Sunday, June 29, 2008

And to think, we live in the richest country in the world.

That seems to mean that each of us individually is supposed to be rich, or else.

We've been over the details before.

When I left my lucrative but soul-sucking job, I left my fully paid health benefits with it. Thanks to the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, I got to find out just exactly how much that fully paid health coverage was actually costing: $515 per month. I've been paying this monthly fee since April, and it hurts on several levels.

But at least I still have my healthcare, right? Well. On Monday, I finally got around to calling my ladydoctor. It was time for that annual date with the speculum that we all so look forward to, without which I would shortly be out of my magicpill.

"Hi, I need to make an appointment with Stephanie Lenzo?"

"Sure, I have appointments open this week."

"I can come Wednesday..."

"I have a 3:30 on Wednesday. Are you still on HealthNet?"


"Oh, we stopped taking that. On Friday."

You've got to be effing joking. This is some kind of trick, right? Ha ha ha, funny funny, we don't take the insurance that you're paying your former employer out the ass for, isn't that just hilarious. Man, if that wasn't a $250 joke, I don't know what is.

So now I'm stuck in this situation where I'm paying way more than I can afford for health insurance that my doctors aren't taking.And my main reaction to this is, wtf!? Does this strike anyone else as, I dunno, completely insane?

So many things in life feel as if they are actually just exercises in throwing money into a hole. Rent is a big one. You pay and you pay and you pay, and when you're done paying what do you have? Mmm, memories, and if you're lucky part of your security deposit? Yeah. But at least every month when you send out that crippling check you know, ok, I'm good for one more month. I'll have a place to sleep, a safe spot for my stuff, a roof over my head every single night until the next 1st of.

What does health insurance give you? Maybe you'll need it, and maybe you won't. Maybe it'll cover you, and maybe it won't. Either way you're paying bigtime. And if you ever really, really need them, you know what they'll do? Exactly everything in their power not to pay. They actually employ people whose specific job is to figure out why your claim isn't valid - anything from "pre-existing conditions" to improperly filled out forms. And god forbid you want to see the doctor who's best for you, rather than the one that's "in your network"...

OK. So this discovery about my coverage-that-doesn't-cover sent me into a downward spiral that landed me sitting in front of my computer at 2:30 in the morning, desperately searching for an answer. I did two things.

One was incredibly stupid. Given the nocturnal setting and my panicked state, my reasoning abilities weren't quite what they should have been. I foolishly gave every ounce of contact info that I have, phone number and all, to a web site that promised to deliver online quotes immediately thereafter. Well, the only immediate result was a redirection to the Blue Cross Blue Shield website that I had already found.

Discouraged, I... well... I may have dabbled in a teeny tiny bit of an action vaguely resembling something like insurance fraud. See, they have all of these really awesome affordable plans, but only for people who are "self employed". Since I do, kind of sort of almost, fit into that category, I gave it a shot. I told a minor fib before I got to the "sworn" part of the application. And I kept my fingers crossed.

The next day I felt the fallout of my hysteria. First, there were the phone calls. By 11am I'd received no less than four of them, all from representatives of different health insurance sales companies "congratulating" me on being "pre-approved" for a great "low-rate plan!" Each one hung up on me when I proved to be a cold lead. At least one of them yelled at me. I mean really. Yelled. Awesome sales tactic, man. Way to go. I've now received at least 11 calls, and apparently this is totally legal, regardless of the fact that when I gave them my information there was no indication that any calling would ensue. But that's probably a topic for another day.

Then there was the inevitable email: the one asking me for the tax documentation that proves I've made at least $10k via my self-employment. Um, shure, yeah, lemme pull those papers right outta my ass for ya. Did I briefly consider forging documents? Yes, yes I did. But sense got the better of me, and I figured fraud wasn't really the best option.

I tried instead the tactic of throwing myself upon the mercy of the insurance-gods. I sent an email back to the actual human that had sent me a response to my slightly fudged application. I told her that I didn't have the right documentation, and that I just really need some help.

You'll never believe what she did.

She helped me.

She told me about this thing called Healthy New York. It's subsidized by the state, but it's not like medicaid or something. It's real insurance through a real insurance company and it costs real money; that money's just about half as much as I'm paying for my COBRA. Since I'm making next to nothing and don't qualify for medicare, it looks like I qualify.

So maybe I've found some kind of answer. It's not the best healthcare plan; it won't cover any sessions of mental health or chiropractic, for instance, and I'm fairly worried that I won't be able to see my Fibro specialist. But... I have to do something. Being tethered to my former employer by a very expensive leash has been making me feel increasingly uneasy, and it's become very obviously not worth it.

And now for the really scary thoughts for the day. As is so often the case, in all of this mess I'm coming from a relatively privileged standpoint. I had a job that was giving me healthcare, from which I could get COBRA in the first place. I had savings to fall back on so that I could pay for it, and really when I say that I "can't afford" the COBRA I mean that I don't want to spend my savings so quickly. (There is of course more to it, but that's how it looks from a strictly monetary standpoint.) Also, the savings will run out at which point I'll have no means for which to pay, which is also another subject.

I was going through all of this with my therapist (whom I pay $60 a week to spend 45 minutes with), and all I could think is what it must be like to make $8 or $9 an hour working for an employer that doesn't provide healthcare. Not that I haven't been there, because I have. But I always had insurance through my parents at least, or doctors I could see at school, and I was only ever responsible for myself. What the hell do people do when there are children in the mix? Either they're on medicaid, or they're living in pure hell. Of course, if they're on medicaid there are plenty of people that will accuse them of leeching off of the system.

You mean they system that they're paying taxes into, even though they're not making enough money to pay rent, much less buy food? Yeah, that system. Hmm, how dare they think they deserve basic medical care? I mean, it's like they think they're actual human beings that deserve the same treatment that people with better paying jobs get. Geez, who do they think they are?

What sense does this make? It seems backwards. I think we should have a re-vamp. It could look something like this:
Under $40k a year equals fully paid health insurance with prescription coverage, $40k-$80k is subsidized, and anyone making over $80k and not supporting a gaggle of kids on that single income is just cut loose. Sound good?

People will say, oh, but some people get paid more because they're in more difficult positions. OK. You go work in the kitchen of a fast food restaurant for a month, on your feet in the heat and grease and noise, and tell me it's not difficult. Tell me how you feel at the end of the day.

And tell me how you feel about yourself when you get your paycheck for your 40 hours... and it comes in at just under three hundred bucks. Then you'll have to think to yourself, well, let's see. A visit to the doc clocks $250, but the electric bill is due and that's $75, and there's no food in the fridge. Guess that stabbing pain in my stomach is just going to have to wait.

I faxed in all of my info and forms for the new program on Friday. On Monday I'll be mailing off the last check for the COBRA coverage, along with a letter asking them to discontinue my insurance as of 8/1.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed - do I ever uncross those damn things? I'm starting to get a cramp.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Dear Mr. Pollan, we need to talk.

To Mr. Michael Pollan, investigative journalist and food expert in the public eye,

Hi! How's it going? Hope all is well with you and the fam.

So... um... here's the deal.

You don't know me from Adam, and I have the interviewing skills of a tenth grader. You're also a pretty busy fellow and I think you now live on the west coast. So I doubt you'd really want to spend your time hanging out with some vegan blogger in NYC. For these reasons, I'm not attempting to contact you to have an interview or even an in person conversation. (I'm also just a bit chicken, if you'll pardon the pun.) But I'll put my thoughts to you out into the cloud just to see what, if anything, comes back - it feels a bit like a modern day equivalent to tying a message onto a helium balloon and releasing it to see if anyone answers. (Except now I know I won't be killing any turtles.) My balloon is red. What color is yours?

I'll start by saying that I am a huge admirer of your work, and while I don't always agree with your point of view I genuinely appreciate your journalistic, show-all-angles approach. "What would the apple think? How do the cows feel? This guy might be a right wing republican, but he's a person too...", and so on. I'm also quite jealous that you seem to be pretty chummy with Marion Nestle, who's sort of a hero of mine. Your writing is always engaging and informative, and you don't seem to have any sort of misunderstanding that you're a scientist, which is nice. We have more than enough pseudo-science skulking about these days, but in all of your articles and books that I've read, you seem to have kept your true credentials in mind. Lucky for us, you have things to tell us about foods and the food environment that no scientist ever bothers with - too subjective, not numberey enough. You're serving an important function as a different kind of expert, and for the most part you're doing it very well.

I want to speak with you particularly about your book "The Omnivore's Dilemma". This isn't your only book, or even your most recent book, but it's the one I finished reading not long ago. I had to wait for it to stop selling so darn well and finally come out in paperback, and I'm also a slow reader. Anyway, for the most part it strikes me as an excellent work. I spent many a subway ride deeply absorbed in its pages; you actually made me miss my stop. Twice. The descriptions of your time on Polyface are vivid and telling. The hunting stories are honest and without self aggrandizement. And I love the section on mushroom hunting - fungi are amazing, and now I can't go into Dean and Deluca without poring over that section of produce and wondering just who it was that harvested the chanterelles and morels.

And then, near the end of the book, I got to the chapter on the ethics of eating animals. Of course it had to be coming; how could you talk about hunting in this day and age without mentioning animal rights, and by association vegetarianism? Impossible. I knew going in that you and I would be coming from very different standpoints on the subject, you an established boar hunter and I a dedicated vegan. But I expected no less than what you've regularly delivered in this piece and others - a fair and diverse discussion of the subject.

So how surprised was I to find nothing of the sort? The more I read, the more distressed I became. OK, sure, you read Peter Singer... while eating a steak, to challenge yourself. An interesting start, to be sure. He is, definitely and without argument, one of the leading voices (if not THE leading voice) in the animal rights movement today. But he's also a bit of a crackpot, God love him. Obviously the notion that we should stop animals in the wild from predating each other is completely insane. The man goes overboard; this isn't news. He didn't become famous by being moderate. His philosophical arguments are regularly studied by college students as examples of flawed logic. So when you refer to him as if he is the example to which all vegetarians aspire, it makes me sort of want to stop reading your book - so that I can throw it at your head.

So you became "vegetarian" for the blink of an eye. I'd say good for you, except that you didn't even do it. You were still eating animal flesh, and I don't care whether those animals had faces or not. Did they have organs? Would they have tried to protect themselves from you if you found them in the wild and tried to scoop them up? Did they potentially come from food processing systems that are destroying ecosystems and poisoning our food? They did, they would, and they did. As far as you justifying eating meat by killing it yourself, I'll give you the pig hunt on that one, though shooting something with a gun isn't exactly fending for yourself. I'll even give you chickens from Polyface, since you've had their blood on your hands, despite the fact that you didn't have to work real hard to find them. But do you really think you can use those experiences to justify picking up a shrink-wrapped T-bone from the Safeway? Or even from the gourmet butcher shop? Sorry, but that will require at least a one-month turn on the kill floor.

Your discussion of vegetarianism was stunningly one-sided. You seem to be laboring under the delusion that animal rights ideals are the only motivation for vegetarianism. I'll grant you that plenty of people do go veg for a minute or two strictly because they get upset about the treatment of pigs or cows, but in large part these people tend to be young, not very well informed, and short lived in their efforts. They just got tired of trying to save the whales and have now moved on to fighting global warming with such earth-shattering methods as using different lightbulbs. More to the point, people who do go vegetarian or vegan for animal rights reasons who are more mature and are actually educated on the subject don't necessarily believe the things that Singer does. He is not our God; he is just well published.

There are many reasons for becoming vegetarian or vegan that "Omnivore" barely addresses. According to you, in fact, it seems that people like me don't even exist. I find it just fascinating that, despite chapter after chapter in which you discuss the problems with CAFOs and monocropping, explaining how these things are bad for people, land, animals, and food, it didn't occur to you that some of us are vegan because we've simply opted out of the whole mess. As efficiently as we know how, at least.

As far as vegans like me are concerned, the only way to be sure we're not contributing is to... not contribute. And it's not just as simple as not buying animal products. It's knowing about companies and who owns who and who makes what (Tofurky [self-owned private company] vs. Smart Deli [made by Con Agra, who also makes Slim Jim], etc.); it's knowing the code words that the industry uses to disguise animal products in things like shampoo. It's researching food production methods so that we know we are making the most sustainable choices possible even with our vegetable-based items when we make purchases of groceries, or anything else. It's a lot of work that we do, because we want to live conscious lives. But to you, we're all just worked up because cows are so preciously cute, and we can't stand to see them upset? Hardly a fair assessment. Not to say that we don't care about the welfare and suffering of the animals, because we certainly do. But that's just a part of a much bigger whole, and all of it just as ugly.

Do I wish I lived a ten minute walk from Polyface Farms, or some comparable place where I could get animal food that I could feel good about? Yes, yes I do. I don't think I'd eat flesh, because frankly it just freaks me out and I'm healthier without it. But I'd love to have fresh milk and eggs from happy, healthy animals. If I could do such a thing - go shake hands with Farmer Bob, go out back and pat Bessie the Cow on the head, and buy a quart of her milk that she contentedly doled out that morning - as a regular part of my life, I'd say hell yes to that. But I don't live near an amazing dedicated farmer who loves his animals and his land. I live in New York City, and I don't have a car. I'm sure there are great, family-run organic farms in upstate New York, and I'm really happy that they're there. I'm glad that there's a developing niche market for them. I'm not it.

What do I have? I have an amazing vegetarian market just three blocks away, stocked largely with items from smaller privately owned companies, staffed by people from the neighborhood and owned by a friendly and highly dedicated couple who live across the street and with whom I am on a first name basis.

Frankly, Mr. Pollan, I'm disappointed. I expected so much more. You missed a fantastic opportunity: to call us vegans out as a community for the elitist snobs that we can sometimes be, to discuss all of the various levels of vegetarianism and reasons for such, to address the health ramifications of vegetarian diets (positive when done right, negative when done wrong), to discuss the enormous environmental impact that modern animal food production methods are currently tolling. Instead, you took one angle, didn't even fully explore that one, and basically left us looking like marginalized fools to the thousands upon thousands of people that grabbed your book off the bestseller racks. Why?

There is some redemption in the final paragraph of the chapter:
"The industrialization - and brutalization - of animals in America is a relatively new, evitable, and local phenomenon: No other country raises and slaughters its food animals quite as intensively or as brutally as we do. No other people in history has lived at quite so great a remove from the animals they eat. Were the walls of our meat industry to become transparent, literally or even figuratively, we would not long continue to raise, kill, and eat animals the way we do. Tail docking and sow crates and beak clipping would disappear overnight, and the days of slaughtering four hundred head of cattle an hour would promptly come to an end - for who could stand the sight? Yes, meat would get more expensive. We'd probably eat a lot less of it, too, but maybe when we did eat animals we'd eat them with the consciousness, ceremony, and respect they deserve."

Well said, and yet so much left unsaid. I'm sorry to say that our relationship has been permanently damaged by this transgression. I'll never feel the same way about you again. I won't be able to recommend your books as wholeheartedly as I have previously, if I can bring myself to recommend them at all. There's really no excuse for this nonsense; an hour of internet research would have told you about a legion of other vegetarian concerns. Hell, just my views on the matter would have provided another entire world of thought. But apparently either you or your editors or both didn't feel it was worth even a single page.

I don't want you to think that we can't still be friends though. I continue to think of you as a great writer. I sincerely hope that you'll do some more investigation into this subject, gain a better understanding. In my wildest dreams, you'll publish a book discussing all the nuances of vegetarian culture. It's a hot topic, you know. I'm sure it would sell. If you need any advice, please feel free to drop a line. We'll get together; I'll bake cupcakes.

Melissa Bastian

P.S. - To Mr. Singer and his devotees, I mean no disrespect. I state only opinions, and you should take them or leave them as you will. I have great admiration for the level of dedication and the sheer quantity of time and effort that he has put forth on a very important topic which obviously means a great deal to him. I just have a bone to pick with Mr. Pollan.

P.P.S. - To Mr. Pollan, have you read "Portrait of a Burger as a Young Calf" by Peter Lovenheim? Highly recommended reading. He did the whole buy a calf and watch what happens as it moves through the industrial food system thing several years before "Omnivore" came out... only his calf's story doesn't end quite like yours does...

Monday, June 23, 2008

And on the summer solstice, the mermaids - they came to us...

Summer is finally upon us, by way of solstice. And with it came that most magical of events: the Mermaid Parade in Coney Island. On this glorious day, all manner of magical sea beasts assemble on the streets of that briny carnival town and perform in a most delightful display of color, fin, and tentacle.

Saturday was our little group's second annual outing to the parade, and we're beginning to believe that everything is always magical on that particular peninsula. The sun shines, the wind blows just enough, the few clouds are picture perfect, and everyone is happy. Our first trip, last year, set the trend, and this year fixed the picture in our minds for good. These visits feel like stepping into a charming, nostalgic memory - except infinitely better than any memory could be.

Last year, of course, we were afraid that it would be our first and last visit, and certainly our only chance to ever see the parade. (Last year I also forgot my camera, which I was pretty darn upset about.) A real estate giant called Thor Equities has bought up much of the tourist area, including Astroland, and even with their "revised" plans it seems that they intend to reduce the amusement park footprint from its current 61 acres down to a paltry 9. They want to build condos, of course. What else? Oh yes, and malls. There has been such an outcry that plans keep changing, and this year the parade and parks have continued unmolested. It seems only to be a clam before a storm, though... but we'll talk more about that later.

Right now, what you want to hear about is mermaids. Big ones and small ones, girl ones and boy ones, old ones and young ones, white ones and black ones and blue ones and purple ones and orange ones... and Aquaman. And jellyfish. And other fish. And mysterious sea monsters from the deep. And aquatic thingymagigs of unknown origin and indescribable morphology. The variety is truly stunning - both in the creativity and diversity of the costumes, and in the range of people that this event draws out.

There are of course plenty of mermaids, and even within them there is a huge diversity. There are mermaids that have been enchanted to have human legs but are still dreaming of the sea, mermaids hopping about struggling with tails, mermaids coyly enjoying a landlocked cocktail and cigarette, mermaids proudly displaying shoreside booty in the form of prize teddy bears, goldenrod southern belle mermaids patiently waiting for their beaus. One particular mergirlie is just on the verge - to give birth to a little one named, of all things, Noah. There are topsiders celebrating the tropics - whole gangs of Carmen Mirandas, for instance. There is the older gentleman with an inclination toward heavily skirted evening dress, whose cocotiel is never so happy as when it is perched upon his helmeted head. He's been spotted in Queens. There are men of gold, and there are men of silver. And oh, the jellyfish, how I do love the jellyfish! But then invertebrates have always been a soft spot of mine.

The backdrop for this spectacular showcase is of course Coney Island itself, or at least the amusement district so known and loved throughout the world. About 60,000 people do actually live and work in Coney Island as well, though these genuine neighborhoods are not what's generally thought of when the name is spoken. The amusement district today is made up of four separate parks: Astroland, Deno's Wonder Wheel amusement park, 12th Street Amusements, and Kidde Park. There are other amusements scattered here and there, like the bumper cars on Surf Avenue and Shoot The Freak on the boardwalk.

Me, I'm not good with rides. For one I'm a chicken, and for two I'm not good with sun, jerky movements, or moving backwards or upside down. This puts roller coasters right out of the question. Last year I eyeballed several of the smaller, less intimidating rides, but we didn't end up partaking. This year though, Jonathan and I got down early when crowds were small. We needed a restroom, of course, and found the pay toilet (see sign), which just happens to be next to the Wonder Wheel. With a wait of less than five minutes, we thought what the heck?

It was totally worth it. Not only is it a historical landmark, and not only does it provide amazing views of the rides and the beach, but it also gives quite a thrill - being that high up and yet unenclosed is just kind of insane. First you come up the back, so you have the whole wheel between you and the open air in front. That's not so bad. But then you have this moment of realization as you near the top that you're going to come down the front, and there's nothing, but nothing in front of you save this thin metal mesh. Yes, for such a simple ride, I did kind of freak out, which Jonathan will happily tell you all about. But don't let him fool you. I enjoyed myself immensely, and no matter what I was saying I was smiling the whole time. After that, we watched the parade, went to the museum, met up with our best friends, and had a truly wonderful day - as did several thousand other people around us from all walks of life.

Since it's accessible by subway - that's how we got there - Coney is truly something that everyone can enjoy. The rides in the parks cost the big bucks - up to $6 a ride for the Cyclone or the Wonder Wheel, but it's absolutely free to watch the parade, wander through the streets and parks, walk the boardwalk and the pier, and frolic on the sandy beaches. Bring a bottle of water and a picnic lunch, and you've got yourself a day-long beachside spectacle for the cost of a roundtrip subway ride - that is, four bucks. Not bad for a day out in New York. Toss in one more dollar and you can visit the Coney Island Museum. It isn't big or fancy, but it houses some stunning artifacts from amusing days past, including bumper cars, silly mirrors, lots of classic old signs, a hand carved carousel horse, and a very knowledgeable curator.

About the people who call Coney Island home. These are real people, working people. All kinds of people. And even on Mermaid Parade day they come out on the boardwalk, out on the pier, just like they would otherwise. Some take advantage of the opportunity, selling waters and cokes, and beers hidden underneath the first two. Some come out to be festive, play bongos and dance and shake maracas. And some just come out to fish and throw out crab traps, to show their children how, to find some dinner. There's also the huge Russian community, their own demographic, largely concentrated in the adjacent Brighton Beach. We were fortunate enough to get a little taste of their world at dinner...

On Saturday, Russia beat the Neatherlands in the Euro Cup. Do I know this because I'm such an enormous sports fan? Um, no. I know this because of the chanting, hectic gang of young Russian twenty-somethings that were hanging out on the boardwalk immediately next to the outdoor seating area of the Winter Garden Restaurant in Brighton Beach, where we decided to have dinner. These boys were seriously excited, and they showed their excitement with cheering... and vodka. As for the restaurant, it was a fascinating experience. They had a minimum charge and added a 10% gratuity to every check. Despite this indicator of fancy-pantcy-ness, the service was terrible and ludicrous slow. While we were literally in the middle of ordering we were told we'd have to move tables. We only got three water glasses for four of us, and one of the beers came in a cracked mug, which we discovered when its owner pulled glass out of his finger. But you know what? The food was delicious and we had a great time. Everything's crazy at the beach, man.

OK, now about that ugliness. Not for the first time, people with big googling dollar signs in their eyes want to change the face of Coney Island, to take it away from everyman and make it only for the elite. They want to do what's been done in so many other places; Times Square, for instance, or Chinatown in Washington D.C. All in the interest of "progress", of course - progress in the form of their own bank accounts and stock portfolios, but who's being picky. And the result of all this progress for the rest of us? We'll go to Coney and find a pitiful few remnants of the joy has been there for well over a hundred years in some form or another. The prices will be higher and you'll get less. The views will be of condos instead of beaches, and the restaurants will be Applebee's instead of locally owned places. Instead of a vibrant, gritty, real place with history and soul, it will become a Disney-fide and plastic facade.

And now you're like, total bummer! Why is this chick telling me all this depressing stuff when I can't do anything about it? Well guess what? You can! (Come on, you knew that was coming.) The Save Coney Island Coalition is all over it. Go to and be their myspace friends to learn about exactly what's going on down there. Go to and become a supporting member - while you're there, check out all the cool stuff that goes on even off season, like the film festival! Email to get updates on petitions, protests, and other goings on. Go to the public meeting tomorrow night, 6pm at Lincoln High School, 2800 Ocean Parkway and speak out, or if you can't make it in person send your written thoughts on the matter to before July 11 to Rachel Belsky - If you live here in New York, or even if you don't, you can bug Mayor Bloomberg about it - City Hall, New York, 10007; (212) 639-9675; fax (212) 788-2460. You've got a voice, dontcha? No one will know that you care if you don't use it.

I'm not from New York. I didn't grow up spending long summer days at Coney; I don't have fond childhood memories of balloon races and cotton candy and carousels. But I can see when a place has magic, when a place is loved, when a place is infinitely more valuable than any price tag that can be put upon its real estate. The world needs Coney Island just as much as Coney Island needs the world. We need the Cyclone, we need Nathan's, we need the boardwalk and the freak show and the Wonder Wheel. Too much has already been lost to greed and some ridiculous concept of "progress" at all cost. Coney Island cannot be one for the history books. It should be, must be, the place where our kids take their kids some perfect sunny Saturday, to watch mermaids rise up out of the ocean and parade along Surf Avenue, hand in hand with the jellyfish.

I took a lot of pictures this Saturday, but this one is my very favorite. We were sitting on the boardwalk, toward eveningtime, and down the way we saw what appeared to be a middle aged man shimmying into a spangly purple dress. A few moments later, he came a-strolling by...

Friday, June 20, 2008

I officially hate newegg.

See, it's like this. I can't have things delivered to my apartment. It's impossible. So when I order things on the internet, I have them shipped elsewheres. When I worked in the office I just had them sent there, but alas, no more. I do now have an office job again, but I'm only there half the day, and besides, I just started. Bad form. So when I decided to buy a laptop from newegg, I told them to ship it to my fiance's workplace. He orders things from them all the time, and has the same billing address as me, and has them shipped to his office. So I figured, no problem, right?

Wrong. What I'd gotten an inkling of, but didn't realize until now, is that newegg are a bunch of "security" nazis. "Security" goes in quotes because while they make it look like they're protecting you, they're actually only protecting themselves against anyone being able to accuse them of not being secure. Just like the airport.

So two hours after I place my order, I get this email from them saying there's a problem. I do some poking, and realize that the "problem" is that the shipping address that I've given them isn't on file with my credit card. Well no duh. Credit cards don't keep shipping addresses on file. My billing address, email, and cell matched perfectly, but they don't care. I sent them an email trying to explain that I can't ship to my house and that I don't know what the hell they're talking about, having a shipping address on file with the credit card.

They responded, telling me that, what if someone had stolen my billing statement? Then they could have items shipped wherever, using my credit card! Well, sure. But a), it's me placing the order, not some credit card thief. b) the billing statement doesn't have the whole credit card number, or the security code on the back or the 800 number listed on the back, all of which is information required during checkout. c) the billing statement doesn't have my email address on it, which is indeed on file with my credit card and which I've been writing them from. d) the billing statement doesn't have my cell number on it, which is on file with my credit card and which I provided to newegg (and which they haven't bothered trying to call, those gurus of security).

So apparently they're under the impression that the most logical answer to my order is that someone stole my billing statement, credit card, cell phone, and gmail password? You know, that would be a hell of a lot of work for the POS $400 laptop that I'm trying to buy. If you were gonna do all that, don't you think you'd at least go for an average priced laptop, instead of the absolute cheapest one they sell? Ooh, ooohh, maybe I'm actually AN IDENTITY STEALING ALIEN! Yeah, that's it! I've even stolen Melissa's flesh, so that an in person meeting wouldn't prove anything! I really want to tell them to put down the conspiracy theorist magazines for a goddamn minute and think. But apparently that's not an option.

I'm really bummed. I was just trying to get a little computer so that I can write while I'm at the studio without lugging my PowerBook around. It shouldn't be this difficult, and with most online purchases it isn't. I'll have to see if I can find the same computer elsewhere. Newegg, when you act like this, the terrorists win.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

An interview with me, as perpetrated by myself and reported by I.

Q: Hello Miss Bastian. I'll start simple; how would you describe yourself?

A: Generally I wouldn't. I find it difficult and unnerving.

Q: O.K. Would you? For me?

A: I'm me. You're myself.

Q: For myself then. Or for I, even.

A: Um, sure. The metaphysics of this particular conversation are going to get confusing. But I'll give it a shot. I tend to imagine myself as the pretty/ugly girl. You know the one. She's all gawky and awkward, the girl that everyone mocks, until Freddie Prinze Junior or whoever comes along on a dare to prove to the world that she's actually a babe. Except that in my particular life, since I don't actually live in a late 90's teen movie, there was never any Prinze come to swoop down and rescue me from the refuse pile. So eventually I just learned to sort of save me from myself.

Q: Hey...

A: Nothing personal. I did once date a guy named Junior though. Anyway, other than that, I guess I'm an "artist" and a "writer". I've always felt a little bit homeless, and I have this thing with birds because they're also at home everywhere without ever really having a home. I'm the product of wildly dysfunctional and overall not the most parental parents, who nevertheless managed to keep me alive and who love me to bits.
I usually feel like I'm about five years behind in life - on whose schedule I'm not really sure, but it's a feeling I can't get around. I also tend to feel like I've had more than the average share of messed up things happen in and around my life - "average" I guess just being based on, probably, people I went to school with or something. My realm of experience. Not that there aren't plenty of people that have much worse lives, because of course there are. I've never understood why that's supposed to be comforting. Just that I've seen some stuff I guess. I dunno.
Anyway, overall, at this point, I've done the work and I like myself.

Q: Thanks.

A: No problem.

Q: You never say you're welcome...

A: Rarely. Been like that since I was a kid. Never knew who or what I picked it up from.

Q: Why do you use air quotes when you refer to your writing and art?

A: You know why.

Q: Yes, but our audience doesn't.

A: Mm hmm. Fine. I have a problem with labels. Or, well, with flattering labels. Or maybe with labels that I feel like I don't deserve. Those words describe someone who really makes art, who really writes. I just play with images and color and paint and paper, smash words together, and no one takes much notice of any of it. I know it's wrong to look for validation in the opinions of other people, but I do anyway. I can't help it.

Q: You don't think that the people around you perceive you as an artist? Or as a writer?

A: I don't know how they perceive me; what I think about that changes with my mood. Sometimes I think they think I'm brilliant and beautiful. Other times, I think that I aggravate the living hell out of everyone and they'd all rather not look at me. It's weird, with a lot of labels, a lot of roles, I feel like I'm just not normal enough or not stable enough to live up. Like when I was a paralegal. Or how I struggle with "wife". I think, no, that's not me, that's for people that like offices and eat animal products and wear underwear. Nevermind the fact that I was a damn good paralegal.
But with this, the creative stuff, it's sort of the opposite. I'm not enough artist, I'm not enough writer; I'm too stale, too stiff, too scared. Not weird or beautiful or unhinged enough. I went to college for Geography. I didn't spend my teenage years sleeping in European hostels, or doing copious amounts of drugs. I'm thirty and I still haven't had a show or published anything. So I'm "artist", I'm "writer".

Q: You know thirty isn't any kind of old, right?

A: Yes. And I haven't given up. And I don't want to talk about it.

Q: Subtlety is not your strength.

A: No.

Q: Other than a paycheck, do you see any virtue in taking a desk job like the one you've just started?

A: Yes.

(a pause.)

Q: I wasn't supposed to phrase that as a yes-or-no question, was I.

A: No.

Q: I'll try again. Other than a paycheck, what virtues do you see in taking a desk job like the one you've just started?

A: Ah. Better. Well, there is that paycheck, though with this particular job it isn't much. But it'll be regular, and that kind of stability gives a lot of comfort. I crave stability of almost any kind when it comes down to it. But yeah, there's more than that. During my twenties, the concept of self-discipline became very important to me. When I was younger I had none at all, and I realized that that's a major part of why I got so little accomplished. I frustrated myself constantly - there was so much that I really wanted to be getting done that I just refused to make myself do. It's something I've had to learn, and it hasn't come easy, and I'm still working on it.
There's a very specific kind of discipline that comes with getting to a job every morning at 9, especially when it involves work that you don't necessarily love doing. So it's a good way of learning some self-discipline. (Of course, so is hunger if you ask Hemingway, but I've never been any good at that.) Unfortunately, when it's a full time job and you hate it, you end up feeling like you're being punished for doing something that was supposed to be virtuous and strong.

Q: Can you explain that?

A: At my last desk job, my whole life and self got sucked away. I learned the discipline of going there and doing the work, no matter what, yes. But I also dried my soul out because it took up ten hours of every day at a minimum, and often much more. The work was stressful, the workload ridiculous, and some of the people were completely out of bounds, which all added up to emotional exhaustion. So instead of being strengthening it became a huge drain, despite the money. That's why I quit. While I was there I would criticize myself for not finding time to create, but after I left I realized how crazy that was. How could I leave that environment and then go create something beautiful? Creation requires having something inside of you to pull out, put forth. That job left me empty.
I'm optimistic about the new job; I'm thinking of it as my "writer's job". It's only five hours a day, plus I can walk to it, and so far it seems low stress - I have very little responsibility really. So I have the structure and the discipline, but I'm still allowed to walk away with enough time (and enough of myself ) left in the day for myself.

Q: And again, thanks. So, what do you see happening, over, say, the next year or so?

A: That's a tough one. Of course there are the wedding preparations, and that's always at least at the back of my mind if it's not right up there at the front. But I'm really hoping that this is the year that I get my shit together.

Q: Care to be more specific?

A: I want to find galleries, or at least maybe coffee shops or something, that will show my stuff. I'm sort of kind of almost on the trail of this already. And I want to write a few polished pieces that I can actually send out to journals and magazines - at least give myself the chance to be formally rejected, instead of just living with the unfounded assumption of rejection all the time. (Laughs.) There's the classes too - I want to take a billion classes, in graphics, in printmaking, in journalism. But those require money, so we'll see.

Q: So maybe this is the year that you move from "artist" and "writer" to artist and writer?

A: Anything is possible. I'm not making any promises.

* * * * *

(At this point, the interdimensional portal which had allowed me, myself, and I to simultaneously occupy different seats in the same room all at once snapped shut, and we were abruptly coalesced back into one. Something went slightly awry, however, as these things so often do, and for a good ten minutes there I / we had six toes on my / our left foot.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Apparently, I'm hell bent on killing my plants.

So... have I mentioned that I haven't painted in a month?

Yeah, it's true. I painted like a madwoman for a couple of weeks leading up to the open studios event last month. I painted until ten minutes before I opened my door that Saturday morning, in fact. But since then I haven't so much picked up a brush. I haven't been to the studio all that much, and when I go it's to work on crafty stuff - making new journals mostly - or to look over wedding stuff.

This just happens, and I have to try real hard not to get freaked out about it. My mind is working more in words right now than in images, is all. So I'm doing more writing and less painting. It all makes sense. It's not as if I'm no longer obsessed with images, or as if I don't have things that I want to get painted. I am. I do. Like way. Like woah. Whole series of things. But it's just not where my motivation happens to be digging in her claws at the moment. (This passage begs the question, who am I trying to justify this to? Is there a single person in my life who criticizes the waxing and waning of my visual production? Well, one person: as usual, the only person harshly judging me is, of course, me.)

I've registered for a class that will last through most of July on creating artworks from photographs, so that'll draw me right back to it. It has to, or I've just wasted my money. I'm supposing that in all that frantic work to get ready for the open studio, I drained the well a little too low. Ironic then, maybe, that the pieces that I sold have all been completed for well over a year? But no, I'm not going to go and say it was pointless to pound out all that paint. I was quite glad to have a strong body of work to present, and I don't regret doing it the way that I did. I guess I've just needed a break, and other parts of my life have required tending to.

The real tragedy in all of this is that my studio plants are taking the brunt of my neglect. Pink, Pink, and the China Girl have gone through umpteen cycles of drying out to near death status, only to be flooded back to life when I finally make an appearance. I'm afraid they'll begin to think that I don't love them. I'm afraid that they think I'm a Bad Mother, though I may have crossed that threshold when I gave two of them the same name. I'm beginning to worry that the next time will be one too many, and someone will be lost. I've had these kids since January, after all, and that's an emotional investment.

It should be better now, with my new schedule, assuming that I keep it up. The scheme involves the severe laziness of waiting for the bus immediately in front of my office rather than walking to the train ten blocks away, so prospects are actually pretty good. I leave the office at 2pm, bus it down to the studio to work on whatever (I write there too), and then head home when I'm going stir-crazy at the studio to work at home until my husband-to-be comes home. A full day of work, 8:30 am to 6pm. Respectable, with a smidgen of money earned, but with half the day for me too.

Yes darlings, this could work.

I'm two days strong and counting.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Terror! -OR- Parallel universe, here I come.

I don't know how she did it. I've tried to trace the steps, but to no avail. But people, understand. The unimaginable has happened.


Seriously. For real. No joke. And she read them. And I can't figure out exactly which posts she read, or off of which blogs, or how she found them. I got this telephone message from her telling me all about it. And then I called her, and verified this awful, awful truth.

And you wanna hear the best part?

She thinks they're hilarious and wonderful and amazing. She thinks I should submit my writing to magazines, especially the ones about marriage and the wedding. And best of all, she thinks that I'm right on point when I refer to her as the rationalizing enabler. And she knows I'm not kidding. She said, "yeah, because that's what I do."

Um, like, what?

Ok. Obviously something from Planet Bizarro is happening here. So here's what I'm thinking. Remember that whole parallel universe theory I had going yesterday? Well I think perhaps I had it a little screwed up. Given this afternoon's phone call, I'm thinking that maybe, just maybe, by re-entering the legal field I have inadvertently created a tear in the very fabric of the space-time continuum, allowing realities from an alternate universe to leak through and play out here within our own realm. Ya think? It strikes me as the most likely explanation.

What other rationale is there really? That my mother has gained some perspective and humility? That she has grown up into the ability to selflessly asses my words not as a judgment of their life but as a discussion of mine? That maybe she was always this person but I needed to be thirty years old to be able to interact with her on this level, because engaged thirty-year-olds are allowed to say and think and feel things that angry nineteen-year-olds aren't? That she actually sees talent in my writing, and enjoys reading it? Yeah, right. I'm sticking with the parallel universe thing, all the way. After all, I did receive the phone call just as I was leaving the office for the very first time. Coincidence? I think not.

And you know what else? That's a universal double that I can get down with. It's no Homer-fantasy-super-rich-raining-donuts-from-the-sky, but still, it's an improvement and I'll take it. And who knows, maybe now that she's such a darn big fan of my writing and wants me to write for wedding magazines, she'll be dying simply dying to dump oodles of money on me so that I can go to school for journalism. Assuming that I get into school, that is. Little does she know, of course, that I'd much rather go write for Adbusters than for any wedding magazine, unless in this wonderland there happens to be a magazine about nothing but vegan weddings... Hey! I'm living in the supertwin universe - that means I'm allowed to dream, you naysaying snitches in the back! Yeah, that's right, I heard you, you mumbly such-and-so-forths.

Ohh, but here's the question: what do you think my magical duplicity portal is dependent on? If I quit this job at this law firm, will the rift heal itself? Will I once again be relegated to normal old, single universe reality? Hmm. We can't be having that. Maybe I can keep it open if I always wear blue shoes on Tuesdays, or perhaps if I greet every tree I see with a kind how-do-you-do and by calling it Alfred. (Though that second one would be rather time consuming. Even in New York, there are a lot of trees.)

Maybe I'll just have to keep the job; it sure does seem to involve a lot of sitting in a little box, answering a phone. It certainly isn't riveting, but it really isn't much of anything, which I think is alright. And it gives a nice schedule to my day, I think. By starting it off getting me out of bed and making me walk and reminding me of why I don't want to work in an office, and then giving me enough time in the afternoon for my own pursuits... you know, like writing blog posts.

* * * * *

I just ran out to get Jonathan a six-pack, and a psychic stopped me in the middle of the street to tell me that I should call her for a reading. If that's not proof of universe parallel conjoined supertwinism, I don't know what is.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Tomorrow, it begins again.

Perhaps it's as if I've come full circle? It's almost like I'm starting something new. But really, it more feels that for the past two months or so I've been living in a parallel universe, reality's conjoined twin, but that the sister systems have somehow again become one. The twin, with all its creativity and life, seems only to have been an imaginary friend.

Tomorrow morning I will wake up at 7:30. I will groggily, grumpily make my morning coffee and porridge, and while they are respectively brewing and bubbling I will clothe myself in items that have hung, unworn and patiently waiting, since the end of March. I will imbibe the necessary brew, consume the brown rice and cinnamon that of late has been my fundament. And when all is set, out into the world I will go - and not a minute past 8:30 a.m., lest I be late.

I will walk north, up 30th street to Astoria Boulevard, and then weaving whichever way becomes most convenient to circumvent the BQE. In one hand I will carry a purse, and object which I apparently now use with great regularity despite the constant admonishments of such throughout my teens and twenties. In the other hand I will doubtlessly carry a book, putting myself at grave risk of tripping, as usual. And over one arm or the other I will carry a bag; it will contain shoes to wear within the office (for I'll be walking in my Tevas), at least one notebook, hopefully a scrap of food, and whatever other accoutrements my life may require past 2 p.m., at such time that I am to be released from my newly chosen prison.

I took the walk today so as to time it; twenty minutes at my normal fast paced clip, even in the heat and sun. So in the morning cool thirty minutes should be an adequate cushion. The office, alas, is hardly accessible by train; such mode of transport would actually take longer than simply walking, and would still require a good ten minutes of pedestrian movement. Thus my plan.

Just out front of the office is a stop for the Q101. The bus indeed is the least efficient mode of transportation possible, and yet it still does take a person from a place to a place, eventually. And this particular bus will take me directly to my studio, in a travel time of again only twenty minutes once boarding has been achieved, which makes its proximity to the new office useful. One stop past the studio, too, is Manhattan. Useful indeed.

Over and over again, I picture my arrival at the office, the unfolding and unfurling of my first day there. How do I fill out my W-2? Do I get a break? Will they let me out on time? Will the office seem so dingy as it did when I went in to interview? Will I be let to bring a plant, a lamp, a picture frame? How late is "late"? Questions abound, and some cannot be asked.

All I need is for it not to be awful. It just has to be bla, so so, average. I must keep myself from making it a workaholic perfectionist spree, as I do with most new jobs. I have to stand my ground on hours and pay and duties and reasonable timelines and expectations. Ah yes, as usual, I embark with such grand notions.

I may be forced to take up smoking.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Sometimes I keep secrets.

It's true. For example, I didn't tell you that I got a call for an interview. I didn't tell you that I went on that interview. I didn't tell you that the next day the office manager called me up and offered me the job. And I didn't tell you that I took it.

Sometimes I get in this mood where I just don't want to tell people what I'm doing. I didn't tell anyone, anyone at all, that I got the interview. Not my best friend who I had dinner with the evening before. Not my fiance who I live with. And then after I went to the interview, I still didn't tell anyone. Oh, I almost did. It was on the tip of my tongue a dozen times. But I kept it to myself, ultimately.

And then on Friday, the office manager called and asked if I could start on Monday. And then I couldn't really keep it a secret any more. So I told Jonathan, because he was going to find out anyway when I left the house before him on Monday morning. I could have waited until Sunday, probably, but I didn't want to run the risk of upsetting him. This morning I'm feeling like I needn't have bothered, and in a little bit you'll see why.

Why did I keep mum? I don't know. A lot of reasons. To feel like my life is my own, I think, is the usual cause. But in this particular instance, I think it's more about the fact that it's not a job that I want. In fact, when I hung up the phone with good ol' Maryann, all I really thought to myself was, damnit.

It's a part time receptionist job at a small personal injury law firm out here in Astoria. One look at my resume and they were hooked. I mean, I've worked in a real live law firm - in Manhattan, no less! I can use a computer, even! And when they had me answer the phone on a trial run, I said the attorney's name right on the first try! I was a shoe-in.

The money is, of course, shit. But it's steady, and more than I'm making at the coffee shop. It's actually the same hourly pay, but I just can't do five days on the night shift; I don't have the stamina for it. I want to keep working there though, Friday and Saturday nights hopefully. Though in really thinking about it, that might be a suicide mission. I might need to only do Saturday nights. I feel like I'm betraying the manager, my friend, but on the other hand there are many people on our staff who are begging for hours, so this might actually relieve some pressure.

As became entirely evident this morning though, I'm not the only one who keeps secrets. Jonathan does too. A week or so ago, while we were out, he asked me if I had a stamp. I said that I indeed do, but that it was back at the house. This morning I remembered the request and asked him if he needed it, and he said not yet but that he would. I asked him what it was for, and he said, "oh nothing". I asked him why he wouldn't tell me, and he said he had to mail something to the government. I have precious little patience for this kind of evasion, and so I persisted and asked what exactly it was that he needed to mail to the government.

I suppose he realized that I wasn't going to give up, or maybe it dawned on him that he really should tell me, so finally said that he owes back taxes, not for this year but for last year, his 2006 return. Ok. Fine. Why the hell is that something he was keeping from me?

He is completely baffled as to why it would upset me that he didn't share this information with me, that he in fact made a noticeable effort to prevent me from discovering it. Hmm, gosh, why would I want to know important details of his financial life? It couldn't have anything to do with the fact that we're supposed to be getting married, now could it? You know, it might concern me just a teeny tiny bit, seeing as once we sign on the dotted line, I can be held responsible for his fiscal follies whether or not I even know about them...

Not that I think he's going to bury us in debt or force us into bankruptcy or something. It's really the principle of the thing; the fact that a tax screwup is no small affair, and in just a couple of years we'll most likely be filing our taxes jointly. Do I expect him to open up his checkbook and show me each debit and credit? No. But I do expect to be told about major financial events, if not up front then at the very least when I ask, or when it's evident to me that something is going on.

He's always been a bit covetous of his financial life, but we'd made some progress I thought. We've set up a saving plan for the wedding, and we've been sharing a credit card and paying bills together for well over a year now with no problems. Why does he hide these things from me? Not entirely sure - something about male pride and the way his father raised him. I've been fairly confident that we'll be able to work it out, that he'll come around and realize that in the kind of household we're running, he'll have to be more forthright. But this kind of event really shakes me. I hear my own voice saying that who you marry is the person you're already with, not some magical new person who is changed by the title "husband".

I've watched the way that money can strain a relationship for my entire life. I've tried to talk to him about all this, many times actually. The conversations are exactly as productive as those I have with the two plants growing in my window. The whole thing has put me in a superbly bad mood, and he has no idea why I'm now "suddenly" so grumpy and is walking around our apartment as if on eggshells, thin ice, broken glass. This, despite the fact that an hour ago I said to him quite clearly "It really disturbs me when you hide major financial stuff from me.", and that's exactly when the bad mood started. But no, my mood's a total mystery that certainly has nothing to do with him, just ask him.

I should probably just leave. Especially because now he's gotten wrapped up in some kind of work-related drama, as often happens during his busy season, so there's absolutely no chance of me drawing him into a proactive conversation or even a fight.

Ugh. So not how I wanted to spend my Saturday.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Great Paper Chase.

First, a side note: today is 6/13. My day. See, 6 and 13 are my numbers. It is also Friday the 13th. This happened six years ago; it was an interesting day.

But that has absolutely nothing to do with what I'm about to talk about.

No. I'm here today to talk to you about, in a word, paper. Paper, for some reason, dominates my world. It covers my desks and tables and floors. I file it and stack it and organize it and save it and write on it and make things out of it and buy way, way too much of it. Indeed, the catchphrase for my little etsy store is "because you like paper, and we like you." And of course when it comes to a wedding, paper is a major consideration.

See, as far as the wedding stationery goes, I'm being very, well, me about it all. I'm doing everything myself. You didn't really think I was going to walk into a stationer and just pick something from a book, now did you? Ha. No, that would involve infinitely less work than what I currently have planned. So, I'm sure you're wondering, what has my fevered paper-obsessed little brain cooked up? It goes like this:

First will go out save the dates. Of my own design, of course. In my palette of greens, of course. And as a postcard, because I didn't like any of the magnet options and anyway that would have required an envelope, which I'm trying to avoid. I thought I had this all worked out, and then a minor catastrophe happened... but we're getting to that.

Next will come the big envelope- one envelope, no interior exterior nonsense for me - to include the following:
*The invitation, again of my own design and very possibly of my own making. Possibly stamped, possibly linoleum printed, possibly letterpressed if I can get access to a press... It might end up having a ribbon on it, or a vellum overlay, or some other such fancy nonsense. I can't decide. I change my mind every day, and I'm counting on my darling mid to set me straight when the time comes.
*A response postcard (again with the no envelope having), any one of a number of the vintage-design Cavallini postcards that I've been buying up like a madwoman. I think I have all of the designs now. I didn't want any two people to get the same design. See, I got custom stamps made to turn them into response cards, and there'll be a space for the guest to write a note to us for when they send it back. I'm going to put them all in an album that shows both sides of the card, so you see the pretty vintage design one the one side and the note from the guest to us on the other... What can I say? It's just something I thought up.
*A zine-style booklet, but polished, hand bound with ribbon, containing all of the information that guests will need regarding the wedding weekend: schedule for the big day, hotel where we've reserved rooms, probably a menu listing of the food we'll have, tips on visiting New York like how to use the subway and how to hale a cab (we'll have a lot of out-of-towners), et cetera, so on, and so forth.
Again, all will be in my palette of greens, not the same color for any piece but coordinating and complimenting.
*For wedding party members, invites to the rehearsal dinner... assuming that we're having either a rehearsal or a dinner.
*For anyone with any kind of job during the wedding weekend (which will be plenty of people, believe me), a little note reiterating what's expected of them and expounding upon our undying gratitude for being our ipod dj or whatever.

Then of course at the ceremony itself will be the wedding program. Oh, yes, I must have a program. It's an excuse to make another booklet, for the love of god! Like I was going to turn that down? Again, ribbon bound, with all different green ribbons so they'll look beeutiful all together in a basket.

And we can 't forget correspondence / thank you notes; etiquette simply won't allow it. For this, I'll get the smallest envelopes you can mail (3.5" x 5", I've checked with the U.S.P.S.) and fold the beautiful 100% handmade cotton paper that I already happen to have on hand in half, (with the bone folder I finally found that's actually made of plastic - why the hell do they still make those things out of bone!?) and then stamp the front of it with my tree design... I haven't figured out whether I'll make a lino print or get a rubber stamp made.

Ok. So that's a lot of pieces of paper. And I want them all to be different colors that go together. But you wanna know the real kicker? I also want them to all be 100% post-consumer waste recycled. With the obvious exception of the cotton paper that I already have. (See? It's not just food that I worry about.) This may strike you as crazy, but to me there's just really no other way to do it if I'm going to be putting so much paper out into the world. The universe of recycled and otherwise "earth friendly" paper has gotten exceedingly complicated and greenwashed in the past few years. There's tree free, plain old "recycled" in any percentage you want, post-consumer recycled also in any percentage you want, forest stewardship council certified paper, chlorine free paper, and so on, and so forth, and any combination you might care to dream up. It's really enough to make a girl dizzy.

So the first thing I discovered in my search is that it's ridiculously complicated. There's lots of paper that says it's 30% recycled (not post-consumer, mind you, just recycled) - well, isn't that nice? They've followed the government mandate and saved themselves money by picking the scraps up off of the floor and throwing them back into the paper mix. Not impressive. The second thing I discovered is that while there are several companies making nice, stationery-type papers and tree-free papers of many colors that fit my parameters, most of them are just ugly as sin. And do I want ugly paper? Oddly enough, no, not really.

So after my initial researching, I decided that 100% post-consumer waste was the way to go. I spent probably a dozen hours on the internet, and at least half as many in Kate's Paperie (a primo crackhouse for us paper junkies). And I thought I'd come up with a solution that worked perfectly. Domtar had a line called Sandpiper, 100% pcw , chlorine free, so on and so forth, and some of the colors were absolutely gorgeous and within my palette. Speckled, yes, but in a way that worked. I also found and purchased a couple packs of plain old white office paper (100%pcw, chlorine free for you and me) off the internet - for the insides of the invitation booklets, and for just general home use. I found some stock at Kate's that had some pcw content for miscellaneous pieces, and I can live without complete perfection (I suppose). Everything was moving along just swimmingly.

And then, yesterday, it happened. I went to order my Domtar Sandpiper papers. 24 lb. writing paper in Mint (for the interior of the wedding program and the cover of the invitation booklet) and 80 lb. cover stock in Robin's Egg (for the cover of the wedding booklets and who knows what else - it's so pretty!). And guess what I found out? Domtar has discontinued the line!

This little revelation threw me into a paper crisis. According to my fiance, there is no such thing as a "paper crisis" unless you run a newspaper or a paper mill. He just doesn't understand. Boys don't often contract the paper sickness. Or the ribbon sickness. Or the pretty box sickness. They just don't get it. But he behaved, and spent a solid twenty minutes with me last night going over the possibilities of What To Do.

I'd spent all afternoon trying to right the wrongs that had been done. I'm pretty sure I found and ordered the Mint color, though I think it's in the 80 lb. cover thickness instead of the 24 lb. writing thickness, so I don't know if it will work in my printer. As for the Robin's Egg, it's gone daddy gone, which is slightly heartbreaking. You just don't even understand how pretty this paper is. I will cherish the samples forever. Or just be slightly peeved for the next couple of weeks. Whichever.

For the giant envelope, an A10 that fits a 5 1/2" x 8 1/2" booklet inside, I'm using a line called Synergy. I thought I'd be using the Citrus Green, but instead now I think I'm using the Peaceful Blue. The Synergy stuff is not 100% pcw, but it's got a respectable amount, and it's really hard to find envelopes this size unfortunately. My main concern is / was the booklets, which will be the biggest use of paper...

And the moral of the story is that, in yet another way, I've lost my freaking mind.

Does anyone want to remind me that my wedding is still almost two years away, and that maybe it'd be alright if I didn't have this all hammered out by the end of the week?

Just as well. I wouldn't listen to you anyway.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

So, why the hell do you want to get married?

This is the question that I've been asking myself. For years. A decade or more, really. And it's not only me asking it; it's former boyfriends asking it, it's friends asking it. I've been asked it several times since I've gotten engaged actually, due to the company I keep. It's such a valid question that I've actually started polling people. For those that know about my engagement, I ask for an honest opinion on it (and usually get one). For those that don't know, I ask for a general opinion on the entire concept and get the can of worms cracked open, and then show them the ring. Usually they backpedal, until I explain that I really am looking for honest feedback and open discussion. It's a fun game, truly, especially when you hang out with a bunch of anarchists and artists and other such people engaging in non-standard lifestyles.

My answer to this question, as you may imagine, has changed fairly dramatically since I was twenty (and thank God). Back then, the reasoning was an ever so co-dependent "because that's how I'll know that he'll really stay with me" or "because that's how I'll know he really loves me", something along those lines. As if marriage is a solution to a problem, a universal Mr. Fix-It to my severe emotional disruptions and fear of abandonment. Luckily, none of the boys that I dated were foolish enough to go for it... for very long, at least.

In my mid-twenties, for a minute or two, the answer was simply, "I don't." I'd learned enough to know that I didn't want to do it the way that a lot of other people do it, and wasn't empowered enough to realize that I might be able to do it in a different way entirely.

And now? Now that I have a sparkly ring on my finger? Now that I've put a deposit down on a gorgeous venue and I'm scouting out dresses and caterers, not to mention trying to figure out how mortgages really work? Well, now it's a much bigger answer. But it needs somebackstory.

As should be evident by this point, I have a lot of issues with marriage. Like my issues with everything else, my contentions range from the macro to the micro. There are the big, universal issues like the federal regulations prohibiting gay marriage and the legal ramifications on each other's finances. And then there are thesuperpersonal , relationship specific details like the way that many couples, and it seems to me women in particular, try to use marriage to fix whatever intimacy problems exist in a relationship. Let's examine some of these issues, shall we?

The subject of the prohibition against gay marriage is one that I cannot help but consider when thinking about my own marriage possibilities. Since high school age my circle of friends and acquaintances has always contained gay people, and (as very few people are completely straight) there have been a few women have who moved through my life that drew me strongly to them, so much so that I questioned my own sexuality for a time.

More to the point, though, is that two of my very close friends are lesbians. One, we'll call her H, is my oldest friend. She revealed her sexuality to the world in her 11th grade year (my 12th) and has never looked back. And recently she's fallen madly in love, and she and her new partner want nothing more than to marry. But of course they can't. They could maybe travel to one of the states that has made it legal for a moment - I believe California is the latest? - but of what use? It wouldn't be recognized in their home. And so they're talking about having a commitment ceremony and a big party, because isn't that what a wedding really is anyway? What is all this craziness with making it a legal contract?Ahh, but we'll get to that.

The second of the two aforementioned friends, we'll call M. She has strong feelings about the concept of gay marriage, and does not want any part of it, especially not a commitment ceremony that strikes her only as a "fake wedding". To her it feels like mockery; yet it makes her sad that she will not get to experience that rite of passage, even when she is ready to commit herself to a lifelong partner. In what might be an ironic twist, I've asked M if she would like to be our officiant.

I've heard two opposing arguments on the concept of straight couples who support gay rights and what we should do with our own marriage options. One camp declares that if we truly believe that everyone should have the right to marry and that it is unfair that this is not the case, then we should not take part in this unfair system and therefore should not become legally married until everyone has the right to do so. The other camp, upon hearing of couples who refuse to marry for the sake of gay rights, blink their eyes incredulously, shake their heads sadly, and muse on the irony: that people who have the option would turn it down, while so many who want it so badly can't do something so basic as commit themselves to one another (at least, not in the eyes of the law).

And there it is: in the eyes of the law. What is that? "We love each other - legally! And our sex is legal too!" How perverse is that? The thing is that it isn't really like that at all. Really, the legal aspect of marriage has nothing to do with the relationship itself. It has to do with agreeing to let that person all up in your junk... in a paperwork kind of sense. Marrying legally intertwines your finances, lets you get on each other's insurance and file taxes or apply for a mortgage jointly, and allows for visitation in medical emergencies - that last one is a big part of why the legal aspect becomes important for gay couples. So when you think about it, a legal marriage is merely two adults agreeing to open their files to each other. A scary proposition, no doubt - if things go awry, you can end up liable for debt that you didn't even know your partner was accruing. But it has nothing to do with romantic love; it has to do with trust and fiscal responsibility, an important but quite different part of the whole. Oddly, this is the part that many couples seem to gloss over entirely, focusing instead on some ludicrous notion that "love is all you need". Oh, if only.

Other issues? Well, let's talk about the wedding ceremony, shall we? Enter guests. Representatives of the two families sit on opposite sides of the room, a throwback to days when this would not be a friendly or happy gathering. Enter the groom: he who has the most money wins. Enter the groomsmen, who originally played the role of literally holding back the "bride's" family as the groom kidnapped her from her house. Enter the bridesmaids, who originally were dressed up like the bride in order to confuse evil spirits, and who are now mostly just puppets in expensive, ugly dresses that will never be worn again. And now enter the bride. Or at least we assume it's the bride; she's lost any identity that she may have once had now that she's wearing that white dress with that veil over her face. She is of course being escorted by her father, the man that owns her, so that she can be properly handed to her groom, the man that is purchasing her. After all, this is really just an exchange of property - and that property damn well better be a virgin too. Because later they'll have to hang out the sheets with the bloodstains on them, and if they don't, well, she might just get stoned to death for being a whore. But first get that wedding ring on her - they won't actually let you put a tag in her ear, and tattooing "mine" on her forehead would probably make her less valuable. Oh, the groom? Why would he wear a ring?

How wonderful! How romantic! Boy, do I want in on that! Um, no. Granted, I'm taking the worst of a bad lot, but my point is that wedding "traditions" don't come from a warm fuzzy place. We made all that up later, when society decided that we'd better start pretending that women are actually people. (By the way, we're not all the way there yet.)

This is why I have a mini panic attack every time I try to think about my ceremony. There are obviously a lot of things that I don't want involved. No one is giving me to anyone, because I'm actually not property. Vows obviously need serious work from the traditional script (must I even bring up that whole "obey" shtick?). Past that, I just have no idea how I'm going to handle it yet. Thankfully, I have time.

So, under all of these dark and foreboding clouds, why the hell do I want to get married? As I said, that answer is complex, but it's all rooted in one very simple fact: I have found my partner, and he his, and we want to celebrate our partnership with each other and everyone we love and make our commitment formal. Do I want everyone to have the same rights? Of course. But giving up our opportunity will not create one for anyone else. Can I abide the dogma of the wedding ceremony as it is commonly carried out here and now in this country? No, and I don't have to, and I won't. Do I think that a legal marriage makes us legally bound to love each other? No, I think it makes us legally able to file joint tax returns. Am I wandering into marriage with naive notions that getting married will be the ultimate solution to all of the problems in our relationship, and indeed in my life? To the contrary, I'm making every effort to walk into it in full consciousness of the potential pitfalls and failures, willing to take the risks, confident that we will keep loving each other and acting as equal parts of a whole as much as we are able. Sound scary as shit? Well yeah, it is. So was moving to New York, and so was starting college, and so was everything else worthwhile that I've ever done.

When you realize that your ceremony can be what you want it to be, and decide that you will make it represent only what you believe; when you understand that a marriage is not a "marriage", something that fits in a box that someone else put a label on, but simply a partnership between yourself and the person that you know and love, and it is nothing less or more than what you decide it will be, then all of those dark clouds part. And nothing that society says about what a "wife" is or a "husband" is matters anymore. The things that your parents did to each other within their own marriage melt away. Because none of that has anything to do with you and your partner. The day after you say "I do" (or "I will" or "Yes!" or "Hell yeah!" or "Totally"), you will still be the same two people that you are today, and you will still have the same relationship that you do now. That moment is not the one at which you devote yourselves to each other forever; that devotion should have long been in place. The wedding is had simply to state it out loud... where a whole lot of people can hear you - because it's a wonderful thing to feel and say and share. If you make it legal, you make it legal for practical reasons, and you can do it at the same time or not.

A few nights ago I asked an acquaintance, who happens to be gay, what she thought of my engagement. After some discussion of above-mentioned subjects, she said she thought it was courageous. I have to agree. This is one of the most terrifying things I've ever done. And yet, somehow, I've never been so happy, and really, I've never been so calm.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Happens every time.

Well, I've been applying for jobs again today. I also submitted my resume with two staffing agencies, temporary or permanent. And, as expected, I am now bone-crushingly depressed. There's just something about trying to sell myself that makes me want to kill myself instead. Ok, ok, it's not that bad. But I hate it more than almost anything.

What I really wish is that instead of needing to get a job now, I just needed less money. But the only way to make that happen is to cut my health insurance, and that's a dangerous proposition. For all the obvious reasons, and because it would probably mean ending my medications. Now, I resent the hell out of having to take four goddamn pills every night, but those of you who remember me before I had them know why it's a pretty bad idea for me to stop. I just feel so trapped by it. I want there to be a better answer, and I've looked for one. Meditation, diet, yoga, therapy, eliminating toxic people. It all helps to an extent, but not enough to make me functional. As in, being able to go to work every day, handle grocery stores, et cetera. Only the SSRIs have managed that feat. The only other thing I've ever figured out that would really, truly help is to, well, live in a different kind of world than the one that exists. And let's just say I'm not holding my breath on that one.

So I'm back on the hunt, applying for jobs I don't want that I won't enjoy. Because money is the root of... all. Just all. It's how we eat and breathe and sleep, and certain things are valued and others aren't. Or at least aren't by many.

I applied for a college today - the Journalism program at Baruch College, part of the CUNY system. It's affordable, except of course for that pesky part about having the time to both work and go to school. But maybe I'll be able to figure it out, assuming that I get in, which I should. I mean, I can't see why not. It's undergrad, and I do already have a degree. My GPA wasn't the best, but I pulled it up to just over a 3 in the end. And doesn't "real world experience" count for something at these places? Let's hope; I've got plenty of that crap.

Let's keep our collective fingers crossed, shall we?

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Things I Haven't Told You.

Oh, you know how I am. I make promises with the best of intentions, swear I'll spin tales of this or that. And you wait patiently (but with baited breath), sure that I'll come through and be true to my word. But then days pass, and then weeks, and understandably you begin to lose faith. Well, ho ho! I have come to restore you, to restore us both! Are you ready? It's time for me to write a post about all that stuff that I said I'd write a post about but never did. We'll go in chronological order. Ready? Set? Go.

Civics, 101.
I'm in a room with ten televisions, two hundred strangers, and countless continual high pitched whining noises. Naturally, I'm wondering if I've actually died and been sent to hell.

But no, it isn't hell.

It's just jury duty.

There's a sick irony in being summoned to jury duty immediately after quitting the job at the law firm. Like some sort of karmic punishment. It's as if the universe said: "So, you want to be done with the law, huh? Well. We'll see." It's something like detention for adults. You could try to get something done there technically, except that it's so extremely distracting. There's the televisions, for one, and then there's the people yelling at you about various things that may or may not apply to you. And if they call you and you miss it, well, you just screwed yourself bigtime. Your duty does not count, and you'll have to do it all over again.

Of course I was sent to Kew Gardens, an hour away on the E train, instead of to Court Square (also a potential venue listed on my summons) which is next to my studio. Why make this any easier than it has to be?

The organizer of today's judicial affair has just rattled off her spiel with the air of a long-worn government employee. No doubt she could tell you the exact day that she will be retiring. She may have an hour count. She does not like us. She does not want to be here. And she does not understand why we do not understand that we simply need to sit the hell down, shut the hell up, and pass the damn summons to the left.

What I've found most interesting so far is the statement that anyone who has trouble with the English language need not serve. Which is, of course, perfectly logical. Except that it was said in English, and only in English, so that the people most unfit to serve in the language department are still just sitting there, maybe humming to themselves, without a clue as to what the hell is going on. (You're trying to tell me that not one employee in this courthouse in Kew Gardens, Queens speaks Spanish?) The fact is that those of us with perfect English have only the loosest grasp of what is currently expected of us. From my seat in the front row, I got to witness the interrogation of those poor souls who lined up to state their claim of a problem with the English language. Of course, they were questioned... in English.

I spent three days serving jury duty; I was questioned by a set of wildly incompetent lawyers for a burglary trial. If those boys are innocent, I just hope the prosecutor is as ineffective as those two defense attorneys. For whatever reason, they didn't like me. Possibly because I kept moaning in exasperation at each juror who said they'd take a policeman's word over anyone else's (what???), probably in an attempt to get out of duty. (Did they somehow not understand that they'd just be going back to the holding pen?) At any rate, I got rejected, and back to the Big Brother room I went. Fortunately that afternoon we were released on our own recognizance, and my duty is done for the next six years. And boy do I feel like a good citizen!

Six weeks later I received a check: $120, cash money. Well hell, that's almost minimum wage. But unemployed beggars can't be choosers; I'll take it.

* * *

"Artist" to Artist... according to some.
The weekend of May 16th was a big one. It was my second anniversary with Jonathan, and subsequently when we got engaged. It was also the weekend of my first ever open studios event in my first ever studio.

You remember the studio, that little chunk of concrete that I can't afford? Well, I'm blowing my savings on it precisely because it's part of a real artist collective, in the midst of several other like spaces. So on the 17th and 18th of May, we all flung open our doors to the general public. As you may imagine, this caused me more than a little anxiety. I set my sights fairly high as to what I wanted to have finished by that Saturday morning... so of course I wasn't finished. One painting I completed exactly fifteen minutes before I opened my door, one I altered the design of to get it done (but I actually like it better the new way!), and one isn't even finished now. But even so, I had what I think was a respectable amount of work to display.

I had two very different series going, so I set them up in distinct areas. There was the wall of technicolor Birdland, with all of my silly little guys acting out their dramas on a blindingly vivid landscape. An example for you:

That's one of the smaller ones, but you get the idea. The other side of the room was full of the work that has spiraled out of my experience with Katrina over the past 2.5 years, including collage, letterpress, somewhat abstract paintings that only show the shape of the river, and some brand new paintings based on photographs that I took the first time I visited after the storm. Here's a painting I did of how my house looked, post flood:

Just a little bit different than the birds. So people would walk in, and first they'd see the birds, and be all, oh they're so cute and colorful! And then they'd turn around and get all confused. It was kinda funny. No one spent much time looking at the New Orleans stuff, which was a little disappointing, but not very surprising. But the whole experience was made, MADE, by two individuals. Or three, really, when you count the three-and-a-half month old infant, which of course you should, because he's a person too and a cute one at that and his name isSoren.

Since you asked, I'll explain myself. The first three people to walk through my door after I got it open that Saturday were a perfectly lovely couple and their adorable baby son. They were looking for art to go in little Soren's room, and fell quickly to examining the bird paintings. And then they surprised the hell out of me. They pointed at "Can you see it yet?", a painting that has been my and many of my friends' favorite for quite some time now, and said "we'll take it. Is cash alright?" I was slightly dumbfounded, but luckily didn't say anything particularly dumb. As the painting was a three foot tall slice smack in the middle of my set, they even agreed to come back the next day to pick it up. I'm telling you, most awesome couple ever.

But they weren't done yet. They did indeed come back the next day to pick up the painting, an hour or so earlier than we'd said, but whatever! When you're my new favorite people, that's just fine. As I was wrapping the painting up for them, they looked around some more. And they looked long and hard at a diptych that I had created during my brief moment in art school, a collage and then a pencil drawing of the collage. And they said, we think we'll take these two too. What? Huh? Good lord, they're practically my patrons at this point! Did I mention they're my favorite people ever?

Just today, I received a lovely email from them telling me that my work looks great in their home, and that I should keep them updated on my inventory. I'm telling you, I want to take these people out to dinner or something.

And so, in the span of two days, the sum total of Melissa Bastian artworks ever sold was bumped from zero to three. Of course I've sold shirts and letterpress prints before, but I consider that my craft; it's in a different category of creation (not to mention a very different price range).

So have I moved from "artist" to artist, from "art" to art? We'll see. No promises.

* * *

The Fancy and the Schmancy.
I've now promised about four times to tell you about the getting of my fancy ring. The funny part is, though, that it's debatable how much there is to tell. If you've been keeping up, you probably know there were some issues placing the order in the first place... and because of those complications, thebling was stuck in the post that anniversary night that we did the deed. So it goes.

We decided to go to Blossom, our favorite fancy vegan restaurant, for the fancy proposal with the fancy ring once it arrived the following weekend. We thought it would be a pretty low stress event, since we were already engaged and all. This was more like a charade, like playing dress up. For fun. (Which begs the question, have I met me?)

Our reservations were for 7:30, so at 6:30 we headed for the train station. (After going to The Foundry that morning to give them all of our money, and then eating an enormous brunch, we were having a lazy Saturday afternoon at the house, see.) As soon as we arrived on the train platform I knew something was wrong. This wasn't Saturday evening crowd. This was "train hasn't stopped here in 45 minutes or so" crowd. Crap. Tonight of all nights? Crap. There were trains stacked up as far as the eye could see on the "express" track. We could also see one train stopped between 30th Avenue and Astoria Blvd., one across the tracks from us at 30th Ave, and one stuck behind it at Broadway. Nothing, but nothing, was budging.

Well, we waited for about 20 minutes, and realized that unless a train pulled up right now (a highly unlikely scenario) we were not going to make it to Chelsea on time. So we headed back downstairs to try to catch a cab, or a car, something. On the way, we heard the guy in the booth telling people that the trains in Astoria simply weren't running. And we thought, are you gonna tell the 300 people up on the platform? We would have gone and told them ourselves if we hadn't been stressed and in a hurry to figure out how the hell to get into town, short of walking the Queensboro bridge in our fancyclothes.

And I say again, dear MTA, would you PLEASE stop f*cking with the N train?!?

So we got to the street, and all the service cars that are normally illegally hovering under the station had already been snatched. We were just getting ready to call our regular car service, the one we use to go to the airport or send our drunk friends home with, when I spotted a yellow cab on its way back to the city. Yes! We jumped in, and a surly old bearded white dude eyed us suspiciously until we gave him our destination. (This turned out to be because people had been asking him what the fare might be to get toQueensboro Plaza.) Well, not 30 seconds after we got in the car, some batty lady maybe in her 40's opened the front door and looked at us, wiley eyed. She asked if we were going into the city, and if she could split the ride. It was oh so reminiscent of the strike, when they wouldn't let cars over the bridge with less than four occupants and strangers were just piling in together. Good times.

We asked Batty Lady where in the city she needed to go. Oh, anywhere, she said. Uh... ok. Sure. Why not. Well we got into the city, and a few blocks in she had Mr. Surly drop her off on a corner. She tried to hand him a twenty. And he looked at her like the batty lady that she was. "Give it to them!" he said, motioning to us. So she handed the twenty to Jonathan. The fare, though, was only up to ten. So he handed her back a ten and a five. Batty Lady then tried to hand Mr. Surly the ten. It took all three of us to explain it to her. We had a good laugh when she finally got out of the car.

So we made it to the restaurant, in time even. Now, I love Blossom; the food is great, and when we go for brunch we often get this awesome waiter who's funny and nice and plays the Magnetic Fields. But, as do most Manhattan restaurants, it's got about ten more tables in it than actually fit, making it a bit claustrophobic. The first table they wanted to put us at was the one right next to the entrance, the one that didn't used to be there. Um, no. The second was behind a big round sixtop; the two were practically touching. Luckily, just before we sat down my favorite table opened up. It's stuck at the end of a long banquette, so that there's almost a wall between you and the people next to you, and it's tucked into what used to be the front doors, which are French doors. So you kind of have your own private windowed alcove.

Now keep in mind two things here: 1) All of this table pickyness is me, not Jonathan, and my anxiety was greatly heightened by our reasons for being out at dinner and our adventure in getting there. 2) By the time we were seated, our maitre d' hated us.

So by the time we had menus in our hands, I was about half way to panic attack. And that stressed Jonathan out, badly. Which made me feel worse. Weeeee! Fun. I ordered wine. I went to the ladies room and took a deep breath. I went back and drank the wine, fast. And by the time we'd eaten our dinner, I was almost a person again.

Jonathan took advantage of the downtime after our plates had been cleared. He took a box from his pocket. He opened it. And inside, I saw the most beautiful ring ever. And he said, "I don't know how to do this, so I'm just going to do it. Will you marry me?" And I said yes, for the second time. And he put the ring on my finger. And I stared at it, mouth agape.

It was at that moment that the waiter returned to see if we'd like dessert. After the question escaped his mouth, he looked at us. I looked up from my ring with a big ridiculous grin and said, "sure!" And he grinned back and said, "ooohhh, congratulations!" It was cute. I think he felt bad for interrupting, but how could the man who then brought me three scoops of ice cream feel bad about anything?

After dinner, we were in a funny state of euphoria. We walked east to the flatiron building, and then up through that little park where the most beautiful flowers were blooming and illuminated building tops were reflected in still pools, like magic. We kept walking north, all the way to Central Park, and everything was beautiful - bodegas, subway grates, street signs, bus stops. The whole world had a perfect, picturesque shimmer to it. I held Jonathan's hand all night, and our progress was slow because I stopped to kiss him every two blocks or so.

Yikes! There I go again! Nothing like getting engaged to make a girl sink into gushy reverie.

* * *

So there you have it! Promised and delivered! I still haven't told you about t-shirt stenciling with 10th graders in Brooklyn, but we may not be done with that one yet, so I'll wait until I know that the story is complete.

April and May were interesting months to be sure. So far, June is just slipping right past me. It's alright though, I could use a down month. And besides, things never stay quiet for too long. If they did, I might actually get some rest, and then were would we be?