Friday Five (or More)

Some happy links and cool clips for you this week!

This was posted a while ago, but it bears repeating. Neil Gaiman on why our future depends on libraries, reading, and daydreaming. “…reading fiction, that reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do.”

Mindy Kaling’s guide to killer confidence.

The best of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I miss him already.

Even if you don’t follow sports, this feels momentous: the first female coach in the NFL. This season, Jen Welter will be coaching the linebackers for the Arizona Cardinals. The players call her Dr. J because she has a Ph.D. in psychology. Apparently she leaves little notes in their lockers.

Vivek Menon is developing an innovative approach to protect elephants and allow them to co-exist with people in his native India

I wish this seminar had been offered when I was in college. The course is designed to “help freshmen identify their goals and reflect systematically about various aspects of their personal lives, and to connect what they discover to what they actually do at college.”  The students reflect on questions like, Where am I headed and what is my ultimate personal dream? and What are my responsibilities, if any, to my community and to make the world a better place? I’m (ahem) a few years out of college, but I thought the exercises presented were valuable for people of any age.

I haven’t been this excited for a movie release in a looong time. The Martian.

Side note to you writers: Author Andy Weir started this novel as a serial on his blog. It was really well received, so he decided to self-publish it as an ebook. The response was so tremendous, the book was picked up by Broadway (Random House), and now it’s a movie starring Matt Damon and directed by Ridley Scott. Wow!

Have a great weekend, everyone!

The One With the Comeback

Ten years ago tomorrow marks the day Hurricane Katrina made landfall along the Gulf Coast. A few months ago, I visited New Orleans for the first time in 25 years. The city has mounted an amazing comeback—with good humor and resiliency, creativity and spirit. It’s a place that hits every note. If you’re thinking of going to New Orleans, do it!

As a little love message, I’d like to share a few photos from my trip. These highlight the different styles of architecture around the city. Some of these areas were completely underwater when the levees failed after the hurricane. (You may also want to check out this post from two New Orleans cemeteries.) 

This French Quarter building with the ironwork and balconies seems like quintessential New Orleans

Lovely French Quarter digs.

One of the magnificent homes in the Garden District. This home below was for sale a few years ago for a mere $9.5 million. It has seven bedrooms and an elevator.

Home in the Garden District

I love how the iron scrollwork framing the porch looks like lace.

The iron scrollwork framing the porch looks like lace.

In 1924, William Faulkner came to New Orleans to visit writer Sherwood Anderson who lived nearby. He took a room in the small apartment building below. The street is named Pirate’s Alley (cool!) and the house is now a bookstore. You know I bought a book (or five).

William Faulkner lived here in 1925. The street is  named Pirate's Alley (cool!) and the house is now a bookstore. You know I bought a book.

It’s Mardi Gras all year round at this house. See the beads hanging on the fence? This is a two-family home. The two doors on the porch are separate entrances.

It's Mardi Gras all year round at this house. See the beads hanging on the fence?   This is a two-family home. The two doors on the porch are separate entrances.

Colorful buildings in the Marigny, a neighborhood just east of the French Quarter. This was a great area to listen to live music.

Colorful buildings in the Marigny, a neighborhood just east of the French Quarter. This was a great area to listen to live music.

A “shotgun” style home in the Faubourg St. John neighborhood.  From Wkipedia: “Shotgun houses consist of three to five rooms in a row with no hallways and have a narrow, rectangular structure.”

A single "shotgun" style home in the Fauberg-St. John neighborhood.

A very bright (!) home in the Treme. Some people say that this neighborhood was where jazz began.  President Obama was visiting this area yesterday, most of which was under several feet of water after the levee failure.

A very bright (!) home in the Treme neighborhood.

New Orleans

The city has indeed made a great comeback, but there is still work to be done. One organization that has been helping with the recovery efforts is Rebuilding Together New Orleans. Check them out if you’d like to help.

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

The One With the Tourists

The New York City subway has a much different feel on the weekends than during standard commuting hours. Belligerent, jaded locals cede the trains to tourists, which is fun on several levels: A. Tourists are generally nicer. B. They try so hard to “blend in.” (Note to tourists: Wearing your backpack on your front is a dead giveaway.) C. They congregate in groups around subway maps trying to figure out how to go cross town. (Short answer: walk.)

It was on a 2 train through Midtown Manhattan one recent Saturday afternoon that we broke through the fourth wall. Most of the passengers were tourists, with a few locals like me sprinkled in for good measure. They were busy staring at me reading a book. I could almost hear one woman whisper. “Look, Harold, there’s one now. It’s rarely seen on the weekends. I think they call it Homo Brooklynius. Put your fanny pack away. You might scare it.”

NYC Subway

A man took the open seat next to me. He was a bit disheveled. There was a hole in his orange shirt and his basketball shorts were two sizes too big. He was rocking formerly white tube socks with sandals. In short, he was a few ticks beyond “eccentric,” but he seemed content, smiling at nothing in particular.

At the next stop a guitar player boarded the train. There is a direct relationship between the number of tourists on the subway and the number of buskers trying to get money entertain them. As soon as the doors closed, he turned up his amplifier to butcher sing a classic Temptations song. He smartly zeroed in on a young woman a few yards away.

“I got sunshine for the girl in the green shirt. When it’s cold outside, I got the girl in the green shirt.”

She looked around to make sure he was talking about her in the same way I would look around if someone pointed in my direction and said, “You’ve just won a million dollars.” Then, in a spirit of if-you-can’t-beat-em-join-em, she started clapping. Our busker kept singing to her. The eccentric guy next to me swayed in time to the music.

So she began dancing. Of course she did.

“What can make me feel this way? Everybody! The girl in the green shirt!”

“Today is my birthday!” she shouted. Of course it was.

Everyone starting clapping while the busker pulled the Beatles card. “Today is your birthday.”

“it is! It’s my birthday!”

The eccentric guy reached into the pocket of his oversized basketball shorts and pulled out a can of Budweiser. He held it high as if to toast the girl in the green shirt and the busker. Then he popped the top with a satisfying whhushhh and took a long swig.

Another woman across the train caught my eye, her mouth hanging open just a bit, and shook her head slowly. She knew it and I knew it. This would never happen during commuting hours.

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

HerStories: Voices

No, no, today is not Friday. (Sorry to disappoint!) It is in fact Tuesday. I’m posting on this off day because Jessica and Stephanie over at the HerStories Project published one of my essays in the HerVoices column. This essay, “Solidify,” came out of a small, but transforming experience when what started out as an everyday commute turned into an extraordinary moment. It’s about trusting your instincts, letting your guard down and harnessing the power of tenacity.

It isn’t often that I get a seat on the subway ride home from work. As luck would have it, today I am standing in front of someone who gets off at the Park Place stop in lower Manhattan. You can’t hesitate for a moment if you want to sit on a crowded train. Polite people stand a lot.

Thank you to Jessica and Stephanie for publishing “Solidify” as part of the HerVoices column. Please head over to the HerStories Project and share an extraordinary moment you had recently.

The One With Passion

A co-worker and I were chatting near the water cooler about what we’d done over the weekend.

Me: Then I looked out my apartment window and saw a kestrel perched on a building across the courtyard. Did you know these birds can hover over their prey in mid-air? (Visual: me making strange motions, using my arms as wings.) Amazing!

Co-worker: Cool. How did you know it was a…what kind of bird?

Me: A kestrel. I’ve been learning a lot about birds. I bought a bird field guide and I’ve signed up to volunteer at a wild bird refuge. So many fascinating species. Have you ever heard of a bower bird?

I was about to launch into a description of how a male bower bird attracts females by decorating his patch of land with objet d’art when my co-worker raised a hand.

Co-worker: Now it’s birds? Weren’t you just telling me about some constellations?

Me: Well, yes. There’s a night sky festival in September. But I’m not sure what that has to do with birds.

Co-worker: Exactly. And a while ago you were interested in painting?

Me, suddenly seeing where this conversation was headed: Painting is fun, but well…I’d still like to take a class someday.

Co-worker: And before that you were into…oh, what was it? Find something and stick with it. You know what they say: jack of all trades; master of none.

I slinked away from the conversation feeling like a huge flake. Here I thought I was being a “well-rounded person.”  If something catches my attention, I dive into it and see how deep the core of my attention goes.  Sometimes I find that I don’t enjoy an activity as much as I thought I would. And sometimes I do enjoy it, but the expense and/or difficulty in pursuing it pushes it beyond feasibility. (Tennis in NYC!) Besides, it seems like a good idea for a writer to have a wide variety of experiences and interests.

Or maybe these are excuses. Maybe this is just a way to avoid the commitment and dedication required to devote myself to one thing. Even this blog is representative of that—me flitting from idea to idea without a specific niche, which all the gurus tell you is a big no-no.

Speaking of gurus, it’s hard to open a web page or a magazine without being told to Follow Your Passion, a phrase my grandparents wouldn’t have uttered. I think that it’s important to do things that make you feel alive, things that captivate you. But how do you know what those things are unless you try different options? I guess some people are lucky: they know from a very early age that the horn or surfing or drawing is it for them. And some people seem to have no hobbies or interests, which, in my opinion, is the much scarier option. For the rest of us, I think all we can do is stoke our curiosity.

“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”   ~Joseph Campbell

What do you think? Is it better to stick with one or two interests? Or taste different interests like desserts? 

Have a great weekend, everyone!