Should auld acquaintance be forgot?

I've been having recurring dreams that feature people from college who I'm no longer in contact with. College ended seven years ago, and it feels like a nice long healthy seven years, filled with strange experiences and massive life changes. I think I look to certain people to give me an understanding of who I was then, and some of those people confuse me, as in: Why were we friends? What did we have in common? The perpetual underlying question is always along the lines of: Am I neglecting something important about myself? Usually the answer is no, but my life has changed so much throughout my twenties that I feel obliged to keep on top of what's happening, how the internal landscape is supporting these glacial shifts.

Yesterday I brought home a newly developed roll of film that I found while cleaning out my study. It was a thorough documentation of my bedroom before I moved in with my man, and it presents an important capsule of what I needed before my environment signified compromise with another person. There are all kinds of things tacked to the walls. I miss seeing some of these things; postcards, pictures of Picasso, Sartre, Bardot, the markered maps, drawings of sinks and toilets, posters, found objects that found a spot on my wall. Other differences I didn't miss, like the clutter and disorganization that has defined my living spaces up until now. By mutual agreement, the things on our walls are framed, so tacked postcards are usually relegated to my study.

It takes a lot of work to honor what you like about yourself, especially when you enjoy being around people with passions and tastes very different from your own. The college-character dreams seem to ask, "Where did that strange person come from?" and sometimes I think I'm asking that question about myself.

But then again, dreams are just dreams. I had one the other night in which I was talking on the phone to Beyoncé. I'm not sure what exactly we were talking about, but she was very nice.


Messy, Messy Morning

When I looked out the window this morning at the second big snow storm in three days, I decided I better hop to it and get to the gym before the roads became impassable again. My vision for the day (bus into the square, browse at bookstores, reacquaint myself with civilization) was rapidly deteriorating with every new snowflake. With my bike shorts on under my jeans, I figured a half an hour was enough time to get over there in time for Spinning class. I brushed off the car and headed out.

I drove for a good thirty seconds before finding myself sitting behind a few cars and what I thought was a plow, holding up the whole operation. After not moving for a very long time, I realized that it was simply a huge amount of sitting traffic—more than I have ever seen on my street. The intersection was far away. I spun the car into a side street to take a "short cut," only to find myself mired in snow, trying gently to nudge the car along. Crossing another horribly-trafficked road, I again opted for the side street. Here I really did think I was going to lose the car. There was a slight incline and the roads were as bad as any I've ever driven on. I got worried, envisioning leaving the car there, trying to push it and steer it at the same time to the side, waiting for my husband to get home many hours later after it was already covered in snow. But the little thing made it to the top of the hill, snarling and fishtailing the whole time.

By now it had clicked that not only was I certainly missing the gym today, but also that I would be lucky to make it home. I emerged from the side street, now lost and a little panicked, to another unbelievable sitting stream of cars. It was amazing—I've really never seen the traffic like this in our neighborhood. I cut into line—Boston drivers kindly tolerate rudeness, thank god—and waited for the light to turn green. By the time it did, my car just didn't have any traction. It took a long time to get through that intersection, and the windshield was in a static state of fogged by that point. I kept my finger on the trigger for windshield cleaner, a permanent blue wash spreading over the snow edging my windshield. And the visibility was still rotten. I finally managed to fishtail into my driveway and lodge the car in some snow. I don't think I'm trying that again today.

The worst part is that with all this telecommuting, I have really been tiring of the inside of my house, and today was going to be filled with little moments to break that monotony. But here I am again. Hey, I can always go out on foot! But first, must find something to wear other than bike shorts...


It's All in the Approach

I've been experiencing a wave of low confidence lately that crested this weekend thanks to a series of small things, from a nagging in-law problem that sometimes looks very bad indeed, to a terrible showing at Trivial Pursuit (which, like my mom, I find basically humiliating), and then the sudden appearance of two extra pounds. These wouldn't be crisis-level if it weren't for my approach. Every problem is a "life" problem, which makes it much harder to take: I'll always have to deal with the in-law issue, I'll always have to be on a perpetual diet, I'll never be able to demonstrate my intelligence by being put on the spot in public and asked to remember something. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it's simply an approach that's hard to get away from: If I have this problem now, and I can't think of a resolution, then I'll have this problem forever. For some reason, this month has been cloaked in that (only semi-logical) way of thinking, which I'm tempted to blame on the holidays but which is probably simply part of who I am, a part of me compressed and hidden for the last eight months or so, when I was busy having an amazing time getting married and being in a new job and otherwise being distracted. Now I find myself longing for a vacation, which I haven't properly had in a year and a half. It's not a great time for my husband to go away, which tells me I need to be content just to plan, but it seems like even planning one is difficult. There are strange little barriers to being effective at getting what I want that I simply did not encounter two months ago.

Then, on top of these small trials, I encountered a person at work who argued strongly over the weekend that I shouldn't be getting something which I very much want. She's a support personnel, not part of my center or certainly a superior of mine, but someone who I formerly felt very friendly toward. Her argument doesn't hold water because she doesn't know very much about what I do, and I intend to stand my ground, but there's a pattern here, too, that I at times find overwhelming.

After experiencing 4 jobs and 5 months of unemployment in the space of a mere 3 years, I learned that there are people in each organization who seem to take aim right at me when they are looking for more social and professional power. I don't know why, and the way that I deal with it (speaking frankly to superiors, remaining calm and impersonal but distancing myself from the situation, etc.) is not very suave. I've never been very good with power politics, especially with other women, and I'm always suprised and dismayed when I'm someone else's target, because I consistently don't see it coming. I wish there was a class on this kind of thing: How to Wake Up and Know Your Enemies, or something.

Unfortunately, the situation, though minor, plays on a few sharp, distinctly repeated traumas--how easy it can be to lose a job and how hard it is to find another one, for instance. How easy it can be to be trapped somewhere that's not right for you. Or my special perpetual fear, the person who is not who he/she seems, which I've had ever since a high-school boyfriend turned frightening (yes, that many years ago).

They all roll into one thing: I like where I am, I know how easy it is to lose it, and despite my pleasure in usually being an intuitive person, the woman who is not who she seems can be surprisingly effective at unraveling it. And then on top of that, it's January, a month in which every problem is a Life Problem. I don't think it's that it's winter---I like winter. It's just the big blankness of January. January is the time when you reflect on what you can do better and mock up a bunch of resolutions. Ironically, my one resolution ("Think Bigger") has been pinned on its side for the last few weeks as I proceeded to think smaller and smaller.



I spent all day yesterday baking bread before we made Provençal Vegetable Soup with a fresh basil/garlic pistou (Joy of Cooking, where else) and it was sublime. There's nothing like fresh vegetable soup during a blizzard to conjure up thoughts of the south of France, or at least that's what the book says. Actually, I've never been to the south of France, so it really just conjured up my taste for a good zucchini, tomato and green bean soup. The bread turned out perfectly, which was great, since it was my first handmade yeast bread of the season. And it takes six hours. Around hour four, I started to wonder why I spend so long making something you can easily buy, but then I remembered: because it is so unbelievably satisfying! I love kneading bread, and nothing beats eating great fresh bread. There's just no comparison. And especially because I spend so much time doing something as strange and esoteric as writing (where you are never really finished and if you are, it's probably not any good), I really get a lot out of the small but unarguable achievements. Baking bread is one of them.


Inauguration Goodies

Last night we watched Control Room, a great documentary about what it's really like to try to cover the Iraq War and deal with the U.S. military. It's about Al-Jazeera, but also about being a human--compassionate, funny, hopeful, fearful--and simultaneously responsible for telling the story of your culture. Having this lifelong obsession with the press, as I do, I loved watching those rows of reporting heads, struggling to define the story in a unique way for America, the Arabs, the world. Sometimes I just can't believe that's how we get all our information. It really makes me appreciate blogging, and the global media known as the Internet.

I've also been enjoying a funny recipe Lizzie's sister published online: An Anti-Inauguration Party Yellowcake a la WMD!

And to top this party off, I'm really deep into reading K. Graham's experience leading the Washington Post into the politics of Vietnam, as documented in Personal History. Because she was having dinner with Kennedy, then Johnson, then Kissinger, and getting slammed personally by Agnew (who was soooo crazy) and Nixon, she had a remarkably unique vantage point--and a brilliantly reflective mind--to describe how the personalities of these men shaped the lives and deaths of so many people. It's a riveting history lesson, but it's also a new mirror with which to peer into the Third Reign of Bush. We must all take a seat (or a stand?) and hold on; I don't think it's going to be an easy ride.


Flan Update

By the way, the flan turned out perfectly. We learned that the longer it chills, the less "eggy" aftertaste. Next up: soufflé!
Long Weekend

Even though I frequently telecommute, it's just not the same as having a full day off, especially when my husband has the day off, too. Three-day weekends feel so luxurious, especially when chock-full of interesting things. We went swing dancing on Friday night, which was fun but made us both worry we were losing the fleeting ability to do it well. On Saturday morning, after my usual rebounding class, Liz and I hit the 450 exhibits at the Mid-Winter meeting of the American Library Association and came home loaded with free books, most of them for young adults. We were in a daze from all the publishers, librarians, sales people, and free cake (yes, free cake!). Then I had an hour to pack up my stuff and my husband so we could head up to Portland, ME, where we spent a great evening with Avocadola and his new lady.

Peaches and I are accustomed to going to Portland in January; this is the fourth year in a row we've spent wandering around that cute, frigid little town. The sand freezes, the wind blows, and the ocean looks all the more blue for the ice crystals in the air. This was the first year that I really wondered why, exactly, we head north when it's already plenty cold where we live. But I think it has to do with a restless drive to get out of the constant indoor life in mid-winter, and away together after the inevitable stress of the holidays. Portland is far enough away that it feels remote. The change from big city to rural town is dramatically apparent after crossing the state line on 95; immediately the sky fills up with stars and a road sign points the way to Big Moose Lake.

We caught a tsunami benefit that night in a really cool old-industrial spot aptly named "Space," but unfortunately, with the exception of the first band, the artists confirmed what I suspected in the wake of 9/11: disasters make for spectacularly bad art.

We left Maine the next day after a great brunch, and had a good drive home. I always like being on the road, esp. with le hubby.

That night, Somebonnie threw a fabulous fondue party, with shrimp and vegetable tempura, sublime cheese fondue, and a profoundly delicious chocolate fondue. In addition to being with great company, the food was perfectly timed for me. All I've wanted to do lately is eat. I'm not sure what's going on---maybe it's the cold outside, or the strength training I've started to do, or the light cold I seem to have---but all my energy seems intended for calorie consumption. Occasionally my body seems determined to pack back on all seventeen pounds. And who am I to stand in the way?

To make matters worse, I'm a little fatigued and under the weather, which makes me uninclined to hit the gym. Maybe I'll be up for it again in time for Rebounding class tomorrow. In the meantime, there's a peanut-butter sandwich that's calling my name....


Flan! FLAN!

In my ongoing struggle to a.) spend my time doing things other than writing, and then, later, b.) try to dispense with the guilt through diversions such as television and wine, I have made my first flan. Well, four little flans, actually. I used the Joy of Cooking recipe, although I was inspired by Sundays at Moosewood, which recommends flan along with the tortilla casserole I made last night (and which we're having again tonight!). Technically Thursday is my night to cook, not Friday, but I'm not sure making flan to have after leftovers is really cooking. It's more like playing.

It was exciting. Flan seems to be more about chemistry than ingredients; the sugar has to melt just right, the milk can't cook the egg, there must be enough yolk so that the custard can thicken, the oven must be hot enough for the custard to set but not so hot that it overcooks. I have no idea how to pour caramel syrup into the ramekins and still move it around before it hardens; instead of covering the sides, it pooled on the bottom of the little cups and by the time I was swirling them in an effort to move the syrup around, it had hardened.

Now it's time to do the laundry. Shall I bring the Times, my book, or my writing? Hm! Not the last one!



It turns out I really enjoy action movies, when they're good, which is not all that often. I love adventure movies like Indiana Jones, but in terms of pure urban action, I'm usually disappointed (pleeease don't bring up The Matrix). We saw Collateral last night (which you would know if you were in my Netflix gang--they finally rolled out the Friendster functionality and let us all see the rental queues of our friends and family!), and it convinced me once and for all that Jamie Foxx is very, very good. I liked Ray alot, but one performance doesn't prove a great actor. In Collateral, Foxx plays a very different character and he's very convincing. I recommend it, as long as you seek no deeper meaning than urban action.

So I was at the gym the other day,(segue? Who needs a segue?) where I often am, and I caught a glimpse of my new idol: a tall, beautiful redheaded woman with bulging arm muscles doing bicep curls with 25-pound weights (which, for a woman, is a lot---we have 30 times lower testosterone than men, and that's what you need to build muscle), and she must have been eight months pregnant. She just looked great; very toned, healthy and happy, amiably chatting with one of the trainers. Like Madonna, the ultimate ideal for any woman into free weights. I can't talk "weights" with too many people in my circle, although god knows I tried over break. I kept feeling out various family members on both sides, but no one was biting. They didn't even ask how much I lift.

My "toned, happy and healthy" reference above made me think of a conversation last Friday night with my friend Joe (who's newly engaged to the authoress of Musings!). He was reading Hemingway and wondering why we never take the time to pare down sentences. He pointed out that he often writes in 3's, like the reference above. "The speaker was odious, wretched and frumpy." Why not just find the one word that fits? Joe asked. If it's not odious OR wretched OR frumpy, find a new word! But choosing three words (and it's never two) often makes the writer sound more informed, even if it makes the reader bored. I have to agree with him that this is a bad approach. As an editor by day, I spend plenty of time cutting out dead wood, and I should do it more in my own writing. Or maybe I should just add some Hemingway to my long reading list. (I really still am reading the life story of Katharine Graham, by the way...that bit on the side of the blog is still accurate, it's just a really long book. Her life was so amazing! I just got to the part where her nervous-breakdown-prone husband engineered JFK's vice-presidential pick to be Lyndon Johnson, a bad move for all of us, in my opinion.)

This weekend I'm hitting the ALA mid-winter conference in Boston (just the exhibits), and next month I'll visit New York for a weekend conference on writing for children. I'd hoped to be a little more together by now in terms of writing, but I've fallen considerably behind since finishing the novel. It was the novel, then the holidays, and....well, now it's now, as Ilana used to exclaim. Now it's now.


We Present to You

Today at work, we gave our first presentation as a center, and it went really well. Technological Culture in the Tsunami's Aftermath--that's the title I came up with, and it's pretty much what we talked about; me, my boss, my other boss, and my intern (you see where I am on the totem pole). It was great--I talked about blogs, blogging, bloggers, and the new Pew Internet & American Life report on, you guessed it, blogs. Then my boss (or was it my other boss?) talked about the role of blogs in reporting the tsunami, and how RSS, podcasting, wiki, text messaging and photoblogs can help in future disaster relief efforts.

It was pretty cool.

In other pretty cool news, I'm going to be given a Treo by my boss (and my other boss), which means they'll pay for me to be able to email from *anywhere.* This is like beautiful golden music to the ears of a frequent telecommuter who likes to wander off on her own.

Break the ethernet leash! Freedom is mine!


Fun with Font

Every so often a flash game comes along that makes me all excited about being snarky about fonts again.


A Summing Up of the Many Holiday Experiences

1. A long drive in a Midwestern snowstorm. In Ohio the road turned to a rough ice, and we decided to plow on until we got to a Cracker Barrel, the lunch's heartland. After slowly fishtailing up the exit ramp, my heart sank as we passed a Taco Bell that stuck out from under a snow drift. I ran up to the dim doors of the Crackel Barrel anyway, and pounded on the door. We ended up wandering the aisles of the local Golden Eagle, feeling like elitist liberal NorthEasterners. I had an unpleasant tuna sandwich.

On the way back, we stopped at the same C.B. This time it was open and we ate catfish sandwiches and hashbrown casseroles to our heart's content.

2. In the blackening storm sky there was a rainbow, vibrant on the ends. We drove under a low-flying bald eagle. A storm wave from Lake Erie reared up and smashed down on our car, making me gasp. We had to turn on the wipers.

3. The largest Holidome in the world. A pool, two hot tubs, a smelly steam room and a broken sauna. One night we played a driving video game with a special dollar, and I kept spinning out while I motored my yellow sportscar over the Great Wall of China. Morning swims under the huge swath of skylights. Lots of winter sun and real plants. Late nights in the hot tubs, talking. On our last night there, we shared a hot tub with three people and their cooler of Coors Light. The men were covered in gang tattoos. We talked about movies, theaters where you can drink, and riding on a motorcycle from Chicago to New York. One of them drenched us when he did a belly flop into the jacuzzi. He was upwards of 250 pounds. It reminded me of Lake Erie, but with even more laughing.

4. My first Christmas mass. I was a complete mess. I really didn't like it, I missed my parents, and I felt that so many things were wrong, except that I was next to my sweet husband, who couldn't have been more loving or more patient. So even though it may be that I'm just not cut out for mass, I still don't think of it as a bad experience. He might, though.

5. A great family party with a family that is just becoming mine, now. Beautiful old women who I think I love. A new sister. New aunts and uncles. I passed out truffles, ate wonderful food, wore sparkly earrings and had great conversation.

5. Lots of long, happy nights by the fire in Rochester. The dog, Rosie. The two fat cats. The dear brother and the dear parents. The fun, sweet husband. Walks, meals and lots of sleep. Coffee out with mom, and a trip to the old faithful: Fabrics 'n' Findings. The exciting entree to ornithopters.

6. Back to Boston in time to visit Urgent Care on New Year's Day. Strep throat!

And now I'm back at work, which I always dread after long trips but which really isn't so bad. In fact, it's kind of enjoyable.

Yesterday I went to an open house for a "once-charming bungalow" in Lexington, MA. It was the first time I could really see us living in a place, painting it and transforming it to be ours, and falling in love with it. I saw our dog on the floor, even though we don't have one yet. And I saw our pond in the back garden. It made me smile.