Monday, June 30, 2008
After the Zendo yesterday morning I went to watch the Pride Parade with my friend Bill. I’m ambivalent about the parade, with all its outrageous costumes, hypersexuality and glut of marchers. (It’s WAY too long.) But on the other hand, it’s fun to watch for a while, and it is an important expression of community.
So, anyway, we watched long enough to see Rue McClanahan stumping for Obama, and newlywed George Takei (Mr. Sulu from “Star Trek”) riding atop a convertible with his partner. Then the skies opened up and it poured rain -- complete with thunder and lightning reminiscent of Florida. I ducked into Banana Republic, but the storm passed quickly and the parade never really stopped, from what I could tell.
(Photo: Street art in Dumbo, Brooklyn, June 2008)
Sunday, June 29, 2008
About five years ago, after my Uncle Rudolph died, we got a call from the realtor selling his family home in Avon Park, Fla. Seems several boxes of stuff had been left in the house, including some family photos and documents. Did we want them?
Uncle Rudolph was my great uncle, my grandmother's brother. The house being sold was the one where both of them grew up. Certainly we wanted this stuff. At the next opportunity, my mother and I drove down to Avon Park and retrieved it.
Included in the boxes was this scrapbook, which my Aunt Laurita -- who died in the mid-1990s -- compiled of a trip she and Uncle Rudolph took to Europe in 1968. That was back when flying was stylish and traveling was more exotic than it is today. They did the grand tour: London, Paris, Amsterdam, West Germany, Austria, Rome, Madrid and Lisbon.
Aunt Laurita was something of a journalist -- she wrote a newspaper column in college and vivid letters all her life. The scrapbook reflects that. It's not just a collage of mementos, but also a collection of handwritten notes about what they saw, from people in their hotels to landmarks and facts about each country.
I love this scrapbook. I love all the '60s-style writing on hotel stationery and napkins, and the photos of my great aunt and uncle. I love the notes she took about getting lost in London -- and lost again in Paris. She was funny, my Aunt Laurita.
I put a few pages of the scrapook on Flickr. To see each photo, click on the thumbnail, and scroll your mouse over the page for notes. To see an even bigger version, click the "all sizes" tab above each picture. I wish I'd been able to photograph every page, but there's just too much!
Saturday, June 28, 2008
I don't pretend to know a lot about Chinese medicine and philosophy, but I know the concept of flow is vitally important. Normally, I'm pretty good about maintaining a sense of flow in my life, even subconsciously -- I don't let things accumulate and stagnate, whether paperwork, or food in the fridge, or tasks and errands. I get things done. I keep things moving.
I rotate my clothes, so that none get worn to excess and none get ignored. I read one book at a time. I work my way through magazines chronologically, reading each issue in turn. I eat all the groceries I buy. I post my pictures to Flickr in the order I take them. Flow permeates my habits, and I think that contributes to a sense of stability and soundness.
My Zen teacher even gave me the Dharma name Junryu, which means "Flow with the river." I'd like to think she appreciated an innate sense of flow in me, but I think it's more likely she was reminding me not to get hung up on things.
Lately, parts of my life have not felt like they're flowing. Some things have felt stuck. Pleasures become painful when they don't move and develop; stagnation sets in. I am devoting this weekend to restoring flow, big and small, both personally and professionally. Never mind all the details, but trust me that it's needed and all is well.
(Photo: Patio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, June 2008)
Friday, June 27, 2008
This is GLBT Pride Week in New York, leading up to the big Pride Parade on Sunday. I don’t march in the parade, but I usually try to attend -- it’s a good place to meet up with friends, even though all the floats and marchers get a bit tedious. (These days, it’s all very corporate.)
Anyway, last night we had a party for our GLBT & Allies group at work. It was held on the 30th floor of a building overlooking Madison Square Park, and the views were terrific. We could clearly see the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building, not to mention the Flatiron right next door.
I had a lot of fun -- it’s interesting how socializing with people from work is totally different from working with them! I also got to hang out with a bunch of people I often don’t see during the course of a normal workday.
But it’s funny -- this building had balconies, where I stood for quite a while, talking and admiring the view. Then, after I got home and went to bed, I had scary half-asleep visions of myself and/or others falling from the balconies. Yikes! (I think it must have something to do with the current dire economic situation at work, and our periodic layoffs. Where’s my dream analyst when I need one?)
(Photo: Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, June 2008)
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Still not much to report. Just work and my normal routines, for the most part. I've been trying to focus on finishing "Jane Eyre," which I had to put down for a while -- I'm finally getting toward the end. I'm enjoying it, but I just haven't made the time to sit down and read until now.
I saw "Get Smart" the other day. I always liked the 60s sitcom, but the movie offers further proof that a silly TV show doesn't always offer adequate foundation for a two-hour movie. Steve Carrell, though a good actor and comic, gives Maxwell Smart a bit too much gravitas and style for my taste.
(Photo: Graffiti in SoHo, June 2008)
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Friday, June 20, 2008
Last night, as I was walking home on Third Avenue after dinner with a friend, I found a starfish lying on the sidewalk.
I kid you not. A real, actual starfish. It wasn’t a living starfish, mind you -- it had been bleached and dried and otherwise rendered non-stinky. But a starfish nonetheless. I picked it up and looked around quizzically, thinking I might be on Candid Camera, or whatever the modern equivalent is. But no one paid me any attention.
So I brought the starfish home and put it on a shelf with some other seashells.
Strange things wash up on the sidewalks of New York from time to time.
Unrelated: If you’re a Suzanne Vega fan, you’ll want to read this.
(Photo: E. 29th Street, May 2008)
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Yesterday I had an opportunity to meet Bishop Gene Robinson, the openly gay church leader who’s become such a lightning rod in the Episcopal Church. If you’ve been following his story at all, you know his election as bishop of New Hampshire has prompted a call for schism in the church, from a handful of conservative churches in the U.S. and from some church leaders overseas.
Robinson is a smooth, relaxed speaker, and he’s fascinating to hear -- which I guess shouldn’t be a surprise, given that he’s a bishop. He believes that what’s happened to him only mirrors what’s happening in the greater society -- essentially an end to the patriarchal structure, which threatens those who have traditionally held all the power. He said homophobia is closely tied to misogyny, because homosexuality is seen as a weakening, a feminizing, of traditional male roles.
He also said he believes the Bible is the word of God, but not the “words of God,” thus drawing a line between Biblical literalists and a more interpretive stance on scripture. He doesn’t think God dictated the Bible and then went on vacation; he’s still speaking to us. We just have to listen.
I thought it was a fascinating talk. I always wondered why Robinson didn’t resign and save the church all this trouble -- as inherently wrong as that would be -- but now I see he believes this odyssey is all part of God’s plan. More power to him.
(Photo: Theater district, May 2008)
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
I saw “Boeing-Boeing” on Broadway last night, a hilarious 1960s sex farce starring Christine Baranski, Gina Gershon and Mark Rylance. It was a hoot! Set back in the era of glamorous air travel, it’s about a man who juggles multiple stewardess girlfriends without any of them knowing it -- until they all arrive in town at the same time. It deliberately exaggerates stereotypes about the French, Germans, Italians and Americans -- including, specifically, people from Wisconsin. The towering, severe German stewardess played by Mary McCormack is especially funny.
I finished my Nexium this morning, so time will tell whether my stomach issues return. I haven’t done myself any favors over the past few weeks, having a martini, spicy Thai food, three cups of coffee a day, etc. (Yes, I was supposed to avoid all of that. But it’s surprisingly difficult when you find yourself in social situations -- or, in the case of the coffee, falling asleep at your desk.)
(Photo: Ghost leaf, East Village, May 2008)
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
I saw a terrific film last night called "Freeheld," about a dying lesbian police detective's fight to leave her pension to her partner. The movie was screened as a benefit for the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, and it was incredibly moving and sad. No wonder it won an Oscar this year. I was so glad to have an opportunity to see it, and to see filmmaker Cynthia Wade speak afterwards. Rent it if you can.
Ann and Greg went back home yesterday, and my cat is at ease once again because the house is hers. I'm happy to get back to my routines, though I had a great time with my visitors -- and Ann & Greg left me a beautiful bouquet of irises, which was a nice surprise when I got home late last night.
On the way home, I was sitting on the subway train fretting about how I haven't had any time to myself for the last week or two. And then I had to laugh, because of course time on the subway IS time to myself! It's so easy to overlook what you have, you know?
(Photo: East Village, May 2008)
Monday, June 16, 2008
Whew! What a whirlwind weekend! I’m lying in bed this morning at 8 a.m., late for work already. I really needed some extra sleep, though!
Ann, Greg and I met up with Bob yesterday afternoon and we all went to see Patti LuPone in “Gypsy” on Broadway. It was great timing, because then Patti, Boyd Gaines and Laura Benanti went on to win Tonys last night! I’ve seen “Gypsy” twice now, the first time with Bernadette Peters. You can’t not like the show. It’s such a phenomenon, with such great songs.
Afterwards we went up to the revolving restaurant at the top of the Marriott Marquis hotel -- I had a martini -- and then we went for sushi at Haru near Times Square. I love it when I get visitors and have a chance to see New York from a tourist perspective. All weekend I’ve been feeling like I’m on vacation.
But now I really DO have to get to work...
(Photo: Stickers on Rivington Street, Lower East Side, May 2008)
Sunday, June 15, 2008
This weekend has been quite a cultural experience so far! I have two married friends, Ann and Greg, staying with me. They have three daughters, and yesterday we went out to Fifth Avenue to find the daughters some gifts. I can’t say exactly what we bought, on the off chance that the girls (Sarah, Mary and Eleanor) are watching my blog. But I will say that I went to “American Girl Place,” a huge department store full of dolls and dollwear.
I had never before set foot in American Girl Place. Even though I think dolls are a little creepy, it was fun to get a window onto this cultural phenomenon that I know little or nothing about -- not to mention a corner of my city that I’d never seen.
Last night, after our day of shopping, I took them out to dinner for their 20th anniversary, which is why they’re here in the first place. I knew Ann from college in Florida, and twenty years ago I flew up to Pittsburgh -- her hometown -- to attend her wedding to Greg. It blows my mind that I was there, at their wedding, and now here we are 20 years and three children later. Amazing.
Anyway, after dinner we went to the Cafe Carlyle, in the Hotel Carlyle, to see Eartha Kitt perform. It was a phenomenal show in a small, intimate cabaret space. You may remember Eartha primarily from Batman, where she played Catwoman. But she also had quite a recording career -- in fact, my mother had a 78-RPM vinyl record of Eartha’s “C’est Si Bon” that I used to attempt to play at 45 RPM (the best my turntable would do). Let’s just say it sounds much better when she sings it in person, even at age 82.
(Photo: Philadelphia, May 2008)
Friday, June 13, 2008
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Thanks to everyone who’s asked about my stomach. It’s not quite 100 percent -- I still get twinges of discomfort -- but it feels much better. My appetite has more or less come back, and I cancelled my doctor’s appointment yesterday because the Nexium seems to be working. (The doc asked me to come back only if problems persisted despite the medicine.)
I’ve tried to take this as a reminder that I just can’t do everything and race around like a chicken with its head cut off. (Tangent: The other day, Chedwick wrote about expressions that we use even though they have no real connection to modern life -- how many of us have actually slaughtered a chicken?)
I am slowing down, taking it easy, getting back on the cushion. Breathing. Walking more slowly. To use an “I Love Lucy” metaphor, I’m reminding myself that as the conveyor belt passes, some chocolates are just going to have to fall off the end.
(Photo: Power lines in St. James, New York, Memorial Day 2008)
Monday, June 9, 2008
Another scorcher yesterday. Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I took the opportunity to walk through Brooklyn -- from Bushwick down through Bedford-Stuyvesant. Found lots of interesting street art and old-fashioned graffiti, and saw a lot of areas I’d never visited before. Walked for two hours. Drank lots of water.
My goal was my friend Kelly’s house. She and her partner, Kim, just adopted a new baby (to add to the one they already have). The baby’s name is Beatriz, and she’s adorable, of course. I held her for a long time and she seemed very trusting. Her older sister, Maeve, is now three, and totally cute in her own right.
We had a little backyard barbecue and then I hustled off to Greenpoint (another part of Brooklyn) to say goodbye to Bryn and Jeff, who are about to drive off on a cross-country adventure that will end with them living in Seattle. They’re basically just packing the car and taking off, and seeing what happens when they get out there. I admire that kind of spirit!
(Photo: Philadelphia, May 2008)
Sunday, June 8, 2008
It's summery and downright hot here in the city this weekend -- 93 degrees was the high yesterday. I went to my friend Jan's in Astoria, Queens, to check out her new apartment. She lives in a cute, lively neighborhood with well-tended postage stamp front yards and lots of interesting restaurants and stores. And she has sunlight actually entering her windows -- unlike me, in Manhattan, where the surrounding buildings leave me in perpetual shadow.
We watched the Belmont Stakes and I couldn't blame Big Brown for petering out. It's too darn hot to be running around a baking racetrack!
(Photo: Philadelphia, May 2008)
Saturday, June 7, 2008
You know how sometimes you remember something fondly - a book, a movie - and then when you experience it again later it's a disappointment?
This week, I can identify. I rented the DVDs of the TV series "Square Pegs," which I liked back in high school. It aired beginning in 1982 and starred a young Sarah Jessica Parker as one of two gawky schoolgirls striving for popularity.
It's been fun to watch for nostalgia's sake - those pastel '80s clothes! - but it's just not very good. The characters, particularly the boys, behave in ways that real high schoolers would never behave. The plots are thin, the personalities shallow - even by the standards of silly sitcoms.
And actually, as I recall, I liked the series when it began, but I don't think I watched it very devotedly after the first half of the first season. I guess others reacted the same way, which is why it bit the dust soon after.
(Photo: Philadelphia, May 2008)
Friday, June 6, 2008
We had a surprise at work yesterday. I was sitting at my desk when a co-worker came over and said, “Someone’s climbing up the outside of the building!”
Sure enough, a French stuntman named Alain Robert was going hand-over-hand up the exterior sunscreen of the skyscraper where I work. We all pressed against the windows, watching him as he ascended. I work on the fifth floor, so he’d barely started at that point -- I eventually went down to the street and watched him as he climbed up to about the 30th floor. Then I went inside, because it was just too scary. He arrived at the 52nd floor not long after and was arrested.
I said to some co-workers, “We’re going to have to make changes to the building, because now that someone’s done it, others will do it again.”
And sure enough, ANOTHER guy climbed the building just a few hours later. He seemed like much more of an amateur, but he made it to the top too. I couldn’t believe it. (I left work right about the time he started his ascent, so I missed that climb.)
The building is screened with panels of ceramic rods. I don’t know how strong they are, or whether they’re really made to withstand the weight of a human being. The news account said one of them cracked as the second climber stepped on it.
If I were a potential climber, I would give this some serious thought. Even someone strong enough to reach the top is climbing a structure that’s simply not meant to be climbed.
At any rate, I hope this doesn’t become a regular occurrence. Not only is it a selfishly dangerous act, but I’ll never get any work done.
(Photo: Sticker art in Philadelphia, May 2008)
Thursday, June 5, 2008
I’ve been having an interesting medical adventure the past several days. I’ve come down with what my doctor thinks is gastritis, where the acid of the stomach attacks the stomach walls. I’ve been having a lot of gastric discomfort, along with a loss of appetite and generally ill feeling. (Too many gay weddings and champagne celebrations at Long Island mansions, I suppose.) Anyway, she put me on Nexium, which inhibits stomach acid. We’ll see how that goes.
(I’m still having my coffee this morning. They’ll have to pry my mug from my cold, dead hands, to paraphrase Charlton Heston.)
I saw “Sex and the City” last night. I don’t want to take it too seriously, but it sure seems to set back the women’s movement a couple of decades! On the other hand it was fun, while also totally unrealistic. I walk around New York every day and I never see people dressed like that.
The crowd dynamic was actually more fun than the movie. In one scene, Carrie opens the doors of a huge closet built for her by Big -- and the audience GASPED with the collective shock of a bunch of New Yorkers who have no place to store anything of their own. It was funny.
(Photo: E. 29th Street, May 2008)
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
I keep hearing about teenagers who don’t know things they should -- like how to write, or geographical facts about their country and the world, or who certain national leaders are. There’s a lot of hand-wringing about why this happens. From my own experience, I can tell you one factor -- the growth of cool.
Kids don’t want to appear smart because it’s not cool. There’s a social deadliness attached to any form of studious behavior, even as light as casual reading. In fact, even sincerity or thoughtfulness is regarded skeptically by many teens, especially boys, who seem pressured into a kind of smart-alecky disengagement.
Now, some of this just comes with being a teenager. But I really think we need to turn around this contempt for learning.
From my own years in school, back in the Pleistocene Era, I remember the ridicule that would rain down from peers who perceived me, rightly or wrongly, as smart. I did continue to read, and I continued my nerdy habits like stamp collecting, thanks to a couple of good friends who were prone to similar hobbies. But I really do believe that one of the reasons I didn’t study harder in school is that it wasn’t cool, and was socially condemned.
The National Honor Society chapter at my high school was virtually all girls. I remember my mom looking at the photo in the yearbook and saying, “Where are the boys?”
Answer: Trying to be cool.
And I think it's only grown worse since then, with our media culture saturating kids with images of what's cool and what's not.
Why do kids think learning is a bad thing? Why are we socialized to hide our innate intelligence, to strive for a lower denominator? Is there a way to change that?
(Photo: Williamsburg, Brooklyn, May 2008)
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
I went back to the Zendo last night for the first time in several weeks. I’m not sure why I’ve been so resistant to going -- I’ve made excuses to myself about my busy schedule, but the truth is I’ve had plenty of opportunity. When I think about all the time I’ve spent wandering the city and doing photography, or sorting through my photo albums (an ongoing project), or burning my CDs to my computer -- well, let’s just say I could have taken a few hours to sit here and there.
Anyway, it was nice to go last night. I have been sitting at home a bit, but that’s never as powerful as sitting with a group. We all give each other energy and support when we sit together.
There’s a verse that we say in the mornings while on retreat, before we put on our rakusu, the garment representative of the Buddha’s robe:
Vast is the robe of liberation
A formless field of benefaction
I wear the Tathagata teachings
Saving all sentient beings.
I was reminded of that verse last night as I sat facing the white wall of the Zendo. After you’ve been sitting a while, staring unfocused at one point, the wall begins to sort of dissolve. It shimmers a bit, and as it did so I had the strangest sensation of floating in silent nothingness. That line about the formless field popped into my head: The beauty and vastness of the oneness of everything. (Of course, the thought then destroyed the sensation, because I was thinking!)
Anyway, don’t take this as any kind of teaching. It’s just my experience from a long-overdue Zendo visit.
(Photos: Bridge panels in Philadelphia, May 2008)
Monday, June 2, 2008
Had a terrific morning yesterday, wandering around and shooting photos. I walked from my apartment on 29th Street all the way down to Henry and Grand on the Lower East Side, and then back again. It was quite a hike, but the weather was spectacular.
I was sorry to see that this piece is gone entirely. It’s been painted over. But such is the temporary nature of street art.
Then, in the evening, Bob and I walked over to 91st Street to see the most recent crane collapse. When I saw that on the news the other morning, I couldn’t believe it. What’s the likelihood of two crane collapses in just a few months? The reality is that there’s a whole lot of construction going on in this city, though.
Bob and I watched “The Third Man” last night. If you haven’t seen it, definitely rent it. It’s a great movie. The cinematography is amazing.
(Photo: E. 29th Street, May 2008)
Sunday, June 1, 2008
Yesterday I went to a marathon wedding on Long Island. My friends Rich and Luis tied the knot in a very traditional way: a church ceremony, followed by a reception with champagne toasts and a DJ, white floral centerpieces and butter carved into the shape of swans. There was SO much food, too. Holy cow.
I’ve always heard that Long Island is legendary for elaborate weddings, and this was probably as elaborate as I’ve ever seen. It was also very multicultural -- the ceremony included readings from a Korean author and the Native Americans, and the Jewish tradition of smashing the wine glass. Luis is Colombian, so it also had a South American twist here and there.
If any of us had any doubts about how mainstream gay weddings were becoming, we had only to look around. Rich’s parents and older aunts and uncles were all there, along with other guests all up and down the age spectrum: neighbors, friends, nieces, nephews. It was a remarkable thing. Events like this hold an important cultural message for both straight and gay participants, whether technically legal or not. A public declaration of love is always healthy.
Congrats, Rich and Luis. You’re a great couple, and you’re great friends.
(Photo: Williamsburg, Brooklyn, May 2008)