I’m currently sitting in a hotel room in Atlanta with a half a bottle of wine and a stack of proofreading.
Here are some things I’ve learned.
1. I still like jumping on the bed.
2. I get sentimental when I drink alone.
3. Getting to walk outside without a coat on the first day of March may get me through the snowstorm I’m flying home to.
4. Working is often what I want to do when I’ve got time to myself. I’m okay with that.
5. Work also appears to be what my two direct reports want to do on the weekends. We were all on email this afternoon.
6. I love my coworkers. Sadly, one of them is leaving at the end of next week. She’s not going far, but still, I’m going to miss her.
7. I am an introvert who loves talking to people. Is that possible? I have thoroughly enjoyed each and every conversation I’ve had here, from the reunions with grad school colleagues I haven’t seen in months or years to dinner with my high school friend and her family to the highly analytical discussion with a very smart person in my field to the conversation with an eccentric elderly woman who presided over her table in the exhibit hall like a tarot reader. But at the same time, I’m desperate to get back to my room every night where it’s quiet and I don’t have to talk to anyone.
8. I’m ready to go home.
9. I can’t believe I have to do this again next week.
10. 4 states, 3 weeks, 2 time zones, one tired Harriet.
We had a short-lived break in the cold and snow a week or two ago and while it wasn’t enough to be much of a respite for the humans, the birds seem to have taken it as a sign that spring may be on the way at some time to be named later. On the few mornings when it’s not snowing, it is lighter when I leave and more twittery. One tiny sparrow has laid claim to the fragment of visible windowsill next to the air conditioner. Wedged between the pigeon spikes and the AC, he sits and sings several times a day. I love that he’s there, maybe especially because the perch looks so inhospitable. I’ve taken to peering at him through the blinds and he’s taken to cocking his head and looking back at me, not pausing his song once. He is inches from my face and I can see every tiny feather on his back.
I am about to embark on some crazy travel — not super far, not like my brother who emailed me from Ougagadougou this morning, which has me wandering around chanting it. Could you ask for a better name of anything? Or spelling? — four states in three weeks and I’m getting tired just thinking about it. Consequently I’m already contemplating a nap at 11 am when really I should be contemplating packing or the books I’m supposed to be reviewing or the proofreading I have to do.
There’s not much I can say about work at the moment, but it is, for a number of reasons, pretty much all I can think about, which makes it challenging to write here. I have been distracting myself with the Olympics. I am an Olympics junkie in general, but most especially the Winter Olympics. Of the many things I’m enjoying this year, the women athletes are maybe the thing I like the most. There’s been plenty of sexism in the coverage, but the athletes are strong, talented, beautiful, inspiring and good sports. I love watching them support each other, watching them get up smiling even when they lose. I love that it looks like they are both trying really hard and also having a good time. They make being athletic look cool. If the Olympics had been more like this when I was a kid, I wondered if I would have made more of an effort to be athletic.
Still, the nap is sounding like an excellent idea. There’s something to be said for watching other people be athletic.
In case you haven’t noticed it is WINTER. This explains the copious amounts of ice and snow on the streets. While those of you on the left coast have been parched, we here in the east have been dumped on. No, of course New York has not had a third of the snow Chicago has, but we complain about it more because everything is harder for New Yorkers than for everyone else. Yes, that was meant to be snarky but it’s also a little bit true. The infrastructure of the city is just barely operational, so throw something like weather into the mix and everything shuts down. Currently the streets are full of garbage because they don’t have enough people/trucks/shits to give to both clean the streets and collect the trash. So every walk is currently an adventure.
Also, New Yorkers do not have a burning need to dig out their cars. We hardly ever drive them, other than to move them twice a week for street cleaning. And tickets for street cleaning are cheaper than parking in a garage, so we don’t have a lot of motivation to dig them out. The problem is that now the snow has melted somewhat and the cars are iced in. Last night I saw a woman in stiletto heels an a fur coat trying to dig out her car with an ice scraper, looking irritated that this was even her problem.
Today it is sunny and half the neighborhood is attacking their cars with gusto. From my fourth floor perch, it sounds like a large party attempting to attack mount Everest with ice picks. Every now and then an engine moans to life, like a prehistoric beast, while some victorious digger attempts to slide into the driver’s seat without disturbing the precarious balance of the adjacent mountain of garbage.
This is what we do for fun in Brooklyn in February.
When we’re not having fun, we’re working long hours. I am essentially working two full time jobs at the moment. It is definitely less fun than digging out my car, which is saying something. But on the plus side, the end is in site. And one of my toys recently received a nice award, so that was good. But for the next month or so, I expect to be just trying to keep my head above water. So maybe it’s not a bad thing for everything to be frozen.
Hello, Internet! I’m sorry I keep disappearing. Life is intervening.
Last weekend, I went down to the City of Brotherly Love where I saw more librarians in one place than I thought possible. Also, there was a lot of swag. I came home with many books, mostly galleys and some very heavy luggage. I took the train down by myself in a car that was neatly divided between hockey fans and librarians, which was an occasionally entertaining combination. Mr. Spy and AJ came down later after his basketball game and we wandered the city in the cold, occasionally humming the theme from Rocky. AJ wis in extra surly mode, which happens a lot lately, unfortunately. And it is that experience that inspired today’s post. Ladies and gentlemen, a quiz:
Are you a 12-year-old boy?
1. It is time to get ready for your day. What do you do?
a. Wash your face, brush your teeth, get dressed in the clothes you laid out the night before and make sure your shoes are tied. It’s important to look neat and be on time.
b. Pull your pants out of the hamper, your shirt from under your bed, and why bother changing your underwear? Admire your reflection in the mirror. Splash water on your face, stick your toothbrush under the faucet. If you’re feeling fancy, may I recommend a handful of hair gel? You look awesome! If only you knew where your shoes were.
c. Sleep through your alarm. When your mother comes in to wake you up, grunt and roll over. When she comes in again, say something unintelligible. The third time, take offense because there is no reason she should be yelling at you. Why would you be late? You’re sure you can get dressed for school and run four blocks in five minutes.
2. You have an essay due in two days. What do you do?
a. Get to work! You need to write an outline and assemble all your sources, and write a rough draft. Besides, essays are fun!
b. Play video games. You’ve got plenty of time to do it tomorrow.
c. Play video games. You’ve got it all in your head. And it’s brilliant!
3. Your dad asks you to clean your room. What do you do?
a. Dump out the contents of your sock drawer and start organizing by color. You love being organized.
b. Shut your door, turn on some music and, hey look! You found a magazine you forgot you had. That looks interesting…
c. Stomp off to your bedroom muttering under your breath and slam the door.
4. Your mother tells you it’s time to take a shower. What do you do?
a. Say, “Okay, Mom,” and take a shower. It feels good to be clean!
b. Say, “Okay, Mom,” and enter the bathroom and lock the door. Turn on the water and read something until it gets too steamy to read the book. Run your head under the faucet, give a half-baked wipe at your hair with your towel, leave the towel on the floor.
c. Stomp off to your bedroom muttering under your breath and slam the door.
5. It is time for bed. What do you do?
a. Put on your pajamas (they are neatly folded under your pillow) and climb into bed. You need your beauty sleep!
b. Stash your cell phone under the mattress for late night texting with your friends. But not until after your mom reads you a bedtime story.
c. Bedtime is for losers.
How did you do?
• If you answered mostly Cs, you are a teenager. Be nicer to your parents. You’ll be leaving home soon and when you do, you’ll realize how many nice things they did for you. Also, they could change the locks and turn your room into a meditation space.
• If you answered mostly As, you are a grownup. What are you doing taking this quiz? Get back to work!
• If you answered mostly Bs, congratulations! You are a 12-year-old boy! Roll your eyes at your mom and get back to your video games. Life is good.
Why is it that when you hear something new and start to get into it, suddenly it’s everywhere?
I’ve been listening to a lot of Pandora at work, as I’m in the middle of a big project that requires a lot of attention over long periods of time but mostly not a lot of brains. Music keeps me focused enough to do the job right. I like Pandora because I can plug in a song or two that I’m in the mood to hear and it will cycle through other things that I might like. Sometimes they’re on, sometimes they’re off. And a lot of time I already know the songs. But once in a while I hear a winner I’ve never heard before.
The station I was listening to last week was built from Iggy Pop’s The Passenger
and The Cure. Needless to say, I got a lot of 80s bands, which was fine by me. But then I started getting a few other things in the mix, including this song:
I stopped my work and listened. They’ve got a sound that makes you sit up and take notice. On the one hand, they’ve got the bluesy chord progressions and guitar solo that are the hallmarks of my favorite early rock. On the other, they’ve got a strangely modern fuzzy sound that would be at home in any 90s grunge band. And some of their tunes are downright punk. I’d never heard of the Sonics before, but felt sure from listening to them that I probably should have. I pulled up song lists and realized that while I didn’t know the band, I did know a lot of their songs. The Sonics did a lot of covers. Like this cover of Barrett Strong’s “Money (That’s What I Want),” best known in the Beatles’ cover version:
Or this cover of “Do You Love Me?”
And this version of “Louie Louie,” which is my new favorite version of the song:
But my favorite is their cover of Richard Berry’s “Have Love, Will Travel.” It’s the song for which they’re best known:
It has a great riff, a great fat fuzzy sound, and bad boy vocals. And then there’s the modal switch at the end of the minor chorus into major to allow for a major verse. It’s just enough to make the harmony interesting. I listened to it several times.
And then tonight I turned on the radio and here comes the song again, but it’s not the Sonics. It’s AJ’s favorite band, The Black Keys:
I’m not surprised the Black Keys are Sonics fans. They use a similar fuzz effect on a lot of their songs and they’ve always had a thing for vintage blues rock. They do the thing that makes a cover sing here – they don’t stick to the original too closely. They make it their own. But they do away with the major-minor shift, so it sounds a little more placid to my ear. But it’s a good cover of a good song, even though I prefer The Sonics.
I’m a little fascinated by a band known for covers being covered. It’s like the musical equivalent of a virus. And I’m very glad to have gotten acquainted with The Sonics. What are you listening to?
Mr. Spy is up very early. He is heading to Boston to interview someone about something so he can write about it later. I am lying in bed in the dark listening to the foghorns. They are an archaic and mournful sound, like the sound of a lonely mammoth or a very depressed tuba. And it always seems a bit miraculous to hear them from my bed. My room is tiny and the window is tall and narrow. Its bottom half is full of an air conditioner and the top looks into an air shaft. It is a dark and cozy room filled with soft things. It is not the sort of room where you want to spend all day, so I tend to feel sleepy just walking into it.
Some days there is just one foghorn, but on days like this there are many, in a surprising variety of pitches and tones, but all long and mellow and low. I only know what day it is like because of the horns. It is one in which I am surely justified in my failure to peel myself out of bed and pour myself into my running clothes. The foghorns tell me not to bother. The foghorns tell me that the weather is bad and I might as well get some extra sleep.
I am drifting in and out of consciousness. Somewhere someone’s clock radio goes off and I hear a few bars of a song. The words to “Sugar pie, honey bunch,” running round and round my head threaten to rouse me, but the foghorns pull me back to a slower pace and I drift off again. I am thinking of a birdcage, hanging, unoccupied, from the ceiling. But there is no birdcage. It’s really the birdcage painted on my bedside lamp that I’m thinking of. But there is no birdcage there either, nor even a lamp. The lamp has a painting of a bird but it isn’t on my table. It was on my table as a child. Now it is hundreds of miles away in a closet at my parents’ house. But still in Dylan Thomas’s “close and holy darkness” there looms a birdcage. What could it be? I think of birds flying in and out, for the door is open. I begin to count them, but they are too fast and I have to concentrate and then another round of foghorns. The birds dissolve and there are only my own heavy-lidded eyes and solitary woolly mammoths, skating soberly down the East River, each playing a euphonium.
It’s been an aggravating start to the week, in many respects, mostly because of one person I’m currently working with on a project who is both duplicitous and downright mean. But at some point today I realized that mostly my job involves reading a lot of books I really like. So next time I’m feeling overworked, I’m going to remind myself that if, when I was a kid, someone had told me I not only got to spend this much time reading books I’m interested in but that I got paid for it, I would have kissed them.
Still, when I spend this much time reading big-brained books, I come home feeling like I need to deflate my head before I go to sleep. Last night I woke up at 3:00 a.m. on the dot (a fact I could ascertain only by squinting very hard at the clock a few inches from my nose, because the irony of reading a lot is your decreasing ability to read at all without many mechanical aids) thinking about Things. Things require thinking about only in the dead of night. It’s as if after running myself ragged in a day, I need time to unravel it all, and once that happens, I sit bolt upright in bed and think more about Things. I know I am not alone in this, but at 3:00 in the morning, you tend to feel rather alone when it happens. And if you’re like me, you wish very much that there were really such a thing as a pensieve. Or, barring that, the next best thing: a glass of bourbon.