Summer Brain Dump

I have no way of prefacing this except by saying it’s July now, and I haven’t written or debriefed about life in a meaningful way since May and a lot has happened in that time. And tonight I finally felt like writing it all out.

I have to move again, which sucks. No other way to put it. Our current landlords raised our rent $900/month ($300/person/month next year) so we had to find a new place. The good news is, our new apartment is in the same neighborhood. And, our rent will be cheaper. And, I get to stay with my wonderful roommates. The bad news is, we have to move everything from one apartment to the next. Little expenses keep coming up for things we took for granted in the old place that don’t exist in the new (like a toilet paper roll holder!). Plus, it’s summer and it’s hot and miserable and all your stuff is getting moved around. I sound really grumpy about this, don’t I? Well, I am a little. I told my roommates that if, this time next year, I have to move for any dramatic reason (i.e., another massive rent hike), I will recognize it as a sign from God that I am supposed to leave New York City. No sane person can tolerate four moves in as many years.

Perhaps moving is a little bit of my motivation for writing tonight. All my stuff is in boxes. Evidence of an upcoming transition is right in front of me. I want to write down what’s happened lately so I don’t forget it once things start to change.

So, item #1. Summer obsessions. I never notice it in the moment, but with a few years, months, or even weeks in the rearview mirror, I start seeing how clearly defined a certain time was by the cultural obsessions gripping me in that moment. At the beginning of June, I started an obsession with the WTF with Marc Maron podcast, which has carried me through the entire summer so far and taken up a lot of my cultural-obsession real estate. It started with Maron’s interview with Terry Gross, host of NPR’s Fresh Air. I’d known about WTF for awhile, even listened to a couple episodes, but the show re-entered my mind when I was doing some podcast research for work and I decided to listen to the Terry Gross episode on a run. They’re magic together, and it was the first time I appreciated Maron’s real skill as an interviewer. I was hooked.

The podcast has been a welcome companion on some of my summer travels. I got to visit LA for work and polished off his chats with Jason Schwartzman, Parker Posey and John Mulaney on the plane. I was in LA the same day he interviewed President Obama and relished the national conversation surrounding that episode. I started my Maron fandom just early enough that I could listen to the Obama episode as a devotee, not a bandwagoner. (Recent gems have included his interviews with Constance Zimmer, Ed Asner and Vince Gilligan, and the Obama post-mortem episode he recorded with his producer.)

Sir Ian McKellan is the guest on today’s episode, and he asks Maron about who typically listens to his podcast. “I don’t think I have a demographic; it’s more of a disposition,” Maron replied. I smiled when he said that because it made me think of a paragraph that caught me from his email newsletter earlier today: “It rained a lot here in LA the other day. We needed it. I get weird when it rains. My mind drifts. It’s not necessarily bad but it’s not great. I can’t really put into words what happens but there is sort of a romantic, hopeless feeling to it all and it’s okay. I need it. It’s a deep feel. I don’t think I could live somewhere where it rains all the time though. It would be hard not to become goth.” I pretty much identify with every sentence there, which I think means I am of the target disposition.

 

 

Another cultural interest this summer – I don’t know if I’d call it an “obsession” per se – has been the new movie crop. It’s a good summer, in my estimation. To date, I’ve seen Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Love and MercyInside Out and Amy and would recommend each one. (I saw Amy just this past weekend and it’s all I can think about, really. Incredibly well-told and sensitive, but watching it, your heart breaks for the brilliant Ms. Winehouse.)

To mark my 25th birthday earlier this month, I made a list of 25 things I want to accomplish in my 25th year, and one was to write about each new movie I see this year – whether it’s a new-new movie like the ones listed above, or a new-to-me movie, like Philomena, which I watched on the plane ride home from my trip to London and Paris (more on that later). I have some catching up to do in the writing department, but I feel like I’ve seen some meaningful films in the last couple months.

Item #2. The Europe trip. It was freaking amazing. I’d never been to Europe before but had been dying to visit. I really need to write a whole post about the trip – I have notes and thoughts scribbled everywhere but I should pull them together before I forget too much. Already, I find myself remembering little things here and there that I already started forgetting – meals we ate, cool subway stations I liked, that kind of thing. But the larger feeling is still intact. I hadn’t really gone somewhere new since moving to New York three years ago. I went to Disney World, or Portland, or Chicago – all places I’d already been. So it was invaluable to experience something completely new. To be somewhere with a language barrier. To spend almost two weeks away from the city, all its responsibilities and assumptions.

The place that felt newest was Versailles. Of course London and Paris felt new, but they were still cities. I could at least understand how they felt, in a way. Versailles was out of this world. I couldn’t believe I was on my own planet. There were gardens that stretched on forever and rooms walled with marble in a shade of purple that I can’t get out of my mind.

What struck me most about London was the constant juxtaposition of old and new. You get that in New York to a degree, but in London it’s amplified. It’s an awesomely designed Tube station in the shadow of a tower built in the 1000s. And it’s like that all over the city.

I fell in love with the museums in both cities. The Victoria & Albert Museum and Tate Modern especially drew me in during our London leg. In Paris, the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay. I discovered some new-to-me artists whose work I want to further explore, like the illustrator George Condo whose wry sketches fascinated me at the Tate, or the post-impressionist Felix Vallotton at the d’Orsay (that museum in particular had a layout conducive to better understanding the timeline of certain artistic movements).

There is oh-so-much-more to talk about when it comes to that trip. It whet my appetite for travel and I can’t wait to visit Europe again. In the meantime, I’m trying to take the wonder of that trip and apply the same feeling to my normal life. That’s going alright so far.

As “summer things” go, those are the biggest items. My head feels clearer having them down on the page. And now I need to finish packing.

Advertisements

No Mandy, a Sam, and (for now) a Landingham

Twitter led me to something insanely wonderful this morning: A graphic designer explaining “17 People,” his favorite West Wing episode, in a gorgeous, infographic-style website, SeventeenPeople.com.

Seriously, take a look at it.

I came to the site through an interview with the designer, Jon White, on Vox.com. I was intrigued because it seemed White’s intentions were in the right place. This kind of project could easily be something that a person with too much time on his/her hands spends months on and then awkwardly expects everyone else to love and appreciate. White understood pretty clearly that most people would find this undertaking insane – “this is a micro-micro-niche,” he told Vox – but he just had to do it. The idea was stuck in his head, and designing “17 People” was the only way to get it out. He knew it wouldn’t necessarily be anything more than artwork for West Wing ultra-nerds to marvel at, but he had to make it anyway. I love that sense of determined passion.

In addition to the visual beauty of the finished product, I loved some of White’s own commentary on the show. Speaking to the perfection of this particular episode, he explained how this was the show at its golden age, all the characters familiar and developed. For West Wing fans who appreciate the purity of an early episode like “17 People,” this is a brilliant line: “We’re given 45 minutes in which there’s no Mandy, there’s still a Sam, and there’s still (for now) a Landingham.”

After obsessing over this all day, I watched “17 People” tonight because I wanted to be reminded of every little detail in White’s creation. What stood out to me:

1) CJ doesn’t appear at all in this episode. Not that it means anything. But after looking at the diagrams all day, I didn’t realize until actually watching the show that CJ was nowhere to be found in this hour.

2) I forgot how much I love Ainsley Hayes’ hatred for the Equal Rights Amendment. “A new amendment that we vote on, declaring I am equal under the law to a man? I am mortified to discover there was reason to believe I wasn’t before.” (Also, talking about Ainsley Hayes is the perfect excuse to fondly remember Lionel Tribbey and his cricket bat.)

3) The characters are so cute in their little cartoon forms! It makes me wish there was a West Wing comic book or video game.

4) All in all, this really is a phenomenal episode. After my first spin through the West Wing (season by season, show by show), I’ve jumped around to watch episodes with my favorite characters and scenes. Sometimes I forget what storylines were connected in certain episodes and how their connectedness makes for a wonderful hour of television.

A Weekend in DC

Despite living in New York City, a lot of my obsessions – namely the West Wing and the Watergate scandal – are Washington, DC-based. Before this weekend, I hadn’t seriously been to DC in five years, but I’d been mentally planning a trip ever since I finished the West Wing pilot. Kind of on a whim, my friend Brooke and I decided to go on Friday, and the trip was so fun. One of my favorite things about New York is how quickly you can get away from it to spend the weekend in other amazing cities.

I watched All the President’s Men on the bus ride down, partly because it’s the perfect preparation for a DC trip, but mostly because I never remember to update the media on my iPad and the movie has been sitting there for years. I hadn’t watched it all the way through in awhile and had forgotten that it’s perfect. What I had really forgotten is how fabulous Hal Holbrook is as Deep Throat. He is perfection in this scene.

Speaking of Watergate, I got to see the actual Watergate complex this weekend, which was cool but a little anticlimactic. Besides a “National Register of Historic Places” plaque, there is nothing commemorating that building’s place in American history. I know only a small moment of the scandal that took its name happened at the actual Watergate, but there could at least be a little sign honoring it as the birthplace of the suffix we now use for naming scandals in this country.

I promise this trip wasn’t a weird Watergate pilgrimage for me, but I did find one other fascinating item related to it in the American Presidents wing of the National Portrait Gallery. The hall is filled with portraits of all the presidents, but the most intriguing was this Norman Rockwell painting of Richard Nixon. Norman Rockwell! The man whose paintings generally depicted jolly, happy scenes of innocent American life painted the president who would seem to least embody that innocence.

bignixon

The painting was done in 1968, before Nixon’s presidency, but even then, Rockwell had to “intentionally flatter” his appearance because regular Nixon wouldn’t look so good in a Norman Rockwell painting. Rockwell did other paintings of Nixon during his political career, but I was fascinated to see one included among majestic paintings of American heroes. I’m fascinated that these paintings even exist, because with the benefit of hindsight I can’t imagine a starker contrast between the way the public perceives an artist and the way it perceives his subject. 

Watergate obsession aside, the Portrait Gallery was amazing. I loved examining all the presidential portraits, but those of FDR and Bill Clinton were my favorite. I could easily go back and spend an entire day looking at other wings of the gallery and exploring other Smithsonian museums. I’ll just have to make another trip – I could stand to watch All the President’s Men again, anyway.

Brooklyn, Skylines and Stalking Liz Lemon

Eight weeks down, two to go.

What?!

Somehow, eight weeks flew by and left me with just two more weeks in New York City. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t ready to go home, but I’m also sad that time has gone so quickly and am determined to make the most of what remains.

I’ve failed at blogging this past week, so here’s a recap of what’s been going on in the Big Apple:

Last weekend, my dad visited! It was great to spend time and explore the city with him. Our first stop on Friday afternoon was the Museum of Modern Art. It’s not far from where I work, and admission is free after 4 pm on Fridays, so we walked over and looked around for a while after I finished work.

My dad (sporting Oregon State gear, as always) and I at the MoMA

I’m not an art connoisseur by any means, but I really liked seeing Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans in person.

Me with all the Campbell's soup you'd ever want.

We spend most of Saturday exploring Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood, which was awesome. I hadn’t really had the chance to venture into Brooklyn, so exploring it with my dad was a lot of fun. He took a walking tour of Brooklyn back in June when he helped me move in, so he was able to tell me a little bit about the area’s history. One of the area’s most impressive landmarks is the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch, which commemorates the sacrifice of soldiers and sailors in the Civil War. My dad explained that the statues on the top of the arch are facing south, as if to rub the northern victory in the Confederacy’s face. Awesome.

The arch in Park Slope. Statues of Lincoln and Grant on horseback are on the inside.

We also walked around Prospect Park, looked at some cool hipster clothing stores (I guess that was mostly just me) and explored the neighborhood, which mainly consists of old brownstone homes. These houses are beautiful and historic – I have long-term plans to live in one of them.

Brooklyn's brownstones; a far cry from the apartments of busy Manhattan.

I think I’ve picked this one as my future home…52 Berkely Place:

A pink brownstone in Park Slope. I'll take it.

My dad and I also explored Chelsea Market, took the Staten Island Ferry and went for an exhilarating run (sense sarcasm) along the Hudson River. All in all, a great weekend with my padre in the big city!

I know this post is all about what I did on the weekends and not really about what I’m doing at work; I’m still loving my internship, but there aren’t really any great pictures and the stories aren’t as exciting. Unless you count the conversation I had with the guy in the cubicle behind me about the possibility of a Liz Lemon-Jack Donaghy relationship on 30 Rock. Turns out he loves Tina Fey, too.

Friday night, some friends and I treated ourselves to ice cream from Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, a cute little place that’s under the Brooklyn Bridge. There’s an observation-deck-esque platform next to the shop that gives you an expansive, breathtaking view of the city.

Looking out at the skyline, I had a serious New York City “moment.” No, Frank Sinatra did not come back from the dead and serenade me in the moonlight, but I could see the Statue of Liberty, lower Manhattan, the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges and the Empire State Building. Someone was even playing Frank’s “New York, New York” in the background. It sounds cheesy, but I took a minute to just stand there and take it all in. The city never looked better and I felt like a true New Yorker, at least for a moment.

And even though it’s not the same as being there, I took a video of the whole expanse with my camera so you could get a little taste of the view (you also get a taste of my mad zoom in – zoom out skills):

If you’re still reading this novella, you’re almost to the best part. Okay, it might not be as great as the shimmering lights of the New York City skyline, but if you’re a total nerd like me, it’s close.

Yesterday, I had the morning and afternoon free so I decided to explore the Upper West Side, a neighborhood I hadn’t really been to yet. I’m sure a lot of famous people live there, but the most famous of all is my hero, head writer of The Girlie Show and 30 Rock main character Liz Lemon. (Yes, my hero is a fictional character.)

Many 30 Rock episodes feature scenes in Liz’s apartment, and the shot shown before each apartment scene is the outside of an apartment building at 160 Riverside Drive, on the Upper West Side. As sad as it is, I actually looked up directions to the apartment on my phone while I was walking and took a little stroll past Liz’s place. I didn’t go right up to it and take pictures for fear of looking like a total lunatic, but I did grab a good shot:

I was in full-on stalker mode. Anything for a picture of Liz's apartment!

Anyway, now that I sound like a totally deranged person who stalks fictional characters, I’ll end this post. Thanks for reading about my adventures – I appreciate it more than you know!