Saturday, December 31, 2011

Trip Flashback: Washington, DC 2009

Being in DC this week reminded me that I've never posted about the little road trip Roger and I took there in 2009.  I can honestly say that I don't remember what we did on Day 3, but that I do distinctly remember searching endlessly for good food after I wrote this, and that we ended up going back to the hotel exhausted, and ordering Dominos online.  It was actually a pretty fantastic meal.

August 15-16, 2009 - Washington, DC
Roger and I are having a lovely time in Washington. We came so that Roger could do a little research for his honors thesis, at the Museum of African Art, and to do a little sightseeing. Other than a quick overnight visit with my friend Vrinda last March, I haven't been here since I was 12, and Roger's never been, so we're enjoying our time exploring.

Yesterday, our Megabus was a little late (when isn't it?), and we arrived in DC at 2:30pm or so, and headed to our hotel, Rouge, which is hypertrendy, and a little trashy.  The trendy part: everything is bright red and they have free hangover brunch of bloody marys and cold pizza every weekend morning.  The trashy part: there's a huge mirror overlooking the bed and everything is bright red.  Still, it's close enough to everything (about a mile away from the White House and monuments), and was pretty cheap.  We grabbed a late lunch at Old Ebbitt Grill.  The restaurant is from 1856 (the oldest bar in DC) and has gorgeous green velvet booths and gas lamps.  It's pretty touristy, so even though it looks fancy (and there was a wedding going on when we came), they're fine with coming in in shorts and the prices are nothing more than you'd find anywhere else.  After, we walked around the monuments, and Roger catered to my desire to have a picture of us in front of the Monument.  That night, we went to a Thai restaurant with Vrinda, followed by walking around DuPont Circle area and visiting Kramerbooks and Afterwords Cafe, which had fantastic books, including Handmade Home, and a very cool ampersand decor.  We finished up the night by getting fantastic ice cream at Larry's, which was really good (almost as good as Blue Marble, and with more flavors), but had a bizarre mural based on "Guernica" with ice cream.

Today, we had bloody marys and cold pizza, and headed out to the National Museum of African Art, by way of HSBC (we'd found a stray credit card on the street yesterday, and returned it there this morning).  Roger had been planning to do part of his thesis on the permanent collection there, but after we arrived, it turned out that just about none of the permanent collection is on display, which was pretty upsetting.  They had a really lovely ceramic water bottle, but not too much else.  I liked a lot of the art in the exhibits, but there were some really big problems with their presentation.  We then wandered around in the heat, before deciding to get lunch at the National Museum of the American Indian, which was pretty good, and divided up by region.  After that, we headed over to the National Museum of American History, where we saw the First Ladies' gowns, Julia Childs's kitchen, and some presidential memorabilia.  Completely exhausted after seven hours of walking and visiting museums, we headed back to the hotel, and are now enjoying the air conditioning, because it's hot outside!

Roger wants me to note that we're having a debate about whether we should go out or get pizza with garlic butter dipping sauce delivered to the hotel.  We're really not, though.  We're definitely going out in a little while.   Overall, though, we like DC.  The city is spread out, so it's been a lot of walking, but the city is very lovely with all its white marble, and the museums are mostly free, which is fantastic.  We're still not sure what we'll do this evening or tomorrow, so we're open for suggestions.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Business Time: Day 2 - DC

It turns out that business trips are mostly that - business.  Despite my best efforts to wake up before I needed to and spend two hours luxuriously getting dressed and eating breakfast while reading the paper, I woke up about a half hour before I needed to get downstairs and then went down early to help finish with set-up.  The rest of the day was spent being a bookseller at a conference - taking down requests for exam copies, explaining some of the highlights of our books, generally talking to professors about the classes they're teaching - which, it turns out, is quite different from either presenting at a conference or attending one. This conference is much bigger than any of the others I've been to, and it's been fascinating to see all the interviewing, book-proposing and general networking that goes on at it.  It's really making me consider going to the AWP next year.

After hours, I met up with Sarah, who was wonderful enough to come out and meet me for dinner on short-notice.  We ate at Mai Thai, which was really delicious, and spent about two hours talking which was, frankly, exactly what I needed today.  It was wonderful.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Business Time: NY to DC

I consider myself to be reasonably well-traveled, but one thing I've never done is travel alone.  Sure, I've flown by myself a few times, navigated with a map on my lonesome, and I've been in charge of my own passport for as long as I've had one (ten years this spring!).  But I've never spent a night alone in a hotel room.  Never not had someone with whom to eat dinner.  Never gone to a place I didn't know well without another person to back me up.

Until now. 

I'm in DC for a big conference right now, and this was always supposed to be my first business trip, so that on its own would have been interesting enough for me (now I can write about what to pack when you travel for business!).  But, Roger was originally supposed to come down with me.  There are several art exhibits closing in the next few weeks that he wanted to see, so the plan was for him to spend the days meandering around the city, and for us to share evenings and a fancy hotel together.  Unfortunately, his grandmother passed away last week, and the funeral arrangements meant that he couldn't come any longer.  So, I'm flying solo for the first time ever. 

Penn Station & Trip Reading

Thus far, it's been fine.  I'm trying to take this opportunity to get to know myself a little better, but, as it turns out, I know myself pretty well, and also, I have a lot of work to get done, so that's interrupting my self-discovery a bit.  The train ride (my first Amtrak ride ever - I am in love) was uneventful, and I spent a good amount of time gazing out the window.  The presence of technology (in the form of my smartphone) makes it much more difficult to really unwind, and to get reading/writing done.  I'll keep that in mind when planning our next trip.  Once work was over for the day, I was faced with my first awkward-alone task: dinner.  I decided on a Lebanese restaurant that was really good, and ordered take out to eat in the room.  On the king size bed I  have all to myself.  Then I crawled into a hot bath, and now I'm posting this before reading some more.  Mostly, it's what I would be doing if I was alone at home, except that everything has a small air of difference.  It's nice and relaxing and strange.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Traditions: Gifts

I think presents are a pretty big part of Christmas traditions for everyone, but certainly one worth noting.  My Christmases have always been filled with gifts.  They flow from under the tree like two giant waves: my gifts on the left side of the tree, my sister's on the right, and we used to open them wearing matching pajamas.  One particularly precocious year, perhaps my sister's first, my mother asked me on video camera what I thought of Santa.  "I think Santa has the same wrapping paper we do!"

My parents, who are wonderful at all times of year, really shine at Christmas.  My father's crazy lights, my mother's amazing cooking, and their dual ability to know what we want and get it, even when we give them lists at the very last minute, and even when our gifts previously involved "every single toy in the JC Penny's catalogue."  Of course, the pile of gifts under the tree has grown smaller as we grow larger, but it's still more than any two daughters could ever deserve - to say nothing of the year my mother hid iPods in the stockings, usually opened after my parents have opened their gifts, and generally filled with candy, soaps, and little trinkets. We've been spoiled Christmas after Christmas, and I could not be more grateful for all the happy memories that it has created for us.

I also really love buying Christmas presents.  It's been a bit of a trial the past few years, with less spending money than I'm used to, but I try to find something thoughtful whenever I can.  I can't spill any of the details here, in case a gift-receiver is reading this, but I hope everyone enjoys what I've given them, and I hope it's all a surprise.

Also, this year, I received a wonderful gift from a twitter gift exchange.  I love the little community that has built up around twitter and this blog, and I could not be happier to have received this wonderful little bundle from Meghan.  She sent a winter care-package, filled with wonderful things to keep me warm: tights, tea, and the prettiest yarn you can imagine.  It was the perfect package, filled with things I really need, and I was so glad to open it during a hectic day at work (and at the prodding of a friendly co-worker - the other thing about me and gifts is that I love to savor them, and so it takes me forever to open them.)  Thanks so much, Meghan - it's all perfect! 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Traditions: Feast of the Seven Fishes
So, this tradition appears to have an actual basis in one of my "old countries," Italy.  The feast of the seven fishes is thought to have originated in southern Italy, and since my grandmother's family was from Calabria, and my grandfather's family was from Naples, it makes sense that this is something that was carried over with them.  Anyway, I think it was.  I haven't actually asked either of my parents if this was something they made at home. 

My other grandparents were off-the-boat Irish and one-generation-off-the-boat-"German," so I have no idea what my mother ate on her Christmases as a child, but she's the one who makes our seven fishes now.  Our Christmas Eve dinners are probably the greatest meal we eat all year, and my mother, who does everything in her power not to cook most days, whips it together like it's no big thang.  She's a champ, and I really think she could hold her own with the best Italian grandmothers out there.

In case you aren't Italian American (ahem, Shelby!), the basic premise is that you can't eat meat.  I have no idea where this comes from - Christmas Eve isn't a fasting day like Fridays in Lent* - and the truth is, we don't actually follow it.  Our appetizers include lots of hard sausages along with fresh mozzarella, olives, and roasted red peppers.  But, the rest of the meal is meat-free and filled with seven different types of fish, one to represent each of the seven seas.  One day, I'll post some recipes, but for now, here's our list of what types of fish we usually make:
  • Clam dip, served with fresh bread during appetizers
  • Lobster tails
  • Crab legs
  • Stuffed flounder
  • Shrimp scampi
  • Coconut shrimp
  • A "grab-bag" fish, where my mother experiments with new recipes.  In the past, this has included baccala, trout and salmon, and this year, we're trying sea bass.
It's also the one time each year that we use the leaves in the dining room table, and set it with the Christmas china and fancy silver.  Even though we open most of our gifts on Christmas morning, Christmas Eve has always felt like the most special part of the holiday to me, and this meal is the main reason why.  Every year, it's the same,** even as the people around the table change, it always feels like home.

What special meals do you cook for the holidays?

*My parents and I share the same lack of religion, but growing up, we followed Lent under the watchful eye of my grandmother.  It actually wasn't such a big deal - Fridays were pizza day in our house anyway, and even now, I prefer eating vegetarian anyway.  Hearing coworkers at my last job complain every Friday about not knowing what to eat for lunch except tuna-fish sandwiches and pizza basically made me want to slap them.
**Unlike Christmas Day meals, which seem to be forever in flux.  We've had lasagnas, turkeys, and hams, and while dinner on Christmas Eve starts at a civilized 7pm, dinner on Christmas Day is more like Thanksgiving and begins around 2pm, when you still haven't recovered from your food-hangover.  This year, I'm gunning for a light brunch.  We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Traditions: Weihnachtsgurke

I have long wished for a Weihnachtsgurke.  Like many Americans, I was taken in by the myth that German children search the tree for it on Christmas, and the first to find it is awarded a special present.  I can't remember when exactly I decided I wanted one, but I'm pretty sure it was before I turned 12.  Our Christmas traditions have been a pretty hearty mix of Italian-American and Baby-Boomer, so it seemed like a nice way to bring in my German heritage.  Alas, they always cost about $50.  (I was, apparently, always finding the Christopher Radko ones.)

Imagine my excitement when, on a spontaneous shopping trip a few weekends ago, I discovered an affordable one at Sur La Table, on sale for just under $5.  Of course, I immediately bought it and added it onto the tree, totally ignoring the tradition of hanging it up on Christmas Eve and letting one lucky child find it first the next morning and get an extra gift.  Because, well, there are no lucky children around here, and it seemed silly to have Roger find it on the tree.

And, of course, immediately after that, I googled "Weihnachtsgurke," because, naturally, I wanted to share my findings with you folk.  Turns out that the tradition really isn't one at all.  Which might seem disappointing, but I also recently learned that my German heritage probably isn't German either - it's more likely Austrian or Czechoslovakian.  So, it seems all these heritages and traditions are a bit arbitrary (and, need I say, commercial) anyway, and I can make the pickle my own tradition if I want.  And I do, and I will.

And, the rest of these days leading up to Christmas, I'll be writing a little bit about my family's holiday traditions, the ones that have gone on for more than the past three weeks.  Not to give anything away, but my parents are pretty big on Christmas.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Weekend Wanderings: December

Oh my, it's actually only been 10 days since my last post, but it feels like ages.  A lot of little pleasures have been had, many of which were recorded with my camera phone.*  I will proceed to tell the story of December-so-far with them now.

12/03: Inspirational Emily Dickinson lecture at Poets House.

12/04: Painted the bedroom in Ryegrass. Lovely.

12/10: Friends and the Kings County Distillery

12/11: Becky and Shaelyn and an afternoon of shopping for holiday presents.

12/15: Earshot reading (my first ever reading where my work was selected by strangers!)

12/17: Holiday shopping, HIMYM, dancing until 3am at Beauty Bar.

12/18: Ducks and a cat in the park on the way home from getting a delicious brunch of bagels.
12/19: Corbis sends us their annual holiday thank you gift - posters!

*I tried to find a quick way to round the edges on these to make them look better, but it didn't easily work for me, and let's be honest - this post is overdue enough.  If anyone has suggestions on how to make me a little more hipster (other than getting instagram), let me know and I'll do my best.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Peppermint Bark

I made peppermint bark for the first time yesterday at around 11:30pm.  It was incredibly easy to do, and since it's one of my favorite candies, I'm pretty glad to have made it on my own.  I used Paula Deen's recipe and followed it pretty closely, except that I also sprinkled a little bit of the mints on the top for a festive look.  If I ever get more time, I might try Orangette's recipe, but for now, this one works just perfectly.  If you're looking for a quick make for your cookie exchange, secret Santa, or holiday party, I'd definitely recommend this.

Peppermint Bark
  • Crushed candy canes, to yield 1 cup
  • 2 pounds white chocolate
  • Peppermint flavorings, optional
Place candy canes in a plastic bag and hammer into 1/4-inch chunks or smaller. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Combine candy cane chunks with chocolate (add peppermint flavoring at this point if desired.) Pour mixture onto a cookie sheet layered with parchment or waxed paper and place in the refrigerator for 45 minutes or until firm. Remove from cookie sheet and break into pieces (like peanut brittle.)

Monday, December 5, 2011

December Already?

Oh my.  It seems just when I think I'm caught up, things start all over again.  I can cook or take out the trash or do the laundry.  I can finish my schoolwork or keep on top of my work-work or paint our bedroom.  And for enjoyment, I can blog or knit or read or decorate for the holidays.  I'm always sad I can't do all four, but last weekend decorate I did:

I really love the idea of creating an advent calendar tradition, where each evening is a different activity (most of these have cute ideas), but I sort of realized that even though this is our first Christmas living together, it really isn't the right time for us to start such an intensive tradition.  Instead, we've been making up smaller traditions as we go along: popcorn while we made our Christmas cards (and listening to Sufjan Stevens as I filled them out); talking about all the places we've been while putting on the ornaments; lots of television and schoolwork in our pajamas.

Before the holiday itself, I'm hoping to add just a few more: making peppermint bark, visiting Rockefeller Center with my parents, and watching at least one holiday-themed movie.  There's time, in years to come, for knitting and baking and popcorn chains and paper crowns and good-luck drunkard's brunch on New Year's Day.

Friday, November 25, 2011

{This Moment}

{This Moment}

A Friday ritual inspired by Amanda Soule & many others.
Please feel free to share a link to your own moment in the comments.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving 2011!

Best wishes to all of you for a wonderful Thanksgiving Day of gratitude, warmth, and love!
source: NYPL Vintage Holiday Postcard Collection
 I've been so thankful for the ways in which my life has changed in the past year: for being in school; for our new apartment and all the moments I've spent with Roger in it; for movement in my career; for my parents and their incredible relationship (they're celebrating 32 years of marriage today) and, as always, for my family and friends and the myriad ways they support and love me everyday. Thanks also to everyone who is reading this today - I've so enjoyed being a part of your community.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Big To Do

Isn't it amazing how things always take longer than you expect?  I took this week off to catch up: to comment on the month's worth of poems that I haven't written on yet, to edit the semester's worth of poems that I've written and received feedback on, to update this blog and Call & Response, to send out a ton of submissions, to organize my papers, and to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family.  So far, it hasn't gone so well.  I can say honestly that despite having five straight days in a row off, I haven't actually accomplished a single one of those goals.  Cue loud, sad sigh.

I have gotten a few things I set out to do done: running a little, taking a master class on the sonnet, sitting in on a Comp & Lit class for observation, sleeping enough, cooking a bit, visiting Shelby for a bridesmaids weekend, seeing lots of James and Emily who are visiting from upstate, keeping almost up-to-date with my work email, updating my amazon wish lists for the holidays, discovering a mouse that lives in our apartment, and, perhaps most impressive, actually getting almost back on track with C&R (seriously, check out the link.  We even have new work up!). 

But, you know.  Almost none of those things were what I'd set aside all this time for, and I'm feeling a little guilty about it.  I'm going to push through tonight and tomorrow morning to see what I can get done.  Make some lists.  Try not to worry too much about what isn't done yet (holiday cards, Shelby's bridal shower plans, the syllabus I'm supposed to edit), and focus on the important things (as listed above) instead.

What's on your to-do list this week?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

{This Moment}

A weekly ritual inspired by Amanda Soule. Please feel free to leave a link to your moment in the comments.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Weekend Wanderings: Homeward Bound

A good weekend, with too much running around:  Friday, after post-work drinks with some of my favorite ladies, I headed down to the Emerging Writers Series at KGB Bar.  It was the first time I've been there for that series, and it was a really great experience.  All the readers were phenomenal, and of course now I'm terrified for when I'm reading there next month (December 2nd, if anyone is interested in coming).  I know, though, that everyone will be supportive.  I'm so grateful to have found such a kind, supportive community in what I know can be a competitive field.  Everyone from NYU has been so great.

Saturday, I headed back upstate for Liz's 50th birthday party, meeting up with my mother for a little shopping and lunch at the new complex at Ridge Hill.  The mall is nice, and fits my Westchester aesthetic (LL Bean, Sur La Table, and Whole Foods? Yes, please.), but parking there is an absolute nightmare.  I went for a run, and realized I actually really, really prefer running at home to running in the city, even if Central Park is wonderful.  After watching the marathon last weekend, I'd like to be able to run it myself in 2013, so I'm back on the running bandwagon, in between the poetry bandwagoning and the work bandwagoning.  And, of course, Liz's party was wonderful.  Liz has been my mother's closest friend since a few months before I was born, and so I've grown up really idolizing her.  The friends and family that come to her parties feel like my friends and family, and so it was really great to catch up with them.

And on Sunday, I went for half a hike with Cece and her boyfriend, Justin.  I say half a hike because we never actually made it to our destination.  Apparently we could have parked at the halfway mark, and gone up from there, but we didn't.  When we did reach the parking lot, though, we (okay, Justin and I) were so demoralized, we couldn't go the rest of the way.  While we didn't quite get the scenic views we were hoping for, I had a great time, and felt incredibly sore the next day.  The soreness is how I judge a good day.  And now we have plans to do the second half over Thanksgiving weekend.

You'll notice I didn't do much work this weekend, and also that I've been blogging at the fantastic rate of about 1 entry a week.  Ahem.  Yeah.  About that.  I have a lot to catch up on.  I've been doing some writing (not, unfortunately, at the rate of one poem a day in honor of Nanowrimo, but some), and I'm glad to be getting more out onto the page.  But, as a result, my editing (both my work and my classmates') has fallen completely by the wayside.  Luckily, I've given myself my first ever staycation for next week, and I've got big, big plans to get some work done.  Poem-writing, poem-revision, poem-commenting, poem-reading, in addition to getting caught up on C&R, visiting Shelby for a bridesmaid weekend, taking a master class on the sonnet, writing up some syllabi for my teaching seminar, sending our our three-month-old moving announcements, sleeping late, replying to about a million emails, and celebrating Thanksgiving: I cannot wait!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Life List: Memorize & Internalize 10 Poems

I've always liked memorizing poems, and since memorizing 10 is on my life list, I figured I'd bring us on a guided tour through the ones I've already memorized, and how they've treated me through the years.

A Childish Prank from Crow (Ted Hughes)

Man's and woman's bodies lay without souls,
Dully gaping, foolishly staring, inert
On the flowers of Eden.
God pondered.

The problem was so great, it dragged him asleep. 

Crow laughed.
He bit the Worm, God's only son,
Into two writhing halves.

He stuffed into man the tail half
With the wounded end hanging out. 

He stuffed the head half headfirst into woman
And it crept in deeper and up
To peer out through her eyes
Calling it's tail-half to join up quickly, quickly
Because O it was painful. 

Man awoke being dragged across the grass.
Woman awoke to see him coming.
Neither knew what had happened. 

God went on sleeping.

Crow went on laughing. 

Crow is, in my opinion, one of the greatest books of poetry ever written.  It was the first thematic book I'd read that didn't feel trite (as themed chapbooks sometimes do), and so it made me feel that almost anything was possible (including, perhaps, a little book of astronaut history poems).  Crow was also one of my first introductions to really, really good creation of a new mythology.  It's something I went on to continue to study, the intersection between classical works and modern re-tellings, but Crow is still one of the most creative pieces I've read.  "A Childish Prank" is one of my favorite pieces from the book because I love creation-myths, and I love Adam & Eve, and the painful sexiness of it is just incredible.  It captures all my favorite aspects of Ted Hughes's poetry, from the powerful confidence and easy rhythm of his voice to the sweeping pronouncements throughout his work.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Life List: Memorize & Internalize 10 Poems

I've always liked memorizing poems, and since memorizing 10 is on my life list, I figured I'd bring us on a guided tour through the ones I've already memorized, and how they've treated me through the years.

Everything from Facts for Visitors (Srikanth Reddy)

She was watching the solar eclipse
through a piece of broken bottle

when he left home.
He found a blue kite in the forest

on the day she lay down
with a sailor. When his name changed,

she stitched a cloud to a quilt
made of rags. They did not meet,

so they never could be parted.
So she finished her prayer,

& he folded his map of the sea.

"Everything" is probably my favorite poem of all time, and one that has had a profound effect on my work since I read it in 2004.  I read it in my first poetry class, my first year of college, and I feel like I've held it in my heart ever since.  Memorizing it brought every line into clearer perspective, and having memorized a few more poems since, I think it was the most pleasurable to learn.  I love "Everything" for the same reason I love Mrs Dalloway: the completeness of its brevity.  I think I will spend the rest of my career trying to create something as full as those two works.

Reddy is also a poet I deeply admire, and his entire collection is exquisite.  I hope this sampling* whets your appetite for more, because this is a book you should buy, whether you think you like poetry or not.  He works out of Chicago, so I've only seen him read once, but he's also an incredible reader.  You can hear for yourself at Poetry Foundation.  Plus, he did the Iowa/Harvard program that I think is the greatest thing ever, so that's pretty incredible.  I've been anxiously awaiting a second book from him since I finished this one, a few months after it came out.

Fun fact: I'm pretty sure that the ampersand at the end of this poem is where my tattoo comes from.  The poem played a major role in our relationship. I cannot imagine not carrying this with me everyday.  Without it, I would be a poorer human.

*I don't have permission to reprint this.  Srikanth Reddy, if you have a google alert on your name and see this, feel free to email me and ask me to take it down.  I can totally respect that.  Other, more likely readers, go buy Facts for Visitors to assuage my guilt for breaking copyright laws.  It's amazing.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Weekend Wanderings: Halloween

I had a lovely, quietish weekend of readings and dance performances and a nice little housewarming and snow and a book sale.  And tonight, back from my teaching class and the madness of West 4th Street, maybe I'll do a little reading, a little editing, and a little memorizing.

And also, I'll be fondly remembering some past Halloweens:
My first one, taken with a Polaroid camera. #HipsterSince1986 #NotReally
My 21st, taken during the greatest party every thrown at SLC.

But perhaps the Halloween I am most fond of remembering was the one I spent in England half a decade ago.  A few days before the holiday, Carlea and I were accosted by a small child screaming, "Trick or Treat!" in what I remember to be a monster costume.  We said, "Aww!  How cute!" and then meant to walk on our way.  Only, then the child's mother accosted us, too.  "Well, go on.  Give him something," she said.  And as we sort of flailed about saying, "Well, we don't have any candy, since, um, it's not Halloween right now.  And, um, since we're on the street, and not sitting patiently by our door, we can't really give him a treat."  She then informed us we were supposed to give him money.  Oh.  Culture shock, I guess.

We had a really fun party that evening, and for the second time in my life, I drank too much, and had to be carried home.  I woke up the next morning, not hungover, and probably we roasted some vegetables and read a bit, and talked.  Oxford was like that.  There was an incredible costume shop that closed last year, and on the way home from it, you could walk through a tiny graveyard.  Oxford was like that, too.

On Halloween that year, Neil Gaiman wrote the most wonderful op-ed article in the Times, and it seemed to really encapsulate everything I was feeling at the time.  I still think it's wonderful. You should go read it; it's called "Ghosts in the Machine," and it's wonderful.  The disquieting shadows he mentions, the haunting nature of October, the reminders that we live - Gaiman's prose is far from perfect, but his passion for stories, for narrative and immortality, is incredible.  Go read the article, and then have a very happy Halloween.

Friday, October 28, 2011

{This Moment}

{This Moment}

A Friday ritual inspired by Amanda Soule & many others.
Please feel free to share a link to your own moment in the comments.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Life List: Memorize & Internalize 10 Poems

I've always liked memorizing poems, and since memorizing 10 is on my life list, I figured I'd bring us on a guided tour through the ones I've already memorized, and how they've treated me through the years.

Catullus II

Passer, deliciae meae puellae,
quicum ludere, quem in sinu tenere,
cui primum digitum dare appetenti
et acris solet incitare morsus,
cum desiderio meo nitenti
carum nescio quid lubet iocari
et solaciolum sui doloris,
credo ut tum grauis acquiescat ardor:
tecum ludere sicut ipsa possem
et tristis animi leuare curas!
TAM gratum est mihi quam ferunt puellae
pernici aureolum fuisse malum,
quod zonam soluit diu ligatam.

The second poem I memorized, "Catullus II," was in my eleventh grade Latin class.  The class was wonderful - I loved learning Latin, I loved the teacher (who would let us order bacon-egg-and-cheese breakfast sandwiches in class and wrote me one of the kindest letters of recommendation I've ever read), and I loved that I was asked to memorize a poem.  This poem is a really great one.  If you don't read Latin (and, um, I definitely never really got the hang of it, so no shame there), this is a pretty basic translation. Ostensibly, it is a poem about a pet sparrow belonging to Catullus's lover, Lesbia.  The poem apparently inspired a number of other poems about lovers' pets, which seems like a great topic to me.  And, I can't remember if my Latin teacher told us this or not, but some people think the sparrow is really a metaphor for the penis.  I feel like I should go and write a pet/penis poem right now.           

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Life List: Memorize & Internalize 10 Poems

Probably you already know this, but I'm a poet.* And, one thing that poets seem to have do fairly often is memorize poems.  I love this.  I've always liked memorizing poems.  As it turns out, I'm not terribly good at it.  Mostly, I sort of remember them enough to get through my recitation.  But, for all that I don't really remember any of the poems I've memorized, I do feel like I've internalized them, and that's more important than being able to spout them off at parties, I think.** So, I've decided to devote the next few Life List posts to the poems I've memorized, and why I love them.

Untitled Poem from The Baldwin Primer (May Kirk Scripture)

I love the name of Washington,
         I love my country, too,
I love the flag, the dear old flag,
         of red, white, and blue.

I memorized this poem sometime in second grade, after getting my Samantha doll.  I think one of the books references the fact that Samantha had to memorize the poem, so of course I did, too.  Then, I went around telling literally anyone who would listen to me recite it.  I had to go back and find a copy of the primer to remember the poem, and I'd actually remembered it as being in some way related to religion (hmm, patriotism and religion? melded together in my second grade mind? you don't say...).

But, I do remember memorizing it, reading it out of a doll-sized book over and over again until the words stayed firmly in my mind.  The topic was very near to my heart at the time, and I'm glad that the first poem I memorized was by a woman.  Until I looked the piece up again, I'd been upset that I'd never memorized a poem by a woman, and it was nice to find out that this wasn't true.  The short, rhyming nature of the poem makes it a perfect piece to memorize. It's pieces like this (and like Dr. Seuss) that gave me a sense of rhythm, and while the poem may have left my memory, its heavy iambs have been sitting in the back of my brain for almost twenty years.

*Some people might feel strange about self-identifying as a poet. Not me!
** Although, it is a fun party trick! You should try it one day. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Doing It All

I know it's a pretty big cliche, but I think I don't know how she does it of almost everyone I know. My friends, my family, my tweeps: they all seem to do it all and to maintain a healthy balance in the process. I've heard that you can have anything you want, but you can't have it all at once, and this is something I believe and try to practice in my life. There are things I want now that I'm not even trying to try for (like freelancing full-time and owning a house), because I know some things just take time, and because they take more work than I'm ready to put in right now.

But, I do want some things now, and I want to keep some peace in myself while I get them. These include:
  • Supporting myself financially and also having health insurance (also known as: working full time and being good enough at it to keep working full time)
  • Going to grad school full time to further pursue my dreams, and taking advantage of the opportunities grad school offers to improve myself as a poet, teacher, and human (including seminars, readings, and conferences, oh my!)
  • Being a better household partner by: doing the chores I am in charge of, namely laundry, on time, namely before we run out of undergarments; taking on some other chores so that Roger isn't the only person keeping our home together
  • Taking care of my health through:basic sustainable cooking, like making bread and hummus, so we can eat well and I can feel like I contribute more than laundry to the house; going to the farmers market for most of our food, instead of the grocery store; cutting back on meals out, especially ones that don't bring real joy to my life (like lunch); exercising more, either through yoga or running or the gym; sleeping as much as I need
  • Taking appropriate advantage of living in the city with events, adventures, and outings, along with a healthy balance of moments of quiet.
It really doesn't sound all that hard when I write it out.  It sounds like, oh, I don't know.  The reality of every other adult's life. But in practice, I am floundering. I am sort of barely able to keep things together on the first two, let alone the rest.

And, I am looking for tips.  So, how do you do it all?  (When Lauren answered it over here for me, I just about died with happiness that she didn't say, "Oh! I don't get it all done at all! Tee hee hee!" which seems to be the general answer I've gotten.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Gratituesday: Sarah Lawrence College

Have I mentioned before that I went to the world's best college?  I did.  When I applied, it wasn't totally on my radar, and the truth is, I sort of accidentally ended up there.  For some bizarre reason, when I was applying to schools, I wanted something hyper-traditional, maybe something Jesuit or Ivy League.*  Sarah Lawrence is none of these things.  Instead, it's the best place in the United States for an undergraduate education, and, needless to say, the best accident that happened to me.  Here's my brief** take on why:
  • The System.  You take three classes per semester, and with each of them, you conduct conference work, and independent but interrelated project that goes along with the class.  These projects can take on many incarnations (I once wrote a chapbook of poems for a psychology course on Human Resilience), but are often large-scale research papers.  You meet individually with your professor every other week to discuss your ideas, research, and progress.  The system is based off of Oxford and Cambridge's tutorial system, and it forces you to think for yourself, to focus academically in a way that many people never do.  Classes are kept small (under 15 people) and are discussion-based.  My reading load was incredibly heavy, writing was the primary focus in every class, and being able to hold my own in conversation was one of the best skills I learned there.
  • The Professors. They're amazing.  The only ones who ever rang a false note with me were guest professors who didn't quite understand the system.  Everyone else teaches what they love, and loves teaching.  You have to, because even though a full-time schedule is only teaching two classes, you have to be available for conferences in addition to your classes.  Every professor I had took my work seriously, and fostered my research.  Some of the hardest-working, most generous people I know are professors there.
  • The Students. I think we SLCers can get a bad rap for being spoiled hipsters, and there's some truth to that stereotype.  But we're also, for the most part, really brilliant and also fun.  Even when I avoid my former classmate's eyes on the subway, even when I groan about trustfund babies, even though I am sick to death of art films - I love everyone I went to school with for making it such a special place.  And also for coming to our Halloween party in 2007.  You guys rocked.
  • The Bubble.  When I decided to go to SLC, one of the women who used to frequent the beach I lifeguarded at told me, "Oh, that's a good school.  They coddle you too much, but I guess that's what you get when you pay $40,000 for a year at college."  Ouch.  But, you know what, it's okay.  She's right.  The bubble, the coddling, the amazing world of studying and creating and building a thoughtful mind?  That's what you pay for - the time to discover your passion and then to figure out how to build a life around it.

Yesterday, I began a certificate program for people who want to teach in higher education.  We talked about our favorite professors, the best academic experiences we had, and how to replicate that in our own classrooms.  Almost everyone in the room was teaching a massive course at my university, to undergraduates who pay almost as much as Sarah Lawrence undergraduates do.  Almost everyone in the room felt totally lost, like they couldn't possibly give enough time to their students, and like they didn't know how to convey the teachings they wanted to.  Some spoke of the rare professor in their college years who would talk to them for an hour, even though that professor had his own research to be doing and even though they were but a lowly undergraduate student, and how much that meant to them.

I never had that experience.  I was never taught by a TA, let alone one who wasn't quite sure what they were doing.  I never felt that I was wasting a professor's time because I wasn't a graduate student.  While I know all teachers start somewhere, and that my professors didn't wake up one day and know all the secrets to building a good course, for the first time, after hearing these stories I realized what a privilege it was to be taught by professors who were not only tenured experts, but also who loved teaching and cared about undergraduates.  When I grow up, this is who I want to be.

*Um, yes.  I know.  Was I totally off my rocker?  Yes, pretty much I was.
** Seriously, I could go on for years about this. I have gone on for years about this.  If you're thinking of applying, or just want to nerd-chat about pedagogy and higher education with me, shout out in the comments.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Weekend Wanderings: Work

If you know me in real life, or you know me on twitter, you know that I've been exhausted and sick and overworked recently.  In trying to remedy that, I refused all invitations for this weekend (including: 3 readings, 2 brunches, 1 dance performance, 1 race, and 1 concert - am I always this popular? I really don't think so), and stayed in to get some work done.

The miraculous thing?  It seems to have worked.  I didn't finish everything on my to-do list, but I finished a lot of it, and I feel so much better about the state of my life.  It was also really nice to be able to focus on the one "outing" we had, which was having a delicious brunch at Kitchenette with our friend Rachel (of Vermont fame).  I tend to pack weekends so full that I hardly remember what I did or who I saw, and so it was nice to really slow the pace down.  Even though I still have a cough, and even though some things still need to get done (don't some things always still need to get done?), I'm feeling more relaxed and prepared than I have in a long time.  Thank goodness.

Yep. The kitty is beginning to sneak inside. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Gratitudesday: Not the Baby Cat

This weekend, we saw our wonderful friends from Boston, Molly & Laura:

and had a delicious meal prepared for us by Rob & Simone:

and celebrated my sister's 22nd birthday:

So there was a lot to be grateful for, but the most wonderful of all was, I think, the discovery of a little kitty who lives on our scaffolding, and whom I now feed everyday.  We think he's been sneaking in through the window while we're out, and hope that he'll come in on a more regular basis soon.  We already love him to bits.  He's a little hard to photograph, because he's all black and has mostly been hanging out at night, but here's a brief glimpse:

Friday, October 7, 2011

{This Moment}

{This Moment}

A Friday ritual inspired by Amanda Soule & many others.
Please feel free to share a link to your own moment in the comments.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Gratitudesday: Cures & Remedies

Today, I'm loving so many things, including the wonderful poetry reading I went to this afternoon, and all the amazing friends I have been seeing lately, and also air mattresses.
Namely, though, I am loving the certitude with which my body is telling me that I need to slow down.  Two weekends of too much drinking, two weeks of not getting enough sleep or eating enough vegetables, loading on the work-work and the school-work: it's all a little too much for me, and the low-grade cold I've got is really making me feel it, and slow down a little.  (Only a little - after this presentation tomorrow, I still have happy hour on Thursday, and Leah visiting this week and Molly & Laura visiting this weekend, and my family coming down for my sister's birthday on Sunday, but I'm slowing down in my mind.)  So, I'm trying to take it a little easier.  And eating soup and orange juice for lunch, and trying to get some extra sleep in the middle of this busy moment.

But, I'm always up for suggestions.  I have class most of tomorrow, but I would love to have a recipe for Thursday evening - a big, easy soup with lots of garlic - and anything else that makes you feel better when you're not feeling so well.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Weekend Wanderings: Wine

We had a really lovely weekend, filled with wine tasting, car rides, homemade biscuits, sleeping late, and old friends.  Now, back to a really hectic week (happily - a busy week of work and projects and even more friends!), I'm glad to have had the little pause.



Thursday, September 29, 2011

Worlds of Wonder: Our Apartment!

So, after all your really nice comments this weekend about how no one's house is finished and how everyone understands that it won't be perfect for a long time, I was all set to take and post some pictures of our very-close-to-complete apartment.  I told Roger about my plan after we'd spent about a half hour putting up our honeycombesque mother-of-pearl lamp.  In the ceiling.  By ourselves.  I was proud of us, and thought that the apartment was really basically done, and that it was time to take some pictures.

Well.  You should have seen the look of horror on his face.  "Pictures?!  On the blog?!  It isn't ready!  You can't do that!  We haven't even put shelves up!"  So, friends, we're going to delay the real pictures until next week, when we've moved one of our paintings and put shelves up over the butcher's block and hung up our coat rack and can really and truly call the living room and kitchen done.  (You'll also get pictures of the bathroom, which has been totally finished since day 3; the hallway, which is pretty much mostly done; and our bedroom which is done as far as furniture goes but will also most likely be repainted green in the next few months.)  Sorry for the wait.

But, you know I wouldn't leave you hanging.  Or, erm, wouldn't leave you hanging after a month of leaving you hanging.  So, without further pause, here are the before and after pictures from the apartment.  On the left, you'll see a photo of the apartment as it was when we put down our deposit.  On the right, we'll have an image of the apartment as it was the day we got the keys, after a pretty basic remodel of the kitchen, a refurbishing of all the floors, and a repainting of all the walls.  It will hopefully give you an idea of the layout of the apartment, and show you what we've been working with for the past six weeks.  Enjoy, and if you have any suggestions for what you'd do, I'd love to hear them in the comments!

The entrance to the apartment. Note the fancy light fixture and long, long hallway to the bedroom.

The living room, pictured from the kitchen.

A closer view of our little kitchen.

Our bedroom, on the other side of that long hall. Note the double closet + linen closet.

The other side of our bedroom, with a lovely window gate. We are so hardcore/eyesore.

No "before" pictures here, but they are: kitchen/living room; long hallway; 2 views of our bathroom.
And there you have it - doux chez soi.  Join us back here next week for some pictures of the place wearing its fancy clothes!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Gratitudesday: Graduate School

When I first arrived at Sarah Lawrence in 2004, I'd already decided to get an MFA afterward.  I walked into my Don's office at her first meeting and told her that was my plan.  I remember this clearly because she said, "Well, that's fine.  If you were going to stay in English, I'd tell you to make sure you took at least one language and start making sure your courses vary widely enough.  But if you're getting an MFA, just take whatever interests you and make sure you have a good portfolio at the end of it." 

Admittedly, two years later, in Oxford, I had a change of heart, and felt like all I could possibly do was get a PhD.  I went through a lot of steps to get there (like learning a language in three months and reading the better part of the entire Norton Anthology), and for a lot of reasons, it didn't work out.  And while I think I would have done really well in one,* I don't regret not trying again after I was rejected the first time, and I'm glad I had time to think things over after college before jumping straight into something. Applying to the MFA wasn't a last resort - it was a return to my first choice.  I didn't do it because I couldn't get into a PhD, or because I was unemployed and couldn't think of anything better to do, or because I have too much money and not enough sense to invest it, or for any of the other reasons people have actually suggested to my face.**  I did it because I believe it is going to get me to where I want to be.

I know a lot of people are going to disagree with me on this, but the MFA is a terminal degree.  I'm getting it for two big reasons: to improve my poetry through practice and because it will qualify me to teach at the college level when I'm done.  I probably won't get tenure at Princeton as soon as I graduate, but I do feel confident that I'll get an adjunct position somewhere, and that I will eventually publish a book, and that I will somehow be able to cobble together a career, and a life, by doing the things I love.  And for now, without teaching?  My first class felt like coming home.  I'm feeling inspired, not just exhausted, by life in the city, and while the poems are coming slower than I want, they're still making their way here. I love the people in my program, I love my professors, I love going to readings and getting invitations to submit things and most of all, I love being surrounded by poetry.  I love feeling like this thing, this big, wonderful thing, is real.

It's never been too difficult for me to get where I'm meant to be, so long as I get out of my own way.

*And by "done really well," I mostly mean, "stuck it out."  I don't have any delusions that I would have won prestigious fellowships and done totally brilliant work and been a star student at Cornell or Rutgers, (my top two choices) though it was possible.  I mainly mean that I wouldn't have dropped out the way most of my peers seemed to.  Seriously, of the ten or so friends I have who went into PhDs straight out of college, only three are still in them, and one of those three is probably going to drop out after he gets his Masters.
**Everyone's a critic, but not everyone sees the intrinsic value of poetry in contemporary society.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Weekend Wanderings: Classic

Yesterday, I was sitting outside the laundromat, as one does when it's sweltering and crowded inside.  Reading some Sophocles for class, I had my head down, and heard a car pulling up, blasting Beyonce's latest hit.  I looked up and saw what may be the cutest thing in the world:

The little boy pulled to a stop, yelled into the laundromat, "Mommy!  Mommy, we're here!" and opened his car door before running inside, leaving his little sister in the car, crying.  I thought the adorable would kill me, but it only got cuter.  Soon, a group of little kids, none older than six or seven, had gathered around the car, asking the same questions I've seen adults ask at those Classic Car Cruises they have in our McDonald's parking lots on Thursday nights in the summer.  "What kind of a car is that?"  "How does it run?"  "Can I drive it?"

Jill and I had a similar car when we were growing up, but I'm pretty sure that rolling up on a city street in it makes it about a million times more awesome than going up and down your driveway (which was still really awesome).  This, along with a little kid I saw watching a cockroach crawl down the sidewalk, has made me decide that the only way to really write about New York City is through the lens of Little City Boy, my newest character.  I'm pretty sure he has a balloon.  Just saying.

So. Much. Cute.

Other than that, the weekend was pretty wonderful.  I'm sure you'll be shocked to hear our super never came back, but I did get some work done, do a ton of laundry, go to the farmer's market (finally!) manage to get in a good run (though, my, isn't it frustrating to start again after a long absence?!), and drink at more bars in two days than I normally would in two months (a total of ten different places - you can see my thoughts on each one over at Yelp).  Plus, Roger hung our lamp up, so we're getting dangerously close to finished in the living room.  Overall, I'd say it was a pretty-successful, very laid-back, much-needed weekend.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Blog Update

We spent last night eating and drinking way more than we normally would, thanks to NY Craft Beer Week and $3 beers.  We stopped at Good Beer, Rattle n' Hum, The Ginger Man, and Jimmy 43, in addition to X'ian Famous Foods, Pommes Frites, and Kornet Pizza.  This decidedly uncharacteristic for us, but we had a great time, and plan on trying some more places closer to the apartment tonight.

Needless to say, I woke up feeling less than my usual perky self, particularly cranky because the super was supposed to come and fix our window at 10am.  It's 1pm now, so I'm going to assume he's not going to make it, and leave for a run in a little bit.  But, in the meantime, (and instead of doing homework) I've been twiddling away at this blog, customizing it for the first time.  Mostly I've used templates straight as they come, but after deciding to put together a real header, I went hog wild and created the masterpiece that you see below, complete with customized colors:

Some tabs I have open: Hill Figure, Plague Doctor Costume, Little Ice Age; Jen's Vegetarian Chili

I know.  "Wow" is all you can think.  Pretty snazzy stuff.  I even edited the HTML on my snazzy new Goodreads widget to make it all fit where I wanted it!  And now, there are a few sidebar pictures of me because I've decided that I'm going to embrace myself a little more this fall.  Obviously this isn't the world's greatest design job, but it's about a million lightyears away from where I was at 10am, so I'm pretty pleased.  I'll probably continue to tweak a little (I sort of want shades of white, not blue), and I'm planning to update the header on a semi-regular basis. If you guys have any suggestions for design changes or content changes, let me know, and in the meantime, say goodbye to those little birdies in the upper right hand corner.

Bye, little birdies, they sang.

Friday, September 23, 2011

{This Moment}

{This Moment}

A Friday ritual inspired by Amanda Soule & many others.
Please feel free to share a link to your own moment in the comments.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Everything Advantageous to Life

It's been so long, I hardly know where to begin. Since we last spoke (because I really do think of all these little blogs as a dialogue), we:
  • picked out a couch (the Rowley, for those of you who were held in suspense this whole time)
  • moved into the new place (an experience that, despite going as well as it could possibly have gone, and as quickly, and as smoothly, was so painful I've decided that unless we are leaving New York City, I am going to die in this apartment - that is how little I want to move every again. Or at least for the next two years.)
  • spent a long time painfully setting things up with no table, no couch, and no internet
  • purchased a huge amount of "necessary" stuff for the apartment, like fancy blinds, fancy dishes, and not so fancy frying pans.  (Newly necessary item: a black/silver microwave to replace the one I broke a few days ago.)
  • got into our first "living together" fight
  • got over our first "living together" fight
  • realized we had flies in our apartment because there were no screens in the windows and they were coming in from the scaffolding outside our apartment, moments before realizing there were flies on the scaffolding because our neighbors throw their food and trash onto it
  • survived a hurricane, family reunion, and wedding in our first month of living together
  • opened our first joint bank account
  • started school (which is just wonderful.  More on that in the coming days, undoubtedly)
  • got Roger a job (well, that was mostly Roger's doing. But I helped by asking useful questions like, "What's the salary?" and "How much does it pay?"  Repeatedly.)
  • helped Shelby pick out a wedding dress (well, this was mostly me.  But Roger did a kick-ass job at arranging pastries for us to eat afterward.)
  • eventually got the couches after much wringing of hands, and filled their wonderful drawers with knitting supplies, DVDs, and Roger's papers.
  • instituted a date night and started writing Yelp reviews of every restaurant we go to
  • and finally, oh, finally, got the internet yesterday, along with our first electricity bill.  We truly are real people now.
So, I think we're mostly caught up on my end!  On your end?  Well, I still haven't had much time to read any blogs, but it seems that everyone is getting pregnant, moving moving moving, or making otherwise similarly large-scale life changes.  And you know what?  You all seem to manage to keep blogging through it just fine.

Not me.  I'm having more difficulty finishing the apartment than I thought I would. (We're so close, but we need to print and frame a few more photographs and buy one more big print for the bedroom and get one more bookshelf so we can put away our last box of books. Oh, my. So many books. And also, we might still paint.  We decided against it, and we have tons of stuff on the walls, but it still feels really barren to me.)  I'm adjusting really well to city life, better than I thought I would, and I'm resisting the feeling of "I am wasting my time if I'm not doing everything all at once!!!" But, I've mostly stopped running, haven't been to the farmer's market yet, and my writing feels really strange to me right now.  I'm still trying to get myself on a schedule that includes everything I love, and also lets me sleep for a few hours a night.

And what I was really hoping was that a week into moving in, I'd have all sorts of lovely pictures to show you of our lovely place with our lovely furniture and our lovely selves.  But, what I had instead was one sweaty couple, eating cereal out of mugs on the floor with nothing hung on the walls.  So, I thought, okay, two weeks.  Which turned to five, and which still isn't really done.  I've been hesitant to post any pictures, to have anyone visit, because it still feels like a work in progress.  The sort of work in progress that I am right now, where I'm reading a lot of poetry and thinking a lot about my work and my positionality, and also not really doing the dishes or wearing anything but the same pair of jeans.  But, guys, you're going to get pictures soon, and they aren't going to be perfect.  And that's okay.  Because I'm not perfect either, and I think you're all okay with that.

Plus, if there's one thing we do have, that's perfectly lovely bookshelves.  And who doesn't like a good bookshelf picture?

Oh, guys.  I missed you.  Now, since you're all totally brilliant: any suggestions for affordable black or silver microwaves? And more importantly, for a nice, sort of artsy print to put between the two windows in our bedroom?  The space on the wall is about 3' wide by 4' tall, and we'd want to put a frame around it.