Friday, January 29, 2010

State of the Capella

Ever since Megan referred to this sort of post (negatively) in her blog, I've gotten a kick out of it. The way I see it, it's my blog. If you are bored of it, stop reading. (Or, at least, stop reading this entry, and come back for my various rants.) Anyway, I don't see why these entries are necessarily boring... some of my favorite blogs are nothing more than commentary on what people have cooked recently or what their children are up to, and I neither cook nor have children.

I am training for a half-marathon. Or, rather, I am sort of on the cusp between preparing to train and actually training; the race is in three months. I've never done a half-marathon before, although I did a marathon a couple years ago. I have the (perhaps erroneous) belief that this will be much easier, and also that it will not require me to devote myself to it the way the marathon kind of did. I have a couple of pretty major things I want to do in the next three months that have nothing to do with athletics, and I also don't want my workouts to become entirely focused on the marathon. I want to continue my weekly spin classes, especially now that I've just gotten the appropriate shoes, and I want to continue doing yoga once a week (yes, this is grossly inadequate, but it's hard to find good classes that are also convenient... in general, when you are only spending six hours a week working out instead of twelve it is really hard to do everything adequately), and I don't want to totally fall off the wagon on strength training, and I've been running intervals one day a week lately and I want to keep doing that. So I'm hoping I can train for the half-marathon via one gradually-lengthening long run per week, plus session a week of intervals, one session of spin, one yoga class, a solid lifting session plus a couple of mini-sessions (i.e. two or three machines before or after a cardio workout), and whatever combination of additional cardio workouts (elliptical, or some hill training if I can manage it) and rest seem appropriate on a week-by-week basis. On the one hand, there is a danger of not taking the race seriously enough; on the other hand, my goal is not so much to run a really good half as to get in really good shape, such that running a decent half-marathon is doable even without the sort of massive psychological effort that underlies most beginner marathons. First thing I'll need to do is get new running shoes, and also possibly some cute wicky tops.

Last night, I saw Sleeping Beauty at the ballet. It was quite impressive. I am starting to notice certain themes to these performances. There is a lot of playing around with the nature of reality: dreams and visions, dolls that come to life, people that become dolls or animals. Frequently most or all of the plot of the ballet takes place in the first act, and the second act is a sort of marquee in which a series of characters - fairies are popular, as are various fairy-tale and nursery-rhyme characters - perform for the benefit of a king and queen (there are many kings and queens, and many marriages of princes and princesses. I really like my seat this season, and I could see keeping it for the spring season. It would be kind of cool to be the kind of person who sits in the same place at the ballet every season, year after year. Kind of like having a life.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

I found myself having a heated discussion the other day about whether money can buy happiness.  I've had this conversation before, and I always seem to be on the opposite side of whomever I'm talking to.  I'm not sure if this is because I'm exceptionally argumentative, or I know a really diverse array of people, or what.

The particular form of the latest argument was whether, given one has a crappy job, being paid more money can make one less unhappy about it.  To me this sounds trivial, and the answer is "yes".  I mean, yes, there are jobs so dehumanizing and awful that one will be miserable no matter how much one is paid - but that isn't most crappy jobs.  Most crappy jobs - particularly of the variety held by people I actually know - are just boring and inconvenient and stupid.  And, yes, that sucks, and maybe most people would be happier with a job they liked that paid less than with a job they disliked that paid more, but that's not the question.  The question is whether having money makes life with the crappy job more palatable.

The woman I was arguing with, who is my friend and a very nice person, claimed that this was not true, because she has a crappy job and works incredibly long days, and is miserable, and when she comes home she has absolutely no desire to spend money so having more of it would not help her.  But she said this while sitting on her leather sofa with her designer puppy in her 800-square-foot apartment with its own washer and dryer and real art and a walk-in closet.  I am pretty sure - although I could not seem to communicate this to her nicely - that she would be less happy if she came home to a tiny, dingy place at the far end of a subway line in the boroughs and had to share her bedroom with two other girls and couldn't afford to get takeout every night.  And she seems pretty sure of this too, because do you know what she is going to do about her unhappiness?  She's asking for a forty percent raise.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The whole debate over plus-sized models is ridiculous.  I will not bore you or keep myself up even later by finding tons of links, but basically (if you're a man or have been under a rock) it started a few months ago with Glamour publishing the photo on this page - a tasteful nude shot of a woman with  curves, including on her belly.  Glamour is actually, among magazines for young women, fairly good about publishing photos of "real women", i.e. modeling which cuts of a particular type of garment flatter various body types.  Still, the photo received a ton of attention, both positive (women saying the shot made them feel so much better about themselves, or something) and negative (she is fat and disgusting and the embodiment of all that is wrong with America, etc.), and enflamed an ongoing debate about the body size of models.  Which basically runs, well, most models are super-skinny, which is because (a) most clothes are made to look best on super-skinny models, and (b) they (usually) starve themselves.  Plus-sized models are actually normal women, although much taller and more attractive, which (depending on your point of view) means (a) they are a breath of fresh air and some kind of feminist statement (i.e. that we have a right to have body fat, which apparently still needs to be stated), and (b) society is degenerating because we are all getting fatter, and having larger models is just giving up.

Now, I'm not totally on board with the "obesity epidemic" panic, but I'm prepared to believe that lots of people could stand to lose some or even a lot of weight.  However, the ideal way to lose weight is to eat reasonable quantities of healthy foods and exercise moderately, not to hate your excess body fat until the sheer force of antagonism makes it disappear.  Moreover, models are not spiritual guides or moral exercises.  Their purpose is to look good while wearing or doing things that their employers want us to wear or do.  When models are in ads for perfume or face cream, their looking like regular people might be a good thing (we can perhaps better imagine ourselves wearing that perfume or face cream) or a bad thing (they are no longer as incredibly glamorous and therefore we are less convinced that buying the product will make us incredibly glamorous), although I think this is probably a small effect.  But when models are in ads for clothes (or articles about fashion or catalogs or web sites designed to sell clothes) there is an immediate effect: skinny models make the clothes look the way they would look on a skinny person.  If you are not a skinny person, the clothes will not look that way on you.  Some clothes look better on women with more shape (menswear-style shirts) and some clothes look worse (any dress without a waist).  Given that one of the purposes of fashion magazines is to advise women on their clothing purchases, and the sole purpose of a clothing retailer's catalog or website is to induce those purchases, I think it would be a really good thing if models had a range of body types.  

Because, except at the highest reaches of fashion, where clothing is art, a garment that only looks good on 1% of the population is not a very good garment, at least for 99% of everybody.  Using only skinny models encourages designers to make clothes that look good on skinny people, and makes it harder for women to get the information that the clothes won't look good on them and therefore harder for us to demand that retailers sell clothes that suit different types of frame.

Because - hard as it may be to glean this from all the debate about the aesthetic awfulness of models who look a little bit like human beings - the purpose of clothes is to fit our bodies.  That is what they are designed for.  It is not the purpose of our bodies to fit into clothes.  It is the purpose of our bodies to run and breathe and eat and have sex.  Not to fit into clothes that have been designed for totally different bodies, which in many cases are not healthy bodies, or clothes that have been designed with no reference to bodies at all.

That is why I am getting rid of my Banana Republic skirt.  I have had it three years and have worn it, I think, twice.  I bought it while shopping with my grandmother, who liked the store and wanted to get me something in it.  I don't particularly like or dislike it; I chose it because I didn't like most of what the store contained and it was on sale.  (It was still more expensive than almost any other garment I owned at the time.)  The reason I don't wear it is partly because I don't wear many skirt and partly because it does not fit.  Pathologically.  It is both too tight and too loose, and appears to have been designed for some other type of being entirely, like a skirt-wearing man.  I do not think any woman of my size could have the proportions required to fit into this skirt.  It is a skinny-woman's skirt blown up for a normal-sized woman.  Did they have any normal-sized women try it on before they started selling it?

So it is not a good skirt for me, and I should not have bought it.  I kept it not because I was seriously planning a regime that would result in the skirt fitting better, but because it seemed like I should fit the skirt.  If everything in my life were properly aligned, I thought, I would always go to bed on time and never want ice cream and magically my body would conform to the mold of a skirt that doesn't even resemble a shape I would like to be.  It wasn't that I wanted my body to have the particular shape of the skirt; it was that I wanted my body to be something that the skirt would fit.

And then I wore it for the second time, and I was uncomfortable the whole evening.  The skirt kept twisting and riding up and the extra fabric was bulging under my shirt.  Fortunately, I was sitting in one place most of the night, but sitting there in a miserable skirt that cost too much money and never fit me and that I don't even like all that much, I realized the whole thing was ridiculous.  It is a skirt.  It is not a person.  It is not a totem of some earlier, legendary, thinner time. It is a small piece of fabric that is utterly useless to me because it fails to conform to the shape of my body.  The problem is not me; the problem is the skirt.

This is obvious to everyone with two brain cells.  And yet all over the (Western?) world there are women whose closets contain garments that do not fit them, that do not look good on them, that do not make them happy.  We keep these garments not because we can't replace them but because we believe, somehow, that it is our bodies' job to fit into them.  And this is silly.  We do not buy glasses that are the wrong prescription for our eyes and insist that we should be able to see with them.  We do not buy books in languages we don't speak and then feel bad that we can't read them.  And yet, somehow, when we have a pair of pants that clearly has the wrong amount of fabric for our frame, or a skirt that ends at a weird spot on our legs, we insist that it is our bodies - even if they are healthy and happy, even if we are satisfied with them outside the context of the garment - that are flawed and not the silly, arbitrary, fueled-by-consumerism-and-outsourcing-and-fashion-industry-peculiarities piece of fabric that should be designed to celebrate them.

Okay.  I am done ranting for the day.  

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

New York state of mind

To me, the interesting thing Penelope had to say in this post was not about racism or religion but about culture and how we define ourselves relative to it.

One of the things I've spent a lot of time thinking (and worrying) about is where I belong. Where I belong professionally, geographically, even socially. I spent a decade in academia, not primarily because I loved my work or even because I didn't know how to leave, but because I felt I belonged there. It is hard to leave somewhere you feel you belong, even knowing you are likely to be happier somewhere else.

More and more, I have no idea where I belong. I used to belong in the East Coast suburbs where I grew up, and when I left them to go to college and grad school I experienced a culture shock. I spent most of my time in the Midwest feeling like a fish out of water, whether I was at school or at home; at home or at my parents' house. Nothing in my new environment was what I was used to; it was foreign and at first a little bit wrong-seeming, or at least wrong for me. But after a few years I grew to appreciate it, and then my childhood home became the place that seemed wrong for me. Perhaps more jarring than growing to love the Midwest was realizing it was possible for me to do so; I had unconsciously internalized all kinds of stereotypes without realizing they were neither accurate nor complete, and it was difficult to come to the realization that my life as I experienced it was in direct opposition to what I thought I knew.

Now, in New York, I miss these places. I miss small college towns. I miss open space. I miss the people, too; one thing about people in New York is that, while there are certainly all kinds and while many of them are from somewhere else, they all chose to come here. People in other places mostly have never lived in New York and never wanted to, which is a very appealing trait.

My parents don't like New York. Or, actually, they do like it, as a place to visit. But not as a place to live. They talk a lot about my "New York Lifestyle," which in their minds seems to resemble a montage of Sex and the City clips. Needless to say this bears little to no resemblance to my actual lifestyle, which contains less alcohol and more sensible shoes. But it probably is the lifestyle most people associate with New York, and while I know - both from doing it and from seeing other people do it, sometimes much better - that it is possible to have a different sort of life in New York, I sometimes wonder whether it is worth being here if you are going to have a different sort of life.

I don't think I will ever really belong here. This is not in itself an impediment; as far as I can tell, the city is mostly populated by people who don't feel they belong here. It's a giant, scary place, and living here is like riding a dragon might be; it's a wild ride, if you can handle it, and there's nothing quite like it, but the dragon is not ever going to become your pet. The fact that you can't own the city is the better part of its appeal, but not everyone is cut out to spend their lives in a place that will bit your arm off as soon as look at you.

But it gets under your skin. I was talking about this the other day with a friend who has been here four years and who, while not exactly loving it, doesn't think she could ever leave. The way she put it was that New York has spoiled her for everywhere else, but I don't think that's accurate. Softness and ease spoils you; wild rides are addictive. I think leaving New York is probably something you either have to have done to you or something that takes all your energy - like leaving academia, which I've spent half a decade working on with, so far, little success. I think it's scary because you say things to yourself like "where will I get a decent bagel?' and "how can I live without regular access to world-famous visual and performing arts?" and "the energy of the city makes me feel alive!". You remind yourself of all the great things New York has and let the bad things - the stink of the air, the constant crowding, the rudeness, the trash on the streets, the inability to buy basic necessities at reasonable prices, scary people on the subway, the fact that every time you try to go anywhere you have to navigate a dozen unpleasant situations per block - become routine and ritual annoyances. And so you stay.

I don't think that will be me. A lot of people here grew up in suburbs and have been here since college. They don't know anything else. To them, living outside New York is the same as living with their parents, or worse, being their parents. It is being stifled and bored, having no life outside of ferrying your children to soccer practice, not participating in anything larger than a teenager's vision of their parents' life as mindless wastelands.

I've lived other places. Not for long, perhaps, but long enough. I know what it's like to have a commute that doesn't involve watching rats scurry around in tunnels. I know what it's like to go to a real Target or grocery store or shopping mall and buy the things you need without worrying about where, if you don't open that box of tissues for three days, you can possibly store it. I know what it's like to look out your window and see trees and animals instead of, or in addition to, concrete and brick. I know what it's like to live somewhere you know well, where people and things become familiar over time, where you can find a small part of the world to gradually grow to belong to, and how good it feels to belong somewhere. Other people think, in their heads, that life outside New York might possibly be easier - they might have more space, more time, more money - but I remember that it actually is easier. That it's rewarding, too, to drive on roads that looked like something off a maple syrup package and to shovel snow, and have allergies to pollen rather than dust. It's rewarding to have friends rather than drinking buddies and to have them not really care who makes more money or wears smaller clothes. It's rewarding to know where to get the best soup and coffee, and who I will see there, and not having to worry if there will be open seats. Having space and time and money to spare is freeing and delightful.

I don't want to idolize it; I remember the bad stuff, too, the stuff that people in New York fear: driving for hours to get to a major airport or museum, aggressive advertisements for churches, waiting longer for things to come in the mail. But in New York, the bad things are background and the good things are occasional (perhaps frequent, but still occasional in the sense of discrete and occurring on distinct occasions); elsewhere, outside the city and beyond the suburbs, the good things are background and the bad things are occasional. The good things, the reasons for living there, are the things you have every day, rather than things you have to work to include in your life. It's thrilling to live among so much excellence and excitement, but it would be more pleasant to live somewhere clean and quiet and nice.

I won't be ready to leave for a while. New York is good for me right now. It's an amazing experience, living here. I'm learning so much. I'm also figuring out what I want to do in my life, and while you can figure that out anywhere, you can't necessarily act on it anywhere; in New York, you can act on almost anything. But when it's time to leave, I hope I will be able to free myself by remembering the daily, easy joy of living somewhere less intoxicating.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

ill-considered thoughts on publishing

I've been following the Game Change saga with some interest.  Not the actual book - I have no particular intention of reading it - but the issues surrounding its publication.  The book itself is a sensationalized account of the Bush-Gore election.  It was initially scheduled for a moderately-large print run but received a lot of publicity in the week before it was released.  Now, thanks to the reviews of pundits and ensuing controversy, the books are selling out, and the publishers are ordering more.  But since (1) it takes time for books to be printed, and (2) much of the demand is attributable to the publicity, it is entirely possible that many of the books being printed now will not be bought.  Buyers will not necessarily wait a month to buy this book, since in a month something else will be abuzz and they will want to buy that.  So the publishers will possibly lose out on sales and have extra books.

The reason there is so much controversy about this issue is that there is no electronic version of the book.  That's pretty unusual for new books of this magnitude.  Electronic versions aren't universally accessible, of course, but they have obvious distribution benefits (instantaneous shipping and ~zero marginal production cost).  In a publisher's perfect world, everyone would want the physical book (in hardback) but be willing to buy the electronic book if it weren't available; that way a publisher could order a conservative print run but still capture all the excess demand and part of the excess profit.  In the real world, people are increasingly unwilling to pay $25 and up (hardcover price) for something to read.

I think it's true that electronic distribution, if and when it percolates fully, will reduce profits on certain kinds of books.  More frightening for the literati, it will destroy the mid-list.  In the current system, mid-list authors (those who don't have a famous name or the full backing of their publisher's publicity machine) are chosen for quality and marketability.  Those authors need publishers to edit their books and turn them into physical products, and we as readers need publishers to find good books and make them better.  Formatting an electronic book for publication is easier, and as e-readers percolate, marketplaces for e-books will become more open.  It will be harder for the casual reader to distinguish between a "professional" book (i.e. one that has been selected by an editor, that has gone through an editorial process, and that has been packaged for readers) and an amateur book (which could be just as good - or could be the accumulated rantings of a lunatic), and so the prices of the two products will converge.  There will be some gains, as writers are able to reach their audiences without going through the filter of a publisher.  But there will be (many more, I think) losses, as the market is flooded with low-quality product and readers begin to rely increasingly on the few books that have been selected for heavy promotion (i.e. the ones you see on the tables in the front of the bookstore), which may not be the best books but at least have a certain guaranteed level of professionalism.  

This will all even out over time.  Readers will become willing to pay a premium for a book with a known publisher's imprint, and publishers and editors will regain some of their power and profit margins.  Self-publishing authors will need to improve or promote their product for it to be successful.  There will be more fluidity in the whole process, and eventually everything will be better.

But one thing that will be lost is inefficiency.  The tens of thousands of remainder books that are returned to publishers and pulped every year - there won't be nearly as many.  Physical books will be printed only for blockbusters, or mass-market evergreens (romance novels, etc.) for which demand is predictable, or on demand.  This will be good for profit margins, and it will reduce the potential loss of publishing a book (allowing quality to be a stronger determinant of publishability relative to marketability).  What it will be bad for, and what I will miss, is the supply of $5 books - quality novels and former bestsellers and last year's social science fads - stocking the discount shelves at Barnes and Noble.  It is also possible, although I think unlikely, that I will also miss Barnes and Noble itself.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Grocery shopping

Before I moved to New York, grocery shopping was fun.  I would drive in my car to the grocery store, where I would park in the parking lot.  I would get a cart and go into the store.  Unless I was shopping on a weekend afternoon, it wouldn't be very crowded.  I'd start in the produce section, where I'd buy the same favorites every time - apples, bell peppers, mushrooms, sweet potatoes - and a few other items that looked good and were in season (peaches, berries, watermelon) or that seemed like good potential additions to my diet or very narrow cooking repertoire (onions, broccoli).  I'd proceed to the meat and cheese section, then along the back wall for milk and eggs and yogurt and cheese (my cart was always heavy on dairy), then through the aisles for cereal, canned soup and beans, whatever staples - rice, bread, peanut butter - I was out of.  I'd stop in the organic aisle for luna bars and frozen waffles, and often I'd buy a carton of ice cream.  Then I'd check out and go home.  The trip would take an hour, including driving time, but I wouldn't need to go back for at least a week.

Now, I go to the grocery store every two or three days.  There is no such thing as a bad time to go to this store; there are only awful times and unbearable times.  I go to one of the (very) few full-service grocery stores in my neighborhood (I also sometimes buy food at Duane Reade, because it's not much more expensive and usually more convenient, but the selection is highly limited... my parents, who have never lived in New York, tell me I should do my grocery shopping at corner stores, which is probably because they have seen neither the prices nor the selection at these locations).  It is always crowded, unless it is a time that is convenient to shop, and then it is extremely crowded.  Customers squeeze past each other in the aisles, and you have to grab what you want to buy as you walk, because if you try to stop the tide will push you along.  Intersections generate vortices of people and carts or else total gridlock.  People who are ordinarily polite and deferential use their baskets and carts as defensive weapons; people who are ordinarily assertive use them as offensive weapons.  The staff in charge of restocking shelves barrels through the mash of customers pushing tall carts, ignoring the elderly women whose carts they sideswipe and anyone who might be trapped in their path.  

At the registers, it's all efficiency.  Somebody tells you which register to go to, somebody checks and bags your groceries, somebody else whisks away your basket as you empty it, you swipe your card, and you're done.  Today I was at register 8 buying my essentials for the next 24 hours and the woman at register 9 had lost her wallet.  She was only just realizing it when I got there: she rifled through her bag, checked her pockets, looked on the counter under the bag as if maybe she'd already taken it out.  How can this be, she asked the woman working the register.  I don't have my wallet.  I felt bad for her, less because of her lost wallet - probably she'd just left it at home or at work or in her other bag - than because of her confusion.  Where could it have gone, she asked.  She wasn't talking to me, of course - nobody in New York is ever looking at me or talking to me, unless I am the specific person they are trying to interact with, which I'm still not quite used to - but I made a show of looking around on the conveyor belt and floor in my vicinity, in case she'd dropped it without noticing or in case she wanted help.  The woman working my register gave me my receipt to sign and my bag of groceries.  The customer at the register next to me gave up looking through her bag.  Oh, this is so annoying, she said.  The woman working her register shrugged, dropped the already-bagged groceries in a bin behind her of items to be returned to the shelves, and waved her hand in the air.  Next on 8!  Next on 9!

Friday, January 8, 2010


This Morning

When I am starting, I tell myself that I only have to run for thirty-five minutes, and I don't have to run fast. Thirty-five minutes is twenty-one hundred seconds. I count seconds when I run, and footfalls and hundredths of miles, and divide them by various numbers and count them again, to give my mind something to do. To distract myself from how out of shape I am; from how even going to the gym four times a week I have gotten so out of shape that running for thirty-five minutes is hard. But I am kidding myself, because even when I was in shape to run a marathon, running for thirty-five minutes was a little bit hard; the training just meant that it stayed only a little bit hard for two or three hours.

I try to find a place of zen. When I would run outside, I'd find it in songs I liked or hills I was used to. Right now it's too cold outside, and New York is dark half the time and crowded the other half, so I'm on a treadmill at the gym. I don't have a choice of music. I find pieces of zen in the shifting patterns of numbers on the clock and the pedometer and the calorie meter. Seven minutes have gone by and then twelve, nineteen, twenty-four.

I've come to the gym at the tail end of the morning rush, and people are starting to clear out. My breathing is loud at the back of my throat. My footfalls sound faster than they can possibly be. And then the last treadmill next to me rolls to a stop, and it's much quieter. A song begins about a man who would do anything for the woman he is in love with, who does not look at him. I feel a flutter like wings in my chest, and suddenly my whole body seems to lift. My stride lengthens and my footfalls slow, my shoulders drop, it is as if I am made of one body and I inhabit myself, as if my legs are creatures I can command. My mind has settled down into my body and is silent. For a collection of footfalls and mile-hundredths and seconds, I belong to myself.

And then it has been thirty-two minutes and my breath is in my throat again, and there is not enough oxygen. My footfalls are louder, my mind claws frantically at the remaining time and how long it is, my legs and shoulders and back resume their individual rebellions. I finish the run, and afterwards I find that my heart rate returns to normal faster than previously, which means I am making progress.


I will not tell you much about the movie Avatar, but if you don't want to know anything, stop reading and go see it.

I am intrigued by how Jake only becomes fully himself by becoming something else entirely. By how the scientists can link human minds to Na'vi bodies and the Na'vi can link Na'vi minds to the bodies of their animals. By how, in the end, Jake communes with the soul of Mother Nature and the whole planet rises to his will, the alien rhinos and dragons massing to destroy the enemies of Pandora. This is what it feels like, I think, when you finally inhabit yourself fully: you are so much more than you thought you were, and strengths you never imagined present themselves. You are not just one man with wasted, useless legs; you are the galloping beasts and the flying banshees and all the trees of the forest. You can destroy your enemies with sheer endless force, and you can run as fast as you want without losing your breath.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Why I am Going to Bed Now

I often underestimate how much I am ruled by my body.  Like, I will find myself feeling really bad and not know why, and sometimes it takes a while for it to occur to me that I am feeling draggy because, physically, I am dragging.  I need to catch up on sleep, or go to the gym more (or less), or eat better.  Sometimes I notice almost an instantaneous change, that I feel substantially better - better physically, but also happier - after I take a nap, or sit down and rest for a little while, or have something to eat.  

This is also, I think, a consideration in terms of long-term happiness.  There have been times when I was really, by most definitions, not in a good place - when I was struggling to get through the last few months of my PhD, or when I had a boss who hated me and no local friends - but I was working out all the time and drinking a lot of coffee, so I actually felt pretty good.  Not that dosing myself with endorphins and caffeine is a solution to life, but it's something to keep in mind when I'm bored by my job or winter feels like it will last another eight months: having a happy (strong, rested) body helps in having a happy mind.

This shouldn't be suprising.  But a lot of people (including, often, me) seem to make it a habit - and a point of pride - to run themselves ragged.  Which is sometimes necessary or optimal for short periods, but it is a sad thing that we find it so hard to accept that our bodies need to be taken care of. 

Sunday, January 3, 2010

also, nobody but me ever closes their eyes in the flash

I do not think Facebook is very good for me.  Not that I am planning to give it up; the whole reason I joined was that not being on Facebook had become more trouble than being on Facebook (and also some friends from high school made a profile for me, and threatened to post their own unflattering pictures on it if I didn't take ownership).  And there are good things about it: I get to see what certain friends are up to, the people who fall into the gap between people I know and talk to on a regular basis (who tell me what they're up to anyway, and whose Facebook posts I'm not terribly interested in) and the people I simply don't care about (but am often Facebook friends with anyway).  These are people I was friends with, two or five or fifteen years ago, and who I still talk to once a month or once a year, but now I talk to them a little more often, and even when we don't talk I see what they're doing and saying.  

But sometimes Facebook is kind of sad.  I will be idly glancing at it on a Sunday morning while still in my pajamas, doing nothing more exciting than waiting for my coffee to perc and considering reading the paper, with nothing on my agenda more adventurous than a possible visit to the gym (it's 20 degrees out!  in New York we consider that cold!  also, yesterday I went to a museum and the movies, and most of my friends are still on vacation.  also, I actually have quite a lot I need to do today.) and I get to see pictures of my facebook friends on vacation in Monterey, on cruises, at fancy New Year's Eve parties I wasn't invited to.  Which is great, for them, and I'm happy they are having fun and exciting times, but I feel like kind of a loser that I am not having fun and exciting times.  I know that much of this is a sampling bias, because (1) they are not doing any of these things right now, actually; they have already done them and are posting photos, probably in their pajamas while waiting for their coffee to perc; (2) I was just in Spain, which was also exciting, and I have posted lots of photos of it; (3) I did not check Facebook the whole time I was in Spain, and in fact I almost never check Facebook when I am doing anything exciting, so by definition if I am looking at Facebook I am not up to much; (4) oh, wait, life is not a competition about who can have the best Facebook photos.

Except sometimes it feels like it is, and like I am very clearly losing.  I have two basic cohorts of Facebook friends whose posts make me feel a little bit bad.  The first is the people I went to high school or college with, who are my age or a bit older, who post pictures of their houses and families.  Which include things like pets and children.  (Not babies; children.  Some of my friends have actual children now, as in the babies have grown up and gotten their own personalities, which is kind of farcical because these are people whom I can remember being just as inept as me, and now they have gone and gotten married (sometimes more than once) and bought houses (sometimes multiple) and made whole other people, some of whom are better-equipped for life than I am.  So, yeah, weird, and makes me feel like I have kind of missed the becoming-a-functional-person boat.  And then there is the second Facebook cohort.  These people are all people I have met since coming to New York, and they are generally five or so years younger than me.  They post pictures of themselves in various flimsy dresses at various apartments, bars, and vacation destinations, with an ever-changing gaggle of flimsy-dress-wearing girlfriends (and the occasional man-looking-mildly-stunned), looking like they are having an incredible amount of fun (and also, frequently, like they are incredibly drunk).  I am not sure exactly how this works, that they are having fun, because I'm pretty sure that if I were them I would be in pain from my shoes and/or feeling nauseated from the amount of alcohol they have surely ingested, but I suppose (a) there are pictures of this sort of me, just a lot fewer, so it is possible, and (b) they are not posting the pictures of taking two hours to get dressed, or of their blisters, or of the evil metal-spiked underwear they are wearing under that dress, or of what they look like the next day, so it is unfair to assume that they wake up every morning in full makeup.  But these pictures make me feel a bit bad too, because clearly they are having more fun than I even know how to have, and obviously I have missed something.

Sampling bias, sampling bias.  I have nearly 200 Facebook friends; one of them is bound to always be doing something unusually fun.  It is not, actually, like all of them are posting pictures every day of their babies and their parties; first of all, I can think of nobody who has both, and the vast majority of the pictures are from perhaps two dozen prolific friends.  You don't get, in your Facebook feed, "Jane Smith has not gone to any parties in the last month," or "Susie Doe has never taken a really great vacation," or "Ann Jones does not have any children."  Many of the people whose feeds provoke feelings of inadequacy are people I only barely know and have no particular affection for; of the ones I do know, I'm pretty sure all of them have problems and issues and not-so-great things in their lives that they just aren't posting pictures of.

Still, there seems to be a clear divide.  There are the people who have their lives so figured out that everything they say and do, even on Facebook, oozes confidence and intention.  And then there are the people who do not have their lives figured out, at all.  I am clearly part of the latter group, and this makes me feel bad.  But, maybe I am imagining some of this.  Most of the people I am really close to are a lot like me; they have some good things in their life but also problems, and they don't really know what direction they should be going in, and on balance they are pretty confused who they are going to be and are largely making it up as they go along.  I have a close friend I used to get really mad at, because I thought of her as kind of a poser.  We were very close, but we also hung out a lot in larger groups (this is not typical of me with my friends) and it seemed to me like she acted differently.  When it was just us, she was more or less as confused about life as I was, and it was clear that she wasn't entirely sure about the direction she was headed in, and didn't really know where she wanted to end up, and had made some choices that had kind of boxed her in and now was starting to second-guess them.  But when we hung out with other people, she never talked about that; she made light of her problems - and of mine - and mocked the very idea that a person could be confused about their life.  She acted like she knew everything, like her whole life was perfect and fun, and this made me so mad.  Partly because I knew it was a lie, and partly because I thought maybe she thought it was the truth, and it felt like she was getting away with something by not having to figure herself out, by just existing in a state of confusion but laughing loud enough to block it out.  Now, I wonder - was she getting away with anything, really?  I would say that I don't think all her revelry made her very happy, but she would probably dispute that, and people get to define their own happiness.  But maybe she wasn't getting away with anything because that's just what people do; maybe they all have confusions and insecurities and dresses in their closet that are half a size too small, and the ones who are posting pictures of themselves at parties are a little bit worried because they've never had a serious boyfriend, and the ones posting pictures of their babies are a little bit sad that they're falling asleep at 9 p.m. on New Years Eve, and the ones posting pictures of themselves in Tahiti are not posting the pictures of when they got in a fight with their travel companions or threw up from unfamiliar food, and the ones who aren't posting many pictures at all - which is most of them - are mostly just having their lives, but also a little bit concerned that things aren't the way they should be, or the way they would like them to be.

Or maybe nobody ever worries any of this, and I just made it all up.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

late-night post on decorating

The least pleasant aspect of my apartment is the plumbing.  The water itself is highly temperamental, i.e. hates me; the pressure is wimpy in the sinks and aggressive in the shower while the temperature is unpredictable throughout.  Also, did you know that water could mold?  Because that is apparently what is happening under both my sinks (kitchen and bathroom), judging from the smell.  I cleaned them when I moved in, to the extent one can clean particleboard, and nothing that I've put there (mostly cleaning supplies bought in the last two months) has the ability to smell that way.  So it is the water, I guess, molding.

The bathroom sink is my particular peeve.  Actually, the whole bathroom.  I know I should count myself lucky because the bathroom is not actually in the same room as the kitchen (a scarily common arrangement in the other studios I saw; sometimes there is a little half-door like in a caricature of a saloon to block off the toilet; other times it's just right there next to the stove), and actually all the broader points are fine.  There's a toilet and a sink and a shower/tub.  There's a door to the rest of the apartment, and as the crow flies it's a whole four feet from the bathroom to where everyone else in the building walks past on their way in and out.  So it's fine.

But it's not... nice.  There's a medicine cabinet, which I initially only glanced out, but when I moved in and went to put my stuff in, I noticed it had not been cleaned.  In this century, by the look of it.  I wiped off all the shelves and then spent half an hour digging grossness out of the door-grooves with q-tips.  Also, the shower is about an inch from the vanity/sink.  This is a gap not wide enough to fit anything, including my swiffer, but wide enough for me to look into.  I did this once, and screamed, and then sprayed about half a bottle of lysol disenfectant (which I only use for special circumstances such as this and not for ordinary cleaning, because it is poisonous) in the gap.  I'm sure that accomplished nothing whatsoever but I don't know what else to do.

But, yes, the sink.  So the sink, unlike the door-grooves of the medicine cabinet and the space between the shower and sink, is in visual range at all times.  The counter is yucky; not so much ugly (it's a sort of generic speckly formica-stuff) as just really old; it has sort of brownish water stains that don't come out.  Worse, the handles of the sink... well, they appear to have rotted.  I know that isn't actually possible because they are made of metal, but it's like the top part has come off and the inside has rotted or rusted or mildewed.  I spray cleaning fluid on all this stuff regularly, but it has absolutely no effect; I assume I am not going to die of sink-rot, but it still doesn't look pretty.

When I moved in, I set about improving the place.  The bathroom does have a couple points of character: a delightful seashell-and-seahorse toilet seat and a moon-and-stars mobile above the toilet (the apartment in general is full of character-bits; sometimes that is one of its positive features).  I decided to riff on this and create an acquatic theme with bright, cool colors; I devised a complicated layering of shower curtains (clear bubbles over blue cloth over a liner) and bought a blue pebble shower mat and a blue plunger and a toilet brush with its own little stand (I'm very proud of this, because my first post-college roommate had to explain to me that there was such a thing as a toilet brush, and I feel like it's specialized knowledge... I'm pretty sure my parents do not have any such thing).  I'm still using my crappy old rugs (someday I will get a nice fluffy new one, perhaps in peach) and towels I bought in... okay, that's not the point, they are old... but on the whole I think I did okay.

Except not, because there was still the yucky sink.  I decided over the last couple of days that the problem is that there isn't enough else to look at.  I mean, no, the problem is that the sink is gross, but I can't fix that.  If this were my apartment, I could rip out the whole vanity and get a new one, but it isn't, and the faucet is too close to functional to count on its being replaced while I'm living here.  So given the constraints, the problem is a lack of distractions.  The walls of the bathroom are white tile, which is rather pretty and probably quite sanitary, but it really makes the gross, speckly sink stand out.  

So this morning when I took down my 2009 calendar - I don't remember where I got it or why, but it's a bunch of landscapes - I cut out the pages that I liked and taped them up on the tile.  They fit in well with the color scheme because there's so much blue, and between the seashells and the moon-and-stars it was already nature-y, and they liven up the room quite a bit.  I don't know if they distract from the sink on an objective level, but they are new, so I look at them when I go in there, so I don't look at the sink as much.