normalcy is coursing through my veins
Wednesday, November 27, 2002
Pre-holiday wrap-up

Before I change my voicemail to the away message and turn on the Outlook out-of-office assistant, thus officially switching into vacation mode, I thought I would wish you all a happy Thanksgiving.

Please think happy thoughts for me while you are scarfing down turkey, because I will be in another scary plane, flying to a place where, apparently, planes have been known to disappear. (Thanks, Sarah B., I can always use another thing to be paranoid about :) I will then be driving in a car, attending a wedding, and exploring the city of Charleston, South Carolina, a place I have never visited before. It will be fun.

I am now scampering off to see Far From Heaven before heading home to launder and pack. Very exciting, no?

Have safe travels and lovely holidays, everyone!

Monday, November 25, 2002

I arrived safely back in the city last night. Two tiny plane flights, one of which involved high winds and an icy runway,and I made it through without even hyperventilating, although not without sweaty palms and increased heart rate. Both planes were also without tomato juice, which is my ritual plane drink, and I still didn't panic. Be proud, be very proud.

Friday, November 22, 2002
Up in the air

I hate flying. Usually, me getting on a plane involves Valium and deep breathing exercises and soothing music on the headphones. But I'm out of Valium and there's no way to get a prescription today. And yet...I am flying, in a tiny little plane, to Ithaca, New York tomorrow morning. And then flying, in another tiny little plane, from Ithaca back to the city Sunday night. I am doing this because my grandparents are in town from Florida, and my uncle is flying in his own (and even tinier) little plane, and my aunt (who lives not far from my parents) is hosting a huge dinner at her house, where the whole family will be together for the first time in I don't know how long. When I told my grandmother I was flying in for dinner, she told me I had made her trip. And so I will replay her excited voice in my head over and over tomorrow morning, trying to calm myself as I sit, heart pounding, fingers clawing into plastic seat arms, jumping at each unfamiliar noise.

All right, fine, you say, that's not so bad. It means a lot to your family, etc. Right, well. I will be on the ground for three short days before having to steel myself for another flight involving another tiny plane--on Thanksgiving Day, no less. This one is the result of last-minute changes in plans by someone else, which left me with no choice but to book this flight in order to be at one of my oldest friend's weddings in Charleston, South Carolina on the Saturday following Thanksgiving. My Thanksgiving is going to be spent eating pretzels and praying I don't have a panic attack, while I fly to Roanoke, Virginia. When I arrive in Roanoke, which was the only even slightly affordable flight I could manage, I will then have to drive eight hours with another high school friend to Charleston. After the wedding, I will have to drive eight hours back to Roanoke with her, crash at her place for the night, and then fly back to New York, where I will finally (maybe) un-tense my shoulders and stop clenching my teeth.

This is not even taking into account all the cab rides and car rides and layovers and everything else that's involved. I am exhausted even just typing this.

[Update: In addition to everything else, the airline managed to charge me not once, not twice, but three times for my ticket. They're going to credit it back to my checking account (I used a debit card), but it's a weekend, so it won't credit until Monday. In the meantime, I don't have access to hundreds of dollars. Fantastic.]

Monday, November 18, 2002
Confessions of dangerous minds: a dialogue

Sarah B.: Can I please come to New York and drink wine and play scrabble with you and Liz? Thanks. That would make my day.

Liz: Tell her I said that's great, as long as she doesn't mind me kicking her Okie ass.

J-O: Oh, please, I'd trounce you both.

Sarah B.: Bring it ON, ladies. The first time I met my college boyfriend's parents, we played Scrabble and I got dealt the Z, X, and Q. I spelled quixotic and my boyfriend's dad loved me from that moment on. He cried when we broke up. Just like you guys will cry when I spell your NYC asses into the ground.

Liz: J-O, can I get a "mmmmhmm, whatEVA"? You're dealing with the third-sixth grades spelling champion here. That string of titles would doubtless have continued had we not moved to a new town with bee-free schools. Oh yes, I am so, so, so tough and threatening.

Sarah B.: WhatEV. You're talking to the would-be fifth grade champ, had Kevin Flick not cried like a baby when he got out fair and square and caused his PTA President Mom to talk the judges into putting him back in so there were three of us again instead of two, and then giving him "dog", and Matt Bauman "cat", and me "antenna." NO ae, no ae! I still say it in my sleep.

J-O: True story: I was asked to skip second grade after my first grade teacher told us that spiders were insects and I corrected her. I stood up proudly and said, "They are actually arachnids." At that point she wrote "aracnids" on the board, and I corrected her spelling. I may be a giant dork, but I am also a Scrabble champion. Besides, I've been practicing by playing Bookworm.

Liz: True story: When I won the sixth grade spelling bee, it was with the word "carcinogen." Thirteen years later, I am living in a city with some of the grimiest air possible and smoking at least ten cigarettes a day. Hello, Irony? My name is Liz. Lovely to make your acquaintance.

Sarah B.: Oh my God. Oh my God. During college, I went through a brief delusional spell where I thought I wanted to be a teacher. My thinking was like: Hey, I love kids, and hey, I love books. Then I spent a semester student teaching and wanted to open a vein. I spent mornings at this ghetto school where the third graders couldn't spell their own names, and afternoons at the gifted and talented kindergarten class at the university school. One day the teacher asked the kids to call out insect names, and they thought of about ten more than I could have, and then one little boy shouted, "spider," and an ENTIRE GREEK CHORUS OF KINDERGARTENERS yelled, "That's an ARACHNID, Dylan!" It gave me such a wollop of perspective that I dropped my double major the next day.

J-O: That's fantastic. And awful. I was that obnoxious little kid. I must have driven my teachers crazy. For the record, I did not actually skip second grade. My mother nixed the idea because she thought I was already socially awkward and was worried my being even younger than my classmates would make it much worse. Thanks, mom.

Sarah B.: I was that kid, too. When I was in second grade, I sat at my desk, drawing, and my mean teacher said, "Sarah, are you finished with your work?" I said yes, so she sneered, "And have you read every single book back in the book corner, then?" I honestly said yes, so the bitch got mad and gave me busywork from boring workbooks. My parents tried to get me to skip a grade then, but I didn't want to. I'm already young for my age, so that was probably a good idea. Like Lisa Simpson, I'd rather be the big fish in the small pond. (Okay, not really, but that made me think of last night's episode.)

J-O: I'm already young for my age, too! And my mom was right not to have me skip another year. But let me tell you, it was hell having to explain to everyone in my regular class why I had to leave and be bussed to another school for gifted and talented classes every Tuesday. (Only one elementary school in the district had gifted classes and so everyone who didn't go to that school had to be bussed in once a week. Since I came from a particularly dumb school, I was usually the only one. Well, except for Dan Lown, who ate his own snot, and whom everyone called Dan, Dan the Boogerman. Great company.)

Also, I learned to read at two. So when I was five and my brother was two, I told him it was time for him to read. He was not ready to read, and so my mother found us in the playroom, me hitting him over the head with a book, screaming, "Read!" She likes to tell this story.

Sarah B.: I think we might have somehow had the same childhood. This is freaky.

J-O: That is scary. I wouldn't exactly wish my childhood upon anyone. I mean, not that anything really horrible happened to me, but the playground isn't exactly friendly to a precocious smarty pants.

Thursday, November 14, 2002
Other people's words

I've been reading The Orchid Thief in preparation for my upcoming viewing of Adaptation. I was skeptical at first. I mean, a book about people obsessed with flowers? Not my usual cup of tea. But it's amazingly well-written, and a lot of it takes place in Collier County, Florida, which just happens to be where my grandparents live. She really nails the strangeness of Florida. She captures not just the personalities of John Laroche (the title's thief) and the other characters in the orchid world, but the landscape, the air, and the strange in-betweenness that permeates the entire state. A short excerpt of the brilliantly simple prose of Susan Orlean:

Past John Stretch Park the roads bent through towns called Devil's Garden and Bean City and Citrus Center and Harlem and Flag Hole and around wetlands called Telegraph Swamp and Corkscrew Swamp and Grassy Marsh and Graham Marsh. The land was marble-smooth and it rolled without a pucker to the horizon. My eyes grazed across the green band of ground and the blue bowl of sky and then lingered on a dead tire, a bird in flight, an old fence, a rusted barrel. Hardly any cars came toward me, and I saw no one in the rearview mirror the entire time. I passed so many vacant acres and looked past them to so many more vacant acres and looked ahead and behind at the empty road and up at the empty sky; the sheer bigness of the world made me feel lonely to the bone. The world is so huge that people are always getting lost in it. There are too many ideas and things and people, too many directions to go. I was starting to believe that the reason it matters to care passionately about something is that it whittles the world down to a more manageable size. It makes the world not seem huge and empty but full of possibility. If I had been an orchid hunter I wouldn’t have seen this place as sad-making and vacant—I think I would have seen it as acres of opportunity where the things I loved were waiting to be found.

I've read that passage out loud to a couple of people and silently to myself many times since the first time I laid eyes on it a few days ago. I love it for a number of reasons. It's descriptive without being overblown, emotional without being melodramatic. It conveys this real sense of longing I can particularly relate to at the moment. There used to be a lot of things I was passionate about. Perhaps not as singularly passionate as the orchid collectors in this book are, but I used to really care about doing a lot of things. I was a passionate reader and writer. I still am, to a certain extent, but the amount of required reading for my job is currently taking some of the pleasure out of these things. I have become more passionate about films, but I do not immediately understand them (at least visually) in the same way that I instantly connect with text. I have been passionate at different moments about guitar, photography, yoga, and a number of other things, but they have all faded, often quickly. Still, while they lasted, they were absorbing in the most satisfying of ways, and I could use an obsession like that about now.

It's hard to live in this city and not know what it is you want to be doing and not have something to throw yourself into. Orlean describes how the emptiness of the roads around Florida swamps makes her feel lonely. Fullness can be just as lonely. I know much has been written (and by better writers than myself) about the loneliness of the crowd, but it doesn't stop me from feeling it intensely. I have those moments where I think about how big this place is and how many people there are whom I pass by every day but don't even exchange a word or a glance with, and I feel how easy it would be just to disappear here. If I let myself think about it too long, I get so depressed I can't move.

And so I have to start thinking about what things I love might be waiting to be found and where they might be lurking. The thing is, I don't know. Being passionate about something really does make the world feel a little less overwhelming by providing you with a community of people who share your intense love, but there also needs to be the right forum for the expression of that love. I thought for a while that maybe working in publishing was that forum, but I am beginning to have my doubts. The problem, of course, is what to do next. Do I leave my job? (And move on to what?) Do I leave this city? (And go where?) I've been chasing the answers to these questions for months now, but I still haven't even come close to figuring them out.

I would like a road map, a compass, sage advice, a guide, a sign... but that none of these have come along yet does not bode well for their sudden appearance. So I guess that just leaves me to navigate. I'm having a really hard time, and I don't usually feel compelled to tell the world about these things, but right now there is this need to not feel so alone and so I'm writing maybe the most personal thing I've ever posted on here. Please treat it kindly.

[Editor's note: I do not know all of the rules of excerpting material on the web, and I only wanted to quote that book so as to give readers an idea how amazing it is and to hopefully send some readers over to Amazon to buy. So if it is not okay to have posted that excerpt, please let me know instead of suing me, okay? Many thanks.]

Tuesday, November 12, 2002
Transport me

Please read Yellow Fever on Tomato Nation right now. Not only will you find out about the quality of cab rides and cab drivers in various cities in America, you will be given an insight into my semi-regular experiences with trying to find a cab that will take me home to Brooklyn. And you will laugh long and hard, possibly inappropriately and out loud at your desk during one of the busiest work periods ever. It's okay, though, the bosses will just think you've cracked under the pressure.

My favorite excerpt, from an analysis of the Taxicab Rider's Bill of Rights:
"You have the right to travel to any destination in the five boroughs of the City of New York." Yes -- as long as the destination is in the borough of Manhattan and on the grid, or as long as you can find the destination on the wadded-up street map jammed into the front-seat headrest and direct the driver yourself. Note: Brooklyn is not a borough. Brooklyn is particularly not a borough when it's pissing down rain and the F train isn't running, and Brooklyn is never, ever a borough if you live in Park Slope. Ever.

I tell you, the woman speaks the truth. I tried to take a cab Saturday night when the F train was broken. Again. When I finally hailed a cab and the driver found out I wanted to go somewhere else in Brooklyn, he refused to speak to me, but got on his cell phone and loudly cursed me and my destination for the duration of the trip. A sampling: "Fucking blonde girl is making me stay in fucking BROOKLYN! BROOKLYN!!! Can you believe this shit? Fuck! No, fuck! This is bullshit, Brooklyn. This girl. Fuck."

It was a five-minute ride away, at most, and left him in a position to easily get back on the Manhattan Bridge and head into his preferred borough. Asshole.

Okay, enough with my ranting. Run along and read now. I promise you will not be disappointed.


First, there are new links in the 'regulars' column at left. Please check them out.

Second, Jeff has been so kind as to offer to host a domain name for me as a birthday present! (My twenty-fifth birthday was November 3. There was going to be my usual reflective turning-of-the-year post, but it just came out sounding depressing, so I nixed it.) Anyway, I am very excited about the prospect of having a non-blogspot address, but I haven't yet been able to settle upon a name. I have some thoughts, but I would happy to hear what you all think. Please leave any and all bright ideas in the comments box.

Monday, November 11, 2002
The new plan

As discussed with Liz last night over white wine and Scrabble ( I won, of course, although Liz put up a good fight. Score: 268 to 252), the new plan is to spend all of our time drinking wine, playing board games and plotting ways for us to date the members of Les Savy Fav. If you would like to volunteer your assistance in this noble effort, please do not hesitate to drop me a line and let me know.

Friday, November 08, 2002

1) Mosey on over here and wish Jeff a happy birthday.

2) Amble on over here and read this excellent piece written by a good friend of mine.

3) Scurry away from your computers and enjoy your Friday night.

Dear Mr. President

I encourage you to go read these letters to the president. The one from the eight-grade class is the most amazing, but there are many that are outstanding. If you are inspired, I think you should write a letter yourself. I know you have something to say.

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

The Winona Ryder verdict is the top story on CNN right now, just above GOP back "on offense" after historic election. I'll let that speak for itself.

She said that she was working for the ABC news

I was working at the Voter News Service headquarters until two this morning. Before you go thinking that this is something noble I was doing for my country and for democracy, I have to confess that I was mostly doing it for the two hundred dollars I had been promised I would be paid for my efforts. (Please note that I am not unpatriotic or anti-democracy or anything like that. It’s just that I was putting in seven hours after an eight-hour workday during one of the busiest weeks of my entire career, and so the extra cash was precisely the push I needed to go that extra mile. Besides, what could possibly be more American than letting giant media corporations pay you twenty bucks an hour to do their menial labor?)

Something strange happened, though. I got really into inputting vote counts, which was not what I was hired to do, but was what I ended up doing after the automated voice system went down…and came back… and went down… and, you get the picture. Ms. Sweater, having spent her time reading a wonderful book instead of typing in numbers and clicking the “submit” button, seemed to think my enthusiasm was a sure sign of my descent into utter lunacy, but it was kind of fun. Maybe it was all the Diet Dr. Pepper I'd been drinking. Or perhaps the mantra of "two hundred dollars" murmured over and over to myself had finally led me to a mystical state of calmness wherein I got some zen-related satisfaction out of taking phone calls from reporters in every county in Maryland and West Virginia, then plugging their numbers into the data entry system. Whatever the reasons, I got a little kick out of seeing the numbers I just put in our system show up on various news websites. Maybe that's silly, but it's true.

Besides, I like anything involving lists. I like checking things off of lists even more than I like the lists themselves. I like having a plan of action and tackling a project and making up little contests for myself about how fast I can get it done or how many I can do before I let myself read that article about Jam Master Jay. I found myself enjoying reading off county names, some of them flat and monosyllabic and in the middle of Appalachia (Roane, Boone), others beautiful, patrician, and slightly snooty-sounding (Anne Arundel, Somerset). I made up songs and stories about people who might come from these places. I kept getting that line from that John Denver song stuck in my head every time I had to click back over to the West Virginia screen (West Virginia, mountain mama, take me home country roads) and then laughing at myself.

The people I worked with were nice. Some of them had southern accents I had to work at not imitating, they were so lilting and pretty. And so yeah, I had a good time doing menial tasks and listening to various people freak out and swear and press their hands to their head and chant “serenity” over and over even though it wasn’t really that high-pressure a situation. It was also, I admit, nice to know that this was a one-night gig, and that I wasn’t under pressure to consistently perform. I think this fact is what made me more attentive to detail than I sometimes am at my everyday job; it is the reason I did not check my email even a single time during the course of the night.

Near the end of the seven-hour shift, they offered us sandwiches and soft drinks. FS and I took multiple sodas each, putting them in pockets and giggling, imagining we were getting away with something, which I suppose we sort of were. Then we shared a car home. There were cones in front of my building, an area of the street marked off for construction the following morning, so the car had to drop me off a block away. It was raining hard and I was soaked by the time I raced up my steps. I collapsed into my bed, strangely satisfied, and slept hard but not for long enough. And now here I am again, back to not paying attention to my work.

Tuesday, November 05, 2002
Radio cure

Sometimes I like to spell things out using the radio alphabet.

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