Andrew WK is a rocker and Adult Swim is a block of adult-themed late-night shows on Cartoon Network. He's a fascinating guy and it's a great channel, but don't worry too much about that because this story has not very much to do with either.

This story has everything to do with pee. Don't get too excited though- this is an ordinary sort of pee which was used in an ordinary sort of way, and the only thing to note about this catalystic pee is that it was the cause of my being locked in a 4x6x8 metal box for the better part of 10 minutes which felt like the worst part of 10 years. 

I was on my way to NYC on the trusty Metro North train line, which was (predictably) running a little bit late, and I knew I'd have to hop off and use the patented pissed-off-NewYorker-elbow to jab my way through crowds of commuters and down to the subway in time to make my interview, so I decided I'd save some time and pee on the train.

I don't like to pee on the train. It feels a lot like those weird Japanese gameshows which are equal parts humiliation and extremely random useless talent, like that guy who can traverse half-inch-thick  greased zigzagging platforms while walking on his hands... I'm not quite that talented, but I was pretty proud of how well I managed to balance precariously above a toxic train toilet seat whilst making sure neither my coat, scarf, sweater, or bag touched any part of the inside of the train bathroom, whilst also managing the annoying details of tights, skirts, zippers, and tasteful lip-gloss reapplication. I was pleased as punch with the whole endeavor until I left. Or rather, tried to leave. 

I was locked in. Fuck. I was locked in a metal urine coffin speeding down the tracks and nobody would hear my screams. I tried to stay calm. I fiddled and banged and pulled, but the damn door didn't budge. Eventually a nice woman must have heard me descending into panic because I heard another voice on the other side of the door encouraging me to pull, and although a voice inside me screamed (don't you think I've been trying that alreadyyyyyyyyy?!) I was very grateful to know that at least I wouldn't be abandoned for all eternity. At least one person knew I was here. Maybe she'd leave a stone outside the door with a carving of my name so that when the moon men of the future did an archaeological dig of the innards of Old New York they would find an ode to me encased in my locomotive lavatory restingplace. 

I tried to breath deep and eventually a surly conductor got me out. I thanked the woman who had kept me company through the ordeal and it turned out she was a smart young brunette commuter who worked in entertainment. She was lovely and funny. We exchanged business cards. 

After my second interview on the following day I grabbed Chinese food with a friend. Soup dumplings to die for. Fantastic. But as I left Grand Central to go home I realized I had left a bag at the restaurant. Shit. 

So back to the city I go for the taping of the show this afternoon, and for the hopeful retrieval of said bag. I want to avoid any pee mishaps so right before I leave I make sure to pee at home, but the snowstorm from last night had slowed traffic to a halt and so my impromptu pee forces me to catch a later train. I'm going to be late again. Shit.

I get a textmessage as I step onto the platform. "Did you just get onto the 12:30 to Grand Central?" 

Supercreepy. I am searching for mace, and have a firm grip on the stupid lipgloss when I get tapped on the shoulder by one of my dearest childhood friends who I haven't spoken to in too many years. We've been exchanging phonecalls and facebook niceties for a while, and I've always intended to reconnect with her but just hadn't gotten around to it. Well my bladder had other plans. We spent the entire train ride catching up, sharing our philosophies on life and education, and commiserating about the uniquely sweet horror of regressing back into a 15 year old when you don't have enough money to move out of your parent's house after college. 

Every now and then I am overcome by something very powerful. It's kind of a surge of sentiment, a bolt of illumination, but it's not simply feeling or knowing. It's a feeling that I know something... I have no idea what it is, but I know it powerfully. And it's a knowledge that I am feeling something powerful- I'm not pondering poetry or arithmetic, I'm not hoping that my party chitchat is engaging, I'm not trying to figure out whether I'm in a pissy mood because of my brother's incessant banjo-ing or my own laziness, I'm just riding out the wave of a very powerful feeling.

(Act I finale, 8 part harmony, all parts awesomeness.)

I felt this way when I first read the first chapter of my first Tom Robbins, the first time I saw the finale of the first act of Les Mis on Broadway, the first time I kissed my first boyfriend in my highschool's photography darkroom, the first time I shopped the Yale playwrighting class which would shape my destiny as a writer. It's not always in profound circumstances- sometimes I'm just sitting around a campfire with friends or typing a particularly ******** word, (******** meaning exactly whatever you think it means.) 

After 8 years of having our respective circumstances get in the way of what was once a very close friendship, we picked up right where we had left off, and after spending the entire train ride into NY chatting and laughing and finding commonalities in our lives despite the fact they had strayed so far apart, I got this feeling, this powerful feeling, and I burst into tears. 

This feeling usually elicits a buoyant tingly awe, it makes me want to shout or smile and sing or listen and hold up and close my eyes... it's rather amorphous and very difficult to verbalize because it's different for every circumstance and yet always fundamentally the same. Familiar and powerful. There's nothing sad about it, but I think the best way my body knows how to express it is with an explosion of sorts, and I'm glad my body chose a little bit of misty-eyed-ness because it wouldn't be very convenient to burst into a sneezing orgasm every time I was moved.

I have learned to listen to this feeling. It is a completely unpredictable, perfectly attuned personal compass which has never led me astray. I don't know if or how it was conspiring with my bladder that morning, but I do know that I am grateful for the serendipitous circumstances which led me back to this old friend. Turns out I missed her much more than I ever realized.

So down to Chinatown I run for the taping, I make it out just in time to return to the yummy soup dumpling restaurant which had my bag. I was trying not to freak out about it, but even once I retrieved it I was a little peeved to have had to go out of my way in the disgusting slush to pick up something I had left behind.

After four hours of taping I had downed a full bottle of water and made it to Grand Central just in time for another pee dilemma- pee leisurely, or miss the express train? I go for the first option but I grumble about it. I'm cold and tired and poor. I'm cranky and I let a very good friend slip away for 8 years. I'm hungry. I pee.

I pee in the bathroom of the Oyster Bar. I'm really hesitant to reveal this hot tip because it's one of my all-time favorite commuter secrets, but since we're all friends here I expect you will only use it for the powers of good. Across from the bookstore in front of the entrance to the Shuttle train is the back entrance of the Oyster Bar, and if you're not in the mood for some mean clam chowder, but you are in the mood for some peaceful pee time, you can sneak into the back entrance, march down the stairs like you own the place, turn right, and enjoy the luxuriously appointed toilets of the non-commuter. There's double ply toilet paper, no icky puddles of stickiness, and even complimentary Q-tips. 

I relax a bit. I relax a bit too much because I'm about to miss another stupid train, and I scurry into the last seat on the train just in time. After debating the merits of a rubric grading system with a grumpy teacher in a Cosby sweater, I am introduced to the head of a program called PubliColor, which is a nonprofit. They go into public schools work with kids to paint dreary walls into works of art, they have mentorship and tutoring programs, college prep, workshops, etc. etc. It's basically just an allaround good organization which helps at-risk kids feel empowered. We exchanged cards and ideas about educational philosophy. I felt the feeling. I plan to do a writing workshop there soon. 

(PubliColor Project)

And this made me think about our education efforts recently. If you haven't already seen, every single one of the projects we focused on in my last post have been fully funded. Four classrooms across the country have been changed forever thanks to a little bit of good will. Kudos and thanks. 

But our work is not done- I'll keep you posted on PubliColor and I do hope you will let me know about other unique service opportunities in your areas. A lot of people don't have money to spare, but everybody has a few minutes, and if inadvertent urination can lead to so many small revelations and happy serendipities, just think what some focused attention will reap! 

Which is to say, pay attention to the feeling and always keep your eyes open for the best of a locked door or a lost bag, because with every missed train arrives something found. You just haven't found it yet. 

Pay extra close attention to the feeling this week folks. I have a good feeling about it. It's as obvious as the call of nature when you're paying close attention, and whether it is the crackle of a crease in the very universe unfolding before you, or simply too much beer, is entirely up to you. 

Keep me posted. 

Much Love,

Monday, January 19, 2009

Tuesday Musings... (don't give me that look.)

I realize that my past few posts have been rather... affirmation-rific. That's probably because I'm revving up for editing the rest of the book and (if you read the little lies post,) attempting to lie my way into being in a place where the thought of fixing all the gaping hopes in the 288 pages manuscript doesn't make sticking my face into a wood chipper seem like a preferable  option. But it's not all fun and games here in casa de Hannah, because I also make youtube videos. Which is usually lots of fun until you've wrestled with the linked pasting properties of a final cut audio clip for long enough to have completed a whole other novel... I think I need an intern. 

This is what I did when I was an intern: went on facebook, hoarded complimentary redbull, mailed some things.  

This is what I'd have my intern do: make faces at the monkey, make me milkshakes, and organize the unorganizable glob of clutter which is the entire western side of my room. 

Back to the "affirmation"-ness of the previous posts, I want to point out that a key ingredient in getting stuff done, in addition to thinking positively and trusting yourself, is being really pissed off.

All the best social revolutions are the direct result of some serious pissed-off-ness, and channeled into the appropriate forum you can use every ounce of it to fuel projects focused on change. MLK kind of change. 

I was watching mtv teen Cribs yesterday... (umm... nope. no excuse.) If you haven't seen Cribs, it's a show where people show off their ostentatious wealth (think solid-gold monogrammed pool-balls, solid gold toilets, solid gold katana...) And usually they feature eccentric celebrity rock stars or skateboarders or bosomy actresses who own way too many cars and shoes for any single person to be able to use in 3 lifetimes. And they flaunt their gold albums and trophies and pretend to give a tour of the kitchen, a room which they have almost certainly never entered before this very moment except to scream at their personal chef. 

But this episode wasn't about eccentric celebrities- it was just about rich kids. Kids who are freakin' loaded. Kids with private movie theaters and 19 guitars and a spiral mahogany slide right built inside their house to take them from their bedroom to their custom built treehouse. 

When I was driving to highschool I used to look at the houses which grew larger and more beautiful the closer we got to the wealthy part of town and I'd pick out what I wanted. I'd take that inground swimmingpool with the waterfall, that rose garden, those fancy columns at the front... and I did this with women in magazines as well. I'd take a nose here, a tiny little waist there, slim calf muscles and perky breasts from page to page and reassemble them into a body wish-list cache. 

This made shopping for bathing suits less than enjoyable. This made a lot of things less than enjoyable. If I had an intern (and while we're talking wish-list here, why don't we make it super-intern,) I would have him  hack into MTV airtime during commercials inbetween Teen Cribs and air some sort of public service announcement about how this is a model for neither a realistic, fulfilling, or interesting life. 

Not that I wouldn't want an indoor mahogany slide, a swimmingpool, or a golden katana. I might even have super-intern carve dig, and forge me one of each. But I certainly wouldn't wave them around on television in what essentially amounts to holding up a big sign that says "I'm a socially insensitive, emotionally stunted, entitled brat."

Have you watched My Super Sweet 16? Where Daddy shells out upwards of a hundred thousand dollars for his little girl to gyrate around dressed as a prostitute princess after being carried in via white horses/shirtless men dressed as greeks/a personal helicopter (all of these were actual entrances...)

That show is endlessly amusing to me, mostly because there's lots of sparkles and drama, but don't these people realize what aliens might think about them?

I'm not a big believer in worrying about what other people think, but ever since I read recently that the EISCAT space station was paid to broadcast a Doritos advertisement into space for 6 straight hours on loop, and that that signal is one of the strongest coming off of our planet, I've been pondering an extraterrestrial perspective.

No doubt we're a pretty predictable bunch- a few dead here, a few having sex over there, we fight, we make up, we fight some more... but the idea of an entire civilization deriving its knowledge of our culture from that Doritos advertisement is highly troubling to me.

I mean at least it wasn't a Super Sweet 16 signal, but still... what does it say about us? That we're always out for the buck? Or maybe that we're creative when we want to be? Or maybe that Doritos are our all-knowing flavorful leaders...

I've decided to use my TeenCribs pissedoffness to make a little change, and so I posted a youtube video soliciting donations for four, count 'em, four educational projects. They're really good adorable causes like buying interactive science research kits for underprivileged kindergardeners, and inspirational biography textbooks for ESL students.

I calculated that if everyone who reads the blog gives as little as $2 to any of the causes, we'll have completed all four charity projects by the end of the week.

I know you don't usually do this sort of thing. Neither do I. I'll admit it- I change the channel on Sally Struthers. There's so much poverty, so much to be done, that sometimes it feels like there's no good place to start so you might as well turn a blind eye. Go fondle your golden katana or something...

But I want to prove that the internet isn't just a universe of awkward social networking and porn. Especially in honor of this new presidential era, I'd like to encourage you to make tiny differences. Together, as we've all seen, tiny differences make monumental changes. And here's the cool part- there's a community forming here on the blog so we already have strong numbers- it won't be just your $2, you'll be part of the beginning of a movement. If you've been reading and enjoying the posts I invite you to pick any of the links, toss in a few bucks, leave a comment for your fellow readers to see, and invest in the future of all of our futures. 

Maybe one day super-intern will be able to send out the comment and donation page to Ursa Major just like the Doritos folks did. I for one would feel pretty good about the aliens seeing that. And really, if given the opportunity to make kids laugh, make yourself feel good, and make an excellent impression on aliens who there's a small chance might one day become our overlords, shouldn't you take it?

That's all I got. Let's give these kids something to be excited about other than the impossible dream of owning one of those money swimming pools like Uncle Scrooge in DuckTales. 

Also- it seems that my sorry attempt at regularity has already technically strayed because although I'm still on Monday and haven't gone to sleep, it's actually 3:51 AM Tuesday, hence the title change. I think I like it better though... nice assonance. And hey- nice ass. Yeah you... you're awesome. Do something nice for yourself today.


Friday, January 16, 2009

Your Imaginary Friend is a Bitch

Dear Readers, (if there are any at all)

What do Captain Morgan, Eliza Doolittle, and WritingHannah have in common?

Well, after my previous post and youtube vlog I heard from several people who felt the "judgement-free creating time" and "stop worrying, sit down and start" advice was helpful, and I'm always glad to be of help. (that sounds totally self important.)

In this post I will endeavor to describe what I now realize is the secret second half of those ideas. (I'm bored, this post sucks balls, and I want some fucking cake!!)

If you haven't already noticed, I'm joined this evening by a nagging alterego who many of you are familiar with, whether you know it or not. She is the cousin of the sweaty gyrating sleazy thoughts I mentioned in the last post, a multifaceted personality at once resembling your mother, the Trunchbull, and a coked up hummingbird. Let's call her Ethel. Mostly because I don't know anyone named Ethel so there's no risk of gravely insulting anybody. Unless of course your name is Ethel... In which case you are more than welcome to create a psychologically abusive alterego and name her Hannah. (not funny)

Anyways, for all you non-Ethels out there, let's say you've been meaning to write a rap song about monkeys, mosaic your bathroom counter, or invent a new type of ice cream (fatty,) and you're off to a really good start because instead of wringing your hands and deferring the starting of the project until... infinity, you've actually given yourself a break from cripplingly high expectations and sat down. My latest youtube video (enough with the flagrant self promotion) contained a favorite quote of mine which expressly states that "the art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair."

But that's not entirely true. Because once you're sitting down Ethel is just raring to sink her teeth into all of your ideas... they are either half-baked or derivative. Do you know what people will think when they see what you're doing? Your idea is a dead-end which you're never going to finish, and even if you did it would be offensively uninteresting. People are going to yawn or laugh at you. The Daily Show is on! You need a drink. You need a snack. You are a socially awkward pathetic excuse for a (fill-in-the-blank) and nobody likes you. Nobody. (No really, nobody.)

Needless to say, no matter how determinately you have positioned your ass in your work-chair, this sort of nonsense makes it difficult to keep your momentum. If you're not a fraud and a failure you're being lazy... if you're working really hard you're not working smart, if your ideas are interesting your execution is sloppy. You can't win.

But guess what? You're in good company. I think it's safe to say that most of the best ideas sounded totally insane in their conception, and only a fool doesn't think to question himself. 

I keep an old sugarbowl next to my computer. There's a little crescent notch in the top which is meant for a spoon, but that's not what I keep inside. Inside the sugarbowl are dozens of little shreds of paper. I have not opened said container for many weeks, but I feel it's important to share some of the contents with you in order to silence the nagging power of our collective Ethels, so here is a selection of the real scraps within...

"prose nauseatingly bad."
"OMG so bad."
"you are dry... creative pools all are behind you." 
"People are going to be pissed off about this."
"self indulgent"
"never going to finish"

...and my personal favorite which simply says "FUCK YOU!" accompanied by a big jumble of angry squiggles.

I'm not purporting to know anything more about the creative process than anybody else, but I do know that when I was a kid I always imagined Joyce and DaVinci and Mozart rocking back and forth in an artistic trance producing scores upon scores of brilliant earth-shakingly original ideas which flowed together with silky certainty.

In school you read about great generals and great journalists and all the great things they did, but rarely does anybody mention the universal Ethel. 

Everybody questions themselves, and capable people are often the harshest self-critics. DaVinci was actually so frustrated by what he perceived to be his own lack of self-discipline that he was often quoted as appealing to God with the question "tell me if anything was ever done!" Alan Lerner, triple Tony & triple Academy Award winning musical writer (he did one of my favorites, My Fair Lady,) was such a notorious procrastinator that his partner literally had to lock him in his hotel room any time they were nearing a deadline. Dickinson, Proust, Tolkien, all of them struggled immensely with self-critique to the point where much of their work was kept away from the public/ destroyed. 

Which is to say, you're in good company. There's a crazy Amadeus myth out there about people who are so brilliant at what they do that they just churn out brilliance by the barrel-full all the time, but that's bullshit.  Successful entrepreneurs in the media spotlight today (everybody from Trump to JK Rowling to Gates & Bono) don't want to have you hearing about how difficult it is to overcome their insecurities and creative roadblocks, they aren't going to admit how often they lie in bed questioning the value of their contributions. They're quick to share success stories, but rarely share any of their Ethel. She's a nasty little secret that everyone's  embarrassed to have around because maybe all those nagging doubts are true, and if anybody ever knew about them then...

*shudder*   (shut up Hannah, only lame-o 6th graders express actions with asterisks... asterices? You can't even spell right, how do you expect to write right?)

The point is that at least for me, growing up with stories of great leaders and thinkers like George Washington and Shakespeare, it never occurred to me that everybody has a creative process, which means doing something totally brand new is ALWAYS scary and ALWAYS fraught and ALWAYS peppered with a billion little Ethels no matter who you are. 

Everybody's seen this picture of Washington crossing the Delaware on December 25th- noble, resolute, rocking the "I'm such a bad-ass" Captain-Morgan stance...
But rarely do we talk about December 24th... the day Washington probably had a bit of a tummy ache, and smoked a bit too much tobaccee, and couldn't fall asleep anxiously anticipating his next move after being completely WALLOPED by the British at both the battle of White Plains and the battle of Long Island (which was the largest battle of the entire war!) We remember him as a strong commander, but nobody as savvy and humble as Washington would have been blind enough to rock the Captain-Morgan stance on December 24th. He wasn't the first president on December 24th, the rock of democracy, he was barely even a competent general. Plus he had just gotten a ton of people killed and fucked up the biggest battle he would ever fight in. Way to go Georgie. 

But people don't paint pictures of the presidents' tummy aches, or write epic poetry about whiners. They write about winners. Heros. We come to worship these heros- the "greats." The dead white men whom we quote in thesis papers. The dead white men whose last names have become adjectives... 

Well behind ever great man is a great woman. And behind ever great person is an Ethel. 

So don't despair if she's jabbering rather loudly of late. Only fools have the good fortune of not having her around. The bad news is that she never goes away. The good news is that the more frequently you manage to hear her and then shove her latest quotation into the proverbial sugarbowl, the more creative potential you unleash. 

Don't let your Ethel convince you that you're the only shmuck shmucky enough for her to hang around with. She's more than a bit of a tramp. She's been dogging everybody from Aristotle to P.Diddy since the birth of man. Such is the curse of sentience.

So know that you are never alone in feeling unproductive, untalented, unoriginal, or unloved. We're a queer bunch, us humans, and for all of our innovation and diversity we often forget what unites us... and that what unites us often undoes us. Self Awareness can lead to a desire to understand, to create, to communicate, and from thence comes civilization, science, art. But with the help of an insidious Ethel and others to compare yourself with, Self Awareness can also breed jealousy, self-criticism, competition, and all of the other ingredients of the war and senseless carnage we're so famous for. 

Trust yourself. Trust yourself for long enough to get all the way to the end of that project you've been putting off. Because I guarantee you will surprise yourself, and even if you look back and you (as all your creative forefathers and mothers before you have done) think it kinda sucks, it'll be more satisfying than looking back at nothing at all.  And you'll be more prepared for the next thing you try. And (if you're the type of person to believe in this sort of thing,) you'll be discovering your destiny along the way instead of lamenting a lack of one. 

Get out those sugarbowls, rock your best pirate stance, and ford into the wild unknown knowing that you know what you don't yet know that you know. (well if the rest of this treacly crap didn't scare them away, that certainly did.)

Much Love,

"Trust thyself, every heart vibrates to that iron string." Emerson

Monday, January 12, 2009

Monday Musings: Part one of X...

(X being the result of an equation which extrapolates productivity  based on various factors including (but not limited to) how long it takes me to edit the book, how much whining said process will cause, and how many pirated episodes of The Office I can watch before my brain becomes permanently impaired, unable to produce anything more substantive than a "that's what she said" comment.)

Which is to say, I think it's time I finally commit to a blog schedule, or else no matter how hard I moan and groan nothing will ever get done. (That's what she said.) 

Some of you know I've been experimenting with various forms of meditation for a while now, (see me channeling serenity in front of San Fran Japanese tea garden.)

 If you're anything like me, living inside your head is kind of like living inside one of those really loud obnoxious European dance clubs. 

There was this one I visited during my summer semester in Prague called Karlovy Lazne which was particularly sketchy and well suited to this analogy because it boasted 5 whole floors of loud obnoxious sketchiness. Pop music blared from the bottom floor, R&B boomed on the second, there was country and rock and psychedelic and no matter where you went you were always surrounded by sweaty, handsy, drunken people shouting at you in different languages. 

Welcome back into my head- no matter the sound-system or cerebral floor, whether I'm in academic mode or social mode or relaxation mode, I can usually hear the pounding bass of other floors echoing all around me. If I'm working I wish I were relaxing, if I'm relaxing I know I should be working, and all the while there are these slimy thoughts who, like oily club-men with ponytails and wifebeaters, I always wish would just go away. And even when they do, their pungent BO/cologne mixture lingers, reminding me that what I'm working on is boring, that I'm being lazy, that terrible things are going to start happening to people I love, and that I'm looking rather fat this afternoon. 

The point being that I cannot express the relief of 10 minutes of meditation. You don't have to be "good" at meditation to do it- nobody can just shut off their thoughts. It's more like popping out of the back door of the club for a breather. Sure, you might still hear the shrill crooning of some Eastern European pop star in the background from time to time, but you choose to tune it out each time it appears. And sure, those pony-tail wifebeater guys might come out and try to offer you a cigarette. That doesn't mean you're not meditating the right way. All you have to do is tell them to screw off for a moment. They don't speak English so the best way to shake 'em is to just nod and hold up the "one minute" finger. They're not so smart, they'll lose count after a few seconds and you'll be alone again. 

Meditating makes me excited to explore small day-to-day things instead of overwhelmed by the immensity of the world's fucked-up-ness, my lack of health insurance coverage, job prospects, and the meaning of life in general. 

Here are a couple pictures I took whilst attempting to be more mindful of my surroundings. The first is a huge freakin' chair. Seriously, look how huge that chair is. I had to do a running jump just to get up there. It reminded me of being a little kid and being just tall enough to peer across the kitchen table. I used to watch 90210 and marvel at all of those "adults" with their adultly fashion and adultly problems. Most of the world was full of very tall people who got to use the stove without supervision and eat sugar cereal for breakfast and who put magic cards into machines and got free money out of them. 

I very much enjoyed sitting in this huge chair. It made me feel like a kid again, and I realized that I'm still sort of waiting for those tall people with all the answers to come in and whisper all the answers to me. Except that now I am one of the tall people- I can tell by the way my 5 year old cousin looks up at me with half reverence for my command of the TV remote, half distain for what she deems undo storytime stinginess.

And now I look at the adult world and it looks a little like this guy:
disorienting... whimsical and amazing and also really disturbing and creepy. Multitudinous. Note my ambiguous glance... I think I'm trying to make sense of it all. Don't hold your breath folks.    (P.S. does anybody know who did this statue?)

In trying to make sense of it all I've realized that it's never a good idea to write things off, no matter how silly they sound. Enter the card game Dominion, which I've been told is sort of a Magic: The Gathering light. In middleschool I would have run screaming out of any room containing a camera and the hint of a whisper of D&D tournaments... that's the sort of damning evidence that could confirm the demise of your 12 year old popularity for good. Luckily for me, I now know that the people who don't think I'm cool are seriously misinformed, no matter how many tequila bodyshots they consume off of rippling tan abs during their Cancun spring break.

Dominion is a turn-based card game with witches and gold and festivals and an almost infinite combination of set-up possibilities which makes it enjoyable for the lay-gamer (me) while keeping it interesting for the brilliant dungeon masters (my opponent.) 

I'm thrilled that I stuck it out through the "I'm a total idiot, no wonder I sucked so bad at calculus" phase into the "I'm the ruler of the universe" phase, because it turned out to be lots of fun. Here's me haughtily wielding my many province cards before beating my two skilled opponents. Sorry boys, there's a new dungeonmaster in town. 

Which is to say, keep your eyes open and try new things no matter what you think you know about them, because you don't know until you try. Plus, if you keep your eyes open you might spot someone like this walking down 7th avenue: 
That's right, it's a real live cat hat. His name is apparently Nicholas. He stays up there for six blocks at a time, said the man with the cat for a hat. I didn't get a chance to ask what he does after the sixth block. Maybe they switch. 

Anyways, have a productive week folks. If you're a writer who has been reading the blog- you are NOT ALLOWED to judge what you've been working on until you've written another five whole pages. That's right- five whole pages without a single "that doesn't make sense" "that's not funny" "that's what they did in Fight Club" sweaty smelly club thought getting all up in your creative grill. It'll work, trust me. And keep me posted!

I'm trying to keep my eyes and mind especially open this week. Make the rest of us tall-people proud- go do something fun.


Sunday, January 4, 2009

Gift of the Golden Rule

Dear Readers,

For those who have participated in some of the spectacularly positive feedback I've been getting recently: 
Firstly, your encouragement has made me smile and urged me forward on so many self-doubting occasions. I want to extend my most sincere and humble gratitude.
Secondly, fuck you. Not in a meanspirited way or anything, (not in a literal way either...)

When I was pouring my thoughts into the void of cyberspace for nobody to read it was easy to look at a rotting pile of seaweed and decide it was worthy of a photograph and some pontification. (seriously...see first post ever...) But Now that I have actual human beings reading this stuff I feel periodic pangs of legitimacy-lust... that hot pulse that nags "is this really worthwhile enough to expect that a person whom you respect will spend time reading it?"

This process swiftly fell a handfull of possible holiday blog-topics ranging from the fake history of Hannukah to the zesty yumm of Brad Pitt's abs as evidenced by their ability to almost ameliorate 2 hours of the shlockiest jumble of cinematic blah I've seen in years. I wanted to give you guys something great. And as each day passed the imperativeness of a mind-blowing new post mounted. Something for the new year? Something hopeful, poignant, witty? It would be the post to end all posts. And of course with each day it went uncompleted, the Platonic post became grander and grander until finally I realized if I didn't sit down and start writing something I'd never write anything.

I feel that way very often, surprisingly often, in fact the writer in me knows that I feel that way almost as often as I feel like eating cream-filled cookies and watching House MD instead of writing, which is all the freakin' time. And yet the scholar in me is loath to admit that she hasn't learned the lesson yet- just sit down and do it instead of worrying about how you're not doing it and something will come out. Well ya, easy for you to say.

So here in no particular order are some things I've been thinking about while waiting for edits from my editor, which, incidentally, feels a bit like taking a nap under a guillotine.

1. Hannukah. First of all- what a load of crap. Yesyesyes of course spending time with family is wonderful and exchanging presents is dandy and lights are pretty, but I don't think I'll ever outgrow my 5 year old fury at the fact that every other kid in kindergarten got a big sparkly holiday orgasm every December 25th while I was spinning a top  for year-old chocolate coins and opening up 8 days worth of socks. My Dad tried to make Hannukah seem cool- he even wrote a song about a jolly character named Hannukah Harry who rides around in a taxi cab driven by a moose named Morris and delivers dreidels to little kids. And I appreciated that. And I love my family. 

But how do you expect to compete with the 1000-watt pinnacle of the American capitalist tree? With a holiday so decadent that not only does it mark the birth of a man who some people believe is God incarnate, but it also encourages, nay requires you to take all of the goodwill you've saved up all year and spend it on diamonds and Xboxes for your loved ones? Eat ham! Rejoice with family! Get boozed up and sing! Guess what? God's here!!

Sorry Dad, but there's no way "and then the oil lasted a few days longer than they expected it to last" was ever going to top that.

And this year I discovered why. I always knew the American Hannukah holiday was the product of well-meaning American parents attempting to match the holiday-rificness of its proximate Christian cousin, and I appreciated the effort. But what I didn't know was that Hannukah was never about oil, it was about ass-kicking.

When the Maccabees were rebelling against the oppressive Seleucid monarchy in 165 BCE they were held up in caves during the harvest festival Sukkot, and when they finally got out they had a delayed celebration (Sukkot is 8 days long...) in Decemberish. They missed a bunch of holidays in those caves, and Sukkot was an interesting one to choose to do a re-mix of. They could have chosen Passover or Yom Kippur, (slavery day and death day respectively, according to what  5 year old Hannah gleaned,) but they didn't. Sukkot is about joy and thankfulness... because perhaps the Maccabees were trying to have as peaceful an outlook as possible post-ass-kicking. 

But they couldn't go around telling subsequent monarchs that their Decemberish festival was a peaceful outlook on monarch-ass-kicking, so they trumped up some bogus story about extra-strength-miracle-oil. Lights are a great metaphor for all sorts of things of course, for inspiration and hope and for the connectedness of all living things blahblahblah, but it was never the real reason for Hannukah celebrations, and I'm fascinated by how many years it took me to figure this out. 

I always knew it seemed a little lackluster. We only spend one day celebrating that time God not only split the ocean in two, but made it rain frogs, but we spend eight days on some oil? 

I suppose the origin of most holidays isn't as important as what they've evolved to signify though. I mean according to most biblical scholars and scientists Jesus was actually born in June.

But I digress... I was going to say something about the true spirit of the holidays and all the crap but you've heard it all before- love your family, don't be a Scrooge... I always find those messages hard to reconcile with the presents presents presents thing though. Shouldn't we be feeding the poor or something? Did I really need another novelty coffee-table book which will wind up on my bathroom floor? 

Which got me thinking about the website I've been twiddling with for a few weeks. I've discussed this idea with some of you already and I'm excited about it although it's still a little doughy. I want to create a resource for collaborative community outreach. Creative service opportunities, creative projects, a creative/volunteering Craigslist, if you will. I'd like for people to be able to search by location, interest, and time dedication, and be able to find opportunities for them to help others, whether it be bartering skills, volunteering time, writing letters, or painting hippopotami. There are plenty of traditional volunteer-finding services but nothing that's uniquely creative, and I think it would be really cool.

I also think it will be a lot of work, so I'm still turning over logistics in my mind. If you have any ideas regarding this project please do drop me a line at and let me know your thoughts. I'd love to have lots of input (after all that's kind of the philosophy of the site,) and even if your only expertise is in ladybugs, you owe it to every ladybug-loving-layperson to put in your two cents, because if you don't, who else will? 

I don't usually talk about religion here on the blog but that little Hannukah history rant reminded me of a quote I heard kicked around a lot as a kid, something like "if not me, then who? If not now, then when?" It was usually quoted in reference to speaking out against the Holocaust, but was actually coined thousands of years earlier and went like this:

"If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?"

Oh Hillel the Elder you sly fox you. I take it to mean three things: 
1. Be yourself. 
2. Don't just think about yourself jerkface, you're part of something bigger. 
and 3. Go do something. Anything. Seriously. 

There are many interpretations of course as the questions are rhetorical (and if you were that asshole in my junior year lit theory section I'm sure you could wax poetic for six weeks about the symbolic symphonic & syntactic meaning of the word 'if,')  but Hillel had a knack for the pithy so I aimed sharp. 

A guy once challenged Hillel to summarize the entire torah while standing on one foot. He said, basically,  "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary." Golden rule, bing bang boom. 

I like this guy because he cuts right to the chase, through the floods and the frogs, the stories about three wise men and two tablets and burning bushes, the rules about shellfish and virgins and wine, straight to the heart of the matter. 

Unsurprisingly, he isn't the first or the last. Buddha says it, Jesus says it, Muhammed says it, every hippy band worth their weight in ganga said it... I guess this is why I avoid discussing religion in particular, because I always feel compelled to illuminate similarities in general, because maybe when we realize that everyone's invisible man is saying pretty much the same thing, we'll stop blowing eachother to pieces over semantics. Then I have to reel myself back from the brink of an avalanche of "why why why"s when I reflect upon history and conclude that humankind is inherently illogical and that there's nothing to be done, and then, every now and then, I think about Hillel the Elder. 

Because if we can't fix things who can? And if we don't try who will? And if we don't start now then how are we going to explain to our children why their breakfasts consist of radioactive genetically modified anthrax-laced Ritalin-flakes?

SO... where were we? Hmmm. Well all I know is that if you're not being yourself, being audaciously yourself, then there's a huge ingredient missing in the world because nobody else is going to be able to fill your you-shoes. Write what only you can write, create what only you can create, and don't give yourself a hard time if it's not as "prolific" as Beethoven and Einstein. What you make is right because it's yours, and it's something that neither of them, despite their talent, could ever conceive of. And don't give yourself the credit of foresight because it's a joke- you never know how things will turn out tomorrow letalone two thousand years from now. Imagine telling Hillel he's being quoted on a blog. Whaaaaa? 

Most of all, (as inspired by a lovely email I received from a talented writer/temporary security guard,) I'd like to encourage everyone to be good to themselves this year. Be encouraging and patient, because before you can treat others the way you want to be treated, you need to treat yourself with respect and kindness. It's the best way to get shit done folks. And it feels like you're crazy at first, like you should be reminding yourself of shortcomings and obstacles instead of skipping ahead like a sunshiney idiot into uncharted territory without any realistic expectations.... but reality is what you make it. 

So anyways, let me know your thoughts on the site thing, on life in general, etc. Thanks for checking out my fun little youtube songs, ( I'm having a great time experimenting with them and I appreciate your humoring my musical side. (Secretly) I'm a little nervous about performing in public and I've aaaaaalways berated myself ever since I quit piano at age 11 for not being a better musician by now, for not practicing more, but the songs are my small attempt at forging ahead despite the naysaying voices, at giving myself permission to do something I like even if I'm not the best at it, at turning something I want into something I have. 

It's all about the babysteps. 

Much love & light,