Sunday, February 02, 2014

Learning the Language.

Every week, The New Yorker arrives in the mail and I sigh. Another one. For me, that publication is like the gym for my brain. I really don't feel like wading in, but know that I have to. Journalistically, it is one of the few boot camps amid a sea of recumbent bikes and sofas.

I scan the table of contents like a kid hoping for a snow day announcement: Maybe this week's issue will be full of pieces I consider skippable, which usually means they are written by Adam Gopnik (sorry, Adam Gopnik) or are in-the-weeds pieces about politics, here or abroad. But usually I spot some compelling author or a topic and feel a combination of resolve and fatigue: Crap, I will have to read this. There will be no escaping the mental workout today, and my other reading, which is also worthy but usually has nothing to do with current events, will have to wait. But it will be worth it.

Any responsible New Yorker fan knows that The 16,000-word Obama Piece by David Remnick is not skippable. Still, I don't know—Obama. Are you with me? How much do I really need to read an in-the-weeds politics piece about Obama? We've got two years left of this and I've got to pace myself. Hell, even Obama knows that we are over it:
"[B]y definition, the President of the United States is overexposed, and it is natural, after six, seven years of me being on the national stage, that people start wanting to see . . .” 
“Other flavors?” 
“Yes,” he said. “ ‘Is there somebody else out there who can give me that spark of inspiration or excitement?’ I don’t spend too much time worrying about that. I think the things that are exciting people are the same things that excite me and excited me back then. I might have given fresh voice to them, but the values are essentially the same."
But, see, this is why you end up reading the entire Obama Piece by David Remnick. Not just for the fun details about presidential life (never knew Obama's limo is dubbed the Beast and has his blood stashed in the trunk in case of emergency) or insights from the man (it may be disappointing to some, but it's refreshing to me that Obama is willing to see, and argue, both sides of an issue) but for the exercise of following one formidable intellect as it tries to capture another, along the way reminding you of what an elegant, incisive sentence looks like.

Earlier in the day I read this from Ann Patchett, in an essay about writing: "Why is it that we understand that playing the cello will require work but we relegate writing to the magic of inspiration? ...If a person of any age picked up the cello for the first time and said, "I'll be playing in Carnegie Hall next month!" you would pity her delusion, but beginning fiction writers all across the country polish up their best efforts and send them off to The New Yorker."

Patchett argues that in order to be a writer, one needs to practice it like any other craft, and the piece from Remnick, who has been working at it diligently for more than 30 years and has been the magazine's editor for 15 years, is just another proof of that simple truth.

Last month, I began taking Japanese lessons. More than having an abiding interest in that country and culture, I wanted to challenge my own linguistic boundaries. I'd studied Spanish in high school and college, but wanted to go beyond that: learn new letters, new words, new sentence constructions. 

I study for the pleasure of getting better, putting brick on top of brick. Now I know the hiragana. Now I can count to 100. Now I know how to say what my name is. And so on. It is thrilling, for me, when I can see something written in Japanese (say, こんばんは), slowly but surely convert it into sounds (ko-n-ba-n-wa), and understand what it means (good evening). 


I study knowing that there is a very small chance I will ever be able to converse with someone in Japanese. The point is to become better, to push myself.


That is a worthy pursuit, but I also know that it is partly an excuse to step out on my native tongue. Over the past several years, I have fallen out of love with English. I am tired. I don't know what to say. What I have said has been inadequate, in some way, or has already been said. My love of the language, whether it's the epistolary style of Samuel Richardson or AP style, does not seem to have much market value these days.


I have not practiced enough, and thus I have failed. On one level or another, I made the mistake of waiting for the mythical "magic of inspiration." Or, as Steven Pressfield puts it in The War of Art, "the amateur composer will never write his symphony because he is overly invested in its success and overterrified of its failure. The amateur takes it so seriously it paralyzes him." (As you might gather, I'm seeking some inspiration lately on how the hell to rebuild my relationship with writing.)


There's nothing wrong with learning Japanese. But I still must continue to learn English, with the same beginner's attitude: the point is to become better. I still am trying to give fresh voice, as Obama puts it, to the happenings that excite or move me. I still am learning—have not worked hard enough—to articulate the inner world that both sustains and sometimes hobbles me. Recently I was trying to express something to Sir UncMo and words failed me. Tears took their place. Finally I was able to say it. "Why didn't you say that before?" he asked, exasperated.

I didn't know how. I am still learning the language.

Music: "More Than This"

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Roman a cliff.

My effort to take some vacation time and write two hours a day did not crystallize my ambitions and drive them forward the way I hoped, but from the very start, the whole exercise was one of self-deception: If you give yourself only one week, at the holidays no less, to achieve some sort of major life turning point, you're probably going to fail, unless you commit a crime.

I did not commit a crime (legally speaking, that is; in terms of YouTube viewing choices and Target purchases, I probably needed to be scared straight).  I did, more or less, write for two hours a day that week. When progress or inspiration on fiction items waned, I turned to this blog, and at one point managed to create an UncMo for myself, which is really going over the top because life provides plenty of them for me already.

I woke up at 4 a.m. one morning recently, came over to my laptop, and took down the most recent post that I had written about Thanksgiving and some of the people who were and were not there. The thought that propelled me was: "Do I really want that just hanging out there?" By "that" I mean snarky, negative feelings that served no one, including me. The only time it's a good idea to put feelings like that out there, in my opinion, is because they are either super funny or super touching and will turn crap into joy because you are speaking to some common crummy experience that we all share.

Or, you can do it because you're kind of bored with yourself and procrastinating on writing something that might be worthwhile, so you decide to dive into some stuff that's just kind of beside the point and not even that entertaining and doesn't even really have to do with you. I'm not doing that kind of b.s. on this blog anymore. For at least the rest of this year, maybe more.

So I deleted the post and realized what like every other author on the planet has already realized, which is that if you are going to get real personal and petty, it's far better to mask it as fiction and sell it for money.

However, I restore here from that deleted post the one bright spot, Tree 2.0, which is twice the size and joy as last year's tree, especially because Sir UncMo and I picked it out together (or perhaps he patiently waited for me to pick the one I really wanted and pretended to agree—hard to say).


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Monday, December 02, 2013

Two Hours a Day.

This week I decided to stop making excuses for myself and take five days of vacation from my job solely for the purpose of writing. "I am going to see what it's really like to be a full-time writer," I told myself. "I'm going to devote all day, for a week straight at least, to writing." The vacation was slated for right after the Thanksgiving holiday, so really it would be 10 unfettered days.

As the dedicated week approached, I said, becoming slightly afraid, "I am going to devote at least six hours, five days straight, to writing."

And now, I have arrived at the week and can say that no fewer than two—two solid hours per day will be spent on writing.

Never mind that I have two hours to spare on any given weeknight: I have no kids, no crazy work hours, absolutely no excuse. Usually that time is spent on House Hunters and YouTube videos like this one.

The point was that my job was exhausting me and simply stifling my creativity and I needed some breathing room. Room for inspiration. Right?

Anyway, I took four full days from Thanksgiving to dive into this mentally grueling goal. I mean, I don't devote two hours to anything anymore, unless maybe it's failing on macarons for a fourth time or sleeping. I am too busy losing on Scrabble, feeling bad looking at Facebook or watching aforementioned programming.

I am proud to say that today I am at three hours and about 4,500 words of writing. Except a lot of that is transcribed from previous jottings, and exactly 293 of the words are worth keeping: a little piece of silver in a vast pile of dirt.

"Inspiration is for amateurs - the rest of us just show up and get to work."

It's heartening when a genius such as Chuck Close says this, though not new. It's something we know rationally, but keep forgetting, because it seems, seems so truly, that all of the masterful works we know and admire sprang fully formed from the artist, a thunderbolt of creativity. You see handwritten notecards from Nabokov or some manuscript from a Bronte in a museum and the notion is reinforced. This idea of immediate brilliance grows and becomes a chimera, chased but never captured—ultimately an excuse, in my case, for accomplishing jack squat.

The thunderbolt never came. I never found what I had to say. What I did find to say was not new or exciting or brilliant, nothing even close to Nabokov or Fitzgerald or Murakami. I had to work, revise crummy paragraphs and wade through pointless crap, and it was unpleasant. I had to dig through a bunch of dirt to get to the silver. I never found any gold except for that one thing a few months ago but it's so hard to polish and it may not even be gold but just plated.

Well no fucking duh. That's the way it works.

This truth was hammered home to me over months of writing author profiles for BarnesandNoble.com over a decade ago. Aside from freakin' Isabel Allende, who finds it just "so easy and so wonderful" to crank out a novel, most writers just work and work and work until the right words break through, and even then, they wade through rejection and revision and torment. It is not like sitting down for a 45-minute exam, writing a blue-book essay and getting an A, which is what I could usually pull off and is what I personally would prefer.

But even after that education at BarnesandNoble, writing profile after profile on hard-working authors, somehow I just didn't want to accept that a career-making piece of writing was not just going to drop in my lap overnight. Finally, about 25 or so years after thinking that maybe writing is something I would want to do, and because it's really the only thing anyone ever encouraged me to do, it's dawning on me that perhaps some serious effort is in order. Hey!

Fortunately for this weeklong project of mine, there is no shortage of work. Any number of failed or neglected projects await my attention. Sheafs of handwriting, scrawled in airports and on trains, sit unmined. Two websites (including this one) lie silent. Two novels lie unfinished. Idea file Idea file Idea file. The point, I remind myself again and again, is not to achieve fully formed brilliance. The point is the process. The point is that you do, or do not, there is no try, and for that matter, there is no almost, no draft. There is only slogging through crap and making a final version and hoping that you turn out something that someone, somewhere might like.

Music: "Genesis"

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Tree.

No residence I have occupied ever felt more like home to me than my parents' house. I am fully aware that this is a rather pathetic admission coming from an independent, working adult. After all, I am perfectly capable of making my own home. I just never did.

Always renting, and always keeping one eye on some sort of exit plan, I did not spend more than two years at any one address for 20 years. I liked to, let's say, keep my options open. I never got around to hanging pictures or painting walls or filling up various sad empty corners, because it was usually time to move out soon anyway. Getting married never changed that internal sense of flux (my ex had been very keen to buy a house; I was not).

I have recurring dreams about trying to find a home. Maybe my home gets swept away by a tsunami and I have to find my way back to it, or I am looking for a place to sleep in some random communal house, or trying to pick my room in a new house that my parents have moved into without consulting me, but always in the dreams I am looking for My Place, because I have not yet found one.

My current apartment is the most home-like non-home I have ever had, and the most enduring. I have lived here for more than four years, the plants are alive and growing, and it even has nice framed pictures on the walls, thanks to Sir UncMo. This year we made significant layout and furniture improvements, and now there is only one empty corner waiting to be filled. I am within a 15-minute walk to places of interest such as my job, the White House, and most importantly, Whole Foods. It is a fabulous setup for a twentysomething. It is merely a decent setup for a fortysomething who spent too long keeping her options open.

Still, it is not really mine, and also only mine—both at the same time. I rent the apartment, and would never buy it, so I have no sense of ownership. And I alone picked the place; it is home to two people, but we eventually want and need to buy (yes, please, now I say, buy) our own place together. Part of me thinks—at least, hopes—that I will be moving out of here sooner rather than later.

As part of this general transience, even though I adore the holidays, I never had my own Christmas tree. Too much trouble. Expense. Not really worth it. Pretty unenvironmental. Half the time I was traveling at the holidays anyway. Sir UncMo has professed tree indifference, leaving it up to me. It was easy enough to just enjoy my parents' tree on visits to their house.

Last year, I decided this had to change. I was tired of passing by the rows of firs and subconsciously assuming they were meant for the people with "real" homes. You do the holidays with the home you have, and you do it up the best you possibly can. It was time to get some damn ornaments, get some damn tree lights, and get my own damn tree. (Why does it sometimes take so long to understand things that are so blatantly simple?).

It was mid-December. I marched on over to the Whole Foods, where they had been selling little trees, perfectly sized for the P Street crowd. Time to buy my first-ever tree. I would surprise Sir UncMo with it. The only thing missing from this scene was lightly falling snow and some Randy Newman music.

I got to the Whole Foods and blinked. They were sold out. All the trees I'd been walking by for days and days, gone. Last shipment. Done. Sorry Charlie Brown. That seemed to be it for my tree epiphany.

But then on the way to my parents' house that weekend, I saw a tree lot and stopped. Most of them were way too big, because these were trees for the Potomac crowd. But there were maybe three smaller ones, $20 trees, even tied up in neat cylinders like the real thing, not pre-placed like houseplants into a stand like the P Street trees.

The guy at the lot did all of the things that he is supposed to do. He pulled out a tree, cut the strings around the boughs, banged the stem on the ground so that the branches shook out and unfolded all of their glory, appraised my choice alongside me with a cocked eye and all the gravity of a Catholic minister, sawed off the lower branches so that I would have enough stem to put in a stand, sawed off the bottom part of the stump so it could absorb water well, recommended to me where I should go to buy a stand (I hadn't thought about the stand), and then sent me on my way.

As I was preparing to go, he eyed the tree once more. "What do you think, should we tie her up?" he asked his assistant. The assistant shifted stance and turned to me."Do you need any help getting it to your car?" I barely got out the reply, "Oh no, that's OK..." before they both snickered and said, "Just kidding." Of course I didn't need help. It was a tiny tree. "I could rope it to the top of my Miata," I suggested. We all laughed.

Yes, it was a small tree, and a rebellious tree. It would not cooperate with the stand and fell over approximately five times, dumping water and ornaments along with it. But as you can see, it was a beautiful tree, and there it was, in my home, in our home. This year, I can't wait to get another one. Why did I wait all those years?



Music: "O Tannenbaum"

Friday, November 01, 2013

Things I Say More Often These Days.

I don't know what that means.

When can we get together?

I'm fine staying home.

Who is that?

What does that say? (Or simply, What?)

Music: "Something in the Water"

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Plane Ride.

Travel by plane happens infrequently enough for me that I still view it as sort of special. I like to wander an airport, people-watch, and then burrow into a window seat and zone out. I like the sense of being stateless, in transition, for a moment.

Today's journey is to Chattanooga for a conference, and I am a little harried after getting through security and realizing that boarding has begun for the flight. I'm wearing my warm-weather flight uniform: jeggings and a lightweight t-shirt with flip-flops. The sexiest part of this outfit is my compression stockings, which I've been required to wear for air travel ever since getting a DVT three years ago.

The stockings are black and toeless, so they extend past the bottom of my pant leg and end just at my toes, beneath the thong sandals. I am fully aware that this looks terrible, and part of me enjoys a certain defiance in looking so terrible. I mean, eff you. I HAD A CLOT, and so now everyone must suffer vicariously, by having to look at my compression stockings. Enjoy, TSA! Anyway, who cares? It's an airport. I imagine this is the rationale employed by so many American air travelers who are clearly wearing pajamas.

My day is lunch-free so far and it is 1:30 p.m. I permit myself the financial and ecological extravagance of a smartwater and "touch of sea salt" popcorn for all of $9 before making my way to the gate, or what seemed to be the gate until it became apparent that it was just a place for people to mill around and listen to announcements directing them to a series of "doors" one level down.

My flight is boarding from Door 4, a mysterious place below the actual gate assigned to my flight. I take an escalator down, pass a series of doors, and toddle up to the Door 4 line, aware that I am flying on a regional jet and will have to gate-check my bag while pretending to myself that maybe I will not end up on a regional jet and thus not have to gate-check my bag. It's a little game I like to play with myself, one I always lose.

Anyway, amidst all the confusion, I realize at the same time as the ticket agent that I am carrying two carry-ons with my roller bag, which is obviously unacceptable, so I become one of those lame people who has to step aside to consolidate my bags because I am too dumb to know The Deal when you fly, which is that the airlines prefer that you travel with no possessions at all, or alternatively with all of your things stashed in something the size of a violin case.

My bag full of flight reading is a cheery cloth tote that was designed to be a library bag for a child, a fact I learned only after purchasing it for myself, but one that did not faze me because the bag is still essentially fulfilling its purpose. I shove the cloth tote into my oversize purse, and the ticket agent and I both smile at each other and nod to cement the fiction that I now have only one carryon. She scans my ticket and does not take my roller bag. Maybe I am winning. (Of course I am not winning.)

What is behind Door number 4? Not the plane. Disorientingly, it is a sidewalk with a bus parked in front of it. With no signage and no other passengers to follow, I board the bus and hope that these people are all going to Chattanooga and not to, say, New Delhi, or worse, a rental car facility. My roller bag goes on a luggage rack and I sit on a black vinyl seat just big enough to hold two children or one and a half adults, and watch through the window as the next person in line emerges into the sunlight, blinking and confused. She looks around and then at the bus, like, "Really? This?" and an airport staffer standing off to the side looks at her and nods like, "Yeah, that."

I take the opportunity to call Sir Uncmo and detail my journey thus far. "Yeah so you have to take an escalator that is like a portal to another world. And then I went to something called Door Number 4 and now I'm on this bus. Have you ever had to do that?"

"Um, not since 1979," he says.

"Yeah and it's not even the cool elevating Star Wars bus like at Dulles. It's just, like, a school bus."

I realize I am being kind of a jerk, like Lydia on Breaking Bad demanding stevia and chamomile in a roadside diner. I mean, I'm flying US Airways to Chattanooga, coach. What do I want, hot towels and a handheld conveyance to my throne? It is obvious that plenty of people do this all the time. I just happen to be more accustomed to the AirTrain revolution of the past two decades.

Eventually the bus takes us over to the plane, where everyone troops onto the tarmac, leaving our roller bags in a tidy, forlorn group before we ascend the tiny stairs up to the plane. The whole situation throws me off. For a boarding process like this, I expect to be either a) in a chain of islands or b) in 1976, when I flew for the first time, by myself, at age 4, and actually did get something like a handheld conveyance to my throne (see below).


I remember exactly two things about that United flight. One, I got a set of wings, which was cool, even though it was not entirely clear to me why I would get a special gift just for boarding a vehicle, but who was I to object. Two, I was seated at the very front next to a member of the military — Navy, I think, wearing whites and a cap — and was forced to ask him to open my peanuts during the flight because my little hands could not pry them open, hard as I tried. I remember that this was a daunting request because this man was facing straight ahead and clearly not interested in conversing with someone of my stature. He wordlessly took the peanuts from me, opened them, and handed them back to me with a perfectly straight face. I said thank you and just felt relief that I could have my freakin' peanuts.

On the Chattanooga plane, I fold myself under the space in front of my seat and try to deconstruct my fictional single carryon. My seatmate arrives and I step out to let her in. Then the guy behind her starts to barrel forward as if I am not even there, as if I will magically disappear from the aisle so that he can get to his seat. I swivel to my side and try to avoid being run over. "If I could just — be allowed to — get back — then you can —" Annoyed. Discombobulated. Passive-aggressive. Part of the problem.

The plane feels minuscule and banks a bouncy hard right before stabilizing after takeoff. I am not sure whether my "ahhh God" is just in my head or audible. I exhale and try to quell a sense of panic. Normally I am not a nervous flyer, but these regional jets really test one's faith, especially during a government shutdown that affects the FAA and air traffic control.

It is about at cruising altitude that I realize there is a Big Editor from the Magazine of the organization that I work for just one seat in front of me. Probably there the whole time, observing all of the fails that I assumed had been forgiven by airport anonymity. Drat. I try to erase him from my mind.

Seeing that they are using bigger plastic cups for this beverage service—larger than one would expect a plane of this size to be able to carry—I ask for a Coke Zero, which is what I order when feeling a bit more low-self-esteem than usual. Something about the name and the fact that it tastes more carcinogenic and Tab-like than Diet Coke, my usual go-to.

Did I mention that this trip is for an environmental conference?

The large $5 bag of popcorn that I bought takes about as long as cruising altitude to consume, so I consider it well worth the price. I'm on the aisle and my seatmate has kept the window shutter closed. It's a regional jet with no screens that still has NO SMOKING stenciled over the tray table. Popcorn is a welcome diversion, along with the last fourth of an issue of Food and Wine and the last fourth of Questlove's memoir.

The plane lands and I feel more thankful than usual for being still alive. We step onto the tarmac, collect bags from an unceremonious pile, and march along painted stripes that show us the way to Chattanooga. But part of me is still on that tarmac in '76, when flying was still mysterious.



Music: "After Light"

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

September 11

Every year, and I can't believe it has been 12, since the year that this country was attacked, I have feelings and want to say something. But because nothing really happened to me on that day, other than walking within the panic on the streets in New York and breathing in the vapor of death and devastation for weeks afterward, I have never felt entitled to say much. Other people suffered more. Other people witnessed much worse.

But here are the things that tend to come to mind on this day.

The weather. This year it was hot and humid in DC, nothing like the clear perfect air that absorbed the impacts of those planes. I walk out into the soup and feel a little relieved. It does not feel the same as that day's weather, so perfectly, relentlessly memorable.

I can't believe how in some ways it is almost like nothing happened. People post to social networks about their mundane concerns on this day, where before it would have been unthinkable to have anything but this event at top of mind. Is this progress, or regression? Maybe it's both.

How is it that my eyes still start to sting with tears at the image of the smoking towers, even though I have seen it so many times?

What do children, people who were just babies or not born yet, know about this day?

I don't like abbreviating it as 9/11, like it's a festival, or a thing.  I never will. I still seem to be the only one who finds the opening sequence of  'Mad Men,' much as I love that show, a bit insensitive.

I remember us all looking for ways to contribute. We flooded Red Cross and fire stations with clothes and supplies until they finally had to tell us to stop. The survivors we were hoping to aid did not exist. There was nothing to be done.

Missing posters and candles and flowers on street corners for people who were not to be found.

The smell, the smell.

The panics. Evacuations based on fear, on a new world that no one understood yet. Being herded down a staircase in midtown, crying, not because anything was actually happening, but because of what now was possible.

Bin Laden is dead now. Suck it, Bin Laden. And yet that offers no real satisfaction.

The blessing of my family, ties that endure beyond that moment when we could not reach each other and were confronted with just how important that communication is.

The day is officially passed now. I avoided the memories pretty well, as did (I'm guessing) a lot of people. Is there an unseen price we are paying for that avoidance? Or is it just moving on?

Music: "Letters From the Sky"

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Correction.

Accuracy is important to me, and yet it feels as though at least 50 percent of what I say needs to be fact-checked and usually corrected. Every other conversation or show has me on Google doing research.

This would make me really smart if I remembered ANYTHING that I look up or absorb. Instead, I spew out half-remembered, half-digested tidbits from various sources, just trying to get through a conversation.

This is true especially at work. I was in a meeting recently with two people where we briefly digressed about the merits and drawbacks of Rotterdam. My colleague was complaining that the food wasn't very good there. I have never been to Rotterdam but took this as my opportunity to note that in a documentary I just watched about Michelin-starred restaurants (what movie? I can no longer recall), I was surprised to note that two of the restaurants were Dutch, including noma.

My colleagues nodded politely, clearly not giving a shit but indulging me anyway. The meeting went on. But while we talked about the details for a video shoot, I realized: Shit. Noma is not Dutch. It is Danish. Shit! Wow. How could I have messed that up within the space of one day? And everyone is just proceeding as if what I said were true.

What if later they find out it isn't, and then they say to themselves, "What? That dummy Christina told me Noma was in the Netherlands, and now here I am in Rotterdam psyched for the most unexpectedly awesome meal of my life, and it turns out to be a sham, all because of her IDIOCY."

I had to issue a correction, but there was no good point in the conversation. We got further and further into work items and restaurants were floating increasingly far behind in the conversation's trajectory. "Just let it go Christina. Who cares?" I told myself. But my compulsion for accuracy would not relent.

We were standing up, concluding the meeting, when I interjected, a propos of nothing, "By the way, Noma is not in Rotterdam. It's in Copenhagen." My colleagues both momentarily gave me a look that said, "What the hell is she talking about?" Then, polite as ever, they recovered. "Oh! Haha! Okay..."

God. Why do I manufacture these awkward moments?

Music: "What's the Use"

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Yoga Crimes.

In the dream, my yoga mat has disappeared and the studio has transformed into something that looks like a community rec center under renovation. I search the cubbies where mats are stored, but cannot find my name among the labels. Everything has been moved around. Finally, I spot it—but instead of my mat, I see a note written in fine red marker that directs me elsewhere, punctuated with "Sorry!"

In a general storage area underneath a staircase, I finally locate my mat. It is crumpled in a heap of others. When I pull it out, it is covered with fingerpaint and glitter: canvas for some kind of children's art project. Unacceptable!

I take the mat to the front desk, which happens to be at a wooden art table. "I'm sorry that happened," the desk attendant says after I show her the damage. The owner of the studio happens to be standing right there. "Creativity workshop," she stage whispers to the attendant, indicating that my compensation for the lost mat should be a free pass to an event that will surely involve the verb "journaling" and more of what is scattered all over my defaced yoga mat.

"No!" I rush to object. "No creativity workshop. I want a new mat." The dream ends before a resolution, but the feeling is that I will not get my way.

You are probably thinking, "Wow. I mean, really Christina? You're that bougie and neurotic that you're actually having an anxiety dream about yoga?"

Yes. Any other questions?

In real life, the Dupont Circle yoga studio that I frequent does have nice wooden cubbies with our names printed underneath them. The studio offers many small comforts (skylights, good teachers, Life Savers peppermints, nice smells, tea), but this particular one had gone unappreciated by me: When was the last time you had a cubby? A place with your name on it in a communal space that is safe enough to leave open, a place for your things, and your things only?

The last time for me was Seven Locks Elementary School. Mine was a double classroom that held three grades at once and was divided for organizational purposes into two colors: Blue and Green. Blue cubbies were on one side of the room, Green on the other. The cubbies smelled of laminated wood and books and pencil lead and erasers and sandwich bread and vinyl binders.

A cubby.

Lately the studio has gotten crowded, and the staff has resorted to using the very top of the two cubby units as storage space. So the people who joined late didn't get a cubby, they just got essentially a surface with their name under it. What will they do? I thought when I saw the storage issue. It is a small area, there is no room to add cubbies. My cubby space became more precious in my mind.

Then one day I come into the studio, retrieve my mat from my cubby, walk into class, unfurl it and... wait. It was a reversible mat, and it unfurled to the wrong side. Someone had used it. Someone had invaded the sanctity of my cubby.

I spent more of the next hour than I would like to admit poring over this situation in my mind. Who would do such a thing? When there are mats freely available to rent from the studio? Did they know they were doing something wrong, or did they somehow think it was OK? Weren't they worried that I would show up for the same class, find my mat missing, and catch them? Could the culprit be right there in class with me, on some other poor sap's mat?

But then, isn't the point of yoga to let stuff like this go? Inhale. I mean, who cares if someone used my mat? Exhale. Isn't the concept of owning a mat, having a cubby, just an illusion I cling to for security? Inhale. Because really, we don't own anything. Exhale. Everything is impermanent. Let it go.

What cooties did they deposit on my mat? How long has this been happening? Was it just once, or is it a repeat offender? Did they use just the other side, hoping I would not notice, or have both sides been used? WHY WOULD SOMEONE DO THIS?

Square your hips. Elongate your spine. Reach out through your fingertips. Twist deeper. Just fold.

What could the studio have done to prevent this? Nothing really that I can think of. I vaguely remembered seeing in one of the studio's e-newsletters something about a problem with people using others' mats and to make sure that your name was written on your mat. But that's dumb. I mean obviously it's my mat. It's sitting in my cubby. Somehow my affinity with revisiting elementary school ends at the point where I need to label my belongings.

Lokah samasta sukhino bhavantu. OmNamaste.

At the front desk, the attendant is apologetic and hapless. "We are suggesting that everyone write their name on their mat. There is a marker hanging over there on the wall," he says. I thank him and trudge over to the marker hanging at the end of a string. The ink is appealingly silver and shiny, but I still don't want to use it. My initials gleam over the blue on the underside of the mat. I roll it just so, leaving the initials facing out of the cubby's edge.




It seems like my mat is usually untouched when I pick it up these days, but I have sort of let go of the idea that I am the only one using it. Om. Except that after labeling, I had the dream described above.

I know. I am ridiculous.

So I reveal this for your entertainment. But also to ask: What are your memories of cubbies?

Music: "Shanghai Drive" (no point really, just a sort of dreamy, disconnected-esque piece from Thomas Newman I like that seems to fit here)

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Music in Hudson Valley Episode of 'No Reservations'

You happen to be watching an old episode from 2010 of No Reservations. It's the one where Tony and company tour New York's Hudson Valley. At one point during the episode, he and Michael Ruhlman visit a creepy old hotel called the Mohonk Mountain House. The producers insist on using a creepy classical composition throughout the visit. It has low horns punctuated by bell chimes: a reckoning.

You've heard that music before. Damnit, where was it? Was it The Shining, a vibe they are obviously trying to simulate? Is it some creepy music from Eyes Wide Shut? No. No. You Google it. You look at IMDB. You look at the credits. You look at the show website. Maddeningly, you cannot find the theme, even as its tolling horn blasts taunt you. It was in a movie you saw... somewhere...

Finally it dawns on you. Julia Roberts looking scared. An empty house. YES! It was in Sleeping With the Enemy.

In case you were wondering.

Music: "Symphonie Fantastique, Fifth Movement," Berlioz

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