November 12, 2008
You can’t put a price
EXPERIENCE IS PRICELESS.
Not résumé experience, life experience. You can put a price on résumé experience. But I would never sacrifice one for the other.
What would you give for the best weeks of your life? A hundred, a thousand, a million dollars? Whatever it “cost” you in cash to live them out? A rough estimate of my time in Brooklyn and New York includes airfare, car services, taxis, food, drinks, tips, tickets, random purchases–it may be seven or eight hundred, a thousand bucks, I don’t know. On my deathbed I won’t be saying, “Damn, I should never have spent that grand that time!” And if someone told me, I’ll give you a thousand bucks to obliterate your memory of that week, I’d answer, “Are you cracked?” I won’t remember how much it cost me, I’ll remember that perfect moment on the Hudson of sailing under the Brooklyn Bridge on the Half Moon party boat with the waxing gibbous Beaver moon sailing along with us, and friend Jon on my arm.
(According to the Farmer’s Almanac, the Beaver Moon of November signifies that the time has come “to set beaver traps before the swamps [freeze], to ensure a supply of warm winter furs. Another interpretation suggests that the name Full Beaver Moon comes from the fact that the beavers are now actively preparing for winter. It is sometimes also referred to as the Frosty Moon.” Another interpretation of the Full Beaver Moon I will leave to your imagination.)
Or how about the rush of standing amongst a righteous assembly of the Church of Stop Shopping gospel choir, singing out in holy awe, America’s bible, the First Amendment. It makes for a great song. I’m a believer! Freedom-alujah for all!
FRIEND JON WAS MY PARTNER
in our passion play as a “Saintly Couple” attending the Church of Stop Shopping fundraiser at the Highline Ballroom and aboard the party boat. He even dressed up for the occasion (not necessary but sweet of him). He was the “white man [I] purchased”, as Jon Stewart called the guy whose shoulder Oprah Winfrey felt free to lean on at the Obama victory party. Who the hell (or to steal a turn of phrase from Robert Solis, who the hello) was he? and where the hello was Steadman? He later appeared on the Oprah show to demonstrate to his wife who hadn’t been with him that he wasn’t lying. But who the hello cares?
Jon and I, due to friend Kathy’s ill-timed confrontation with security personnel over her Bike Friday, which she was not allowed to wheel through Chelsea Market–I say, Jon and I ran ran ran for the boat (we were still in a cab as the clock struck 4:00) while Kathy headed there on the bike in question. It was a miracle that either of us made it, we were across town and weren’t 100% sure of the embarcation address (Jon called someone on his cell and asked her to look it up on the web), but it was a bigger miracle that Kathy made it there before us! And that as I ran toward the gangplank, nearly achieving liftoff as the skirt of my black coat billowed behind me, I and Kathy, who was already at the door, spotted each other at the same time as we were both on our cell phones calling each other. I wouldn’t take the hypothetical thousand bucks for that moment. It was a classic happenstance.
“EVERYONE WHO SHOULD BE HERE, IS HERE,”
said friend Ross, taking off after a show, leaving some riders behind at the venue. But for what earthly reason should I not have been at the noisy, densely populated Church of Stop Shopping after-party dinner that I left too soon to know would take place? Kathy reports that the tables were set up like the capital letter “I”, then changed to an “L” as more people showed up, and finally to a “U”. Boo-hoo-hoo-alujah for me. Kathy wanted to go to a jazz show that night, and Jon and I didn’t, we wanted to hang out and drink wine; since the party was breaking up, we just left. What we did instead, was go to Virgin and pick up some Dick Van Dyke DVDs in a quest to find the episode where Rob sang, “I’m in love, I’m in love with Attila the Hun! Attila the Hun! Attila the Hun! He’ll pillage the village and kill everyone, but I still love Attila the Hun!” Guess we’re just a couple o’ sillies.
NOW THIS I CALL A COFFEE SHOP,
though others call it Tea Lounge. This roughly 1500 SF space on Union Street in Park Slope, houses a dozen or more couches, comfy armchairs, a plank table seating 15-16 laptop-tapping folk, a bar and bar seating, and any number of stations for people to work, talk, and/or sip brew, whether tea, coffee or beer. Even so, it’s often tough to find a seat. Today a school group of children have gathered with their guitarist teacher to sing “You Are My Sunshine,” the song my tone-deaf mother often mangled, which sounds “off” to me when sung in tune. “If You’re Happy and You Know It” makes the round of things you can do to show it.
This is my Brooklyn hang. Jon does not have wireless internet (or a scanner) so my office did not quite follow me to New York, and at times I go into withdrawal for lack of a connection. His desktop is in his bedroom, so the long night passes without my fix. I ask Jon, who is a graphic designer, “Why are you living in the 20th Century?” When I’m unable to connect I think of a thousand things I can’t do without it. Yet once upon a time I lived my life perfectly well entirely without the web. I’d have to go into rehab to achieve that state of bliss once more.
ARDUOUS, CRUEL, LONELY, GLORIOUS
“To learn to speak the truth honestly with a clear voice,” says author Tom Spanbauer, “takes a lot of practice, and every trick in the book to keep you going down the arduous, cruel, lonely, glorious path of a writer.” Wherever I am–could be Chicago, New Orleans, New York, Sweden–there is always plenty to do and see, but still, sometimes, I’d rather be writing. I went to coffee shops and wrote instead of going to the Chicago Art Institute, instead of having dinner in the French Quarter, instead of going to the Brooklyn Museum, instead of having more time for exploring the streets of Stockholm. I am still on the lookout, however, tasting the local flavor. Only once did I take an intentional vacation from writing–for nearly a year after I moved to the Bay Area–because I have never known the luxury of just living, like other people do, of not feeling always compelled to comment on things or use them as grist. But never will I be truly free of that nagging impulse to set things down. It was bred in the bone. Congratu-lujahs to me.
NOW I REGRET IT.
Moving to a new city and state is the ideal time I should have been writing. What wonderful discoveries and growth I could have chronicled. Now, there is little I fail to chronicle. One reader suggested this column might be siphoning artistic energy from other projects; another said, Nah, you’ll be all oiled up and ready to go.
ALL OILED UP AND READY TO GO.
My new stance in life.
AFTER ALL IT IS A GREAT BIG WORLD,
with lots of places to run to. I’m noticing how often I relate tales of my running for something at the last minute. It’s obviously a pattern, though sometimes not my own fault, that I do intend to change–but what the hello, like the risk of discovery enhances sex, it adds to the excitement of an event when you add the possibility of missing it (but only if you don’t). At least you arrive there with your heart pumping. (It may have something to do with my love of bed and my reluctance to get out of it.)
“Put on your pig face!” says the teacher. “Make pig noises!”
if I’m doing the same thing I did in 2007 when I quit my job. Winter: First thing off, a month-long cross-country train trip; Spring, to Mexico with Jon; Summer: to Lowell, Massachusetts, hometown of Jack Kerouac; Fall: the full Burning Man; Winter: Back east for Christmas. Doing what same thing? Running. Why am I running around? Am I in pursuit of something, or escaping from something? And what would that be? The inevitability of having to sell books to make a living, or the entire proceeds from the sale of my flat get burned away and I’m in my mid-fifties in need of a job. Ugh. Scary, so scary I cannot allow it to happen. But I’m a free-wheelin’ writer who writes pieces in the fullness of time; editors and deadlines just don’t jibe with my work process.
I LEAVE FOR OAXACA
December 10th for a week-long writing workshop with author Ariel Gore (Atlas of the Human Heart, How to Become a Famous Author Before You’re Dead), then fly to New York for holiday spirit, train home to Philadelphia to writhe in anxiety, and then the plan had been to train to New Orleans for New Year’s Eve, then take the Sunset Limited from NO to LA, and on up to SF on the Coast Starlight. That had been the plan, that was was supposed to be the big flat-selling trip. But that was before I ever knew I was going to Sweden or New York. I don’t know if I have the traveling stamina for another month on the road. I’ll just assume I’ll be oiled up and ready to go. I don’t consider travel to be avoidance, it is living; in-depth life experience and priceless writing fodder. I wrote a prize-winning poem after Lowell. Was the cost of the trip worth it? Hello yes! Gotta keep it interesting, after all.
MY GREAT BIG SHAMELESS SHOPPING SINNER CONFESSION
I had two free passes to see “Nights in Rodanthe,” at the Westfield Sinful Shopping Center in SF, and afterwards friend Saand and I, on the way out, window-shopped this luxury haven for those who simply must pay more. Windowshopping is dangerous; just as marijuana is known to lead to heroin, window shopping can lead to sinful shopping. Proceed at your own risk. At one shop we stopped to ridicule a throne-like chair…”but I love this dress!” I said, magnetically drawn to the mannequin like a hypnotized zombie. “It’s a coat,” I was told–an “opera” coat–a flashy glam full-length Victorian-cut black suede extravaganza with silver studs on the collar and sleeves. It was faboo, so faboo that Saand was not discouraging me, and I splurged on it with a portion of my inheritance from my uncle, and consider it to be a gift from him. So the “free” movie ended up costing me many pretty pennies, but I will treasure it as a memento of my uncle.
I LEFT MY GLOVES…IN SAN FRANCISCO…
so I went out on the prowl on Brooklyn’s 5th Avenue in search of same (I had mistyped “shame”). In search of shame, I went shopping. No gloves, but in the process I happened upon two awesome accessories to the coat, a hat and wool choker, that could have been custom-designed to complement it. The hat has two buttons similar to the coat’s, which extends the line of the coat’s buttons, and a knit choker that fits inside the Nehru collar and does not spoil the line of the design like a muffler would. The coat was custom-made in Mexico and purchased in San Francisco, and I had to go to New York to find a matching hat that was made in France. I love the whole ensemble because it makes me feel like a Cossack, returning me to my Polish/Russian roots. I also once had a lovely rust-colored set of mud-cloth jacket, hat and clogs that I assembled in three different cities. The point being,
SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO GO OUT OF YOUR WAY
to find what you want.
And while you’re doing it–make a pig face!
Friend Kathy with friend Jon on the party boat. And Douglas, a good sport who allowed me to take his picture because I have a draft column going about modern facial hair configurations. Thanks Doug, you red-headed devil.
All oiled up? 1) Get ready. 2) Get set. 3) GO!
copyright Alexandra Jones 2008