Thursday, March 25, 2010

On Travel

Since I was young, I have always loved to travel. Whether it was a long eight hour drive down to Florida to see my Grandpa, or a quick weekend to D.C. or Philly, or even just a jaunt to a small town in the middle of nowhere in Georgia, I love to travel. Traveling reminds me of when I was young, when I was a student and I had no serious cares in the world, aside from your usual teenage dramas and first heartbreaks. Honestly, while I love living in New York and I love my people here, I'm still trying to figure out what kind of career I need to pay the bills and to keep me sustained and fulfilled in an emotional sense. It's really difficult. If I had my way, I would write full-time. Traveling, even if it's a brief getaway, makes me feel like I'm seventeen again, with my journal and my books, settling in for a long train ride, ready for newness, ready for anything.

When I was eighteen, my mom and I tagged along on a University of Alabama study abroad program called "In the Footsteps of Virginia Woolf," the best trip I've ever taken in my life thusfar. We traveled all over England, to London, to Kent, to Sussex and finally to Cornwall, and when I stood on our hotel balcony I could see the pulsing light of Woolf's lighthouse. I got to watch my mom's face light up with joy while we walked through Vita Sackville West's garden at Sissinghurst. I saw Woolf's original manuscript of Orlando, handwritten in purple ink, that she gave to Vita, installed at Knole.

I've visited Andalusia, Flannery O'Connor's home in Milledgeville, Georgia, where she lived her entire life and wrote there - I saw her typewriter and her crutches.

I've held Sylvia Plath's childhood valentines to her mother in my hands. I've also held two feet of her hair, braided, in my bare hands at the Lilly Library in Bloomington, Indiana.

I've walked through ancient cemeteries in the UK, kissed the Blarney stone (after some intense anti-bacterial wiping) and taken down epitaphs from decrepit tombstones in Massachusetts. I've danced with Frenchmen and Spaniards in Madrid, even though I barely speak French and speak absolutely no Spanish. I lit a candle for my Grandmother in Notre Dame. I walked through the house where Nathaniel Hawthorne was born, and the house on which he based The House of Seven Gables. I dropped my favorite childhood necklace into the bay in Sausilito.

While standing in the Monk's House garden, where Virginia and Leonard Woolf's ashes are buried next to each other, I watched a big black cat cross through in the blinding sunlight.

For me, traveling is about forging a physical connection with places and people, particularly of the literary and historic persuasion. There's nothing I love more than the idea of a trip to Sleepy Hollow, or a visit to Amherst, to see Emily Dickinson's house. Being there situates you closer to the work, to the writer. I think literary excursions are the most romantic excursions.

And while there are still so many places to go and so many things to see, as I recount these past travels I feel a bit better about sitting inside being stuck at a desk on a gorgeous spring day. You know, I feel lucky.

Monday, March 15, 2010

In Which Cooking is an Analogy to Life Itself

I've just finished reading Cathy Erway's The Art of Eating In - you may recognize Cathy not from the name of her book but rather the name of her blog "Not Eating Out in New York." Cathy made a promise to herself and her readers that she would not eat in restaurants in New York, cooking all her meals at home, for two years. The book is a recounts her culinary struggles and triumphs. Gimmicky yes. Inspiring, also yes. For instance: last night I was out until 11pm, and I hadn't eaten dinner. Normally I would've rushed into some restaurant, totally ravenous, spent about $40 on booze and food, and gone home feeling guilty for my overindulgence. Thanks to Cathy's influence, I went straight home and looked at what I had in the cupboards. Some whole wheat pasta, parmesan cheese. Quickly, I whipped up some delicious cheese and pepper pasta and was totally satisfied, without spending a cent, without overeating.

Until this past year, I looked at cooking with disdain and apprehension. Cooking was for people with too much time on their hands, for housewives, or naturally talented chefs. But after doing some experimentation, I quickly learned that cooking at home can be healthier in that you control the ingredients, and certainly it's cheaper. In Erway's book she calculates she spends $20 on groceries one week (this is obscenely off - I spend about $60, but then, I'm cooking for two) for eating in. In a week where she eats-out every meal, she spends $221!

I do a fair amount of cooking at home now that I live with my boyfriend. Before cohabitation, as a single gal cooking for myself was a bit of a downer. Combine the social aspect with a kitchen in Park Slope that looked like something out of Taxi Driver, and there wasn't much of an incentive. I ate a lot of veggie burgers, cheerios and tater tots. Most of my meals I spent eating out, spending time with friends, or on dates. I was always jealous of my roommate and her boyfriend, who made intensely delicious dinners (usually on Sundays). The smell from the kitchen was devastating. And sadly, they never really offered to share. Understandable - groceries cost money. But I would have gladly chipped in.

This year, I hosted a Thanksgiving dinner at my house and 12 people attended. Everyone brought a dish (or even two) so thank goodness for that. But I was in charge of the turkey, and I was absolutely terrified. If you haven't ever cooked a large bird, I recommend doing so. It will teach you a great deal about yourself. Slaving over a turkey for six hours was agonizing: constantly basting, ensuring that the bird won't be overdone, and giving yourself a facial every ten minutes from the heat wave of the oven. Watching my friend Sue, who is a culinary master, carve the thing once it was done was like watching someone slaughter my first born child. At one point, I had to leave the room. To make matters worse, herding 12 people into sitting down at the table is near to impossible. And the bird was getting cold. All my work for naught! As Madeline Kahn says in Clue, "Flames, at the side of my face. Flames."

I lost all politeness and composure, barking orders for people to sit the fuck down, shut up, and eat. My boyfriend was embarrassed and ashamed of my behavior. But how could he understand? He had been helpful, yes, cleaning the apartment and going out to buy snacks from Chinatown. But these sort of errands in no way equal the massive amount of pressure combined from cooking the main dish and hostessing. I don't think he will ever fully forgive me for "losing it" at Thanksgiving. I tried to apologize to my guests, citing frustration and fatigue. Who knows if they even heard me over the clinking of silverware.

What Thanksgiving (and subsequent dinners) have taught me is that no matter how upset you get, for whatever reason: whether it's culinary, professional, or personal, you cannot allow your emotions to get the best of you. You must keep a stiff upper lip in public, and if you want to explode or rampage in private, go right ahead. (The gym, too, can be a wonderful safe haven for working out stress and anger issues). But the dinner table, in the company of guests (even if it's just your partner) is never the place to engage in combat with yourself. If you're type A, like I am, you must approach life in the same way: always striving for perfection. Well, it's more about the process, isn't it, than the end product? We should all just enjoy the "doing." Who cares if your place-mats don't match?

Tuesday, March 09, 2010


I might as well just come out and admit that I'm not a very good blogger. I don't update enough, and for that, I apologize.

So, what did we all think about the Oscars? I was very pleased and shocked - I didn't think they would give The Hurt Locker Best Picture, too. So that was a welcome surprise. Congratulations to Kathryn Bigelow!

As I've been getting my life back under my control after the summer / winter of hellish unemployment and disaster, I'm thinking about life-goals, dreams, and aspirations. Que the soundtrack to Last of the Mohicans. Y'all, what I've been thinking lately is life is so damn short, right? Why not go after everything you want, relentlessly? As the weather's been improving (and therefore my mood) I'm coming out the muck and for the first time in months I'm able to appreciate who I am and where I am. What about you? I've received several e-mails and messages of Facebook as of late, thanking me for my writing and encouraging me to keep at it. I want you all to know that I find these kindnesses so empowering and I'd like to say: right back at you. If you aren't doing something that makes you happy, right now, get on it. Just, get on it.

In further news, it's gorgeous outside and all I can think about are sunglasses.