Tuesday, March 29, 2005

tick tock, tick tock

I spent Easter dinner with extended family at my cousin’s suburban home. She and her husband got married almost four years ago, and they’re now raising two beautiful boys – a one year old and a two month old. They live in a spacious house, with a big backyard, and they’ve even got a mellow yellow lab. By the end of the evening I had succeeded in completely and totally romanticizing their life/ lifestyle. On the car ride home, after holding that little baby for a good part of the evening, I was aching to advance my life by four years, when I might have a chance of starting a family of my own.

Back in my apartment, I flicked on the light and stood by the answering machine listening to a message from one of my dearest college friends – she and C., her boyfriend, are getting married in November! Last spring the four of us spent Easter weekend together. We did things like walk among all the new budding trees and flowers, lounge alongside a river draped over one another in the sun, laugh and drink margaritas and dye Easter eggs, cook big delicious breakfasts, and talk about how lucky we all felt. It was a very schmoopy weekend, but one that we all look back on fondly. My friend and I have had many long conversations about the institution of marriage, but it all felt very natural for her to call me on Sunday, the anniversary of our cupid-infused weekend, and announce that she and C., both Ph.D. students, have decided to take the plunge – to commit themselves to each other (in an official way) and to growing old together.

I speed dialed her number and shared my enthusiasm with her. Then I used lots of will power to refrain from calling my own boyfriend and screaming into his ear “WHEN ARE WE GOING TO DO THIS?”

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Power Pendulum

This evening, I fell into conversation with a friend regarding "the call" - you know, the call after the first date, the confirmation that yes, the other person desires you and wants to see you again.

I don't know where I stand on "The Rules", I've never read them before, nor do I intend to. However, I do think there's something to be said for holding out, waiting for him to call you. She commented that she liked my thinking, that I'm a "plotter." I agree, I am somewhat of a plotter, but what compels me to plot is my keen awareness of power dynamics within relationships. I don't know exactly where I picked this up -- by this I mean that my parents don't have a relationship that revolves around household power -- but I know that I'm sensitive to which way the power-pendulum swings.

I'm not advocating for power-mongering, or manipulation, but a healthy swinging of the pendulum can, I think, be part of a strong relationship. At the beginning of my current relationship the pendulum arc was rather severe. More of an all-out careening: after leaving him a message, I'd feel terribly vulnerable, and watch with terror as the pendulum swing off into the distance, but then he'd call, and back it would come, and if he asked me on a date, I'd have to duck to keep that pendulum from knocking me right to the floor. There was both thrill and agony to this drastic back and forth.

Now that we've been together for almost five years the arc has become less drastic --the whole apparatus has become more refined and sensitive to small shifts between the two of us, but that power pendulum still has a little play to it. And its subtle swing, the tug and pull of vulnerability and desire, still ignites some pretty powerful sparks.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Stranded Bikini

Since coming back from Florida, I’ve left my bathing suit on the towel rack in my bathroom. It’s all dry now, but I’m reluctant to put it away. Its blue and white stripes and stings hanging there make me think of summer, and I can almost trick myself into believing that I’m living near a beach again. My happiest water memories are attached to the ocean in Maine and a small lake where one of my oldest, dearest friend’s family has a summer house. A whole wash of images and sounds and sensations are triggered by a swimsuit hanging to dry: sun drenched afternoons where everything gets warm and very dry, smooth docks and rafts, cold water that takes my breath away and makes my legs tingle, sand between my toes, Copertone, flip flops and crunching shells beneath them, slamming screen doors, pine needles, tangly hair, goose-bumps, warm sand under the towel molding to my every curve, riding a perfect wave on a boogey board, happy shrieks, utter satisfaction and pleasant exhaustion after spending an active day in the sun.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Who are the people in your neighborhood?

This afternoon on a way to a meeting a walked through a neighborhood that is in the midst of serious gentrification. Passing each brick row home, I would glance at the door. Either they were shalacked in shiny new paint and adorned with bright brass knockers, or their varnish was peeling and the 1950's-era burnished stars still hung around the peep hole. On the window sills there were dying spider plants, silver candlesticks, geodes, china boxes, Pottery Barn-framed pictures, and yellowing papers. In the shadows of one entryway I spotted a stroller, and outside another home was a metal folding chair with a mangy pillow that had a big greasy spot in the middle. I walked around two painters' ladders just on one block.

Every time I move in an easterly direction in this city, I'm stuck by all the new construction. One the one hand, there is a real excitement I feel looking at these fixed up row-houses and renovated buildings. Their freshness conveys hope and energy in areas that to me appear dull and depressed. But my enhusiasm is tempered.

Across the street from the organization I work for (here after referred to as The Org), two new condominium buildings have been erected and the penthouses are going for a million bucks. Ironically, The Org chose its location because the area was home to many of the people we serve, ie: low-income families. These families are now getting pushed into other poorer, more dangerous areas of the city, and The Org's long-range plan now includes a likely move to a new site, least we become inaccessible to those we are trying to support.

There are studies that show school children living in poverty who attend mixed-income schools perform better. It's an asset for children to become aware of a variety of economic circumstances through their peers at a young age. But my experience of these new mixed-income neighborhoods makes me appreciate what a delicate balance it takes to create a thriving, economically-diverse area.

Do I believe in mixed-income housing? Absolutely! As these new neighborhoods boom, boom, boom... explode! families who have been living there for the last decade shouldn't be uprooted because their rent is skyrocketing now that they live in a newly desirable area. They should be able to benefit from the economic turn-around, and their kids should be able to benefit from going to school with more affluent kids, and spending time around over-academically-educated adults. And in theory, I want to live in one of these mixed-income areas. But in reality, when I leave my friend D's house at night to walk home, alternately passing picket fence and chain link fence, my sense of safety vanishes, and I hail a cab to take me the 1/2 mile to my doorstep.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Would you like an LSAT with those fries?

Overheard at work, man installing cubicles says to child sitting at her dad’s desk eating an after-school snack:
Man: "That a cucumber?"
Child: "No, it’s a mango."
Man:"Oh, I’ve never heard of that. We only had watermelon, cantaloupe, pineapple, and marshmallows."

I think it’s safe to assume that the gentleman who had never heard of or seen a mango grew up in a warm part of the country – where the fruits he described are more plentiful. His comment made me think about the foods that I associate with childhood: Pepperidge Farm wheat bread – with either cream cheese or peanut butter and Smucker’s raspberry jam, apples, cheerios, carrots, and fruit roll-ups. Pretty exciting eh? There are other periods in my life where specific foods feature large in my memory – like my pizza summer when I spent a significant number of evenings with my high school boyfriend, munching greasy thin crust pizza followed by ice cream from the window. The spring that followed was dominated primarily by hunger, rice cakes, and green apples. The correlation between the pizza and the hunger-pains was, of course, not a simple one. More significant than any ounce I may have gained, was the disappointment, rejection, boredom, fear, self-criticism and even more self-doubt I was feeling at the time. Outwardly, I was winning book awards, scoring goals, serving aces, and applying to top-notch colleges, but inside I was on treacherously shaky ground. I surprised even my shrink with how ferociously I clung to the rigid schema of restriction that I had erected. But gradually, my grip loosened, and my girth widened.

Just this year I’ve gone through another round of applications. It’s been an entirely different process than my first rocky go-round with standardized tests and personal essays. And tellingly, I’ve made it through sans hunger pains.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Purple Thong

There's a woman at the gym who wears a purple thong --- not under her black leggings, but over them. Twice she's been on the treadmill in front of me, and it's hard not to spend at least part of my work out marveling at the bright outer-underwear. She's probably in her mid-60's, with a full head of well-groomed short white hair and tastefully applied makeup. I'm modest and definitely not inclined to wear a purple thong to the gym, but I admire her for it. To me, it expresses that she feels good in her skin, and still sexy too. Right on sister!

As the baby-boomers age, I'm hearing the term "aging gracefully" thrown around an awful lot. I'm taking note as I watch my grandparents and friends' grandparents move through different stages of old age. I am acquainted with a lot of proud and accomplished elders. I think of "aging gracefully" whenever I see the purple adorned woman at the gym. Thong-wearing is not something I aspire to, but being confident in my own skin sure is.

At the pool today (I'm taking a short vacation in Florida), there were some lovely older women in the chaise lounges next to me. One had on a hot pink suit, and the other a cute blue and white number. The suits didn't have skirts or shorts to go with them. They were just normal one-pieces. No fake boobs or plumped lips or pulled tight faces, these women were wrinkly and tan. But they looked good.

In some of my prevoius visits to Florida, I've been weirded out, being surrounded by a single age cohort - the over-sixty crowd. It makes me think about bodily ailments, and death. But this time, I'm seeing something a little different. I'm seeing people who are comfortable with who they are, and for the first time ever, I'm just a little bit envious.

Monday, March 07, 2005

The Big Apple

What I remember most of my first visit to New York is being dizzy. I couldn't stop my eyes from moving, up the sides of those enormous buildings, around the street, over the people, down at the dog shit, and through the shop windows. Years later, I visited my cousin and ausin (a special name we made for my aunt who is closer in age to a cousin) in the city and had a blast - drinking wine (I was only 16!), seeing Blue Man group, and going all over by subway -- I was dizzy all over again.

Not really interested in living in a state of perpetual virtigo, I wasn't very keen on the idea of ever making New York my home. However, my interest in trade publishing lead me back after graduating from college. And (two summers included), I lived there for about three years.

Flying in this past Friday evening with the city pulsing and glittering below the plane, I felt visceral love for the city. The unsupressable smile emanating from my lips surprised me. I hadn't realized just what a fondness I harbor for New York City.

alive, Alive, ALIVE!! It screams. All those people mashed in together, pushing their dreams in front of them like brooms, and always moving, moving, moving. I love it. The exhilaration I get from the city's liveliness is the same rush I feel when alone I stumble across the most pristine, quietly thriving places outdoors. I suppose that in the city it's awe of the human spirit, drive, and ability to create that catches my breath, while on the beach or in the woods my pulse races in awareness of nature's incredible intricacies. Both are just brimming with possibility and potential, decaying and being rejuevenated at the very same moment.

It was an excellent weekend, spent in an excellent city, and it makes me wonder if I'll end up living there again.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Dirty Talk

So last night, over what was to be a relaxing dinner with my boyfriend, conversation turned dirty. Not that kind of dirty (and if it did, I certainly wouldn't post about it here!). Dirty as in talking about living together, and more specifically cleaning together. (Yes, as evidenced by this blog, the subject seems to be an obsession of mine). And eventually it came out that once we live together, my boyfriend is interested in the possibility of hiring a cleaning lady. A cleaning lady!? Isn't that what people who aren't on student loans do? People who have established themselves in their professional lives, people who do things like drinking nice wine instead of relying on Two Buck Chuck, people who own their homes rather than rent them?

Before I knew it, I was saying no. What person in their right mind says no when someone says, "Gee, I'd like to ensure that this place stays clean, and therefore, I'd like to hire a cleaning lady. I will pay for it so it won't cost you a dime"? Me. And perhaps it's because I'm not in my right mind.

Or maybe it's just because I'm in a very Puritanical frame of mind. To me, having a cleaning lady signifies that you're financially in a position where you can afford to hire out help to do things you can do perfectly well yourself. And I'm NOT THERE. Financial independence and self-sufficiency are concepts I highly value. I also value taking ownership for the things that you have and keeping those things nice. Furthermore, using money as away to avoid doing something that may not be enjoyable, but something that most consider part of life makes me extaordinarily anxious. Never mind the whole socio-political dilemma of supporting an industry in which health benefits don't exist, many of the staff are illegal immigrants, and which, some argue, perpetuates a classist division where "liberated women" in fact stand on the backs of other women whose liberation they squash.

My boyfriend, who I admire for his non-materialism, gravely fears becoming a slave to the things he owns. As such, he keeps his possessions to a bare minimum (except, oddly, for shoes). For him, the cost of hiring a cleaning lady (apparently the going rate is something like $50 for top-to-bottom spotlessness --- can anyone say illegal immigrant?), is worth not feeling tied to keeping up your possessions/space. Hiring a cleaning lady liberates the time that you'd otherwise have to spend DOING IT YOURSELF. (As I estimate this amounts to about 4 hours a month, plus the time spent not looking forward to the cleaning, minus the time spent feeling satisfied that cleaning is done). Granted, because he's a medical student, free time is a very precious commodity. Last night, I learned that many of his peers (even the one we've been giving our tupperwared left overs to because he's running so low on funds) have already hired their cleaning out.

By the way, I can't imagine this discussion even taking place if the boy and I hadn't come of age in the Internet boom, where things were good, the President was getting head, and everyone seemed to be living the life of Riley. So while you thank your lucky stars that you aren't dating anyone as neurotic and Puritanical as myself, I'm interested to hear your thoughts on the matter. Am I just a crazy relic of the witch trial days?