Saturday, December 31, 2011

That Whole New Year's Thing

Ok, look. I’ve never been a fan of this holiday. It seems to be about a few things I have a hard time getting on board with: the pressure to go out and do something socially even if you don’t feel like it, the awkwardness, once out, of standing around, while everyone is freaking COUNTING DOWN, no less, wondering if anyone will notice you have no one to kiss, staying up until midnight (I’m not 19 anymore), saying this year sucked, and hoping next year will be better. Not to mention getting shit-faced, which I don’t do anymore. (Add to this, when I lived in New York, never being able to get a cab when you were beyond ready to go home from wherever you were, which was usually at the farthest distance from where you lived, say the World Trade Center, where I spent one bizarre New Year’s Eve, to the Upper West Side.)

For sure, New Year’s Eve has gotten better for me over the years as my life has gotten better – in Chicago there always seemed to be something going on and a ride to and from, and then I met Ben, so now I always have someone to kiss at midnight. You know, someone I want to kiss.

But this year New Year’s has me reflecting, no doubt because for me this isn’t an easy year to throw out with the bathwater. My father died in September, which sucked, and still sucks. So a part of me feels very much like, Yep, I’m super glad this year is over. Woot! But it’s also impossible to overlook the awesome things that happened for me this year: I finished a novel, which more or less happened altogether unexpectedly, and I sold that novel, which you can imagine was also a wonderful surprise. And there were various other wonderful times: three weeks with Ben at an artist’s residency in gorgeous, green, temperature-normal Vermont, where I wrote and made new friends. I taught a real-life class at UT, which I sometimes had to drag my butt to, and which was the last thing I wanted to show up for a week after my dad died, but which turned out to be kind of perfect, an exceptionally engaged, talented, and delightful bunch of undergrads. Ben and I took a trip to Marfa for my birthday. We gained a beautiful new nephew. We saw freaking West Side Story ON THE STAGE.

Most years, you don’t happen lose someone you love so very much. Some years, as I have been through in the past, it seems like every member of my family was coming down with cancer (and/or some other life-threatening condition): there have been years, periods of years, actually, where I have been known to tell people it wasn’t a good time to be related to me. My mother died of cancer in 1998, a few years later, my father was diagnosed with both prostate cancer and Parkinson’s in a relatively short span of time, and my stepfather, after having recovered from throat cancer, had a very serious stroke in 2003. (And sadly, this is the short list of illnesses that befell my relatives in this period.) But in 2001, I got my first book deal, and in 2003, I started dating a super sweet guy named Ben.

I know I’m not breaking any new ground here with my declaration that any year – that life –usually isn’t just bad or good. I’m pretty much just telling you about my shades of the gray for 2011, and I have reason to anticipate that though I am actually really excited about 2012, that it will come with many mixed emotions as well. We’re moving. You know what moving is like, right? It’s never good, and our last move was probably the most traumatic I’ve had (now that I’ve said this, I suppose by comparison, this next one will have to be less so, right?). Leaving Chicago felt as bad as, worse, than any bad breakup I’ve ever had. Ben and I are planning to move to New York, which, a few of you know, was a place I barely looked back on when I left fifteen years ago. I’m excited this time, but I also have reasonable reservations (it’s expensive, it’s crowded, it’s expensive). I’ve got several (exciting) trips on my calendar already, and/but the new book comes out right around the time we should begin packing to move, and/but, and this is where the bittersweet part comes in, there’s a character in my novel based on my dad in his decline with Parkinson’s, which I will undoubtedly be reading parts of again and again for audiences of two or twenty, and so, well, you see what I’m saying. It’s gray.

I endeavor, always, to be in the moment, but I am invariably a huge failure at this. Nevertheless, this idea of being in the moment calls for neither regretting the past nor wishing to shut the door on it, and it also calls for putting aside my expectations of what will come. On the pessimist-optimist continuum, I probably fall well on the optimist side. (Note: there was a full decade or two when I was very far on the pessimist side, albeit with fearful, fleeting glances at the optimist view.) My life is incredibly rich, and fulfilling, and it seems to me that overall, it has really only gotten better (often VERY slowly) over the last twenty years, and I have had, for some time, the strong feeling that this will continue to be the case. That shift in perspective, right there, is probably the miracle for me, regardless of what the next turn of events will be.

So. The New Year’s thing. That’s pretty much it. 2012 will suck when it sucks and it will be great when it’s great and sometimes those things will occur simultaneously. At midnight tonight, after a great meal with good (foodie) friends, I will most likely already be asleep. After that, yeah, I don’t really know.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

All The Pretty Status Updates

So it was actually pretty great being offline, but we weren't in the fields long enough to assess whether we could withstand the world without facebook long-term. We were there just long enough for me to still think continuously in status updates, so here they are, in no particular order:

Back roads are the way to go.

Sirius radio: eh.

I pitched the tent. All by myself.

At campground: Ben leaves the bananas on the table overnight.
Betsy: What about wild animals?
Ben: They don't want bananas.
Betsy: Monkeys do.
In the morning, all that was left of the bananas was the peels.

Vogue magazine is acceptable campground reading.

A six-person tent is the exact right size for two tall people and an 80lb dog. I pitched the tent.

Strange sucking noise outide car.
Ben: Did Percy just make that noise, or did you?
Betsy: I didn't make that noise.
Ben (laughing hard): You're saying Percy made that noise?
Betsy: Yes. Why would I make that noise?
This seemed very funny at the time but I am seeing now that something is being lost in the translation.

Campground showers have not become more cleanly in the time since I last camped.

When you have laryngitis on a long car trip, the urge to comment on every billboard becomes stronger than ever. Suddenly, you will need your every thought about every weird ad or town name to be known. However, I can remember none of these now.

Auto breakdowns: I am a trooper.
Airline mishaps: I am not a trooper.

Outside our bedroom door at my dad's house lives a frog who croaks loudly until about midnight. Ben opens the door and goes "Shhhh!"

Friday, July 16, 2010

Monday, January 04, 2010

The Awesome and Great Reading Show

The Awesome and Great Reading Show!

Hey everyone - I was away from the bert for a while due to technical difficulties but I'm back! And if I have any Austin readers who aren't facebook fans, please come to the show - this month we've got Tod Goldberg, Jill Alexander Essbaum, Amelia Gray and Kacy Crowley!

Writers write stories based on songs! Songwriters write songs based on stories!
It's backwards and bizarro awesome and great fun!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

This May Be My Andy Rooney Moment

So picture me with white hair and a cranky look on my face while you read this:

What's the deal with Twitter? Or let me rephrase: Will someone please, for the love of god, explain to me what there is to like about this website, because I am truly, madly, deeply uninspired. Every day this is all I hear about, it's on the news, it's all over facebook, but try as I might, I don't get it. And I've been on there for months.

Granted, myspace and facebook each took me a while to warm to. But not this long.

I have experimented with following only close friends. I have experimented with following news organizations and celebrities. I, who am a known fan of exclamation points, find PTwitty's use exclamation points alarming. I, who has an unhealthy interest in celebrities, am unmoved by the opportunity to know Ashton Kutcher or Spencer Pratt's every thought.

What am I missing?

A lot of times I don't understand the shorthand. And correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems like there's no rhyme or reason to the shorthand, like, everyone seems to have their own and you either get it or you don't. I have to say this too, and this may be just me, but it feels a wee bit like the cool kids party I'm not invited to. I'll give you that John Mayer has sort of a charming sense of humor, but what kind of relationship do we have where he gets to do all the talking? John Mayer and Demi Moore aren't going to answer my tweets. With all due respect, I can't even get Punky Brewster to answer my tweets, and she seems like a very sweet person.

If Lydia Davis and Deb Olin Unferth jump on board, maybe I'll be back. I think those gals make something out of that Twitter thing you kids are playing with these days. Meantime I'll grab my cane and stick with facebook until the next party comes along.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Naked City

Woke up at 3 am last night and came into the living room and found this program and had to stay up to watch the whole thing... I'm sure some of you have seen this or heard of it, but I had only the vaguest memory of hearing about it - anyway - by the look of it I figured it was very early 60s New York, black and white, and this episode featured Diahnn Carroll as a teacher for the blind or sight-impaired who takes a small group of her students on a city bus and then one of them runs off the bus, loses his glasses, and is lost in the city for the rest of the day. I didn't really know what to expect - it kind of looked like a cross between Dragnet and The Twilight Zone - but the location footage of NY was actually incredible; in this episode they went everywhere from the lower east side to Bethesda Fountain to the Brooklyn Bridge and into Brooklyn and gave you such a sharp sense of the landscape at that time. (Which was slightly before mine, I didn't arrive there until 67.) You could see Jewish delis, bakeries, bars, vegetable markets - and huge piles of rubble and dirt down along the east river - it's hard to think of any parcel of land in NY that's not built on at this point, but it reminded me so much of my childhood when things were a little rougher and darker than they are now. And to boot - this episode, anyway, was incredibly thoughtful - it wasn't so much a cop show as it was a really (really circa 1961) introspective drama - the teacher doubts her methods because she believes they can become independent until this kid gets lost - and then in the end he finds his way home because she had taught him he could. Another interesting detail that was only just dealt with under the surface was the issue of race - her boss is talking to her about it at one point and he's extremely empathetic but in so many words tells her that if this kid isn't found, she's going to be 'held more accountable' - and says something like 'you know what I mean?' Anyway, I can't be getting up at 4 am every night but I really want to see more of this show.

Plus Diahnn Carroll is wearing a really smart suit and looks totally fabulous through the whole ordeal. I tried to find a photo but no luck.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Shortest Conversation Ever In Which Both Parties Knew What the Other Was Talking About

Me: Yeah.
Ben: Yeah.

Alright, admittedly there was a slight bit of context. We were driving up Division Street past where Leo's Lunchroom used to be, and we'd driven past it about a week earlier, when I commented that I wondered if it was now part of Bob San.

Nevertheless, it made us laugh for about five minutes straight, and we decided to communicate like this from herein.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

51 Birch Street

So, this mindblowing documentary is about a fifty-year marriage, and if you haven’t seen it, queue it up now, see it, and then come back and read this, cause I’m gonna spoil this too.

It’s a subject I have become really fascinated by ever since I got married – go figure – although you might think I’d have thought about it more deeply before, given that my folks were divorced, and I waited so long to get married. I mean, that wasn’t by accident. I knew I wanted to try to get it right if I was going to do it. But it wasn’t like I was mired in contemplation about my parents’ marriage, or either of their subsequent ones to any great extent. Probably just to the usual extent. Anyway. This guy starts out just by trying to document his parents and his family and then his mom dies, while he’s still making the film, and the father remarries very quickly (there should be an investigative documentary on this subject alone, I say) and slowly, more gets revealed about their history, and as he comes to think his father may have cheated with his new wife many years before, he discovers his mom’s extensive diaries, and it turns out she had been unfaithful, but that really, that was just one small thing, that she had profound feelings of unhappiness in her marriage, in her life, and all this stuff, and but, then in the end, it turns out that the father and his new wife are actually really in love, for the first time, and somehow all this ends up bringing the father and the son closer together, in letting all these secrets out.

For me, it just brings up, again, the central questions of – why do we do this marriage thing – when the odds are as low as they say they are – and how do we do this marriage thing, and what makes a marriage a good marriage or not a good marriage – are these questions all entirely individual? Or are there any universal truths? Are there cultural truths about it? You’d think I might write some fiction about this – and maybe I will – but I’m still figuring out what the questions are. Would love to hear what all y’all think about it, married, divorced, remarried, divorced parents, whatever. Maybe you can help me figure it out.

Bye, The Wire

Ben and I watched the last episode of The Wire last night. Oh, man. That was some good shit. Spoilers ahead, if you haven’t seen the whole series yet. Really amazing how they wove in all the storylines, and wrapped them up without it being all neat. And so perfect that in the end, they sort of show a sequence where it’s pretty clear that everything will more or less go on as always, in the form of different people and places maybe, but more or less the same. The whole last season, all I really wanted was that Bubbles would get clean, stay clean, and come up out of the basement, so needless to say I’m happy. And as much as I hoped Du’Quan would have a chance, I thought it was perfect that he sort of – took Bubbles place, if you will. I was totally bummed about Omar, and the worst part of that was that I actually saw that one episode out of order, before we’d started watching this season on DVD, at a friend’s house. I don’t know how any of you read this, but I actually thought the end for McNulty was kind of perfect, like, maybe if he weren’t a cop he and Beadie could have a chance. Anyway, goodbye, The Wire, it was great.


Bubbles before.

Bubbles after.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

More Awesomeness

So stoked that I figured out how to post this over here. This is my buddy Kacy Crowley (you need her record Cave) singing with the African Children's Choir the other night. We were there, and these kids were amazing, sparkling little lights. Try not to cry. I doubt it's possible.

Kacy with African Children's choir