my 10 days

my 10 days - student project

day 1

Today I noticed -- could not fail to notice -- the huge construction project taking up a block of my usual route to the library. Apparently a sewer collapsed, so a giant crew of workers came and tore a hole in the center of the street to replace the pipes. They dug down about fifteen feet and then propped up the sides of the tunnel with uneven wooden boards, which poke out of the middle of the street like ... jagged teeth? I don't know, something threatening and untidy-looking. The whole thing looks surprisingly slapdash and unprofessional, especially considering how many guys are down there in this hastily-constructed tunnel, putting in new pipes.

I never think about what's underneath the street, but there it was laid bare, a metaphor for something or other, or maybe it was just sewer pipes.  Another revelation is that the pipes themselves are a beautiful terra cotta, the same shade as a pot you'd plant geraniums in. 

The path I walk every day was rendered foreign and exciting by this loud, dirty emergency, and I felt extremely, almost pathetically grateful for it. In the past year I've walked the blocks surrounding my apartment so many times, often very slowly, pushing a stroller or carrying Raffi. Often I have felt so desperate to notice anything new, because I crave distraction and because, absent newness, my mind goes to the same dumb places over and over. Mostly it wonders how much the beautiful brownstones and converted loft condos are worth, makes mental notes of their addresses in order to research the question online. The answer, of course, is much much more than I will ever be able to afford. 

But with the advent of the sewer collapse I get to feel glad not to live on that block, for now, until they patch the street back up again and it's like it never happened. 

day 2

Today I noticed a sign in the Lorimer street L/G subway station that I'd never noticed before, which is really saying something because I have probably spent a cumulative year of my life in that station. Possibly longer! As you may know, wait times for the G are notoriously long. The sign was on a door near the part of the station that's one of those underground police headquarters (?) and it said something about in case of emergency, to contact "infrastructure control."  This struck me as a remarkable phrase -- remarkable for being vague and also worrisome. I spent a moment dreaming up various ways I could imagine the infrastructure getting out of control. 

Then I went down to the platform where I ate a Snickers bar in about 30 seconds and tried to read a book. I'd brought a really depressing book, Quartets by Jean Rhys, and I couldn't make myself focus on it, even though it's great. I had just gone to a meeting that left me discouraged and sad, and even the giant blast of Snickers sugar could not prevent me from feeling a rush of hopelessness and overwhelm. I had a million thoughts about things that Emily Books could be doing differently and better, but they all seemed impossible to implement. I wished that I could go back in time and harness the enthusiasm and endless amounts of time and hope we had at the outset of this project and deliver them, somehow, to my present-day self. But in my black mood everything seemed doomed and bleak. Even making a tiny amount of progress, or just setting up another meeting, sending another set of emails, seemed beyond my capabilities. I felt like, "Please someone do this work for me. My job should just be to have ideas, and someone else's job should be to implement them. I am so good at having ideas, and so bad at implementing them, and so burned out and tired of getting no credit for my ideas because someone else has come along and executed them better than I did."  The busker on the subway platform chose that moment to start playing the Carter Family classic "Lonesome Valley," which goes

You've got to walk that lonesome valley 

You've got to walk it by yourself

Ain't nobody here can walk it for you

You've got to walk it by yourself

I felt like "Ok, universe, be a little less heavy-handed next time." 

day 3

Today I noticed a stuffed cat that someone put on a fence outside the nursing home two blocks from my apartment. Whoever put it there was trying to help the cat, which looks handmade and expensive, to be reuinited with its owner, probably a small child who dropped it or threw it out of a stroller. However, the cat has an unfortunate look of having been impaled. It's been there for a few days of rainstorms. Whoever dropped it probably doesn't want it back. But who will be the one to take it down off the fence so that it doesn't decompose there like Ned Stark's head?  Probably not me.

day 4

Today I noticed how difficult it is for me to make eye contact while using FaceTime. I have a love/hate relationship with this technology (as I am sure most of us do with most technologies.) One of the nicest things about talking on the phone, which I am old enough to have experienced as a sort of hobbyistic pleasure that always took place indoors, often while lying sprawled on some furniture or on the floor, playing with a tangled cord, is that while you're on the phone you can do something besides talk on the phone. You can cook or clean up or just relax in terms of having appropriate "yes I'm listening" facial expressions. For this reason I have always avoided FaceTime. I also hate the dystopian-futurishness of its name, though I guess I appreciate that it's a pun (I love puns). 

Now use it to enable my 10 month old to chat ("ba!! BA!!!") with his grandmother on weekend mornings.  I used to rotate the camera so that my mom could just observe him, but recently he has begun to understand something about how the screen works and they can actually interact through it.  This is so wonderful! And, of course, terrible -- terrible because now he gets that this lighted screen which is never very far from his mother's hands is a potential source of amusement and distraction for him. I remember our pediatrician telling us, when he was only a few months old, "no screens before age 2" and us being like "of COURSE, OBVIOUSLY, what kind of DEBASED MONSTERS would expose their infant to screens" but who can say no to being able to talk to Grandma who lives far away and then of course it's a slippery slope from there to an iPhone game called "Infant Zoo" which I keep telling myself is basically exactly the same thing as a lift the flap board book and then, a little further down on the slope, scrolling through photos of him and saying "that's you!", oops continuing to slide we're watching Feist singing about countng to 4 on Sesame Street via YouTube every morning. When the song is over he cries, and I try to smooth over the transition by singing my own inferior rendition of the song. 

Anyway, this mornign when he got distracted from his converation with grandma ("dadadada. AAAAAH! mmba." "you have a spoon!" "DADADA!") and I took over I had to consciously remind myself to look at my mom's face on the screen rather than staring off into space, which I guess I sometimes have to do in real conversations too, but on a screen it feels a thousand times more conscious and artificial. Even so, though, it was nice to see her. 

day 5/6

Today I noticed that it is almost impossible to write anything, even emails, on days when I don't have babysitting (hence the skipped day.) I did make a note in my phone of something that I noticed in order to write about it, which maybe counts for something? As an added bonus I am home with my baby today because he has a mystery fever (maybe teething?) The less possible it is to write the more important it is to do so, probably. It can be the difference between a day feeling like a total waste and having something like a sense of mental order. Just jotting down a few impressions sometimes makes me feel the same somewhat cheap sense of accomplishment that I get from doing chores that I especially hate, like vacuuming the cat hair off the couch cushions or changing the sheets. 

The note in my phone was about a couple I observed on the subway platform over the weekend. Meta-noticing note about how much of my noticing happens on the subway, which makes total sense -- subway is a liminal zone, almost a non-place that exists between places. Something else is conveying you and your routes are well-worn and habitual so your mind is free to wander the way it does in the shower.  The couple were young but not teenagers or college students, maybe in their late 20s, and the woman was crying in a quiet and not even that sad-seeming way, like maybe she was just frustrated or overtired. She wasn't sobbing. She had light, almost white-blonde hair and her red-rimmed eyes in combination with this gave an inevitable impression of bunny rabbit.  I wasn't able to notice anything else because I did the polite thing and averted my eyes and pretended her crying wasn't happening, the way I usually pretend anything intimate (making out, vomiting, fighting, etc) isn't happening in when it's happening in a public space.  

The interesting thing about the crying woman and her comforting boyfriend wasn't inherent in them at all, it was more about the feeling it gave me, which was: I felt oddly reassured for reasons that are hard to name. Partly it was that their drama, whatever it was, was clearly so low-stakes. I felt reassured to live in a world where sometimes people cry about basically nothing and are comforted. I had been reading a novel, Quartet by Jean Rhys, that is about people living at a desperate emotional pitch. The characters' love lives and their baseline survival are much too closely intertwined. However, it's hard not to get frustrated at the protagonist, who is in a bad situation but is also clearly just depressed. If she wasn't depressed, she'd be able to cope with having a husband in jail and no means of sustaining her party-girl lifestyle other than falling into an affair with a married man. She'd be like, "well, this is silly, I'll just get a job selling hats or something." The novel would be ten pages long, but at least that character would be happy and not doomed. 

Sometimes I, too, feel that my situation is desperate and sad. Often this is because it's raining and cold and I haven't slept properly. The next day when it's sunny out my problems are magically solved. Reading something very sad and melodramatic, then closing the book and reentering the world with the dregs of the book's emotional tone still draining from my brain, replicates this feeling in miniature. 

day 7/8

Yesterday I noticed that there was a stuffed monkey on the fence where the stuffed cat had previously been. This pretty much blew my previous theory -- that a random passerby had scooped a dropped toy off the sidewalk and found a perch for it out of the mud, so that its owner might walk by and see it and be reunited -- out of the water. Now I think someone is sending a message. But what is the message?

There is something menacing about that particular block, something off. The brutalist nursing home is opposite a motley assortment of buildings, the kind of indifferent new construction that might be nice inside but on the outside just looks like stained concrete boxes; their air conditioning units are their most pronounced features. And then at the end of the block after the monkey fence there are a cluster of brownstones in various states of disrepair, with one gleaming gut-renovated one on the end. I went inside it when it was being shown and it was terrible. The real estate company had stripped all the personality out of this house and replaced it with the ambiance of a suburban McMansion, all beige and gold. It was on the market for, like, 4 million dollars. Not even a very big house. It seems to have sold. I'm sure whoever lives there gets along great with their neighbors.  One of those neighbors is always putting horrifying large trash on the curb: a rusty walker with a built-in bedpan, a stained and flimsy bassinette.  

There are three construction sites on that block right now; more old houses getting their insides ripped out, one strange very thin all-new building right next door to the McMansion brownstone. When I walk down this street (which I have to do almost every day) I can't avoid thinking about how nice it would be to live somewhere that wasn't being scarred up by insane hyperdrive gentrification, just so I wouldn't have to think about it every day.

I missed two days, btw, but I guess I will make them up at the end? 

day 9

Today I noticed a woman on the subway (yes, again the subway) taking scraps of pink fabric out of a large bag, and for a queasy moment it looked like her bag was full of pink deli meat, scraps and slices of roast beef. 

I was on my way back from an unusual subway journey. This morning I took the C all the way up to 110th street. I felt nervous and strange as soon as I went underground, registering that dip in temperature as a clammy, anxious chill. I had to sit breathing deeply and focusing on the book I'd brought to read in order to quell waves of panicky nausea that came from nowhere. Unfortunately my book (STIR by Jessica Fechtor) was about recovering from a brain aneurysm, and I was reading a part about having brain surgery -- the narrator had to wear a hockey helmet for a year because a piece of her skull was missing, and they had to make sure the infection that had caused her to lose it wouldn't come back before they could do reconstructive surgery. Reading about this did not make me feel less nauseous or nervous. So I tried to be there, in the moment of the subway journey, looking around at the people on the subway, paying attention to the sensation of my butt in the seat, my feet on the floor. Sometimes this helps. Today it didn't, so I dove back into the book and eventually (like, almost an hour later - that is a long ass subway ride) I arrived at my destination.

We walked on Cathedral Parkway to Broadway. The terrain of this part of the city is foreign to me. In late morning in early spring with the trees still mostly leafless, the sun seemed to be hitting it at an odd angle. Everything was pale and bright, but not in a pleasant way. Most of the buildings were the same dingy-white color. Students marched up and down Broadway with their hands full of phones and large coffee cups. We walked through the campus for a block, then cut over to Riverside Park.

In the park, we followed a dirt path through the underbrush. It reminded me of the magical trails in Prospect Park where the city becomes mostly invisible, except that you could look to your left and see tennis courts, the Hudson, and across the river, New Jersey. 

We emerged from the park across from Grant's Tomb and walked alongside Riverside Drive. This stretch of sidewalk needs to be repaved. I tried to have any strong feelings about the landscape, the buildings, the neighborhood -- feelings of revulsion or feelings of being right at home. I couldn't feel anything, though. I didn't feel quite as bad as I'd felt on the subway. It was good to be walking uphill, exerting myself a little bit. I haven't been getting enough exercise lately, one of a million possible reasons for my irrational subway panic.

I got back on the subway, the elevated 1, at 125th Street, right across from an old drive-through McDonald's with a sculpture of Ronald McDonald seated comfortably, one leg crossed over the other, on a bench outside it. I thought about how, if we lived up there, Raffi would grow up seeing that sculpture of Ronald McDonald all the time; it would be one of the little landmarks of his life. Maybe it would scare him. Maybe he would love it. It's weird to try to make decisions based on what's right for someone else. It's impossible to know what's right for someone else. It's not even always possible to know what's right for yourself.

day 10

Today I noticed that the construction project that began on the day that I began this project has been, for the most part, completed. That's pretty impressive when you consider that they had to tear up the pavement in the center of an entire long block, dig a tunnel there, replace a length of sewer pipe, then close up the tunnel and repave a big wide stripe down the center of the street.  I'm like, what did I accomplish during that time? Hard to say. 

I also noticed, while observing the newly paved street and the construction guys packing up their tools and trucks, that my mood was completely different than it had been on the day ("day 1") when I wrote about how the construction was welcome solely because it prevented me from thinking my usual well-worn thoughts about how I can't really afford to live in my neighborhood.

This morning as I rounded that corner I realized that regardless of whether I should be living here, raising a child here -- regardless of whether I "deserve" to live here by anyone else's standards -- the fact is that I do live here. Also, I will continue to live here -- it's not really in question. So it's pretty crazy for my brain to be continually massaging this issue as though it will come to some new conclusion based on no new evidence, ever.  I felt good, realizing this. Even though the past couple of weeks have been hard in many ways, keeping track of my thoughts here made me feel like at least things were happening.