On the walk home from Max’s reading last night, we stopped off at a playground in Park Slope. I’d been tempted by the swings here two Saturdays before. These are cool municipal swings, not like the truncated little set in our back garden when we were growing up. Long, solid chains, wide seats, and smooth tarmac underneath. I knew these swings would let me be a safety-harnessed Tarzan, but I didn’t want to be near the bored, jostling 14 year olds who claimed them that day.
At 1.30 last night, though, they were mine. At first, I felt exhilarated. Then I couldn’t go much higher and I started to realize I was going nowhere. Back and forth, back and forth, an endless revving up for nothing. Drunkenly, I tried to calculate how drunk I was, which made me nervous. I imagined what would happen if I let go at the top of an arc. There were butterflies in my stomach as the swing dipped each time.
Someone said that a fear of heights is really a fear of our impulse to jump, and it’s true.
I’ve been trying to find the essay by Charles Lamb (I think) that describes the author’s almost parental doting on his own self as a little boy. Slippery slope. Now I want to re-read The Two Races of Men and A Bachelor’s Complaint of the Behavior of Married People, but I have work to do.
I’d never seen a picture of Charles Lamb before. He looks young, handsome, and very kind. Sort of a hottie, actually. I always assume that people who wrote 200 years ago were old and wise when they were writing (except for Keats and Shelley). I have the same trouble with The Economist—have to remind myself that most of it is written by spotty 23-year-old Oxbridge types.
I cringed through last night’s reading of my friend Max’s new novel, The Artist’s Wife. I’ve actually owned the novel for over two months now, but I still haven’t read it. This is very embarrassing. I’ve seen him regularly, he got a rave review in The New York Times, and I thoroughly enjoyed his last book. So I have no excuse but sheer lack of moral fibre. In fact, when I finally did start it, hungover this morning from his party wine and Benedictine, I managed to miss my subway stop.
I passed the time at the reading by a) fretting that he would think I’d read it and didn’t like it and b) thinking about what I had liked so much about his first novel, Snakebite Sonnet. Max writes about being a child better than any writer I’ve read recently except Roddy Doyle. Other writers seem to sentimentalize too much, to invest too much purity in their child creations. (This is what made me think of the Lamb essay.)
I suppose JK Rowling does a good job of a child character with Harry Potter, but third-person voice doesn’t call for the same ventriloquism. I’ve been procrastinating on seeing the movie, and have just realized it’s because the posters of the Harry actor irritate me. He looks like a miniature BBC executive. Ugh.
When I worked at an internet service provider, they put a dorky little cartoon of me on the web site. I was the help elf for new users of the service. It stayed up there for a year or two after I left. I used to get emails from ex-coworkers when my avatar changed outfits for the season (“Dervala has a hat now. And mistletoe.”). Once, a woman wrote in to say:”It’s nice that you have a cartoon character for your demo, but does it have to be that one? The cartoon girl you have looks so cheap and tacky”.
After I left, I went back to a staff party and was feted briefly as the real Dervala. A new employee said: “Wait—you’re Dervala? The cartoon? I just assumed ‘dervala’ was a technical term.”
If I were a technical term, what would I describe?
Next Sunday marks the start of Advent. I’ve been an atheist for a long time, but the idea of fasting and contemplation in preparation for a feast still makes sense to me. One of my very favorite poems reads:
‘…charm back the luxury of a child’s soul’ is close to my mantra. I want that more than anything. Or perhaps I want to want it more than anything?
Went to see Raul Malo play at Irving Plaza last night. It was like an intellectual wedding band. Heavy bebop piano on ‘Guantanamera’, and soulful Roy Orbison vocals on melancholy love songs. I still don’t have a passable rumba, salsa or merengue move, despite several lessons and a whole year of going to Cuban bars in Spain. I can shuffle out the steps by myself, but as soon as someone tries to lead, I turn into I Can Dance Barbie…Now With Bendable Limbs. With a serious case of the white woman’s overbite.
Went to Great Jones Cafe for catfish afterwards. The waitress was one of The Rogers Sisters, my friend Miyuki’s excellent band. When I lived in Midtown (55th and 5th) I used to see celebrities all the time but never anyone I knew. I’d forgotten what it was like to live in a community until I moved to Carroll Gardens. Now, the people I run into are like stakes on a flysheet, anchoring me down to this place.
This morning I sang Rainy Night in SoHo by The Pogues as I rode my bike to work. I serenaded middle-aged men at the traffic lights on Hudson St. They seemed to like it. Might as well enjoy it in the years before they decide I’m a crazy old lady.
I feel so lucky to bike to work. Why don’t more people do it? Over the Manhattan Bridge, up through Chinatown, across Prince, up Hudson through the Village to 8th Ave. Each is its own little hurrying kingdom before 10. I’m not a flaneur, though I’d like to be, but biking lets me be speeded-up, goal-oriented, Manhattan flaneuse for forty minutes every morning. It also gives me the illusion of control over my journey. Of course, I can’t actually control the SUV that tries to turn left on top of me at 14th St (there’s one every morning) but still, I think I can, I think I can… And if I suck in exhaust fumes, at least I’m not sucking in my whole body to try to disappear on the A train.
Someone asked me who I was last week.
1. I am Irish. My accent is kinda mid-atlantic by now, though.
2. ‘Dervala’ is my Ellis Island name. It’s really spelled ‘Dearbhaile’.
3. I am 29.
4. I moved to Brooklyn this year, following a wave of Manhattan soldier ants.
5. I like poetry. I recite it to myself while riding my bike to work. (Sometimes I sing, if it’s windy enough to really warble.)
6. I was born in Zambia. I’ve been too lazy to organize a trip back there so far.
7. I work for a company called Vindigo.
One of the nice things about not being a US citizen is the lack of family obligations on Turkey Day. I got to spend Thanksgiving on a beach in the Bahamas instead. Felt very decadent. I’d never had a beach vacation before, but I liked it. The Carribbean is very different to the gray Atlantic I grew up with. Induces fewer goosepimples, for one thing. Also nicer fish. Slinky rays instead of frozen cod and stunned mullet.
It was a good week for books. I finished The Moral Animal, then read The Corrections, The Poisonwood Bible, Guns, Germs and Steel, and a Studs Terkel. Everything I read got filtered through the prism of the evolutionary psychology stuff I’ve been learning about lately. I gave knowing little smirks at the adultery in The Corrections, and nodded wisely at the family conflict in The Poisonwood Bible. Insufferable, really.