Happiness Project

Closed Borders

Prick us
and we bleed
like all animals.|
And prick each other
we do
with guns and bombs and
fear most of all
until we see an enemy
who does not look like us
as though our own tribe
were not capable
of the same atrocities.
Like the snailwe pull ourselves inside
our imaginary walls
and close the doors—
or think we can.
But the guns and bombs
are just tools,
the real enemy not other people.

When we look at each other
only through borders
we can’t see
what a wide and splendid world it is.

–For Beirut and Baghdad and Gaza and Paris, Nov. 14, 2015


DreamingBooks So, no big retrospective this year. It's been kind of a blah year, without any real earth-shaking changes and a lot of work. I did reconnect with some folks, which was excellent, and got to see some new places I hadn't seen before, which is always good, but didn't get any of my projects done that I'd wanted to. Well, not entirely true: I'm almost done with one poetry collection and have been writing more poems, some successful, some not, and I owe Helen and Gwen a huge debt for flogging me through that. I blogged hardly at all, as you may (or may not) have noticed, nor did I get my novel revised, hence the following:

I don't usually do this because everybody knows that resolutions are just made to be broken, but these seem like a realistic ones, I hope:

  1. Write more
  2. Make books
  3. Submit to publications and shows
  4. Look into writing grants
  5. Apply to more teaching jobs

I want to start taking the science blogging more seriously, and I want to start taking this blog and my book arts blog more seriously too. I'm starting to get a good little collection of Cocktail Party Physics columns, but I need a lot more, and a lot more practice before I've got anything that might be worth editing into a collection. I'd also like to rethink my focus in that area, and find a niche to settle into. I don't think I'll ever be anything but a dilettante in the science writing arena, but it's something to add to the pub list. And who knows?

Ultimately, what I'd like this next year to be about is writing and making art. That means seeing less of my friends, but I feel like my writing and art are friends that I've neglected and who need some attention. Wish it were easier to find that balance. But that's life, isn't it?

Happy New Year!

Moonlitdoll I wish you
health and happiness
pleasures of the body and the mind
new adventures
the rekindling of old loves and/or the discovery of new ones
security financial and otherwise
good stories
continual astonishment
spiritual enlightenment (your choice of dogma or karma)
frequent amusement
a wee dram when you need it
big hearts
deep pockets
long fuses
something warm and fuzzy that is already house-trained
a sense of the ineffable
and people in your life who are as dear as my friends are to me.

I wish all of us peace in a time of war; compassion in a time of hatred; generosity in a time of need; self-knowledge in a time of blame; courage to right past wrongs, and above all things, love unconditional.


Going to Church Moi Long time no post here. Or anywhere, for that matter. I've been busier than a one-armed paper hanger and I'm still playing catch-up. My desk and work table—heck, my whole apartment—looks like a disaster area. I have a hundred household chores, grading to do, books to make, projects to attend to, and absolutely no energy whatsoever. It's been a kinda crazy semester. Where to start? Maybe with the new tenant.

Akisu1 After many long years without a cat, I've acquired a beastie. Or rather, the beastie has acquired me. This is Queen Mab, who was once a lost little street kitty that my friend Gretl (whose pic you can see on the wall there) picked up and took home right before I left for China. She knew just who to throw herself in front of, too. All it took was her rolling over and showing her belly for Gretl to pick her up and bring her home. When I first saw her, Mab (who Gretl called Princess Farhana, after one of her Burlesque buddies) had dark grey stockings, tail, and ears, and we thought she might be part Siamese. She talks and acts like one, but her "points" proved to be just dirt. She's a big marshmallow with green eyes and an attitude. She was lying on Gretl's bathroom floor, purring up a storm at any attention she received and turned out to be a territorial tyrant, driving Gretl's poor, sweet, dim kitties into exile in the bedroom for the duration of her stay. Once I brought her home, it took her all of 15 minutes to adjust to her new abode at my house—and make it hers. Here she is staking claim to my desk. She's playful and funny and very good natured. She likes people, which is a real switch from the last bitch-kitty I had, but she's a one-cat-per-household cat. And she talks. I kept thinking about her the whole time I was in China and fighting the idea of bringing her home. After all, having a kitty puts the kibosh on most serious travel, doesn't it? But like with the Borg, resistance is futile. Cats pick you. You don't pick them. So now my house is covered in cat hair. And white, you know, goes with nothing I own. Nothing. I don't care. She's put punctures in my leather sofa and barfed on my rug more times than I can count already, and cost me $1,000 last weekend to get her butt unplugged. I don't care. It's great to have a beastie in the house again.

I'm back teaching at CNR again, but I also, thanks to a renewed connection, picked up a couple of classes at the College of Staten Island. This is both good and bad. Good because it's a CUNY job and that pays well, plus after three semesters I get benefits. Bad because it's in Staten Island and the first seven weeks were a brutal schedule: up at 6 AM, catch the subway at 6:45 to the express bus at 7:54, reach CSI at 9 AM; office hours from 9-10 (yes, I even get paid for those!); first class from 10:10-1:10, second class from 1:30-4 (no break); run for the ferry shuttle at 4:05, grab the 4:30 ferry back to lower Manhattan and catch the #5 train to the Bronx to teach another 2.5-hour class there, and catch the bus back home, where I arrive at about 9:30. Not much time to eat, and 8.5 hours of being "on," which, believe me, is not the same as sitting in a cube for that length of time. By the time I got back, I was totally knackered. Then I had a 10 AM class at CNR both Weds. and Thursday. After next week, I'll be down to three classes total from 6. I'm still doing the AM class at CSI, but I've only got one more evening class at CNR and then just the Thursday morning classes, so it's not as bad now, but I just don't have the stamina for that anymore. Not sure I ever did.

Not surprisingly, I got sick as a dog about two weeks ago. Not the flu, thankfully, but the usual awful case of bronchitis I get when I'm run down. I'm still fighting it off, but the cough is going away and the stuff I'm hacking up is no longer a disgusting color and doesn't taste like my lungs are rotting from the inside out. Last night I got the first full, cough-free night of sleep I've had in a couple of weeks. Of course, the cat woke me up at 7:30 demanding attention, food, and entertainment. She's like that. Me, me, me.

So with six classes to teach, that's about all I've been doing. Helen was here in October, and I saw Jen briefly when she whizzed through town for the New School's science movie festival. She and I and Helen went to dinner at Spice Market, a place I've been dying to try (well worth the money) and then drinks with Gretl afterwards, so I'm working Helen into my circle of friends here too.

I've been getting some good poems out of the ferry commute, I think, and teaching, as always is something I find stimulating. The classes at CSI were tough, not because of the subject matter (basic computer skills), but the audience. Such a huge difference between the Staten Island "kids" who really are, and the ones at CNR, who, even when they're young, have really had to grow up fast and don't take anything about their education for granted, even when they don't quite know how to be students. The ones at CNR have so many obstacles to overcome and the ones at CSI seem so much more sheltered and take so much for granted that it's frustrating when they goof off and talk over me. Plus I'm competing with the internet because the classes are in the computer lab and they can't stay off fucking Facebook.

I missed Julie's non-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving, even though she rescheduled it around me, so I'm getting no Thanksgiving at all this year, which feels a little weird, and that it feels weird is weird in itself because I've never really celebrated the holiday. For a few years when I was a kid, we went down to Uncle Dave's & Aunt Eltha's for an Allam gathering, but that didn't last long because there were so many of us. In college, I rarely went home for it, usually going to the Uncle Ralph's & Aunt Lucy's for dinner. In grad school, I sometimes had dinner with friends. When I moved to New York, Jen and I started having our own un-Thanksgiving: movies and Chinese food. That lasted until she got married and moved to LA. Now I haven't done much of anything, and this year, I'm sick, so I'm sitting here whining about not celebrating a holiday I never celebrated.

It's actually a holiday I like, and never really saw the harm in. It's not religious, it's not especially patriotic, it's more about what Christmas used to be: family and gratitude. I understand that there's also the whole PC suppression of native culture thing wound up in it too that should make me vaguely guilty, but I somehow can't see it that way, either. I think the original celebration was as much about survival and the attempt at sharing the land (which sadly failed) and was turned into the national conquering myth later. We can't imagine the kind of hand-to-mouth existence new settlers had in an unfamiliar land, where a bad harvest would leave them like the Roanoke Colony. It's essentially a harvest festival, something people have celebrated since we've been planting crops. It's hard not to be thankful for a good harvest when your life depends on it, and I don't really see any reason not to express that thanks. I like it because it's not a holiday that involves presents. It's about food, family, friends, and gratitude.

But I was never allowed to say "Happy Thanksgiving" when I was a JW. That was somehow giving glory to some other god, though I never really understood why. I understood why we didn't celebrate Halloween, or Christmas or Easter, because they all had roots in pagan celebrations. But somehow being thankful for food and survival didn't seem, well, pagan. It just seemed grateful and human. I like what Michael Ruhlman wrote about it today: "Thanksgiving should be about being with people we care about, about paying attention to what we have so that we don't waste it, so that we make more of it, so that everyone has it."

So now that I no longer identify as a JW, I think it might be a holiday I invest in, like New Year's. I doubt I'll ever celebrate Christmas or Easter as they never had and and don't now have any meaning for me, and Halloween seems just like silly fun. But Thanksgiving I could get behind. Next year, maybe I'll have dinner here. I'm certainly grateful for the friends who form my family of choice, for the good food I have access to here in the city, for learning to cook, for the chance to do it for my friends and send them home with leftovers. I'm happy to share what I have and can do. I'm grateful to the small farmers who invest in old-fashioned organics and free-range food and haul it to the greenmarket every week. I'm grateful I have so many friends to share it with. I'm grateful I have a job (even if I have too many of them), so I can afford to buy good food and share what I've got with others. I'm grateful for my finicky cat, who doesn't really appreciate how spoiled she is.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

Rave On

PeacegirlLike just about everybody else who sees it, I can't get enough of this video. Celtic music does this to me. I can't tell you how often I've danced around my apartment to jigs and reels. And George Michael. And Peter Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill." And the Clash. Bless Matt Harding for reminding me.

More time dancing, less time killing each other. Everybody Snoopy Dance! Thanks to Jen-Luc for the heads up.

What I'm Grateful For (12/24)


      1. Weather.  It's been cold and crisp with lots of snow on the ground up here in Maine and I'm reminded how much I like winter and snow: the air freezing in my nose, the crunch of snow, the frosting on the trees, the ginormous icicles. Last night it rained hard and everything looks a little soggy but somehow fresher and neater, with the roads completely clear instead of covered in slush. I'm hoping we get a bit more snow before I leave, but preferably not on the day I'm flying out.
      2. Someone else who likes to hang out in their PJs in the morning. Rob and I are both emailing and blogging in our jammies right now, with our coffee and tea respectively. He gets up earlier than I do, but likes to putter around like I do.
      3. Sacred Music. The Rose Ensemble last night on NPR, the Lessons and Carols from Kings College today. Rob is mimicking the readers in a faux British accent because he's done it so many times himself, and because it must all be very Oxbridgian, of course.
      4. Whoopie Pies, my new favorite Maine treat, two chocolate cakey cookie about the size of a black-and-white with creamy frosting between. YUM!
      5. Rob, because he makes me laugh so freaking much, and treats me like a princess when I visit him.

    What I'm Grateful For (12/9)

    TeadollIt occurs to me that I've been so busy with company and making books that I haven't done this in a while. I think every day is too much, but like, once a week is good. Since I've been awake since 4 AM and it's now a little after 6 AM, today I'm grateful:

        1. For sleep. Especially when I don't have enough. I really like sleeping though. I enjoy that place where you're falling into it and where you're coming out of it in the morning, not quite awake, but not asleep either. There's nothing like a good night of sleep.
        2. That I can indulge my occasional insomnia without being fried for work the next day, and that I can get up when I want to. No more alarm clocks! Yay!
        3. For naps. I love naps. As long as they don't stretch into hours.
        4. For vivid dreams. I get some of my best ideas and solve a lot of problems in my dreams.
        5. For my wonderful, comfy, huge, high sleigh bed and its soft sheets and warm down comforter.

    What I'm Grateful For (11/27)

    Teadoll Woken up at 8 AM by the guys repointing the bricks on the wall of my bedroom. Since I'm seven stories up, I'm grateful . . .

        1. That they're doing it and not me. Standing on a rickety scaffold in a high wind (gusts to 30 mph today) is not my cup of tea. Especially not wielding a mini jackhammer or a stone saw. Whatever they're being paid, it's not enough.
        2. For the folks in the paper department at New York Central Art Supply. They not only really know their stuff, they always make me laugh. They've all worked together for a long time and tease one another mercilessly so the banter is really fun to listen to. On top of that, they're nice and helpful: unusual qualities in NYC salespeople.
        3. For the pumpkin pie I made yesterday. It's the best I've ever eaten, even though it was made from canned pumpkin. I think it's the lemon zest in it that makes it so scrumptious. All kudos to Simply Recipes for the recipe.
        4. That Jimi Hendrix lived long enough to record Voodoo Child, All Along the Watchtower, Crosstown Traffic, Hey Joe, and Little Wing. He would have been 65 today, and that's just boggling. RIP, Jimi, and thanks.
        5. For teeny, purse sized cameras that I can take with me, so I can occasionally get a good picture like the one below. (which has, I admit, been fiddled with in Photoshop, but only to bring out the details of the Chrysler Building).


    What I'm Grateful For (11/26)

    TeadollA cool, rainy day today that thwarted my plans to go buy paper. Nevertheless, I'm grateful for:

        1. Rainy days. I like waking up to it in the morning and just lying in bed listening to it. It's especially nice when I don't have to go out in it. They always make me sleepy.
        2. The enormous number of things people have found to stick one thing to another. The vellum tape I bought turns out to be repositionable and won't work for Carlos's book, but the Zig glue pens I bought are perfect and are barely visible.
        3. Streaming music services like Pandora, for those times when commercial radio sucks. With some decent speakers for my computer and enough memory, I may eventually chuck my stereo system entirely. What a great paper rack that cabinet will make!
        4. Mail deliveries. I live for the mail and always have. It's a surprise every day, even when it's bills. You never know what might arrive.
        5. E-bay. Where else would I find letterpress blocks, vintage microscope slides, discounted Calphalon, cheap art supplies, tools, and other obscure crap, er, stuff I need? It's like a giant garage sale with a search engine.

    What I'm Grateful For (11/25)


    Today, I'm grateful:

        1. That I'm back to keeping my own hours again. I've never been a morning person so the 9-5 gig is really hard on me. It's taken me almost a year to start shaking the bed-at-midnight-up-at-8 routine and go back to falling asleep when I feel like it and getting up around 9. I feel better rested when I don't get up to an alarm clock, either.
        2. For that first hit of tea in the morning. Especially good tea, like Twinnings or Jane's Tea Assam. Even PG Tips makes me happy if I haven't brewed it too long.
        3. For comics and cartoons in general and the Sunday funnies in particular. People dismiss these too lightly. There's a lot of Zen-like wisdom to be had from the panels of a cartoon. Kristin and I were talking yesterday about Roz Chast (her favorite) and Nicole Hollander (mine) last night. Also not to be missed if you're a liberal is Dykes to Watch Out For, and if you're a girl, Girl Genius.
        4. For that mad impulse I have that makes me say to Internet friends,  "Hey! You're going to be in New York?  Let's go have drinks or something!" Not always wise, I know; I've been burned this way once before, but that applies to people I haven't met on the Internet too, so go figure. This weekend, I got to meet someone from Germany that I'd been corresponding with for a long time, who's also a quite brilliant writer, and a highly talented dollmaker, seamstress, and songwriter. She's also a lovely person, both smart and funny, and I hope we'll see more of each other.
        5. For jeans with spandex. No, really.

    What I'm Grateful For (11/24)

    Teadoll Lessee, today I'm grateful:

        1. That I've learned to be a good enough person that people want to keep in touch with me, by & large. This prompted by a call from Kristin Abkemeier, whom I last saw back in the spring when she was having a tough time. She called today to let me know she's thriving now, in a job she really loves, which is great. And it was sweet of her to update me.
        2. That I know so many smart, talented, and creative people. It makes my life very rich in so many ways.
        3. That I have time right now to do things I really love—making books and writing.
        4. That I'm finally starting to unwind. It's only taken me, what? Almost a year? But I'm sleeping really well again, and enjoying it.
        5. That Carlos's book is starting to really come together. Pics tomorrow!

    What I'm Grateful For (11/23)

    Doll_3Hey! Look! It actually might make you happier to make a list of things you're grateful for. And somebody beat me to the idea of the Happiness Project, too. Great minds think alike.

    So here's what I'm grateful for today, in more detail than the first post, because it does seem not enough to just make a list. Gratitude requires an explanation.

    1. Cooler weather (good for sleeping and hot flashes). I like bundling up because it makes me feel cozy, and I like sweaters and scarves and cold weather clothes.
    2. Telephones and my compulsion to answer them, which helps keep me from being a total hermit.
    3. My cousin Carole, who calls to make sure I'm still alive, now and then. I don't have a lot of family left and she's made more effort than anyone to keep in touch.
    4. Beautiful paper and the stores that carry it, which, for me, are like toy stores to a kid. They're a feast of color and texture.
    5. My steadily declining interest in consumerism. It's a relief not to want to own things the way I once did, to be able to just look at them in the store and think, "that's cute!" or "wow, that's really beautiful" and take the memory away with me without wanting the thing. It almost always looks better displayed in the store, anyway.

    DIY Happiness

    BluegirlofhappinessRob and I were yakking the other night on the phone about my upcoming visit. As is usual with our conversations these days, it came round to how utterly happy he is in Maine. Every time I talk to him, he says how much he loves it there: the people are cool, what art he can find (and he's got an uncanny nose for it) is cool; the food's great; even the weather is good by him. He loves his apartment; he'll be looking for a house, soon. He likes his colleagues a lot and adores his students. I haven't ever heard him this happy with where he is and what he's doing; I think the closest might have his job with the Archdiocese in Detroit, but even that wasn't what he really wanted to do, which was teach. Now, the concatenation of place and work is making him as bubbly as a freshly popped bottle of champagne.

    And that makes me happy too. I remember being that happy about finally living in New York when I first moved here, once I got used to life in a really big city. There are still days  when I look around and think "Damn! I live in the GREATEST PLACE ON THE PLANET!" though after 21 years, I'm not nearly as enamored of it as I once was. Not that I hate it or anything, or even dislike it, but it's a bit too familiar now, too sanitized, and some of the edge I really loved is gone. I can, as I've said before, now imagine living elsewhere, as I once could not. When the time is right, I'll leave feeling like it was a great adventure that's come to an end, as all adventures do.

    This is not to say that it's been easy. I've had some really hard years here, hard enough to change and shape me into someone I probably would not have been without them. Rob has too. We both picked up and went to live somewhere people thought we were crazy for going to and had experiences that our friends and family can only imagine. But even when conditions have been less than ideal, both of us have somehow managed to be happy. As Rob said, it's a choice to look at your circumstances and decide whether you'll be happy or not.

    Obviously, there are exceptions to this, like clinical depression, and it's pretty damn hard to be happy in the middle of a war or disaster. But in the everyday circumstances of life, I think most of us can decide whether we're going to roll with the punches or look at every little thing that happens as a personal affront or an obstacle. I have a couple of friends who do this, and it's a little wearing after a while. I know that sometimes it's not the big things that crush you, it's the accumulation of little balls of crap. But there's a way to keep from being buried in them and that's to keep going forward and let them roll off you. You might be knee-deep in crap then, but from that position, it's possible to bag it and sell it. It won't smell any better, but at least you'll get something out of it.

    The thing is, it never stops coming, so you might as well learn how to deal with it. I have two philosophers whose words I frequently repeat to myself: Masahide and Mick Jagger. From the former comes the haiku "Barn's burnt down/now I can see/the moon"; from the latter, "You can't always get what you want/ but if you try sometimes,/you just might find,/you get what you need."

    The last four years have been full of big changes for me, and the next few years are looking fairly uncertain at this point. My conversation with Rob last night reminded me that being happy isn't a passive activity. It doesn't just happen to you. Like anything worth having, you have to work at it. In that spirit, I'm taking a leaf from Lea Goode-Harris and her Tales From the Labyrinth. Every night, Lea writes down five things she's thankful for: "Are you ready for a change?" she says. "If the answer is yes, try this and see what happens. Just five words each night before you go to sleep."

    So I'm going to try it and post them here. I thought I'd call this the Happiness Project. Here's the first five:

    1. Music
    2. Tea
    3. Rob
    4. New York City
    5. my new work table

    If anybody wants to join in, send me a link. If there's such a thing as a critical mass of happiness, maybe we can generate it.