Sunday, May 29, 2005
It's The People, Stupid
I’m being facetious – I had actual friends, too, some of whom are like sisters to me still. But it was in high school that I found my first real community. I had a friend for every occasion: Rachel with her dark black eye liner for art movies and coffee sessions at the Tastee Diner; Amy, whose family owned 365 Ways to Cook Chicken, for hours spent doubled over in laughter; Anne and Kyla for art projects and excursions to museums; Emily for baking cookies (so we could eat the dough); Andy for easy companionship, hours spent talking about nothing and everything; Liz and Neda for girl bonding – Indigo Girls blasting in Liz’s red car, boy talk over frozen yogurt, and other simple, happy occupations.
I had high hopes for college – I would meet fascinating people, and we’d stay up all night talking. So much for that. I hated college. I felt completely disconnected. I wrote a guest column for the campus paper that summed up how I was feeling:
…My friends from home seem more guarded now and less accessible. I know, people grow apart. But the distance I sense has less to do with what we have in common and more to do with the nature of our interaction. It's as if we're less willing to expose ourselves and more concerned with polish. Image. So that now, when I go home, I feel the same chill I feel here at PennIt didn’t get any easier after I graduated. I hated my first job, and then I hated the one after that. Clearly there was a widening gap between my expectations of the world, and my experience in it. I expected to live meaningfully. Instead I felt constantly dissatisfied. It wasn’t until I found Washington Improv Theater (WIT) last year that I realized – what I’d been missing was community, something elusive, unpredictable and absolutely essential to my happiness.
Everyone tightly wrapped up in image. A parade of images from the High Rises to Bennett Hall. Self-conscious conversations, where I feel like I'm watching myself interact with people, rather than just connecting with them. I feel like there's this looming block between pretense and meaning and I can't bridge the gap. I can't find the words.
Is this discomfort I feel just a case of me struggling with a Peter Pan complex? Or do others of you feel a chill these days you didn't feel before, a wider distance between our private selves (the voices our journals know) and the images we show the world? Images don't seem to lend themselves to meaningful conversations or laughter that touches your core. Maybe I'm just realizing the beauty of innocence. Or maybe I'm realizing the effort it can take to produce meaning.
Taking classes from WIT has been like food for a hungry person. There is no pretense in improvisation, no self-consciousness – at least, not if you really give yourself over to it. You are just in the moment, reacting honestly, and you and whoever’s on stage with you create something real – and often entertaining – as a result. A simple equation, really – be present, respond – but one that is so often absent from everyday life.
This past “semester,” I was late to my first class. I left work late, and then ran into horrific traffic, and by the time I got to the Children’s Studio School on 13th Street, where classes are held, I was in a terrible mood. I pried open the front door, walked down the hallway with its familiar stench of cleaning solution mixed with urine, and opened the door to the classroom – and was greeted with the warmest, most enthusiastic chorus: “Amanda!!!” It was an awesome moment.
When people accuse D.C. of being a boring city, one without personality or culture or spark, I think, they haven’t found their community yet. Sure, other cities are more alluring – their personalities and advantages are easier to discern, New York with its promise of making it big and disappearing all at once, San Francisco with its hippie heritage and water views. In D.C., there’s no exciting collective image to buy into. But there are people. Smart people, creative people, people from all over the world, and when you find a group of them who are fun to play with, you’ve found everything.
Friday, May 20, 2005
Real estate monologue
Yeah, we're just ready for more space. What? Yeah, we own our current apartment. It's a funny story actually. Well, not "funny," but - we bought the place in 2001. We had just started looking and we found this place we really liked, and it was in our price range, but the real estate agent - who was crazy, by the way, he wears big Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops and is completely in your face, but he knows his shit - he told us they were expecting a bidding war that would raise the price by $20-30,000. So we were prepared not to get the place, and then, September 11 happened. Yeah. We placed our bid on September 12. It was completely surreal. There was only one other bidder and I think ours was higher by a couple thousand dollars. So we got the place, for - I think it was $6,000 over the asking price - and we moved in in October.
It's 640 square feet, for us and a dog. What makes it nice is that you walk into this little foyer area, with french doors to the left that lead into the living room, and a door to the right that leads to the bedroom. So the layout creates a sense of space - better than so many one bedrooms, where you walk right into the living room. Yeah. The kitchen is tiny but the living room and bedroom are nice and big...we said we'd live here as long as we could stand it and then we'd upgrade to a house - no incrementally moving up from one bedroom to two, three... live in a one bedroom as long as you can, because it forces you to live minimally - you can't accumulate any junk...and then go right to a house...
So, we were just starting to think, Hmm, is it time to move? - when out of the blue we get this message on our answering machine, and it's the woman we bought our apartment from! What? No, not the real estate agent - that's the crazy Hawaiian shirt guy - no, she was the woman who actually lived here before us, for like 20 years. So anyway, her message was like, "Hello, I'm moving back to D.C., and I was wondering if you're selling your apartment, or if you know of any other apartments in the building going on sale." Yeah. Out of the blue. We took it as a sign from the universe that it was time to move.
So she's going to be buying the place back from us. What? Yeah, we want a house, but we also want to stay urban...I don't need all of Adams Morgan on my doorstep, but I'm not ready for a life where I need a car to do everything. So I don't know...you go into the process feeling like, "Oh, we've done well for ourselves" and then you see what your money can buy and it's pretty depressing. Which then makes you feel gross because you think of how much money you're talking about and how people in this city live in poverty....
Anyway. It's a matter of sorting out our values. Deciding what trade-offs we're willing to make - space versus location. The problem is we see a tiny place in our neighborhood and we think, "space!" - but then we look at houses where we couldn't walk to anything and we think, "location!" I'm hoping there's a middle ground, but -- I'm not sure.
So anyway - blah blah blah. Enough about me. What's going on with you?
Sunday, May 15, 2005
A little more time...
Thursday, May 12, 2005
So I’ve been thinking about this blog – thinking maybe of ending it, thinking again, deciding that instead the answer is reinvention. No more piecemeal observations or ideas – starting now, I will use this space to post weekly entries. This will allow me to pay more attention to what I post, to really think about what I want to say and to say it the best way I can.
The result, I hope, will be more authentic. I feel like I’ve just been going through the motions up to now. Truth be told, it was my husband’s idea that I start a blog, and I thought my original hesitancy was fear; in retrospect, I think I’ve just always had misgivings that daily posts about my life would be artistically meaningful. I’ve grappled from the beginning with how to be personal without being private, how to reveal my life in a way that was more like a great cinema verite film than navel-gazing, Real World-style. I'm after a kind of truth that requires more artistic attention. I think some people could produce that daily - but not me.
If I’m going to ask you to listen, I want to care that you hear what I have to say. And the truth is that too much of what I've posted here to date has been filler - the best I could do in half an hour on a Wednesday morning - which has turned this into a great exercise in writing regularly, but not a mechanism for making art. My hard drive's full of stuff I'm more proud of, stuff I've written over the past few years - and while it's tempting to just use this space to publish all of that, I want to push myself to devote real attention to my writing on a regular basis, and I hope a commitment to weekly postings here will do the trick.
I'm thinking I'll publish on Sundays, so - come back Sunday, May 15, and let's see what I can do.