Multiplication is the Answer

I think about my friend Donna around this time of year.

In one of the cheesy Family Circus comic strips, a woman asks the mother of the family, “How do you divide your love among your four children?” The mom answers, “I don’t divide it. I multiply it.”

To me Donna was that comic in action, and I remind myself of both whenever I feel jealous of someone’s tie with another.

At her funeral, I remember realizing how far her reach extended. She had touched many individuals throughout her life. She had always made me feel special, and to know she had made others feel the same way brought home that there is not a finite supply of love. Caring for one person doesn’t have to diminish tenderness for another.

This should be obvious. I have family and lots of friends, a number of whom I consider close. Those in my circle are all important to me.

However, the same way a woman might criticize her appearance but be generous in assessing others, jealousy can creep in unwarranted.

Remembering Donna is like throwing a fist in the air and exclaiming that we have an immense capacity for feeling.

The second thing I sometimes think about since losing Donna: no one is replaceable. I’ve met smart, thoughtful people since her, and I have friends and acquaintances who support me and whom I root for. But no one is quite like her, and no one does it quite like she did. I suppose that’s awful and awesome at the same time.

Estoy nerviosa

I was a bundle of nerves even before I left work. I wasn’t hungry enough to eat the dinner I had packed, but I gulped a yogurt and a pudding in succession to stave off hunger over the next couple of hours. I get peckish if I don’t eat frequently.

On the subway, I was so nervous. I also realized that this is what I was missing recently. I’m a thrill seeker. Are we all? I don’t feel inclined to go skydiving or try drugs, but once in a while I love that feeling of stepping outside of my comfort zone and doing things that are in no way dangerous but make me feel uncomfortable.

Life is pretty exciting when there’s all that buildup just for a Spanish II class. The drama, the drama.

The reason I had jitters is that the last time I took Spanish was a year and a half ago. I had started from zero, and while I had practiced vocabulary and grammar a bit since then, I had never become comfortable enough to try speaking with people conversationally, and I didn’t know how much I had forgotten. What if I was way behind all of my classmates? A language course is not the type of class where you can sit in the back and blend in if you’re not prepared; the whole point is to be put on the spot and talk.

This is how it goes when you take a class that is held in a New York City high school, or my experience anyway:

– You take the subway, ascend out of the station into the busy night streets surrounded by skyscrapers, and pass a hotel and Duane Reade on the way to the school. You forgot that school entrances have so many doors in a row in order to allow large quantities of students to enter and exit.

– You flash your ID at the three employees in the lobby. Are they all security, or is just one on duty and the others are hanging out? Seems like a lot of people to be present when there’s not a lot of foot traffic in the evening.

– Your class is on the fifth floor, and you ascend via escalators. For some reason this is really novel to you. You take escalators in subway and bus stations and department stores, but you’re not sure you ever have in a grammar or high school.

– The escalators between the first and second floors are broken, so you walk up them. There are two. You can’t imagine going to class up and down multiple sets of escalators every day.

– Finally on the fifth floor, you go to the women’s room, still very nervous. This class is non-credit and nothing is on the line, but there it is.

– You walk in the classroom, two minutes early. Some desks are grouped; some are on their own and facing the front. People that have already arrived have taken seats near the front that are on the side. Those are the seats you would have taken. There are many seats in the middle and back of the room and still a few near the front that are part of the grouped seats. You take the empty seat that is front and center. Seems logical for someone who is afraid of being put on the spot.

– Class begins. The profesora has everyone introduce themselves—she says you should all know each other’s names—and the reason why they want to learn Spanish. Several people want to travel to Cuba. Two girls are occupational therapists who work with Spanish-speaking patients. A couple of men have significant others who are Spanish-speaking. You say that you want to learn Spanish in order to speak with Spanish-speakers.

– For the next activity, students group into two or three and ask each other questions to get to know each other. Entonces, you each introduce your partners to the rest of the class.

– Then the profesora informs the class that the facilities workers in the hallway want you to move to another classroom because there is a mouse in this one. Lest you forget, this is a school in New York City. You wonder how often this usually happens. Is it a regular occurrence, or did a ráton just want to audit the class?

After all that, it turns out that I am ahead of most of my classmates. I only took one school year of Spanish in Paris, but my impression at that time that we were moving very fast was correct. Perhaps it was partly because Spanish taught to French-speakers can be done at a quick pace given the similarities in grammar and vocabulary, and partly because my teacher was just very good. Whatever the reason, I’m going to be just fine, and I’m definitely going to be much more relaxed before the second class. I’m kind of going to miss those butterflies, though.

Graffiti

Sometimes when I see graffiti, I think of:

– The day one of best friends and I rented bikes and took them along the Canal Saint-Martin far out of Paris. This was before I signed up for the cost-effective annual Vélib subscription, so he and I were racking up a fee, but I think we’d both say it was worth it.

– Sitting along an isolated part of the canal on a warm day having a conversation with a Right Bank mec I knew. It started drizzling, and we skedaddled to find cover. Where did we go? A bar? Was that the day he taught me how to play pétanque? I don’t recall, but I remember the grinning cat graffiti across the water.

I guess there is a lot of graffiti along parts of the canal.

Somehow they hold for me pleasant memories of unrushed afternoons en français.

Bof

I feel a sense of dread about this year. There are various reasons for that that aren’t easy for me to verbalize.

I generally think of myself as a positive person, and I think most people I know would describe me that way, but when I think back to years ago and then move forward to more recent years, there were periods where I struggled to find something positive and some beauty in life. As is the case with everyone. Life ebbs and flows. If we’re lucky, we have more happy times than sad ones. I know in the grand scheme of things, I’ve been lucky. And #blessed, if I was someone who used hashtags.

During hard times, where I turn to find that momentary relief has changed over the years. Within the past decade one source has been nature. Looking up in a quiet space outside. Witnessing the trees that are bound to change next week.

And there’s music. Writing. People. Turning outward when it’s tempting to turn inward and stay there.

For a few weeks now certain things that I thought I had almost become desensitized to have reasserted themselves and stayed wedged in my mind past the moment. They span the levels from personal—what’s happening in my circle—to global—what’s in the news.

A small example: every time I see a homeless person in the subway now, the sadness I feel lingers longer than it used to. It seems inhuman to hear someone beg and then go about one’s day. There is a man I see sitting in the corner of the subway entrance every morning. What would help? I’m not going to give money every day. Would a smile be better than ignoring him?

I think in most cases, the feeling of malaise in difficult situations comes from feeling powerless or not knowing what to do or believing that one’s actions or words won’t make a difference.

If someone told me all this, I would probably tell them to think about what they can do, and try to do it. Sittin’ and sulkin’ ain’t gonna do anything. Well, I wouldn’t tell anyone the latter—tough love isn’t really my thing—but it’s what I tell myself after a night spent worrying or when a cloud descends on my mind.

More thoughts to come.

 

Note: I wrote this two and a half weeks ago. It’s representative of a moment in time, and good and hopeful things, as well as bad and worrisome things, have happened since then. Everything evolves (though I still wouldn’t say I’m feeling particularly cheery).

Oh Snap

Today I had lunch with a colleague who graduated from college last spring. When our appetizers arrived, she asked, “Should we wait till the entrees come to snap everything together or start eating now?”

I didn’t hear exactly what she had said and thought she was asking if we should snack on the appetizers or wait to eat everything together. Whatever the actual question, I knew my answer was that I wanted to start eating; hadn’t we both just said we were hungry?

A moment later, I realized she had actually been asking if we should wait so that we could take a picture of all our food to post on Snapchat, the app that’s all the rage among teens and early twenty-somethings.

This could have made me feel the significance of the seven years between us, but truth be told, I know that even if I were her age, I would never have considered waiting to eat my spring rolls. I do take photos of my food sometimes, but as it comes and not to show my friends. I can think of a few reasons I wouldn’t have started eating immediately (if my food had arrived and hers hadn’t, if she was in the restroom while they came, if one of our orders was wrong), and none of them include an app.

I acted as if her question was normal, but I was really thinking, “Are you serious??” I still wonder if there’s a possibility she was half-joking. Hot spring rolls! Hunger! No one except us cares what we’re eating!

Even when I was that age and up on all the trends, I didn’t feel inclined to follow them. The difference is that now I can use my age as an excuse!

On the Go

New York City is truly the city of convenience. Case in point: I came across this postal truck selling stamps:

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Perfect, I thought. I wanted to get the new Wonder Woman stamps and a sheet of ten cents stamps.

They did have Wonder Woman and an array of other new designs—not all post offices are so well-stocked—but unfortunately, no small denomination stamps. I would have had to go to the nearest post office. I was on my way to Grand Central Station and deemed that I did not have time to stop in and see if there was a line to buy stamps.

The nearest post office was right behind me; the truck was parked outside it.

At first I was amazed by this new food truck-esque vehicle, but upon further reflection I see why they set up a truck.

Sometimes I don’t know if having more at our fingertips makes us more or less efficient.

Bonne Année

Towards the end of December I sent out Christmas and holiday greetings to friends, family, and acquaintances, which included many Frenchies. Their responses reminded me of the differences between French and English greetings and how much I love noticing them:

– All the responses wishing me “de très belles fêtes de fin d’année” (very happy end-of-the-year holidays). Not that one can’t say “Joyeuses fêtes” (Happy Holidays), but I think that the fact that the former is even used reveals the specificity of the French language. No wonder non-native English speakers don’t get why we use the word “get” for everything, from “get groceries” and “get ready” to “get up” and “get down.”

– A French friend who responded to my “Merry Christmas” on December 23rd with “Thanks! Although Christmas is in 2 days!” It reminded me of my first year in France, when a friend admonished me for wishing him “Bonne Année” (Happy New Year) before the end of the year, which I had done because we wouldn’t see each other until after the holidays.

– The “bizzz” at the end of some friends’ emails, not to indicate a bee buzzing, but rather a friendly way of signing off. Not to mention the bisous and je t’embrasse and so on depending on the sender’s personality and how they view our relationship.

I hope you enjoyed the holidays. Bonne Année!

A French colleague told me I can say that until January 20th.

Bizzz

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Cold Spring, Warm Fall

On one of the last weekends warm enough to spend all day outside, a friend and I went hiking in Cold Spring, New York. An hour by train from Grand Central Station in Manhattan, Cold Spring is a village of under 2,000 residents. We were reminded several times that it is the “village” of Cold Spring by signs, including one displaying the “village speed limit.”

Most of the leaves had fallen, though there were a few trees that for some reason remained lush with autumn colors. With a view of the Hudson River in the distance that manifested itself from time to time between the trees, we talked and followed the trail marks along the bumpy landscape. We’ve known each other for perhaps about five years already, but I got to know her better that day. I guess being out in the woods one on one and crunching through leaves away from the noise of the city will give the space and air to fill with words about one’s stories and real thoughts.

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Post-hike, we walked along the road to get back to Main Street, where we warmed up with a very early dinner in a café and poked at old, beautiful beaded bags in antique shops. Then it was time for a nap on the train (well, I napped while my friend read a novel).

Of course, as soon as we exited Grand Central, we found ourselves on extremely crowded sidewalks of people during our walk to the next stop in our respective commutes. Part of it must have been due to the Christmas market and ice rink at Bryant Park, though we were passing the periphery of the park. And may I just mention that a friend recently told me that though it is “free” to skate there, skate rental is $20; $28 if you want to skip the line whose wait can be one and a half hours; and $6 to purchase socks.

We squeezed through throngs of pedestrians and crossed busy avenues before parting with a quick hug at a frenetic corner in Times Square. Talk about a jolt back into the bustle of a city that never sleeps.

City Citrouilles

A couple of weeks ago, I saw this nice fall display outside a New York City residence.101_1416

Granted, it was behind bars.101_1415

The building’s ground floor dipped slightly below sidewalk level, so these bars prevented pedestrians from falling into the shallow canyon created.

Small square footage doesn’t stop city residents from festiveness.

The Comedy is Outside and it’s Free

Last week a couple of friends and I went to a comedy show in Manhattan. The lineup included Judah Friedlander of “30 Rock” and Michelle Wolf from “The Daily Show.” While shivering in line outside the Comedy Cellar, we struck up a conversation with the young bearded guy with a backpack who was behind us in line. He was in New York for the first time because he was offered a $100 roundtrip flight from his home in Chicago with the condition that he had to stay “for a while.” In fact “a while” was just a week. I wasn’t clear on how he had scored this ticket.

Alone in New York and knowing not a soul, he was paying only $17 a night for a room at an apartment somewhere far out in Brooklyn—he wasn’t sure which neighborhood. One of my friends asked him what subway line he had to take, peppering him with possible letters and numbers, and deduced he was in Bed-Stuy.

His plans included getting some tattoos at a tattoo parlor in Brooklyn because they are known for their traditional tattoos (I did not know what that meant, but he explained that they did traditional designs, like what Popeye the Sailor would have. I honestly don’t remember if that’s how he worded it or if that’s how I translated it in my brain. I think that’s what he said, though).

Later, during the show, comedian Judah Friedlander singled him out and asked what was on his baseball cap, to which he responded, “Fuck, That’s Delicious.” Not sure how I missed that while we were talking to him.

Earlier that day, I saw a woman in a sleeveless shirt and sleeveless puffy vest walking a tiny dog with a sweater.

In the evening, we saw four carolers, two men in tails and two women in bonnets and long skirts, singing outside a dim bar: a study in contrasts.

This is why you should do and wear whatever you want. As long as you aren’t making someone else get a tattoo or expose their arms in winter weather, you’re adding to my entertainment.