Monday, December 14, 2009

dear jane

I gobbled down a book yesterday, in two big gulps, one in the morning, one in the afternoon. Really, is there anything better than finding a book that so ensorcells you that you can barely tear yourself away, and when you do manage to put it down, it pulls at you like a talisman from a Grimm tale, or something out of Poe, or Bluebeard’s closet, distracting and enticing you until you can stand it no longer.

The book in question was The Man in the Wooden Hat, Jane Gardam’s follow-up to her earlier Old Filth (which I also wolfed down). It’s lying now on the bed, its spell over me quite gone, looking very innocent and calm, with nary an echo of its earlier bewitching power. It’s a brilliant book—intricate, smart, and entertaining—so someday I’ll pick it up for a re-read, and it will hypnotize me all over again.

Which answers my earlier question, about whether there’s anything better than finding an irresistible book. The answer is, yes: picking up a book that you’ve already read and already loved, and flipping out all over again.

In a recent post on the joys of re-watching favorite movies, Self-Styled Siren referenced a New York Times column by Verlyn Klinkenborg about re-reading beloved books. “The point of reading outward, widely, has always been to find the books I want to re-read and then to re-read them,” he writes, and you know, I couldn’t agree more. When I was young, I could have made it through all of Shakespeare and most of Proust and a good chunk of Gibbons in the hours that I devoted to re-reading Narnia, and Anne of Green Gables, and the gothic trifecta of Rebecca and Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, and Where the Red Fern Grows (crying every single time), and Louisa May Alcott and Frances Hodgson Burnett, and all of Madeline L’Engle but especially A Wrinkle in Time. Those books of my childhood: I can picture the words on the page, clearly see the illustrations, remember lines intact, recall the then-unappreciated sense of hours stretching ahead of me, an afternoon spent blissfully isolated thanks to my book and the always accepted excuse of “I’m reading.”

In his Times column, Mr. Klinkenborg writes, “Part of the fun of re-reading is that you are no longer bothered by the business of finding out what happens.” Again, nail on the head: knowing what happens means I don’t have to race to the finish line and can instead savor each delicious phrase. I can experience the joy of the page in front of me, rather than reading as fast as I can in an effort to find out what happens on the next page, and the next, and the one after that.

Still, even with a book that I’ve read umpteen times, I can find myself just as nervous as ever on behalf of my favorite characters, perhaps even more so, since I know what’s coming down the line for them, while they remain unaware of their fate. At times it’s almost unbearable to watch them make the same mistakes, suffer the same blows. When I saw Streetcar Named Desire the other night (with Cate Blanchett breaking the audience’s collective heart), I wished the play could come to an end when Blanche and Mitch are alone in the apartment, after their date, and Blanche tells him about her brief and tragic marriage. Mitch says to her, “You need somebody. And I need somebody, too.” They kiss, and Blanche says, “Sometimes—there’s God—so quickly!”

Curtain, please. Thank you for coming, ladies and gentlemen, we hope you enjoyed our condensed happily-ever-after version of Streetcar. Exit to the rear.

When it comes to authors that I read over and over and over again, no one holds a candle to Jane Austen. I cycle through her novels every couple of years, spacing them out only enough so that I don’t accidentally memorize them word for word. You’d think these books would be wrung dry for me at this point, and yet every time I return, I get caught up all over again. Those books pull me in so deeply that, when I’m forced to put them down for a bit, I feel only half present in the rest of my life, and I can’t wait to return to Austen’s world.

I am far, far too close to the Austen books to have any sort of critical perception of them. I can’t even explain why I love them. They’re like family, I suppose. Which may be why I was so unexpectedly bowled over the other day, when I went to see the Jane Austen exhibit at the Morgan Library: to see an actual letter written by Jane—her thoughts of the moment, her handwriting, her paper, her ink—was so surprisingly moving and intimate that I could barely take it all in. Looking at her letters, I had the strangest and most vivid sense of her as a real person. It was as if she’d walked into the room and said hello—the most thrilling star sighting ever.

Rather like the narrator of The Little Prince, who shows his Drawing Number One (of a boa constrictor that has eaten an elephant) to any new acquaintance to find out if he or she is “a person of true understanding,” I use Austen as a litmus test of sorts. I confess to feeling slightly suspicious of those who do not truly and deeply appreciate Austen, so when someone tells me that he doesn’t love Austen, or that she hasn’t gotten around to reading at least the big ones, I make a barely conscious note that this is probably not a kindred spirit situation.

Unfortunately, these days Austen’s books—perhaps because of the slew of Masterpiece Theatre adaptations and ripped-bodice movies—seem now to be slotted as the original chick lit, not “serious” literature, but barely one step up from a beach read. Austen often seems to be considered a lacy, dainty, missish story-teller, best suited for lightweight book clubs, rather than the sharp, witty, clear-eyed, tough-minded, unflinching writer that she was, and she’s rarely given her due as the precursor to Dickens, Chekhov, Flaubert, even Fitzgerald.

The short documentary that accompanies the Morgan exhibit includes a quote from Virginia Woolf on Austen: “Of all the great writers, she is the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness.” Perhaps this helps explain both why so many seem to take her for granted (or even dismiss her, as Emerson did—but then, he had no sense of humor), and why it’s so tough for me to put my finger on what I love so much about the novels. Their seeming effortlessness, their no-nonsense pacing, and the utter naturalness of the language, the situations, and the characters—it all combines to make the books a pure pleasure to read, and to effectively hide the sophisticated and utterly rare craft behind them.

Several writers (most amusingly the always-entertaining Fran Lebowitz) are interviewed in the Morgan documentary, including Colm Tóibín, who has this to say:

If you said you were going off for the weekend and you were doing nothing except re-reading Emma, or taking Mansfield Park to bed—that image for me would be one of pure happiness. I mean, you could bring maybe a person to bed and that would be nicer in some way, but it wouldn’t be as fully satisfying.

I’m not sure I’d go that far, but I take his point, and love him for it.

In a never-visited storage unit in the Bronx are nearly all my belongings (at least, I hope they’re there; I send the check every month with the idea that someday I will see my stuff again). Among the furniture and pots-and-pans and tchotkes are boxes and boxes of books, and in one of these boxes are my Austen novels, agonizingly out of reach for the time being. When I do finally retrieve and unpack that box, I may just take Tóibín's advice and hole up for a few days to reacquaint myself with Austen’s worlds—the perfect way to inhabit that next apartment, when I find it, which will hopefully be soon.

Or maybe Santa will bring me these gorgeous new editions....

Top image: detail of a Jane Austen letter; second image: example of one of Austen's "crossed" letter, in which the writer, after filling the page, turned the paper 90 degrees and continued writing, thereby getting as much as possible out of each valuable piece of paper, and saving on postal charges to boot; bottom images: new Penguin editions of two of Austen's novels, designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith.

Monday, November 30, 2009


In his mean post-break-up email, my ex accused me of being shallow (or wanting to be shallow, or heading toward being shallow, or something like that—still can’t bring myself to re-read it), of being concerned only with surfaces.

I wish.

How great would it be to care only about surfaces! Oh, to be shallow, to skip along through life, taking it as it comes, letting all the junk just bounce off, not caring what other people think about you, not feeling a need to self-analyze and self-criticize and so forth, reading paperback best-sellers, seeing blockbuster movies, caring about Jon + Kate. Quel joy!

My friend Laura and I had a detailed discussion about the break-up, in which she offered a classy and helpful metaphor to sum up the situation. “It’s like finding something in an antique shop,” she said, “something that would be great if only, and you think, ‘Oh, I’ll buy it and get it fixed, or get it refinished, or cut the legs down,’ or something like that. But you know it’s not what you really want, and it’ll never be right, and you have to walk away and keep looking.”

I have another analogy, one that shows off my shallowness quite nicely, I think, especially when I develop it into a theory of life. Here goes: You’re shopping for clothes, and you’re in the dressing room, trying stuff on. You try on a black shirt and think, “Nothing wrong with that, I could use a black shirt,” or you try on a jacket and think, “Not bad, I suppose, and it’s a good deal.” Then you try on something else—a sweater, or a t-shirt, or the perfect little black dress—and you look in the mirror and say, “I frickin’ love it. I look amazing.”

Here’s what I’ve learned: don’t buy the other stuff, the “good-enough” stuff. Hold out for something that makes you feel like a rock star. And more important: trust that you’ll know it when you see it.

I’ve been applying my clothes-shopping philosophy to other aspects of my life. I don’t stick with a book unless I love it, I try not to waste calories on something that’s not super-delicious, I don’t pursue a job opp if the initial meeting feels sour… Basically, I try to check in with myself—be mindful, as they say—and make sure all’s well.

As I’ve written before, I have a lot of issues that come out in full force when I’m in a relationship, and it can become very difficult for me to get my bearings. Like this time: I doubted the gut feeling that was telling me to bail; I felt I should keep trying to make a go of it, because maybe, if I worked through my stuff, everything would click into place, and we’d live happily ever after. I thought my doubts could be coming from relationship-induced craziness, and not from the reality of the situation, which was simply that it wasn’t working, period.

During the drawn-out misery that led up to the split, I felt uncomfortable in my own skin, completely at odds with myself. It’s like when you’re wearing a pair of pants that’s too tight, and all day, you’re fidgeting and squirming and you just can’t wait till you can get home, change into your sweats, and breathe easy. That’s what it felt like, when it was finally over: relief.

(Unfortunately, the break-up process wasn’t in fact over, though I didn’t know that at the time. There was a slew of drama awaiting me, including his most recent email, which looks like an apology and sounds like an apology, but, honey, that ain’t no apology—you know, “I’m sorry if I hurt you, but”—in which he said he should have “corrected” me more along the way. Oh, really?)

Bottom line, despite the fact that the relationship started so romantically, and despite the fact that in certain lights it looked destined by Fate, it didn’t fitwe didn’t fit—and there’s nothing I can do about it now except change into my sweats and lick my wounds.

Now, as I do a round of Monday-morning quarterbacking on the past few months, there are a couple lessons for me to remember, the most important of which is this: I have to believe that when the right relationship comes along, no matter how much stuff I have to work through, I will feel in my bones that it’s worth it. I have to trust that I’ll know it when I see it.

Friday, November 27, 2009

introspection's a bitch

Buddhism teaches that it is not how much you know about yourself, it's how you relate to what you do know that makes a difference.... The common tendency, Buddhism teaches, is to use whatever is happening to reinforce a distinct feeling of self: to take everything very personally. The alternative, as discerned by the Buddha, is to hold that very feeling of self up for critical examination whenever it arises. How real is this feeling that drives us, which we ordinarily take so much for granted?
— Mark Epstein, Psychotherapy without the Self: A Buddhist Perspective

Years and years ago, after a particularly bad breakup, my newly minted ex-boyfriend came to my apartment one evening, grimly unpacked a box containing everything I’d given him, as well as the things I’d left at his place, then went up to my bedroom, unplugged the TV he’d loaned me, lugged it out to his truck, and drove off, all without a word. Game over.

Today, I’ll play a variation on that theme: pack up the camera my latest ex loaned me, the book he wanted me to read, the earrings he gave me for my birthday that I can’t imagine wearing now, knowing how he feels. It’s almost a ritual, this type of modern breakup: angry emails, screened calls, bitchy late-night texts, and a trip to Mail Boxes Etc.

I would have thought that, after all these years of practice, breakups would get easier. After all, I’ve got more in my life that can help fill in the hole, I’ve learned that I can take care of myself, and I know I’ll get through the pain. But there’s an added level of dreariness to the whole thing now, a depressing sense that I should have known better — that I should have avoided some of my typical pitfalls and patterns, should have been more in control, more grown-up.

And so 2009 draws to an end with yet another crisis of the soul. (It’s been a year of those, I must say. I hope 2010 is gentler.) As break-ups go, this one initially seemed to be as moderate as possible — not too acrimonious, no big blow-out. Of course, it’s just when you’ve decided that the seas are calm that a giant wave comes out of nowhere and smacks you down, hard.
You never saw it coming.

This particular wave took the form of an unexpected, vividly detailed, excruciating email from my ex. It packed a whallop, furiously listing one after another my faults and failings as a human being. In his anger, he craftily aimed a lot of his blows at what he knows to be my most vulnerable areas, the parts of me that already cause me the most pain and self-doubt. Hence the soul-in-crisis.

I’m terrible at coping when someone is angry with me — and boy, is he angry, a rage that is hard to face, and that makes me antsy, preoccupied, nervous, like I need to be looking over my shoulder. (This is a strange post to write, by the by. It's uncomfortably revealing, yes, but also, it could very well be read by the person who instigated the crisis. I don’t want to hurt him any more than I have, and then my Irish-German pride hates for him to know how much he hurt me, which is making it tougher than usual to scrape together these paragraphs. But this blog is for me, a way for me to try to write through my experiences and find my way out of the forest, so I need to disregard his reaction and soldier on.)

There were definitely a few things in the email that were unfair; had they been delivered in person, they would have sparked quite an argument. There were also a few "huh?" moments, which I guess will always remain a mystery. And then there were a couple real below-the-belt hits, not all of which I can recall, but I’m not up for a re-read. But there was enough in there that tapped into my deepest fears about who I am as a person, and what my life is and will be, that my therapist had her hands full. (As she put it, after reading the email, "I can only imagine the number you're doing on yourself.")

The overarching theme was that I'm selfish, shallow, cold, and incapable of being in a relationship. Of course, on the one hand, this is just the typical angry post-breakup attack — the pouring out of all the pent-up resentment and grievances — and needs to be read in that light. On the other hand, these accusations are not new to me — I've heard them before, and I've worried that they are, in fact, my great failings.

And you know, he's right about a lot of things. I was terrible to him, and difficult and mean and cold. He didn’t deserve it, I didn't want to be that way, but I was, a lot. It seems that in any kind of emotionally vulnerable situation, my more rational self gets shoved out of the picture, and the crazy, angry, frightened part of me steps up to bat. After all, the crazy part has a lot more experience in emotional situations (lived through plenty of those as a kid), while the rational part hasn’t been given a lot of opportunity to figure out how to handle those moments and so ends up pushed aside.

And there’s a good chance that I’m building some fairly horrible self-fulfilling prophecies. When someone thinks highly of me (like this boyfriend did, initially — he put me on a pedestal, it seems, which probably helps explain his extreme anger now: my feet of clay have been a big disappointment), I feel, "He doesn't really know me; if he did, he'd be out of here." Then, to confirm my screwed-up self image, I do my best to drive him away, at which point I say, "See, I knew it: I'm a terrible person."

This, by the way, is why this particular post is uncomfortably revealing for me. I’m afraid that I'll show you, my friends and readers, too much of myself, my ugly parts, and you, too, will turn away.

This is also why god invented therapy. Over the past year, these are the very issues I've focused on (along with that whole what-do-I-want-do-do-with-my-life thing), which is perhaps why my ex's email hit me so hard: after all this work and struggle, I'm still making the same mistakes, falling in the same traps. I have to have some faith, I suppose, that my growing awareness of these mistakes and pitfalls will help me down the line, but for now, I can panic at the idea that I'm stuck — no progress, no light at the end of the tunnel.

So what now. More therapy, more introspection, more attempts to take responsibility for my mistakes without going down the path of thinking that I'm a terrible person. More effort to look at myself honestly, but not to beat myself up mercilessly. And a hope that the lessons I’ve learned from my mistakes will help me avoid similar ones in the future.

As an attempt to begin to change my patterns, I set aside my anger (and my near-overwhelming defensive desire to rebut some of his more unfair accusations, and perhaps lob a few of my own) and tried to write a sincere apology. Once I got started, I found it a relief to say how sorry I am; I felt calmer, as if I got the crazy part of me to quiet down (after all, that part of me isn’t much interested in making apologies) and the more rational part to take charge.

In fact, I found that I was able to thank him for what I learned from him, even for the harsh lesson that his email embodied. That doesn’t mean I’m glad I got that email — it was far too bruising, and I’m no martyr — but I think he’d bottled up his emotions for so long that I hadn’t seen the hurt I was causing. Now, thanks to that tsunami of an email, wow can I see it, quite clearly, thank you, and can hopefully remember it in the future.

Unfortunately, the only reply was a curt text demanding the return of his camera, but at least now I know that there’s not a lot I can do about how he feels, so I can stop trying to figure out if there’s a way to move us past the resentment to a less hateful place, perhaps give us both some relief. All I can do is try to figure out my own lessons — and send him back that damn camera, pronto.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

LA, the weird and the wonderful

A creepy display at a manicure joint on Melrose, Technicolor graffiti, classic mid-century signage, a thrift shop's guardian spirits... as well as the flowers, the palm trees, and my little cottage in the woods of West Hollywood - here are a few glimpses of Los Angeles from last week.

eating los angeles

Well, it was a wonderful trip. LA really rolled out the red carpet: gorgeous weather, amazing food, more wine than you could shake a stick at, an ongoing conversation about which madly expensive perfume I should buy from Scent Bar / Lucky Scent, and plenty of that helpless laughter I wrote about previously.

Once I get a sense of what 2010 is going to bring, work-wise, I may very well look at making the cross-country move for the third time.

Meanwhile, let me relive some of the food highlights:

- the sweetest uni at Hama Sushi
- pizza with oregano and salami at Pizzeria Mozza
- tacos with potatoes and rajas at Loteria
- escarole salad with almonds and sunchokes at Gjelina
- toasted sourdough bread from La Brea Bakery
- olive oil gelato and butterscotch pudding at Pizzeria Mozza
- spinach and goat cheese omelet at King’s Road
- chocolate-covered dried apricots and tamari-wasabi almonds from Erewhon
- honey-marinated hanger steak and pumpkin cupcakes at Joan’s on Third
- hamachi sashimi with XO sauce at Hungry Cat
- my final meal:scrambled eggs, sausage, homemade english muffin, potatoes, and black tea at bld

- and, best of all, Thomas’s lovely brunch: spinach salad with bacon, tarragon, chervil, and mustard vinaigrette; chicken with mushroom cream sauce and asparagus; a La Brea bakery baguette and fig-anise bread; and cookies with fresh berries. And several bottles of Champagne that I picked up from a store with an unbelievable selection of boutique wines, and an unbelievably rude proprietor. (When I asked if he thought I’d made good choices from his Champagne selection, he said, “I chose them first.” When I asked, “Well then, did I do a good job narrowing down to three bottles?” he said, “At that price point, yes.” Thanks, pal.)

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I lived in Los Angeles for eight years, after college. Those were significant years, I realize now: being on my own for the first time, and setting up my own life, and taking care of myself, in a place so utterly different from where I’d lived till then (New England, for god’s sake), and which I felt I made my own.

Of course, during those years, I itched to get back east, to live in New York, to be in a quote-unquote real city, to be around people who were quick and on a mission, who hustled.

Fast-forward a decade or so. I’ve been in New York (and environs) for a good long time now, and it just doesn’t feel quite right, somehow. I mean, I love it and all, but you know, I hate it.

It’s a completely schizophrenic relationship, with dramatic, turn-on-a-dime emotions. For instance, I’ll be walking down the street, think, "I'd like a pack of gum," and presto: a deli. There’s always a deli! I love that! Yay, New York!

And then my pack of gum and I will trudge down into the subway and wait and wait and wait for the train, with no announcements to let us know when/if the train will arrive, and when it does arrive, the wheels scrape along the rails like the world’s fiercest nails-on-a-chalkboard, and the train is so stuffed that it takes an eon for a few bedraggled souls to squirm their way out, and somehow the space they took up is absorbed by the remaining riders, so there’s no room for us. The doors close on a packed mass of people, quashing everyone so tightly together that if you could remove the roof of the train, you could pull out a solid loaf of humanness. The train leaves, my gum and I are left behind on the platform, and the whole farce plays over again.

Boo, New York. Boo.

I’m in Los Angeles now for a week — for the first time in years — and so far, it feels frickin’ great. I’ve had piles of delicious salads for lunch, and an incredible wine-soaked dinner at Pizzeria Mozza (so now LA has amazing pizza — another check in the plus column). I've settled into Thom's adorable cottage, which is right in the middle of the city and yet is so quiet (except for the crickets), and is surrounded by a lovely garden that makes me feel as if I'm a million miles from civilization.

I've laughed for hours at the most ridiculous things with the boys (wow, I really needed a few sessions of helpless laughing, after the week I’ve had), and last night had fantastic tacos at Loteria after cocktails in Thom's swank digs, and am now blogging away in a cafe on Melrose (that's another plus: there are available seats in the cafes, so I can settle in for a couple hours of Earl Grey and free wifi; however, a big minus is the parade of bozos in track pants and skate shoes, and bimbos in leggings and boots, all endlessly braying into their phones).

There might not be a deli on every corner (or a theater district, or City Ballet), but CVS sells Dom Perignon*, and I’ll be hitting Hama Sushi tomorrow, and getting pumpkin gelato in Silverlake, and there’s an entire store of Heath pottery just a few blocks from Thom's house, along with a shop that sells dead-stock vintage shoes (hold me back!), and my perfume source, which I've ordered from for a few years and now will finally visit in person.

I know, I know: it’s vacation, of course it’s fun, of course I’m relaxed and laughing and so forth. On the other hand: it's fun! Why question it. And right now, fun is a priority. I want to be with fun people, drinking Champagne from CVS and laughing loud enough to piss off the people at the next table, and feeling like we can’t talk fast enough, there’s so much to say. That’s a life I could embrace.

At the very least, I need to be here more than one week every couple of years.

*Alex and I in CVS, scanning the aisles: “Hair color, indigestion, external pain…” “External pain? What about existential pain?” “Look: external pain, existential pain,... Champagne!”

bird’s-eye view

The real voyage of discovery consists not only in seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes.
—Marcel Proust

Don’t know about the new eyes, Marcel, but man do I want to hit the road again and see some of those new landscapes.* I want to take my new (to me) car for a cross-country solo spin, I want to head back to Mexico for a couple months of easy living, I want to take intensive French lessons on the Riviera for four weeks to be followed by at least two weeks of practicing my new-found fluency (one hopes) in glamorous-sounding spots like Cap Ferrat and Antibes and Nice… oh, and in Marseilles, which just makes me think of cauldrons of bouillabaisse. Then there’s New Zealand, and Barcelona, and Buenos Aires, and Bali… all places I’m dying to visit and where I’d want to stay for a good chunk of time.

What’s stopping me? Well, let’s see. I’m working, for one thing, which, at this point in history, is not something to be taken lightly. I’ve got contracts and clients — and cash coming in — and my own L(ucky) L(ittle) C(ompany). It feels like it took a long time to get to this point, so I’m not sure it’s wise to disappear for a few months and then perhaps have to start from scratch.

However, my contracts expire at the end of the year, and though it looks like there could be more work in 2010, nothing is set in stone. My clients could very well decide that they’ve got nothing for me for the time being — at which point, I’m hitting and finding me a ticket to points unknown.

And if it looks like those contracts are going to be renewed, well, then, I just need to build some vacation / sabbatical time into the year. That’s one of the joys of the self-employed way of life: I may not get paid vacation, but my boss tends to cheerfully approve all requests for time off.

To sum up: I’m a lucky duck, and 2010 could be another great chapter in my post 9-to-5 life. So why do I feel a panicky dread creeping up in me? It seems to hit when I feel like I’ve got nothing to look ahead to (cf. here and here and here), creating an opening for all those big Life Decisions to come on over and start tapping me on the shoulder (and/or clocking me upside the head). You know, the big ones: what do I want to do with my life, where do I want to live, who do I want to be, WTF is wrong with me?!

Nice, efficient downward spiral there, if I say so myself. I really have mastered that move in the past few years. Practice, practice, practice!

But I’ve also been practicing a few other tricks: namely, how to put the brakes on the spiral. For one thing, I don’t get automatically sucked into comparing my lot with that of a friend’s, or a colleague’s, or that of someone I read about in my dreaded alumni magazine or even just notice on the subway, for god’s sake. Instead, I’m trying to keep in mind something a friend told me a few years back, when he was helping me figure out how to pull my act together and get un-stuck from my unhappy work situation: Don’t compare yourself to other people; compare yourself to your own potential.**

When I size myself up in relation to friends or subway strangers, I get overwhelmed by a wave of defeat, of my failures and missteps and so forth. When I’m instead able to follow my friend’s advice and think about what my potential may be and how I can live up to it, I find myself wanting to be true to that potential, to care for it, and, actually, honor it (it’s mine, after all), and, by extension, to be true to myself. (Sounds New Agey, I know, but it feels very strong and calm, somehow.)

What that means, more and more, is that I need to write, and take pictures, and have my own projects, not just those of my clients. I need to be okay with not knowing where I’m going or what’s in store, and trust that it will all continue to unfold.

And right now, since the void of an empty calendar seems to freak me out, I’m thinking of the first few months of 2010 as either work work work, or France France France. Voila. Calendar full.

*Full disclosure: As I write this, I’m on a plane, crossing the country (hence the photos), but it’s only for a week-long trip, which is not what I’m talking about here.

**Hindu proverb: There is nothing noble about being superior to some other man. The true nobility is in being superior to your previous self.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

course correction

My friends, I've been a bad, bad blogger, and I apologize, and I thank those of you who have prodded me, virtually and actually, to get back at it. I have two reasons for my disappearance (other than sheer procrastination). The first is a doozy: I've been working! Yes, working — me, the supposedly free-spirited, on-the-road, devil-may-care, ne'er-do-well slacker dropout. All of a sudden, I have a ton of work, thanks to a couple of projects that are big enough and long-term enough for me to go ahead and set up my very own LLC (which I’m hoping stands for Lucky Little Company). You can't believe the paperwork and filing fees and legal advice and accountants involved in setting up even a one-person consultancy (one might think that in this economic climate, the powers-that-be would be encouraging those of us trying to leave the rolls of the unemployed, but one would be wrong; in fact, Connecticut just literally doubled all of its business-related fees), but I think I’m through the thick of it, and my projects seem to be under control, so I can pay some long-overdue attention to my blog.

My current work situation has quite a few strange characteristics. First and most astonishing: everyone (I mean everyone) I work with is smart, and I like them all. Now that's a brand-new experience for me, and one that I don't take lightly, believe me, after my dealings with some of the less-than-bright, deeply unlikeable types who lurk in every workplace. Another new one for me is that very little of the work requires me to be in an office, or to be somewhere at a certain time, or to tiptoe around the various landmines of office life.

I love the flexibility and freedom that I have, and how much more sense it all makes, from a pure productivity standpoint. I can be that prototypical freelancer, working in my PJs, setting my own hours, taking a break when I need to rather than watching the clock. If I’m tired, I don’t have to struggle to keep my eyes open until 5 and then stagger home and collapse. If I hit a wall, I can take a nap or go for a walk, and then return to my desk in a more productive state of mind. And I don’t crave solitude the way that I did after a day of dysfunctional office dynamics, when I sometimes felt I was just counting the minutes until I could retreat to my beloved apartment and shut the door on the world. Now, a lot of the work is solitary, so I don't feel the need to retreat during my non-work hours. Plus I have that nice feeling of ownership: these are my projects, my clients, my company, my headaches. What a difference all that makes.

However. When I originally conceived this post, it was going to be purely about the joys of work, how I feel motivated and reinvigorated, how I find it so odd that people say, “Don’t work too hard” when clearly I’m enjoying working hard, how I’m just soaking up the positive feedback, how helpful it's been for my confidence and sense of possibility (and my bank account). I like the collaboration, the learning, and the fact that I don't have to feel guilty about having zilch interest in finding a full-time job.

However. My blog now appears to act as a conscience for me, and as I thought through the post and what I wanted to say, I had to acknowledge the nagging voice in my head, the same one that I ignored for years but that finally drove me to extricate myself from my unhappy and stressful situation last spring. It’s the voice that reminds me that I want something more from my life — something that remains rather vague, but that isn’t going to just happen on its own.

In some ways (and this is Reason Number Two for my blogging delinquency), I think my mini-break from the blog over the past few weeks was a break from seriously paying attention to my life — to its content, its direction, and its potential - so that I could hunker down and focus on the (paying) work on hand, so that my big question of the day could simply be, "What do I need to get done today?" Now I'm again trying to look at my life in a more comprehensive way, and I've been thinking about what I've learned and how I've felt over the past couple of months. I have a few "key takeaways," as we say in the consulting game: (1) I do want a home of my own once again, and I want it to be nice; (2) freelancing is a good setup for me right now, with the benefits (income with relative independence) far, far outweighing the demerits (like, say, expensive and crappy health insurance, and lots of deadlines, and responsibility); (3) setting up my own company is an incredible and rewarding feeling; and (4) — and this is the most important — I need something bigger, some larger project or purpose, something creative and ambitious and soul-fulfilling. (I have a couple of thoughts about what this something could be, but I don't feel quite ready to share.)

So right now, I need to make sure I don't get pulled back into a life that isn't ultimately fulfilling for me. And there are so many ways that I can get sucked back in: I have a meeting with a successful, high-paid woman with a lot of responsibility and a swish office and think, “I should do this!”; or I pay a visit to a friend with an enviable apartment in the Village; or I think longingly of all my stuff, now stashed in some mysterious storage unit in the Bronx, and how lovely it would be to set up house again, and maybe I should check out the real estate listings, and oh I could have a cat again.... But I’m terrified of ending up where I was a year and a half ago, freaking out at the stack of bills, working too much, feeling like I’m permanently stuck, generally just fretting.

To be honest, over the past two months I’ve questioned the purpose of my blog. I loved it initially, when I was just back from my Paris interlude and really thinking through my "vision quest" and looking at the big questions of my life. It helped me stay in my uncomfortable in-between stage (in between jobs, homes, routines) rather than jumping into something that would have initially felt more secure, but wouldn't be right in the long run. But recently I'd been wondering if the blog had run its course, if there was anything I could say that would mean anything to anyone but me. However, I realize now that the purpose of the blog is to keep me on my toes, that it's a way for me to push myself to keep questioning what I'm doing and where I'm going, and to keep tabs on my journey. It’s all about me, in other words, but I do truly hope that at least some of it is of interest and help to you, since without you, I wouldn’t have figured any of this out.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

adult supervision

The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.
- Samuel Johnson

Wow, I've been a bad blogger this month. There are some good reasons for this, which I'll cover in another post, but for now, I'll just apologize (sorry!) and get on with it.

I fear this post is going to be a personal one, folks, and a bit terrifying for someone of my retiring disposition. But as much as I'm tempted to just skip it and instead tell you about my lunch at the fab Mexican place in Port Chester today (tacos! amazingly fresh tortillas! and horchata!), I think I need to tackle this.

... Okay, so about 10 minutes have gone by since I wrote those few sentences. I'm feeling kind of self-conscious and exposed. Let's just write it all out, audience be damned, and then see what we've got.

This post is about what the pop psych people call "intimacy issues"; if this topic gives you the shakes or an overwhelming sense of ennui, please feel free to click elsewhere.

To follow up on crybaby: I'm not being such a waterworks any more (though those sappy commercials that feature lovely young people being sweet and attentive to charming and grateful old people always, always get me). In fact, the situation that sparked crybaby has turned out to be what I, if I were prone to these types of phrases, might call a teaching moment.

I haven't had much success with romantic relationships in my life, and I've fouled up a fair share of friendships, too. It's a cliché, I know, but when someone gets close to me - or more to the point, when I get close to someone - all sorts of "Danger, Will Robinson!" flashing lights and waving robot arms start up, and I put on the brakes so hard that I typically pull a Rockford and end up zooming in the opposite direction. (How you like those metaphors?)

Why, you ask? Well, that's the $64,000 question. (Actually, I haven't hit the $64,000 mark on this one yet, but if I continue with the steady stream of checks to my therapist, it could happen.) It's mostly to do with trust, which is a tough one for me, and the lack thereof, and a lifelong sense that all it takes is one little mistake on my part (or one moment where I slip and show you my real self), and I'm off your list. So instead of sticking around in a relationship and trying to make sure I don't make any mistakes, which is of course impossible, I head for the door myself. Or I perversely create a minefield of self-fulfilling prophecies - finding all sorts of ways to test this poor man, hold him up to impossible standards, criticize him when he fails, until he is at his wit's end and declares, "This isn't working!" Which of course, I knew all along.

Nothing gets my defenses up like the feeling that I'm being rejected, and it's a feeling that can be triggered all too easily, by a prick to the ego, a broken date, a disappointment, a frustration that he couldn't read my mind and know exactly what I needed, even when I was saying that I didn't want it. It's crazy-making, for me, for him, for anyone who gets sucked into my insane parallel universe. At moments like this, I can go from sweetness and affection to utter rage and scorn in no time flat. The interior monologue goes something like this: "I can't believe he did that. This is ridiculous - this person is not for me, this is all wrong, why are we bothering when we can't even get along, enough already, done."

Sadly, once it starts up, the interior monologue is tough to shut down. It gathers momentum, drowning out all vestiges of rational thought, precluding honest conversation and openness. The moment - and the relationship - becomes completely about my being in control: I'm the one who sees all the problems, and who never relents or opens up or shares anything that might weaken my position of power. When I look back at times like this, it's as if I had been possessed by a demon, and my own feelings and judgments and self were utterly erased.

You wouldn't believe how difficult it is for me to try to break these patterns. For instance, when I'm being just a nightmare to someone, cold and critical and distant, and I manage to recognize that I'm doing this and that it's not the ideal course of events, I'll tell myself that I need to start a conversation about what's going on with me, get it out in the open. So there I am, in my head, trying to encourage myself to open up and stop punishing and perhaps even apologize, and it feels terrifying, as if I'm giving away the farm. It's like the crazy girl in the movies who ends up crumpled on the floor, screaming and crying and scuttling herself into a corner, where she huddles and screams some more, terrified that the nice man in the white jacket is going to take away her blankie, or whatever. That's what's living in my head, refusing to budge an inch, refusing to calm down, refusing to listen. Sometimes I can talk her down, sometimes not.

Later, when the crazy blankie girl has gone away for a rest, it feels nigh impossible to acknowledge my behavior, and to apologize. Remember how the Fonz just couldn't bring himself to say he was sorry? He'd stammer and stutter and look as if he was trying to cough up a hairball, but he just could not apologize - in his world, it was impossible that he was ever wrong. I can relate. Trying to explain myself, to account for and apologize for my bad behavior, can feel impossible, as if there is a physical impediment to speaking, a physical inability to bring forth the words.

Oy. What a mess, right?

Happily, I do feel that I'm making progress in my quest to become a better person. Now that I'm more aware of these mechanisms, I'm trying to dismantle them. I'll spare you the therapy-speak, for the most part, not because I don't believe in it, but because it just don't travel well, do it? I'll just say this: My monologue is more of an interior dialogue these days, as I try to talk myself down from this tautly strung state, down to something more human and less frightened and more willing to be open and present. It is so incredibly difficult to try out unfamiliar behavior such as this - it would be so much more comfortable to stick with the behavior I know so well. But that hasn't exactly worked for me in the past.

In the intro to Psychotherapy Without the Self, his book that attempts to reconcile psychotherapy with Buddhism, Mark Epstein writes the following:

In particular, the British analyst D. W. Winnicott moved therapy from a focus on unacceptable instincts and urges to a focus on the unintelligible aspects of emotional experience. 'We are poor indeed if we are only sane,' he remarked once in a famous footnote. [Love that! -Ed.] Winnicott had the idea that the opposite of integration (the state of an apparently cohesive self) is not disintegration but something he termed unintegration. Here he was moving away from Freud and toward the Buddha. He compared unintegration to what it is like for a child to surrender himself in play, knowing that his mother is in the next room providing what he called 'good-enough ego coverage.' He also compared it to a lover's consciousness 'after intercourse,' when the urges are relaxed and the mind and heart are open, and to an artist's mind when unburdened in the studio. He saw the state of unintegration as the foundation of creativity and wrote volumes about the consequences of failing to tap into it. When a child has to manage an intrusive or ignoring parental environment, Winnicott suggested, he or she is forced to develop a 'false' or 'caretaker' self, centered in the thinking mind, in order to survive. This false self (which can paradoxically seem 'really real') is created at the expense of unintegration, and the capacities for spontaneity, subjectivity, and authenticity are all compromised as a result. Winnicott, in his own way, seemed to be describing something akin to how the Buddhist unconscious could be covered over by early experience.

This whole passage is incredibly powerful to me - to the point where I don't think I feel ready to write about how I believe these concepts relate to me - but perhaps most powerful is the parens about the "false" self, "which can paradoxically seem 'really real'." It's fascinating to me how right the crazy blankie girl can sound, and also fascinating to begin to recognize how I can have a different opinion and perspective and approach from hers, that I can try to figure out why she's so upset, and try to calm her down, and try to get her out of the driver's seat. Revelatory, my friends. It feels kind of like growing up - and about time.

Fabulous "madwoman" button from

Monday, September 14, 2009


You know when you're in one of those moods where everything makes you cry? Maybe you're a little tired, or maybe you're weak from the flu, or maybe your heart suffered a blow and you've been crying anyway, so why not cry some more when, say, the winner of the Open falls to the court and starts sobbing after match point? Or when Beyoncé proves herself to be a class act above and beyond what anyone ever expected at an MTV event? Or when a ridiculously corny song comes on the radio and just seems to exactly and unbearably sum up your experience? (My classic example of this is when I was on vacation in Hawaii with Thom and Alex, right after Thom had suffered a devastating breakup. The three of us are sitting at a picnic table, eating shave ice, when a Gloria Estefan song comes over the loudspeaker. The first verse isn't even over, and Thom is already up and hurrying away, clearly sobbing. Alex and I look at each other and say, simultaneously, "Gloria Estefan? Really?" That was the clue that led us to realize what bad shape Thom was in. As Amanda says in Private Lives, "Extraordinary how potent cheap music is.")

For me, today's waterworks instigator was coming across this passage from The Little Prince, a book that, like The Velveteen Rabbit, can make me cry even when there's not a copy within a mile; all I have to do is picture the fox, asking the Prince to tame him... or the poor rabbit, ashamed that he has no hind legs like the real rabbits... oh oh oh!

A-nee-way, here's the passage:

And he confided further, "In those days, I didn't understand anything. I should have judged her according to her actions, not her words. She perfumed my planet and lit up my life. I should never have run away! I ought to have realized the tenderness underlying her silly pretensions. Flowers are so contradictory! But I was too young to know how to love her."

There are many ways in which this quote from The Little Prince does not at all parallel my situation (for instance, I am not a rose), but when one is weepy, a shortage of parallels is no hurdle to complete identification with another's sadness, especially if this sadness is in one of the great tear-jerker books of all time.

If you're a reasonably good between-the-lines reader, perhaps you can make a rough guess as to the source of my current weepy state. Yes, dear reader, I have a bit of a heartache. I may driven someone away with my "silly pretensions," and I may have lost a chance at what could have been a good thing.

This would normally be the part of the essay where I would try to come up with some wanderings on this subject, accompanied by some interesting and insightful gleanings, perhaps a bit of profundity on the nature of love and loss, along with maybe a funny line or anecdote, and then wrap everything up in a brilliantly deft maneuver that would pack an emotional wallop (note that I said "try to come up with"). Nothing is presenting itself at the moment.

It's tough to think up something original to say about romantic disappointment. After all, it's been covered, oh, here and there, over the years, with various heroines pitching themselves in front of trains or off of towers, a double suicide in iambic pentameter, a hero running through the desert to try to get help for his beloved, who he left in a cave after the plane crash, but then the British soldiers thought he was a spy and dragged him off in chains, and then he jumped off the train and commandeered a plane to get back to the cave, but it was too late... {*sob*}

So, really, what is there left to say about heartache? Basically, it hurts like mad, you try to get through the worst of it as best you can, you try to take something from it that will help you on your journey, and hopefully, you don't let it scar too badly. Because apparently, we need to keep trying, for reasons the Little Prince's fox can express much more eloquently than I:

"My life is very monotonous," the fox said. "I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All the chickens are just alike, and all the men are just alike. And, in consequence, I am a little bored. But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat . . ."

Saturday, August 29, 2009

roses, sailboats, and the meaning of life

I recently had a mini health scare. It was just some wonky test results that turned out to be nothing, but it did give me a few days of unease. I'm not a hypochondriac and typically don't borrow trouble (i.e., I'm not fretting about swine flu or Lyme disease; my fears these days tend to veer toward getting clipped by a driving-while-texting nut job who's crossing the double yellow into my lane), but there are a couple of diagnoses that I have a particular fear of, and this was one of them. So when the lab called to tell me I had to come back in for more tests, I immediately tapped into a reservoir of otherwise carefully tamped-down panic and burst into tears on the phone with the poor technician, who tried to talk me down while I gasped about "I knew it, I knew it - I've been afraid this would happen."

For my second round of poking and prodding, I went to the big-deal fancy lab, where they can run tests from here to next Tuesday, guaranteeing that they can find something wrong with you, as my mother puts it. While I was sitting in the waiting area (which was rather spa-like: we were all in robes, listening to New Age music that had lots of chimes and wind noises, sipping ice water and waiting for our names to be called), I could hear the doctor down the hall as he delivered test results to each patient in the various exam rooms. He had a tendency to shout out things like "Everything looks good!" in a big joyful voice as soon as he got the door open, as if certain the patient wouldn't be able to stand the suspense for even the two or three seconds it would take for him to get in the room and shut the door behind him. I imagined he only did this early-warning approach when the news was good and figured that if he came into my exam room quietly and carefully shut the door before saying anything, I'd know I was in deep trouble.

My name was called, I went into an exam room, the tests were done, and then I sat nervously, listening to the doctor's oddly enthusiastic voice as he made his rounds, waiting for my turn. I was pretty sure that, once I got the news, I'd be an emotional wreck again, either because of the terror induced by an imminent death sentence, or thanks to utter relief at a stay of execution, but the doctor managed to pre-empt any display of emotion on my part.

He did his big entrance, booming out, "First of all, you're fine! Completely and absolutely fine!" Then he zoomed right up to me, hand outstretched. "Second of all, do you remember me?"

I was so dazed, I couldn't put two and two together. "I know you?" I said, trying to remember another time when I'd faced a life-threatening disease that brought me into contact with this particular genre of doctor.

"From college!" he boomed again. "Chris [last name withheld]!"

My god, I thought. Chris. Of course. Didn't we sort of date when I was a freshman?

"I saw you sitting in the waiting area and thought, 'Could that be Siobhan?'" he said jovially, clearly ready to kick around some memories and laugh over this bizarre coincidence. Then he must have registered the utter confusion on my face and settled down to give me a bit more detail on the test results, acting the part of a responsible and comforting doctor. Once he got that out of the way, he went straight back to old times, and then asked what I'd been up to in the past 20 years. I couldn't think of one thing, especially when faced with a walking, talking success story: a doctor in a ritzy hospital in Connecticut, married to a lovely classmate, if I recall, with a few bouncing babies to boot. It was all too surreal to me; the scene I'd imagined as a prelude to a Dark Victory story line instead turned out to be part Hail Fellow Well Met, part "Oh my god I'm a failure" freak-out (as if I need any more of those). So much for my big Bette Davis moment - though of course, ultimately I was extremely relieved.

Meanwhile, that very same week, a good friend had a terrifying and completely unexpected heart attack, out of the clear blue sky. He's young, exercises a lot, eats well, doesn't smoke, has a happy and fulfilling life - and yet, he had a very close call and is looking at a long recovery period. It's given him pause, as they say - given many of us pause, in fact. There's a lot of "You never know" being said, especially since he was so healthy up to this point. It reminds me of an old New Yorker cartoon, where a very self-satisfied man is strutting down the sidewalk, thinking proudly, "Less cholesterol! Regular checkups! No nicotine! No alcohol! Low sodium! Moderate exercise! No sugar!", unaware that a giant safe is about to drop on his head.

I bring up these two incidents because, after all, the heart of my blog is about trying to live life in the fullest and truest way that I can, and there's nothing like a close look at mortality to make a girl take a step back for some perspective. In the typical narrative, a brush with death (or even the thought of a brush with death) makes one toss out the junky parts of one's life and stop deferring the dream. However, I've already done a lot of the items on this particular list: quit the dead-end and depressing job (check), travel to wonderful places (check), spend more time with friends and family (check and check), buy a sports car (check! just this month! love it! want to drive across the country!), stop and smell the roses (and listen to the birds, and watch the sunset, and so forth - check), and not let the days just zip by (trying, sometimes succeeding, sometimes not).

It brings to mind a rather odd play I saw a few years back, an absurd (in a good way) monologue by Will Eno called Thom Pain (based on nothing). The character, who viciously skewers everything in sight, at one point says, "What if you only had one day to live? What would you do? That's easy. You'd be brave and true and reckless. You would love life and people with wild and new abandon. If you only had a day. What if you had forty years? What would you do? If you're like me, and - no offense - you probably are, you wouldn't do anything."

It's true, isn't it? We all think we'd scrap our boring old lives and go out and have mad adventures - jump out of planes or gobble down caviar at the Ritz or climb Machu Picchu at dawn or move to Paris or some such - if we knew our time on this planet was limited. But it is limited, isn't it? From the get-go? And yet here we all sit, not swimming with dolphins or blowing it all on red in Vegas.

This could be because we're all cowards, but actually, I think there's another, simpler, less dramatic reason: There's plenty of enjoyment to be had in the day-to-day. I've learned over the past year that I don't need to pack each hour with Experiences and Accomplishments, that there's a lot to be said for reading and hanging out and, even, drifting a bit. So I'm not sure how important the bucket list is, as long as your days bring more happiness than not. (Though you might take a bit of advice from Thom Pain and "love life and people with wild and new abandon" - but in a calm, sustainable way.)

For instance: Ted Kennedy. Here's someone who did get the tap on the shoulder letting him know that his time was almost up, and what did he do? Apparently, he went sailing a lot. Of course, he had a few other things on his plate (like, oh, I don't know, trying to create a system where all his fellow Americans would have decent, affordable health care - you know, little to-do items to cross off the list), but still, he made it a priority to continue with this simple pastime that he loved, something he'd done all his life, in the same waters he'd always known (in, may I point out, a truly gorgeous sailboat). He didn't feel the need to go out in search of new and bigger and more exotic adventures. He knew he had a certain amount of time left, and he just went on doing what had always made him happy.

{Antique botanical prints of "General Jacqueminot" rose, "Baroness Rothschild" rose, "Safrano" tea rose, and "Monthly" rose available from Lyons Ltd; bottom: Ted Kennedy's Mya}

Friday, August 28, 2009

6 days in NM: day 6

We had a split decision on the merits of the last supper in New Mexico (dinner at Antonio's in Taos), and since mine was the nay vote, and it's my blog, I'm going to draw a tactful curtain over what I felt was a sub-par meal.

So my final thoughts on New Mexico aren't on the food (!!), but instead on the landscape. Coming from New England, I'm always amazed at the sheer vastness, and the palette, and the quality of the light in the West - and those mountains.

We got up early on Tuesday morning, while it was still pitch black, and drove the two hours to Albuquerque to catch our flight home. The drive was so lovely, with the light gradually emerging, a pink glow spreading over all the desert, and dense pillows of fog trapped along the base of the mountains. Despite my deep and absolute loathing of having to get up before dawn, I must admit that it was worth it.

The day before, we drove outside of Taos a little ways, and caught some beautiful vistas as the light came in under the clouds (the first and only cloudy day!). Hope you like.

Monday, August 24, 2009

6 days in NM: day 5 - Chimayo

On the drive to Taos, we stopped at Chimayo to see the shrine and the sacred dirt, which was being avidly scooped up by believers.

The church itself is lovely - very rustic and rough. Nearby is a spot with the stations of the cross arranged to create a sort of mini-pilgrimage, and each has been decorated by visitors with handmade crosses, strings of Christmas lights, icons, and prayers.

Along one wall of the compound were some newer mosaics. I know it's sacrilegious, but this particular one looked so much like the South Park Jesus that I had to document it.

6 days in NM: days 5+6 - a referendum

Apparently, the state motto of New Mexico is Crescit Eundo, or "Grow As It Grows."

Bor-ing. I have a much better suggestion: "Smothered in Green Chile."

It seems as if pretty much every restaurant serving New Mexican food uses the word "smothered" on the menu when it comes to chile. This translates into a platter of some astonishingly delicious food which looks a mess and tastes like heaven.

For instance, in addition to the Los Potrillos breakfast described earlier, there was lunch on Sunday at JoAnn's in Espanola, across the way from the Rock Christian Fellowship. I had pork tamales (my goodness, I love tamales) with rice and beans and a blanket of green chile, along with sopaipillas that didn't quite match up to The Pantry's.

Then, dinner last night at Joseph's Table here in Taos, where it was too dark to document my beet, goat cheese and pinon salad, or my buffalo cheeseburger with green chile, both of which were wonderful. (By the by, I believe that was my first buffalo meal, though I may have tasted it during my foodie mag days back in the '90s.)

And then there was breakfast today, at Taos Diner, a restaurant to which I give a big stamp of approval: scrambled eggs with chorizo, positively smothered in green chile, served with potatoes and fresh flour tortilla. If I lived in Taos, I would eat here - a lot.

And there's a convenient pawn shop next door, in case you're in desperate need of green chile but are short on cash.

I'll be starting an online petition regarding the new state motto. Keep your eyes peeled.