Wednesday, March 30, 2005
Average Joe, Superstar
A quick note about the 3 comments that were posted in response: to the reader who encouraged me to help others when I'm feeling that way, thank you... this is good advice, and it was my new year's resolution to start volunteering...this is something I really want to do.
To the person who suggested that if I really had self-esteem, I wouldn't need to "shout about it to the rafters" -- I think we have different notions of shouting. Yes, of course, if a person needs to talk about how confident they are all the time, it makes you wonder. I don't think that's what I was doing. I was saying, I've always prided myself on a certain quality, so it hurts to feel like that quality's weakening. Like someone who always had good handwriting and realizes that it's gotten messier recently. I don't think there's anything wrong with acknowledging my strengths, whether in the context of a discussion of my weaknesses or otherwise. Why is it that it's more socially acceptable to yammer on about your shortcomings than to talk about what you're capable of? I have a great sense of direction, I'm lousy at parking in parking garages, I'm impatient with details that don't interest me but capable of being very detail-oriented when I need to be. We're all experts and novices, superstars and average Joes - what's wrong with admitting that?
Anyway, I've been going through a rough time lately, but I'm back, and ready to get back into a rhythm of daily, or almost daily, postings... so stay tuned.
Saturday, March 26, 2005
Lately I've been stuck on the thought I expressed here a week or so back, that when you don't get to do the thing you're good at, you end up feeling pretty bad about yourself. This is a new feeling for me - I have always had strong self-esteem. I remember once talking to a friend who was in a relationship with someone self-destructive, and I said, "I guess after a while I'd just get angry," and she said, "of course you would, you have high self-esteem." I have always treasured this about myself - it's not about thinking I'm great, it's about demanding to be treated with respect...feeling I deserve that. Respecting myself. Lately, I feel that crumbling, mostly because I've been stuck in the middle of so many decisions for so long, with no visible progress...still at the same job, in the same apartment... it wears you down after a while. I find myself wondering, what's wrong with me? Why can't I just make choices?
Which is why I think a day spent building bookcases feels as good as it does. And then I remind myself - I have made progress in one area of my life, in giving art a more central role....writing every morning, rearranging my hours at work to accomodate that...improv... this blog. 2 years ago I wasn't aware of how important this all was to me. But instead of feeling satisfied, I feel greedy: I want more room for art, more hours of a day spent doing things that matter to me, that feel connected to who I really am. I want a house with room to luxuriate in - no more artful arranging of things into too-small spaces, no more "one ass kitchen" (as my husband calls it)...space to cook, rest, work, entertain, play. And a chance to design spaces from scratch - a fresh start. In college I used to rearrange my furniture at least twice a year, dye my hair -- changes to the external that left the internal refreshed. I need that.
There's a new song on XM, too loud, too chaotic - the spell is broken. But I still feel a sense of possibility. Off to get ready.
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
I realized I've never described my environment to you. I'm reminded of the episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" in which Larry declines to take the tour of his friend Jeff's new house ("Hey, let me give you the tour" - "Oh, no thanks, that's ok"), and Jeff's wife is outraged, deeply offended. If you don't want "the tour," then by all means, decline, and I will not be offended. :) But I picked up "The Right to Write" yesterday, a book I think I've mentioned here before, and it talked about the importance of describing your setting, as a way of allowing readers to get to know you...so here goes.
Right now I see: full red tulips craning out of a tight turquoise vase, which sits on the coffee table I got for $20 from an ad in the City Paper almost 8 years ago. I got the tulips for $9 at the grocery store last weekend. The table sits on the chenille area rug my husband and I bought on a whim one afternoon in Ellicott City - squares of navy, periwinkle, gray. I am sitting on a navy futon with red and purple throw pillows, including the big red handwoven pillow that I bought in Old Town, Alexandria on my lunch hour once. We have had this futon for around 4 years and lately when you sit on it it sometimes creaks and cracks; it's time to upgrade to a couch. I want one of the ones that extends like a chaise at one end - I always want to put my legs up.
Our living room is busy (the bedroom is the room of calm -- cool colors, more sparsely decorated), so there's too much to describe in the time I have, but a quick tour: green houseplant in a ceramic red bowl, growing like jungle, long vines hanging down over the edge of the armoire where it's perched; a long, thin, framed Simpsons cell; a wine rack recently restocked; a matted photograph of Mount Timpanagos, from Sundance; a small white vase with orange, pink and yellow stripes, a gift from my friend Lauren, the last time she visited; and then, of course, what I've been avoiding -- the tower of electronica. TV, VCR, DVD player, stereo components, Tivo... I cannot wait until we have more space and can have a living room that doesn't center around this stuff...a room where the furniture is arranged to encourage views out the window, or conversation.
On the wall behind me: a framed New Yorker cover from my grandfather; a big painting of an underwater scene that I gave my husband for his birthday last year (it looks almost like an 8-year-old made it: big blocky shapes, jagged lines, bright colors); and, 2 recent additions, framed album covers: The Who's Tommy, and Rocky Horror Picture Show. In the corner, a tall silver magazine rack, filled with old copies of the New Yorker (we finally cancelled our subscription - couldn't keep up), New York Review of Books (we had a free trial at some point, that ran out), Harpers (just renewed), Utne (I love the idea of it), and Wired (another free trial).
And, now, my dog, sitting on the futon beside me, waiting patiently for his dad to take him on his morning walk. Little does he know it's raining -- he hates the rain.
Sunday, March 20, 2005
We held off on hiring a dogwalker for a long time - it felt like crossing a line, like soon we'd be buying him sweaters and feeding him a gourmet diet. But as our workdays got a little longer we decided to give it a shot, and met with Pete, the godfather of the neighborhood dog community - who, confusingly, runs a company called David's Dog Walking (he inherited it from David and didn't want to change the name, in case clients who'd moved away came back into town). Pete is like a horse whisperer, but with dogs - the first time our dog met him, his eyes got this swoony look, and he was drawn to Pete like a magnet. So now he gets two walks a week, sometimes more depending on our schedules, and when we go out of town he sometimes stays with one of Pete's employees, like Jason.
So at the dog park that night we started talking to the other dog's owner, and we learned that Sid, the owner of Comet Liquors on Columbia Road, had passed away a few days before. The Post wrote a story about it... Sid was a neighborhood institution, and while we weren't personally close, we shopped at Comet frequently (not just for booze but for H&H bagels, sometimes turkey, sometimes lox), and we definitely appreciated the role he played in the neighborhood. Hearing the news of his death was like hearing about a dear but distant relative's passing, the one who always danced up a storm at weddings and told you stories about when your parents were kids. The woman, the dog owner, who shared the news with us, said the funeral had been lovely, and that neighbors were thinking of forming a co-op to keep the store from being replaced by a chain.
Yesterday I was walking my dog again, our typical morning route, which takes us past Comet. The storefront was a shrine of rememberance - yellow lilies and bouquets from Safeway in plastic wrapping, small plants, candles glowing in glass jars, hand-made notes and signs stuck to the glass, under the neon glow of the sign that said, mistakenly, "open." I stood there with my dog, and others stood next to us, and I felt a community I hadn't known existed.
I'd like to join the co-op they're starting.
Thursday, March 17, 2005
I don't have time to recreate it, so for now, I will just offer a link to this site about outsider art, or art made by people without any formal training. The site includes a "create your own backyard paradise" feature; here are 2 of the paradises I created:
The site was produced by the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, MD; I've never been, but I've heard it's wonderful.
Ok, well, off to work. Oh, by the way - I finally replaced my ID and garage pass yesterday. When I got upstairs to my desk afterwards, I was looking for something in my bag, and found...my old garage pass.
And so it goes.
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
I didn't actually write the poem myself - that line, yes, but it was part of a poem I wrote with a friend of mine when I was visiting her at Wesleyan University, in Connecticut. I remember being so inspired there - it seemed everyone was immersed in a creative project of some sort...making a film, costuming a show, playing music. I considered transferring (this was during my leave of absence from my own school, the University of Pennsylvania), but decided against it - I thought Wesleyan, with a student body of something like 1,500, would be too much like summer camp. That I was better off staying at Penn, a school connected to a city and to the "real world."
First - looking back almost 10 years later, I think, how sad that at age 20 I thought summer camp was something to avoid.
Second, a slightly-off-topic-rant: Oh how I wish colleges, parents, "the man," didn't perpetuate this notion that what awaits students following graduation is "the real world" - meaning that life before graduation is....what, exactly? I understand the idea is that once you're responsible for yourself financially, you're forced to grow up in new ways and take on certain obligations, but is all this more "real" than things you do in college and for the 18 years before it? Learning, making art, building friendships - this somehow counts less? If I sound like a hippie here - oh well, I guess I'm a hippie.
Anyway, back to my decision to stay at Penn...I've always been drawn to cities, to the sense of connection they give you to a world beyond yourself. And yet, what good is being surrounded by a volume of people if, in the middle of it, you feel alone? By contrast, at Wesleyan I could have had a creative community...and I'm increasingly realizing how rare it is to find such a thing. I wonder how much cities really provide us with. Living in Northwest D.C., I don't experience the cultural diversity that makes cities theoretically important or appealing. Yes, I'm surrounded by more people - when I walk my dog I pass more people than I would if I was walking him in the suburbs, but how meaningful is this, really? Especially considering the ethnic diversity of so many suburbs in the D.C. area. At this point, the main benefit I see to city life is being able to access so much without getting into my car. Which is important, but which is fundamentally a matter of convenience, not connection. The deepest connection I've felt to D.C. came after I discovered two communities - Tranquil Space yoga, and Washington Improv Theater. I was talking to a friend the other day about my experiences with WIT, and she said, "It sounds like you found your tribe." It's about time.
Monday, March 14, 2005
Living Out Loud
Earlier I read a piece in Salon about a woman with a personal blog, about how she became addicted to it and started revealing more and more - from mundane details like what her children ate for dinner, to a thinly veiled plea for help as she contemplated suicide. She wrote,
In the introduction to the collection of her New York Times columns, Anna Quindlen wrote about the challenges of "Living Out Loud," writing life as it is happening. If producing a regular column is living out loud, then keeping a daily blog is living at the top of your lungs.I don't buy that the rate at which you write about yourself implies the intensity with which you live - the intensity with which you think, perhaps, but thinking isn't living. Recently I heard a quote - that while the unexamined life may not be worth living, the unlived life isn't worth examining. If I could only begin to live the way I write, or the way I am in improv - no gap between what's real inside me and what I present. That would be living loud.
Leaving yoga earlier tonight I was struck by how much clearer the world looked, how much fuller it felt, than it had when I'd rushed to the studio an hour earlier. The world gets so thin sometimes. At the beginning of my yoga practice I felt stiff, my thoughts richoceting like lotto balls around the inside of my head. As I breathed my way into pose after pose, some pushing me to the limits of my strength, others stretching me deeply, I began to inhabit my body again, began to inhabit the world.
Which makes me think that maybe sometimes in life, meaning comes from just going through the motions. And so I write this blog. And so I wash the dishes. And so I have faith - when I can muster it - that meaning will seep in between these activities, and one day it will just be obvious.
Saturday, March 12, 2005
Some Kind of Monster
Friday, March 11, 2005
And when I hear myself talking lately, I realize I'm rambling more often than not -- words rushing to keep up with a rushing brain and stumbling instead of keeping pace. In my job, I am quickly becoming everything I never wanted to be: in a constant state of tending to crises, never able to carve out enough time to advance the issues I care about. And the thing is, I'm bad in a crisis. I'm also bad at multi-tasking and being patient with uninteresting details. What I'm good at is seeing the proverbial forest for the trees, at taking rough ideas and giving them polish and sheen. After a while of not getting to do what you're good at, you start to feel pretty bad about yourself.
Last night I re-read an essay I wrote a couple of years ago, and I thought, "this is really good." Not Pulitizer Prize-winning good, but well-written, and something I think other people would find interesting. It's personal but not self-obsessesed, thoughtful but not precious, specific while addressing larger, universal themes of religion, family, faith, love. Why isn't it "out there"? Why am I not pursuing publication beyond this space, where I think I say some worthwhile things, but I'm not reaching a wide audience -- ? After a while, you want your main interaction with the world to consist of doing things that reflect your best self.
It's hard to know what's realistic, what's possible -- so many people make a living one way, and pursue their art "on the side." (There's a local organization that is based on this very principle.) I don't think I'm made that way. Maybe it's just that my current job offers the potential for creativity, and proximity to artistic expression, but the potential gets overwhelmed by the daily rush, and the proximity is still too far. Maybe, until you can make a living doing what you love, it's better to make a living doing something that doesn't tease your passions. I don't want to let go of idealism, or accept other people's versions of adult life as the only available options, but still, it would be nice to know that magic formula for turning ideals into reality.
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
Thursday, March 03, 2005
Of course, part of what appeals to me about screenwriting is that you're writing a blueprint for other artists to interpret -- so in theory, the fact that my husband interpreted it differently than how I intended shouldn't have been surprising, or depressing. But it made me rethink how I was bringing my characters to life - in particular, my main character is an introvert, so I started wondering the best way to offer a window into her inner life without making her overly talkative, and in a way that made her interesting...
I got scared off for a while - I think sharing a draft somehow broke the spell I'd been under. But for the past few weeks I've been itching to get back to it. This is the first thing I've ever written where I actually live with the characters in my head. Fiction writers I've known have always talked about having their characters in their heads and I couldn't imagine what that would be like; now I think about my characters all the time, about what they need, what they feel, what they should do. Improv has given me a lot of inspiration, because it makes me think about the dynamic of a scene -- the status of the characters, their motivations -- and about the dialogue (one character makes an "offer," or injects information...another character "accepts," or validates what the first character says and establishes his/her own character with his/her response).
Anyway, I picked up my screenplay for the first time in a while earlier in the week, and I'm trying to write a page a day - so far so good, and it's good to be back...screenwriting is by far the most enjoyable kind of writing I've ever done. Other kinds of writing are satisfying, or fulfilling, but this is *fun*.