• culture,  introspection,  new york

    The Ghost of New Years Eve Past

    fireworks1There are some New Years Eves that I remember distinctly. The turn of the year from 1989 into 1990 is my oldest memory. I was nearly a decade old and it was the first decade turn that I had ever experienced. I spent the evening reading on the fold-out sofa bed in the living room with my mom next to me, who was probably grading papers (she was always grading papers), but I kept glancing at the clock as it inched closer and closer to midnight.  I was finishing up the fourth book of Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness quartet for the first time, reaching that final scene where the earth itself begins to break apart.  I don’t think there has ever been another series of books quite so influential on me as that one and I’m sure that reading that scene at that moment is why I remember that New Year so well.  There is a new generation that sees the characters of Harry Potter that way — that find themselves in Hermione or Ron or Harry — but for me, it was always Alanna of Trebond, who disguised herself as a boy so that she could go off and have adventures.  There’s a pretty close connection to what I did with my own life.  I often wonder if I would have chosen the same path if I hadn’t wanted so badly to be Alanna.

    Another New Years Eve — a little over a decade later.  I can’t seem to remember any in between, though there must have been some good times.  I had just moved — or perhaps was just about to move — to New York and couldn’t have been much older than 23.  I was dating a socialite and we hopped from one party to another, all hosted by people I had never met before.  I talked to so many different kinds of people that night and was bedazzled by the New York scene, where everyone knows their focaccia from their semolina and kisses in the European style.  I am not a very touchy person, particularly with strangers, but I liked the casual intimacy.  It smacked of the sophistication that I love so much about this city — the small touches of a different culture that are there to embrace if you want to.

    The next one that sticks out in infamy.  It was the first year I was dating my Beloved and he enjoyed going into Manhattan to be near the Times Square Madness.  I am not that type, so I wished him well and invited a few friends over my house instead for a quiet evening of wine and movies.  We were settling down when he showed up on my doorstep like an oversized manic elf in a striped knit hat, carrying a case of champagne and a gallon of orange juice.  Given the total party attendance of five and the six new bottles of champagne, things quickly went downhill, as the Times Square Madness transcended to my living room.  Bonds were forged through alcohol-induced illness, one maybe-not-so-good-friendship ended and my new back yard was christened after my one bathroom was taken over by an overindulger that refused to be parted from the refreshing coolness of the tile floor.  Infamy.  We emerged the next morning like gladiators that had run the gauntlet — exhausted and bruised, but triumphant.  The next summer, my Beloved installed a second bathroom.

    The last one that I remember and, perhaps, the most important one of my life, involved a Spanish restaurant in Dublin, tapas, friends, a bridge, a very shiny ring and one Beloved Elf that forgot to get on one knee first.  When the fireworks went off at midnight, five hours before my East Coast, one of my new brothers hugged me and called me his new sister, which I think I will remember forever.  Then we ate white grapes in the Spanish style, quickly as we could, trying not to choke on the sweetness of the night.

    Tonight we have plans that involve none of those things  — it is a fresh start, as the end of a year ought to be. I have been talked into staying in Manhattan for the New Year, relatively close to where the Times Square Madness is happening.  (Actually, somehow that didn’t occur to me until I just thought about it now…my Beloved is a trixsy elf.)  One of my Beloved’s many BFFs has a spouse that is playing a show at a bar and we’re going to join them.  Given the general madness of the transit system on New Years Eve, we’ve also treated ourselves to a hotel room within stumbling distance.  This works out well, as one of my BFFs is meeting me in the morning — a rare treat, as she moved to the West Coast a number of years back and I don’t see her often.  I can’t think of a better way to begin the new year than a day spent with one of my oldest and dearest friends.  My bag is packed for our little adventure and I find myself feeling carefree and joyous, which is the whole point, isn’t it?

    To all the revelers, the nondrinkers, the stay home wine-and-movie-watchers, the people who find themselves alone on International Party Night, the workers, the bed-by-niners and those that are just drunk-people-phobic — I wish you all a beautiful New Years Evening.  It is one of the few times nearly the whole world comes together to celebrate hope – and that alone is something that is worth celebrating, no matter how you find yourself doing it.


  • art,  culture,  music

    Team Beyonce

    I admit that I did not watch the Superbowl and the only part of that that I regret was not seeing Beyonce’s performance at the halftime show. I watched it the next day on Youtube, because I watched Facebook turn into a big furor about her. There was a rough division between Team Beyonce and Team What-Is-Beyonce-Doing-To-Our-Children?

    It brings up an interesting question. When I see Beyonce in this clip, I see a strong and powerful woman who could probably stand to put on a longer skirt. But it’s not the pornography I would have been expecting to see based on the reaction. (And it is not, say, singing about taking your clothes off, then having a “wardrobe malfunction”, oh, other superbowl performers…) I think she’s pretty amazing – to have the fitness to be able to move like that on a stage and also sing like Beyonce is the result of a lot of damn hard work. When I look at her, I don’t see an object – I see a triumphant woman who has worked extraordinarily hard at doing what she loves and is enjoying her success. I see a role model.

    I also can’t help but notice that she was wearing more clothes than the cheerleaders, so Beyonce probably isn’t the first place to start criticizing if you’re looking to discuss the objectification of women in football culture. Beyonce was there in her own right, with a fit and strong body in a dance costume and enormous musical talent on top of it.

    Team Beyonce, all the way. And if you’re worried your children are getting the wrong message, do me a favor and shield their eyes from the cheerleaders too, hey?

  • culture

    The Four Chaplains

    I spent Easter Sunday doing a lot of research into the year 1943, which is the setting for a piece of fiction that I’ve been working on for a while now.  It was a quiet day and I wasn’t feeling too well, so instead of writing, I decided to read the Internet until my headache demanded otherwise.

    I came across several interesting stories, but the one that seemed most appropriate for this very holy weekend of Good Friday, Passover and Easter was that of the Four Chaplains.  The four chaplains were a rabbi, a priest and two Protestant ministers that were shipping out to Greenland on their way towards an undisclosed location in 1943.  They were on board the USAT Dorchester, a cruise-liner-turned-transport ship with slightly over 900 sailors aboard.  The Dorchester was torpedoed by a German submarine when it was off the coast of Newfoundland and had to be abandoned.  The four chaplains organized the evacuation to get as many sailors into rescue boats as possible, while getting as many of the rest into life jackets as they could.  When the life jackets ran out, they gave their own life jackets up for others.  Survivors reported that while the ship went down, the Four Chaplains had their arms linked and were praying together for the safety of the sailors, most of whom died.  Hundreds lost their lives to hypothermia, even though the Dorchester was being escorted by three other ships.  just over two hundred of the nine hundred survived, which are numbers that are hard to even imagine.

    I am not a faithful person – I was raised without a faith and have never been able to find one that felt like it fit me.  I’ve flirted with a few over time, but seem to be mostly drawn to those that don’t require a firm committment from me to a particular set of ideology, which seems like it misses the point of it all.  I don’t believe in God, mostly because it’s a difficult practice to begin when you weren’t raised surrounded by other people who do believe.  But, unlike a lot of athiests who do come out of religious homes, I have a really deep respect for people who do.  I strongly believe in the value of having a faith practice and a faith community.  I’ve always been jealous of people who come to that naturally — even having a religion to rebel against gives you a cultural identity that I just don’t have.  And while I have a deep respect for the practitioners, I have an even deeper respect and admiration for the leaders in faith communities, because their committment to God seems so unshakable.  We do not live in a world in which much is unshakable.

    So, in reading about these four men of God, each from a different faith, who were joined and bonded in that faith as they died together, absolutely gave me chills.  It was nearly seventy years ago that they died, but the way they died and the way that they lived, choosing a dangerous life of service, has touched me.  So here’s to the Four Chaplains, to unshakable faith, to people who willingly sacrifice their own lives so that others may live.  And here’s to interfaith service and four men who died praying in three different languages.  There are so many different lessons in their story for all of us.

  • art,  culture,  travel

    Joseph, Oregon

    Mutton Buster by searchingbuddha
    Mutton Buster, a photo by searchingbuddha on Flickr.

    I have been off in the western mountains for the last week, doing a fair impersonation of frolicking in the wilderness. I have climbed mountains and swam in a mountain lake, hiked trails and gone to a rodeo. (Well. You know. When in Rome.)

    I bought a cowboy hat.

    I’ve been getting in touch with my western roots, which actually makes a fair amount of sense when I think about the fact that my entire family is from west of the Mississippi River. I am very definitely an East Coast person; I grew up in Maryland, then moved to Virginia, then New York. I like my humidity and small mountains, my crowds and people who say what they mean, even when they’re saying it mean.

    But big skies and mountain lakes are compelling. Joseph is an artist’s town; a place where it’s cheap enough to live that you can make a living doing art. It’s remote enough to be surrounded by beauty and wilderness. It makes me want to spin and knit and write novels. It’s an absolute inspiration, a refocusing on the things that I want to accomplish before I die.

    In other words, an absolutely excellent vacation. I’m ready to do it again…and why, yes, I *am* free on Tuesday.

  • amusement,  art,  culture,  family,  friends

    Visiting Time

    When I went to your town on the wide open shore,
    Oh I must confess, I was drawn, I was drawn to the ocean

    It is summer and we live by the ocean, which means that we’ve had a steady stream of visitors for the last month, which is an excellent thing indeed.  I’ve also been doing my share of visiting, having popped down to Virginia in the beginning of June to meet one very excellent baby.  I’m afraid I have fallen rather in love and have been compelled to knit and buy small things.

    This was followed with a far too short but excellent visit with a very old friend and a new friend, where we spent most of our time on the beach in both bad weather and good.  There are some friends that you can just pick up with after any amount of time away and the time spent together is so restful.  Too short, but incredibly wonderful.

    Last weekend, my aunt came for a visit, where we went to see lots and lots of art in jewelry format.  The jewels were so scintillating that after two rooms, I actually had eyestrain.  I found the exhibit really inspiring from a knitting design perspective; I have some ideas in my head that will be hitting paper soon.  Then we took a day to wander up to Boston, taking the Port Jefferson ferry over to Connecticut, then stopping for lunch in Mystic.  I got to tourist Boston for the first time – despite morning thunderboomers and storms, we made it to Fenway Park (and I sat on the Green Monster) and walked quite a lot of the historic trail and waved at Sam Adams’ grave (why yes, that is my beer of choice) and went shopping at Quincy Market (where I proceeded to get overwhelmed by a cosmetic purchase, which you’d think I’d have gotten down pat by the age of thirty-one).  Dinner was excellent Vietnamese, which sent us off to sleep, only to awaken to a day at the Science Museum, which is pretty much the coolest thing I’ve seen in a long time.  Lightning bolts and amazing ship models?  In one place?  Awesome.

    The social life continue this weekend with some more very dear friends coming up for a visit and barbeque and FIREWORKS IN THE BACKYARD.  We’re not all that patriotic, but we sure do like setting things on fire.  Just hopefully not ourselves.

  • art,  culture,  film

    Catching the Thieves

    I don’t often sit down to watch a movie, but when I have been watching movies lately, they’ve been from the In Technicolor! era. Recent watches have been For Love of Ivy, Arsenic and Old Lace, Sunset Boulevard and Mogambo. Tonight I’m watching To Catch a Thief. I’ve been enjoying the conventions of older movies, which seem to be much closer to their theatrical origins. The zoom-ins to newspapers that further the plot and the music (which seems to be the same in every movie) that point out when the romantic leads encounter each other are endearing. The clothes where men always wore suits and women were always in absolutely gorgeous ball gowns always make me wonder if that’s how it really was or if it’s just a Hollywood convention. Part of me appreciates a more formal world, even while I’m laughing at the sudden bursts of passion that cause Clark Gable to go marching over to a leading lady and push his face forcefully against hers. Is that a kiss? If so, I hope never to have one. Sorry Clark.

    Actors, is there a name for this old style of acting? The conventions are hilarious.

    Of course, the films that I’m watching are the ones that have survived through the years and have made it to DVD. I never studied film in school, other than one art history class that was a survey of Korean film. (A class in which I learned that Attack the Gas Station! is actually a remake.) I know very little about cinematography or film history. But still, I find I’m enjoying the look back at, what is to me, a very foreign time and place. It’s similar to when I watch foreign movies, where I only understand the cultural references because I’ve studied the time and place. And yet, I’ve been picking these movies because I want to understand the references of my own culture. Grace Kelly, Clark Gable, Sidney Poitier, Gloria Swanson, Ava Gardner — all names I’ve known for years without faces. And now I’ve got the reference.

  • culture,  feminism,  introspection,  politics

    Womyns’ Communities

    An article on lesbian separatist communities that I found interesting.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about communities of women (of all sexual orientations) because of the novel I’m reading, The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett. It is really, really good. It’s about a home for unwed mothers run by the Catholic church (and therefore nuns). There are, so far, two male characters and dozens of female characters. There are not a lot of books like that.

    Working in a practically all-male field as I do, I’ve found my need for companionship with other women has increased over the years. Women socialize very differently from men, which is really refreshing. We talk deeper, in a lot of ways, with more depth on a subject, but we discuss fewer subjects. However, finding women who want to talk about something other than the men in our lives has been challenging. I am as guilty of this as anyone – I find that I frequently am lost finding something else to talk about (and not having children does not help). To be fair, those relationships require a lot of time and effort and thought cycles. They require discussion and processing. But here we are, women together in a room – surely our life experiences have more to offer than just our romantic relationships? But how do you get past an entire culture that tells you otherwise – how do you bridge the gap for something more meaningful?

    I don’t know, but I try all the time. Perhaps these all female communities are on to something – I don’t know that I’d want to live in one all the time, but I would love to be able to visit.