Sunday, December 30, 2007

Year-Ending Meme, 2007

Just thinking. This post contains the first and last sentence posted in every month of 2007. Because there's so much Friday Poetry and so many lists, I'm not going to count Friday Poetry sentences or items on lists, just paragraphs preceding the actual poem/list.

First: Sorry for the long delay, folks, but I had a lovely vacation and I hope you did as well.
Last: But its author and director are equally tone-deaf to the nuances of the social world they aim to portray, and as such run from the possibility of any real artistic insight.

First: I'm in love with Helen Mirren.
Last: But this one's been in my head, and next week I promise to break the pattern.

First: From HelsBells, I got a hold of the Guardian's Top 100 Books You Can't Live Without.
Last: Kind of nice to have a literary place to practice.

First: Excuse the delay.
Last: Can anyone out there speak to that?

First: For everyone: Balls to Congress will go live sometime in the next two weeks.
Last: Yes.

First: I am thinking about this article Tyromaven sent from WorldChanging a couple of weeks ago, and I am thinking about food donation and the general concept of "helping those less fortunate," and I am thinking about the Olympics in 2008 in Beijing and the possibility of the Olympics in 2016 in Chicago, and I am thinking about comfort in all its ambiguous definitions and necessities.
Last: Yay.

First: I'm sure that in 1974, there were many, many people as pissed at Gerald Ford as I am currently pissed at Bush.
Last: Again, assuming food, shelter, clothing, some discretionary income, and in this case some rudimentary knowledge of at least one of the country's languages.

First: I don't know.
Last: In honor of this locale and of the recent upsurge in resignations, I'll offer a small selection on our president from the "Deadline Poet" of The Nation.

First: I've pretty much spent the last two and a half weeks watching Six Feet Under.
Last: Either way there is this poem.

First: And of course, there's this.
Last: So coming in two and a half months before deadline will suit me just fine.

First: This was provided to me by one fabulous Moxiesocks a coupla weeks ago.
Last: Some of them lack a certain subtlety, and some of them were much funnier in 2001, but I still have a particular soft spot for the list, and for numbers 12 and 23 in particular.

First: I have an overactive imagination and worry too much, so when people skip out on commitments, or when I haven't heard back from them for a week and normally do, there is always at least a part of me that thinks something awful has happened.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Friday Poetry: Kenneth Koch

What can I say. I like the guy. This poem has a lot to do with what's on my mind lately, anyway.

Kenneth Koch
To My Old Addresses

Help! Get out of here! Go walking!
Forty-six (I think) Commerce Street, New York City
The Quai des Brumes nine thousand four hundred twenty-six, Paris
Georgia Tech University Department of Analogues
Jesus Freak Avenue No. 2, in Clattery, Michigan
George Washington Model Airplane School, Bisbee, Arizona
Wonderland, the stone font, Grimm's Fairy Tales
Forty-eight Greenwich Avenue the landlady has a dog
She lets run loose in the courtyard seven
Charles Street which Stefan Volpe sublet to me
Hotel Des Fleurus in Paris, Via Convincularia in Rome
Where the motorcycles speed
Twelve Hamley Road in Southwest London O
My old addresses! O my addresses! Are you addresses still?
Or has the hand of Time roughed over you
And buffered and stuffed you with peels of lemons, limes, and shells
From old institutes? If I address you
It is mostly to know if you are well.
I am all right but I think I will never find
Sustenance as I found in you, oh old addresses
Numbers that sink into my soul
Forty-eight, nineteen, twenty-three, O worlds in which I was alive!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Pointless Milestones the Sixth and Seventh

Sometime while I was spacing out, this blog turned three years old by both measures of its birthday (the actual date, November 4, and two days after Election Day).

Word. Or words. Many words.

Find Myself a City to Live In, Part the Third

Connor posted this a while back, and I thought I might as well play with it. Bearing in mind that I have not lived in New York for more than three consecutive months in the last seven years. And that I'm twenty-five years old. And that I am perfectly well aware of my crazy elitism and what problems it causes, thank you very much. Also, that this leaves out a lot of the sociopolitical aspects of both cities that I object to or honor.

Either way,
New York versus Chicago in subjectively determined categories as posted by Connor. But, y'know, with my answers.

I feel like there's a lot more off-the-record, private, flexible work to be found in NY, which is worth it for folks with artistic interests. But I've loved the work I've found here.

What's available in Chicago is about equivalent to what would've been available in New York twenty-five-odd years ago, probably at comparable prices. If you are a New Yorker who knows New Yorkers who bought their homes twenty-five-odd years ago, you'll understand what I mean. And I think Chicagoans just get it. Most of my friends in Chicago genuinely love where they live, and those who do not are aware that there is a possibility of doing so.

New York.
Whenever I'm visiting my family these days, I still tend to leave Chicago-time to get places, which means that no matter how far afield I am travelling within the city, I end up with at least half an hour to kill. By contrast, I find myself cursing at bus and train stations here, muttering invective at the system after waiting for thirty-five minutes, which itself would have been the approximate time I intended to spend on that bus or train. I'll admit Chicago is better than most cities, but it ain't got nothin' on New York.

New York.
Connor claims Chicago here, and I can very much see his argument in terms of the design of the CTA. But to me, perhaps because I grew up in New York's system, I find its ability to fit so many systems, make itself so far-reaching, and still have it be comprehensible and truly efficient quite impressive.

Connor answered this question in a way that seemed to ask "in which city do neighborhoods have more ferocious individual identities?" In that case, the answer would definitely be Chicago; neighborhoods turn on a dime here and families, particularly on the far south side, tend to live in one neighborhood for generations. For me, though, the more important question is, "Where does it mean more to live in a neighborhood?" Which I guess is similar in some ways, different in others. I loved both my neighborhoods growing up in New York, but it was more my immediate neighbors—the other residents of my building, the other people on my block—who made the difference. I love the neighborhood-based identities in Chicago, I love how many things a neighborhood becomes. I even love how much political infighting is genuinely based around neighborhoods and their borders. My neighborhood in Chicago means more to me as a place of residence than most NY neighborhoods did or do, and I see similar patterns throughout.

I hate this fight. I do feel, however, that Chicago-style pizza is can be reproduced outside of Chicago, while I have yet to see a pizza place outside New York reproduce New-York-style pizza in any reasonable way, rather like bagels. I like deep-dish, but it doesn't mean Chicago to me. New-York-style pizza very much means New York to me. In addition, New York has a true culture of a Pizza Place, whereas in Chicago places that serve pizza are either full-fledged Restaurants or such holes in the wall that it's honestly unpleasant to be there. Connor mentioned, compellingly, that one should not rely on the culture around the pizza to determine which pizza was better, and as such they're really just apples and oranges to me.

New York.
I'm not wild about either gentleman, and Bloomberg coming into office after I left New York, I know much less about him. As such, this is a somewhat ignorant choice. But while I admire Daley's lack of ambition to be anything other than mayor of Chicago, and his truly local focus as a result (unlike one former mayor of New York I could mention), too many systems that are too nasty continue to be upheld and encouraged under him, and he has maintained under his reign a painfully segregated city only encouraged by transit problems and community isolation he refuses to aid. Bloomberg strikes me as basically harmless, though I'd love to hear from some current New York residents on that.

New York.
I am not good with art museums, but while I think highly of the MCA and the Art Institute, I feel like the Met and the MoMA offer a great deal more and that smaller museums with more focused collections maintain a higher profile in New York—P.S. 1, the Guggenheim, the Whitney and the like. There are fabulous galleries and interesting gallery scenes in both places, but I think that New York maintains greater diversity in a more interesting way.

If I had ever lived near Yankee Stadium in New York, I might vote differently. Yankees fans are jerks as often as not. But Cubs fans, who are overwhelmingly drunken idiots, are right on my route home. I've had my bike tripped and my helmeted head grabbed by drunken Cubs fans, I've been groped by drunken Cubs fans, and it takes more than an hour longer to get home when they're playing.

I was raised by a Mets fan, and while again some of my favor might come from not living near a stadium, White Sox fans to me are a much more likable, less fucking obnoxious bunch.

Mostly because I have never been very involved in any music scene, and my knowledge of music history is limited. I see more forms that were presumed to originate in Chicago and with Chicago culture, but a more constantly active scene that's based itself in New York.

New York.
Just barely. This might well be Chicago but for sentimentality, but my childhood was marked by frequent voyages to both the American Museum of Natural History and the New York Aquarium. I love the Shedd, though I haven't been there in quite a while, but the New York Aquarium is so delightful and incongruous, and if we're counting aquariums as science museums we have to count zoos, and Lincoln Park's got nothing on the Bronx Zoo (Brookfield Zoo being way too far afield, and not within city limits). The Museum of Natural History, though the exterior architecture isn't quite as beautiful, is fuller and more of a pleasure to explore than the Field. The Museum of Science and Industry has never impressed me, but it is within the city limits, which is more than I can say of the Liberty Science Center, the closest comparison I can think of in the New York area. So this goes to New York for me, but it's squeaky.

New York.
The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, team. Ain't nobody said nothin' about the el.

I plead the fifth.
This would be the most sensitive question for me at the moment. I'm impatient with both for different reasons. It's too comprehensive a thought process and would offend too many people I know in both places for me to put this musing out in a public forum. If you want to have this conversation with me, I'd love to.

The biggest change September 11th brought for me was the change in skyline. But nevertheless I continue love the irregularity of Manhattan, and even the way Brooklyn has crept in as part of the silohuette. Chicago is more condensed, as such a little starker, but it certainly and pleasurably indicates to you that you're there.

This is the first definitive win that I gave Chicago while Connor did not, I think. I have tremendous admiration for Central and Prospect Park; I think they display tremendous dedication and foresight on the part of the city, and I think a few of the city's smaller parks—Stuyvestant, Corona—are truly lovely. But I also think community in Chicago is based in and around parks in a way that it isn't in Chicago, and that makes a huge difference in how parks are received and treated by the residents. Pretty much every neighborhood in Chicago has a park, a real, full-sized, well-maintained park, that serves as a community center and a summer destination. Some neighborhoods are fortunate enough to have parks that are bigger, more and better than that, and it's not just wealthy white neighborhoods. Plus, there's a lot to be said for forest preserves within your city limits.

I don't care.
I can't figure out a worthwhile thing to change this category to. Coffee, by Connor's report, seems to be cheaper in New York, and I'm inclined to believe him. I never found a café to settle into in New York in quite the same way as I have here, but at eighteen I didn't really need one. So I'm not going to give much to this question.

What New York's trying to do with its waterfronts now—and this has been an innovation of the last ten years or so—is based upon Chicago. If not directly so, it's certainly a poor imitation of the city planning decision Chicago made, with regards to the lakefront, decades ago. Even when several New York boroughs have the advantage of being surrounded by water on multiple or all sides, they have not managed to make the beautiful, expansive public use of it that Chicago long ago made a priority and has preserved with pride ever since.

New York.
As Lorrie Moore—or a character written by her—once said, if you don't understand how this paper is better than that paper, I want you to go out and stand in the hall until you do.

Living in New York for eighteen years I never had occasion to open the Post. I retain some genuine curiosity about the Sun-Times.

21. CITY.
I plead the fifth, again.
If I knew, I'd be in a completely different emotional place right now.

Friday, December 07, 2007

So Long Neglected Friday Poetry: A.E. Housman

It's back! It will probably miss one more week in 2007, two weeks from now, but it will miss none in January 2008. This I vow. And this poem has been in my head.

A.E. Housman
[O who is that young sinner]

O who is that young sinner with the handcuffs on his wrists?
And what has he been after that they groan and shake their fists?
And wherefore is he wearing such a conscience-stricken air?
O they're taking him to prison for the colour of his hair.

'Tis a shame to human nature such a head of hair as his.
In the grand old time 'twas hanging for the colour that it is,
Though hanging isn't bad enough and flaying would be fair
For the nameless and abominable colour of his hair.

O a deal of pains he's taken and a pretty price he's paid
To hide his pall or dye it to a mentionable shade,
But they've got the beggar's hat off for the world to see and stare
And they're hailing him to justice for the colour of his hair.

Now 'tis oakum for his fingers and the treadmill for his feet,
And the quarry gang on Portland in the cold and in the heat,
And between his spells of labour and the time he has to spare,
He can curse the God that made him for the colour of his hair.

It Crosses My Mind

I have an overactive imagination and worry too much, so when people skip out on commitments, or when I haven't heard back from them for a week and normally do, there is always at least a part of me that thinks something awful has happened. It is my good fortune that no such thing has happened so far, and I would really like my brain to shut up. But in a couple of those incidents lately it's crossed my mind that our level of personal technological independence has created a certain level of strange isolation. Which is to say, should something happen to a loved one I haven't known all my life, someone whose family doesn't know me or someone who doesn't talk to his or her family very much from the get-go, how would I and those loved ones get in touch with one another, even if our knowledge or support might help one anther? How could I, should my paranoia or anger reach masterful heights, find out of the person in question is just sitting at home with a significant other I've yet to meet, being a bum about his or her commitments, which knowledge would allow me to be straightforwardly angry and shut off the parts of my mind now proving themselves ridiculous?

It crosses my mind, basically, that except for "Emergency Numbers" at places where we're required to offer them, like certain workplaces, we're the only carriers of our contacts these days. In a lot of cases our friends don't know one another, have never met our families, and have never seen the contact lists in our cellphones. And if something bad should happen simultaneously to me *and* my cellphone *and* the little notebook I keep separately with a list of phone numbers should my cellphone fail? Since I tend to carry both objects on my person at all times, that is as likely as something bad happening to me in the first place (which I recognize as incredibly unlikely, in case we weren't clear; this is a flight of paranoia, an observation and a thought experiment, and I don't intend it to be anything more). If that should be the case, some people I do love would be stuck not knowing for weeks, or not finding out personally, or thinking me irresponsible or cruel. Certainly that's always the first expected explanation. (I think part of the reason I go to concern first is because I don't want to think that of people, even when the problem's much, much more likely to have been caused by irresponsibility. I'd rather trust. If I didn't have such a ridiculously out-of-control imagination, one that constantly tries to test itself with the details of my possible reactions to worst-case scenarios, I think I would be able to defend this choice of going to concern first. As it is, I just need to fucking stop.) Relationships that, for one reason or another, exist in isolation from others in my life would be completely neglected. The people who end up with responsibility for contacting my loved ones, or even my *other* loved ones, would have no idea who they were.

No one else has my online passwords; Facebook profiles and other such things are likely to stay up at least a few days after we die. Should I die alone, one way or another, my cellphone is likely to keep ringing, with my voice on its voicemail. Should I work as a freelancer, from home, alone, should I not be a particularly social person, people honestly might not know for weeks, not have any reason to wonder. The inbox of a freelancer who dies suddenly is probably filled with angry Emails.

I can't actually figure out if this is more or less the case than it would have been in the past. I mean, the part about the Emails is obvious, but in terms of being alone—rural populations used to be much more substantive, after all, and methods of contacting one another much more time-consuming, expensive, and cumbersome. Probably more people tended to sit dead or injured alone for weeks, and it just wasn't as surprising an idea then as it strikes me now.

These thoughts are making me want to leave lists of contacts all over my house and with my family members, request emergency numbers from participants in even the most informal theatre projects. My guess is still that we learn the most from conversation, from the exchange of stories (which I more and more believe are the basis of social interaction). That may be about my personal habits: I like learning names, getting and remembering snippets of people's lives as I'm getting to know them. This tends to impress new acquaintances, though in a lot of ways it's the rather selfish writer's habit of looking for new stories, new inspirations. I think I like it, though; in fact, I think I might believe in it.