found objects

In case you didn't pick up on the subtext, yesterday's post about how busy I am was (in part) an apologia for not blogging much throughout January and February. What can I say? These things are cycical. I think my blogging energy may have been boosted by the looming prospect of the Academy Awards ceremony next weekend. Those interested will see my predictions on this page sometime (late) on March 5.

It's hard to believe, but I have been blogging for over a year now! I'm not sure that it's really changed my life, but I am impressed that I've kept it up. I feel best when I average one posting every couple of weeks, but I don't think I've ever fallen below one a month. And I've been happy to have built a tiny following of readers and commenters -- it makes me feel good to know that you're out there and I'm sorry if I've left you hanging recently.

I go about my life these days formulating blog entries in my head. When I haven't written in a while, it doesn't mean that this blog is off my mind. Far from it! More than likely, I've been mulling (pun intended) over a subject for a few days, trying to figure out just exactly how I'm going to crack it. I may even have begun a draft that won't be posted until weeks later. Which means that I have a "blog idea queue" in the same way I have a Netflix queue and a book queue. I know I blog differently than many people -- this is not a daily journal of my thoughts or experiences. These little essays are worked out and pondered over, which may make them less amenable to online digestion, but c'est la vie! This blog is not in the same family as those little news tickers that scroll across the bottom of the screen on CNN or FoxNews; it's more like those "Comment" pieces by Hendrik Hertzberg in the front section of The New Yorker -- topical but not immediate, up-to-date but not breathless. I take a few breaths (s0metimes quite a few) before I write.

This motif of a "queue" has been with me for the past few days. I love to think of new paradigms and ways to categorize experience (which is why as a frehsman philosophy student I was so weirdly enchanted by the "catgeories of understanding" in Kant's Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, for example). The queue model does indeed reflect the way I think about a lot of different activities in my life. I did want, though, to calrify one point in particular.

There is a very important way in which my "book queue" is different from Netflix and I think it's worth unpacking. I've got a list of books on my shelf right now, waiting to be read during my subway rides: after I finish Edward P. Jones' collection of short stories, I've got Don DeLillo's Libra, Joan Didion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and 1491, a history of the Americas before Columbus, to read. What's interesting, though, about the books that I've been reading recently is that I haven't paid list price for a single one of them: they've been gifts or, increasingly, they've been used books that I've picked up on second-hand book tables throughout the city. My favorite places to browse recently have been along Broadway up by Columbia and on the weekends outside the Starbucks on Astor Place. (The two freckled, pierced and totally hot straight guys who sell the books at the latter location are also appreciated!)

Because I'm not choosing these books at will from a hugely comprehensive database (as I am when choosing discs on Netflix), there's a stronger element of serendipity involved in the selections I make. I'm sort of proud of myself that I've been "subsisting" on books borrowed, donated, or purchased at a cut rate. I've always felt a kind of moral imperative towards thrift and, of late, I've kind of bent my standards when it came to clothes or food. I never was able to buy only used clothes (as I once tried to do) or to shop only at food co-ops. Maybe I should be beating myself up about that, maybe not. But the not-buying-market-rate-books thing has been surprisingly easily achieved, without even conciously deciding to do it.

Acquiring my reading material in this way makes me less prone to posessiveness, too. Having finished a book, I'm more likely to lend it to a friend and not care if I ever see it again, or to donate it to the library at work. It feels nice to have sampled things and decided not to hold onto them, not to have them taking up space on my shelves.

It's also wonderful to experience those little serendipitous moments when you find that book, the one you'd been looking for but hadn't realized you'd been looking for, the one you'd been meaning to read but hadn't set out to find. The other week it was Nathaniel West's Miss Lonelyhearts/Day of the Locust. Two novels I'd long wanted to read but ones I never would have set out to buy; and not, it turns out, ones that I particularly enjoyed or want to keep. That volume will probably be given away to someone else quite soon, but I will always treasure the memory of the afternoon I bought it (from the sexy Astor Place guys). I was riding the Q train home above ground across the Manhattan Bridge (easily the nicest stretch of subway on the whole MTA), with the late afternoon sun shining in across the windows, a new book in one hand and some pastries in another (I was bringing those home as a surprise for S who was working diligently in my living room). It felt nice to know that one could rely on Providence to supply the things one needed. To have discerned what it is you needed and then remained open to the possibility that sometime, when you least expect it, that thing would appear.


eight days a week

In the afterword to "Against Interpretation," Susan Sontag claims that during the years when she was writing the essays that eventually came to be collected in that book (roughly 1962-1965), she saw at least one movie a day and on many days two or three. (And remember that that would have been in theaters!)

That claim has been on my mind the past couple of months because I recently activated my gift subscription to Netflix and have found myself watching DVDs with frightening regularity. I'd delayed and delayed joining Netflix because I worried that it couldn't possibly make financial sense: why, in order to get my money's worth, I would have to watch at least one movie a week!

During certain periods of my life a-movie-a-week would hardly have seemed like a stretch. I spent most of my weekends during middle and high school systematically renting every title in the canons of Alfred Hitchcock, Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese (among others). When I wasn't watching videos, I was probably reading coffee-table books about the Oscars or classic Hollywood and memorizing statistics.

Though this early binge of movie-viewing earned me a reputation as a walking encyclopedia of Hollywood film, my actual rate of movie-watching dropped considerably once I began higher education and fell off precipitously when I moved to New York. In the slightly more than two years that I've spent in New York, I've actually spent very few "quiet evenings at home" (which, one assumes, is when all those DVDs would have been watched) and instead could have been found much more frequently running a play rehearsal or a late night event at work or out carousing.

Therefore, something must indeed have changed for me in January (when the first discs arrived), because I've been notching well over my targeted movie-a-week goal. (NB: evidence from the past couple of weeks seems to indicate that this may not last long!) What's strange is how, where, and when I've been watching these. Almost every Netflix DVD I've received has been viewed on a weeknight between 11:00 pm and 2:00 am, on the small TV in my bedroom before I go to bed. Now, I'm the type of person who hates to turn on a movie and not devote full attention to it; I've never been one to watch part of a movie and then turn it off for later. And yet, here I am trying to cram these movies into my schedule somehow, watching them even as my eyes are drooping and I know I should be asleep. Why?

Of course, Susan Sontag didn't just happen to to go to a movie every day for three years either. No matter how good the downtown repertory and art house cinema programming might have been in those days, she didn't just happen to open the paper every day and see a movie (and sometimes two or three) that she wanted to see. She made an effort. She was trying, I suppose, to educate herself. To get up to date.

My Netflix queue works in much the same way. Certain people had insinuated that my DVD selections would be hopelessly highbrow and, indeed, it is populated with a lot of European directors whose work I've always meant to see (you can't always find that stuff at video stores!). But I'm also trying to catch up on other things, like those seasons of The Sopranos I missed and those chick-flicks and teen movies that everyone says were much better than you expected. (Case in point: this film, which I can say unequivocably is one of the best written comedies since the days of Billy Wilder. See it.)

The satisfaction one gets from watching films in this way is rarely recreational; it's more like the satisfaction you feel when you finally clean the toilet -- at least you don't have to worry about that anymore! It's been difficult to be as well versed in movies as I am and yet to have squandered years of movie-watching. I have opinions, for example, about Godard and could surely name most of his movies and give a summary of their critical reception but I'd never seen Breathless until a few weeks ago. This project, I suppose, is partly about transforming all of that acquired information into first-hand experience.

I've been hard at work, too, at the list of authors I've been meaning to read. While the movie cramming tends to happen in the wee hours, the reading happens in the mornings, on my way to work. My hour-long commute provides the perfect span of time during which to polish off a few chapters of a big novel (I read Moby-Dick over the past few months, for instance, and don't think I ever cracked the book open when I was not in transit).

For a while last month, I could also been seen in the subways of New York with headphones on, speaking under my breath in an effort to teach myself conversational Spanish one half-hour lesson at a time. Since the language tapes I was using called for the student to do one lesson every day, I sometimes found that the most convenient time to knock off a lesson was during the time it took me to ride the train from Ft. Greene to the Upper West Side.

Which leads me, I suppose, to what this post is all about, sort of: love. The fact is that being in a relationship has joyfully rescheduled my life. For one thing, I spend a lot more time in bed than I used to! I truly never expected that having a boyfriend would make time seem to stretch out differently. I spend happy hours now talking to S on the phone or going to visit him up at Columbia, hours that at one point would have been spent reading The New Yorker or writing in my journal or (finally!) getting started on a new play.

The time I spend with S feels like a wonderfully expandable pocket in the fabric of my life; when I'm with him, clocks slow and experiences seem to linger. I suppose that means the other portions of my life are now more densely packed with my other pursuits, but this has actually seemed to make life more fresh and full, rather than more frustrating. (I always have a "project queue" to be working on, as well, whenever I have an unscheduled moment.)

S and I are reaching the stage where we're able to spend time in one another's company accomplishing all those other pursuits in tandem. The stage of uncontrollable infatuation is shifting into something else. All of that early effusiveness is sometimes a symptom of the suspicion that there might be a time limit on your happiness, that you'd better get the most out of it while you can. When you start to feel secure in the fact that it's not going anywhere, though, you can share space together comfortably. He can write a response paper or prepare for a job interview while I send emails about a production meeting or try to edit some lines of dialogue. We're coexisting confidently, supporting one another, both in our nerdy glasses, and getting things done. It's the quiestest way of saying I love you and also the nicest form of multitasking I know.

love means...

I haven't yet read Benedict XVI's first encyclical, Deus caritas est, but I plan to soon. For now, why don't you check out this ad I saw in the subway the other day...