Happiness Project

Gratitude, Schmatitude

BitchbuttonHappy Colonial Holiday, everyone. That should tell you what kind of a mood I'm in. Well, not really, but I was trying to write one of those gratitude lists because it is the Appointed Day On Which We Should All Be Thankful. And my id was just Not Having It. I started it twice, after "accidentally" erasing the first one, then gave up. I've learned to listen to the noise of my Freudian lingerie flapping in the breeze, so I headed over here to ponder it instead.

It's not that I'm not grateful for oh so many things and people; I'm not that big an asshole. I can tell you right now one of the things I'm resisting is showing how grateful I am on this particular day by doing that particular thing. I'm really bad at that kind of conformity. I get very sneery about it because I don't trust it. I don't trust it because it's not of the moment. I cherish most the spontaneous expression of emotions, when they come bursting out of us because they must. Even anger. If you've had to build that up, I'm gonna be mad at you that you didn't say something sooner. Maybe it's just me, but I can't tell you how often I feel like Cordelia and the rest of the world is Lear:

KING LEAR

Tell me, my daughters,—
Since now we will divest us both of rule,
Interest of territory, cares of state,—
Which of you shall we say doth love us most?

CORDELIA

[Aside] What shall Cordelia do?
Love, and be silent.

Ugh Ugh Ugh. Pernicious, manipulative, selfish old man. This is what the enforced gratitude of Thanksgiving feels like to me. It's performative, to use one of my new favorite words. And it's not that we don't need a bit of performative grease to make the wheels of social interaction run more smoothly. Of course we do. The performative is not always false and insincere, but that's exactly how having a special day of gratitude feels to me: false and insincere. It also, like church on Sundays and confession, too often lets people off the hook for the rest of the time. Like, I said I was grateful for you all at Thanksgiving. What more do you want?


Second thanksgivingThen there's the public nature of it. One of the lessons from years of Bible study that formed an integral part of my ethical foundation is Matthew 6:5. "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full." Public prayer is performative as well, or can be, even when you are standing in representation for the people around you. It's a tool televangelists use all the time to manipulate their audiences and signal their holiness and how blessed by god they are. Public gratitude always strikes me this way too; there's an element of bragging in it. Look how lucky (rich) I am to have all these things to be grateful for! That's the part that makes me really uncomfortable, the similarity to bragging. 

Granted, not everybody is like this. I read some really beautiful, thoughtful, and heartfelt expressions of gratitude today on Facebook. All of them were from people I'm friendly with and hope someday to meet in the flesh and call them Friend. They were from people I admire, who do good work, who are themselves thoughtful in their expressions and compassionate in their responses and lives, as far as I can tell. They're the people who are going to make leaving FB hard, the folks I'm going to have to work at staying in touch with. They seem genuine to me. And I'm grateful for the opportunity of "knowing" them, even virtually.

And here's the thing, finally: I'm grateful every goddamn day, more so, the older I get. Grateful to wake up, grateful to be alive, grateful for the people who demonstrably (and otherwise) love me, for my job, for my apartment, for #JillybeanCalico, for being born where I was (though that one's getting a little dicey now), for good English Breakfast tea, for the hit of cold brew heroin caffeine in the mornings, for the steak I'm going to grill tonight, and the pumpkin pie that's in the oven. I'm grateful for everything, too much to list, that makes my life not just bearable survival, but actually good: music, art, conversation, books, Scotch, beer, good food, my education, my former students, a body that still works pretty well, the City of New York.

Life is goddamn wonder. How can I not be grateful with every breath? Even when I'm bitching. I'm grateful I can bitch.

And while I'm bitching, can I bitch about the bullshit story of Thanksgiving we teach our kids? Frankly, I much prefer Heather Cox Richardson's story of the origins of Thanksgiving to the one we're taught in school. The positively turning tide of a war against slavery seems like a great reason to be thankful. I don't know how this got tangled with the the Pilgrims (Anybody? Bueller?), who were not the kindest or most compassionate people in the world. It could do with a good untangling because the real story of our colonialism on this land is nothing to be thankful for. If you're going to be grateful, you should thank the people whose land we stole, that they don't murder us in our beds as they have every right to do. 

Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy your pie.


Use It or Lose It

BooksMadeHereBeen thinking a lot about creativity lately and how I seem to have lost mine. It's always been a bit of a struggle for me, in contrast to some of my friends who seem to have new things pop out of them all the time (I'm looking at you, Marcia Gilbert. And where is your website for me to link to?) That goes way back. My mom was a creative person too; she crocheted a bit, did embroidery, needlepoint, and crewel work, tatted, sewed quilts and clothes, baked, poured and painted ceramics, and most of all, painted china. Needlepointing and china painting were her two main creative outlets and she was really good at both. She and I made ceramics for a while when I was a kid (the kind you pour in molds with slip, not the thrown kind) before she started china painting, and that was fun, but I think I would have liked thrown ceramics better. Messy, more intent involved, glazes to mix and a bit of chemistry to learn. Still a goal. I love ceramics the way Mom loved porcelain.

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One of Mom's painted plates

She was also a perfectionist and really tough on herself, so I had that role model, which didn't make it easy to be creative. And she was an honest critic, which was both good and bad. Kids need a mom who thinks everything they do is brilliant; I had one who thought everything I did had the potential to be brilliant. On the plus side, I learned to take criticism well pretty early. It made me practice and practice and practice and practice when I was teaching myself guitar, but it made it excruciating to take lessons in anything. Failure wasn't an acceptable part of the process. But it has to be, and it's taken me a long time to allow myself to do that, to fail, to make failures, and not feel like one at the same time.

I think Mom was hoping we'd have a hobby or craft we could do together, so I tried crocheting, hooking rugs, embroidery, and making ceramics with her. She really wanted me to learn china painting, but I didn't have the patience for it and, well, see above about taking lessons. I explored very different creative avenues from Mom's, too: pencil portraits, pen and ink, guitar in high school, and finally writing. Writing was something Mom didn't do at all and it was it like breathing to me. The words were always there, shaping themselves into sentences or lines and stanzas. There was a voice in my head most of the time stringing them together. All through school, when my teachers thought I was taking notes like mad, I was writing stories—fanfic and stories about the kids in my neighborhood—that I shared around at lunch or on the bus after school.

Then I took a mechanical drawing class in high school and fell in love. I've always scored high on the spatial relationships part of aptitude and intelligence tests, the ones where you rotate 3D figures or take them apart in your head, and I liked the tools of mechanical drawing. I've still got my set of pencils and compasses and my T-square. And then I learned to type, on an IBM Selectric that was almost, but not quite, a typesetter. (In grad school, I got a daisy wheel typewriter/printer that was even closer; heaven.) I joined the yearbook staff. And that's how I got interested in layout. I learned real typesettng on the college newspaper, and when PageMaker came out when I was working my first job in New York, I was in ecstasy. I taught myself PageMaker, QuarkXpress and InDesign as they each came out, studying typography along the way. I bought a copy of Words Into Type. I bought typography and design books and learned to see what makes a good layout and good design. I bought art and artist's books. I laid out newsletters, pamphlets, proposals, posters, book covers, and reports. And that's how I wound up with the half-assed graphics/layout/word processing "career" I've had. I've never worked as a graphic artist in high end design jobs like magazines or advertising, but I've learned a lot from paying close attention to them. In one of my freelance proofreading jobs, I worked with a guy who was a fucking genius with Photoshop, who advised me to learn that instead of Illustrator. Turned out to be a wise choice for someone who's largely lost her drawing skills. I still hesitate to call myself a graphic artists, self-taught as I am. But I'm good at layout.

About ten years ago, I managed to scrape enough money together to take an intro to letterpress printing at the Center for Book Arts. And if the daisy wheel printer had been heaven, and the page layout programs had been ecstasy, working with a Vandercook and setting my own type by hand fucking blew the top of my head off. As a class, we designed and printed a broadside poem by Gregory Pardlo, "Glass," (which I loved). I suggested the design and set the type while everybody else picked it out and prepped the press. We each got a chance to set up and run off 25 copies ourselves. It. Was. Awesome. I fell in love with the Vandercook, which is a monster of an electric mechanical press. It fed all my love of machinery and tools and making large things do my bidding. I went home with dreams of my own letterpress shop dancing in my head. This of course requires that I win the Powerball lottery to buy a suitable building for my friends to live in and me to run  my press out of. Sure. Why not?

During the course of the long fanfic career I've had, I met a woman who was a conservator at a university library. When we became friends, she brought me into the lab she worked at and showed me how to do library bindings. I had no idea it was as easy as it was. That only fueled my press dreams a little more. We wound up making some very fancy fanzines together, a couple of which I'm still really proud of, with an imprint we formed called Two Vixens Press. In the meanwhile, as a poor substitute, I bought the equipment for a tiny, strictly digital press: a good Epson color printer, an HP laser printer, a powerful desktop hand built by another fandom friend, a big screen, and the Adobe software to go with it. I also bought myself a cast iron book press, which has been really handy. And I made some books (links in the sidebar). I started blogging about book arts, and going to book arts shows. Thus was born Maelstrom House. Then the Roommate happened.

So it's been a long, dry period of nothing creative and I'm easing my way back into making books, which appeals to my love of layout and typesetting and hand making things in mixed media. My equipment is outdated or broken now, so I have to rebuild that, and my hands are not as strong as they used to be and thanks to the growing arthritis, not as nimble. I feel like I've lost a lot of good creative time and momentum. I'm trying not to be resentful about that. It won't help.

For many reasons, I decided to ease my way back in with a book of my own poems. For one thing, I'm sick of the fact that the only way to get a collection published in the U.S. is to pay someone to read your work in a contest, the entry fees for which average $25. I've had enough individual poems published, and had enough people whose opinion I respect tell me I'm a good poet to not look at this as a vanity project but rather as another way of getting my work out there. I won awards for my poems in high school, college, and grad school. I've had a couple of near misses with contests, making it to the finalist pile. Besides, I'm in good company with Walt Whitman, e.e. cummings, and Virginia Woolf. The stigma of self-publishing is largely gone now, and there are many avenues of it. I've decided to put it out through Maelstrom House in a new imprint, or the resurrection of an old imprint—Long Meg Press—to keep it separate from the publication of other people's work. I'll start with a few handmade, perfect bound editions, make some print-on-demand editions available somewhere (I'm trying desperately to avoid Amazon; suggestions welcome), and learn how to make an ebook, which is a skill I've been wanting to add. And I know a thing or two about making books now. 

Well. I'm relearning it, anyway.

Signatures-Adobe
Imposition in InDesign. credit: Adobe

When I left my job at AKRF, I was a power user of the then-very-new InDesign CS2 and I could make it sit up and bark. I've laid out a number of chapbooks and zines and pamphlets and cards since then, so you'd think I'd remember how that signature thing works. Oh hell no. InDesign's newer versions do this cool thing called imposition, where you lay out the book in the page order it should appear in when printed, and the program makes the signatures for you, without screwing up your original layout. In the early versions, you had to do this by hand and it was an unholy fucking mess of linked text boxes. One thing that taught me was to make dummies first. But now InDesign does the messy work for you. It's almost too easy. Nothing like printing on a letterpress would be. 

But could I get that damn program to give me five signatures of an 80 page book? I could not. Took me four tries and a trip to the Adobe Help Desk (where I should have gone first) to remember I had to treat the first and last pages like a half-signature (of 4 pages) and check the box to print blank pages. (JFC, Adobe, why would I include blank pages in a document if I didn't want to print them? That should be the default, you dumbasses. Not a special box to check, buried in the printer preferences.) Then I realized if I was going to perfect-bind this thing, I didn't need a set of five signatures, which I'd have to pamphlet stitch and then bind; I needed individual four-page signatures. Duh. *Dramatically smacks forehead.*

Anyway, I got the innards laid out and fancied up with a nice typeface and a few ornaments here and there. It needs a bit more futzing with, but it looks good. And now it needs a cover. And Long Meg Press needs a logo again. I was dreaming about making that, the other night. It's good to dream.


Catching Up, Starting Over

Feeling My Age MoiOkay, so it's been a while. The last thing I actually wrote, as opposed to just posting some graphic, was in 2015, about a year before I lost my summer teaching job at NJCU and things started to change. I promised in the last post that there would be a catch-up about why I haven't written anything here lately, and this is it. Its a long and kinda of ugly story, about five years worth of ugly story that I'm still sorting through and—though I hate this word—processing. Where one enters a story is crucial and I don't know where to do that to explain this to you; five years is a long time to encapsulate.

Encapsulate. Huh. The image I have of that is of a sliver, a piece of shrapnel that can't be removed, enveloped and surrounded by the body, encased, so it does no more harm, so the sharp edges are blunted and infection doesn't spread. That seems apt.

As I said, it's a long, convoluted tale with numerous actors and locations and consequences, bad employers and good employers, brokeness and broken-ness, desperation and relief, good friends and bad. It involves another move, a new job, the end of a friendship, another rescue cat, and what it feels like to be starting over while pushing 60. All kinds of doors opening and closing, losses and gains. I'm not sure how important the details are and I don't want this to sound like a wailing litany of misery, because it wasn't. It was just Not Right, and Not Good For Me.

O Hindsight, You are a Cruel Bitch.

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In Parkchester

Let's try this: back up a bit, to June 2013, when I take in a Friend who is jobless and being evicted from her apartment. Foreshadowing: I'm the only one of her friends or family to offer to do this. I'm living in Parkchester (pic at right) and have an extra bed, though the apartment is only a one-bedroom. She has two teeny cats that my then-beastie, HRH Queen Mab the Cruel and Beautiful, loathes (and has met before since Friend had been HRH's initial rescuer). So right off the bat, we have cat fights and separate litter boxes (more foreshadowing). I think the stress of two cats in her territory made HRH sick and killed her before she should have died. She gets sick and I have to put her down not long after the Friend moves in. That breaks my heart.

The humans living together doesn't go too badly otherwise, though we are worlds apart in ideas about neatness and cleanliness. Friend makes an effort, which I appreciate, though I fail to fathom people who have no personal concept of "cleaning up after yourself." She's getting welfare and SNAP benefits, but there's no way in hell I'm not going to share my food with someone who needs to eat, regardless of what those fuckers in the benefits office think is reasonable. Six months in, she gets a job, though the salary is minuscule and generally unlivable, and offers to split the rent. I tell her to keep it, to start getting herself back on her feet, thinking she'll use this as a launch pad to a better job.

About that time, my landlady, a friend of a sort-of former friend (there's another long story, but I have no need or desire to go there), informs me she's selling the condo I'm renting from her and offers me a very generous "buy out." Roommate and I decide we "haven't killed each other yet" (her words) and decide to keep living together to help each other out (my words). I still have to borrow money from my friends (you know who you are and I am still paying you back) to move us to a new place, smaller and four flights up, in Harlem, that Friend finds through her connections. It has the potential to be a cute apartment with decent amenities, but this is where it all goes to shit.

First of fall 2016-1
From the Dunbar, Harlem

I run out of money and can't retrieve roommate's stuff from storage after all, as I'd promised (although she's been working for three months now, she's contributed little more than half of one month's rent; I've covered the damage deposit and brokers fee, in addition to moving expenses and my half of the rent); I don't know what else to do but apologize, which I do. When it comes time to write the checks for rent after the moving is done, I get "billed" for her storage fees for the next couple months, until I reasonably ask why I'm paying for her storage. This precipitates screaming accusations of me lying to her (and reveals her failure to hear my apology), but she starts writing her checks for the full amount of rent she owes.

When I try to talk to her about splitting chores, she looks at me like I'm asking her to murder her cats and just shakes her head in apparent terror. I cannot keep up with her failure to clean up after herself. It's like living with a frat boy who never puts anything away, never takes out the garbage, never cleans a dish, never mops, wipes a counter or sweeps, never washes out the sink or tub or toilet, doesn't scoop the cat box, and tramps through the apartment with wet and dirty feet without cleaning the mud off. I never unroll my good carpet. The cats use it as a scratching post.

We argue. Loudly. Not often, but enough that I start walking on eggshells, never sure what will set her off. I am now the enemy. We stop talking to each other except when necessary. I hate this. I don't mind confrontation, but I hate unnecessary conflict. We're two adults, we should be able to have a reasonable discussion without name calling and screaming accusations. I hate the person she brings out in me; it's one I've fought all my life not to be, with the temper I have. A lot of passive aggressive shit gets done by both of us because there's no possibility of reasonable communication and I will not be screamed at. The cats shit and piss all over the apartment, ruin my furniture and belongings, kill my plants. Roommate (no longer Friend) ruins a fair number of my possessions too, out of sheer carelessness. This goes on for a total of four more years. By the last year of it, I'm only sleeping and showering in the apartment. I've quit trying to clean it. Another friend who's only here part time lets me hang out at her place when she's not there. I'm not homeless in the literal sense of the word, but I'm Home-less. And Home is deeply important to me.

Working (For) It

In the meanwhile, in June of 2016, NJCU's shithead Badmins close down the Writing Center where I've been working over the summer, without any notice, leaving me and my colleagues unemployed. Director and staff wage a hard-fought battle for its life, but we lose. I'm literally a week or so away from utter penury and considering bankruptcy. Roommate offers no help, doesn't seem to give a shit. So much for mutual aid. 

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My office cube at Vesey St.

Miraculously, after sending out at least a couple of resumes every week for, like, five years, I finally get an interview with a non-profit for nearly the same job I had at AKRF, lo these many years before. It's even in the same neighborhood. But, unlike ARKF, it's full time and the pay is much better, as are the benefits. It's a nerve-wracking couple of weeks before I get hired, but get hired I do. I'm sad to leave teaching. I'm sad, to be specific, to leave the classroom and my students. I am not sad to leave the exploitation, the terror of not knowing if I'll have classes enough to live on every four months, the scramble to get by, the utter insecurity, the indifference of Badmin to both students and professors, the indifference of tenured faculty to the ruination of their profession and the living conditions of their colleagues. I haven't had a full-time job since 1990 and I'm worried about how I'll feel about it after a while. I've loved having the freedom to create art, to sit in cafes and write, to be able to take terribly paid but deeply rewarding teaching jobs in my field—but not the freedom to starve. The economy has changed too much and I'm 56. Freelancing is too precarious. Teaching doesn't pay well enough and is also too precarious. I need new glasses, good healthcare, dentistry, disability insurance, a retirement plan. A decent salary. Safety nets. Stability. I have to start taking care of myself.

Thanks to eight years of lousy academic "salary" and sudden unemployment I am up to my ass in debt: friends, credit cards, federal and state taxes. My credit rating is in the toilet. But I'm working now, in a great job with great people, and working toward getting the fuck out of this apartment. I cannot stand it any more. I start squirreling away cash in a strong box under my bed. State tax arrears come due and suck up all  my meager disposable income. This job is good, but it's not that good. Friends come to my aid—swarm to my aid—in a GoFundMe and I manage, with their financial and physical help, to get out of Harlem and into a new apartment in March of 2018. (Shout out here to Daniel Chow of Leonidas Realty, who really went to bat for me.) In a final fit of rage when I don't sign the lease again, Roommate accuses me of "always getting what I want." I'm not sure what that means. That I was supposed to keep taking care of her? There had been signs of that all along, and resentment when I haven't. She's still in the same badly paying job she was in five years ago, having made no effort to move on. Last I hear, she is in North Bergen, New Jersey, commuting to Times Square every day. 

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Jillybean Calico

A few months before this, I find a little hell-cat calico abandoned in her carrier on the street, with the door left open. She's scared and fiesty as hell, but I get her shots and spayed and move her into my bedroom, like I did with Taz, the tuxedo the Roommate brought back after her wee sister cats died. This calico stays nameless for a long time because I'm trying not to get attached to her, thinking it's going to be hard enough leaving Taz, who thinks she's mine. I don't have the emotional wherewithal for any more cats, or the income. But eventually, she convinces me that I'm hers now, and that her name is Miss Jillybean Calico. She's full of piss and vinegar and made of sharp edges, but a great snuggler and funny as hell. She comes with me out to Brooklyn in her carrier, in the front seat of another friend's car, and when I cut her loose after the movers have gone, she runs around the apartment in utter joy at all the space and snarls like a cougar that this is hers now. All of it. Me included.

It seemed to take a Herculean effort to move this time. It was too messy, in too many stages, and the last one involved way too much of me running up and down four flights of stairs, throwing out my possessions. I think that finally broke me, physically. Six months out, I'm just starting to feel a tad less exhausted and getting some stamina back. It's taken me that long to unpack, too. The last two boxes were just emptied this weekend, and the contents await the pleasure of the people I've offered them to, or of folks who will love them more than I do. 

This account, of course, has two sides, and many more details of everyday cruelties offset with moments of beauty. Harlem is a great neighborhood and I liked it up there. It feels like New York in a way Brooklyn or anywhere else I've lived doesn't. It's a close-knit neighborhood. I wish I could have afforded to stay, but it's just as well I couldn't. It doesn't need white people. It needs more well-paid Black folks loving it so people like me can go enjoy the great jazz spots, the restaurants, the architecture and art, and go home to elsewhere, leaving our money behind. I always felt a kind of guilt living in Harlem, and a lot like an interloper. Part of the problem, not part of the solution. So as much as I liked living in that part of Manhattan, I don't particularly miss it. 

As for the friendship that went south, well, after enduring four years of verbal abuse, false accusations, and irresponsibility, I don't miss that either. When people show you who they are, believe them.

Home Again, Home Again

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Fall in Bath Beach

The City of New York took a while to feel like home, but it's definitely that after 33 years. But nobody lives in the City of New York; you live in the neighborhood. In the run up to the move, I was forced to think about what I really require in a home and in a neighborhood. My previous moves have been opportunistic or of necessity. This time, I had the opportunity to find somewhere that felt like home, instead of having to wrest the idea from what I was given. I  had a cute, cheap apartment in Sunset Park, but the neighborhood was (then) pretty grungy and amenity-free. Parkchester was the closest to home that I've come, and I did love that apartment and neighborhood. But not the Bronx so much. Parkchester was an enclave, sadly, not part of a wider borough I felt at home in. Harlem was a great neighborhood that spoiled me in a lot of ways: great restaurants and bars, good grocery store, handy laundry, excellent cafes, libraries and bookstores, and a great commute. The building was seedier than it should have been, because it had clearly once been glorious, but the apartments had been chopped up and were tiny and claustrophobic, even without a roommate who, left to her own devices, would cover the floor knee-deep with her detritus. My bedroom barely held my queen-size bed, a dresser, my hope chest, and a dry sink. The closet was like a coffin. So was the room, after a while. I don't know how Jillybean survived in it for as long as she did. I'm not sure how I did, either.

I stopped looking for a new place in the Bronx after a while, disheartened by grunge and distance, and focused on Brooklyn. When I saw the picture of the building I'm in now, something about it just felt right. It was the third place I looked at on a really raw, rainy day and even in the dark, I knew this was it. I don't know what made it so, but I basically just told the realtor to take my money once we got inside. I gave them the down payment that night. Brooklyn feels like home and always has.

Some of my habitational requirements have been constrained by my accruing years. I'm done with non-elevator buildings unless I'm on the first floor. That's where I am now, with four steps up from the entry, and some days when I first moved in, it was all I could do to get up those. I don't know how I did four floors every day. I don't know how I dragged stuff up and down it. I want more quiet than I used to, and this is blissfully quiet. I want a neighborhood, like Parkchester, that I can walk around in and shop in, and Bath Beach is definitely that.

I'm still discovering its charms. Every workday, I stop and chat with Phyllis, my Jewish neighbor who feeds the pigeons at the end of the block. I say Ni hao! to the Chinese immigrant woman who fishes for cans and bottles in our recycling bins. Her smile is always luminous. The neighborhood is full of Chinese folks, storefronts in alphabets I can't read, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Russian, and Italian food markets. My neighbors are Polish and Russian immigrants and long-time Brooklynites. I haven't tried the restaurants yet, but there are several that look enticing. Still looking for a bar, but found a good diner and a couple of bakeries. I come home via Bay Ridge, and it half feels like an extension of my neighborhood, it's so close. I've discovered the good grocery stores (even the Key Food here has a great pasta selection; advantage of living in an Italian neighborhood): JMart, Net Cost, and the little Middle Eastern shop with barrels of turmeric and gram flour and a Halal butcher.

Being close to the water—smelling it, watching the freighters come in closer than I ever did on Lake Huron, hearing it crash against the breakwater—is heavenly. It's a low-rise neighborhood of two and three story houses and apartment buildings, tree-lined so heavily on my street that when I come home at night I have to have a flashlight in the summer. In the winter, Orion hangs in the sky over my building. I don't miss Northern Michigan, where I grew up, but I have missed being walking distance from water and seeing the stars and fireflies. On July 4th, there were 360 degree fireworks: Coney Island, Satan Island, on the bay, and behind us in the park. 

It's different out here, a bit more suburban, though still urban density without the high rises. I don't miss those either. Not quite car country like the interior of Bensonhurst or Satan Island. Enough of a commute to get some reading done again. If I had the heart for that.

Next! Next?

So here I am, back in Brooklyn, the borough where I started out in 1986, alone again in a 700 sq. foot ground-floor apartment half a block from the water, where I can see Orion in the winter sky and fireflies on the lawn (lawn!) in the summer. I have a hilarious, half-mad rescue calico whom I never meant to keep. I'm simultaneously deliriously happy, relieved, exhausted, and ... numb. I've never felt like this before, so I don't have words to describe it. I hesitate to call it PTSD because I don't feel traumatized; I might be a bit beaten up, but I'm pretty resilient. I'm not suffering anxiety, nightmares, or any of the typical symptoms of PTSD. I suspect what I'm feeling is more like exhaustion, and has more to do with staring down the barrel of 60, but also with various losses and the grief of those losses, and with the realization that I'm starting over.

I've lost half my furniture in the last two moves and what I've got left has had the shit beaten out of it by Roommate and her cats and time. I abandoned a lot of stuff out of necessity, not being able to afford to move it. Some the smaller stuff disappeared into the maw of squalor that was the Roommate's bedroom and rec (wreck) room over the course of five years. I need a new dining table and chairs (old ones were claimed somehow by Roommate, who insists I promised them to her), a new daybed (given away when it didn't fit in the new Harlem apartment), new accent chairs (one gave up the ghost in Parkchester, the other was ruined by the Roommate; neither owed me anything at their age). I've already bought a new, cheap trestle desk, where I'm writing this. But I can't yet afford internet service (work has graciously loaned me a mifi) and I need a promotion and better salary. Half my take-home goes to rent. I lost $800/month in disposable income between higher rent and paying back the tax man. Only a couple more months of the latter, thankfully. 

I've lost a lot more than possessions, though. I've lost my cooking chops, which is weird, because up until the last year when the building management ripped up our kitchen and never fixed it, I cooked a lot. Things I used to make with confidence come out tasting weird, or just wrong. Maybe it's the ingredients. I'm buying cheaper stuff than I used to. Or it's learning the quirks of a new kitchen. And not having good pans anymore. I've also lost my singing voice because once the Roommate moved in, I stopped using it. I used to sing all the time, and I'm starting to do so again, though I don't have any music equipment set up but my phone right now. I suppose that will come back too, the more I use it. In the meanwhile it's painful. I've always had a good strong voice and now I sound like a weak old lady who can't carry a tune. I'm afraid I might be one.

The worst thing is that I've lost the sense of who I am when I'm alone, and this is the thing I'm having the hardest time both explaining and dealing with. I think part of the reason is that my fantasy life has wandered off on its own somewhere. I used to have a rich and deep one, full of characters and plots that developed over weeks or months as I walked through my day. Now it's all empty up there. There's no people to "try on." The non-rent-paying boarders in my head that I used to joke about have vacated. I'm alone in my own head.

Alone, but not lonely. I do miss my cast of characters, but it's bliss having space to myself again. I just ... I don't know how to fill it. I don't mean the furniture. You should see the Pinterest boards I've got for that. I mean that I spent so much time on my laptop on FB, raising hell and instigating by way of distracting myself from my home situation that I don't know how to be in my own head, my own physical space, my own body anymore. I'm disconnected enough that I don't even know what that feels like, what emotions I have about it. Not dissociated, but not entirely present, either.  Here in body, here in intellectual capacity; maybe it's the emotions that haven't caught up yet. Disconnected, maybe. 

In that disconnection is my need and desire to hunker down on the weekends, stay indoors, and not see anybody. When I was living up in Harlem, I saw folks quite a bit, in part because it was a way of being out of Hell Apartment, and partially because, well, I like my friends. And I had more disposable income. Now that I'm alone again for the first time in five years, I kinda wanna just roll around in it. I cook, clean, do laundry, tease the cat, watch a show or two sometimes when the signal is good. I'm done unpacking and mostly with arranging, until I get more furniture to arrange, and I'm making small things. What I'm not doing is writing or reading, for various reasons.

Island&cat_sm
Jillybean contemplates the Maker Space

Until I moved, I hadn't had a work space of any kind for five years, and now have more than I quite know what to do with. It's not all set up yet. I haven't hooked up the desktop and its peripherals, or got the maker space quite the way I want it. There's not yet enough storage space to clear the island top for working. I haven't made any books in ages, but I've been doing teeny little craft projects related to the apartment since I moved in. Last night I bought two 12x12 galvanized steel tiles to make into bulletin boards and got out the washi tape to put a border around them. I've made a gazillion magnets out of my old pins and buttons. I miss the sewing machine I left behind because all of a sudden I have a bunch of things I want to sew.

But the beauty of writing is that you don't really need much of a work space for it. What you need the most of is headspace, and I've lost that, too, in my lack of privacy and retreat from my living conditions. I haven't written much in the last four years, either fiction, non-fiction, or poetry. For a while there I was churning out a lot of political pieces for the Cause. I had a frenzy of poetry after the election and that seems to have exhausted me. And fiction... pfft. I've had this next novel churning around in my head for years now and I cannot bring myself to even do the research for it. I keep looking for a way into it and everywhere it's a locked door. Even the fanfic is on hold. I've been doing mostly graphics at work, since that's my job, and even got to make a book there, but it's not the same. It's work. Sitting in front of this computer at a desk again, crafting something with words, feels good in a way that sitting at the one at work doesn't. I don't feel blocked, just empty. That's more disturbing.

I blame The Orange Dumpster Fire for some of my malaise (for everyone's). The shit show that is his regime (not administration; there is no administration. There are only cronies and sycophants.) has taken the heart out of many of us, and added to a lot of the anger I was already feeling with the Roommate. It changed and reduced what I could bear to read, changed the focus of my poetry (not for the better), stripped me of energy to do anything more than run my political action boards on FB (The League of Nasty Women, a clearinghouse for resistance actions and education and Against Trumpism, which is my personal shitposting about T-Rump), and march when I have energy.  Because I do not have that energy anymore, dammit. It's occupied too much of my headspace too, both being angry about how I'm living and being angry about the Orange Regime.

All this is a very long way to saying that I am Starting Over. I keep thinking about Lewis Thomas's essay "The Selves," which I've written about elsewhere. If I've written this long screed as a way to figuring out what the fuck is wrong with me, I think it's this: I'm between selves. I'm aging, and getting used to that. I'm alone again, and getting used to that. I'm not teaching anymore, and getting used to that. I've become far more politically active and opinionated, and getting used to that. I'm living somewhere new and working somewhere newish. I have a new cat. It's all new. The integration has not yet happened and I'm still disparate parts of a whole.

What a puzzle. Hope the pieces are all still here.


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
everywhere
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


Resolved:

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
success
new adventures
the rekindling of old loves and/or the discovery of new ones
fireworks
candlelight
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.


thankful

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)

Teadoll_2

      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).

    Chrysler_bldg_2


    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)

    Teadoll

    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.

    Muttsjoy