Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ch-ch-ch-changes


As I sit here in our living room in East Brunswick, with the dogs snoring on the couch and the snow falling outside, I'm a little amazed to think about all the changes that have come during the past year: a new boyfriend, the loss of my job, the death of my cat, and now my impending move to New Jersey. I don't think I've been through such a period of intense change since I moved to New York almost ten years ago.

It's exciting, but it's scary at the same time! I'm already taking steps toward the move. I forwarded my mail. I disconnected my telephone and Internet service in New York, and I switched my cell phone from Verizon to AT&T, which gets much better reception here in central New Jersey. (I also got an iPhone, which I am enjoying a lot -- the ability to access the Internet from anywhere and check e-mail is pretty awesome!)

With each step, I keep asking myself -- do I really want to do this? The answer is always yes. Someone once told me that if a thing isn't scary it isn't worth doing, and while that's a little glib to be a life philosophy, I think there's a grain of truth there. Besides, nothing is irreversible, and even if I sold my apartment in the city, I could always go back if circumstances demanded it. (In fact, I could live in Brooklyn, which is where I'd rather be anyway.)

I don't really feel like I'm leaving New York. The city is so easy to get to that I plan to be wandering there at least weekly.

More importantly, though, I do want to take this step with Dave. I'm excited about our future, as nebulous as my career path looks right now. I think we have great things ahead of both of us.

Here's to 2010! (Did you ever think it would be 2010?!)

(Photo: Street art from a walkway along the river in New Brunswick. We walked there Tuesday despite bitter cold so I could do some photography. I made this image into my wallpaper for my iPod.)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Avatar


Yesterday Dave and I went to see "Avatar," James Cameron's latest movie extravaganza. It's pretty spectacular, though a bit too "shoot-'em-up" for my taste. The sequences at the beginning, when the main character first learns about his new home planet, are really beautiful, with brilliant phosphorescent plants and wild creatures. I would have been happy with a gentler plot that explores that world more thoroughly. But the movie, in a quest for dramatic tension (I suppose), devolves instead into a war story with humans (and especially Marines) being the stereotypical bad guys. I don't disagree that humans mess things up, and I'm certainly suspect of the military and its motives, but this all seems a little shallow and, well, easy. Still, it's worth seeing, just for the incredible digital effects.

It struck me that twenty or thirty years ago this kind of movie would have been animated. This production really does take moviemaking to a whole new level!

(Photo: Harlem, November 2009)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Nutcracker


Dave and I found this bright yellow house while driving the back roads near the town of Spotswood, N.J. You gotta love the color, and check out those Christmas decorations!

Yesterday we went into the city -- despite truly deplorable weather -- to meet up with my friend Arne and his partner Norman, who are visiting from Washington D.C. They generously took us to see a production of The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center, and then to dinner at a Provencal restaurant where Dave briefly interned after his stint at culinary school. We had a great time!

The Nutcracker production was very traditional -- lots of sparkly pink sets and elaborate costumes. Not really to my taste, and not particularly sophisticated, but a great introductory ballet for kids, I suppose. I joked afterwards that someone needs to produce a sort of Martha Graham-like version, with a minimalist stage and severe black leotards. I suppose it's already been done somewhere.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas!


Christmas was a lot of fun! Dave and I started the morning with presents -- I got a zoom lens for my camera, which will be great for shooting graffiti high up on the rooflines of buildings! I also got Barbara Kingsolver's newest novel, "Lacuna"; a boxed DVD set of all the "Absolutely Fabulous" episodes ever produced; a comfy pair of Merrell slip-on shoes; a pair of running shoes; and three gift certificates for massages at a spa in New Brunswick (plus optional pedicure). What a haul!

Dave got a mandoline (device for finely slicing vegetables), a food mill, a cast-iron skillet, several DVDs of movies he likes, Julia Child's book about her life in Paris, and a Le Creuset pot. (Plus an assortment of clothes from his parents, some successful and some not.) I also told him I'd buy him a rack for organizing his extensive DVD collection, and frankly that gift is as much for me as him, because right now the DVD closet is a mess and it makes me crazy.

After gifts we watched several shows on TV, took the dogs for a walk, and came back and began making dinner. Dave made an apple pie, and later, after it was in the oven, we discovered the new jar of cinnamon hadn't been opened -- which made Dave wonder what he'd put in the pie! Turned out to be an extra dose of nutmeg, but it tastes great all the same.

For dinner Dave made a pork roast stuffed with fennel and apple; I made my mother's famous sweet potatoes, which this time worked out perfectly, unlike Thanksgiving; and swiss chard. In between cooking we watched "War Games," a great old '80s movie that reminds me of my high school years.

Today we're off to the city to see a performance of "The Nutcracker" with my friend Arne and his partner, who are visiting from D.C.

Nearly all the snow in yesterday's photo has now disappeared beneath a slow but steady patter of rain. That field is all grass once again!

(Photo: Garage in Brooklyn, Dec. 2009)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!


Our cookie-making didn't go so well yesterday. Our batch of dough rested too long (we think) and crumbled when we rolled it out and tried to cut the cookies. So we switched to some dough that one of Dave's coworkers gave him -- but it swelled up to such an extent when baked that we couldn't tell what the cookies were supposed to be. (We had four unconventional cookie cutters: a lobster, a dog bone, a high-heel shoe, and a martini glass. They all became formless blobs.) So we're pretty much just eating the cookies we made earlier this week, plus the ones Dave's mom sent. Thank goodness for moms!

Right now I'm sitting on the couch with the dogs in the early dawn light, looking at the blinking lights on our little Christmas tree, which we named Travis. Travis is a live tree, so when we're done with him we're going to plant him in the woods behind the apartment complex. (Apparently we have to wait until just before spring to do this, though, so hopefully he'll survive the winter indoors!)

As soon as Dave gets up we'll have presents, and then we'll just relax, walk the dogs and cook. The perfect day!

(Photo: The field behind the apartment, on Tuesday.)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve


I resolved our mysterious Internet connection problem, so now we have more reliable Web access once again. It's amazing how frustrated, how hampered, I feel when I can't get online!

We're drowning in sweets here in New Jersey. We've made several different types of cookies, and Dave's mom sent a big box of sugary treats as well. My blood sugar levels are going to be insane for the next several weeks! We're finishing up our last batch of cookies today, and then we'll be working on Christmas Eve dinner (we're thinking the traditional fish) and Christmas dinner tomorrow. Every time I protest that I can't eat all this food, Dave says, "But it's Christmas!"

My cold seems to be dissipating, fortunately. I'm still a little congested but I feel much better than I did two days ago.

(Photo: Lexington Avenue, a couple of weeks ago.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Radclyffe Hall


My body's sense of timing is pretty terrible. Just a few days before Christmas, and I'm sick! I started with a very mild cold over the weekend, but this morning it feels like it might be morphing into something more like bronchitis. I may shuffle off to the doctor.

I'm back in the city today, running some errands. That's the only reason I'm able to make this blog post, as Dave's Internet connection is still out. We're trying to figure out what's wrong -- meanwhile, if I'm more quiet than usual on the Intertubes, that's why.

I'm just finishing "The Well of Loneliness" by Radclyffe Hall. It's a groundbreaking novel from 1928 about homosexuality, considered one of the high points of gay literature. It's intriguing and well written, though old-fashioned. So much of what still aggrieves the gay community -- a lack of ability to marry, a persistent belief among many straight people that being gay is a "choice" -- is present in this novel. There's also some unfortunately bad psychology: The main character is a lesbian whose parents wanted a boy, and in fact named her "Stephen," which of course perpetuates the tired idea that parents somehow cause homosexuality in a child. (Yet there are also strong assertions that gays are born that way, so maybe Hall was just trying to cover all her bases.)

From page 470: "As for those who were ashamed to declare themselves, lying low for the sake of a peaceful existence, she utterly despised such of them as had brains; they were traitors to themselves and their fellows, she insisted. For the sooner the world came to realize that fine brains very frequently went with (homosexuality), the sooner it would have to withdraw its ban, and the sooner would cease this persecution. Persecution was always a hideous thing, breeding hideous thoughts -- and such thoughts were dangerous."

(Photo: Barn, East Brunswick, NJ.)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Blizzard!


Well, there was mass panic about this weekend's heavy snowfall, but we managed to survive unscathed. All the blogs were joking that it was going to be "apocalyptic," but it turned out to be merely inconvenient. I think we got a little more than a foot of snow here in East Brunswick -- not nearly as much as some places to the south.

Dave and I stayed in all day Saturday, planning a Christmas baking spree and watching movies. The snow began falling about noon, I think, and it kept snowing through the night. By Sunday morning, when I took the dogs out early, it was up to their bellies. They leapt like deer through the drifts, which was pretty amusing to watch.

Late yesterday morning I began to get a little stir-crazy. I just couldn't handle any more television. So I borrowed a shovel from a neighbor and dug out the car, and drove off to the gym. Mind you, I have never shoveled snow before, nor driven in snow. So this was a first on two levels! I was pretty proud of myself for being so intrepid, and there were several other intrepid souls in the gym with me, so I wasn't the only one getting cabin fever.

After the gym I came home and we resumed our holiday baking (it's really Dave's baking). We made pfeffernussen, which is a kind of spicy cookie, and chocolate-covered nut clusters and candied citrus peel. We have some sugar cookies to make, too, which maybe we'll do today or tomorrow.


This photo gives a whole new meaning to getting snow on your TV screen!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

8. Not Engaging in Vain Talk


"Realizing detachment from arbitrary discrimination is called not engaging in vain talk; when one has fully comprehended the character of reality, one will not engage in vain talk.

"Buddha said, 'O monks, if you indulge in various kinds of vain talk, your mind will be disturbed. Even if you leave society you will still not attain liberation. Therefore you should immediately give up vain talk which disturbs the mind. If you want to attain bliss of tranquility and dispassion, you should extinguish the affliction of vain talk.' "

(From "The Eight Awarenesses of Great People," translated by Thomas Cleary in "Shobogenzo: Zen essays by Dogen.")

(Photo: Chain link fence shadows on a bridge between Long Island City, Queens, and Greenpoint, Brooklyn, last weekend.)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

7. Cultivating Wisdom


"Developing learning, thinking, and application, the realization is wisdom.

"Buddha said, 'O monks, if you have wisdom, you will have no greedy attachment. Always examine yourselves and do not allow any heedlessness. Then you will be able to attain liberation from ego and things. Otherwise, you are neither people of the Way nor laypeople -- there is no way to refer to you. True wisdom is a secure ship to cross the sea of aging, sickness and death. It is also a bright lamp in the darkness of ignorance, good medicine for all the ailing, a sharp axe to fell the trees of afflictions. Therefore you should use the wisdom of learning, thinking, and application, and increase it yourself. If anyone has the illumination of wisdom, this is a person with clear eyes, even though it be the mortal eye.' "

(From "The Eight Awarenesses of Great People," translated by Thomas Cleary in "Shobogenzo: Zen essays by Dogen.")

(Photo: Greenpoint, Brooklyn, last weekend)

Friday, December 18, 2009

6. Cultivating Meditation Concentration


"Dwelling on the teaching without distraction is called meditation concentration.

"Buddha said, 'O monks, if you concentrate the mind, it will be in a state of stability and you will be able to know the characteristics of the phenomena arising and perishing in the world. Therefore you should energetically cultivate and learn the concentrations. If you attain concentration, your mind will not be distracted. Just as a household careful of water builds a dam, so does the practitioner, for the sake of the water of knowledge and wisdom, cultivate meditation concentration well, to prevent them from leaking.' "

(From "The Eight Awarenesses of Great People," translated by Thomas Cleary in "Shobogenzo: Zen essays by Dogen.")

(Photo: Cold day, leaky faucet! East 30th Street, about a week ago)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ghost in the Machine


I've had a heck of a time getting on the Internet today. Dave has a wireless AT&T connection, and this morning I just couldn't get it to cooperate, using both my machine and his. Finally, just now, I got a reliable link. Not sure what that was about.

It's surprising how upsetting it can be to have something like a technical glitch derail my routines. I couldn't upload photos this morning or update my blog! (What was that again about not clinging?)

Last night, we went to a concert at the 92nd Street Y -- an oboe player named Maurice Bourgue and some colleagues gave a performance of several pieces by French composers. The Debussy (Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp) and Poulenc (Sonata for Oboe and Piano) were especially beautiful and moving. I found a series of much older pieces by Couperin to be a bit tedious, especially because they involved a harpsichord, which has never been my favorite instrument. (Dave wanted to go primarily to see the woodwinds.)

(Photo: Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Dec. 2009)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Holidays


I was up until 12:30 this morning defrosting my freezer. What's up with that?! Why am I the last person on the planet to own a freezer that requires defrosting? I have a miniature college-sized refrigerator, and it builds up ice like crazy. You should have seen the huge, Titanic-sinking bergs I took out of there.

Defrosting involves a lot of down time, which I spent combing through my earliest digital photos, from 2005 and 2006. I found a few old street art shots that I'd never posted to Flickr, and some other interesting stuff (like the shot above of a market in Greenwich Village, from February 2006). It's all up on Flickr now.

I mostly have the holidays under control, but only because I defaulted on nearly all my holiday responsibilities. I decided not to send cards -- thus saving both paper and postage -- and I'm buying extremely minimalist presents for just a few people. (Except Dave, who's getting a standard haul.) As I think I've mentioned before, I'm also not traveling this year, so I don't need to worry about getting myself to Florida and back as usual. Instead, I'm spending Christmas in New Jersey, which will be terrific.

Fortunately, my family tends toward minimalism over the holidays, so this isn't a huge departure. And Christmas cards, well, they just seem hopelessly outdated. They were once valuable for staying in touch with people who otherwise would vanish into the mists of time, and I sent them every year. But in this era of Facebook and e-mail, do we really need them? Methinks not.

Yesterday was my final day in the office. I'll continue to check my e-mail until the 31st, which is technically my final day of employment, but I'm pretty much done with work. So I'm going to spend more and more time in New Jersey, getting on with the next phase of my life.

5. Unfailing Recollection


"This is also called keeping right mindfulness; keeping the teachings without loss is called right mindfulness, and also called unfailing recollection.

"Buddha said, 'O monks, if you seek a good companion and seek a good protector and helper, nothing compares to unfailing recollection. Those who have unfailing recollection cannot be invaded by the thieving afflictions. Therefore you should concentrate your thoughts and keep mindful. One who loses mindfulness loses virtues. If one's power of mindfulness is strong, even if one enters among the thieving desires one will not be harmed by them. It is like going to the front lines wearing armor -- then one has nothing to fear.' "

(From "The Eight Awarenesses of Great People," translated by Thomas Cleary in "Shobogenzo: Zen essays by Dogen.")

(Photo: Street art by Ohm, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Dec. 2009)

Monday, December 14, 2009

4. Diligence


"Diligently cultivating virtues without interruption is called diligence, pure and unalloyed, advancing without regression.

"Buddha said, 'O monks, if you make diligent efforts, nothing is hard. Therefore you should be diligent. It is like even a small stream being able to pierce rock if it continually flows. If the practitioner's mind flags and gives up time and gain, that is like drilling for fire but stopping before fire is produced -- though you want to get fire, fire can hardly be gotten this way.' "

(From "The Eight Awarenesses of Great People," translated by Thomas Cleary in "Shobogenzo: Zen essays by Dogen.")

(Photo: Williamsburg, Brooklyn, December 2009)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Georgia O'Keeffe


I had an incredibly busy day yesterday. I went to the Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit at the Whitney Museum in the morning -- it's a show of her abstractions and, predictably, it's fascinating. I've been to so many Georgia O'Keeffe shows that I've seen several of the paintings repeatedly. It's a strange feeling to stand in front of "Music: Pink and Blue II" and think, "I stood in front if this very same painting in 1985 in Washington, D.C.!" Kind of like saying hello to an old friend.

Anyway, she is my favorite artist, and as always I enjoyed the richness of her color and her supple organic forms. Seeing a reprint of a Georgia O'Keeffe painting just doesn't do it justice. The colors are so deep and vibrant that they prompt despair for modern printing techniques -- all those gift cards, calendars, books and posters look sadly pale by comparison.

After the show I took myself to my local diner for brunch, then ran some errands and went out to Queens to do some photography. I hit a couple of graffiti spots, then walked into Brooklyn to my friend Kate's house. I had coffee with her and we had a wander around her Greenpoint neighborhood at dusk, where I got to experiment a bit more with my camera in low light conditions.

Finally I headed to my friend Dan's house in Sunnyside for his 39th birthday party, then after about an hour I hopped a subway, raced home and picked up a bag, and caught a train out to New Jersey where I am now. It's amazing how much ground you can cover with mass transit in the NYC metro area!

(Photo: Wall in the East Village, Nov. 2009)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

3. Enjoying Quietude


"Leaving the clamor and staying alone in deserted places is called enjoying quietude.

"Buddha said, 'O monks, if you wish to seek the peace and happiness of quietude and nonstriving, you should leave the clamor and live without clutter in a solitary place. People in quiet places are honored by the gods. Therefore you should leave your own group as well as other groups, stay alone in a deserted place, and think about extirpating the root of suffering. Those who like crowds suffer the vexations of crowds, just as a big tree will suffer withering and breakage when flocks of birds gather on it. Worldly ties and clinging sink you into a multitude of pains, like an old elephant sunk in the mud, unable to get itself out.' "

(From "The Eight Awarenesses of Great People," translated by Thomas Cleary in "Shobogenzo: Zen essays by Dogen.")

(Photo: Shopping center parking lot, North Brunswick, N.J.)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Lobsters


Longtime blog readers will remember that I'm a fan of David Foster Wallace. Last March, I bought a copy of his book of essays, "Consider the Lobster," at my erstwhile employer's annual used book sale.

Having as usual a considerable backlog of reading material, I've only just now finally gotten around to Considering the Lobster. The title essay was prompted by an event called the Maine Lobster Festival that evidently involves tourists chowing down on hundreds of pounds of crustaceans in a huge tent. Wallace wrote about the festival but eventually moved on to a more salient issue: Do lobsters, when being boiled, feel pain?

As a longtime voice for lobster liberation, I'm really into this topic. Wallace ultimately contends that we just can't be sure. Some people say lobsters don't have the neural development to feel pain like people or higher animals; others say they do, and anyway, how can we possibly know, without the power to project ourselves into a lobster's body in time to endure its final moments?

Wallace says a lobster's neurology lacks the ability to produce endorphins and other chemicals that mitigate pain in mammals. This could mean either that lobsters don't feel pain and thus never needed those chemicals, or that they feel even more pain than mammals would.

He also points out that lobsters do appear to struggle when they're boiled, clanking against the sides of the pot, and that marine researchers say they take up to 45 seconds to die in boiling water. The fact that they struggle seems to suggest pretty strongly that they're hurting, though some people argue their movements are involuntary and reflexive. (He also says quickly plunging a knife into their heads, a supposedly merciful method of killing them before boiling, doesn't completely disable their neural circuitry.)

He continues:

"In any event, at the (Maine Lobster Festival), standing by the bubbling tanks outside the World's Largest Lobster Cooker, watching the fresh-caught lobsters pile over one another, wave their hobbled claws impotently, huddle in the rear corners, or scrabble frantically back from the glass as you approach, it is difficult not to sense that they're unhappy, or frightened, even if it's some rudimentary version of these feelings...and again, why does rudimentariness even enter into it? Why is a primitive, inarticulate form of suffering less urgent or uncomfortable for the person who's helping to inflict it by paying for the food it results in?"

Thus, in considering the lobster, I'm even more certain I don't want to eat one anytime soon. I eat chickens, I eat fish, I've even lately eaten beef and pork. But there's something about a lowly lobster that seems especially forlorn to me. I can't pretend that contradiction makes sense, but there it is.

(Photo: Lobster street art in the East Village, September 2008)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Interlude


Typing the title for this post reminds me that when I was a kid, the public television station in Tampa used to broadcast what it called a "musical interlude." My brother and I would be waiting for Sesame Street or The Electric Company to start, and there would be a black slide with multicolored instruments displayed on the screen with those words, and tinny music coming from the speaker. I guess they did it to fill time between shows. Seems pretty old-fashioned, doesn't it?

Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed the excerpts from Dogen's "Eight Awarenesses of Great People" the past few days. I plan to post all eight of them. I've always found this essay inspiring and motivating.

I've returned to slightly more active practice this week, after watching the beautiful movie "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring" over the weekend. I saw it in the theater years ago, and I wanted to show it to Dave, because I thought it might help him (and me!) understand some things about Buddhism. (I say "slightly" more active practice because, while I've been reading about Buddhism a bit more and trying to be more mindful of my day-to-day reality -- walking more slowly, being more observant -- I still haven't returned to sitting.)

People often ask what Buddhism is about, and I've been taught that it can never truly be described -- only practiced. The minute someone tries to describe and define it, they've destroyed it. Dogen, however, manages to define some of its essential qualities in a way that makes me want to practice more diligently.

Practicing, however, did not stop me from having a fantastic gin & tonic when I got to Dave's last night! I took the bus from the city and then walked from the bus stop to his apartment -- it's a longer walk than would be practical every day (about 40 minutes) but it's manageable when he's tied up and can't get me with the car. I'm here to see a holiday concert tonight where he performs with handbells. Should be fun!

(Photo: PetSmart, North Brunswick, New Jersey.)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

2. Being Content


"To take what one has got within bounds is called being content.

"Buddha said, 'O monks, if you want to shed afflictions, you should observe contentment. The state of contentment is the abode of prosperity and happiness, peace and tranquility. Those who are content may sleep on the ground and still consider it comfortable; those who are not content would be dissatisfied even in heaven. Those who are not content are always caught up in sensual desires; they are pitied by those who are content.' "

(From "The Eight Awarenesses of Great People," translated by Thomas Cleary in "Shobogenzo: Zen essays by Dogen.")

(Photo: Abandoned gas station, East Brunswick, New Jersey.)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

1. Having Few Desires


"Not extensively seeking objects of desire not yet attained is called having few desires.

"Buddha said, 'You monks should know that people with many desires seek to gain a lot, and therefore their afflictions are also many. Those with few desires have no seeking and no craving, so they don't have this problem. You should cultivate having few desires even for this reason alone, to say nothing of the fact that having few desires can produce virtues. People with few desires are free from flattery and deviousness whereby they might seek to curry people's favor, and they also are not under the compulsion of their senses. Those who act with few desires are calm, without worry or fear. Whatever the situation, there is more than enough -- there is never insufficiency. Those who have few desires have nirvana.' "

(From "The Eight Awarenesses of Great People," translated by Thomas Cleary in "Shobogenzo: Zen essays by Dogen.")

(Photo: Edison, New Jersey.)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Silent Night


I was thinking on the bus this morning, as I rode back from New Jersey, about the bizarre tradition of Christmas caroling.

Doesn't it seem kind of strange that people once gathered in groups and walked around their neighborhoods singing Christmas songs on one another's front lawns? It's sweet and unbelievable, like Laura Ingalls being happy with a penny in her Christmas stocking, or someone baking a welcoming pie for a new next-door neighbor.

I guess it used to happen somewhere, and thus passed into popular folklore. But I don't think I ever caroled when I was a kid, except at church. I don't remember walking around my own neighborhood and singing. I dread to think how it would have been received -- I suspect some neighbors would have shot at me.

Does caroling still happen anywhere? Are any of my blog readers on the receiving or giving end of neighborhood door-to-door Christmas carols?

My guess is, the predominance of caroling has been grossly exaggerated. It probably was never very popular in most cities and towns, except tiny burgs where everyone knew each other. Otherwise, how would carolers know which houses to skip -- the Jews, the Muslims, the Jehovah's Witnesses and any others who didn't celebrate Christmas? (Or would they have simply sung there anyway, in an admirably secular good-will-towards-man spirit -- in which case one would hope the receiving family didn't mind?)

I read an article a few months ago about the world population, written by a woman in her 70s (as I recall). I've been unable to remember where I read it or who wrote it, but I remember her saying that the world, with all its teeming people, feels different today than it did even when she was a girl. She believes herself lucky to have felt a sense of spaciousness that came with a less-populated planet.

Door-to-door caroling, when it occurred at all, must have taken place in that more spacious time, among small groups of very settled people who lived around each other for years and years. Are there any neighborhoods like that left now?

And if not, do we mind that caroling has waned? (At the risk of sounding Scroogey, I'm not too concerned.)

(Photo: Homeless man with Gusto graffiti, East Village.)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

First Snow


We did indeed get a slushy first snow yesterday afternoon. Fortunately I had nowhere to go so I could watch it from the safety and security of the warm apartment. Poor Dave spent the afternoon in a football stadium, at the last of his marching band performances -- not a good day to be sitting on cold aluminum bleachers! He was miserable by the time he got home.

We had a friend over last night and ordered some Chinese, which was a nice conclusion to my day of reading, the gym and some errands.

I'm still waiting for the details of my severance package to be worked out at the office. I really want to break away from there completely, but I can't yet because my boss and I have to hammer this out with the corporate lawyers. (They made an initial offer, but it all needs to be negotiated.) Thus, I'm in a weird limbo period, which is weighing on my mind a bit. I plan to be back in the office tomorrow. Ugh.

(Photo: First snow in the field behind Dave's apartment. Click the photo to see the "action.")

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Coins


In case you were wondering, yesterday’s entry was the result of learning how to use Dave’s scanner. It won’t become standard fare for my blog! I clipped the cartoon a few weeks ago because I loved its absurdity and it’s been hanging on Dave’s fridge ever since.

I’m staying in East Brunswick this weekend, being super domestic. I got out yesterday while Dave was at school and shot some interesting graffiti, but for the most part I’m hanging around the house -- walking with the dogs, cleaning, watching TV, reading. I guess this will be my life for the next few months at least. I’m a little worried about how well I’ll adapt to having all this down time, but I think I’m pretty good at entertaining myself and coming up with projects.

(Yesterday, for example, I went to the bank and got coin rollers, and rolled Dave’s bowl of spare change. I really am insane!)

I am going to develop some writing projects to help pass the time and keep my skills honed. I’m not sure yet what form they’ll take, but I may even try my hand at some fiction, which I haven’t written since college.

On the slate this weekend is buying a Christmas tree, although we’re supposed to get a wet and slushy load of snow this afternoon -- the first of the season.

(Photo: Hot dog truck, Old Bridge, N.J.)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thanks, Phyllis!


I've been gradually adapting to the idea of being jobless. My initial panic has subsided and I'm now in a "this might not be so bad after all" mode. As I've said before, I have enough cushion to live for a while -- so why not take a bit of a break?

My coworkers have responded in a variety of ways. The best response so far came from a woman named Phyllis who works on our floor. I've known her the whole time I've worked here and she knows my boss even better, but I wouldn't say she's a close friend -- more of a colleague. So it surprised me when she asked to take us to lunch on Tuesday, and proceeded to treat us to a truly memorable meal!

We went to Marseille, a French place on Ninth Avenue. Phyllis suggested cocktails right away, and we all got martinis. Then she generously suggested everything from appetizers to desserts, as well as a second round of drinks. We finished lunch THREE HOURS later!

To make the day even more memorable, Glenn Close was sitting across the restaurant from us. We didn't speak to her, of course, but celebrity sightings always liven things up. (Wonder if the restaurant serves rabbit?)

I am so impressed with Phyllis' generosity and kindness. When I first started work in New York about ten years ago, we had luxurious meals with our senior editors every once in a while. But as the company began trimming expenses, those little luxuries vanished. It was great to revisit the old days -- too bad it wasn't once again at company expense!

(Photo: Gramercy Park at night, looking toward Irving Place and the Con-Edison building.)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Viewless


For a couple of months I've heard all sorts of banging and grinding coming from East 30th Street, the next block up from my apartment. From my window I could see that two buildings were being renovated, and a big scaffold was erected in front of a third building in preparation for some kind of project.

I didn't think much of it. Renovation in New York City is pretty much a constant process, after all.

But last night I learned that the latter building is actually being demolished entirely -- and a new, 11-story structure will take its place. (With 11 apartments -- must be nice to have a whole floor to yourself!)

Unfortunately, this new structure will rise directly in front of my celebrated view of the Empire State Building (which I've depicted here, here and here). Sometime early next year, my view will be no more. Well, I'll still have my courtyard and my horse chestnut tree -- at least for now -- but the view that actually prompted me to buy my apartment in the first place will be gone.

I'm sorry to see it go, but there's nothing I can do about it. That's just the way things go in the city. Besides, I've been lucky enough to enjoy that view for more than seven years, so I can't really complain.

My friends see this as yet another sign that it may be time for me to leave New York behind. I don't disagree. I swear, between my cat, my job and this, I've never received such loud and clear signals from the Universe before!

(Photo: This is not the view from my apartment -- just another random shot of the Empire State Building. I didn't have another photo taken from my window. But you can see the ESB from that angle by clicking the links above.)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Bloke


I found this during my recent romp through the swamps of Secaucus. The street artist Bloke often depicts paper airplanes, and this is a particularly colorful example. Too bad it's on the underside of a railway trestle where none of the passengers can see it! (Observant motorists can see it from the New Jersey Turnpike, though.)

Monday, November 30, 2009

Break Away


I had a terrific weekend. I spent it all in East Brunswick with Dave, hanging out at home, cooking and eating, cleaning and doing laundry, going to the gym and running errands. My mind was away from New York City and my nebulous job prospects, and I enjoyed my time with him and the dogs. I wasn't at all stressed.

This suggests that maybe what I really need is to get away from my office altogether. I've assumed that it helps to continue to come in and maintain my routine as long as possible, and job-hunt from work. But maybe, psychologically, it's better for me to move on.

I have to admit, I'll be happy when I never have to walk into that office again. Just seeing the building, when my bus from New Jersey pulled into the Port Authority this morning, gave me a grim feeling.

By the way, and speaking of grim, have you seen "Precious" yet? Dave and I saw it yesterday and loved it. It's a tough movie to take at times, but incredibly eye-opening and the performances are unbelievable. Mariah Carey is unrecognizable -- I literally didn't realize it was her until the end credits rolled -- and Mo'Nique is terrific as Precious' mother. Go see it!

(Photo: Sunrise on E. 29th Street, Nov. 2009)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Comedy of Errors


Our Thanksgiving dinner turned out to be a haphazard affair, though ultimately delicious and satisfying. I managed to buy the wrong essential ingredient, destroy a blender AND make a pie! Whew -- no one can accuse ME of being lazy!

Want details? Happy to oblige:

1. We cracked our first bottle of wine at 2 p.m. It's nearly impossible to correctly time a dinner when you're buzzed, but it sure made the rest of the day fun.

2. When we first turned on the oven, we were nearly smoked out by some residue left over from making pot pies the night before. We had the bright idea to set the oven to its self-cleaning cycle, which then prevented us from opening it for the next hour or two. Thus, we were considerably delayed in getting the turkey launched.

3. I bought something labeled "sweet potatoes" at the store, but whatever they were, they were not the sweet potatoes I'd imagined. For starters, they were white instead of orange, which we didn't realize until we'd started cutting.

4. We tried to make the sweet potatoes the way my mom does, whipping them and then baking them with marshmallows on top. But when I tried to puree the roasted potatoes in a blender with brown sugar and butter, it was like pureeing cement. The blender gave up the ghost with a rubbery smell of protest, and we threw out the sweet potatoes, which tasted something like sweetened plaster.

5. I made the pumpkin pie -- at least the filling -- by mixing canned pumpkin with various other ingredients from a recipe. I had to estimate the spices, because we didn't immediately have measuring spoons at hand, and I overspiced that pie pretty fiercely -- but we agreed we liked it nonetheless. Let's hear it for ginger and nutmeg!

For all that went wrong, though, a lot went right. Dave's brined turkey was delicious and juicy, and his mashed potatoes and my roasted Brussels sprouts worked out well. The cornbread stuffing would have been better had we not bought pre-made cornbread from the supermarket, which turned out to be unreasonably sweet. (Why do people put sugar in everything these days?)

Anyway, we finally ate around 7:30 p.m., which made it a memorable Thanksgiving!

(Photo: Shadow of a porch railing in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, Nov. 2009)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!


Just a quick note to say Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I'm in New Jersey, about to embark on another cooking adventure with Dave. We'll be having butternut squash soup, brined turkey with cornbread stuffing, both sweet and mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie for dessert. Yum!

I may be going through lots of changes, but I am thankful for all I have -- my health, my family, my friends, my wonderful Dave and his wonderful dogs, Ernie and Ruby. All things considered, I've still got it really good.

(Photo: Wreath on a front door in Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn, Nov. 2009)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

City Lights


So how’s life as an imminently unemployed person, you may ask?

OK, I’ll tell you. Twist my arm.

So far, things have been more or less OK. I’ve been going into the office almost every day, but I’ve been working much shorter days. I’ve been handing over my job duties -- the few that will be preserved -- and applying for new jobs. It’s been good to have a place to go each day where I can focus and see colleagues, and it also helps that I can continue to get a hot lunch in the company cafeteria, since I’m not much of a cook.

I’ve been striving to preserve my routines. I go to the gym, I do photography, I visit Dave on the weekends. Keeping my life stable as much as possible seems to be a good idea. I’ve had some very fun days just being out and about.

I do get depressed, though. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced true depression before, but maybe this is it -- a feeling of dread, a lack of desire. I have to make myself get moving sometimes. Occasionally I have a social outing and I can tell I’m not being much fun, but I just don’t have it in me, and I can only hope my friends appreciate my circumstances.

I haven’t been sitting much, but I plan to work on that. The negative feelings seem to come when I start thinking “what if,” and I need to stay away from “what if” and stay rooted in the present -- in the “what is.”

I am looking forward to this weekend. I’m not working today, and I plan to head out to New Jersey in the afternoon, after maybe doing some photography in the morning.

On Monday I took my new camera out at night and I got some terrific shots, like the one above. This camera captures city lights really well!

(Photo: Buildings lining the east side of Madison Square Park, including the New York Life building at left and the old Metropolitan Life tower at right.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Vine


When I was walking downtown recently I came across this vine growing on a fence. It surprised me to find such a delicate-looking flower in mid-November. But things have been pretty warm here overall -- the begonias and coleus in the flower bed outside my building haven't frozen yet, either.

I had dinner with my friend Joe last night and caught him up on the drama in my life. His dog died at about the same time as Armenia, so we could commiserate over the loss of a pet.

Did I mention I'm reading "Schulz and Peanuts," a biography of Charles Schulz? I've always loved Peanuts, even though the strip made less and less sense in its later years. I still have a few Peanuts paperbacks from childhood, and the minister in the Presbyterian church I attended as a kid always used a Peanuts strip to illustrate some point or other during his sermon. It's easy to forget how deeply Charlie Brown and his colleagues were woven into our culture in the 1960s and '70s. In fact, watching "A Charlie Brown Christmas" remains one of the highlights of the holiday season for me!

And speaking of holiday season, I've created another book of my photography -- the promotional badge is to the right. I'm giving it as a gift to family members. Click on the badge to preview the book!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Secaucus


I had a busy weekend. I was out all day photographing street art on Friday (I didn't even bother to go to work) and on Saturday morning I had a real urban adventure.

For months on my way to and from Dave's, I'd seen interesting graffiti from the train as it passed through Secaucus, N.J. On Saturday I decided to find this graffiti, which is painted on the concrete support pillars for a huge overpass of the New Jersey Turnpike.


I took the train out to Secaucus and began walking. I'll spare you all the details except to say it took a good 45 minutes of trial and error before I finally found myself beneath the Turnpike, which towered over my head. The ground beneath it is marshy and full of tufted brown grasses taller than I am.

Walking around down there was a bit treacherous -- more than once I took a step onto what looked like solid ground, only to be up to my ankles in mud. (And this being an industrial area of New Jersey, God only knows what's in all that mud.)


I did eventually make my way over to the graffiti, though, and it was terrific. A street artist named Faro painted several of his trademark mummies on the concrete pillars, including these two.


This guy seems to be saying "Rock on!"

Getting back to the train was much easier because I knew which route to take. All my photos will be up on Flickr in about a week!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dreams


When I woke this morning, I realized almost immediately that I had been dreaming. I tried to clutch the dream, remember it, but its misty retreat left me with nothing.

I was reminded of an article I read in The New Yorker yesterday about dreams, and specifically nightmares. (I never have nightmares -- at least, not that I remember -- and I never feel fearful or anxious when I awaken.)

This article, unfortunately not available online, contained a few interesting factoids. One is that women remember their dreams more easily than men. This may explain why my female friends can often describe dreams in great detail while I can’t remember whether I dreamed at all.

(When I was in the Peace Corps, my roommate Juliet would awaken every morning and offer up a step-by-step recitation of her dreams. It blew my mind that she could remember them so well. Every plot twist, dialogue, scenes stretching back what seemed like hours -- you name it. I always suspected her of making it all up.)

The other, and more interesting, factoid is that dreams seem to be changing. When Sigmund Freud recorded dreams at the turn of the century, they were long narratives, at least according to his notes. Many took pages and pages to record properly.

Now, researchers have found that dreams tend to be shorter and jumpier. If in the old days they were full-length feature films, today they’re YouTube clips. The article quotes British psychoanalyst Susan Budd: “Modern patients don’t often produce the kinds of dreams that Freud had. Modern dreams mostly seem to be shorter and more fragmentary, and this is because the dream is undoubtedly a cultural as well as a neurobiological product.”

We often talk about the ADD-inducing effects of our culture, from the Internet to our crazy workaholic tendencies, but I never thought about their effects on our dreams. It’s fascinating, and a bit alarming, to think our minds have been rewired to produce short-form nocturnal dramas.

My dreams, on the rare occasions when I do remember them, seem more long-form. One scene will pass into another, but there’s usually some kind of transition -- seldom just a jump or abrupt change. I don’t think I’m immune to our cultural slide toward ADD, but maybe I’m less affected, since I don’t watch much television and I tend to read a lot.

Anyway, it was a fascinating article!

(Photo: W. 40th Street, earlier this week)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Obsessions


When I was a kid, my mom once told me I had an obsessive personality. That wording always bothered me, because it sounds like a psychological condition, and I don’t think I’m that obsessive. But I did go through numerous fads and stages as a young person.

Even now, you could say that my interest in graffiti and photography is somewhat obsessive, I suppose. Where’s the line between an interest and an obsession? Darned if I know.

Most of my childhood obsessions involved an impulse to collect. Here are a few:

-- Stamp collecting. This was the single most dominant, enduring interest of my childhood. I loved stamps and the exotic places they helped me imagine: the jungles of the Congo, the mountains of Eritrea, the plantations of Brazil, the snowy onion domes of Russia. I mowed the lawn each week in the summer and saved the money for stamps, which I bought a few times a year at a store in Tampa called “The Perf Gauge.” (A perf gauge is a tool used by hardcore stamp collectors to measure the perforations of some stamps, which can affect value and collectability.) I traded stamps with my brother and boys in my neighborhood; I counted them, organized them and mounted them in increasingly large and elaborate albums. I still have my stamp collection and I’d never part with it, though these days I don’t look at it much.

-- Recording music. When I got to be a teenager, I became obsessed with taping music off the radio. I bought cassettes at Radio Shack and taped songs I liked, and then eventually songs I sort of liked, and finally songs I didn't much like at all. I just wanted them all. I imagined shelves of cassettes, carefully archived, a library of every song I might ever want to hear. I taped things off the television, even. I drove my family crazy.

-- Beer cans. Around 1980, my stepbrother introduced me to the hobby of beer can collecting. I became fascinated by beer cans -- the graphics, the typography, the sprays of wheat, the various types of pull tabs and tops. Who knew cans could be so interesting? We collected hundreds of them by slogging through marshy mounds of trash in a local dump and looking for rusty empties under trees in sandy orange groves. We joined the Beer Can Collectors of America (aka the BCCA) and went to trading sessions, lugging flats of cans to and fro. We traded cans by mail with collectors from other parts of the country. We amassed a huge collection, then split it between us, and then my interest slowly waned. I sold my collection in 1983 for about $100, just before the fad of beer can collecting collapsed altogether, making similar collections essentially worthless. (My brother collected soda cans at the same time, and still has his, stored in flats in a closet at my mother's house -- much to her chagrin.)

-- Seashells. My siblings and I spent a week at the beach every year and during that time we scoured the shore for shells. I had a seashell guide that helped us identify them all, and we typed up notecards for each specimen, noting where it had been collected and under what circumstances. We bought shells at baskety craft store World Bazaar and, on one glorious trip, at the Shell Factory in Fort Myers. I still have my shells, but now they're all mixed together in a big glass jug and the notecards are long gone.

What is it about collecting that people find so fascinating? Even my street art photos are a collection of sorts -- one that happily requires no space and no dusting. It's funny how acquiring is such a strong human impulse.

(Photo: Fall, Hell's Kitchen, last week.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Everything is New


I was talking with a coworker the other day who’s also been laid off. We were discussing options -- specifically, how strenuously we should be looking for a new job.

I’ve been firing off resumes almost from the moment I heard the news. But between my severance, unemployment and savings, I do have a cushion to live on for quite a while. Some people have told me, as they have my coworker, that we should use those resources and take time to be creative, find the right job or career path, and not rush into any life changes purely for the sake of security.

I’m just not sure what to think about that.

I enjoy security. I really like to know where my next meal is coming from. Backing away from the job search to mull over my future prospects, and maybe do some creative experimentation, seems like rather dangerous lassitude in the face of an urgent situation.

But on the other hand, how urgent is the situation, really? Although red flashing strobes are going off in my brain, I’m fine -- really I am. For months and months. I could live on severance alone well into the middle of next year, without even touching my savings.

There are also a host of variables complicating my future.

It won’t surprise any of you that I’m thinking about moving to New Jersey. Dave and I have talked about the possibilities, and I’m already looking for jobs there. It seems like a good solution for both of us, allowing us to save money and enrich our lives together.

But if I move to New Jersey, I’d need a car -- and what would I do with my Manhattan apartment? Should I rent it, or do I want to sell it and be rid of New York altogether?

I guess I shouldn’t tangle all these issues together, and I shouldn’t think about them all at once. As the Berbers say, “Imiks imiks ikshim aram tagdoult” -- or “Little by little, the camel goes into the pot.” I’ll just play it by ear. When I have job nibbles in New York, I’ll stay in New York, and if things happen in New Jersey I’ll stay with Dave and work on those opportunities. I’ll just see what happens. If anything, I’m fortunate because I could go in any direction, and I have time to breathe, enjoy life and make the right decisions.

(Photo: Sunrise over a parking lot, East Brunswick, N.J., Monday.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Woods


Dave and I took the dogs for a walk in the woods on Sunday. These particular woods are part of East Brunswick’s open space preservation program, and they’re a hop and skip away from Dave’s apartment. I found them by accident the week before and thought they’d be great for walking Ernie and Ruby, because they’re much closer than driving over to Cheesequake. But his dogs aren’t exactly athletic, living inside as they do, and we nearly wore them out on this excursion! Poor Ernie came back and slept all day. I was worried about him!

So the jury is still out on whether these woods are good dog-walking territory, or whether they’re just too far away.


In any case, they’ll be good walking territory for me. I enjoyed the woodsy smells and the very last of the colored leaves, the shelves of fungus growing on the trees and the odd bulbous insect nests we found on some twigs. It’s great to have nature nearby.

Monday, November 16, 2009

GWTW


I shot this photo on the way to Wegman's on Saturday. It pretty much summarizes my mood at the moment!

Dave and I watched the first half of "Gone With the Wind" last night. It was one of my favorite movies as a kid, and in fact I read the book when I was in the sixth grade. It really is a good movie, even with its 1930s melodramatic transition captioning and acting styles. Of course, you have to look past the absurdity of painting the Old South as a place of grace and beauty -- that might be true, but only if you were rich and white!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Berries


Dave and I walked to the bagel shop yesterday morning for our standard Saturday breakfast. On the way back I snapped these photos of a cluster of bushes we passed on the way. I have no idea what they are, specifically, but the color variety is interesting.

We've had a relaxing weekend. On Friday we went to see "2012," the apocalytpic thriller that depicts the end of the world. I am a HUGE fan of disaster movies, having grown up on the Irwin Allen variety in the 1970s, so I had a great time, even though every minute of "2012" and every bit of dialogue is completely, utterly absurd. How can you not be thrilled by skyscrapers crashing over and California sliding into the sea? I mean, really!


Yesterday we went to Wegman's and bought some supplies for a cooking spree. Dave made beef short ribs and mashed potatoes, and creme brulee for dessert. I know, I know -- I haven't been a red meat eater for years. But one of the changes I've decided to make in my life is to be open to all kinds of food. I want Dave to be able to cook everything and not feel restricted by my diet, and after all, does it really make sense to eat chicken and fish but not pigs or cows? How do the chickens feel about that?

I will still be largely vegetarian when choosing my own meals, but when Dave is in the kitchen, I'm going to approach food with an open mind!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Gray November


My blog pal Lorianne posted recently about the difficulties of photography during the darkening month of November -- and indeed, the challenge of looking for brightness on all levels. I really liked this post, because it spoke to my own need to see the positive in every day, as well as my own difficulty in practicing photography in rainy, gray weather.

I left my office yesterday during my extra-long, completely unauthorized lunch break and took some photos. I walked around Hell's Kitchen in a light, drizzly rain, convinced I'd be able to find some things to shoot even in less than desirable weather. And indeed I did, but Lorianne is right -- seeing and photographing can be a challenge under the circumstances, in my case because I usually respond so well to light and shadow. In the absence of both it's hard to be motivated.

I liked the remark in Lorianne's post from a Zen teacher: "Whatever you pay attention to grows." The gray weather of November, particularly in the wake of the tattered remnants of a hurricane, definitely challenges me to pay attention to my creativity and nurture it.

(Photo: Stairs on the outside of the Adolph S. Ochs school, Hell's Kitchen, yesterday.)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Swirl


“Happiness is the only good. The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. The way to be happy is to make others so.” -- Robert Green Ingersoll

People sometimes talk of experiencing a “swirl of emotions,” and though I’ve long known cerebrally what that meant, I don’t think I’ve known emotionally until now. I really do feel like I’m swirling! One moment I’m anxious, another I’m sad, another I’m perversely happy and excited, and then I’m anxious again. Around and around!

Part of me relishes the opportunity to take some time off and pursue my own interests over the next few months. Obviously I’ll be looking for a job, so my time won’t entirely be my own, but I ought to have the opportunity to get out and do more photography on nice days, for example. I’ll be able to read and write more. My career path is wide open. Sounds pretty nice, actually!

Also, I’m intrigued by the opportunity to throw off some of the burdens of journalism. Maybe now I can be more outwardly politically vocal, for example, with less need to maintain an unbiased veneer. Once again, I’ll be job hunting, so I won’t go crazy -- but the possibility is appealing.

I mentioned my layoff explicitly on Facebook yesterday, with the rationale that it’s better for my 400 friends and contacts to know so they’ll think of me if an opening arises. And I’ve told most of my coworkers. My Zen teacher said I have “a new life,” and added, “the important thing is to keep practicing, and being open to what arises.”

It’s oddly exciting, you know?

(Photo: Upper East Side, last week)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sleepwalking


Thanks to everyone for the words of encouragement regarding the job loss. I'm in such a strange frame of mind right now. I feel a little like a sleepwalker, or someone in a surreal movie. I come to work, sit at my desk, and yet I feel like I'm not really here -- I suppose because my mind is already thinking about next steps. Very bizarre.

I went to New Jersey last night and Dave made dinner -- a comforting butternut squash risotto. We watched "Top Chef" and talked about the future. That future is a big blur at the moment, but I have a lot of options and possibilities to think through. I need to sit down and make some lists and charts and graphs and calculate the possible outcomes.

I am still bowled over by the timing of my cat's death. My anxiety would be tenfold if the cat were alive, because that would complicate my future even further. Isn't it strange how things work out, even when they're tragic?

All of this is simply preparing me for the next step. At least I'm being pushed forward.

(Photo: Plywood wall around a construction site, Spanish Harlem, last week.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

When It Rains...


Just to prove the old adage “when it rains, it pours”: I lost my job yesterday.

Can you believe it? Exactly five days after my cat drops dead in my apartment, I LOSE MY JOB.

Those talking heads on television may think the recession is over, but apparently no one has yet informed my employer -- or all the advertisers that funnel money to my employer, and have lately tightened their funnel mercilessly. I got a call about 10 a.m. yesterday telling me that my department is being phased out, and my boss and I both will be working only through the end of the year.

In some ways, this is not a bad thing. I got into journalism because I loved writing. But when I took this job in 2000, I knew I’d be sacrificing the writing in order to move to New York and work primarily as an editor. At the time, the sacrifice seemed worth it.

Now, I’ve lived in Manhattan nearly a decade, and my job has mutated to such an extent that I don’t even do much hands-on editing. I’m primarily an administrator, a planner, an architect of editorial theory. To quote the Talking Heads: "You may ask yourself, 'How did I get here?'"

Losing this job will hopefully give me a chance to move to something more hands-on, more directly fulfilling and interesting.

Also, as I said, I’ll be working through the end of the year, so the loss is not immediate. That’s a plus. And I have a severance package, which extends my income into next year and will give me a cushion while I find something new to do.

The downside? Insecurity. The loss of that regular, steady, reliable paycheck. And also a separation from a company that I love, and coworkers I’ve enjoyed and grown to know since 1988, when I graduated from college and first began working for this particular newspaper firm.

But, oh well. It’s a brave new world. Security is illusory. I now have some time to plan my next steps, consider the various alternatives, and pursue possibilities.

An old coworker of mine used to say, “You got to laugh to keep from cryin’,” and that’s exactly how I feel. I mean, what an insane week!

(Photo: My sentiments exactly.)