Friday, January 30, 2009

Better days

I’ve seen things at bars. Things that should really keep me from ordering drinks. I’ve watched bar backs transport in old trashcans the ice they use to cool your drink. I’ve stared into the pool of brown-gray water, glimpsed the pulp-covered, beer-soaked brush they use to clean the glasses. I’ve stuck my nose into a pint glass to take a gulp and thought, this smells very wrong. This smells like the underwear you wore to the gym that’s still damp in your bag days later. My own disgust should be reason enough to keep my money cozy in my wallet instead of in the hands of some unhappy bartender who acts I’m hitting on him just by ordering a drink.

But the real reason I shouldn’t be ordering my third not-delicious drink when I have to wake up at 7am is this: I’m broke. Or at least I like to say I’m broke. And it feels almost disrespectful to the friends listening to me whine to chase my money rants with another Blue Moon.

What does it really mean to be broke? I don’t think I know. I know that a couple months ago, I had what I thought to be a healthy pile of money. Then I broke the lease on my crappy apartment. Then I went on a two week trip to Europe. Then I signed up for a $700 Magazine Writing class. There may have been some leather boots involved. My choices were decadent. And my checking account decayed.

But pan out a little. If the guy I was listening to the NPR this morning is right, we’re on the brink of economic collapse. And it’s reaching every community, even the college-educated, steady-jobbed, parents-to-ask-for-money-if-we’re-really-
in-trouble crowd I find myself part of. The people we hated for getting well-paid consulting jobs right out of college are losing them. The banks where we opened our first personal accounts are closing. We’re watching “Cash-for-Gold” commercials during our superbowl parties.

I’m not broke because the economy is crumbling. And right next to my dwindling checking account is a savings account managed with discipline. So why have I made a hobby out of broadcasting my financial woes? I came up with two explanations. The first is less self-damning. Maybe we’re feeling the recession like we’d feel any national tragedy, like it’s the assassination of MLK or JFK or like it’s 9/11. Maybe we’re dealing (by “we” I mean “I”) with the panic we feel from watching the news by curling up in community. If I feel broke just like you feel broke, we can comfort each other with our empty hands.

The second is embarrassing. Think of that girl whose dad died in the sixth grade, the one who lived on your block, the one you’d gone to school with since kindergarten and never invited to your birthday party. Remember those days she was out of school? You couldn’t help telling the story about the way her dog yelped you tried to make it listen to your walkman, or the confetti cake her mom made for the block party cake walk. There’s power in tragedy, and you wanted a piece of it.

So I’ve been talking about how broke I am, and whether I’m doing it because I want community for my untethered panic or because I just want attention is not the point. The point is, drink at home. You’ll be less broke than you would have been. And your glasses won’t smell like dirty underwear.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Hard to be a saint

This is the shirt I wore on Inauguration Day.

Now, normally I don't like to wear political slogans on my person. And I get self-conscious grouping myself with what I (judgmentally) consider to be the kind of people who wear t-shirts like these. "Change the world." I'm telling you that I don't know you, but I'm pretty qualified to tell you how you should be spending your time. Stop making me that Subway sandwich, change the world! Drop that bag of dog shit, change the world! It's not that my sensitivities are impenetrable, but I prefer that my bleeding heart remain contained by the walls of my insides. I prefer internal bleeding.

But Obama was being sworn in as the first black president of the United States of America, in a country where only forty years before many black people couldn't vote! And I bought this shirt at an MLK party the night before, because today we live in a world where people actually throw those! And I thought the shirt would be too small but it's smokin'! What better way to celebrate the events of the political moment than to abandon the scorn I have for passionate liberals, to let go of the shame I feel about my desire to hope, and to look fucking smokin'?

I work for a political TV show, so at work, my co-workers and I gathered together and watched the events of the inauguration live. My sympathy was gratuitous. I felt sad for Bush as he walked out between rows of trumpeters to audible boos. Sure, he's done a terrible job, but he's somebody's dad, somebody's husband, loves his family. His dangerous management still stemmed from a desire to do right. I was touched by Obama's fumble at the oath (so maybe it wasn't his fault...) It's probably the heaviness of the world's demand to have you inspire them momentarily catching up with the guy.

And then came the speech. Granted, I really had to pee. And feeling like to have to pee and can't will make a person very edgy. And I WAS touched by the cutaways to a smiling Michelle and the girls. But then came words like "Everywhere we look there is work to be done," and "For as much as government can do and must do, it's ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies." I started feeling uncomfortable, nay pissed. Get off my back, Obama. What are you, my mom? Do you know my hours? I do plenty of the work that needs to be done. And I wore this shirt today. You pick up some slack here, buddy.

It's not as if government hasn't been urging people to ask not what our country can do for us for years now. But at the risk of sounding trite, it's a drag to be challenged to improve, to do better, by someone who you look up to. You feel like you really have to listen. And as Obama spoke it hit me that participating in the tuning up of our very broke down country is going to mean more than buying t-shirts and casting votes and even just being nicer to each other. And I don't even know what it's going to mean! But I bet it's going to be fucking hard! Much harder than jumping into that cold shower and maneuvering a loofa when it's still dark out. More rewarding than having the person you love tell you how good you smell when you're all clean.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


I’ve always wanted to be one of those calm blue people, the kind whose stillness you can feel through the tips of their fingers when they rest their hands on your back. They’re always doing things like that, patting the top of your tangled head or giving your shoulders a little tease of a massage. When I come across those people, (Lily! Molly! Mara! Brett!) I want to fold them up and stuff them into my pocket. I want to thank them for counterbalancing all of the shit I put out into the world.

I’m the subway rider who wants you to move your fucking bag so that no part of it touches my arm. I’m the line-waiter behind you sighing and shifting while you pay with exact change. It’s terrible, I know! It’s terrible for me too! To feel like the breath I take is never deep enough and I’m spreading the tightness in my chest to strangers like it’s an STD.

Okay, here’s the point. Last night, I was riding in a cab to a panel called “How to be a Professional Writer, Create Community and Still Pay Your Rent.” Here are some of fears I was turning over in my head:

  1. I’m going to run into someone I know and they’re going to laugh at me for wanting to be a writer.
  2. I’m going to do exactly what the people on the panel tell me to do and I’m going to fail at it.
  3. I’m going to be inspired by what I hear and get all excited and then let it go, let it fall on its face, give up before I even tried.

Pretty big hissy fit to work yourself into just to fill a seat at the 92nd Street Y. But, and I say this with modesty, I’m impressively hissy fit, I freak out at least four times a week. Last night, though, I had a new thought. I use feeling like shit about myself as an excuse. It justifies inertia. If I beat myself down for being anxious in crowds, impatient in line, careless with time, weak against criticism, then by the end my bones are too broken to reach toward the things I am very afraid to reach for. There is comfort in telling yourself that you could be who you wanted if only you weren’t so miserable, instead of just trying and finding you’re not.

It’s novel to me, okay?! For weeks, months, years (and I’m not very old!) I’ve been thinking that I need help to feel better before I can do the things I really want to do, when really, doing the things I want to do could the help I need to make me feel better. My panic and anxiety are costumed excuses. And jacking their masks makes them so much less scary.

I’m not a calm person. I’m petulant. I’m uptight. I’m hyper. So instead of trying yoga in 2009, I’m taking up hunting. I’m gonna bust a cap in those excuses on the skyline like it’s friggin Duck Hunt. And I’m gonna write about it right here, instead of using this time to think of all the reasons I’m not organized or motivated or interesting enough to write about it. I’m writing this blog because I’m a writer.