Monday, June 22, 2009

avoiding the "Well, how did I get here?" syndrome

Maybe because it's my favorite genre these days, but I've been hearing a lot of "I was successful but unhappy so I quit my job to follow my dream" stories. The lovely thing about these stories is that no matter how insane the decision looks on paper (i.e., bagging enormously lucrative advertising job complete with fat expense account and prime corner office to enroll in cooking school in the hopes of working 60 hours a week as a line cook, making $15k/yr salary while getting yelled at by Chef), no one ever seems to regret taking this step.

I've done Part One of this process - I quit the hateful job that was making me a miserable slug - but I'm still working on Part Two - figuring out my dream, and going for it. (Though sometimes I worry that, actually, I've found my dream, and it involves lots of reading, traveling, hanging out, and going to the movies, none of which seem to be paying much these days.) Over the past couple of months, however, I've been connecting a lot of dots and feel (finally!!) that I'm moving forward - still not quite sure toward what, but it does feel like progress of a sort. I've been tentatively thinking about making some sort of career as a writer, and I'm not talking press releases and PowerPoint. I've received a lot of support from various corners, and I'm at a point in my life where I can actually hear the encouraging words and not discount them as I would have in the past ("Oh, that's nice of her to say that about my writing, but really, anyone could do it"; or "Well, okay, so what I wrote isn't half bad, but what are the odds I could actually get published?"). Also, I have plenty of role models right now.

For example. Last week, during what was supposed to be a business-type meeting (I say "business-type" because I no longer have actual hard-core business meetings, thank you very much), David and I digressed into a major discussion of "Vocation, Finding one's." David has the classic narrative of the genre: turned his back on a big-shot career as a commercial photographer, went to film school, and ultimately found his calling as an artist, creating intimate, powerful works that connect deeply with their audience. I get the sense that he sees his work and his path very clearly, and the joy and self-confidence and contentment that he radiates are so strong, he can't help but inspire those of us still flailing about in the murky depths.

It takes a lot of courage and faith, I believe, to make such a drastic change, and getting past the fear of what others will think is one of the biggest challenges. After all, following a dream along these lines usually means freaking someone out - a parent, a spouse, a lending institution. A few years back, as one of the many, many, many things I did to try to figure out my life, I went on an Outward Bound sea-kayak trip in the Sea of Cortez - 10 days of paddling around, sleeping on beaches, and (rather to my surprise) organized soul-searching. I didn't delve into the "sharing" as much as I probably should have (not my cup of tea, though I applaud those who went all out and shared like mad), but there were still some deeply resonant moments. At one point, one of the trip leaders read us a list of qualities you need in order to find and follow your own path, and there was one that, for me, rose above self-help treacle: "You must have the courage to disappoint the ones you love." Yowza.

Perhaps one of the reasons it's been so difficult for me to find my path is that there's constantly been a checklist of people I feel I must please, people whose voices I can hear whenever I'm making a big (or even semi-big) decision. It's bad enough when these people are criticizing me inside my head; if one of them questions my choices in real life, I get flustered, and it's difficult for me to stay centered on my (typically wishy-washy) convictions. Nowadays, however, I do feel I'm better equipped to disconcert friends and family with my crazy schemes ("I'm going to Mexico on Sunday!") without getting knocked off track, and I'm less worried about making mistakes and getting a load of "I told you so" down the road.

Because, Dear Readers, if I've learned one thing and one thing only during this process, it's that the big risk doesn't lie in recklessly chasing the dreams of your heart (even the vague and indistinct ones); the big risk is sticking to the safe, easy, well-trod path and realizing much later that you missed out, and then there you are, sitting up late at night, nursing a scotch and listening over and over to Miss Peggy Lee sum it all up for you.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

New York's newest-latest hotspot

OK, ignoring the fact that I saw a very big and very speedy rat the other night, running up the stairs from the subway toward me, I've been having a great time in New York the past couple of weeks. I'm loving "my" Harlem apartment, I'm getting stuff done, and I'm having all sorts of fun social events. And I can avoid the things that were making me miserable a year ago, before I threw in the proverbial towel: crowds of commuters, long late-night waits on grungy subway platforms, my dreary basement office, my job.

Plus, I don't have to lug. I loathe lugging. Trudging home from the grocery store, lugging three or four heavy bags, climbing up the endless stairs to my walk-up apartment - let's just say that at those moments, my life didn't much resemble my childhood visions of life in New York, visions I mainly based on the various glossy white hotel rooms in the Ginger Rogers / Fred Astaire movies. (May I please at least sleep in that bed at some point in my life, even if I never own it?)

My life will never have the glamour quotient of a Ginger Rogers bedtime ensemble, but these days, at least I can travel light: wallet, phone, lipstick, keys, magazine, camera. And instead of rushing to and fro, I can wander, if I like, and let the serendipity factor kick in.

For instance, after our uni extravaganza the other night, Nicole and I ambled over toward the Hudson and found ourselves at one of the entrances to the newly opened High Line. Up we went, and proceeded to be completely undone by the gorgeousness of the setting, the landscaping, the design, the views, The Standard (please may I get drinks here very very soon? and maybe move in?). The High Line is a unique urban space/event that has been instantly embraced by New Yorkers always on the lookout for a new outdoor playground. It's like The Gates, only permanent, and without Jeanne-Claude and her wack hairdo.

It's also quite the mini architecture tour. Along with The Standard, you've got Frank Gehry's building on West 18th, a pair of crazy glow-in-the-dark townhouses, the cool pair of new buildings on West 23rd - and apparently more to come.

I was also struck by the lighting on the High Line; the various ways the plantings, benches, and views were illuminated (or not) was quite fascinating in and of itself.

We sat around for a while, doing some serious people-watching (by which I mean, of course, that we made snide comments about various passers-by, like the couple with the matching frizzy gray nimbuses of hair, straight out of an Edward Koren cartoon). Of the woman in the worst of the unfortunate Friday-night-in-the-Meatpacking-District outfits, Nicole had one word: "Strumpet."

The War of the Worlds, 2009

ANNOUNCER: Wait a minute, the — the enemy's now in sight above the Palisades: five — five great machines. First one is crossing the river. I can see it from here, wading — wading the Hudson like a man wading through a brook.... Now the first machine reaches the shore. He stands watching, looking over the city. His steel, cowlish head is even with the skyscrapers. He waits for the others.

— Orson Welles, "The War of the Worlds," Mercury Theatre Original Radio Broadcast, October 30, 1938

{pic: The Standard Hotel, at the High Line, Chelsea, NYC}

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

it's just too good to be true...

...and yet it's true.

You know when you've got a situation that just seems dreadful - where you're so uncomfortable, or frightened, or doomed - and then a ray of light pierces the clouds and you come out on top?

Well, let me give you a couple examples.

As I've already mentioned not once but twice in my short blogging career, I do not like being stuck behind slow-moving people on a city sidewalk. In one such incident a couple years back, I could not get around two teenage girls who were meandering along, holding up the droves of busy New York pedestrians (i.e., me) who were actually trying to get somewhere. I finally managed to squeak past, brushing up against one of them as I did so. She got huffy, and did that snarky gasp thing that teenage girls do when they're implying that they've been grievously wronged. I thought, "Just keep moving, Siobhan; don't engage."

But then: Junior Miss said, in classic teenage-girl bitchy voice, "Um, hello? There's a word? It's 'Excuse me'?"

I couldn't resist. I turned around and said, "That's two words."

That's what I'm talking about. This could have been an irritating situation that put me in a bad mood for the entire day, and instead, here I am years later, still chortling over it.

The impetus for this little reminiscence was an email I got yesterday, from a man I briefly dated a while back. We had a terrible fight - well, actually, we had an ugly scene where he told me all my faults and issues and shortcomings, and I left. That was five months ago, no contact since then, no need to ever speak again, let's all just move on.

I get an email from him yesterday morning, out of the clear blue sky, that was basically a continuation of his rant. As Liz Lemon would say, "What the what?" I was so pissed and upset, and getting ready to stew over it all day, and then I re-read it, and out shone that ray of light I mentioned above.

One of the various shortcomings he assigned to me, living in Crazy Land as he does, is that I apparently boast and brag about being smart (as if!!). Part of his email yesterday was to let me know that I'm not as smart as I think I am.

And then the last line of his email (and I kid you not):

"I am smarter then you."

{brief pause to let my sweet, sweet triumph sink in}

Okay, so I know I can't reply to the email, especially when he's clearly crazier than I suspected and I don't want to push him over the edge, but oh how I want to send just one little line:

"It's 'smarter than you,' Genius Boy."

Instead, I will savor my karmic victory by sharing it with you.

"Giselle, c'est moi"

Jocelyn invited me to what was apparently the ballet event of the season. Since I used to work in the ballet world (if I were to write a memoir of my time in that job, it would be called "Kooks & Freaks: My Life in Dance"), and I know how the inhabitants of that world can work themselves up into a grand tizzy in no time flat (it's just ballet, people), I take any grand pronouncement like this with mountains of grains of salt. However, the performance did sound exciting, for several reasons:

1. It was Giselle, and I've been a sucker for Giselle since I was a kid (the photos here are of the lovely Yvette Chauviré);
2. It was Saturday night at the Met, which is always a bit of a thrill;
3. The leads were to be danced by Natalia Osipova, the newest latest ballet It Girl, and David Hallberg, who is a prince among men, and therefore quite convincing in the princely roles.

So off we went, and, I must admit, it was pretty incredible. That Osipova (is not "Osipova" the perfect name for a Russian ballerina? Osipova, Osipova, Osipova - like out of an Edward Gorey book) is really something, as they say. Her jumps are incredibly high, but have that floaty look that is so captivating, and so rare. She might be jumping as high as a man, but you never see the effort; she's a dancer, not a gymnast. When she was doing the bounce series in Act 2 - boinging as if on a trampoline - she looked utterly relaxed and unchallenged, as if she were just hanging out with the Wilis, bouncing bouncing bouncing. I wouldn't have been surprised if she'd pulled out a nail file and started in on her manicure. Osipova had clearly thought through the role, and chosen an interpretation, and (for me) fully created the poor peasant girl who dies of a broken heart, then comes back as a ghost to save the man who betrayed her, who's gotten himself into trouble with the Wilis.

Speaking of the Wilis (the ghosts of women who were betrayed by their fiancés), Veronika Part in the role of the queen, Myrta, was supremely icy. Albrecht wasn't getting any pity from her, that's for sure - she barely even looked at him. And poor Hilarion (I always feel bad for this guy: he truly loves Giselle, wants to marry her, gets dumped when she hooks up with the two-timing Albrecht, and yet he's the one who gets danced to death by the Wilis): Part actually looked as if she were smiling contemptuously when she turned her back on him as he begged for his life.

Hallberg, too, gave a fully thought-out performance. His Albrecht was less of a cad, and more of a young man who is impetuously courting Giselle out of his infatuation for her, despite the fact that he's already engaged to that gorgeous gal in the red gown and darling chapeau. I got the feeling that a conversation with this Albrecht after the fact would have been something like,

"Albrecht, you dolt, did you really think you could get away with being engaged to two women at once? What were you thinking???"

"Um, I don't know.... I wasn't thinking, I guess."

"Well, you blew it, big time."

The above exchange (between me and Albrecht) reveals one of my lifelong ballet activities: making up dialogue and soliloquies for the dancers onstage. I can talk you through all of Swan Lake, Giselle, Beauty, Midsummer... I started doing it as a kid, to tide myself over during boring (to me) stretches of the story ballets (you know, peasant pas de deux, or national dances, or the ever-terrifying pas de trois), and now it's kind of a habit. In case you're really worried, I do keep all this to myself. It was irritating enough on Saturday night when the guy next to me was humming along to the score; I don't think anyone wants to hear my running commentary, though I imagine it would be very calm and stately and quiet, almost whispered, like the golf sportscasters when the guy is lining up his make-or-break 20-foot putt.

PS: The final photo here reminds me of a note the Paris Opera people sent to an American tour presenter, after reviewing some promotional materials in which the photos had been rather aggressively cropped: "Please not to cut the pretty feet."

Sunday, June 14, 2009

an ode to uni, among other things

My year off (and counting) has of course been about deep introspection and spiritual growth and achieving a new plane of consciousness. On a less rarefied level, being at loose ends also means I can accept nearly any invitation lobbed my way, whether for a long late lunch on a Friday, my nephew's ninth birthday party (midweek, Connecticut, 6pm - no way could I have made this in past years), or, perhaps, an extended stay in Paris.

Right now, thanks to the generosity a pair of traveling friends, I'm happily ensconced in a lovely, comfortable apartment in Harlem, listening to Vijay Iyer, type-type-typing away, and being distracted by the view (as seen in the photo above). The past couple of days have been quite social - dinners, an extended wine-filled lunch, a farewell party, ballet, a book reading, dates at various drinking establishments; I've caught up with a veritable flock of friends, chatted like mad, and had some delicious food, too.

My Friday lunch was with Pia, who's moving to DC for a job at Politico. Pia might in fact be the only person in the entire country who has just landed a job in journalism. We were meeting at Resto, near Madison Square Park, so I walked down from Grand Central. I was apparently invisible during that walk, as people kept plowing into me, and I was almost creamed by a Lexus with Jersey plates (a deadly combination). I was peevish and hot when I got to the restaurant, and then, as I walked in, water from the a/c unit dripped on my head. I hate being dripped on in New York; in the summer, you can probably assume it's just condensation from an air-conditioner, but really, you can never be sure. The drip was steady and dead center in the doorway, which I pointed out to the host, who said, "It's just condensation from the air-conditioner," and I gave him A Look and said, "It's a drip in the middle of your doorway." Then, to myself: "Let it go, Siobhan."

At any rate, Resto is a very handsome restaurant, and we had a good (not great) lunch of salad and big pots of mussels, accompanied by a bottle of Spanish rosé. The biggest thrill for me was the fresh mayo that came with the fries.

Just a couple hours later, having barely digested anything, I met Nicole at El Quinto Pino on West 24th. Last summer, on one of the hottest days of the year, she and I put away far too many frozen gin-basil lemonades (basically, lethal Slurpies), and with hot weather sort of here, it seemed time to kick off the summer with a somewhat less suicidal reprise (i.e., two rounds, not seven). El QP is a tiny spot, with tiny tapas that are, in my experience, consistently delicious. In fact, if I were to make a list of Top Ten NYC Restaurant Dishes (sort of a desert island list, if one could order take-out on a desert island), El QP's uni panino would be right up there. Skinny baguette with butter, mustard oil, and slathers of uni, pressed, and served hot slipped into a paper bag. Oh, mama. I've been known to order seconds. I think what I really love about it is that you get so much uni - not just the one or two pieces you might have at your favorite sushi joint. And I do love uni. A chef friend in Los Angeles who was similarly obsessed said that, for him, uni is the essence of the sea.

Actually, I think he said that eating huitlacoche was like eating the earth, and eating uni was like eating the ocean, but that sounds kind of horrifying to me, so I've prettified his language a bit, whilst retaining the sentiment, with which I wholeheartedly agree.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

my very own house of mirth

"That was the feeling which possessed her now - the feeling of being something rootless and ephemeral, mere spindrift on the whirling surface of existence, without anything to which the poor little tentacles of self could cling before the awful flood submerged them again. ...[The] old life-hunger possessed her, and all her being clamored for its share of personal happiness. Yes - it was happiness she still wanted, and the glimpse she had caught of it made everything else of no account."

Among the slew of things I'm trying to figure out about my life is how to distinguish what I'm good at from what I like. I've always tended to gravitate toward what is easy for me - in school, in jobs, in general - with the result that I often don't get much sense of accomplishment from my achievements, even if I'm praised for them, because to me, they're no big deal. (A couple of times, when I've been really adrift, I've ended up in a job that I not only don't like, but I'm not good at, either. Those were the lost years.)

Ideally, of course, I want to figure out where the overlap is between "things I'm good at" and "things I like," so I can start living that fuller, richer life I keep talking about - you know, the one that is so emotionally and intellectually rewarding, with depth and luster and perhaps even resonance, and where I can talk to the animals. It would also be pleasant if my vocation-to-be actually paid something, since I've found I enjoy having money in the bank - something I'd imagined would be a given by this point in my life, considering I've had good jobs and have not blown wads of cash on Manolos or sports cars or five-star vacations. That's the way it was supposed to work, right? Work hard, get rewarded, find your situation growing more secure and stable as the years go on. Instead, I get my annual Social Security statement, and the chart of my lifetime income by year looks like the Great Pyramid.

Sometime in the past few years, I started to feel a bit like Lily Bart, slowly descending into the straitened circumstances of genteel poverty, and fearing a sudden tip into financial failure. (I know: dramatic, right?) I've actually been afraid to look at House of Mirth for a long time since, in my memory, it hit pretty close to home. Today, I picked it up again, and guess what? It's a bull's-eye.

Lily Bart has no fortune and no way to support herself, so she must marry. Her doom lies partly in the fact that she feels herself to be better than her circumstances, and she rejects each of her suitors in turn. Each has a fatal flaw: too vulgar, too weak, too crooked, too tradition-bound, too patronizing. Lily always thinks that she will find some other way of living that aligns with her sensibilities, but ultimately, she runs out of options, her charms fade, and she dies in her sordid little room, either an accidental or deliberate overdose.

Cheery, isn't it?

For me (and I would hope for most women in this day and age), replace "suitors" with "jobs." I can pretty much put each of my jobs and/or bosses into those fatal-flaw categories, and I tended to focus on those flaws in the same way that Lily did. Problem is, like Lily, I couldn't really afford such fine feelings, yet my o'erweening pride made it impossible for me to just put my head down and do my work. Instead, I butted heads with the best of them, and painted myself into corner after corner. Needless to say, I've bounced around quite a bit. My reasons for leaving a job are often pretty thin: basically, I get fed up, some new job comes a-courtin', the novelty and ego-boost are irresistible, and off I go. Rinse, repeat.

Thanks to a bit of a windfall, I broke this cycle last spring: I got rid of my pressing debts, put some money in the bank, and quit what was hopefully the last of the soul-crushing jobs. Now, I'm so resistant to the idea of getting back into that grind that just looking at the job listings can send me over the edge. I think what has crystallized for me over the past few months is this: I don't want to start this next phase of my life by first finding a job, and then fitting the rest of my life around that job. I can see myself right back where I was: scraping by in New York, fretting about bills, hating Sunday night. Not quite as dire a situation as Lily Bart's, but still.

Instead, I want to start this journey by figuring out how to be happy, and then building a life that is in service to that happiness. If nothing else, this gives me a framework of sorts in which to think about my wide-open future; it has been overwhelming, honestly, to have a completely blank page in front of me.

It's not exactly an ambitious career plan, and it's probably not too original a concept (I gather it's pretty well covered by a long line of philosophers and self-help books), but for me, at this point in my life, it's a major revelation.

painting: "Mrs. Charles E. Inches," by John Singer Sargent

Monday, June 8, 2009

it's not Paris, but still...

After leaving my college town last Wednesday afternoon, I drove through lovely countryside (with Classic Vinyl blasting away) to northwestern Connecticut, where I had a date with yet another long-lost friend. Rachael and I were so close in college, and afterwards we kept in touch for a few years, but we were never living near each other till now, and we're both terrible about corresponding and making phone calls, so we hadn't seen each other in what we estimate to be about 15 years. But since I'm on this jaunt of stirring up the murky depths and so forth, trying to figure out what makes me tick, I was hoping that spending time with someone who had been so important to me in my past would help me knit the pieces together. Plus, she's a gem.

I knew that we would have a great time catching up and chatting, but I would have thought that, after all these years, we might not have known each so well any more, especially since one assumes that one has grown and changed since college, doesn't one? Instead (maybe because Rachael looks exactly the same as she did in college), it felt almost as if no time at all had gone by; we were instantly so deep in conversation that anyone looking in from the outside would have assumed we'd just seen each other a day or so ago. Even though the particulars of our lives are very different, it seems as if we are each asking the same questions, and we each seemed to understand what the other is going through and could offer perspective and advice. I can only hope that my input was as helpful to Rachael as hers was to me.

I've always thought of myself as fairly reserved and buttoned up (and I'd love to think I'm mysterious), but Rachael can see right through me. That's not always the most comfortable feeling, but one I have tried to learn to bear - to sit through the discomfort, rather than saying, "But enough about me! I love your shoes!" (You can only imagine how exposed this blog makes me feel at times.) Rachael's squirmingly insightful observations helped give me a better sense of where the continuity has been in my life, what parts of me are true and constant, and where I've shifted away from that plumb line in directions that are perhaps not right for me. Then there are those ways in which I've consistently sabotaged myself - those are some constants I'd like smash once and for all.

My overnight stay was made even more restorative by the locale. Rachael and her family live in the most beautiful area: a school campus that is about as gorgeous as it gets, especially this time of year. There's a lake, and beautiful grounds, and hiking trails, and it's so quiet (apparently, that's not the case during the school year, but I arrived the very day the students left, so it was rather idyllic).

There's a chance I'll spend some time up there this summer, which will be a perfect opportunity to try out the Thoreau approach to life (you know: solitude, lake, nature, notebook [and/or laptop], and Deep Thoughts). I'm feeling more and more like I'm not a city girl any more, at least not for now, but leaving behind the city and my friends and connections and family is a big step, so an out-of-town tryout could be just the ticket.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

(trying to) take it easy

Last week, I met my friend J. for lunch in Washington Square Park, which is slooooooooowly coming out of its interminable renovation. Parts of it are so lovely now, and I was looking forward to grabbing lunch from the Dosa Man and parking on a bench for a good long chat.

It was one of my first trips to NYC since my return from Paris, and the city really had it in for me: New York and I are just not getting along these days. On the plus side, the Dosa Man was great - not only was the Man himself friendly and charming, but the food was fab, and blissfully cheap.

On the debit side: how could I forget what a crazy magnet Wash Sq Park is? I know some of you non-New Yorkers are thinking, Wait, isn't New York in and of itself a crazy magnet? Well, yes, of course, but there's crazy, and then there's crazy. Like the guy sitting very still on a bench, letting literally dozens of pigeons roost on him and climb over him and do god knows what (*shudder*). Or the guy in fatigues, sitting very stiffly on a bench, rocking a bit from side to side, tapping his feet rapidly, and muttering, and from time to time jumping up and spitting fulsomely and at great length into the trashcan. It's hard to enjoy a pile of delicious-but-not-very-attractive Indian food in the midst of such graphic disgustingness.

And then it started to rain.

But we're tough city folk, J. and I, so we persevered. I had some more Paris stories to tell, along with a bag of chocolate-covered pralined almonds to bequeath, and J. had very encouraging news about his job search.

Now, when fellow out-of-workers tell me about their diligent and productive efforts to find work, I tend to have a series of painful twinges. My thought process goes something like this:

1. "Wow, that sounds like a great job."
2. "{Insert friend's name here} is really organized and motivated."
3. "I bet he/she will find something really soon."
4. "I wonder if I should be looking for a job."
5. "Ohmigod, what am I doing with my life???"

Zero to sixty in 3.2 seconds, max.

This time, however (maybe due to jet lag), I didn't stomp on the panic accelerator. I just thought, "That sounds like a great job, I hope J. gets it, maybe I'll have another chocolate almond."

This is either progress (i.e., I'm not letting others' ambitions determine what is right for me), or a serious problem (i.e., I'm deluded in thinking I can continue to coast along like this, or I'm too insecure to even look for a job, or I'm so lost and adrift that I don't even know where to start, or I'm lazier than even I thought). Either way, I was relieved not to be spinning out into a state of anxiety that would typically last several days.

You know, I think I'll consider that progress.

Friday, June 5, 2009


I might not have been flooded with nostalgia during my stroll around my college campus, but I'll tell you, the First Wave XM Satellite radio station I listened to in my Pontiac Vibe on the road trip: now that was some serious nostalgia.

I was an "early adopter" of new wave music, back in my sullen junior high years, thanks to "92.7, WLIR: Long Island Radio!", and my musical choices pretty much determined my group of friends in my experimental-hairstyle high school years. It was all about music for us, and our triumverate of musical gods was, at least for a time, Joe Strummer, Ian McCulloch, and Paul Weller (clearly, we had a thing for the Brits).

So XM Satellite radio: Why didn't anyone tell me? It's so perfect for road trips - every single song was familiar, I knew all the lyrics, and I sang along very loudly for basically seven hours, altogether. Sadly, I did find that (perhaps not surprisingly to some of you), a lot of that music just doesn't hold up. Some of it was just so tinny, and then I couldn't get behind "Shock the Monkey," for example, or "Synchronicity II" - just too odd. (Then again, I was completely into "Girlfriend in a Coma," despite its absurdity - Morrissey with a girlfriend??)

Also, as I remember from my college DJ days, I just do not like when a song fades out instead of coming to an end. I mean, really: are there other works of art that just trail off? Novels that finish up with dot-dot-dot in the middle of a chapter, or paintings that just kind of peter out on the edges?

Then there were songs that I scorned back in my super-scornful teen years, but that now I find completely irresistible, such as "Don't You Want Me" and "Hungry Like the Wolf" - I nearly had a panic attack when the satellite signal faded out during this one.

And then there are the ones that I loved back then, and that I love now: "Should I Stay or Should I Go Now," "Boy Meets Girl," "Since You're Gone," "Tempted," "Major Tom," "Tainted Love," "You Drive Me Crazy," "Love Will Tear Us Apart" (OMG, I love this song soooo much) - I was in flashback music heaven. And anything by The Cure or Siouxsie took me right back to The Café, where we went dancing when I was in high school, and where our fellow high school student Moby was often the DJ.

When First Wave cued up something I just couldn't get behind, some song that's nothing but spikey hair and a drum machine, I'd switch over to Classic Vinyl and provide solid harmonic accompaniment to such gems as "Rocket Man," "Aqualung," "Riders on the Storm," "Crosstown Traffic," "19th Nervous Breakdown," "Baba O'Riley," and "Oh You Pretty Things."

I am now thinking of buying a car, mainly so I can drive around listening to satellite radio.

the old college try, try again

Wednesday morning, I picked up a rental car (a Pontiac Vibe, a vehicle that makes one wonder why anyone would bail out the American auto industry) and made my way north to Massachusetts, to my alma mater. I was up there a year ago, for just a day, but that was for a job interview, and so not the occasion for looking back. This time, I was planning to peer bravely into the murky depths. Or whatever.

The town has, of course, like seemingly all charming small towns, changed dramatically. There's a whole strip of shopping centers, replacing such venerable institutions as Stan the Vegetable Man, and lots of those brand-new generic brick storefronts that, in their blandness, make for a depressing streetscape. However, it's a town that cares about food and coffee and books, so it's still a good place for an afternoon wander.

As I drove up into Massachusetts, I was surprisingly nervous. When I look back on my college self, I see someone watching the party nervously from the sidelines, trying to figure out all the steps before jumping in, and then just copying what everyone else is doing. In other words, not the most compelling person. I'm curious now about what others saw in me, especially those who I admire, and who, I realize from my archival diggings, cared about me in return - there must have been something there, right? So I had made a date to see a former professor, someone I was close with a long time ago, but who I hadn't spoken to in about 20 years.

I had been trying very hard not to have any expectations (someone I know refers to expectations as "future disappointments"). I mean, it would be great to have this cosmic-level connection with someone from my past, someone who could fill me in on the blank spots in my memory and tell me all about myself and, to top it off, advise me what to do next. But there was a strong possibility that my professor was just accommodating a request from an alum, and that we'd chat a bit over lunch, talk about mutual friends, and then he'd say, "Great to see you, keep in touch!"

As it so often is, the reality was somewhere in between. At times, I felt I was an amnesia victim, trying to rebuild my memory: "And then what did I do next? And who told me that? And what did you say to me then?" At other times, our conversation would pull a trigger for me, and the past came rushing in with such strength that I felt I was right back in the emotional turmoil of a confused and somewhat terrified teenage girl. It was one of those experiences that makes you truly, intuitively understand that time is not a straight line, and that it doesn't always go forward.

Tom and I spent a few hours together, having lunch (in a great French bistro! yay, French food!), and then wandering around campus. As with many New England schools, the campus is ridiculously beautiful, especially on a pearl-gray June day; you expect to see the Chariots of Fire guys go running past, or maybe Gene shaking Phineas down from a tree. It's changed a lot, and, to be honest, it's not as if there were many spots I felt particularly attached to in the first place, so it wasn't too sickeningly nostalgic, nor did I whip out my checkbook and donate a new wing to the library out of love and pride for the alma mater.

But still, I did get a lot out of the afternoon, I think. It's all slowly sinking in (I typically have to let things settle and ferment a bit before I get the gist), and I'll keep you posted on any insights or revelations. Right now, it seems I'm mostly trying to connect different periods of my life. Looking back, I feel as if each section of my life (childhood, college, L.A., NYC) is completely separate from the others, and the person (me) is completely different each time around. It's helping to dredge up these old memories and have them not be some cold dead history lesson, but instead something that envelops me in old emotions, loves, fears, hopes.

Maybe I'm hoping for some kind of synthesis, some way of fitting together my various incomplete selves. At the very least, it would be nice to fill in some of the blanks, so as not to feel as if I'm in a less-tattooed version of Memento.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Nancy Drew lives!

I'm being very Investigative Journalist right now, picking through my past to try to figure out how I ended up in this particular spot. The day after I got back from Paris, as I lounged about in that gorgeously deep melancholy that apparently only Paris can produce, I found a big pile of papers from my high school and college years that have been sitting up in my parents' attic, and, insanely, I thought, "This seems like a good time to glance through some old stuff, reminisce a bit, take a look at my past." Twenty minutes later, I was in full-on breakdown mode, crying my little eyes out.

Here's what happened, I think. The person described in these stacks of letters written to me, transcripts and recommendations written about me, and journals, papers, and stories written by me, was so foreign, so far away from who I am now. That person was going places, impressing people left and right, being encouraged and lauded and pushed. And it's as if, at the time, I couldn't hear any of it, couldn't believe any of it. None of it made an impression on me, somehow. So my reaction now was partly, "What the hell is all this stuff?", partly "Huh - who knew?", partly "Hey, check me out!" - and mostly a giant wave of regret and disbelief, an emotion that would be perfectly captured on screen by Nicholas Cage falling to his knees and raging at the heavens: "Dammit, what happened to the promise?!"

Once I scraped myself off the ceiling and unsmudged my mascara, I looked through it all again, trying this time to learn something helpful from my vicious time capsule, something other than, "Wow, I really fucked up." OK, so I couldn't hear the praise and encouragement back then, couldn't lean on the support offered to me - I can try to absorb it all now, and use it in my attempts to figure out the next stage of my life.

Also, looking back over the letters and journals, I was so regretful that I'd let close friends slip away. I mean, I'm basically not in touch with anyone from college, and I loved those people. College itself, not so much - but my friends, absolutely. Thanks to the glories of Google and Facebook, I instantly tracked down a few of my college friends, who I haven't spoken with in 15 years or more (oh, god, yikes). The main reason, of course, was to try to re-establish those friendships, but selfishly, I also felt like I needed to learn more about who I was back then, what people saw in me, what I felt. What better way than to drag a few poor souls into my morass.

Next: Find out what happens when Siobhan reconnects with two former friends, in person...

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

here there be dragons

I recently had a lovely and very rewarding experience with blogging, during an extended stay in Paris (it was long enough to be a sort-of staycation, only not at home, so I feel very on-trend). Since I've been back in the States, I've found that I've missed blogging - missed the writing, the photos, the coming-up-with-ideas, the responses and comments. So I'm re-entering the arena, with a less focused, more open-ended structure this time around.

One year ago, I sold my apartment and quit my job (both in NYC), after realizing that I was miserable and stuck. Since then, I've been alternately doing exciting, adventurous things (the trip to Paris, two months in Mexico learning Spanish), and doing not much of anything (a bit of freelancing, a lot of lunches with friends, a lot of reading).

I tell people that I'm soul-searching and struggling to figure out what's next. I tell myself, on a good day, that I'm bravely facing the big questions, refusing to just coast along, refusing to be satisfied with a certain level of happiness, a certain level of accomplishment, a certain level of self-awareness. That I'm clearing my own path, disregarding the influence of what my friends and family have chosen for themselves, and would choose for me. That I'm able to disappoint others to find out what is right for me, and go for it.

On a bad day, I wonder if I'm just lazy and unambitious.

While it's great to be home in the middle of the day to watch as much French Open as I like, I am also aware that this is not a tenable existence, that at some point, I will have to come up with a better plan, whether the impetus is boredom, dire financial situation, or sheer existential panic.

One subject that I've been mulling, as many of us do at this point in our lives, is how I ended up where I am. When I look back on my adult life, it feels as if I just let things unfold, rather than making choices and plans. This has had a definite upside (I doubt I would have lived in L.A. [which I now love] for almost a decade if I'd made a five-year plan after college), but it of course has had a lot of downside as well, especially in the career zone.

So now, after a year of mulling and soul-searching and all that jazz, I feel it's time to take charge of my future, more or less. (How's that for a ringing, bold rally cry?) Hence the blog: I used to write a lot, and not work stuff, but my own stuff. Over the years, however, I lost this habit and, with it, the one way I've seen to get out of nine-to-five and lead a richer, more rewarding life.

This blog, hopefully, will not only document this in-between time in my life, but will help me move on to whatever is next.