(Mexican) Food for Thought

No, I promise you this is not turning into a food blog (and because I know several friends of mine actually have food blogs: there is nothing wrong with a food blog, I’d just be very bad at keeping one) but meals are worth mentioning occasionally. Especially since we so often break bread with our friends. Or, in this case, tortillas.

La Esquina: the Corner deli that can’t really be described as a corner deli

I have literally spent the summer living down the street from this place and it always piqued my interest. Problematically, I’ve always been too poor to try it, but hey: in a few days I’ll be back in Jersey and I’ll probably never live around the corner from it again. Carpe diem may as well apply to restaurants if you use it to justify anything at all in your life.

Eating out front. Warning: view contains Agent Smith

Eating out front. Warning: view contains Agent Smith

Agent Smith and the Laurasaur indulged me in my fancy, and we made a fine trio in the outdoor dining area. The evening was deceptively cool: you could almost forget that New York City is, in fact, a circle of Hell in the summer months. And the food itself made a decent excuse to gather.

There’s nothing quite like sharing a meal with friends. I am by no means a food critic, but everyone agreed that the yucca fries were quite palatable. We even broke the final piece into three, so as to limit any guilt one might feel for being the rat bastard who steals the last fry. That said, not all stealing feels wrong. There is no greater pleasure than snatching bites from another’s plate, as long as the said other returns the favor.

Oh, stealing and looting: such are the true hallmarks of friendship. And conversation, I suppose. Speaking a common (metaphorical) tongue is so important. This isn’t limited to, or commonly even delineated by, a shared spoken language but often has to do with gesture and allusion: an entire culture of verbal and non-verbal cues that build context.

How fortunate we are to meet each other, as friends. To share enough cultural context that we may find a halfway point when we talk about dance crazes or after school shows and know what the other actually means. To make running jokes about non-Euclidean geometry and how, because of it, clouds drive us insane.

And it’s almost awe-inspiring to think of the very act of communication it takes just to make an H.P. Lovecraft joke. It isn’t just that we’re forming words, those emissaries that vibrate their way through the air, it’s that on the other side the listener receives the whole idea of the thing—the shape of concept. It’s this that we pass to one another, and not just the words themselves.

This is the true power of language, and it’s not even something that we ever think about when we’re actually communicating with each other. To think: to tell a potty joke you’re using the same means your ancestors did to share ideas across empires—to create the ties to build the empires themselves.

And what goes on between any group of friends is more than a handful of casual words or gestures. Communication is so much more substantial than that: it exists almost tangibly, and it’s comparable the carne and the chile and the mole and the fritas we passed around. The food, the language, the mores and the cultural references: these make our common tongue.

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I’m Actually Going to be Published. In a Book. That Will Actually be Bound. Like Books Are.

Something I wrote is going to be published.

It’s not a book.

But it’ll be in a book?

And it’s not the best thing I’ve ever written.

Thank goodness. I really don’t want to peak in college. That would just almost be as bad as peaking in high school, which, come to think of it: I may have actually peaked in high school.

Nah. Well…maybe. I’m way less cool in college, that’s for sure.

Mathematician John Nash was obsessed with making it before thirty: apparently a number of his contemporaries did their best work in their youth. And while Nash did do great work which eventually won him a Nobel Prize, the prize in question was for…economics. (And strictly speaking it’s not an actual Nobel Prize because it’s not in one of the original categories; it’s actually the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.)

Okay, as a writer/sound engineer I think I may not actually be allowed to take shots at economists. Also, my sister majored in econ. So everyone should just pretend my math major friend said it instead.

“As a writer.” Do I get to say that now? Probably not: that’s like calling myself a blogger because I keep this site. The terminology is technically accurate, but but you’ll never be able to take yourself seriously.

Anyway, just like every liberal arts-based university in the US, NYU students have to take an expository writing class in freshman year. Because I’m in Steinhardt, the red-headed stepchild of our fine university, I had to take two, but that’s beside the point. The point is that I wrote something my professor liked so much that she suggested I submit it to Mercer Street: the publication of our school’s expository writing program. Every year, around thirty essays (out of 500+ submissions…I need to make this sound as good as possible) are chosen for a new edition. And this year, one of my essays—Beyond Death: The Aesthetics of the Human Corpse—made the cut.

Warning: contains my face. But yeah, that's the letter they sent me in the mail. After they sent me an email like a month ago? I guess they're actually printed now, though.

Warning: contains my face. But yeah, that’s the letter they sent me in the mail. After they sent me an email like a month ago? I guess they’re actually printed now, though.

As you can extrapolate from the title, the essay is about art and death and dead bodies and poses the question: who do human corpses belong to, anyway? So you know, basically all the bright, positive things you expect me to write about from reading my daily ramblings.

Whatever. I get two complimentary copies and a $35 gift card for the NYU Bookstore. Obviously, I’ve made the big time.

Okay, I usually like to at least end these things on a positive note (see previous entry for a particularly poignant one) but we’re going to take the time to talk about how sad this is. On the submission form for Mercer Street it says chosen essayists will receive a $35 “honorarium.” Hey College of Arts and Sciences: just call a gift certificate a gift certificate. I’m a nerd. I guarantee you that if you’d given me actual money I would have spent it on stationery and books anyway.

Well…a book, some pens, and maybe a froyo. I’m a fat nerd.

Journeys End in Lovers Meeting

O mistress mine, where are you roaming?

O, stay and hear! Your true love’s coming,

That can sing both high and low:

Trip no further, pretty sweeting.

Journeys end in lovers meeting,

Every wise man’s son doth know.

—Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, Act II, Scene 3

I’m just going to go ahead and start with a digression: every time I spell “twelfth” I think I’m doing it wrong. Seriously, just look at it. It’s all weird. And it makes me think of fish. I don’t know why. Maybe because of “gefilte?” It doesn’t look like gefilte either. It doesn’t look like anything but itself.

Well. That was quite a digression to start with. Day two of my Year o’ Blogging is going swimmingly, as you can see. Almost literally because for a moment I thought I was going to fall off the boat tonight.

There was a boat?

Right. A yacht.

Let’s start from the beginning.

This evening I had the immense pleasure of seeing two of my friends get married (on a boat). The Bride especially is dear to me. I don’t see her often, but she is heart-kin in the way that every time we see each other it seems no time has passed at all. She’s tiny and lovely: delicate and quietly graceful like Chinese women are supposed to be. And because I’m a fat slob, my mother used to spend lots of time comparing me to her. (Hint: these comparisons always came out in her favor.)

That may have been another digression.

Regardless, she is my heart-kin, and it was gorgeous just to see her with someone she so obviously cared about, and who cherished her in turn. The Bride and Groom are both graphic designers. Which made buying a wedding card for them a nail-biting experience. I mean: I had to pay attention to typography. You wonder why this blog looks as bland as it does? Yeah.

It also means they share a special kind of love. I’ve worked with them before: not together, that is, but each individually. They both have the capacity to be visionary and facilitating, which is an admirable range to pull off. They look good together, to the extent that I found myself thinking “Was I that blind? Why didn’t I see that coming?”

It took a while, and no time at all, for them to “happen,” I guess. Life is a trip like that.

Journeys end in lovers meeting.

A few couples at the wedding described love, and sometimes marriage itself, as a journey. Which, admittedly sounds hackneyed. But I don’t think we’re ever completely free of cliche once we breach this subject, and cliches are accurate often enough for them to become hackneyed.

Disclaimer time: I’m epically single. Preposterously single. I really have no place to be speaking about love at all.

But I remember sitting next to a violinist, years ago, on our way to Venice. I was expecting what we got: a hot, slightly smelly but gorgeous-in-its-own-dirty-way city that was overrun with tourists and gelato stands. She was expecting something a little more romantic. Her parents had honeymooned there, and in her mind’s eye she still had the snapshot of her mother, a young bride, standing before a fountain in a poofy skirt. And even decades later, in her parents’ kitchen they still had a knife from the hotel they stayed at. A butter knife. A small thing. A strange little souvenir of young love.

I asked her if she were to tell the story of her journey to Venice, where would she start?

Well, she replied, she’d start with the beginning of the day, and tell it chronologically. And the logic in that is sound.

But really I’d start with the knife.

Because journeys are weird things that don’t really ever end but splinter off into different ones. And, like the case of my violinist friend, journeys can even be inherited.

Even the wedding this evening itself became a journey as The Spirit of New Jersey made a slightly choppy turn about New York harbor. So I guess a touristy little spin around Manhattan can simultaneously pretty standard and also life-changing.

So standard we did a spin around Lady Liberty while playing cliched music about New York.

So standard we turned a circle around Lady Liberty while playing cliched music about New York. Seriously. The first three songs that come to your head are the ones the DJ played.

That’s pretty normal I think. Life is changed by little things all the time. I specifically requested that the New Couple spend the Crate and Barrel gift card I gave them on mini-spatulas for that reason. And my other gift to them, as partial-curator of the evening’s phat jams, was a little night music.

So in short: lovers met, and journeys began.

In Which I Make a Commitment and Review The Way Way Back (Kind of)

I seem to have this trouble with commitment. Not in the hand-holding face-licking way (well, I do have a problem with face-licking in that no one seems to want to lick mine) but in the way where I need to run up against hard deadlines to write. Which is dumb. Because if I just wrote and edited a bit every day I’d have to have some sort of actually readable piece of writing right now. I don’t know what it would be, but it would be something: a fantasy novel, a travel log, a stream-of-consciousness cookbook.  An unmarketable book of sad poetry with illustrations in blood. Whatever. I want to produce something instead of just indulging in my  constant consumption of words and other stimuli.

So I’m going to make a commitment to…blogging. Yes, it sounds as stupid to me as it does to you. But I don’t have an English or writing class on my schedule next semester, so I’m going to need some way to keep building my chops. And who knows if I can actually follow through with this commitment because I’m failing Camp Nanowrimo pretty spectacularly right now. But still, I am determined to freaking write at least a hundred words on this blog every day until the end of December or I’ll…

I’ll…

Whatever. You get the idea.

“The Way Way Back” written by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (“The Descendants”) starring Liam James as the Awkward Adolescent and Sam Rockwell as Cool But Directionless Older Guy

So day one. Yesterday I my sister took me to see The Way Way Back which, in my opinion, was a remarkable movie. It was a trope-filled, if not hackneyed, buildingsroman/coming-of-age deal and if I were seventeen again I would be posting pictures of Liam James (who played Duncan, the lead) on my wall, because if I’ve got a type it’s dark-haired, pasty, and Hollywood awkward. But neither he nor the vaguely-indie cinematography is what captured me about the film. The screenplay did. I had to keep chewing it over and over in the back of my mind. I love how it was essentially a YA novel in movie form and it did it much better than the actual movie-izations of actual YA novels.

Synopsis: “An awkward yet intelligent young boy begins to make his transition into adulthood over the course of one transformative summer in this bittersweet coming-of-age comedy-drama. Sensing that he’s drifting away from his mother Pam during a summer vacation with her, her domineering boyfriend Trent, and Trent’s daughter Steph, 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) gets a job at a water park, and gains some much-needed self confidence under the guidance of happy-go-lucky park employee Owen, who approaches life from a fresh new perspective.”

Well, isn’t that lovely. But.

The synopsis doesn’t really do justice to the film. For one thing Duncan, our hero, isn’t really a “young boy.” That descriptor makes me think he’s seven. He’s fourteen: one of the most painful ages I can remember, and he is quite “awkward yet intelligent” I’ll give you that.

But  The Way Way Back leaves its synopsis far behind in one respect: the movie deals with its characters complexly. Of course, some would disagree. Susanna, the movie’s psuedo-love interest, treads dangerously close to manic pixie dream girl territory, for example, and Owen’s obviously complex past is never properly explained. But imagine these characters as they appear in the eyes of a fourteen-year-old boy and they start to make sense. He doesn’t see Susanna’s kindness or her motivations clearly. He sees her as an attractive, slightly older girl who pays attention to him. He wouldn’t think to delve into his mentor’s past, either: being self-absorbed is the default state of a fourteen-year-old.

That isn’t to say that our protagonist isn’t picking up on the complexities of the world around him. Duncan sees the nuances of the character relationships between the adults of the film. And to the credit of the screenwriters: all of these complicated relationships are subtly laid out far before they explode.

And explode they do. Because even though Duncan takes notice of their lives, he still doesn’t understand the maddeningly complex motivations that drive the adult characters. His mind is still straightforward, like a child’s. He doesn’t understand how his mother can’t just fix her problems. Duncan doesn’t feel her loneliness or know why she might sacrifice her son’s happiness out of fear of that loneliness. He doesn’t understand why all the grown ups regress to adolescence when they spend their summer at the beach. But throughout the movie, Duncan is learning to deal with the world complexly, and in my mind he’s learned the first lesson on the road to adulthood: grown ups aren’t infallible. Not even your parents.

That isn’t to say the film has a simplistic view of parents. For one thing, all the parents are divorced and not without their own struggles. But there is sympathy: it shows in how Susanna’s boozy, “bad” mother can still love her kids, even if she doesn’t always go about it in the right way.

For all of its hackneyed tropes, I still wouldn’t say that the movie has a traditional heroic arc, where our protagonist leaves home, slays whatever metaphorical demons he needs to, and becomes a man. For one thing there’s no underworld, no beast to slay. Well…maybe there is, but Trent drives the car and our hero still doesn’t get a chance to stab him by the end of the movie. For another, there’s no reward at the end of the film: nothing definite, anyway, other than a physically dubious trick on the slide of a water park. Instead, our protagonist is only just embarking on a journey into complexity, which is one we all take in our formative years. And while that might not be something to celebrate (Holden Caulfield spends a whole book fearing the impure adult world) our hero has made it so far without really losing his innocence. And, as implied by his overgrown boy of a mentor, our hero has many journeys yet.

But don’t fear too much for him, or the loss of innocence that awaits him: there is a moment at the end of the film that shows that, while adults make poor decisions, they sometimes make the right ones too. And through that moment the audience realizes the brilliance of The Way Way Back: almost every character changes by the end, not just Duncan. The changes are not quite noticeable at first, because we’re watching through fourteen-year-old eyes, but they’re there. And here’s the second Catcher in the Rye reference for today: the journey into complexity is not a one-way fall from innocence, and at the end of his novel J.D. Salinger uses a carousel to represent it. By doing so he shows that the journey to complexity is actually cyclical:  made ’round and ’round as we humans continually spin to and away from innocence. Duncan, our boy hero, may just be on his first trip through this cycle, but every character, adult or adolescent, is in fact on the carousel as well. None of the sympathetic characters is static. And sitting in the audience we too realize there is a ’round and ’round motion in our own lives. We’re all on that journey, that carousel,  of constant  development. Which means we’ll always look at the world ever more complexly, while still swinging back to innocence. I’m okay with that.

Explaining Myself with Help from a Song Dynasty Cityscape

I think people misunderstood my last entry. Or maybe I led them to the wrong conclusions; I apologize for that. I am not a basket case, but writing is an exhale for me. It is a way to repel the forces at war inside myself, which sounds incredibly hackneyed and I almost winced when I wrote that because I am not a tortured artist by any stretch.

Forgive me, I can’t explain myself plainly at the best of times. I don’t carry conversations easily, you might find. As many words as I may spit into the air over my lifetime, all my better and more intimate thoughts make their first homes on paper.

But it seems my stupid scribblings fail to convey what I mean even now, so I’ll speak through the ancients. To paraphrase from Dream of Red Mansions: referencing an old thing, after all, is better than creating a new one.

And the best allusion, the best metaphor even, I have to explain my state of mind is this:

Along the River During the Qingming Festival. Or rather, just a snippet of an 18th century reproduction of the 12th century original which is 17 feet long. Click the image to view the entire original scroll.

This is a detailed view of a painting called Along the River During the Qingming Festival or Going Upriver on the Qingming Festival or whatever slightly inaccurate translation that you prefer to refer to it as. Painted by Song Dynasty artist Zhang Zeduan this panorama stretches over seventeen feet long. Seventeen feet.

The room I’m sitting in right now probably doesn’t even have that much square footage.

And it’s not an empty scroll of Zen landscapes (each with a wide textile border) instead it depicts the day of the Qingming Festival in the Song Dynasty capital. The temporal setting of this work, the Qingming festival, is sometimes translated as the Tomb Sweeping festival. It’s the day you go to clean up and honor the graves of your ancestors, which were usually out-of-the-way places. Chinese people didn’t believe in keeping their dead close. Better a tomb be kept where no road would ever be built over it.

Close-up detail of the Chinese cityscape hands...

Close-up detail of the Chinese cityscape handscroll Along the River During Qingming Festival, ink and colors on silk, 24.8 x 528.7 cm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But there’s a beautiful paradox here, because this painting isn’t about death at all: it’s about life, flowing into the capital like a river from the mountains. This scroll is bustling with people and activity, growing more populated as the landscape slowly changes from bucolic to urban. Its people are clothed richly and poorly. Stylized though they may have been, the painting is populated by recognizable characters: from peddlers and actors to even tax gatherers. It was a snapshot of a vibrant, living city on a day dedicated to remembering the dead.

And what I mean to say is that I’m living that duality right now. I grieve in bursts, but I don’t spend my time wallowing in a pit of tar-like sadness. In fact, at this precise moment, my major concern in life is that I can’t sleep because of words and also because of the late-running birthday party at the bar across the street. But at the same exact time, the greater context of my life contains death and I do spend days dedicated to remembering. But even on those days there is life. While I sometimes speak hopelessly, theose feelings are passing. Like ships on the Qingming, they must still leave the harbor despite the day. Because the painting, after all, is populated by the living, and they have their tasks.

Close-up detail of the Chinese cityscape hands...

Close-up detail of the Chinese cityscape handscroll Along the River During Qingming Festival, ink and colors on silk, 24.8 x 528.7 cm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s Talk About Our Feelings

I can’t really keep it together right now, which is why I’m writing this. 

The hope, usually the hope, is to talk about these things to someone before they get to this point, but I guess the stupid truth is that it’s easier to tell everyone than just someone. Because these days, no one makes the choice to see me. Which is fine. I understand. If losing parents has taught me anything about my friends, it’s not to expect. Most of them are horrible with death. And I love them for it. I do. It’s fine. Except.

I just wish someone could say an impossible thing to me. I wish they could tell me that it would all go away. I want to be normal: that girl you actually like, who is not always sad and frustrated about everything, who is not inadvertently bitchy. I’m such a burden. I want to be someone who can work hard and never has to sleep or eat and never says the wrong thing. I’m trying, and I slip up, and I’m not her. I can never be her. And I think I might just be cementing my position as supremely not her by writing this.

I want someone to tell me that it’s not my fault, that it’s okay. But no one is going to do that anymore. I don’t get the reward system, too old for things like approval: achievement is expected, is adequate, is the default state of being. 

I want to know if my parents are proud of me. But I’ll never get to know that: not anymore. I want to know that it’s not my fault that they can’t be, that they aren’t here anymore. Please, I just want to talk to my mom again. I just want to see my mom the way she was before Dad died: before she got too thin. I can’t even remember what she looks like because my own traitorous brain won’t let me. Please if I could just see her in my mind when she’s not hurting. 

I want to know what my dad would think of me and what I’m doing with my life. I need his advice. I want him to help me with all these things I’m working on and tell me that everything is going to be okay, that I’ll be able to learn everything I’m trying to because everyone can learn it and that I’m just lazy for not understanding physics. Because it’s so simple. Everything’s so simple.

Please just make everything simple. I just want to understand why I feel so alone.

 

 

Nocturne

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NoLita in the dark.

My suite mates are apparently having a party or something…which makes me slightly upset that I’ve never dragged people over because I’ve kind of wanted to have a party but I always felt it would be inconvenient.  Yes, I’m stupid and petty.  Regardless, it doesn’t look like I’m sleeping soon. Far too loud. I’m also not social enough to actually go out and talk to anyone: so…

Some thoughts on night in the night. It’s not like my drive towards nocturnal started just now, anyway, even though it’s often hard for me to be productive in the darkness. But nights aren’t really for productivity until it gets so late it’s almost morning. And speaking of that twilight place: how do we define night? In or minds and programmed into our bodies.

Night sometimes means sleep, of course, that crushed velvet sensation of letting your bones lay weary against the earth. Most of us enjoy the feeling of sliding sideways into darkness: the curl of blankets and pillows forming a safe cocoon. I must confess, odd as it may be, that I do miss nights spent awake and on the road. Admittedly I have only ever been a passenger, one who can afford to meditate on the darkness. It’s astonishing how beautiful the world is, blurring by in a string of houses and highway signs, cities and railroad tracks. The “I” of me melts away until all that’s left is just a pair of eyeballs, drinking in the sideways slip of the world outside my window. Those are the nights when I never want to reach my destination. The hum of the road is home enough. At least until dawn, rosy in the east, unmasks the dark silhouettes of the trees, or mountains, or skylines—whatever my companions had been in the evening—and wakes the world until it’s no longer quiet. Until traffic is a scream. The bubble bursts.

After all, nights are the times of dreams: waking or not. It’s when you are close to people, even strangers you’ve only just met. Anyone can become friends right around three am. The world is soft, then. You all share the dream. Any other time those pretty words you so willingly exchange, flitting on their gossamer wings, would be too heavy. Would fall out of the air like dead things.

The nocturne is its own song, and it compels us to our feet. We dance because it’s harder to feel ashamed in the darkness. We dance because we don’t remember our daylight faces.

Not that there isn’t a danger in forgetting: there is no innocent dark, which pains me deeply. I want nothing more than to stalk the streets and learn the city’s moonlit face: unlined and dewy with summer. But I can’t, just out of simple fear. Because I’m not especially intimidating or good at violence. Because darkness shields dangers in the alleyways. And anyway: the world is stifling and warm, and I will not ruin it by seeking confrontation.

Instead, I’ll content myself here in the cocoon of my lamplight, hung sweetly in the summer night.

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