thought

Bolt: on the fragility and beauty of life

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Tom brought Bolt home after a particularly hot summer spent down in Tennessee with a teenage love. That same month for me had been filled with lots of slurpees and stolen kisses from my first boyfriend. He had a mane of brown curls, the ends kissed with sun and beach and sand.

Tom and Glenna had found a dog in the woods, on the site where they were staying. The neighborhood kids had been feeding him potato chips and table scraps. A breakup was looming for me as summer came to a close; he was moving away to school, and I was patiently waiting to get my license. Tom called and asked if he could bring a puppy home, and would that be okay? He’s a really pretty dog. He’s good with kids, and I’ve been taking care of him… 

Tom returned late at night, and I awoke the next morning to a white puppy tied to the front door sitting on newspaper crying. I have never felt that close to Bolt. I’ve always found his incessant shedding, barking, and pleas for a walk to be supremely irksome. Yet things have a funny way of wiggling into our hearts. I’ve grown used to pulling the screen door and the front door in a some what complicated maneuver to ensure that he doesn’t squirm out between my legs. I expect him to be sitting in the crook of our stairs, sleeping with his head resting on top of his paws. I am accustomed but still infuriated every morning that I visit my parents, and I wake to the sound of his screeching howl at anything that blows across our front yard in his view — whether that be a person walking, a leaf, or a squirrel. I will miss how every time, without fail, when I would bend down to pet our other dog, George, Bolt would push his way between us, earnestly moving his head back and forth wherever my hand went, trying desperately to steal a good ear scratch or two.  

And my heart aches for my dad. Anywhere my dad was, Bolt was there: sitting at his feet. 

I wasn’t physically there when it happened, but my mom texted me saying something weird was happening. Bolt didn’t eat his food that morning, and George had run over and eaten all of it. Bolt didn’t fight. The same thing would happen the next day accompanied by other symptoms, and in what seems like a matter of hours, suddenly Bolt’s prognosis went from uncertain to dire. They put Bolt down this morning. 

It always seems that the best news is accompanied in equal measure with heart break. Perhaps this is just the tide of life, there will always be a give and take, a break and a mend, a push and a pull. Life really does move quickly, and time has a way of slipping by, oftentimes unaccounted for. It’s unreal that it’s almost been seven months since I graduated. This is the sixth month Keith and I have owned Daisy. Between my last blog post and now, my life has suddenly and swiftly changed in ways that would have been impossible to predict. And I’m learning that’s the beauty of life. Those seemingly innocuous, meaningless routines that we do suddenly become our days, our weeks, our years, our lives — and there’s beauty in them. 

I get mad at Keith when he hits the snooze button indefinitely and snuggles under the covers for another thirty minutes, and many mornings I am frustrated and angry with him for not waking up with his alarm, for not washing the dishes the night before, for not doing this or that. And I kick myself every time I do that because I know that maybe even ten years from now when there are kids running around at the break of dawn, and a dog that needs to go out, and more bills that need to be paid, and our own relationship to look after — that I will look back at myself and think, how stupid were you? Why didn’t you let yourself enjoy those seemingly tiny thirty minutes?

It takes a persistent and taxing devotion to paying attention before I can mindfully appreciate these routines that are layered on top of one another and that make up life, and it takes an equal commitment to seeking the good out when I am forced to deal with the divergences from these routines. That same give and take. The routine and the splitting paths from the routine are what make life beautiful and sudden and fragile. 

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thought

Daisy Doo

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We’ve had Daisy for almost four months now. It’s hard to grasp a lot of things about this fact: how quickly time has passed, how much bigger she is now than in this photo, and how quickly she became (a big) part of my family.

As I type this, she is rolling around in circles with her bed clenched between her jaws as she viscously whips it back and forth, occasionally taking a break to curl up in it. We haven’t quite figured out how to get her to fall asleep outside of her crate… but I’m sure that’s coming (soon) (hopefully).

She has filled lots of little holes in my daily routine: she is a companion during my long,circular walks with no destination in particular; a quiet presence while I study; and a headache while I cook — I can’t remember or imagine not having her around anymore.

That’s not to say it’s been all roses so far. She stressed me out to no end when we first brought her home. Housebreaking and training are not small feats, and the patience that must be learned to do so is also no small feat. So, it has been extremely gratifying to see her succeed as we move along with training: when she pushes her nose against the bells to go downstairs, or when she sits down and stays in one spot until her release command, how she comes running with her ears flopping on either side of her head when we wag our fingers and say come. It’s also nice to see our own patience grow during this entire process. It was easy to get frustrated at ourselves and with her during the first two months. It was easy for Keith and me to get frustrated at one another (read: lots and lots of petty, infuriating fights over the silliest of things).

It’s also nice to see how much joy she brings many people during our walks. Elderly people, sweaty children, people in business suits, restaurant workers, construction workers all have the same reaction. Their eyes follow her, a smile creeps across their face and many of them immediately drop down to a knee to pet her. As my baby cousin Colin said, literally squealing with delight as he pulled on her tail and struggled to hold her close to himself, “I LOVE DEEZEE!”

As hard as it is to have another living thing be dependent upon me, it’s taught me a lot too. I suppose that’s what the most basic element of living is: to take care of and to be taken care of.

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thought

Steps

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oh god it’s wonderful

to get out of bed

and drink too much coffee

and smoke too many cigarettes

and love you so much

                                   Excerpt from “Steps” by Frank O’Hara

These past few months have been ripe with realizations, some of which have been long and slow-coming, floating in and out of my comprehension, and others have been abrupt and heavy. I’ve learned that it’s supremely easy to feel lost. The hardest thing to feel is as though I have not only a place but a purpose in everything that I do: intentional living. Oftentimes, without a concrete list or path in front of me, I feel adrift. Just three months ago, I would struggle against that feeling until I was frustrated and exhausted, resisting ever experiencing the feeling of a potential free fall into the unknown. 

For me, the path always seemed more or less predefined: go to school, get good grades, graduate from high school, go to a Very Prestigious University, get a Very Prestigious Degree, move on to a Very Prestigious Job, lead Prestigious Life, be Happy. And that’s fine because in many ways, I have been following this path very closely. Studying and persistently working did in fact, lead to good grades, which lead me to be Valedictorian of my high school, which, in turn, enabled me to get into a well respected college as part of a well respected university, more hard word, more good grades, more acknowledgement of hard word (read: highest honors in the forms of Phi Beta Kappa, Summa Cum Laude, pass with distinction for my thesis, departmental honors), more self satisfaction that I was doing exactly what was expected of me. But then that’s where my life expected trajectory faltered. Post graduation, I did not, and still do not, have a job packaged neatly waiting in front of me. And at first this let me down. I was accustomed to more, more, more. 

I felt as though I had failed, in my mind, my lack of a creative, challenging, well paid job nullified all of the hard work I had put into my studies and somehow rendered me invalidated, lesser than the people who had secured office jobs in legal firms, creative jobs in big white studios with lots of sunlight filtering through in their Instagram photos of their clean desk outfitted just-so with table top accessories: the monochromatic filing folders, the pencil cup that matched the seat cushion, a notebook open full of sketches and drafts; the people who had been accepted into medical school, pictures of their white coat ceremonies popping up in my Facebook newsfeed, the people who wore power suits to their investment banking jobs, humble-bragging about their late nights and big-perks. And yet, post-graduation, I didn’t know “what I wanted to be.” My work uniform has been a t-shirt and jean shorts, standing with olive oil dripping down my calves, flour dust sticking to the soles of my shoes, a notepad in hand as I eagerly bring trays of water and take orders, asking people how the food is, and could I recommend another beer?  

Between running up and down the stairs carrying bins of dirty dishes; holding big, burning plates on the tips of my fingers, plates stacked along my arms; maneuvering between crowds of people on Saturday nights while carrying twelve glasses filled to the brim, and mopping the wooden floors after midnight when the last customer has left, I felt convinced myself that I felt empty simply because I didn’t know what this new feeling was. On first thought, it felt like what I was doing didn’t have a place or a purpose in the larger schema. Yet, I walked away each night with a large wad of cash and tired feet, and though I didn’t even want to admit it to myself, a general calmness inside of me, a quiet kind of satisfaction. A very different satisfaction from printing my 50 page thesis I had completed just a few weeks prior. A different satisfaction from seeing a row of A’s on my transcript. A different kind of satisfaction that seemed to come from a deeper place inside of me, something that wasn’t recognized by other people, because what kind of “very educated” person chooses to work at a restaurant? For once, I hadn’t listened to expectations — not mine, and not anyone else’s — and I still felt accomplished. 

There was something about an empty restaurant with four other people who had worked just as hard, smiling and laughing, mopping floors at two in the morning, discussing religion and wars, beer and healthcare, heartbreaks and aspirations, dreams and duties. I know I won’t be there forever, and I know that I wouldn’t be satisfied if I remained a waitress for the rest of my life, but I’ve learned to enjoy this diversion. There is something viscerally wonderful about letting myself feel a small lull in life, an unexpected side-step instead of the much anticipated/expected “forward” step, that insatiable desire to always top my last accomplishment. I will never forget what one of the other waiters said to me when he had finally decided to move back to his hometown so that he could finish his college degree: he had learned that “a step back is not always a step backwards.”

A step back is not always a step backwards. 

If anything, taking three months post graduation to continue working in a restaurant has taught me many things about myself and about other people. A humility that I would not have truly grasped as readily before. A feeling of contentedness with where I am instead of where I will be. A better understanding of the context of how and why I have succeed, and where and how I need to improve. It’s exhausting constantly expecting something of ourselves, but it is necessary. Sometimes it’s just that our frame of expectations needs to shift. I was caught in the more-more-more mindset of always wanting, always feeling as though I had to justify something to myself. I realized that the feeling I was afraid of, that “unknown adrift” feeling was in fact just the feeling of being itself. It’s scary to sit and to just be. 

In all of this process, I’ve learned to truly appreciate those tiny little things that I never had much time or thought to appreciate before because I was so caught up in moving onto the next item on my to-do list. So, here is a new list, of little and perhaps inconsequential things that are joyful to me, but that in the end, surprisingly are what create those elusive moments of happiness I was searching for in all of that hard work:

  1. A well poured latte
  2. Stiff foam that I have finally perfected to make a cappuccino
  3. Lying in bed for thirty minutes after I’ve woken up, staring at the patterns of light and shadow, meditating
  4. Long walks to no where in particular with my puppy
  5. Chopping onions into very even slices
  6. Waiting one whole week for the next episode of Breaking Bad, which has become a (short lived) tradition with Keith
  7. Picking green beans that we grew this season.
  8. Cutting the stems of flowers before putting them in a vase
  9. Eating long, late dinners with good company
  10. Using the ice-cream man’s jingle as an alarm clock for my nap (he comes at the same time every single day which frustrated me at first, but makes me happy now. I grew up in a very secluded suburb so ice cream trucks were never a part of my childhood. I remember it drove down our street one time, and my oldest brother Marc stared out the window and yelled to the three of us — his younger siblings — that the ice cream man was here, and he grabbed some money and we ran out the door, but the truck was already gone. I’ll always remember that).  

Here’s to happiness in unexpected places, to the long, silent mornings, and the unexpected breaks. 

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thought

“Democracy without cliteracy is phallusy.”

ImageL’origine du monde (Origin of the World), 1866, oil on canvas, by Gustave Courbet

I first learned about this painting during my second year at Barnard College. It was in a class largely made up of women, with if I remember correctly, the exception of one male student. This was fairly common in the comparative literature department at Barnard, one of the original Seven Sisters. And, one of the last few of its kind. I fully intend to write a post specifically about women’s colleges, Barnard in particular, in the near future. However, that is another related–yet separate–post.

To return to the story of the painting, the instructor was a middle-aged man, widely considered attractive on campus. He was, in so many ways, the stereotypical professor with disheveled hair and wool cardigans, theories on Derrida and Saussure, classically trained at a Very Prestigious University, a persistent look of concern and deep thought pressed into his face. I will refrain from going into too much detail about this professor in particular, considering I intend to use this specific class and this specific man merely as an example of what I believe to be a larger problem–a microcosm, if you will.

We began the semester with a short story entitled “Le Chef-d’oeuvre inconnu” (“The Unknown Masterpiece”) by Balzac. In short, there is a master painter (Frenhofer) who becomes a mentor for an unknown painter (Porbus). The teacher has been working on a masterpiece (the namesake of the story) for over ten years. It is of a woman, and he cannot seem to find the inspiration to finish his piece. Porbus, his student, offers his own lover, a woman whom he loves dearly, Gilette, to be the model. In so doing, Porbus metaphorically prostitutes his love/lover in the pursuit of art, Truth, and Knowledge–something with a higher purpose. He offers her as a means through which his teacher can gain the last bit of knowledge he needs; Frenhofer must understand women to finish his painting. Her overwhelming beauty enables Frenhofer to complete his masterpiece, but with a price. After the painting is done, Porbus and Frenhofer admire its exquisiteness; yet, all that really exists is an abstract blur with an image of Gilette’s foot. The story ends when Frenhofer goes mad, destroys his masterpiece, and kills himself shortly thereafter.

My professor went on to analyze the story, dabbling in a Freudian analysis of the fetishized image of the foot blah blah blah. He also came to the conclusion that the moral of the story is, more or less, this: it is impossible to capture, to understand, to see the “je ne sais quoi” (the indescribable quality of/ the I-don’t-know-what) of a woman, and the pursuit of knowledge of women will drive, or perhaps more aptly, has driven men mad since the beginning of time. To put it in simpler terms, women are impossible to understand, and to understand a woman is to be mad. Which, in other words, seems to imply that madness presupposes comprehension of the “ever illusive/elusive” woman-figure. What I aim to deconstruct is the very illusory and elusive nature of women. I don’t think that these two words in this instance can be separated. For, the “elusive” nature of woman seems to me to be a fabricated illusion.

And I’ve thought about this exact idea for a long time. Why are so many stories, so many analyses of stories, so many personal stories about how “hard” it is to “understand” “women”? (I use scare quotes around women because oftentimes women are talked about as though there is one underlying truth that would suddenly make every single woman on this earth “comprehensible.” A singular truth of course implies that there is a fundamental nature of all womankind, another fallacy. At this point, I wish to furthermore question what it means to be “comprehensible.” This question of comprehensibility always begets the question of comprehensible/incomprehensible to whom? This is of course, a question of power. Who is the knower vs. the unknown, the sensible vs. the mad, the one who makes sense of something vs. the one who needs to be made sensible?).

Bear with me as I move to another anecdotal story. I was talking to a different man who I happen to be quite close to. We were eating lunch when the conversation turned towards the fact that I am in need of a good gynecologist. I told him that I was hoping to find one soon, but that I have had no luck since moving from NYC. His eyes glazed over, his face contorted, and his response was “Gross. Who would ever want to be a gynecologist?” I don’t quite remember how I responded, probably not in the most even-headed manner. Why is it that gynecologists are often described as “gross” to me? I don’t think that it’s specific to this one man, who actually happens to be very mature. Why is the response often a hushed, whispered inquiry when asking about a gynecologist? Why do people giggle and find alternate words for a gynecologist (my particular pet peeve comes to mind: “a lady doctor”)? The female body is so often enshrouded in silence, approached from every side other than straight on, which is why L’Origine du monde is so fascinating to me. There it is in all of its glory: a vulva, hurray!

The female genitals. Still misunderstood/not understood by scientists and people alike. I met a close friend of mine, a woman, who didn’t know where her clitoris was. This should be shocking, but it actually isn’t. How is a woman supposed to understand her body when society has taken its careful time to hide the female body, to expose it in an objectifying but hardly ever empowering way? How can women understand their bodies when scientists and doctors, largely perceived as authority figures on Truth (with a big, fat capital T) and Knowledge haven’t taken the time to fully understand the female body? I won’t go too far into this article, but it’s what has inspired this post, and it’s definitely worth a read and a re-read. The female clitoris wasn’t truly studied until 1998. That’s less than twenty years ago. This is astounding and infuriating to me.

The human body is undeniably political, from skin color to eye shape, height to hair color, penises to vaginas. (As a side note, I do not wish to create a stark male/female identity schema here, but I do wish to focus specifically on the female body/those who identify as women). A human body is political no matter how you look at it (and conversely, how you do not look at it). If the majority of scientists and doctors are men, if the majority of Authority figures are men, the simple answer as to why women bodies aren’t studied seems to be that it is, in many ways, irrelevant to their own male bodies. Yet, as Simone de Beauvoir pointed out, it is because to be male is to be the neutral. Female is the body that lacks, the body that is other than the male body, never in addition to the male body. The male body is what science purports is sensible, the female body is nonsensical.

What I am trying to say is that the elusive/illusive female body is only elusive and illusive because it is unseen. It is obscured. It is the blurred painting. Not because it is invisible. Because it is visible–but because it is never looked at straight on. Maybe the answer to the age old question of literature and the pursuit of high art, the pursuit of knowledge of the world and art through the female body, the thing everyone is searching for, the answer to the question, the je ne sais quoi of the female body is simply that it is a body. A body that does not lack, but a body that is often pigeon holed by the modifying word of female. Not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with the word woman/female, but maybe there really isn’t something to “figure out” about women. Maybe, just maybe, a female body is just a body. And maybe it’s only unseen because those in power do not want to see it.

 

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Baked with love: red wine & chocolate cake

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After making a monumental life decision, however not-set-in-stone it may be, Keith and I decided to bake a cake to celebrate many things: the end of summer, my acceptance to a university to begin my post bacc, and good news with regards to a project he has been working on non-stop. Plus, to be honest, our pantry is finally getting to the point where I can spontaneously make a cake. It was a rough few months before I fully moved in during which baking a cake was a rather large ordeal that involved buying almost every single ingredient. Luckily, however, this time all that I had to stock up on was some baking soda because we had run out. I love well-stocked pantries, and it’s even nicer owning one.

The cake turned out wonderfully. I got the recipe here, but I used the icing recipe from here. Both were easy to make, and they stayed fresh for about four days after we made it. We kept the icing separate from the cake since it needed to be refrigerated, and it really was something else — extremely creamy, hence the cream cheese, but also very light because of the whipping cream. This has easily stolen the spot of my personal go-to cake from now on.

One side note, it took us 40 minutes to bake the cake, and we used an 8″ round, dark pan. Not quite sure how theirs baked in only 25 minutes because ours was still a puddle of chocolate.

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adventure

Samana, Dominican Republic

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It’s hard to believe that this was two months ago. Keith and I took a trip to the DR to celebrate my graduation. It was something we had planned together months before, shortly after coming home from China. Just thinking about the trip was enough motivation to push me through my thesis, one page at a time. That, however, is another story.

On either end of the trip, we had a few hours to catch up with friends in New York City. Despite the fact that I had only just moved out of my apartment in the city weeks before, I already missed it more than I ever thought I would. There’s something about New York’s promise that hangs heavy in the air, as if anything could happen. Our friends Claire and Julia were nice enough to let us stay the night at their house before we caught our flight the next day.

A few hours later, we arrived. With the very little Spanish either of us know, we were able to communicate with the cab driver. It was actually fairly easy for me to understand everything that he was saying, since the words all sound very similar to French mixed with the elementary Spanish I know from grade school. At about 4 pm, we got to our hotel room, and then immediately shimmied into our bathing suits and hit the beach.

The water was incredible; it looked and felt like silky bathwater. It was more or less clear, and if you stood still and stared down around your toes, you could see tiny silver fish dart this way and that. At first, I was reminded of a tiny little beach cove in Cannes, France, where the water sparkled with minerals.

Then there was the sand. It was like sitting on flour; it was so fine it could have been mistaken for a powder. It formed dough balls when we dug our hands to the bottom of sea. It really was a magical trip, from the fresh coconuts that cured our upset stomachs to the night sky shimmering with stars, swimming at dusk in the empty cove, and the tropical flowers that dotted every walk way.

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adventure, thought

loose ends::

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IMG_1294A quick trip home never hurt anyone. While I may have fallen in love with New York City many years ago, this skyline will forever be home. Twelve year old me would be disappointed in twenty-one year old me. I used to have a very large streak of wanderlust turned dwell-lust. I wanted to live anywhere and everywhere at once. Now I’m realizing that having an anchor is a blessing.

So if I’m being honest, the older I get, the happier I am that I have a singular place to call home — one where streets and people are familiar, soaked in memories and hopes.

PS – I’m so glad to have caught the last day of the Ai Weiwei show at the Hirshhorn. He’s a really fabulous & prolific artist.

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