Nearly a year ago, caught in the middle of the hardest mindfuck I'd
ever endured up till that point, I got drunk in a small Canadian town
and took a dumb leap of faith. I told a woman I barely knew the
biggest, heaviest secret I carried. (It was, in truth, not such a big
deal. But I have so few secrets that it felt enormous.)

In the immediate aftermath, I was horrified. That night, I was
surrounded by people whom I'd known much longer and better than I knew
that woman - people who would seem to have had a much better claim on
the status of my sudden confidante. But the bar was noisy, dark and
crowded; I'd had a few cocktails; my inhibitions were down and I
suddenly went with my gut feeling. It was something I almost never

She, in turn, revealed a few things to me. And so, a friendship began,
in tumbled whispershouts against the background din of other people's
laughter; on a furtive, madly giggling walk through a skin-searingly
cold northern night; with a sigh of relief and a smile of abject

I've always had a reverent view of this sort of female friendship.
Perhaps because it is so hard to come by - REAL female friendship, I
mean. Not frolicsome and fickle sorority "sisterhood"; not attachments
of shifting mutual convenience; not sticky gossip mills and subtly
intra-vampiric "support groups."

I guess I am trying to say, it's hard to find a girl who will tell you
that you look fat in that skirt; but without making you FEEL fat; with
an immediate suggestion for an outfit that you WILL look great in; and
without ever rejoicing in her momentary superiority to you.

You can have wonderful male friends; and, heck, you can have a great
time at sorority parties. But, to me, there is nothing like the energy
of meaningful female interaction. And I've only felt that energy a few
times in my life.

It's something to be cherished and recognized as rare and precious.
Even if it comes to an end, it should be treated with respect and
dignity. And if it merely hits a snag - as all relationships do -
attempt to get through it. If you fucked up - done something
questionable, wrong, even ugly - fess up, talk about it, and just be
honest. One of the miracles of the female soul is its deep capacity
for compassion. Trust yourself and the remarkable women in your life,
that honesty and compassion will prevail over almost any drama.

I've had a few wonderful days lately. Hell, I've had a couple of
incredible years lately (in a very personal sense). I've seen and done
more - and become more - than I could ever have imagined a few years
ago. And the best of it has been with the help of a few amazing women
I've met along the way. Amazing women who encouraged and enabled me,
and, perhaps most importantly, gave me permission to tell myself (and
the world) that, while I may not be perfect, I'm sure as hell not
broken. And they gave me that permission freely and generously, merely
by being that light they wished to see in the world.

I so often feel grateful to these women who made a real, cognizable
and extraordinarily valuable difference in my life. I almost never say
anything. I don't even know if they realize it. But, whether they read
this or not, it's how I feel.

Love you, my bitchez :)


For the last few days (maybe weeks), the universe has been smiling at me.

And I'm finally able to smile back.

And however long this feeling lasts, I'm just going to be thankful . . . and keep smiling.



It's a chilly, dreary, grey day. An endless rain comes down on New York, as if on cue. Completely unlike that cruelly ironic sunny Tuesday - ah, we've all gone through this so many times. Eight times, at least, right?

For the last couple of days, watching the calendar tick toward this anniversary, my strongest feeling had been relief that, for the first time in a couple of years, I would not be spending 9/11 downtown. Last year, and the year before that, I'd been working in a building right adjacent to Ground Zero; just about every day, I had to direct tourists to what the Onion had dubbed the "World Trade Center Memorial Hole," wondering what the hell they could get from posing next to a big, empty construction site. It got that much worse on 9/11 itself, when the streets became clogged with policemen and gawkers, their numbers dwarfing the actual mourners into relative insignificance.

So I was glad I would be nowhere near there today, but, surprisingly - or perhaps not - it still feels the same. Still the same sense of grief and anger and frustrated impotence. And, strangely, a vague wish to be there, downtown, feeling whatever it is I feel.

Recently, I had the privilege of seeing John Mann of Spirit of the West perform in small, intimate concert. One of my favorite songs of the show was "Nothing Ever Dropped," about the relatively uneventful nature of his generation's formative years.

"Nothing ever dropped
Nothing ever fell
Nothing dropped and left a deep impression
No great war, no great depression."

For better or worse, this was The Event of my generation. The towers dropped, and everything changed.

I remember that morning, of course. I was sleeping in, as usual, in my dorm room on the Upper West Side, miles away from the financial district. I woke to my mother's phone call shortly past 9 a.m. - "terrorists had attacked New York." Unfortunate choice of words; for a second, I thought we were literally being attacked, as in, they were marching into the city, and instinctively looked out the window. Nope, all quiet.

And then, we turned on our TVs and our radios and began running to one another's rooms. And cell phones weren't working and loved ones weren't accounted for, people couldn't get home, couldn't get through, and all hell was breaking loose.

It was Howard Stern who told me the towers had fallen, actually. I was surfing radio stations, trying to get more information, when I landed on his voice - "Oh my God, it's going to fall. Oh my God, there it goes." For a minute, I actually felt pissed off - this is NOT something to fucking joke about, Howard, I thought pissily, and then switched stations, only to realize it was not a fucking joke.

This has all been told before. I've never liked going over it. I was lucky - I lost no one. I had one friend working in WTC and he had been late to work that day. I didn't even lose my sense of security, really - I've always been the kind who figures, your time comes when it comes, and no sense in trying to outrun it; so I never started fearing planes or tall buildings or large gatherings that could become targets. And I never wanted to be one of those who milks the I-Was-There moments for a story.

I wasn't there. I have no good reason to climb on a soapbox; my story is the same one you'd hear from any other of the millions of people who were in NYC that day.

My loss is the same loss everyone feels - the skyline, mainly. You never really get over it. Not really. You never look at the skyline without noticing the big, gaping hole where the towers - love the architecture or not - had stood.

The immediate aftermath of 9/11 was a somewhat complicated thing - initially, there really was that incredible feeling of community, of union. On September 14, most of my university turned out for a candlelight vigil on campus; we sang songs of peace, some people made speeches, and then, a bunch of us walked downtown. As we walked, others joined us; at one point, someone joined in who was holding an enormous American flag, and we walked along and sang beneath the gently wind-wafted banner. The cabbies - the New York cabbies, for God's sakes - stopped to let us pass, even when they had the light. The oceanic feeling was strong, as Freud would have said - but, guaranteed, had he been there, he'd have been lost in it too.

The cinematic moments were nice, but they didn't last; and that's a good thing. New Yorkers are, contrary to popular belief, pretty good, compassionate people for the most part, but we're not built for small-town sweetness, and there was a slight sense of relief when things went back to normal and cabbies started gunning their engines at you again. Rough normalcy is better than soft grief.

That wasn't the complicated part - that came later, when the world seemed to divide into hawks and doves, neo-cons and bleeding heart liberals. Everyone's politics came out. In fact, a lot of things came out, and some of them weren't pretty. I lost a good friend, and I am pretty sure a big reason for that was the difference in our responses to what had happened.

It's been a long time. So long, sometimes it's hard to remember (for me, anyway; I was not quite 20 on 9/11/01) a time before Afghanistan and Iraq were in every other headline, before everyone was arguing about what was right and wrong, and what the government should or shouldn't be doing. Before all the buzzwords - "domestic security," "terrorism," "Guantanamo" - became part of our everyday vernacular. The wars may be far away from us geographically, but they've become a permanent fixture in our consciousness. And, sometimes, I wonder when it will end - but only sometimes, because, in the last 8 years, it's become hard to imagine a world without it.

I'm not promoting a "crunchy" ideal of peace - I know better. Peace is nice, it's great, it's a wonderful ideal, but there will never really be peace in the world; just relative lulls in the violence and brief respites of ignorance in certain media regions. But I do sometimes wonder what we'd all be like if the last 8 years had been quieter.

Well, maybe we wouldn't be different at all; who really knows.

I've never been of the school who tries to find a "bright side" in tragedy. I don't believe the Holocaust was "good" for Jewish identity, and I don't believe industrial accidents are "good" for future knowledge, and I sure as hell don't think there was anything good about a bunch of psychopaths flying planes into buildings. (Especially considering the current state of airline security, but that's another blog.)

But every year, trudging through the pervasive misery of this hideous anniversary, there is, at least, the promise (whether it will be kept or not) of 9/12. There is always a tomorrow, until there isn't (and if there isn't, you won't be there to care). There is always the prospect of future normalcy - where the cabbies scream obscenities even if you ARE wearing an American flag; where airplane seats are sold out; where tall buildings are being built with no thought of planes flying into them.

Some call it carelessness or heedlessness. I say, be careless. Be heedless. Live. The legacy of past tragedies should not be fear; rather, I believe it should be a casual but sincere gratitude for every day of normalcy. The sky is blue, or will be tomorrow. The sun will rise and set, turning the clouds purple and gold. Someone will kiss you or smile at you or try to feel you up. A dog will lick your face, or maybe just refrain from biting your ankle.

Remember; mourn; grieve; be angry if you feel angry. Be whatever you are, but don't forget the simple joy of ordinary days. Ultimately, if there was anything we collectively lost after 9/11 it was the ordinariness of ordinary days - days with no headlines or death tolls or urgent news reports from abroad. All the more reason to appreciate them when they come around.


gentlemen in bars

A Latvian after 1 drink: passable, if accented English.

A Latvian after 2 drinks: broken English.

A Latvian after 3 drinks: nearly incomprehensible English.

Anything after that: Horny, horny Borat. "Baby, I vant fok you."



My fingernails and I have a long and complicated history. Actually, it really isn't that complicated - I used to bite them viciously, then I bit them casually, then I stopped biting them altogether, then I decided to start grooming them. Like, you know, a normal person.

Yesterday, for the first time in over a decade (I think), I intentionally cut them short. SHORT. Like, they don't reach to my fingertips. SHORT.

This has had a drastic impact on my life so far. I can no longer scratch myself satisfactorily. Picking at pimples, which had once been a guilty pleasure, is now a chore. And forget drumming bitchily on a deli counter while I'm waiting for my change.

It's only half as terrible as it could be, though, because I've only butchered the tips of my left hand. Because, you see, I have finally followed a temptation that has niggled at the back of my mind for about 5 years - last night, I went to my first class at the New York City Guitar School. Guitar for Absolute Beginners. That's me.

So far, so good. Learned two chords. And by "learned," I mean, "heard about." Brought a rented guitar home last night - man, nothing like walking through the city with an axe strapped to your back. Felt like a rock star. Until I almost lost my balance on the subway stairs. (Whatevs. I'll just pretend I'm tripping on goofballs.)

We shall see where this goes. Ultimately, I'd like to pick up enough skill to compose and play simple melodies for my lyrics. Realistically, it's entirely possible this guitar will end up in the same pile as the keyboard I got for my 10th birthday, the harmonica I loved for one month in eighth grade, and the kazoo I purchased from a gorgeous, tattooed candy-shoppe owner in St. John's. Not to mention the shakers and spoons. And the tambourine I stole somewhere.

Yeah, I know. I could have a pretty cool folk band going, if I could just make three or four invisible friends.

Got my first real 6-string
(rented, but for now, it's mine)
played until the cats all howled
was the summer of 2009 . . .


completely insensitive reporting of a child's birthday party

My boyfriend's 11-year-old nephew: What is this, what the fuck . . .
Boyfriend: You mean fudge. Chocolate fudge.
Fat kid: What? Chocolate fudge? You have chocolate fudge?
Nephew: (with incredible look of contempt and annoyance) Aw, FUCK,
whadja mention fudge for, now he's gonna want some . . .


Candle In the Wind

Goodbye, Michael J
No, I never knew you at all
But every time I saw you on
TV, my skin would crawl
I heard about your good works
All the music that you'd made
But all I could think was
"What a subterranean shade . . ."

And it seems to me, you lived your life
Like a candle in the wind
Pasty white and dripping
And so alarmingly thin
And I would have liked to know you
Especially when I was a kid
'Cause, boy, you paid a lot of dough
For what your candle did.

The "Thriller" video sure looked cool
And so did that sparkly silver glove
You rabble-dazzled everyone
And gave them someone to love
Even when you turned
Your face into a mask
Your fans still stood behind you
And kneeled to kiss your ass

And it seems to me, you lived your life
Like a candle in the wind
Amid all the court appearances
And the babies dangling
It must have been nice to know you
For all those cute little kids
Who did so much more for you
Than Lisa Marie ever did

Goodbye, Michael J
Our superannuated Peter Pan
In the end, were you black or white?
A woman or a man?
Goodbye, Michael J
From a young woman who can't turn on
Her bloody radio today
Without hearing your overplayed songs

And it seems to me, you lived your life
Like a candle in the wind
With the blowing and the twitching
And the sputtering
And I know you were messed up in the head
From all that fame as a kid
But that's still a bad excuse
For all that fucked-up shit you did.

Yeah, that's not a good excuse
For all that fucked-up shit you did.

Spare me if you have a problem with this, OK?


Dear New Yorkers with umbrellas . . .

I know how hard it is to be you, juggling a soy mocha latte in one
hand, typing into your corporate BlackBerry about how much you hate
your boss with the other, and managing to hold your umbrella aloft
using little more than the muscles of your neck and shoulder. I know
you can't be bothered to watch where you're going. But if another one
of you bumps into me, I may have to take that umbrella from you . . .
and beat you with it.

You have been warned.


test test testitty test


morning thoughts

Thought #1: Where am I? (In your bed, but don't give yourself too much credit, you mostly just stumbled across it.)

Thought #2: Is it over? (Life? No, sorry. The spinning thing? Um . . . likewise, no. Sorry.)

Thought #3: Did I puke? (No, you winebag.)

Thought #4: Am I going to puke? (Unlikely, but give it a shot, for kicks.)

Thought #5: God, I love Canada. For thence comes the Gravol . . . and the Gravol, Lord, is good. (*affirmative nod*)



Tragedy is the inability to accept or cope with the way things are.

Screw the quest for a happy ending. Any ending that isn't all-out unhappy is pretty much all we hell-dwellers can hope for, eh?


ida maria

8 o'clock at the Bell House in Brooklyn. It's still nearly empty. A few guys with strange facial hair; a few girls who take fashion tips from Amy Winehouse. Two bands take their turns on the stage - both decent enough, both from Austin, TX, with overlapping rosters. My date and I sit sipping our drinks, tapping fingers on the table.

The second band finishes their set and hands begin changing the stage. We notice the place starts filling up. It's almost magical. The space goes from rather cavernous to distinctly tight in a matter of 15 minutes or so. (Nice space, by the way.) We end up leaving our table, to avoid having our view of the stage blocked by 10 rows of bodies.

Two strikingly model-handsome young men are testing the mics. They retreat somewhere. Minutes crawl by. People crowd the stage. Anticipation builds - for some of us. For others - like my date - it's more like impatience.

And then, something shifts - they turn the piped-in music off. The men come back onstage. This time, they've slipped on those invisible cloaks of working showmen. They are joined by another one, equally beautiful, who sits behind the drum sets. The first two guys flank the stage with their guitar and bass. The crowd perks. And then, she comes out.

She looks like she would taste of angel's food cake - a white, voluptuous milkmaid-type from the Norwegian fjords. A red polka-dot dress with tiny puff sleeves, a gathered waist and a calf-length pleated skirt. A flower clipped into fine, wispy light brown hair. Milky skin and rosy lips. Cream and sugar and spice and everything nice. The face of a Nordic angel.

She smiles at the audience, drinking in their shouts and applause. And then, the Nordic angel opens her mouth and sings in that rending voice of a Lilith screaming at the gates of paradise. Songs of love and lust and desperation and life itself.

She stalks the stage like the consummate punk rocker she is, her almost overly-feminine appearance belied by her brash movements. She cordially shoves into her guitarist. She swings the mike stand over her shoulder and doesn't give a damn when it hooks on the hem of her long dress and raises it at high as her head. She wipes the perspiration off her forehead in gestures that have absolutely no daintiness. She sinks to the stage and finishes a song sitting cross-legged, her head in her hands. She dips Snus several times during the show, responding to the "Woot"s with "No, no. Nothing to woot about. This is a very, very bad habit, do you understand?"

There is something intriguing about her light accent; her English is somehow both milder and harder than that of native speakers. Softened consonants, shortened vowels. "And this next song," she says several times, "is about eck-sacktly the same thing." Heartache, anger, sex.

"I must tell you," she tells us, coyly, "I've had some champagne before the show. And it kind of . . . got to me. Did you notice? No?"

"Have you ever been fucked over," she says once, "so bad you could hardly walk afterwards?" And then launches into "Drive Away My Heart."

She delivers the wonderfully pop-y raunchy single "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked" with the effusiveness of a 60's yeye girl. She sings the wry "Stella" about "God's girlfriend." The self-deprecating ode to the state of inebriation, "Queen of the World." The deep, intimate, incredibly sexy "Keep Me Warm," which was featured on one of Grey's Anatomy most compelling scenes ever for a good reason. And all the other songs from her record, "Fortress Round My Heart."

Near the end of the set, she opens another bottle of spring water, guzzles down some of it - and then, pours the rest over her head. She raises her face up, the water sluicing over it. She shakes her hair out, spraying water droplets over the first three rows, grinning with delight. This is what the famous scene in "Flashdance" didn't quite manage to evoke. Her flower clip flies off and lands somewhere on stage left. She doesn't seem to notice. She rubs her hands over her eyes, smearing mascara all over her face.

She steps back to the mic, her pale, smudged face starkly illuminated by the stage lights. And then, the guitars start throbbing in a way familiar to all her fans - it's the intro to her hit single "Oh My God."

Find a cure, find a cure for my life,
Find a cure, find a cure for my life,
Find a cure, find a cure for my life,
Find a cure, find a cure for my life,
Oh my God, do you think I'm in control?
Oh my God, do you think it's all for fun?

Oh my God, do you think I'm in control?
Oh my God, do you think it's all for fun?

It's primal scream therapy, the quick, insistent, building tempo, the repetitive lyrics, and her throat-twisting heart-throttling vocals. It's musical catharsis. It's what rock-'n'-roll was all about - translating pure, violent, sometimes ugly emotion into sound.

By the end of the song, she looks exhausted. I don't blame her. Out in the audience, that song - the experience of that song - has left me exhausted. The band leaves the stage. She lingers for only a minute longer, picks up her flung-off flower, clips it back into her hair. Picks up a joint someone threw on the stage, winks at the audience. And then, bows her head, and walks off.

No one is leaving. A few minutes later, our patience is rewarded. They come back out. She smiles at us. "So . . . we're gonna play another song now," she says in that funny abrupt way she has. And they perform a new song, not yet recorded. It's called "We're All Going to Hell." And it's slow, and deliberate, and penetrating.

And by the end of it, I am in love with Ida Maria. And if she is one of us, the fate described in her song - well, it might not be such a bad one.


smoke paternalism

Obama pledges to quickly sign anti-smoking bill

"Smokers, particularly the younger crowd, will find they can no longer buy cigarettes sweetened by candy flavors or any herb or spices such as strawberry, grape, orange, clove, cinnamon or vanilla."

OK, you paternalistic motherfuckers. I am over 18. I can drink till I die under a table. I can slog through red tape and get a gun and blow my own head off. I can VOTE, which, in theory, is kind of important.

I can also go sky-diving. I can eat all sorts of cancer-causing shit; I can stick my head into a microwave. I can breathe the air polluted with the byproducts of whatever industries have paid your whining, pandering asses enough to stay in business and haven't yet been labeled as "hurting the children."

And I won't be able to buy vanilla cigarettes?

Ah, yes. "For the children." "Protect the children." "Think of the children."

How about you hypocritical cunts get better sex ed out there? How about you stop preaching abstinence to a generation who is NOT fucking hearing you over the roar of the completely unchecked music and TV culture, and, I dunno, teach them about something practical like birth control?

While I'm on culture, how about you pull your heads out of your asses and take note of what 11-year-old girls are wearing; of what 10-year-old boys have already learned to say about women (bitches, hoes, etc.). Catching predators is nice; how about a closer look at the cultural influences that drive young girls to flirt with men online? (And fuck you if you think I'm blaming the victim - yeah, they're too young and dumb to know better, but MySpace is teeming with prepubescent boobs and ain't NO ONE forcing them to put those pictures up.)

And furthermore, ya know what, fuck the children. Let their parents take care of them. How about that as a novel concept? Let their PARENTS monitor their activities online; let their PARENTS check their pockets for cigarettes and drugs; let their PARENTS actually fucking TALK to them instead of buying them the latest piece of shit with Hannah Montana on it. Let their PARENTS be paternalistic. It actually makes sense in that scenario.

I am a grown woman. Occasionally, I like to smoke a flavored cigarette. And you are telling me I won't be able to - because of the children.

I know smoking is dangerous. I am very, very well-informed about that. At this point, every sentient human being is well-informed about it. You want to put bigger labels on the box - fine. They do it in Europe. Gruesome pics, too. I'm cool with that. Smokers still smoke.

And drinkers still drink. Sky-divers still skydive. Drag-racers still drag-race. People still buy guns. Auto-asphyxiators still get their thing on. We still eat fruit sprayed with pesticides and food infused with preservatives. McDonald's is still very much in business. And EVERYBODY drinks diet soda like it's going out of style, and who cares what sort of unpronounceable shit it's got in it and what it might do to you.

"Not the same thing," all will say. "Not the same thing." Yeah, it actually is. As an adult, it's our right to take the information we have - and, by all means, disseminate information, I fucking love disseminated information - and make our choice. Take our risk, if we want to. Because our lives are still OURS.

But what the hell do I know. I also want to legalize weed, whores and euthanasia and bring the drinking/consent age down to 16.

And, for the record, I opposed the smoking ban in New York City bars and restaurants YEARS before I even took my first puff.

If you think cigarettes as truly poisonous and universally dangerous - outlaw them. Stop being a pussy and just do it. Or, how about this use of your energy - ENFORCE your fucking drug laws. 'Cause we can get weed, coke and pills pretty much as easily as we can get vanilla smokes. (Just takes a little research and a foray into the right neighborhood.)

And then, outlaw liquor. Bring back Prohibition. And then, outlaw gun ownership, and fuck that amendment, right? And then, make pornography - ALL pornography - illegal, because, well, Jesus, little Johnny might see a pop-up ad while he's watching a music video, and it might block his view of Fergie's twat.


songs to sweat to

Italic50 songs form my workout playlist in no particular order -

1. "U & Ur Hand," Pink
2. "Blitzkrief Bop," The Ramones
3. "Crazy Train," Ozzy Osbourne
4. "Why Can't I Get Just One Kiss," Violent Femmes
5. "Breaking the Law," Judas Priest
6. "Toxicity," System of a Down
7. "God Save the Queen," Sex Pistols
8. "Feed the Tree," Belly
9. "Laid," James
10. "Where Is My Mind?" The Pixies
11. "Dirty Girl," Rick Threat
12. "Wet Dreams," Bad Manners
13. "Dirty Glass," Dropkick Murphys
14. "Oh Yeah," Great Big Sea
15. "Mr. Brightside," The Killers
16. "The Dancing Master," The Punters
17. "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked," Ida Maria
18. "Oblivion," Wintersleep
19. "Tiger Woods," Dan Bern
20. "So Hott," Kid Rock
21. "Bad Reputation," Joan Jett
22. "Jique," Brazilian Girls
23. "Ramalama," Roisin Murphy
24. "Jangling Jack," Nick Cave
25. "Striptease," Hawksley Workman
26. "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Nirvana
27. "Steady Rollin'," Two Gallants
28. "The Party's Crashing Us," Of Montreal
29. "Black Betty," Lynyrd Skynyrd
30. "Bang Your Head (Metal Health)," Quiet Riot
31. "Rattlesnake Kisses," Electric Angels
32. "Lose Yourself," Eminem
33. "Ding-Dong Daddy of the D-Car Line," Cherry Poppin' Daddies
34. "Fighter," Christina Aguilera
35. "Toxic," Britney Spears (yes, Britney Spears)
36. "Lick It," Roula
37. "Queen & Tequila," The Mahones
38. "Loser," Plasticines
39. "Date Rape," Sublime
40. "Single Ladies," Beyonce
41. "Poker Face," Lady Gaga
43. "I Kissed A Girl," Katy Perry
44. "Psycho Killer," Talking Heads
45. "Milkshake," Kelis
46. "Heterosexual Man," The Odds
47. "Story of My Life," Social Distortion
48. "Etre Une Femme," Anggun
49. "Dessine-Moi Un Mouton," Mylene Farmer
50. "142 Thru," Thomas Trio and the Red Albino



The night I met Frankie, my friend and I were trying to have a quiet drink at a local bar when a weird old Russian dude began trying very aggressively to join our table. He wasn't so much threatening as deeply annoying - presumptuous, and with the obvious delusion that he was threatening. About 50-55, short, stocky. Very possibly a former minor Soviet bureaucrat or enforcer, still not completely caught up on the fact that, short of pulling a weapon, there was very little he could do in a decently populated bar to two Amazon-ish women who were half his age.

Anyway, so, just as my friend was about to get pissy (my friend, I should add, has been known to kick ass in bars), the bartender came over and tried to use obligatory ejectory-politeness on the dude. Dude did not respond positively. I was beginning to look forward to seeing the bartender - about 6'4", maybe 250 lbs - deal with this problem.

And then, over comes this incredibly small, slight, bespectacled man. I'm talking, maybe 5'8", maybe 140 lbs. One of those people who look like they are perpetually in need of a warmer jacket. He comes over, puts his hand on the annoying guy's arm and says, "Hey, buddy. Let's talk. Let's go outside."

The two of them went out. The bartender did nothing to stop them; neither did any of the patrons. My friend and I exchanged shocked glances; we were about to go after the two of them, because we had no desire for that little man to get hurt for our sakes, especially when we could certainly take care of ourselves.

"Wh - who was that man?" I asked the bartender.

"Oh, that's Frankie."

"Well, should we maybe go out there too, I mean - "

"Nah, Frankie will be fine."

A guy at the bar laughed shortly. "Yeah, and if he touches Frankie, that guy is gonna be real sorry."

A few minutes later, Frankie came back into the bar. Small, unpreposessing, completely unassuming. Not at all like he'd just faced down an asshole for two women he didn't even know. Shuffled over to the bar, nodded to the bartender.

My friend and I went over to buy him a drink. We got to talking - by this time, I should add, we were on pretty good terms with everyone in that bar (a good taste in jukebox selections is a great social lubricant, it seems) - and it was pretty much a party in there. Smoking indoors, free drinks, the works. Somehow, my friend started talking to someone else, and I got to talk to Frankie on my own.

Turns out, he'd seen me around before. Saw me going to work every morning. "We're a close community here," he told me, "and just because you don't know it, don't think you're not protected. If anyone sees someone trying to hurt you, you'll be taken care of."

I didn't know what to make of THAT, but I did ask him what he had said to the aggressive guy. Frankie shrugged, wiped his nose with a tissue. "I just told him to back off. Ya gotta know something, most bullies, they are all talk. If you stand up to them, if they know ya mean business, they'll usually back down. And if they don't, well . . . that's when you need friends. And I got friends."

We started talking about lives, families. "I got a wife," he said. "I been married more than thirty years. And there've been girls, you know . . . but I never cheated on her. Our kids are grown up. We got our house. I'm a lucky man, you know? I'm the luckiest man in the world, because, every morning, I wake up, and my kids are fine, and I have a great family, and a community, and this bar where I can come in and see my friends. And I know I am respected, and I know I am a good man. And what else do I need? Nothing. You don't need anything when you have people that respect you. That's all. Just be a good person, and the rest is bullshit."

He looked closely at me. His eyes were incredibly kind, incredibly clear. No neuroses, nothing on his conscience, no doubts whatsoever about whatever choices had gotten him to that precise instant in time. "Be a good person," he said gently, "and choose good people to surround yourself with. Don't give yourself away to takers. Don't give your love to people who aren't good. It's never worth it. Find good friends, make a family, and don't question too much. Life isn't that hard - just be a good person, be the kind of person people will respect, and you will never have reason to doubt yourself."

I've walked this neighborhood a long time since that night. I've never seen Frankie since. If I did, I am not sure how I'd react - these kinds of exchanges are always easier after a few drinks, in a dim bar. But I remember almost every word he said that night. I've never found better ones.


songs of happiness and hope

Not nearly enough out there . . . or maybe just in my own iPod, but here are a few :)

1. "Never Saw Blue Like That" by Shawn Colvin
2. "Kingdom of Days" by Bruce Springsteen
3. "Brand New Love" by Serena Ryder
4. "45 Years" by Stan Rogers
5. "Are You The One That I've Been Waiting For" by Nick Cave
6. "Wait A Lifetime" by Chris Trapper
7. "You Are The Best Thing" by Ray LaMontagne
8. "Real Love" by Regina Spektor (covering John Lennon)
9. "Love of My Life" by Santana & Dave Matthews Band
10. "The Hideout" by Sarah Harmer


lullabies for the weary

1. "Stolen Child" by Loreena McKennitt
2. "Gitan" by Garou
3. "Turn And Turn Again" by All Thieves
4. "Catch A Flame" by Piers Faccini
5. "Quiet Times" by Shady Bard
6. "Chasing Cars" by Snow Patrol
7. "Put Out The Lights" by Oysterband
8. "Duet" by Rachael Yamagata & Ray LaMontagne
9. "Into My Arms" by Nick Cave
10. "Keep Me Warm" by Ida Maria



Dear Manhattan Mommies,

I know that, one day, your little boys will be distinguished grey-haired gentlemen. I know their names will be known to monarchs and presidents, and their initials monogrammed on cufflinks and linen hankies. But for now, they are half-naked toddlers splashing about in a birdbath at the playground. So when you shout "Atticus! Atticus, stop hitting your sister!" or "August, get off there!" it's really a little ridiculous.

Oh, yes, there was a little girl there too. About 2 or so. Unidentified. I've mentally named her Clytemnestra. My beloved (who was with me at the time) thought her name might be Chlamydia. More likely, it's something like Mghaddyseiann or something equally likely to a) become an expensive designer brand in ~30 years and b) get her ass kicked if she goes to a school where she hasn't been enrolled yet.

Someday, I, too, shall spawn (though, I bet, in a far more inglorious borough) and I shall name my progeny Morglat, Xonculum and Anthropomorphia. And Oopsie, the youngest. Ah, Oopsie. My little miracle. My one-in-a-million. (According to the condom people, anyway.)



When I was about six years old, I tried to quantify infinity.

I said to my grandmother, "Do you see the dots I make with a pen on paper? If you cover the entire world with dots like this, count them up and then multiply that number by itself - that is how much I love you."

I know love can't be measured like that.

But I will love you for as long as it would take me to count up all those dots.



Updates in my Moleskine world -

1. I have finally connu the loss of a Moleskine. At some point on my recent trip - I suspect during the frazzled, harried boarding of our train between Paris and London - I managed to lose one of my notebooks. It was not, thank God, a journal; it was one of my "auxiliary" notebooks (where I keep vague, quick notes written on the run, as well as packing lists and telephone numbers/addresses/directions that are only to be used once), but realizing I'd lost it knocked me into the dumps for a full day. I felt a little better when I realized that just about every poem I'd drafted in that notebook had been either finished and posted or copied into the primary notebook, but still. I had to remind myself of Papa Hemingway's stoicism in the face of lost writings (in A Moveable Feast) just to get through that day.

2. Prior to the loss of that notebook, I made a rather thrilling acquisition. For a while now, I'd been quietly coveting the Van Gogh special edition Moleskines, but, considering that they were always priced above the already un-cheap regular Moleskines (and that, every time I saw one, I was already mid-journal), I could never quite justify the splurge. Well, after visiting the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam (an amazing and moving experience that I would really like to blog about, except my notes are embarrassingly fractured/rapturous - fracturapturous? - so I must work on putting it into saner terms), I popped into the giftshop. And what should I see but a small stack of these jewel-toned silky wonders, serendipitously on sale, including a plain (not ruled!) notebook in a brilliant shade of green. (Green is one of my favorite colors, second only to red.) Of course I bought it. My only reservations about it are: it's silk-covered, so no way for me to personalize the cover, really; it's actually a sketchbook, so the pages are thicker than what I am used to; and it's just so damn nice. I am currently considering using it as a makeshift scrapbook or photo album.

3. The day I discovered the loss of my volant, I stopped in a Waterstone's in London (for coffee, actually) and, to my utter shrieking, hopping-up-and-down delight, found a red-covered plain Moleskine. Now, Barnes & Noble has long been stocking red-covered Molies, but their were all ruled. And ruled Moleskines are narrow-ruled, which I can't stand; besides, after years of journaling in plain notebooks, lined ones just annoy me and feel like I'm taking notes at a meeting. Anyway, so I very quickly bought the red notebook (which made me feel a little better about losing the volant, too). Good thing too, because . . .

4. I finished notebook #6 (next: scanning it), so it's on to what I shall term Le Moleskine Rouge. Currently, I am mentally exploring decorating options. (Leaving it plain red is NOT an option; personalizing that deeply decoupageable blank oilskin is one of the great joys of journaling in a Moleskine as opposed to a pre-fab Paperblank or suchlike.)

5. In my glancing over the web for inspiration, I found this, which was of no help to me whatsoever, but I really liked it anyway. They are buff-colored Moleskine Cahiers, which are decorated with simple and very charming (IMO) colored drawings. I could never do anything like this, but I very much enjoyed looking at the pictures.

6. Almost forgot. En route from Amsterdam to Paris, the free magazine given out on the Thalys train had a great article about the Moleskine. In 4 languages! I may try and scan it in.


the idiots' book of wit & wisdom

Alex: Why are you all pissy? Did you get some sand up your vagina?
Me: Yeah. I'm about to start dropping pearls outta there.
Alex: Hey, when life puts sand in your vagina, make pearls out of it.

(the evolution of this exchange has been greatly glossed over; you should thank me for that)


I recently returned from a 3-week trip through Europe. Figured, I might as well put up a couple of the madly jotted notes from my notebook. In no particular order. This comes from the last (or nearly) couple entries.

It had been more than a dozen years since I had last seen Stonehenge, and the impression it made on me then - 15 years old, shivering in the bitterly cold winter wind that ripped across the high plain - had stayed.

It is still magnificent. The stones are jammed into the earth as firmly as if they'd sprouted roots, as though they are the lynchpins of the world, holding it all together atop that fresh green hill. The silently eloquent rough-hewn monoliths stand staggered in their uneven circle like grey-robed, grey-faced giant warlocks gathering to summon forth a beast that will take millennia to come - but surely will, when the time comes.

Crows fly over the stones with an easy familiarity that seems to mock the dutiful orderliness of the tourists who make their way around the English Heritage Site in an unsteady but obedient circle, very like the sheep who graze lazily only a couple dozen yards away, casting bored and smirklike glances at the crowd. Cameras snap, visitors pose with their photo-ready grins incongruous against the stark backdrop - these are, after all, just a bunch of rocks, and who cares how long they have stood here, who cares who willed their presence and why, and how - they are, in the end, just a ring of porous grey rocks, cordoned off from the crowd of nylon-jacketed sight-seekers.

But not even the throngs could detract from the immensity of this spectacle. Not even the clicking of shutters nor the multi-lingual chatter could muddle the powerful aura here.

And, in truth, the crowd was not as noisy as it could have been. For moments, here and there, a hush seemed to come over us, driving us to lower our voices or silence them altogether. For a few moments, we tourists became something like pilgrims, humbled and awed by the indefinable, undeniable greatness of that which we beheld. Our lives, all our experiences, all that we were, all that we had managed to become, to attain - all dwindled into utter insignificance in the face of what these stones had witnessed from their improbable perch. But it never made us feel small, not at all - perhaps that is what we came up there for - to lay the tiny offering of the sum total of ourselves as the foot of History's rocky avatars, to take our place in the flow, as water joins to water, as a tear might fall into an ocean, disappearing but never vanishing - at least, not to the eye that matters.

In the wind that hummed and roared in my ears, I thought I could hear human and animal voices. Whispers, cries, howls, footfalls. There were bones beneath our feet - metaphorically and very literally, for the too-subtle rounded earth mounds here and there around the site are ancient graves.

Who knows what sort of men and women had once moved between these stones? My arms had prickled, hairs standing up as though I were a spooked cat; I suppose this is part of being a "base creature" - retaining that which is animal about us humans.

I wish very much that I could return, someday, on my own, to find time to spend more than a quick half-hour there. It has the strong feeling of being a sacred place. Magic rises off the earth like a heavy fragrance.

From where I sit now, I can see the sun setting, white-gold behind the trees, silhouetting the children against the pale sky. And I wonder, I imagine how the light would stream between the stones, painting them a soft sandy gold before turning them to black, glorifying and sheltering them in this nightly consecration of light, this godliest ritual of repetition.

Perhaps I really am meant to be a pagan of some sort. Is there a ritual that follows the varied, different-paced rhythms of the earth? In the end, it is the only one that would make sense - the only one than would never depend on middle men - the only one that would yield its miracles both generously and reliably.


nummy nummers

I like my chocolate like I like my sex - dark, decadent and excessive, with a heavy tinge of bitterness, and a deep feeling of shame/remorse that comes immediately after swallowing.

Inspired by my friend Tina's giggle-inducing blog entry, An Ordinary Day: Sex and/or Chocolate?

overwriting (from the archives . . . and not)

I've always been conscious of the way things look, but even more so of the way they could be written.

I want to live as a poem. And maybe that is also why I so enjoyed the structure and ceremony of [my friend's] Catholic marriage rites, with their ancient beauty, their time-crafted rituals, their unabashed deference to tradition and comme-il-fautisme.

I feel like a madwoman at times - I chase after literary images and fetishize the mundane, if I have to.

And maybe that is why I like to be a tourist in life - that sort of behavior is forgivable in tourists. Encouraged, in fact.

I want to see life as a work of art - is is, sometimes. After all, art comes from life, coaxed from the grey quarry of the quotidian by the impractical, cloud-eyed miners of beauty. They swirl dirt around until they see a glistening speck, and then, by the strange alchemy of desire and imagination, they blow it into the pure gold of poetry. Silly they are, sometimes, but how else to endure it all? [. . .]

They/we are an odd lot, we self-described, self-appointed poets. We try to chronicle life, but maybe we only chronicle the shadows on the walls of our personal Platonic caves. And if we do wander outside to the fire, we warm our hands by it dumbly, almost callously, only to unfreeze our fingers long enough to stumble back into the cave and write about what we see flickering on the wall inside.

Are we fools or are we wise to isolate ourselves like this? Inspiration happens outside, but art can only be created in isolation. I suppose it's all about what one considers important - creativity or activity. Which loss would we shed more tears for? There never is a clear answer.

September, 2007 (on the way back from a friend's wedding).

My best moments, the best memories I've made have come when I was so busy being alive, there wasn't even time to touch pen to paper.

Once, I saw a quote by Colette; paraphrased from memory, it was something like "No great love story has ever been written while making love." Ah, there it is - the quandary of the writer. Does one write one's life or live it? The best manage both, in equal and complementary measure.

April 2, 2009.

springtime epiphany

I've had my adventures. No, I am not hanging up my travelling pack. Not now, not ever. But I've had my adventures. I've traveled, I've seen more than my share. I've written poems on beaches and barstools, I've felt the unfamiliar roll of foreign words in my mouth, I've met compelling strangers. I've lived songs. And if I haven't Found Myself, who is to say I was supposed to? Who is to say there is any one particular Self to find? I've found selves all over - abroad and at home.

Maybe the thing to do isn't to find yourself at all, but to leave pieces of yourself everywhere behind you. Like tiny graffiti scratched into wooden benches - leave bits of you in the people you encounter, in the places you visit. In the shadows of monuments, in the soil of meadows, in the fissures of rocks, in the cracks between floorboards. Stuck like gum under tables, like an earring behind a hotel nightstand, like a coin on the murky floor of a fountain, a pond, a lake, a river, an ocean.

Maybe the ultimate goal is to get to your deathbed light as possible, light as a breeze, divested of all but memory and heartbeat. And then, leave the latter in that bed, tangled in the last linens you will ever imprint with your warmth. The former, you can take with you.

It's time to stop mourning the "waste" of years. In the most meaningful terms, years are never wasted. I am what I am because of all I've slogged through. The caked mud on my boots contains a million tiny fossils.

And there are still miles and miles of mud to go.


subterranean nocturne (from the archives)

The rats have all gone to sleep, but the trains, they say, are still running, past the nearly empty platforms with their scuffed wooden benches, each of which serves as this night's refuge to a human being, almost unrecognizable, buried as they are beneath their piles of earthly possessions.

But are the contents of their shopping carts and garbage bags so different, really, from the jumble in my purse or the inventory of my house? Probably not - they are all collections of accidentally acquired items that we have charged with a portion of our humanity, intending them to give us a measure of power - a sense of belonging or owning - ending up, instead, by giving them a kind of mute, imaginary power over us.

A surplus of baggage betrays a kind of fragility, buries our humanity. We have learned - the lucky ones - to leave enough of it at home to trick the world into believing in our independence, our security and stability. But we are all buried beneath our earthly baggage, aren't we, whether it's material or mental. We cart our histories around with us. We burrow into them for warmth or comfort, or simply to ward off irrelevant or unwanted sensory stimuli - like the woman wrapped in her old overcoat, ignoring the rattle of the trains and the shouts of the clean-up crew.

The trains come and go according to their practical schedule - take whichever one you wish, or none at all.

The small, silent group of passengers is a breathing reliquary of stories. Hard to imagine anyone taking a Brooklyn-bound train casually at 2:30 a.m. on a Wednesday. We are all coming from somewhere.

Always are, I guess.

Tired, still faces; some dozing, some reading or listening to music. A few - the well-dressed group sitting near me - chatting so animatedly, they clearly just had a pleasant evening. Two girls in high heels and a man in a pin-striped sports coat, a Canon SLR slung around his neck. Wonder what he's got on his memory card.

I suppose everyone has within them a pearly kernel of a story. Sometimes, I am indifferent to that. Other times, I wish I could plumb the depths of these forgettable faces, to see what lives they lead outside our shared bit of time.

I guess that's why I sometimes don't mind talking to odd strangers. Like that guy I met near Coney Island, who claimed to be the son of God. Was he crazy? Possibly. But he just believes in his personal convictions, his intuition. Who am I to judge or slight that?

How different, really, is the belief that one is meant to be the Messiah from the belief that one is meant to be a lawyer, a painter, an accountant? How different is a heaping old shopping cart from a Vuitton purse bulging with year-old receipts? Similar enough, I think, not to judge or look too much askance. It's all a series of choice and chances, anyway, that bring us to where we end up.

October 8, 2008



First of all . . . we are not alone.

Secondly . . . today, I ordered this and this.

And if you know me, you know exactly why the act of placing that order put me into a 20-minute giggle git*.

*That last word should have been "fit." But I happen to love that typo.

on response (from the archives)

The best songs are ones that make us want to sing back - in whatever voice we can muster.

Perhaps that is the task of artists - not to create something brand new, necessarily, not even to self-express, but to inspire and encourage others to sing. To find their voice, their story; to unlock doors they might not have been aware of.

I can appreciate a work of art, even enjoy it, but I know it's hit a target only when it sends me reaching for a pen, searching for a word. In that moment, the painting, the story, the song ceases to dangle outside me; it slips into my immediacy and begins a conversation.

In part, these notebooks are the keepers of such conversations. Whether I admit it or not.

August 17, 2007.

As an exercise in courage, I am going to attempt to force myself to put out some of the entries from my private journals. This was pretty much the first installment.]



My earthly riches

Just decoupaged Moleskine #6 yesterday - that's the one on the bottom, with the yellow design. #5 is the one with all the little mini photo stickers; #4 has the diagonal stripes and gold leaves. #s 1-3 are stacked beneath.

I always say - these notebooks contain my earthly riches. Doesn't look like much, but hey, at least it isn't market-dependent.


About two years ago, I wrote a story. I should say, I began a story, and I wrote many parts of it out of sequence, and then, I found any number of reasons not to finish it.

I thought it was a story about a love affair. An illicit love affair between a female writer and her friend's husband. I thought it was a story about the complicated nature of friendship; about the tension between personal happiness and a sense of responsibility; about missed chances and completed choices. And about love, of course.

I wrote the final scene of the story on a warm day in Bryant Park. The night before, I had begun something powerful, but I hadn't realized it yet. I sat in the park, took out my notebook and scribbled out 15 pages or so without stopping.

Only then did I realize what the story was about. Not love. Not friendship. Not desire. It was about a writer's search for a happy ending. Even if it wasn't her own.

Maybe that's really all everything is about.


dusty haven

Today, on one of the first truly beautiful days of the spring season, I decided to take a little field trip down to one of my favorite neighborhoods - Brooklyn Heights. It is home to some quiet, pretty streets, the generously lovely Brooklyn Promenade, and a whole bunch of good-to-excellent restaurants/eateries. (Including Jacques Torres, but why tempt the devil.) It's also right near the end of the famous Brooklyn Bridge, so you can either begin or end a walk across there.

One of my favorite routes - uncreative though it is - is a walk on Montague Street. I get off at Court Street and walk up to the water. On the way, I would pass by Monty's pizzeria (and when I say "pass by," I pretty much mean, stop in for a slice of delicious eggplant pizza and carry on), a MAC store (danger), and a Starbucks placed conveniently across the street from one of my favorite little used bookstores in the city.

Heights Books was a bookstore's bookstore. It was made for bibliophiles and no one else. The layout was too confusing to run in and grab what you were looking for. There were practically no nods to decorative sensibilities - just piles and piles of books everywhere, narrow wooden and metal shelves crammed so close together that certain sections might have been difficult for a claustrophobic (or a larger person) to access. Everywhere, dust, yellowing paper and well-used spines. Heaven.

My favorite was the poetry section. It was set off in the kind of odd corner that one would easily miss if one didn't know it was there. Once you were in there, you were basically in a tiny, triangular alcove of books, with only a person-wide gap through which to re-enter the world - whenever you decided to do so. They even had an old and rickety swivel chair there.

The selection was totally random. Books in a used bookstore generally are; and more so when it comes to sections like poetry. You had the usual Norton anthologies, the Penguin editions, the Dover Thrift editions (these always multiply at the end of a college semester), you had the usual classics and Big Names, but you also had dozens of poetry books by people you'd never heard of before - or had heard of maybe ONCE, and meant to look up, but forgot about.

I've long had a thing for poetry books. It's more than just reading the actual books, it's being surrounded by all that concentrated energy. One of my very favorite poets, Erica Jong, once said that a poem was "a little container of energy, released by the reader when they read the poem." So, sitting in that tiny space, filled so densely by hundreds of books containing thousands of little unopened energy containers always filled me with a sense of secret excitement and deliciously precarious serenity. I would sit in the chair, then crouch on the floor, looking at every single book on the shelves, savoring the titles and authors' names, fingering the spines, pulling out ones that looked promising and flipping through just enough pages to figure out whether this poet's energy could unlock my own.

Once you've done that for a little while, you enter a state that I call bookstore-nirvana. The right books suddenly stick to your thumbs as you pass your hands over them. They fly into your hands like friendly, dusty sparrows. Sometimes, they make you sneeze. Occasionally, they make you cry. Usually, they just make you grin with total, disbelieving delight at your dumb luck, as though a blind date has just gone really well.

I found one of my favorite books there that way. Hawksley Workman's hawksley burns for isadora, which I actually found on an absolutely horrible, profoundly painful day. (To give an idea of the day's unpleasantness, I started it off normally enough, intending to just push through it. When I burst into uncontrollable tears on the rush-hour train, I decided it might be a good time to take the morning off work and go somewhere peaceful till I calmed down.) I went to Heights Books, bought the jewel-like little thing and read it on a bench on the Promenade. It didn't exactly make me feel better, but the urgently burning brilliance of the words at least shook me out of my sorry state.

That's probably the most extreme example, but it isn't the only one. I've never left the store without two or three marvelous little finds. And I loved the slightly eccentric older man at the register, who answered any and all questions about books with the alacrity of someone who had inhaled several reams worth of paper dust over the course of his lifetime. He would eye your books, tally their prices, and then give you a final quote that, I could swear, knocked off a few extra bucks if he liked your taste.

I liked everything about that place. I liked the opera music that played softly whenever that particular eccentric man was working the register. (Not when there were young, self-important hipsters on duty, though.) I even liked the prices - fair and well below retail, but clearly set by someone who knew the sentimonetary value of a first edition, even when it was a 1971 by a virtual unknown. (And, yes, they had a great selection of rare/old books; but I only allowed myself brief looks at those. Similarly to how I tend to mostly avert my eyes from Harry Winston windows.)

I loved that place. And I hadn't been there in a few months - not since the weather had last been nice enough to take a walk through Brooklyn Heights. Imagine how I felt today when I arrived to find it boarded up, all signage removed, with a "For Rent" sign in the window. I'd planned to take a walk, buy a couple of books and then begin reading one of them in the Starbucks. Like a proper white person. Instead, I ended up empty-handed, nearly weeping into my green tea latte.

This may sound totally ridiculous, but it really did put a damper on my day. I went home with the intention to write a heartfelt eulogy to this beautiful little Brooklyn gem, railing against the recession, the corporations and the illiterates. And then, I had the bright idea to Google it, just to see if anyone else was as upset as I was about this.

A couple blog entries later, my day was looking brighter again. (At 3 a.m., yes.) Turns out, it only closed at that particular location. It's just reopened elsewhere. So, it looks like I'll have to change up my walking route a bit.

But my sweet little dusty haven is still out there, somewhere. And perhaps a friendly sparrow hides inside, tucked between a required English Lit text and a 1998 issue of a high school literary magazine . . . just waiting for me to find it.


happenness (the ultimate geek-out)

Just placed an order on JetPens.com. Ordered a dozen or so of my beloved Uni-ball Signo DX with the 0.28mm nib. Mostly in black and blue-black, with a couple of other colors tossed in (including the new brown-black, which may or may not become a hit with me).

I have been using these pens for about 1.5 years now. Sometime in the winter of 2007 (or perhaps December of 2006; not sure; I know it was cold and I was still on my first Moleskine), a friend of mine introduced me to them. She did this by gifting me a Hello Kitty pen she'd gotten in Japan.

At the time, I was on a quest for the perfect pen. I'd started journaling in a new type of notebook (afore-mentioned Moleskine) a couple months before, and had unlocked my personal secret to consistent graphoproductivity: sensualize the experience. Make it intrinsically beautiful and delicious. Make the act of putting pen to paper a sexy, satisfying experience.

So, I'd found the paper and the binding and all; now, I was just looking for a pen. It had to be a fast-flowing pen, capable of keeping up with my thoughts; I had not willingly used ballpoints for years. So, probably a gel-ink, felt or fountain-pen. At the same time, it had to dry quickly, so that I wouldn't need to worry about smearing the words with my hand or the opposite page.

It also had to have the finest nib possible. My handwriting is quick and messy, and a finer nib is more forgiving when it comes to legibility. Additionally, a fine nib leaves behind far less ink, which means it's a faster drying time. Also, I was using the pocket-sized Moleskine, and wanted to be able to write smaller.

I quickly realized my old faithful Uni-ball 0.5mm pens (available in bulk at all major office supply stores) produced WAY too clunky a line. Additionally, there was a bit of bleed-through on the pages. Minimal, but it wasn't good enough.

On the recommendation of some fellow obsessive graphomaniacs, I purchased the very reasonably priced and attractive Lamy Safari in red, together with a jar of Noodler's Ink in Zhivago. My God, it was sexy. The thick, red pen in my fingers; the rich flow of glistening green-black ink across the creamy virgin paper. My notebook seemed to whisper Lara's Theme every time I stroked it with the Lamy. Snowflakes fell, I think.

Unfortunately, even the finest nib available at the store wasn't quite fine enough. I got maybe 10 lines to a page. And it didn't dry quickly enough. (True to Noodler's promise, though, there was no bleed-through.)

I went through a few other options. First, I over-hastily ordered a dozen of the Pilot G-2 pens that many Moleskinites swore by. Most of those are still rattling around the house, being used to sign checks and make shopping lists.

My quest brought me to the pen-and-marker aisles of Pearl Paint, infinite mecca of artists, crafties and wannabes. I am not sure how many collective hours I spent doodling on the thoughtfully provided test-pads in those aisles, experimenting with, literally, dozens of types of pens in hundreds of colors. I am not sure how much money I spent on all those delectable Faber-Castell "artist pens," in various nib-sizes and shades (including sepiatones, mmmm). I am not sure how many sketchpads I bought, drunk on the heavy texture of watercolor paper, and completely forgetting my utter inability to sketch, draw or, frankly, color inside lines.

Alas, even the "Superfine" Faber-Castell pens were not fine enough. My Moleskine was Cinderella's glass slipper - and, just because it's a pretty foot, that don't mean it's gonna fit. I reserved my Faber-Castells for my watercolor activities (which mostly consisted of me dragging a pen across the paper and then hugging myself with the simple joy of watching the vibrant color appear on the creamy lawn, very much like a small, feeble-minded child during fingerpainting class).

I did content myself, for a while, with the Pigma Micron markers by Sakura. These also came in a nice range of colors, and - joy of joys - were available in a 0.05mm nib. (Which was like, WHOA, considering that the smallest nib I'd seen before that was a 0.1mm; which was nice, but c'mon, 0.05mm!!!!) So, for a while, I used those, and they were fine.

Then, I tried the Staedtler Pigment Liner, likewise in a 0.05mm nib. In black. (By then, I had realized, I would never be one of those cool people who can maintain a colorful and serious journal, and then take pictures of it and post them on Flickr.) The Staedtler is a fine pen, and I still have a stock of them - in 0.05mm and 0.1mm. (The thicker one is nicer for drawing, or to neatly write quotes.)

Right. So, it was in the midst of all this sturm-und-drang (I know, someone totally should write an ABC show about this), that my friend casually gave me that Hello Kitty pen. Which was really just an ordinary-looking ballpoint gel-ink (a.k.a., rollerball) pen with a clear barrel and a rubber grip. Except it had "Hello Kitty" on it, along with that little white kitty face that no female over the age of 10 should have anywhere near her person unless she is either Asian or pink-cheeked, pig-tailed, bobby-socked and is/was class president of Chappaqua High in Minneapolis or something.

But it was a damn fine pen. A damn fine pen. The finest nib I'd ever seen on a non-technical pen. Near-instant drying time. Quick, smooth flow. An unpretentious exterior. A damn fine pen. Unfortunately, the only words printed on it were "Hello Kitty." And some Japanese characters above a smirking, triumphant, elusive "0.28" on the cap. No brand name. Nothing.

So, I sighed to myself and continued searching. (Shortly after this, I discovered the Pigma Micron and the Staedtler.) Every so often, I'd use the Hello Kitty pen. But - and this is aside from feeling, every time I used it, as though a dozen small Japanese men had just ejaculated on me in a private karaoke room - I have this thing about "saving" the items I love the best. Living in the moment is all good and well, but when something is finite and rare-to-unavailable - a bottle of expensive perfume, a limited-edition MAC lipstick, the ink in a wonderful pen - I tend to only use it when the moment is either special, or when I want to make it feel that way. So I very seldom used my wonderful Hello Kitty pen.

Now. The Staedtler and the Pigma Micron are both fine pens, as I have said. However, they have their drawbacks. Firstly, they are kind of felt pens. I think. Felt-like, anyway. Which means they dry out at the drop of a cap (hah, hah?) and bringing them back to life is very difficult. Also, they have this incredibly skinny little wire-like nib, which doesn't take much effort to bend (especially when one writes on moving trains), which then makes your delicate little nib into a big-ass calligraphy nib, which is all good and well when you are trying to practice calligraphy, but not when you are angrily trying to get out onto paper how much you hate the See-You-Next-Tuesday in the cubicle across from yours, all in order to relieve the aggression and not defenestrate said See-You-Next-Tuesday upon your next encounter.

Which meant that I had to keep buying more pens. Which maybe wouldn't be so bad - despite the ~$3 price tag on each - except it was just friggen annoying to have to go to the store every few weeks; and then, sometimes, you'd get one and it was already dried-out or half-dried-out. Not cool. Clearly, the situation called for a rollerball.

Boldly, I decided to throw myself at the mercy of the almighty God, Google. I typed in "Hello Kitty pen 0.28", sprinkled the blood of a young goat over my keyboard and hit Enter. And, lo, just a few hits down the page, was someone's journal entry about her "Hello Kitty" pen and how it was really just a Uni-Ball Signo 0.28 with a logo on it. I did a dance of joy, stuck a tampon in the goat, and Googled "Uni-Ball Signo 0.28."

Which is how I came to JetPens. Basically, they specialize in Japanese pens, and all sorts of pens that, I guess, are a little rare on the American market. I nearly wept when, verily, I saw upon the screen the exact replica of my friend's pen, minus the "Hello Kitty" logo. I quickly ordered about 20 pens and waited, with bated breath, for the package to arrive. (OK, so I unbated my breath a few times in the interim.)

This was, I think, in about late spring/early summer 2007. Yes. My second Moleskine's second half is written in the distinctive blue-black rollerball ink. And Moleskines 3-6 were all written with the same pens - mostly in black or blue-black. (Except for a brief flirtation I once had with a vividly azure-colored 0.01mm Prismacolor Premier. I was feeling "blue" so I wrote in the bluest ink I could find. Don't ask.)

Just 2 days ago, I had to toss my last blue-black Signo, with just a smudge of ink left in its barrel. It wouldn't write anymore; it just tore the paper. The other black and blue-black pens were long gone too - most of them had run out of ink. I probably lost at least one or two others. It's possible I gave a couple away as gifts.

I still have my reserve of colorful pens - purple, hot pink, sky blue. (The emerald-green one was left uncapped too long; it dried out and had to be tossed a couple months ago.) But I just can't write my normal journal entries in these colors. It's too distracting. I feel like I have to be zany or something. It's very difficult to write about bleeding the black bile of your rotting love in fucking hot pink. Even purple, which I actually quite like (and do use, on occasion), often reminds me of Jessica Wakefield and the Unicorn Club.

So, I am happy to have placed an order with JetPens. I am looking forward to ripping into that package; to lovingly distributing the pens among various purses, backpacks and stationery stations; and to uncapping a beautiful, pristine pen and violently ripping out its cherry with a poem about love in the moonlight. Yesss . . .

And for now? I'm writing with . . . the old Hello Kitty pen. I never did use it much; plenty of ink left.

And you know what else? I added something to my order. In addition to the pens, I also ordered a pen refill. I plan to put it into the Hello Kitty pen. I will hold on to this pen. It is the pen that other pens came from. It has meaning and value, even if it is ridiculously decorated with a childish logo.

OK, fine - actually, I put the refill in the basket only because it costs less than a full pen, and I was only $0.50 away from free shipping, so I chose the cheaper alternative.

Or maybe . . . I kinda like feeling like a dozen small Japanese men . . . uh . . . never mind.

prayer against relapse

Oedipus, lend me yo mommawoman's brooches.


perfect playlist (v. 1)

in no particular order

1. Rachael Yamagata & Ray LaMontagne, "Duet"
2. Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova, "Falling Slowly"
3. Hoots & Hellmouth, "Two Hearts, a Snake and a Concubine"
4. Nick Cave, "The Ship Song"
5. Leonard Cohen, "Hallelujah"
6. Joan Baez, "Diamonds & Rust"
7. Tom Waits, "I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You"
8. Damien Rice, "The Blower's Daughter"
9. The Decemberists, "Red Right Ankle"
10. Townes Van Zandt, "St. John the Gambler"
11. Nick Cave, "Brompton Oratory"
12. Hawksley Workman, "You Are Too Beautiful"
13. The Dubliners, "On Raglan Road"
14. Blair Harvey, "Where Love Goes"
15. Leonard Cohen, "Alexandra Leaving"
16. Powderfinger, "Drifting Further Away"
17. Eva Cassidy, "Fields of Gold"
18. Ryan Adams, "La Cienega Just Smiled"
19. Bruce Springsteen, "The Wrestler"
20. Two Gallants, "Crow Jane"





Not everything is for translation.


I guess the hardest thing about embarking on a new form of self-expression is resisting the temptation to cut yourself off at the knees by reacting to difficulties/failure with "well, maybe this just isn't my thing."

I used to call it "self-asphyxiation." This was back when I liked to have grand words for every silly time I rediscovered the wheel.

I know the popular rhetoric is: go forth and "attempt more failure" (I actually really like that). But there is something else to consider. There is only so much life for the taking - only so many hours in the day, only so much energy to expend. Perhaps best to stick to what I know and do reasonably well, instead of over-reaching and over-experimenting. Perhaps it's best to accept the fact that sometimes, there just isn't enough talent.

Perhaps it's time to grow the fuck up and accept that Mommy and the public school system were wrong, and I actually can't "do anything I put my mind to."

Or maybe it's time to find my contrarian streak again, think of the whole endeavor as a skill-building experience and slog on. Until I've finally created something.

Whereupon, become obsessed for 9-18 months, and then gradually drop it. Which is what usually happens.


short stories

Reading Carson McCullers' collected short stories & marveling at how terrific those can be.

It's been a long time since I've read a short story; probably longer since I've written one. (Actually, I'll tell you - last one I wrote was "Evaporated Water" in summer of 2006.) I think it's been a bit of an underappreciated medium with me in the last few years.

It has been ages since I've actually written a STORY. At least one that didn't end up getting told in verse.

Something to think about, and perhaps work on.


out of the mouths of . . .

Quoth my boyfriend, recently:
"So, are you the Mel to Great Big Sea's Flight of the Conchords?"


It occurs to me that what is required to keep a blog alive is not only the self-indulgence it takes to claim and design this corner of cyberspace, but also the self-confidence it takes to actually take oneself SERIOUSLY enough to think that the random shit that flies through your brain is worth putting down somewhere where ACTUAL people might actually READ it.

And then, not to edit it down so much that it loses all the traces of sincerity that made you think it was worth posting in the first place.

Pledge (with the caveat that a blogged pledge is worth less than a verbal contract) - I shall try to distill at least SOME postable bits from my paper journal entries and place them here. Otherwise, what the hell was the point of redesigning this page around a blog format?


carpe quispiam

Whoever first espoused the philosophy of delayed gratification never factored in the possibility of sudden death.


a thought

If self-absorbed introspection is called "navel-gazing," would one call digging up one's own high school poetry "navel lint-picking"?



It's been a LONG year.

For better or for worse, I feel like I've been using it to make up for a lot of lost time. Maybe just misplaced time?

It hasn't been uniformly intense. Mostly, it's come in flashes of intensity. That's enough. Sometimes, more than enough.

It's been a slow rain of puzzle pieces clicking so gently into place, that I sometimes hardly even notice until weeks later.

There's been a lot of redefining, reprioritizing and rethinking. And it isn't done, not by a long shot. But there's been a journey. Maybe only a few steps worth of one - but it's something.

Maybe all we need is to WANT something. Anything, however impossible it is. Because when you want something, REALLY want it, you will want it badly enough to WORK for it, to do battle for it. And even if you don't get it in the end - you will find that you've still come out better for having done all of that. Better prepared to make your next choice, and to pursue it. Stronger, smarter. Better for having fought; not worse for losing.

The history of disappointments is the cartography of the heart. The cracks make the map.

Better to limp along a guided path than to sprint nowhere.

I'm still mapping mine. Even as I limp along.



My new favorite place to hang out is actually an old favorite place to hang out.

It's called Karma and it's one of the last bars in New York where you can smoke inside. (My other favorite is Circa Tabac.)

It's not a "scene" bar. It's not trendy. It's not glitzy. It bills itself as a hookah bar, but I've never actually seen anyone smoking one of the slightly dilapidated hookahs. (Then again, I usually come there during off-peak hours.) Really, it's a dive bar with a few half-hearted nods to its vaguely Middle Eastern motif. And I like it that way.

A few years ago, I used to have a friend in Philadelphia who would come into New York every few weeks. Karma was usually our first stop. (Partly because we could smoke there, partly because it opened at 1 p.m.) We would go in, catch up over several cocktails, and, by the time dinnertime rolled around, we were ready to face the world (and our dates).

I actually hadn't gone to Karma in a few years. For some reason, I remembered it a few weeks ago and went. I'd forgotten how wonderful the vibe was. A relaxed, somewhat scuffed decor. Bartenders who are neither pushy nor rude. Decently priced drinks. A clientele who is far more interested in socializing with their own party (or in reading a paper) than in "meeting new people." It's a (good) coffee shop of a bar is what it is.

And unlike many bars, they serve coffee. A personal French press pot for $2. Or a glass of cheap red (I happen to like cheap red) for $4.

That's my usual fare. A pot of coffee (sometimes with a shot of Bailey's, when I'm feeling festive) or a glass of sweetish Shiraz. (Usually, I alternate.) I pick a table, I open my notebook and I write. More freely than almost anywhere. A few cigarettes, a few pages, and another round. Repeat until I've finished whatever I wanted to finish.

No one bothers me. No one talks to me. No one asks me stupid questions. ("Are you writing a book?" No, a suicide note. Fuck off before it becomes a homicide note.)

Since I've rediscovered this place, my journal's been plumping nicely. And I've even made progress on a few pieces that had been rattling around for months. There's something magical about Karma that way.

If you should ever have an hour or two to waste on the Lower East Side, stop in. And if you see me there, writing, feel free to say hello. But say it quietly and warmly. It's that kind of place :)


Chocolate-Guinness-Bailey's-Walnut-Rum Raisin-Rum Ganache Cake

This cake is based on Nigella Lawson's recipe for Chocolate Guinness cake. Her original recipe is in bold type. My additions are - flavouring the topping with Bailey's, adding rum raisins and walnuts to the cake itself, and putting in a middle layer of chocolate-rum ganache. And also (heh), adding just a splash more Guinness to the batter than the recipe calls for.

*Note: I came very close to using whiskey instead of rum, but didn't have whiskey raisins (they got eaten before they could be baked), so we decided to keep the rum trend going. Try it with Jameson's. That was my idea to begin with.

Time: 1 hour 15 minutes (*depends on your oven and on how many shenanigans you engage in while making this thing. Allow 2 hours at least. Seriously.)

For the cake:
Butter for pan
1 cup Guinness stout
10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups superfine sugar (*cursory online research shows that you don't NEED superfine sugar for baked goods; regular sugar will do)
3/4 cup sour cream
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
*2/3 cup chopped walnuts, roasted (can be more?)
*1/3 cup rum raisins (should be more!)

For the topping:
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
1/2 (I used 1/4) cup heavy cream.
*1/4 cup Bailey's (heh, more like 5/8 or even 1/3, depending on how strong you want the flavour)

*For the ganache:
4 oz dark chocolate
3 oz heavy cream (it's usually just one-to-one ratio of chocolate to cream, but we added other liquid - the rum - so we used less cream)
3 tbsp rum (or more, depends on how much flavour you want - just don't make it TOO runny)

*Rum raisins - pour handful (er, like half a cup? I dunno, how many you want?) of raisins into a small bowl. Cover with rum of your choice. (We used Bacardi. Next time, I'll use Captain Morgan, if I don't use whiskey.) Cover bowl. Let sit overnight, or longer.
*Walnuts - take walnuts, toss 'em in one of those aluminum baking sheet thingies, put in the oven for like 10 minutes. Or just buy roasted walnuts. Then, crush them in your hands or chop them. Sift the walnut skin out if you want. (I think you're supposed to get rid of the skin, I dunno. My kitchen veteran boyfriend says so.)
*Ganache - Chop the chocolate up into small pieces (like 1 cm across). Put pieces into bowl. In saucepan, bring cream to boil. Then pour hot cream over chocolate. Gently stir with rubber spatula until it is a smooth, "silky" consistency. (Basically, till the hot cream melts the chocolate.) Pour in the rum. Gently stir again, until it is even and "silky". If you're having trouble getting it to even out, sing a sea shanty. Hey, it worked for me. Anyway, then, presto, ya got rum ganache. Let sit at room temp for a while, or pop into fridge (stir every 10 minutes if you're using the fridge method), until it reaches a spreadable consistency. (Not too hard, not too liquidy. Kinda like Nutella or creamy peanut butter. You'll know, since you'll keep sticking a finger in to lick it. Yes, you will, you know you will.) Don't let the ganache sit too long and get too hard - start making it after you've popped the cake into the oven.

1. For the cake: heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and line with parchment paper. In a large saucepan, combine Guinness and butter. Place over medium-low heat until butter melts, then remove from heat. Add cocoa and superfine sugar, and whisk to blend.
2a. In a small bowl, combine sour cream, eggs and vanilla; mix well. Add to Guinness mixture. Add flour and baking soda, and whisk again until smooth.
*2b. Fold in the rum raisins and the walnuts. Folding means you pour them in and gently move them through the batter with a spatula, "folding" the batter over them. This all sounds like a needless formality, but again, I defer to the kitchen veteran boyfriend. (A note - the walnuts did settle on the bottom of the cake in the end, but not in a bad way.)
2c. Pour into buttered pan, and bake until risen and firm, 45 minutes to one hour. (*Our oven took about 1 hr 15 mins to produce a wonderful, moist cake. Last time, it took about 1 hour 20-25 mins to produce a wonderful but slightly LESS moist cake. We used the toothpick test.) Place pan on a wire rack and cool completely in pan. (Sniff occasionally. Exclaim "WOW, smells GOOD!" Have a shot of Bailey's to tide you over.)
3. For the topping: Using a food processor or by hand, mix confectioners' sugar to break up lumps. Add cream cheese and blend until smooth. Add heavy cream (*and Bailey's), and mix until smooth and spreadable. (Taste it. Taste it now. Mmm. OK, now stop or you'll have nothing left. Have a shot of Bailey's instead.)
4. Remove cake from pan and place on a platter or cake stand. *Let it cool a bit more before the next step.
*5. Using a serrated knife, cut the cake horizontally. Yeah, this is fun. What can I tell you, watch some videos online, ask a more experienced friend to help or just say a prayer. And sing a shanty. Anyway, cut that thing in half horizontally, remove the top portion (but withOUT crumbling the delicate cake into bits between your awkward, hamlike hands; at this point, sing a shanty, sacrifice a Druid, curse the limeys, I dunno; good luck). Let cool a bit more, as the inside is quite warm. Spread the ganache over the top of the bottom layer. Slap the top layer back on that. Do a dance of joy that the whole cockamamie procedure actually WORKED and didn't ruin the cake, then have a shot of rum to celebrate. (I am presuming the Guinness and Bailey's are already gone by now.)
6. Ice top of cake only, so that it resembles a frothy pint of Guinness. (Frothy, my ass. It looks NOTHING like a Guinness, don't expect it to, but it tastes good, so it's OK.)

Yield: One 9-inch cake (12 servings). (Bullshit. 8 servings for normal people. 4 servings for women with no men around and no cruises in the near future. 2 servings for women who've just been dumped. 1 serving for a woman who's just been dumped for a man. 1/2 serving if it's for a man you used to date.)

So, that's all. Serve it with Irish coffee, Guinness, or one of those chocolate stouts. Or a White Russian. Or hell, all of those. Chase with an Irish Car Bomb cocktail. Then bellow Pogues songs all night and enjoy the Bailey's flavoured belches till morning.


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