Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Dream On

Last year I started a tradition for my birthday, and by "started a tradition" I really mean it accidentally happened, of doing something I would normally never do the rest of the year for my birthday. It wasn't a milestone birthday, unless 35 is now considered the beginning of the end. It just so happened that several people recommended we go to a performance of Sleep No More which was one of the best experiences I've had and certainly not something you experience everyday, unless you are the type to wander through a 1920s hotel, following characters as they play out one of literature's greatest tragedies. And who knows? Maybe you are.

Anyway, this year my sister gave me the gift of a ticket to a museum "dream over" at the Rubin Museum of Art. The idea behind this event was to fill out a questionnaire ahead of time and have a piece of art work chosen for you to sleep next to. The idea was that you would dream and then to have your dreams recorded by what turned out to be members of a Jungian institute for sleep and dreaming studies. The crux behind the whole event was twofold: to have a spiritual connection with a piece of art and to have your dreams recorded by these researchers for the purposes of their research. And secretly for me, to sleep in a place that is usually forbidden after hours.

So yeah, not a typical way to spend a Saturday night much less a typical birthday gift.

The art in the museum is Himalayan Asian and as a result is heavily influenced by Buddhism and Hinduism. I was interested in finding out which piece had been chosen for both me and my sister as we were to be given separate spaces and the questions we were asked were intriguing. I don't really know what I expected to be given but I certainly did not expect what I got. Here's a photo of the exact piece that was chosen for me:

For those who don't know, that is a statue of the Buddha nee Siddhartha aka the Supreme Buddha as he is achieving enlightenment. As explained to me, the position he is in here shows one hand open and palm up in a gesture of openness and receiving and one hand is touching the earth with his fingertips. At the moment of his enlightenment, the story says, the earth roared acknowledgement of him as he touched it with his hand.

Now, I am not a practicing Buddhist by any means. I am not a practicing anything but I have a deep appreciation for the tenets of Buddhism and, like most epic stories, I have a deep appreciation for the hero, especially one who achieves something through his own merits. In addition, the statue in person is big, bright and really beautiful, inlaid with semi precious stones and gleaming golden surfaces. So you know, no pressure to have amazing dreams or anything.

After setting up my sleeping bag and other accouterments  my "storyteller", a young and handsome fellow named Michael introduced himself and told me he would be reading me a story at bedtime and that it would be something he had chosen to go along with the art work and that it would hopefully help me along in dreaming. He also told me about the piece and with every new detail he told me, I felt it resonate with me. I struggle with the notions of being both open and grounded at the same time. I have a tendency to view things as either practical and rational OR idealistic and irrational. Open vs. closed. I don't do it intentionally, I just feel that, especially in recent years, I've gotten so cynical and the lines between truly open to newness, new experience, new points of view has gotten confused in my head with being a realist, being a pessimist. And sadly enough, I walk the line between being ironic or sardonic about everything. It is wearing me down, I know this. For me, becoming enlightened would mean achieving and truly believing that both are not mutually exclusive.

I then walked over to where my sister would be sleeping and for her they had chosen a very tiny statue of a Dalai Lama from the 17th century. Here is her photograph of it, replete with her signature eye for photographing objects (please note the amazing blue ghost-like reflection in the rear):

My sister is one of those people for whom openness often comes naturally. She felt at home in the museum among all the objects and, as she usually does, she put me at ease being there and after seeing her chosen art work, I was ready to get started with this whole experience. I noticed two people who ran into each other, both surprised to find the other there. I wondered what it must be like, to run into someone you knew in a place like that, what it would be like to not know that someone you knew would be interested in doing something like this. It seems like it would be comforting.

After everyone had set up their bedding which was scattered throughout the six floor museum, we were to meet in an auditorium while some talks were given. One of the speakers was a neuroscientist from Harvard who studied the brain activity of people while they slept. She spoke about the Western approach to dreaming and learning from dreams or what science could teach us about brain activity during dreams. She was dressed in this purple flowing robe and seemed more like a mystic than someone who teaches at Harvard but what she discussed was very interesting. She touched on the idea of lucid dreaming which is always something that has fascinated me and I secretly hoped that I'd be able to have a lucid dream there in the museum. After she spoke, there was a Tibetan monk that answered questions about the Buddhist  way of dreaming and what dreams mean in that religion. The two ideas were not so different though clearly one was more spiritual than the other and one put more stock in the actual dreams than the other. Interestingly enough, both  allowed for the idea of lucid dreaming, a way of finding answers to waking life problems directly through one's dreams. That idea seemed so beautiful to me that I couldn't really concentrate on much else.

On our way out of the auditorium, the monk gave us each a seed to eat.  For the life of me, I cannot remember the purpose of this but I ate it anyway because it was a gift. I pictured broccoli florets growing in my lungs. I don't know why. We then gathered for a discussion with the other dreamers on our floor. It was basically an introduction to each other and a brief talk about what to expect and what not to expect and I suppose to just get a sense of what people's thoughts were about the experience. We would meet again in the morning to talk about our experiences. This first meeting was fraught with what most first meetings usually are: awkwardness, insecurity and discussion dangerously close to disagreement. I was grateful it was only a 30 minute meeting since I felt myself grow very sleepy by 11pm.

I was a little concerned that I wouldn't be able to stay asleep because even though I fall asleep easily, it takes very little to wake me up. Michael came back to read me my story and he explained that he picked a Wallace Stevens poem called Sunday Morning to go along with the statue since achieving enlightenment seemed so big that it was virtually incomprehensible. He felt that the images in the poem were big enough to communicate that. To wit here is sampling of one part of the piece:

Deer walk upon our mountains, and quail
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;
And, in the isolation of the sky,
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink,
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.

I'm inclined to agree with him.

So I fell asleep easily but woke up a few times throughout the night with my traditional "where the fuck am i?" notion that often visits when I'm sleeping in place not my own. But I fell easily back to a deep sleep. And I did dream. I dreamed amazingly colorful, vivid intense dreams. I'll keep these to myself because unless you are at a dream over in a museum with a bunch of other dreaming people, most people don't want to sit through a session explaining what goes on your unconscious brain. Suffice to say that I woke up peacefully and completely grateful for the experience.

We woke up to have a traditional Tibetan breakfast which consisted of fruits and nuts and this dough ball with cinnamon that again, I cannot remember the name of but that I really enjoyed. Most of the other people looked dazed and still asleep and the meeting with the other dreamers on our floor was strange. People were reluctant to share their dreams or their thoughts but I chalk that up to drowsiness. We were all asked to draw one image from our dreams on these small pieces of paper that the organizers then hung up at the entrance of the museum like Tibetan prayer flags. It was pretty remarkable to see what people had dreamed and how they illustrated it.

Big ups to my big sis for the gift. It really was a gift and a remarkable experience. It made me want to learn more about dreams and Buddhism and art from that part of the world. Anything that makes me want to learn more about anything is worthwhile and can be filed under "experiences worth having."

Friday, July 20, 2012

One really long and uninterrupted conversation

Life has been insane...since the beginning of time. But especially so for me as of late. And I have wanted to write about what is going on and I feel like events that happen are forming one long queue and everything is getting backed up and I can't keep up.  To wit: I have about four blog entries in the works. I keep starting and stopping and having to do other things. Gone are the days when a half-assed writer could take a bunch of Benzedrine and sit at a typewriter (a what?) and write the next great American classic, full of youth, sex, tragedy and insight. No, it would be rare for that to happen. Life, however, continues on its forward trajectory, collecting all the youth, sex, tragedy and insight on its way. So, in order to jumpstart myself (without those painful clamping cables) here's a post about my friend Jason's visit to NY which happened a few weeks ago. Keep in mind, I started this post awhile ago.

Recently, my friend Jason from my New Paltz days (read: a long ass time ago) came to visit New York. Unbelievably it had been 10 years since we saw each other in the flesh, almost entirely because he lives in Austin and I live here, on the longest island in the known universe. Also, since we got to know each other in college, he's always just been one of those people with whom I can just pick up where I left off. I get the sense that since we first started conversing, we've just been having one long, uninterrupted conversation. Friendships like that are the best.

Anyway, his visit coincided with the exitmusic show at the Mercury Lounge that I had gotten tickets to a few weeks back. It also coincided with a few days I had off before the new fiscal year at my full time job started and I had to take them. (Side note: one of my favorite things in the absurd world of work is the notion that one HAS to take time off before the days expire. I always picture days turning in the way that milk turns sour. It makes the time I am forced to take off all the better because, well, because I got them in just before the cutoff. I know. I'm a thrill seeker.) So I made plans to pick him up at Port Authority, spend some time catching up and then go to the show. Lauren was putting us up for the night and coming to the show too. Oh and yet another coincidence of Jason's visit was the sweltering heat wave that makes New York City just disgusting enough to be unpleasant, no matter what it is you are doing, but we made the best of it. Here are some highlights of the visit, bullety:

  • We stopped at a temporary storage place in midtown so Jason could store his guitar and some of his bags and not have to lug them all around all day. This place was run by a woman named Belky (sp?) and she was high as a kite. I know this because the smell of weed wafted in from the hallway immediately outside the storage facility. The Perfect Strangers theme song was in my head for awhile after that.
  • Even with the "Standin' tall, on the wings of our dreams"song in my head, the true theme song of the visit had to be the fake Wings song from the movie Role Models and in fact, as I type this, the song is taking root in my brain slowly but surely inserting long and deep roots right near my ear and...yep there it is.
  • Day drinking is just a thing I do now. Granted, it is only when I'm doing something out of the ordinary like vacationing or getting a visit from a vacationer but seriously? Is there anything better than a cocktail? Yes. A cocktail in a dark, cool bar in the middle of a day so hot it throbs outside. T-Rex was on the jukebox and all along the bar was a veritable gaggle of career day drinkers. What struck me as odd (likely because I don't do much consecutive afternoon drinking in NYC anymore) is that they still do the buy back thing where you get a token and cash it in. 
  • Lauren and Jason are two of my favorite people, ever. Having us hang out together at the same time reinforced my desire to have one really big and long vacation involving all of my favorite people in one house on a beach or in a mountain somewhere. I need to make this happen.
  • The concert was good, albeit muddled by too much vodka. If I had any doubts that day drinking will inevitably catch up to you, they were assuaged when Jason unwittingly dropped his cell phone out of the cab, realized it at that moment that is usually way too late to do anything about it, and then was promptly reunited with it when Lauren unbelievably saw it in the middle of 1st avenue and picked it up.Of course a cab had run over it but it still worked. And did I mention that Lauren just looked for it and saw it in the middle of 1st avenue in Manhattan? Because shit like that never happens.
  • The weather the next day was again, akin to stepping inside someone's mouth. After taking care of some business in the morning involving a stop to the apple store and a never ending search for a Kinko's, we went to the MOMA. My visits to the MOMA are usually peppered with both fascination and annoyance. The fascination is that I can stand so close to an original Jackson Pollock painting that I can feel its gravity threatening to overwhelm me. My annoyance usually arrives at some of the more obtuse installations, the kind that involves, say, an empty shoe box on the floor. I just don't get that. 
  • After the museum, we had lunch at one my favorite restaurants in midtown, Havana Central. It was the afternoon so naturally I had to have a mojito. Before I knew it, it was time to part ways. But like I said, with some friends, it is always to be continued.
Seems like a good way to end this post too. To be continued.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


Mornings in Anaheim, or the four mornings I was there, always started out cloudy. In fact on my first morning there, I did one of those jump out of your hotel bed excitedly (after waking up to the instant, albeit brief panic of "where the fuck am i?" of course) and throwing open the drapes to see which city you are in. And when I did that I was expecting the palm treed blue skied scenery to say HELLO! I got really smoggy grey skies instead so it was kinda like "oh, hey, i guess." But invariably, by about 10am the day would turn into what the fiercely New York part of me would call "fucking beautiful." Looking back on the rest of my trip there, this was nature's way of foreshadowing my trip: mostly sunny with a few obscure hours of gray.

This year my job graciously (and utterly unexpectedly) sent me to a professional conference in Anaheim. Every year for the past four years I've worked here I have submitted a request to attend this conference and every year I have been told no so I was shocked to have been sent this year. Pleasantly shocked. Like that time my cat headbutted me and I got an electric shock.

Anyway, Anaheim. It seems like there are two major things that go on there: conferences and Disneyland. And more than one person mentioned the Ducks. Baseball? I could google it but I kinda don't want to. I would never have admitted that inside the conference, seeing as it was full about 60,000 librarians, you remember librarians, don't you? They like to look stuff up. Also, when the lights go down, they like to party like rock stars. Googling, emerging technology discussing, glasses wearing rock stars. At least according to Sherman Alexie, who said during his speech that he spent a dinner with a group of increasingly drunk librarians, one of whom kissed him goodbye on the neck. I wouldn't know anything about that really, being one of the few teetotaler librarians (I only drink clear booze.) However, I did notice that whenever I'm around fellow librarians, especially super involved and ambitious ones, I feel like I'm a supremely lousy one. For example, I can never envision myself giving a talk to anyone about anything I'm doing at either of my current jobs while standing at a podium and changing slides on a power point presentation and inserting  cornball jokes. I can't use words like "discovery" and "implementing" and "paradigm" in my everyday speak without feeling like I did when I was five and trying on my mother's shoes: fancy, but out of place. That is not to say I didn't learn anything there. I learned quite a bit actually which I've taken back to my job and I'll likely keep going to the conference every year. But honestly, if there weren't so many great authors making appearances and signing copies of their work, I just don't think I'd care about going as much. But because those authors are there and because I'm a literary groupie...well, there you are. Next year it is in Chicago and well, we all know how I feel about Chicago.

My friend Dawn was able to join me in Anaheim for a few days and, after our day drinking escapades in downtown Disneyland, I confirmed how happy I was that she did. You now know that I'm the type of person who goes to Disneyland to drink. That is not to say we didn't actually go INTO Disneyland. We did. It just happened to be after a few gin collins(es?) and some margaritas. Side observation: At the margarita bar, I witnessed a young man add salt to the tortilla chips he was eating. He would dip his chip in the salsa and then salt it. Then he proceeded to lick the rim of the margarita glass slowly. I can only surmise that he was on an all salt and alcohol diet. That, I do not know but I do know that seeing that Dawn and I were not the only early afternoon boozers in Disneyland comforted me the way two margaritas comfort me. In fact, many, many adults were indulging in the sauce right alongside us. It made it ok when, after finally going inside the park, we sat down to watch the Muppets 3D show and laughed like lunatics. I also somehow managed to convince Dawn to not only ride the Tower of Terror ride with me but to also stand in line for about an hour to do so. While we waited we chatted with this adorable family of four who were standing in line for this ride for the second time that day at the behest of their four year old son who is undoubtedly going to grow up to be a ladykiller. By the time we actually got on the ride, well I was still buzzed. The ride was so much fun that, even though it was one of only two rides I went on, I feel like I got a good Disneyland experience. Here is evidence that I went (in the form of Dawn's picture of our picture):

I'm not sure why we are looking off to the side.

After a long day of conferencing and day drinking and Disneylanding, we decided to have dinner at the hotel and call it a night. I can't be sure but I seem to vaguely recall discussing my deep aversion to lawns. Only Dawn can confirm this.

The next day was a full day of conference stuff/ author talks/ author signings/ brochure gathering/publisher schmoozing. In the evening we took a trip to a neighborhood called Fullerton because we had heard it was a spot. Also, when travelling I rely heavily on what the locals say. One of the employees at the hotel recommended a sushi restaurant which also happened to be in Fullerton so we took his advice and had an amazing sushi meal. In fact, the three times I've visited California, I've had superb sushi. (Btw, with Dawn's assistance, I managed to avoid any and all chain restaurants which was something I was afraid of, being inside Anaheim which is a chain restaurant mecca of sorts.) Anyway, after dinner, we walked around a bit looking for a bar and kept running into places that fell on either side of an extreme spectrum. They were either totally dead inside or they were filled with bleached blond co-eds grinding to songs by C+C Music Factory or Third Eye Blind. Luckily, we came upon this very hip jazz bar with fancy, prohibition-y cocktails and a live band. It was one of those places where you share tables with strangers and enjoy the music and the cocktails which, if I'm being honest, I loved. I'm not normally a jazz fan but I really think that has more to do with lack of exposure than anything. The band that night was more Latin jazz than traditional but I thought they were tops. We had an adorable waiter that reminded me of Allen Ginsburg and if I didn't know any better, I would have guessed we were in San Francisco and not the land of Disney/grinding college students. Having such a good time there was the only salve to the odyssey of finding a taxi to take us back to the hotel. I won't spend too much time complaining about that except to say that during one taxi ride, I was talking to the driver and asking him if people just flagged down taxis like in other cities and was given a long speech about how certain taxis are mob owned and to be very careful. Kinda dumb, that.

Sunday I got to hear Sherman Alexie give a talk (the aforementioned drunken librarian story included) and attended one more meeting before spending a few hours with Dawn before she flew home. We were sat by the pool, chatting when I got a phone call from home delivering some bad news about my aunt taking a turn for the worse. Something I've noticed is that bad news often comes to me while I'm physically in an idyllic setting. It has happened to me almost every time. Shouldn't the weather reflect what's happening in your brain? There really isn't anything stranger than hearing a loved one crying over the telephone while seeing palm trees swaying in the distance and sitting in the warmth of the sun. I watched the families swimming and the blissful expressions on the children's faces as they jumped into the pool and felt only envy. I felt just underneath reality for a moment.

I was leaving in the morning and after Dawn left I didn't really want to do anything but sit in my hotel room and completely zone out. And that's pretty much all I did until it was 7am and time for me to leave. On the plane ride home I read a novel, the ending of which made me weep. The man seated next to me seemed increasingly uncomfortable with my quiet sniffling until he felt the obligation to ask if I was ok. I politely told him it was the ending of the novel but thank you. Then he immediately started eating his 1oz of peanuts and staring off into space. Fittingly the novel was bittersweet, just like this trip had been. Maybe that's why I turned into that girl, the one that cries on a plane.

So, Anaheim was memorable, not for what it is but rather for what happened there. That isn't always true of every place and the more places I visit, the more I understand that. The only way I can conceivably picture myself returning is for another conference but at least I can say I went there once. And really, why else do we exist except to leave one giant "I WUZ HERE"?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Dr. T.J. Eckleberg would have flown out of LaGuardia.

July will be prolific. I've just arbitrarily decided this. A few things have happened in recent weeks to make me want this to be true and sometimes when you want something to be true, you only have to decide it will be.
Just now I opened blogger and felt a bit overwhelmed because there is so much I'd like to write about. Nothing monumentally important has happened (does anything that happens ever qualify as monumental, apart from the erecting of, say, a monument? Ok, earthquake/tsunami/zombie apocalypse. I'll allow those but only those.) yet the past few weeks have been peppered with things and events and I wish I had a notepad handy so I could have written brief notes to remind myself of what I wanted to say.
Actually I did write some notes while waiting in the airport recently for my plane to Anaheim. I include them below, verbatim, because they are brief and, after a cursory rereading a week and a half later, they say exactly what I wanted to say about sitting in an unairconditioned airport terminal, buzzed, sweating and only on the border of being lonely.

JFK Delta terminal is unairconditioned and coated in a thin layer of grime. It is the kind of airport terminal where the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleberg, oculist, would have felt at home, though now that I think about it, Laguardia may have been a closer drive for him. I drink a cocktail at the improbably named "Stone Rose Bar and Grill" and I can't relinquish the debate in my mind of whether it was a  member of the Stone Roses or a Manic Street Preacher that disappeared into the ether, maybe  falling off a cliff or maybe calmly walking out of a car to change identities forever. (Edited to add: It was a Manic Street Preacher.) It is 10:30am. I choose a diet coke and vanilla vodka because I wanted to fly (no pun intended) under the alcoholic radar of my fellow travellers who may actually be eating breakfast and not devising ways to drink booze like someone not drinking booze. I can't help that I'm a bad and nervous flier. I also can't help that a cocktail almost invariably sounds like a good idea to me.
The Stone Rose Bar and Grill sits atop some very awkwardly, possibly arbitrarily placed stairs but is convenient enough for people watching. I've seen more balding pates atop more harried travelling bodies in the last 30 minutes than I can remember. I wonder where all these people are headed and why things seen from a height of any kind seem like a target. The moment I start to imagine these busy lives as some intricate and undeniably epic story of intrigue, espionage, illicit sex and romance, I realize it is time to order one more cocktail so my brain can shut down for the druation of the journey. Most of these people consist of parts mostly like the part of me that is headed to a conference and only a little like the part of me that is conjuring adventure from the human Breakout game of the airport terminal.

An accurate rendering of my view from the Stone Rose Bar and Grill, only less sweaty.
 I think I ran out of room in my notebook or it was finally time for my flight because that is where my notes ended. My flights were uneventful but I had some memorable adventures in Anaheim that will populate the next entry. The teaser is that at no point did I wear Mickey Mouse ears.