Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Why brush your teeth when there's gum?

Sometimes making it out of the house on time requires sacrificing a few things. Like hygiene. And beauty. You could, for example, skip the shower. And while you're at it, don't bother brushing your hair. Just pull it back with an elastic and ball it up in one of those fake messy buns. Tres chic. Don't bother putting on your makeup, but do take a few minutes to tweeze your mustache. When the baby has dumped all of the cotton balls onto the floor for the third time, it's time to move on. Dress yourself. Dress the baby. Stuff your makeup into a bag. Grab the baby, your half-empty coffee cup, your iPhone and the makeup bag and carry them downstairs. Feed yourself. Feed the baby. Pack the baby's food for the day. Don't pack food for yourself. Look at the clock and see that you should have left 10 minutes ago. Also, notice that you're not wearing socks. Running back upstairs will eat up precious seconds that you don't have. Fuck the socks. Jam your bare feet into your rain boots and throw a pair of flats into your bag, along with your makeup and your iPhone. Wrestle the baby into his jacket. Grab the baby, your bag and the baby's bag and carry them to the door. Wonder if there is water in the dog's bowl. Put down the baby, your bag and the baby's bag and run into the kitchen to check the bowl. Which is already full. Grab the baby, your bag and the baby's bag and run out to the car, taking care to look calm and un-frazzled. Wonder what is up with this weird thing you have about not wanting the neighbors to think you are frazzled. Wrestle baby into car seat, start the car, and pop a piece of gum out of the blister pack.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A new chapter

There are books I've read two or three times, books with dog-eared pages and passages underlined in pencil, books I've read but have forgotten completely, books I've tried to read but put down after a few pages, books I've never even cracked open, books that belonged to my dad in which his name is written in a young man's wobbly script, college textbooks with yellow "used" stickers still on the spines; there are hardcovers, paperbacks, uncorrected proofs, poetry, plays, essays, memoirs, diaries and a handful of comic books, but mostly novels. Over the years their placement on my bookshelves has been dictated by alphabet, by genre and, most recently, by color.

I never counted them, but there were always enough to overcrowd my bookshelves and spill over into dozens of boxes stowed in closets, storage units and my parents' garage.

I've loved books since I was very small, when one of the greatest thrills in life was receiving a new volume of "The Sesame Street Library" in the mail. My parents often speak fondly of my ability, when very young, to sit quietly and contentedly with my books for extended periods of time. I started reading early and was always in the most advanced reading group in school. Among my favorites as a young reader were the Little House on the Prairie novels, Noel Streatfeild's "Shoes" series, anything by Beverly Cleary, and The Secret Garden. As a preteen I devoured the "Sweet Valley High" books (I identified, of course, with the bookish, journalist-in-training Elizabeth), along with anything by R.L. Stine, Stephen King and Mary Higgins Clark. It wasn't a terribly highbrow phase.

While most of my childhood books are still taking up valuable real estate in my parents' garage, my grownup collection has followed me throughout my adult life, from college dorms to off-campus housing, back to my parents' house after graduation, and then on to the nine different places I've lived since then, including a five-story walk-up on the Upper East Side and two return stints at my parents' house -- one post-break-up/pre-graduate school, and one post-divorce.

As much of a pain in the ass as it was lugging them around from apartment to apartment, I never considered getting rid of them. It would have been like deciding not to bring my clothes with me. And when e-readers first appeared on the scene I experienced the sort of revulsion that only a true book snob can feel. Because surely, one of the great pleasures of reading is the tactile experience of the book itself -- turning the pages, bringing it in for the occasional sniff, flipping to the back jacket to inspect the author photo, dog-earing a page with a particularly amazing sentence (as much as I adore books I've never handled them delicately), and, if it's an especially wonderful book, anxiously eyeing the ever dwindling number of pages left until the end.

In college, I had a major crush on this rhetoric professor of mine. And one day, when he rhapsodized about the joy of carrying his books in his arms rather than in his bag, because he loved the feel of their weight in his arms, my crush turned into cultish devotion.

I was proud of my bookshelves and, if I'm to be completely honest, I was more than a little vain about the message those overstuffed shelves sent about me. People who visited would often remark, "Wow, have you read all of these?" To which I would humbly reply, "Well, most of them." Conversely, perusing someone else's bookshelves is a very expedient way of determining what sort of person you're dealing with.  

And yet, I suppose it was inevitable that eventually even I would crumble in the face of technology. Maybe it was this last move that finally pushed me over the edge. Maybe it's the fact that our baby's stuff is quickly taking over the house, and my OCD can't handle that much clutter. And since we can't get rid of the baby, the books had to go. Or maybe it was trying to hold onto the subway pole with one hand while balancing Justin Cronin's XXX-page "The Twelve" -- in hardcover -- in the other, not to mention hauling it around in a shoulder bag already stuffed with crap to begin with.

In any case, I got a Nook. Or rather, my husband got it for me for Christmas. I asked for the most basic model; I didn't want something that could distract me with the lure of Facebook or movies or e-mail or anything else. I wanted it to be as book-like as possible, in that its sole purpose was for reading.

To be fair, there are plenty of advantages to going the electronic route. I mean, I'm sure the trees are heaving a sigh of relief, right? And then there's the issue of cutting down on clutter. It's also cheaper to buy electronic books, and you can even rent certain books from the library for free. Not to mention the fact that you can get books pretty much instantaneously -- no waiting for them to come from Amazon or making the time to get to the bookstore (which sounds kind of pathetic, but with my schedule it's harder than you'd think).

In preparation for my great leap into the 21st century, I decided to dramatically cull my book collection. I gave myself the following parameters: Keep only those books that are life-changingly meaningful to me, and only enough to fit on one bookcase. All of the books that were in good shape would be donated; in that way I consoled myself with the thought that I would be paying it forward. After all, isn't it kind of selfish to hold onto a great book? Why not release it back into the world so others can enjoy it? Anything in less than presentable shape would go into the recycling bin.

Once again, the timing of Hurricane ("Superstorm") Sandy proved fortuitous. Housebound and freshly moved in, all of my books were still in their boxes. So I dragged them all into the living room and started sorting. Here's a very incomplete and haphazard log of the process:

"Infinite Jest" by David Foster Wallace: Kept. 
So yes, this is one of the aforementioned books that I started and didn't finish, but I swear I'm going to give it another shot and get through it. One of these days. Plus, I can't get rid of anything by DFW. I just can't.

"If I Told You Once" by Judy Budnitz: Donated.
I don't remember anything about this book, but it had a very sweet inscription from one of the great loves of my life. But I froze my heart and put it in the donation pile.

"Remembrance of Things Past, Vol. 1" by Marcel Proust: Donated.
OK, truth: I never read a single word of this but I hung onto this book for like 15 years, mainly for prestige value. I'm not proud.

"The Time Traveler's Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger: Donated.
I LOVED this book. I read it three times and cried every single time. But seriously, there are lots of books to be read. And no disrespect to Ms. Niffenegger, but it's time to move on.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Is the universe trying to tell us something?

On October 25, my husband and I packed up the family, said farewell to Brooklyn, and headed across the river to New Jersey. Four days later, the state was ravaged by the worst storm on record. It ripped trees out of the ground and crushed houses, tore down power lines and washed away much of the Jersey Shore.

We huddled inside and waited for a tree limb to come crashing through a window. But by some miracle our house remained untouched. We didn't even lose power. We awoke to the buzz of chainsaws and emerged to find our neighbors in full recovery mode. The wind had toppled several large trees, but no one's house was seriously damaged. There was an air of giddiness as the men set about carving up the fallen limbs, happy to have an excuse to use their serious power tools. The houses on the other side of the street had lost power, and orange extension cords stretched across the road in a neighborly sharing of electricity. 

We had seriously lucked out. For us, the worst fallout from Sandy was the fact that it turned what would normally be a breezy, thirty-minute commute into the city into a gnarly, soul-crushing clusterfuck. And I haven't even had to deal with that. The storm knocked our train line out of service, and I've been working from home while Steven makes the heroic trek, waking up at 4:30 in the morning to catch a bus in and then battling the irate crowds at Port Authority on the way back. 

Like I said, we are incredibly lucky. But occasionally it feels like I've been exiled; I left my office in Midtown on October 24th expecting to be back the following Thursday, but instead I've been gone for two and a half weeks. Maybe my punishment for leaving New York is to be banned from ever returning. Not that I couldn't get on a bus and go in, but with transportation still so unreliable and our little guy in daycare here in New Jersey, I'm staying put for now...