It’s been a while

It’s been a while

I promise I didn’t intend to just walk away the way that I did—a number of things suddenly came up and got in the way.

To be fair, though, I did intend to take a break. The last story I published wasn’t a story at all, it was bits and pieces cobbled together from a novel I’ll never write. I was a bit bummed when I hit “Publish” on it because it wasn’t any good, but then I had my schedule to keep so I did. It was time for a break.

I hadn’t meant to stop right away, but then my chickens died. I learned later that an outbreak of highly-contagious avian influenza (“really bad bird flu”) in this region. My poor free-range chickens must have been infected by some random bird that stopped in my garden on the way to or from Lake Victoria. One of them was sick on Sunday, and by Tuesday all were dead. A veterinarian advised me to euthanize them once it became clear that they had all been exposed, but I wasn’t sure I had the strength, physically or emotionally, to do it quickly and cleanly. Instead, when their seizures hit, I scooped them up and stroked their backs and whispered to them to keep them calm while their little hearts gave out.

I wasn’t really able to do much of anything else that week.

When that was over I was notified that I had been awarded a new contract. This one was far more demanding than my last one and suddenly my days weren’t mine anymore. I have to wake up super-early now so that I can squeeze in some exercise before getting dressed and going into the office—a real office, with cubicles and fluorescent lights and a coffee machine in the break room—and then sit and do things until it’s time to go home. (Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. I just wish it didn’t take so long.)

For all these reasons my fiction writing really hit a snag, and I couldn’t summon the time or energy to post anything. I did find moments here and there where I could read over what I’d written in the previous year. I sorted my stories into three piles: ones I’m proud of, ones I’m not ashamed of, and ones best forgotten. I edited the ones in the first two piles as best as I could—typos, missing sentences, sometimes character names that changed in mid-story—and bound them in a little vanity press edition for myself. That was satisfying. It looks like a real book, and sits nicely on my shelf. (The vanity press even let me put it up for sale in their bookstore, though I undercut my sales potential by about a hundred percent by giving a free copy to my mom.)

So that is the state of myself as I head into the summer. Tonight I’m boarding a plane and heading back to the U.S. for a little vacation. Over the next six weeks I hope to get back to my novel and maybe even finish itat the rate of a thousand words a day I should at least get close. I hope everyone sleeps in so I can write in peace.

I ordered a big stack of books that I want to plow through, too. I don’t even remember which ones, because with the magic of the Internet I can sit in my cubicle in Uganda and send books to my parents so I don’t have to waste a precious second of my vacation time waiting at the bookstore for the cashier to ring me up.

I’m also excited that I bought a new camera. I haven’t used a “real” camera in years, not since I abandoned my film camera. At the time I couldn’t afford a DSLR so I got a cheesy point-and-shoot, and then replaced that one with my phone. It does seem silly, though, to tell people that I seriously think I can do justice to the beauty of East Africa with my iPhone. I look forward to playing with my new camera tomorrow. Who knows, maybe some of my best shots can end up here.

And when summer ends I’ll pack my bags and come back here, to my pretty little house in the hills, re-energized and ready to start everything up again.

I’m even going to get new chickens, because I miss my little ladies and the garden feels sad and empty without them.

Milestones

Milestones

Assuming I stick to my schedule, this Sunday I’ll publish my 100th post. (Actually it’s my 101st, but there was a post that I deleted before anybody could read it because it was stupid, so it doesn’t count.)

I think now is as good a time as any to take a look back, and think ahead about the future.

I started this blog almost a year ago, basically out of spite. I was mad at my boss and decided to show my displeasure by no longer coming in an hour early to catch up on email before the morning meetings. (I also stopped attending the morning meetings, because I was catching up on emails. So take that, Boss! Even better, I still won an award for my good work, and the one time someone asked me about my attendance at morning meetings I threw such a fit that they never asked again, so really it was a win-win for me all around.)

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The perambulist

The perambulist

My favorite walk is still a loop I used to take in the evenings when I was young and insomniac. I’d start at Houston Street and follow Broadway up to Columbus Circle, then take Fifty-Ninth Street to Second Avenue and then back down to my apartment in the East Village.

This was back in the late nineties and early 2000s, when New York had become safe but was still a bit scruffy and sometimes smelly. My loop took me from the edge of SoHo, which was only beginning to transition from hip to faux-hip, and followed a succession of distinct districts that may as well have come from different planets: the wide-eyed college kids in Washington Square, the druggies and punks who still colonized Union Square, then the high-end antiques district that abruptly became the wholesale perfume district; a fleeting taste of office towers at Madison Square, then the ever-increasing commercial presence that seemed to culminate at Macy’s on Herald Square. It didn’t culminate there, of course, instead pushing through all barriers of possibility to explode into the surreal hypercommerce of Times Square–intoxicating or disgusting, depending on your point of view, though I think it can be both at the same time. Then things got calmer and classier on the way to Columbus Circle, which mattered to me back then because it was home to Colosseum Books. I’d walk on the south side of 59th Street to look in the shop and hotel windows, instead of on the Central Park side, which was still not a place to be alone in the dark. Through the skyscrapers of Midtown, then, to Second Avenue, which was still a decidedly Honeymooners sort of New York–immigrants shouting out the windows to relatives on the streets, unpretentious and sometimes unwelcoming bars serving food and drinks that were “good” but not actually good.

I don’t know how long it took. I didn’t have any sort of timepiece back then–I’m too neurotic to wear a watch and cell phones were considered a needless luxury.

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Memories and junk

Memories and junk

I’m not a pack rat. It’s just that I think twice, or more, before throwing things out. I’ve been vindicated often enough that I stand by my method. Besides, my house isn’t messy, and even my junk drawers are fairly well-organized.

And I think I’m honest with myself about what might or might not be useful in the future. I threw out the apple corer when I was certain that using one would never be easier than just cutting the core out with a knife. But I kept both muddlers, because although it hasn’t happened yet I can imagine someday having a party where drinks get mixed in two different rooms, and won’t all my drunken guests be glad they have the luxury of crushing mint leaves no matter where they are?

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Animal rescue as a hobby

Animal rescue as a hobby

A baby gecko got trapped in my screen door the other day, between the inner and outer meshes that sort-of pretend to keep mosquitos out of the house. (The screen door doesn’t fit in the jamb so it can never really close, so even if the meshes were tight enough to keep mosquitos out–which they aren’t–the mosquitos would–and do–just go in through the open door. But I digress.)

I don’t know how the gecko got in there, but it couldn’t figure out how to get itself back out so it just thrashed wildly in the narrow gap where it could actually move. The screen door is divided by crossbars into three segments; at those crossbars the inner and outer meshes come together, but towards the center they are about a half an inch apart, which is where the baby gecko scurried around frantically, casting weird little shadows on my floor.

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J.S. Bach was in a teenage street gang

J.S. Bach was in a teenage street gang

Johann Sebastian Bach is best pictured as the bewigged and corpulent gentleman in Haussmann’s (hopefully) unflattering portrait. Very little that we know of his life contradicts this image of a severe man with fleshy jowls who made mind-boggling complex and beautiful music (look at the way he holds the paper upside-down: it’s for you to look at and admire, not for him–he wrote the damn thing, he knows it’s awesome) (also note how he doesn’t make it easy for you to read, because you are probably too stupid to really get it anyway).

Someone once asked him how he got be so good at music. His answer, in short, was, “I worked hard. If you worked hard you could do it, too.” Which is a bit badass but also a little snobby and probably not meant to be helpful.

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All this nonsense is for the birds

All this nonsense is for the birds

A pair of Ross’s turacos have decided to build a home in the bamboo grove in the corner of my yard, and it is really freaking my chickens out.

It’s okay if you don’t know what a Ross’s turaco is. I didn’t know, either, until a few days ago, when some naughty bird tried to eat one of my chickies and I decided I needed to educate myself on the creatures that infest my house and their likelihood of eating my pets (or myself?).

I am an unapologetic urbanite, most comfortable when ensconced in an apartment tower a few stories above a medium-busy street, ideally in New York but I’ll take anywhere. Since last summer, though, I’ve made a nest for myself in Uganda and slowly–very slowly–am coming to grips with living in a leafy suburb.

I have a giant yard, and I thought it would be fun to put some chickens in it. Free eggs, some minor pest control, and a little entertainment.

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