New York in the winter - the long, grey, winter in a new year, not the shiny, sparkly December version - is like living inside something that has already died. It is a gross metaphor, but then it’s a gross situation. Snow falls, and it’s beautiful when it does, but it rapidly becomes a way of screwing up entire days. Transportation fails you. You fall over. Everywhere you walk feels three times as far, and when you get there you’re soaking wet.
When it finally stops snowing, it just gets colder.
You hibernate, maybe, but it makes your working days torture because there’s so much less to look forward to. You force yourself out so that you don’t forget the faces of the people you love. On the train home from a friend’s house, a bum will sit in the only available seat, the one next to you, and fall asleep leaning against your side until you get up to move. You will feel, inevitably, like a bad person.
Sooner or later, you’ll realize that it feels weird when you smile because you’ve been doing it so rarely. That’s when you will start to talk about leaving. You’ll say things like, “I give it two more years,” which is what you said two years ago when you lay in a hammock in San Francisco on a seventy-degree vacation day in January. Then, you picked ripe lemons from a backyard tree and said, “I’m doing something wrong with my life if this isn’t it.” You were right.
The problem, you think, isn’t so much you and your inaction. It’s that just when you start to sketch out a plan in your mind, a small one that will deliver you safely on an opposite coast, something big happens. New York comes alive again and the first warm spring days hit. You start laughing all the time. You take a vacation day to play in the sun and don’t mind when you spend half of it tied to your Blackberry because you’re tied to a Blackberry that glimmers in sunshine. Food starts to taste better. You consider falling in love. A whole new set of songs become appealing.
Everything changes and your friends are having parties and there are so many book readings and rock shows that you just don’t have time to look into your grand plans and anyway, who would ever want to leave New York?
When it comes to material possessions, I’m unsentimental to a really embarrassing degree: I’ll throw away cards and photographs and favorite shirts without a second thought if they don’t seem immediately useful to me. This, combined with the small space / frequent moves of a renter in New York, means that I’m mostly hopeless when it comes to cultivating any kind of decent book collection. Even my favorite books are ill represented in the lineup, because if I’m really excited about something, the odds of me giving it to someone else are very high. This becomes dangerous when I have the desperate urge to re-read something - Keri Hulme’s “The Bone People”, or Madeline L’Engle’s “Meet the Austins”, or Murakami’s “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”, for example - because I’ve given them all away multiple times, and yet I forget this fact every time I reach for them on the shelf.
And so tonight, one of those weird mid-January Sundays where everything feels about fifty times deeper and darker than it actually is, I went to find e.e. cummings’ “Six Nonlectures”, a small book given to me by my thesis advisor upon completion of said thesis. I wanted to re-read it, first of all, and I wanted to look at what she’d written to me on the inside cover, because I recall it being particularly insightful.
I couldn’t tell you what happened to my copy of this book, but it is definitely no longer in my collection. And it’s on these such moments that I wish I was better at keeping things, because there is just no way its absence is not my fault.
Anyway. I will never be able to recover what Megan wrote to me on the inside cover of that book, but at least the internet can remind me of one of the e.e. cummings passages I was looking for.
“But if poetry is your goal, you’ve got to forget all about punishment and all about rewards and all about self-styled obligations and duties and responsibilities etcetera ad infinitum and remember one thing only: that it’s you – and nobody else – who determine your destiny and decide your fate. Nobody else can be alive for you; nor can you be alive for anybody else. Toms can be Dicks and Dicks can be Harrys, but none of them can ever be you. There’s the artist’s responsibility; and the most awful responsibility on earth. If you can take it, take it – and be. If you can’t, cheer up and go about other people’s business; and do (or undo) till you drop.”
This morning I started writing a thing about troubles with language and meaning and context and how my thirteen-year-old nephew’s insistence on over- and mis-using the word “epic” actually keeps me up at night, and including a parenthetical on how Ted Leo’s “none” is one of my favorite songs ever because it appropriately addresses language problems AND is romantic at the same time, and if anyone ever put it on a mix for me I would probably melt.
I saved that thing as a draft and went to eat the impeccable brunch and drink the bourbon cider at No. 7 in Fort Greene. When I went to retrieve it, it was gone and instead I found the below, which I apparently wrote at some point late last year. I don’t know what else I might have said, but I’m not the kind of person who can delete anything about people I really, really love, so here it is.
I kicked off this year by waking up at my parent’s house in southeastern Wisconsin, next to the Kikkoman factory that always smells like peanut butter. I flew home, dropped off my things at my apartment, and headed to meet up with one of my best friends, who was leaving town the next morning. We ended up drinking whiskey, eating nachos, and then sitting on his cousin’s bed watching “Basic Instinct.”
2010, you started weird and you got weirder. But you also provided some of my favorite moments ever. A few highlights, as I remember them:
1. Two of my favorite people got married to each other on a bright, sunny weekend in Cape Cod, and the morning before, I went on my first sailing adventure. Miller Hi Life in hand, Oslen-twins-sized sunglasses on my face, I felt momentarily like a poor man’s Kennedy. And then we saw a humpback whale surface mere feet from us, and I lost every bit of cool I’ve ever had and we all shouted “we saw a fucking WHALE!” for about the next three months.
2. LCD Soundsystem announced a last-minute secret show at the Music Hall of Willamsburg on my birthday, and following a round of drinks with some of Brooklyn’s finest, I went gaily off to the show with one of my oldest friends. By now, you know this was the best show I’ve seen in my life. Also, this was definitely the most whiskey I drank in one night all year.
3. If you have never had lunch with someone who is incredibly passionate about their work and and not afraid to talk about both its advantages and its challenges, I highly recommend you make it a priority to do so. I had the opportunity to do this with someone I’d never even met before, and I haven’t stopped feeling inspired by the conversation we had nearly three months ago.
Cat culture is everywhere. LOLCats made everyone decide memes were the greatest thing everywhere and was one of the instigators for every company ever thinking that “making things viral” was, like, a thing they could do if they just hired the right person. People really like to post videos of their cats doing adorable things on YouTube. The NYPL even likes to post “Caturday” updates every Saturday on their Tumblr. Best Coast premiered their “Crazy For You” video on I Can Haz Cheezburger because their cat, Snacks, is really that integral to their band/brand.
All of these things are well and good. I like cats. I grew up with a house full of cats. If you need me to cat sit, I will do that. I will pet your cat when I come over to your house. I enjoy cats, live and in practice, as long as they are not trying to make me keep them.
But cats in theory - videos of cats and funny cat pictures and cats on Twitter and especially cats superimposed against bad grammar - are a humor that is more or less completely lost on me. In this respect, I truly do not care about your cat, and there is a teeny, tiny part of me that resents the fact that I’m pretty sure I am supposed to feel like there is something missing inside of me for this.
Last night during the establishment of an institution we have lovingly named Sunday Flynner, Sean started asking hard questions about the five records you’d take with you if you were stuck on a desert island. Now, I’m very familiar with the concept of desert island discs, but being that I’m not someone who gets answered these questions in interviews, nor someone (this bit gets surprising) who talks about their favorite records a lot on purpose, I had never really thought about it before.
It got really upsetting when I tried to decide which Springsteen record to take.
Still, I feel there are valuable things to learn about what you love from these kinds of exercises, so I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit today - especially as, for the first time in my life, I organized my CD collection this afternoon. It seems to me that maybe it’s easier to start small: what would my top five favorite songs of all time look like?
Here is what I think they might be. This is open to revision.
1. Otis Redding - Sitting on the Dock of the Bay
Historically, this is my favorite song with no question. I used to listen to it over and over on my Fisher-Price record player when I was four or five, hoping that one day I might possibly learn to whistle. Now I listen to it over and over when I have a bad day or when I have a really good day or when I get my heart broken or sometimes when I’ve just eaten a really good sandwich.
2. Bruce Springsteen - For You
I think when my dad says things like “I like Bruce Springsteen, but I can never figure out what the fuck that guy’s talking about,” he’s talking about songs like this one. I am pretty sure that everything that I think this song means has nothing to do with what it actually means, and this does not bother me whatsoever.
3. The Wrens - I’ve Made Enough Friends
I’m pretty sure most of my favorite songs in general are about doing it, but this is definitely the best of the bunch.
4. Spoon - Anything You Want
I realize how frighteningly white boy indie-rock this list is skewing, and that Spoon is a very good band but should never be on anyone’s top 5 lists. But I have a very special relationship with this song and also the way Britt Daniel enunciates.
5. I think I would be in serious trouble if I had to choose between Jay-Z - I Just Wanna Love U, and Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here, in a fight. This is definitely the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever said.