At the end of October, I flew to Oregon to spend a couple of months with my sister’s family. About halfway through my time there, I streamed Cinemania, a cult documentary I had wanted to see for years. It profiles a bunch of obsessive moviegoers during an era — the turn of the Millennium — before you could order a DVD of any film you wanted to see, let alone find it on-demand or stream it. These cinephiles would study the movie theatres’ programs like tacticians, and then they would hop from arthouse cinema to repertory cinema to museum cinema, taking in four or five or six different movies a day, every day.Continue reading
I’m 41 years old. And yet it only just occurred to me today, while playing The New York Times Spelling Bee, that the word “kneel” comes from the word “knee,” as in, to go down on one’s knees. I never in my life thought of them as etymologically related before. I guess that’s because knee has a long e sound and kneel has a different vowel sound — a diphthong? Still, you’d think that I would have connected it during one of the thousands of times I have knelt on my knees in my life.
Every once in a while, I have another one of these startling discoveries. How have I gone through four decades of life, and they are still happening? I guess it’s sort of fun, but it also makes me feel a little ditsy.
It’s been awhile (again). I’ve been busy in the non-virtual world with things that felt much more timely and urgent than writing blog posts. But today, for the first time in months, the day stretched out ahead of me with nothing in particular calling for my attention. So I’m using the time to share just a few things I’ve found particularly entertaining, fascinating, and/or inspiring over the past few months of being homebound. (I’m working back up to speed before sharing, at long last, my pix from Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal in December and from Austrai-Slovenia-Italy in February.)
“Mysteries of Vernacular” is a beautifully animated short video series that explains the etymology of interesting words from A to Z.
I learned the word “kenning” from the Mysteries of Vernacular video about the origin of “window,” which led me to search for a list of kennings, some of which are exceptionally beautiful.
Window Swap invites you to “open a new window, somewhere in the world.” It is so meditative, life-expanding, and wonderful. And it also helped me to realize that my geographical sweet spot is grassy alpine mountains. (I would move to the spot in the window above in a heartbeat.)
Finally, a nonsense-English song that is so catchy, I had it in my head for WEEKS after listening to it.
- Paid off my student loans, totaling nearly 6 figures over almost ten years, right before my 40th birthday.
- One of my best friends had a much-awaited and adorable baby in December. Baby L is my newest NYC buddy.
- Returned to Senegal, two times!
- Experienced the height of awe-inspiring culture at the Fête du Vodoun in Benin.
- Visited seven new-to-me countries (Togo, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Kenya, Iceland, and Côte d’Ivoire).
- Visited one new-to-me state (Michigan).
- Turned 40 without major depressive incident (this was a real fear/possibility).
- Went to a lot of delightful shows including my second opera ever (Porgy and Bess), a musical (Kinky Boots), theatre (Swan Lake/Loch na hEala), concerts (big: Phil Collins; small: ESG), museum exhibits (Leonard Cohen at the Jewish Museum, Egungun at the Brooklyn Museum, Camp at the Met), new museums (Poster House), and new-to-me museums (Cooper-Hewitt).
- Got in lots of good French practice so my speaking skills didn’t erode too badly.
- Got excited about a documentary project for the first time in a looong time (ultimately it didn’t work out but I now know the fire is still alive, and I needed that confirmation).
- Saw lots of amazing movies in movie theaters, which ranks among my favorite pastimes (new: Atlantics, the Farewell, Booksmart, Letter to the Editor; old: Friday Night, Daisies, Boys N the Hood, Crooklyn).
- Read some wonderful books (Washington Black, Thich Nhat Hanh’s How to Love, The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing, very belatedly I know).
- Experienced the mystical magical quirky amazingness of Iceland and stored up months’ worth of peaceful feelings.
- Spent lots of quality time with my niblings and visited my sister and brother-in-law in Portland.
- Solidified some new friendships, caught up in person with friends I hadn’t seen in years, and in general spent lots of quality time with amazing people that I’m thankful to know and love.
- Started running again after an almost yearlong lapse.
- Shit my pants.
- Attempted to pee in a plastic bag, unsuccessfully.
- Spent 45% of the year bouncing around abroad, and it was unexpectedly neither a fun nor a good thing.
- Continued to question life’s meaning and my purpose.
- Panicked about how I am going to fill 25 more years of my working life before retirement.
- Various body parts started to malfunction and I realized that post-40 is just a slow march towards death.
Not sure that anything can really outweigh shitting one’s pants and enduring debilitating existential angst, but on the whole, I feel like the good at least balanced out the bad in 2019. I’ll call that a fairly good year. And I’m aiming for an excellent 2020.
Happy new year! May all your 2020 visions be realized.
I forgot to include my TWA jaunt in the previous post about my summer trips in and out of NYC. I guess going to the airport doesn’t seem like a trip per se, especially because the only plane I got on was firmly stuck to the ground, having been converted into a bar.
We gathered at JFK just a week after the grand opening of the TWA hotel complex in the former TWA Flight Center, which had been closed for nearly 20 years. For lovers of mid-century design, fashion, and history, hanging out in this whopper of a space designed by Eero Saarinen in the early 1960s is a mind-blowing, nostalgia-inducing experience, even if you weren’t born until the very end of the 70s like me. The interior of the lobby / bar / restaurant area has been painstakingly re-done, inducing the feeling not that you are in a retro set-piece, but rather that you are in an exact replica of the Jet Age splendor that was the original TWA terminal.
I almost cried when I heard that once-familiar sound of a million birds flapping their wings and realized that they had rehabilitated an analog arrivals / departures board (which was later programmed to ask, “Will you marry me?” — someone’s clever marriage proposal that I missed while busy trying on TWA-branded sneakers in the hotel store).
Anyway, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
I’ve gotten very lucky with airplane seat assignments lately. On my last two roundtrips, destiny dealt me fascinating individuals whose conversation made otherwise boring flights whiz by and whose perspectives I’m still reflecting on, long after disembarking the planes we shared. Continue reading
I got back to Senegal from Sierra Leone on Sunday, and no sooner had I unpacked my bags then I started repacking them for my return trip to New York on Thursday. The second time leaving this country is just as emotionally difficult as the first, and maybe that contributed to the dream I had last night.
In it, my parents were moving out of my childhood home, where they have lived for more than 35 years. I looked into the living room and noticed for the first time, now that it was empty, surprisingly lovely molding (that does not actually exist in real life). Then I saw two big trash bags of my sister’s and my dolls – one was filled with dolls to throw away and one was filled with dolls to keep.
I saw my Baby Brite lying near the top of the throwaway bag and panicked. My sister was there, and apparently it was she who had done the sorting. I protested that we could not just toss out our dolls – we thought of them as our babies once, and they were still alive in my heart.
My sister stoically responded with something to the effect of, “How many years must they live before they live out their years?” I started crying at how easily my sister dispensed of her youth, and it quickly turned into uncontrollable sobbing. The thought that as adults we were so distant and disconnected from our childhood selves broke my heart.
I was so upset in my dream that I woke myself up, only to feel real tears running down my cheeks. And not just a few – I was actively crying. Never in my life has that happened to me before.
I do often wake up with a lingering sense of whatever I was feeling in my dream world, and this morning I woke up feeling bereft. It called to mind the utterly gutting scene in “Inside Out” in which the imaginary friend, Bing Bong, sacrifices himself – and most tragically, also the memory of his existence – to save his beloved adolescent owner’s identity. Thinking of that made me even sadder.
It was like five o’clock in the morning so I quickly drifted back to sleep and woke up again a few hours later only vaguely holding on to the memory of the dream and its associated despair. But I’ve been pondering its meaning all day.
I heard about three deaths yesterday, and each one was somebody very close to somebody I myself am close to in one way or another. One was an older brother, one was a beloved Senegalese musician, and one was somebody “Papa” Lo knew. So I’m sure that that, in addition to my imminent departure, influenced my dreams last night.
I now want to go back to New Jersey ASAP to take a full inventory of all my dolls, hug them tightly, and assure them that I will never throw them or the memory of them away, as long as we both shall live.
It’s the cusp of the new year and after a few weeks of burning the candle at both ends, I’m looking forward to ringing in 2019 on the couch, lazing about.
The change of year does not really inspire deep reflection in me the way it seems to for so many others. I don’t do much soul searching, and I certainly don’t make any resolutions. So, I have nothing profound to share here before the countdown to midnight. On the contrary, I have only one shallow musing to post, and then I plan to return to watching Netflix.
A few days ago I checked my blog stats and was delighted to see that in the past year, it has been read by people in almost 150 countries. And in the five years that I’ve been writing on this site, people in about 175 countries have visited.
Considering that there are 195 countries in the world, give or take, those numbers blow my mind. I’ve got a United Nations of blog readers. Someone in Brunei has read my blog! French Polynesia! Kuwait!
As I said, I have no resolutions for 2019, but one of my goals is to get someone from Suriname to read my blog. Also Guyana and French Guiana. Central African Republic and Equatorial Guinea, too. Madagascar. Etc. It would be really, really cool if in 2019 I could say that every country in the world has visited my blog.
On that note, THANK YOU SO MUCH for taking an interest in my little corner of the internet this year. Even though this post does not make a good case for it, you are all so much more than numbers to me. I am very grateful for every post you’ve read, “like” you’ve given, and comment you’ve left. It makes me feel seen – as strange as that may seem for someone who a. barely posts pictures of herself and b. is deeply cynical about the digital world.
Happy new year! I hope 2019 brings you much joy, laughter, and magic.
I only have a handful of days left in New York before I fly to Dakar in the new year. Yesterday I had a doctor’s appointment in the Woolworth Building (above) and I realized that the last time I was there – nearly three year ago – was also right before leaving for Dakar.
Things are different now. I’m not going indefinitely this time, or even for long enough to count it as a relocation. I’ll just spend two or three months there for work, and then I’ll come back. At this point in my life, that’s the perfect set-up.
So, I don’t have any of the bittersweet preemptive nostalgia for the city that I had last time around. Still, since the Woolworth Building reminded me of my imminent departure, and since I was just a couple of blocks away from a stunning hotel, I decided to have an espresso at the hotel bar instead of at the midtown coffee shop across from work.
On my way, I passed another gorgeous building that I swear I’ve never seen before… though in reality I must have.
Also this beautiful ghost signage.
And here’s my destination, the Beekman Hotel.
I have been to both the hotel’s bar and its restaurant before, but I’d never been inside Augustine, its French-style bistro. It was just as stunning as the rest of the place.
I had the best $6 espresso I’ve ever had, both because I’ve never paid $6 for an espresso before and because it was delicious, and then I passed other lovely buildings I’ve never considered for long enough, on my way back to the subway and my everyday office life.
The whole detour lasted maybe forty minutes but made me feel a certain sense of wonder the rest of the day.
Grab those little moments to be a tourist in your own city, people! It has a disproportionately beneficial effect on your mental health.
When I arrived at my childhood home on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, my mother had France24’s English-language news on. I joked that France24 should be boycotted in her house, since they turned her daughter down for a job. She was perplexed – I guess I hadn’t told her that a little over a year ago, I interviewed – in French! – for an entry-level job on the English language desk of France24’s news bureau. Remarkably, I passed that interview with flying colors. After we talked, the Human Resources manager thought I was such a shoo-in that she took me on an extra tour of the newsroom and introduced me to everyone there. Then she brought me back to her office, sat me in front of a computer, and told me that the next step was to take a timed news quiz, which my would-be boss would assess before inviting me back for a second interview.
I bombed that quiz in a way I haven’t bombed anything since getting a 43% on a chemistry test in tenth grade. In the first part, I had to identify eight political figures with two or three sentences each. I got Bashar al-Assad and Robert Mugabe correct but drew a blank on the one American and five European names. Apparently most were members of various EU government bodies. I can’t even keep track of what the various EU government bodies are called, let alone who their members are.
I don’t think I did as awfully on the rest of the quiz as I did on the first part, but who knows. I had to create a headline and write a script and translate a French article into English, and it all seemed a little too easy, so maybe I didn’t fully understand the assignment. In any case, I did badly enough that the head of the English-language desk did not even want to interview me – for an entry-level position editing footage from the field and archive into simple news packages.
On Wednesday night, I told my mother this story and concluded, “That was my last shot at a decent paying job in France and had I gotten it, I would probably still be living there.” And then my mind boggled. While at the time it felt like a tragedy to lose that job opportunity, not one thing about my life would have been better than it is now, had I stayed in France. Yes, I’d be speaking better French, but at what cost? I’d be working in news – which is clearly not my thing – rather than documentary, I’d be working in an entry-level poorly paid position, and who knows what kind of hovel I’d be living in. I’d have foregone the countless hours of time with dear family and friends that have sustained me since I’ve been back in the United States. And I’d have failed to reroute myself in a direction that makes any sense at all for my future or my mental health. It would have been fun in the short term but a dead end in the long term, prolonging my weird European stasis indefinitely.
The timing of this realization was perfect. It happened almost exactly one year after I heard back from France24 with the news that I wouldn’t be receiving a follow-up interview, and it happened right before a holiday that is all about gratitude.
So I began Thanksgiving counting my blessings. Thank goodness I failed that news quiz. It cleared the way for the rest of my life to begin.
[The photo is from the Hilma af Klint exhibit at the Guggenheim, one of the things I’m so glad I was back in New York to see.]