Coffee zombie

Can’t remember how to sleep. I mean, this isn’t exactly rocket science, it’s just been a couple of weeks since I went to bed early and woke up rested. If it wasn’t so freaking cold out, I’d take a long walk before bed, clear my thoughts and vent a little energy, but as things stand, I’m struggling to put two thoughts together.

I’m hoping shabbes will fix a lot of this, give me a chance to nap and not stay up late with Netflix. And I’m hoping to get a little writing done this weekend, although I’m going to have to fit it around the main event on Sunday: babysitting the most fantastic little girl on the planet. How many toddlers do you know who speak in complete sentences like, “After I play Dora the Explorer, could I have some arugula, please?” She’s just a blast.

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Flood or Famine

Soooo busy, both at work and at home. Work is everything from six projects sitting on my desk to the minutes I have to take at today’s board meeting. I have a feeling I’m behind on some of the projects, but there’s so many of them, it’s hard to keep track. Ngh. Just have to keep plugging away at whatever’s in front of me until the battlefield is cleared.

Second writing class tonight, and I signed up to submit a story for critique. Unfortunately, that didn’t impel me to write, so now I have to come up with something between when the board meeting ends and my class begins. I do have a backup story, but dammit, I feel like I’m wasting the money I spent on the course if it’s not driving me to write new things. And if I use a backup once, it’ll be easier to blow off the assignment next time. I’m just feeling pretty down about that, and about myself as a writer. I’ve tried working on a few stories, but nothing’s coming out right.

Most of my writing energy has been going into the application for Yeshivat Hadar, an intensive summer Talmud study. My parents offered to take a look at what I’d written, help me polish it. In one place they ask for a page-long summary of your spiritual life to date, something I’ve never really articulated before. Tateh just stopped on that a while; I think he got a bit choked up. I’d never realized how hard it would be to write about my experience of Judaism; it was intensely personal, and it was hard to know what to put in and what to leave out to make a clear picture. I ended up leaving out a lot of things that felt really important to me, and the whole time, I was balanced on a knifepoint between what felt true to me and how it would be read by these people who know me and know my parents. But it ended up being a very powerful writing experience for me.

After a year of feeling dead in the water, I now have too much going on. I’m trying really hard to stay open to it all, to keep putting in energy. And hopefully, it will bear fruit.

Writing Class II: Bride of Writing Class

Yesterday was my first class for the new semester at Gotham, and it couldn’t be more different from the old class, although it promises to be just as good or better. There are twice as many students, and whereas the last class was mainly young professionals with very little writing experience, this semester the students are mainly middle-aged or well into their golden years, and promise to really raise the bar: former English teachers, retired journalists, a female mathematician, a poetry MFA and a couple of ad executives who keep their skills sharp by doing their own writing on the side. I’m going to be working extra hard to come in with stories that’ll be up to their level.

The teacher, Jacob, really knows his stuff and how to impart it. He’s also on a quest to get as many of his students as possible into MFA programs. It felt wonderful to be able to ask him questions about good programs I hadn’t heard of before, and what I need to do and not worry about in terms of applying. I just hope I didn’t irritate him; it’s hard to gauge people you’ve just met. But like I said, a really sweet person, and I think I can learn a lot from him.

It’s a much heavier workload than the first course, much closer to what I’m used to from Clarion. I’m not sure if I can maange that while working full time, but I’m definitely gonna try.

Blur

I’m finding it so hard to concentrate at work the past week or so. I have projects with tight deadlines, and this is our crazy season, but I just can’t read for more than a few minutes before going online to hunt some distraction. Not good.

Also, I have way too much going on this month; it feels like every day there’s three obligations, one after the other. So very tired…

I’m going to chalk this up to getting way too much Babylon 5 through Netflix this month and not sleeping as well. Otherwise, it means the Lyme is back again. Fuck. I don’t think I can take a perpetual cycle of this…

“Today I am a nervous wreck”

I led Minchah for the first time today. I’ve been wanting to do it for a while, but I figured it was better to wait until winter break, when almost everyone was gone, so if I screwed up, it wouldn’t be in front of the whole seminary and my dad.

I did okay until the prayers after the Amidah. I’ve heard them a thousand times, I looked them over before getting up there, but the moment I turned the page, my brain froze up. I couldn’t recognize a single word. The vowels blurred. I made my way through it, shaking, syllable by stumbling syllable, and the more nervous I got, the worse I floundered. Every time I asked God to listen to the prayers of Israel, I felt like no God could possibly have the patience to listen to that painful stuttering. Even after the silence of Tahanun, when I had a moment to pull myself together, I had psyched myself out so badly that I could barely voice the rest. At least I managed to get it together for the Mourner’s Kaddish; there was no way I was going to let my attack of nerves interfere with someone else’s grief and service to the dead.

Everyone was really kind afterwards, despite having sat through what must have been the most irritating Minhah ever, but I felt really bad for putting them all through that.

I want a rematch, dammit. And next time I’m gonna kick butt.

Micawber, Murder Ink, and the death of the written word

I love bookstores. I spent most of high school wandering between the used book store and comic book store on 92nd street and the Barnes and Noble ten blocks down, and while the first two got way more of my pitiful reserves of cash, all three had an equal claim on my heart.

The New York Times mourned the closing of Micawber Books in Princeton yesterday, third in a series of eulogies to independent bookstores (The first two were Murder Ink and Coliseum Books). So why aren’t I mourning?

Micawber Books opened in 1981, when I was three years old. It lies on Nassau Street directly on my route home from school every day. But the bookstore of my childhood, the one that pulls at my heartstrings, is the more banal University bookstore, the one where I went every day to pore eagerly over YA thrillers and Greek legends, counting out my tiny allowance and trying to decide which of all these riches I should spend my money on. The one where I saw my first Punch and Judy puppet show. My sanctuary. I went to Micawber books only once in all those years. The children’s books were in a raised little nook next to the cashier’s desk that made me feel scrutinized and embarrassed to be caught in the kiddie section, and the long, thin books were arranged spine-out, making the titles uninviting and hard to read. The grown-up books, sectioned off in tightly-packed, narrow alcoves, were equally off-putting. You had to know what you wanted before you came in, find the section, and do your business quickly, before your eyes glazed, your hackles raised, or your feet began to ache. The store only became more inviting after it had to start competing with the commercial booksellers, making space for couches and showing some books face-front to catch the eye.

Similarly, Murder Ink, the couple of times I went in there, was a good place to look for odd first edition mystery paperbacks. The selection wasn’t really comprehensive, there was nowhere to sit, and I just felt out of place there despite living three blocks away. The stores where I spend my time and my money are not all commercial, but they are all places where I feel comfortable, can chat with the salespeople, curl up and think for a bit, and feel invited to ask them to order something if I don’t see it on the shelves: Barnes and Noble, The Strand, and Forbidden Planet in New York, and The Raven, Modern Myths and the late, lamented Space-Crime Continuum in Northampton.

Maybe these closing bookstores aren’t signs of the death of the written word. Maybe they’re just bookstores that didn’t connect well with customers who very much want to read and buy.

Any of you Princeton expats who remember Micawber want to disagree with my blurry childhood impressions? New Yorkers in exile who get something I don’t?

1/36

I’m not sure how many people outside of New York know about this, but I was just speechless when I saw it on the news last night. I can’t imagine how terrified his kids must have been. My God, to throw yourself in front of a moving train for a complete stranger…

I’m not surprised he had military training; I think when something so completely out of the ordinary starts happening, if you don’t have some training in what to do in a crisis, it’s hard to overcome your own survival instincts. I keep wondering what’s going to happen down the road, whether the two men will remain friends, check in with each other, what those girls are going to understand of the world, growing up with that stamped on their memories. Such an incredible story.

Subway Rescue

Resolute

So this has nothing to do with New Year’s, except that I spent half the weekend not able to move because of back pain: the weight is coming off again. Seriously, whatever crap I went through that justified putting it on in the first place, that was almost a year ago. Time to get things back under control again.

So this morning, mumbling incoherently about the sadistic alarm clock, I left the house at dawn and went for a jog in the park. The park by my house has lovely paths, a duck pond, and a cathedral over a waterfall, so seeing that all in the rosy dawn lifted my mood considerably.

The park has several ten-story staircases along the footpath. As I get my mojo back, I’m determined to conquer each and every one of them.