Thursday, March 31, 2005

the exciting adventures of nell the cat

March 30, 10 pm: Arrived. Crawled under the bed. Observed a person and another cat in the room. Hate them both. Made periodic growling noises so there would be no confusion around this.

March 31, 9 am: Still under the bed. Person and cat both very noisy in the morning - too much stomping around. How many feet do they have, anyway?

11:00 am: Person finally left. Stayed under the bed another hour or so for good measure.

2:30 pm: Person returns. Looked for me under the bed...ha ha!! I'm not there anymore, stupid stompy person! You'll never find me now....nyah nyah!!

2:33 pm: Curses! Discovered in the closet. Decided to stay put until I think of another super top secret hideout.

3:00 pm: Still thinking...

4:00 pm: Still here...

5:00 pm: Must have fallen asleep. Woke up. Still in the closet.

6:00 pm: Oafish person returns. Pah! This is MY closet now. And I'm never coming out. Never never never never nev - hey - is that tunafish?

6:30 pm: A tough call, but ultimately decided to stay in the closet. Person seems discouraged. Good.

7:00 pm: {Yaaaawn} Still in the closet.

and the beat goes on...

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

population increase

This living alone business is getting more crowded all the time.

So here's the story: My cat, Suki, is eleven years old, spoiled rotten, and a little on the neurotic side. When we first moved here, she seemed thrilled to have a whole apartment all to herself (well, with me too, of course). As the weeks went by, though, I started to get more and more worried about leaving her home alone all day - there's not much to do around here by yourself, even if you're a cat.

So I started looking around at shelters online to see if there might be any other older, sedate, low-expectation cats in need of a good, if smallish, home. Kind of a feline au pair, if you will.

I didn't really think it was a great idea to get another pet - in a 600 square foot apartment, that would be one cat per 300 square feet, and that's a lot of cats. I'm already a 30-something single woman, living alone. . . I really don't want to turn into one of those crazy cat ladies who have pictures of their pets in their wallets where their grandkids should be.

I went down to the shelter anyway, more for something to do than anything else. I'd seen a photo online of a beautiful black and white fellow who looked like he might be a good candidate, and I told myself that I could go look, and that's it.

When I got there, it was love at first sight. He was gorgeous, charismatic, and a total pushover. He literally leapt into my arms when I opened his cage, and rubbed his face against mine, purring to beat the band.

I was all ready to take him home, when the woman who ran the shelter asked me to look at just one other cat. I tried, but it wasn't easy - she was cowering under a towel, hunched up in a tiny ball, pressed against the farthest corner of her cage. All I could see was that she was vaguely brown. The shelter woman told me that she was worried that this pathetic little creature would never be adopted, and it was easy to see why. I'd never seen a less appealing little animal. She (the lady) then proceeded to tell me the saddest sob story you ever heard about the cat's history - going from pregnant and abandoned in Hyde Park, to a dank basement complete with rat poison, and ending with a kitten that got adopted instantly, leaving the mother cat to linger alone in her cage, running out her clock in smelly, noisy confinement.

So to sum up:
1)I need another cat like I need a hole in the head.
2)If I were going to get another cat, there's an adorable, loving, cuteness-factor-10 cat at the shelter I visited.
3)The other cat I looked at had all the appeal of a worn-out bathmat, and freakish mutant toes besides. (Did I mention the mutant toes? There must be 7 of them on each paw.)

Careful readers will have already figured out how this story ends.

I think I'm going to call her Nell.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

six strings of joy

One of the reasons I wanted to live alone again is so that I could have the space to really start working on my music again. (God, that sounds pretentious! But it's true, nonetheless.) I've been working on the whole singer-songwriter schtick for the better part of a year now, and I've recently realized that if I'm going to move much further with it, I'm gonna need a partner.

I put a couple of ads on craigslist looking for someone to collaborate with, but nobody really felt like a good match. I was about to give up looking, when lo and behold, I heard from my good friend J, who used to front a band I was in. (No, you never heard of us. Nobody ever heard of us; the sum total of our playing experience began at the Central Square YMCA and ended with an open mike at the Burren.)

After a couple of hours trying out some songs together, I remembered how amazingly good it feels to make music with another person. By myself, I can sing and strum a few chords. With J, my songs sounded like music - there were new melodies, fuller harmonies, and - most importantly - the indescribable quality that comes of two people playing off of one another's ideas, the quality that makes a song really come alive.

A pessimist to the end, I'm still not convinced the partnership is going to work out as fully as I currently hope it will. I''m too insecure about my own playing, and we're both a little too busy to devote the time and energy regular public performing would require. But it's so much fun. . .

My apartment seems a little quieter now than it did before.

Monday, March 28, 2005


I stopped by Trader Joe's on my way home tonight, determined to purchase something other than frozen pizzas and brownie mix. I picked up a tin of coffee and proceeded to use the store grinder since I don't have one at home. I happened to look into the tin before reclosing the lid, and I noticed a little piece of string poking out of the coffee grounds. I reached in to pick it up, and it just kept coming. It ended up being a four-inch long, hairy, woolly-looking string. In my coffee!! Yuck!

Needless to say, I grabbed my pizza and brownie mix and booked it on out of there.

I'm thinking about switching to tea.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

blue skies, blue hills, and the kindness of strangers


Eager to get out in this gloriously beautiful day, I took my winter-tired self down to the Blue Hills for a bit of a hike. There was still a surprising amount of snow on the ground, making the going a slipperier affair than I was planning on. Maybe because of that (I spent a lot more time looking straight down at the ground than usual), or maybe just because I'm gifted with an innate ability to get lost in seemingly idiot-proof surroundings, I soon found my one hour ramble stretching into two, then three hours of increasingly anxious trekking.

After reaching the summit of what felt like the 600th slush-covered hill, I was starting to worry that 1) I might not find my way out again before the sun went down, cooling the air beyond the ability of my light jacket to warm me against, and 2) I really should have brought more than one measly granola bar.

As luck would have it, just as I was beginning to feel genuinely nervous, I heard someone tromping my way. Sheepishly, I told him that I was lost and in need of a little help, and he kindly directed me back to the path I needed to be on to get home. A half hour later, I was back at the trailhead; my little white car never looked so good.

Home again, I'm struck by how elated I feel after my minor adventure; I really feel as though what Eliot Garbauskas calls "my unsinkable affection for the world" has been renewed. It's a scary kind of feeling as well as a joyous one; inherent in the feeling of falling in love with life again is the vertiginous awareness of how precarious that life really is.

Two lessons from my Blue Hills adventure give me heart, though:

First, one feature I noticed over and over again along the paths was the unusual way the snow was melting. The snow itself had been packed down by numerous hikers into an icy sheet, the edges of which clung to the steep grade of the trail. The middle of each sheet, though, had been warmed to transparency by the sun, and I could see little rivulets of melted runoff trickling underneath them, like tiny subterranean rivers. The metaphor that struck me was one of movement and change stirring beneath a thin veneer of icy crust - mirroring my own slow progress towards active interconnection, slowly building behind my often icy, hermity exterior.

The second lesson was simpler and more direct; I needed help, and help arrived. If I hadn't run into the kind man who gave me directions, I might still be wandering around those hills.

Instead, I'm back at home, a little happier, a little wiser, and hoping that I'll remember this next time I feel lost and alone: help will always arrive, if I just keep walking.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

wild nights

After spending the afternoon negotiating my way around the city by means of bus, subway, and sneaker, I'm home again, buoyed by a sense of accomplishment but chilled to the bone. (Spring? Hello?)

All I want in the world right now is here in my little apartment: a hot bath, a cup of cocoa, and a wide open evening in which to embark on my new book (courtesy of gribley) snuggled securely under a toasty warm comforter.

Yeah, I know it's Saturday night.
But hey - how often do you get the chance to make all your wishes (for the moment, anyway) come true?

Next Saturday I'll see if I can do something about painting the town red. Tonight, though, I'm gonna wrap myself up in everything warm I can find and feel as cozy as a cat in the sun.

Mmmmmmm, bliss under a blanket.

Friday, March 25, 2005

girls in the air

There's a tree in the front yard of my house; it looks like a crabapple, or maybe a pear tree.

When I got home from work today, I noticed that there were two little girls in it. They looked about 10 years old, and seemed very nonchalant about the whole thing, as if sitting in a tree, swinging your heels high above the neighborhood were the most natural thing in the world.

And I guess it is, at that.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

warning: incoherent rant follows

So I just returned from a small party held in a dazzlingly urbane apartment on the moneyed side of Cambridge, where all the women are strong, the men are good looking, and children aren't allowed after cocktail hour.

I was invited by a friend of the guest of honor, and I went as part of my continuing effort to be more sociable and less of a unibomber caricature.

I was given a warm welcome, and instructed to eat a little, drink a little, and generally have a good time.

I tried, I really did.

After spending the longest possible time poised over the buffet table in an attempt to look as though I were merely weighing every possible option before selecting just the right slice of chevre, I found myself sitting among what appeared to be Boston's most beautiful 30-somethings, taking a brief break from their hectic schedule of setting new hipness standards to celebrate the birthday of one of their own. Casual conversations about the price of land and the distinctiveness of the merlot abounded, while I sat there in my Target sweater and corduroys with the hole over the right butt cheek and felt like something with three heads.

I lasted less than half an hour.

In the foyer while making my escape, I bumped into a new batch of incoming party guests, one of whom was wearing a pair of heels and real perfume that probably would have paid half my monthly rent. Mistaking me for the real thing, she gave me a friendly hug of greeting before moving on to the party proper, and my coat now smells like Louis Boston.

On my way to the car, I thought I'd left my scarf back in the apartment. I mentally gave it up as lost, rather than facing that genetically gifted crowd again, before discovering that I hadn't lost it after all - just stuffed it into my coat pocket.

OK. A few deep breaths....

The truth is, every single person at that party was both friendly and welcoming to me. Several people made smoothly gracious efforts to include me in the conversation, and people seemed genuinely regretful when I left. In fact, the only person in the room who was actively working to make me feel inferior was me. The friend who invited me is one of the most open-hearted, least prententious people I've ever met, and I have no reason to believe that he'd be friends with others who weren't as well.

So where does this rampant insecurity come from?

I'm tempted to blame it on my formative years spent in the class-conscious South. I vividly remember when my family converted from salt-box Baptist to mint-juleps-at-the-country-club Episcopalian, and the resultant shame I felt when I suddenly became everyone's favorite "friend" to bring along for company on family vacations that my own parents could never have afforded. That, and a whole host of other subtle (and not so subtle) messages about invisible class lines that made me and my family move beside, but not among, the symphony-going, theater-subscribing, quietly racist upper echelons of Memphis society, may have left me oversensitive to such things.


But how much power can those outdated ideas hold unless I buy into them myself? Like the old adage says, no one can make you feel inferior without your permission. In the case of tonight's party, not only did I offer my blanket permission, I conjured up my own inferiority parade out of whole cloth, completely independent of the actual behavior of anyone else present.

Which means that, when it comes to allowing your own prejudices to influence your opinion of other human beings, I was completely outclassed.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

good friends

For someone as hermit-like as I can be, I sure have great friends.

Far too often over the past year, when I've been invited to gatherings my friends have had, I just haven't shown up. Lots of reasons why, none of them very good. I'm uncomfortable at parties, I don't like going all the way up to Cambridge, I have to wash my hair, etc.etc.etc.

So when the tables were turned, and I invited a few friends out for drinks to celebrate my birthday, I was sure that they would subject me to the same treatment. It would be no more than I deserve, after the cavalier way I've blown them off time and time again.

To my great surprise, every single person that I invited showed up. Willingly and cheerfully. I even got presents.

It really made me take a good look at how important those connections are to me, and how I have to stop taking them for granted. I'm so lucky to have such warm, caring, brilliant people in my life. I'd forgotten for a while just how lucky.

I got a big fat reminder of it tonight, and I can't imagine a nicer birthday present.

happy birthday to me!

For those of you counting along at home, that's 11,315 days, 271,560 hours, 16,293,600 minutes, or roughly 195,523,200 breaths. Hooray!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

a bad, bad choice

For what's probably the 12th week in a row, I blew off going to meditation tonight, effectively negating any chance for me to interact with live, friendly, like-minded people.

Instead, I opted to watch 5 consecutive episodes of Father Ted on DVD, leaving me with a moderate guilt complex, a new appreciation for the myriad uses of the word "feck", and an inexplicable crush on Ardal O'Hanlon.

The good times never end, here in my little room...

arboretum report

Wow, it's gorgeous out there. A red letter day: my first coat-free arboretum ramble of the season! Most of the snow is gone - only a few patches are still valiantly holding on. In its place are a number of tiny rivers where no rivers had been before - runoff from all the melting/ed snow, I presume.

Evidence of pruning was everywhere. It surprised me, since I was taught that you never prune in the spring; it will cause the trees to lose too much sap as it rises up and out the raw ends. One more thing to look up in Fenyvesi, I guess.

Most everything still looks pretty dormant, with the exception of a few willows that are starting to bud. I saw a huge, brilliant male cardinal perched near the top of one, singing his head off.

I can't say I blame him; it's that kind of day.

a note on the title

"Blue Wail" is the name of my favorite Uri Caine album, as well as the title track of said album. More to the point, it's frequently the sound of a neurotic 30-something trying to carve out a solitary existence in what can sometimes be overwhelming circumstances. (It's also a homonym of "Blue Whale", which, apropos of nothing, is a very nice animal indeed.) There may be some actual wailing on this blog over the weeks to come, but it will most likely be tempered with little success stories and misguided attempts at humor. At least that's the plan...

Monday, March 21, 2005

feet forward

Well, here I am. Boston, MA. 1,360 miles from the warm and distorted memory I nostalgically call home (although at 7 years in exile and counting, maybe I should rethink that title). I've got a cat, a graduate degree, and a full set of kitchenware. And I'm on my own.

Before I moved to New England, the idea of adults sharing housing was strange and foreign; "I have roommates" meant "I'm still in college." Or possibly "I need extensive supervision, especially after that incident at the Kwiki-Mart. They're *still* finding play-doh in the dairy cases."

So I was totally unprepared for the reality of Boston housing costs. I toughed it out in grad school, living with classmates. I enjoyed (at first, anyway) a brief cohabitation with a then-boyfriend. I lived in a 21st century boarding house, complete with eight roommates and 2 1/2 bathrooms. And then something snapped, and within 30 days, I found myself alone once more, in a lovely, tiny apartment all to myself.

I was so excited about living alone again that it never occurred to me that
1) living alone in the town you grew up in, within walking distance of virtually your entire social community is one thing; living alone in a new, cold, highly transient city is quite another, and
2) I might have scoffed at communal living, but over the years, I'd gotten pretty accustomed to its subtle benefits, some of which I never even registered until they were suddenly, drastically, absent.

So solitary living has not been quite the liberating lark I'd envisioned.

Never one to suffer in stoic silence, I decided to chronicle my experiences - the good, the bad, and the banal - in this blog. My intention is to create a map of some kind - one that shows the scenic vistas as well as the fetid swamps, the long painful roads and the zippy shortcuts of the sort you can only see in hindsight. A traveller's guide to freedom, loneliness, and washing your own dishes.

And hopefully, when it's got enough miles on it, I'll be able to look at it and find some perspective, some beauty, and the feeling of accomplishment that comes from travelling a hard road well.