Last week, I watched The Help. Then I read the book. After the various articles, editorials, and Facebook postings, I wanted to form a thoughtful opinion about the responsibility of a writer when speaking in another’s voice, the roles given black actresses in Hollywood, my own place in the world as a well intentioned white girl — instead, I’m sitting on my couch with Crisco slathered on my face. And this is what I’ve taken away.
Category Archives: musings
I am listening to Julie and Julia on audiobook, and there is suddenly a strange little musical interlude. Some jazzy little bit, out of nowhere, having nothing to do with anything. Since I have the abridged version, perhaps this interlude is letting me know that there should be more at this point but I don’t get to hear it. “Ha HA,” it’s saying. I tend to avoid the abridged, but Julie herself reads this version, and I do like her voice.
I’ve been avoiding actually reading the book, fearing that my realization that the Eric Powell of Julie and Eric Powell is actually someone I know will make hearing the details of their marital issues a little uncomfortable. And it’s true, it does – both because I know him and because MAN do I love hearing about other people’s lives. The fact that I get this much enjoyment out of essentially spying on a friend is awkward.
When I saw the movie, I had no idea the story involved anyone I knew. Scott and I saw it together, rushing straight to Barnes and Noble for the cookbook afterwards. The two of us spent some time trying to figure out:
- How to make this blog read by hundreds and hundreds, ensuring my fame and popularity and reputation as a hilarious and brilliant social critic, leading to wealth and fame and someone adorable playing me on screen, preferably Maggie Gyllehnall
2. What kind of year-long project we could possibly take on in order to assure this inevitability.
“There’s nothing I can think of,” Scott moaned. “I guess … in a year … I could make a whole ZOO of balloon animals!”
Eric and I went to college together, and we weren’t actually friends. We knew of each other, we had some mutual friends, he lived down the hall at one point. We became friends at our 10 year reunion: both of us had married our high school sweethearts, and both of us were watching our marriages fall apart. We didn’t discuss specifics, but we found each other, and it was comforting. It’s different, when you’ve been with someone since you were 15.
A couple of weeks after seeing the movie, I was lurking about on Facebook and saw that a Julie Powell had left a comment on my friend Michael’s page. “Whoah,” I thought. “How does Michael know Julie Powell?” I clicked to her profile, which was private – but showed our friends-in-common. “Hey!” I thought. “Eric knows her too!” Pause. “Eric … Powell.” Pause. “Like in the movie.” Pause.
I remembered the last time I had seen Eric, a year or so ago. He had mentioned that his wife had written a book. He had mentioned that the book had been optioned. It was going to be weird, he said, because a lot of the book was about their lives.
Surely, though, if one’s book is being made into a movie with MERYL STREEP – surely, one mentions that.
I started googling “Julie Powell”, “Julie and Eric Powell”, and “the real Eric and Julie Powell.” And yup, there’s Eric. Huh. This movie, this story, this was about someone I knew.
The movie, of course, focused on the blog, on the cooking, on Julia Child herself. There was an allusion to marital distress, but the down and dirty was left out. And now I’m listening, in Julie’s voice, to the marriage issues I didn’t hear the details of at Vassar five years ago.
One of my closest friends found out last month that her husband just ended a three-year affair. She doesn’t know what to do. She’s in the kind of distress that hurts to just hear about. I’m three thousand miles away and don’t know what to tell her.
Since that reunion, my marriage has ended, and Eric’s is doing quite well. This is something, honestly, I cling to – relationships can make it. “Here’s what’s happened to my friend,” I emailed him a few days ago. “This is awkward and personal, but is there anything you can tell me that I can pass on?” “Remember that nothing is as bleak as it seems now,” he replied.
I’m heading to my next reunion in about twelve hours. Five years ago, when I last saw this campus and these people, I wasn’t doing terribly well. I was in the death-throes of a fifteen-year relationship. I looked terrible. That’s changed. In fact, everything’s changed. All that was true – I lived in California, I was a teacher – all these things have changed, not just that which was unhappy.
There are days when I think, I am 36, what am I doing? Is this my life?
There are days I think, I am 36, and this is my life. This is what I’m doing.
They say New York is a city of strangers. They say we don’t know our neighbors, don’t make eye contact on the street. They say it’s the loneliest crowd in the world.
But I’ve been on the 35L when several passengers took great pains to warn incoming riders against a seat recently vacated by a suspiciously damp and smelly gentleman. I’ve commiserated with seatmates on stalled subway cars, been offered the use of a personal roll of tape at the UPS office, and been caught while falling on a crowded C train. There’s a man I pass standing in his doorway every morning on my way to yoga. We’ve never met, but he talks to me as if we have. No greetings or preambles, he just launches into the middle of the conversation. “That kid just signed to play for the Major Leagues? Right from our street. Lived just there. Can you imagine?” Then he waves as I move out of earshot.
Maybe the sheer number of people means there’s more potential to feel disconnected, but can’t it mean there’s more potential to connect as well?
When I got on the F train at 7th Avenue, headed towards Manhattan, it was nearly empty, and I stacked my bags next to me on the double seat at the far end of the train. Larry the Cat, in a fit of pre-Christmas hysteria, had chosen 4 am to unwrap all the presents under the tree, then drag the tissue around the living room before eating it, so I was sleepy and not paying much attention to the rest of the car.
I closed my eyes, and when I opened them, the train had filled. An older woman was standing at the bar next to me. Speedily, I moved my bags to my feet. “Oh,” she said, as she fell into the seat, “you looked at me and just KNEW I’d had a long day.”
Why, she continued, was everyone so CRANKY today? Everyone! The post office, the library, everywhere she’d gone. It was making her feel bad about the world. “Now I,” she said, “I try to smile at everyone. I try to be nice to them all. What’s the point, otherwise? There’s just no need to be cranky like that.”
Maybe, I postulated, they’d had a really, really terrible day. Maybe something awful had happened to them and they’re just trying to get by.
She looked suspicious. “Well, now, that’s a thought. But all of them? I don’t know.”
She settled back, adjusted her scarf, and kept talking. I tried to participate in the conversation – see! Not everyone’s unfriendly! – but it wasn’t really necessary. She just wanted to chat, it didn’t matter if I chatted back or not.
She lives in Harlem now, but that was a mistake, moving out of Brooklyn. And what’s the point, since she still goes back to Brooklyn for everything she needs anyway? That’s where the stores are she knows. Look at her, on the train for an hour just to get home from running her errands. She lives alone, but she likes that. The kids are grown, and it’s nice to have some quiet. She’s abstinent now, also. Might as well be, at her age, but she has an ex-boyfriend who keeps sniffing around, thinking he knows where X marks the spot. “I told him, honey, you just need to dig elsewhere. I gave up on all that, because I want to find myself.” She paused. “Well, no. I found myself a long time ago – I just want to confirm it.”
Her stop came before mine, and she stood, trailing off in the middle of a story about her son, waving goodbye, hoping I had a good night. And the train was quiet.
In fairy tales, the sisters meet an old woman: by the well, asking for a drink of water; by a stream, asking for help across; in a forest, asking for a bite of bread. She’s really a fairy, and the sister who ignores her is punished, the sister who listens, rewarded. What if this is our equivalent – the woman on the subway wanting a chat? What if our test is not to offer a drink of water, but to be willing to put down the phone or the book and be together, in the same space? To be willing to say hello? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the old woman by the well now wanders New York’s subway lines, sitting beside commuters to see how they’ll react?
Fairy tales tend to have pretty basic morals. There’s no reason to not pay attention to them, still:
Follow through on your promises. Don’t try to kill your stepdaughter or your wife. Don’t underestimate the youngest son. And be nice to everyone, because you never know who’s a fairy in disguise.
Today I had to carry an enormous bag full of gingerale, vodka, and cookware to an apartment uptown. The bag was very heavy. The C train was very crowded. As I waited in the mass of humanity waiting to squeeze its way onboard, a tiny woman cut in front of me. By the time I got on, I was trapped in the crowd – not close enough to the doors to lean and not far enough to grip a pole. I stood, untethered, clutching my heavy, heavy bag. Before me were several small people, including the tiny woman, whose back my bag was banging into and I did not care. I had no free hand. I had nothing to hold. The train lurched, and I plummeted. The people in front of me gasped. Just before I crashed, the man behind me grabbed my shoulders, catching me, and pulled me back to standing. “Oh -” I gasped. “Oh, thank you.” He nodded, and looked out the window.
For some reason, this makes me feel pretty good about the world.
Today I walked past Kanye West whilst shoe shopping.
(Yes, I get excited when I see someone famous. I readily admit this, as I’m reasonably confident it’s true about all of you. I like the details of other people’s lives, and celebrities just hand theirs to me. I may well end up one of those old women who hangs out her window with binoculars; for now, I read Perez Hilton.)
Kanye is the first celebrity I’ve seen since moving to New York, and that was exciting. He was with that model girlfriend, all just strolling down the street, looking irked.
Things I Know Firsthand About Kanye West, Helpfully Shared:
1. Kanye West wears sunglasses when it is pouring rain. Thinking about it, I have never seen a picture or clip of Kanye without sunglasses. I wonder if he’s disfigured in some way. Maybe he and Michael Kors sit together at fashion week so someone can whisper to them what’s going on.
2. Kanye West is tiny. I mean, he is a teeny tiny short little man. This, I suspect, is the reason he is so, so cranky. I actually noticed and recognized his girlfriend first, thinking, “Wait, she looks familiar, isn’t that …” Then I looked down a little, and there he was.
In other news, this expedition made me cranky, although not in a steal-your-thunder, I-am-so-much-more-important-than-you Kanye way. I don’t like shopping, I don’t like crowds, I don’t like being sweaty, and I don’t like having rain-soaked shins. Because I was in SoHO on a Saturday afternoon that was both thunderstorming and humid, I had all of these things.
Kanye seemed to be having similar troubles, since I saw him again as I wrestled my Aldo boot box back to the subway station, sitting at lunch, screaming at the two men in suits accompanying him.
I strongly suspect that if I had a gazillion dollars I’d be a lot happier about it than Kanye appears to be.
Keyword searches that have led readers here:
“spot on broken pinky toe”
“wicked clown 4 life”
“gay basement clown”
These make me want to do that 4th grade homework assignment – you know, the one where you have to use the week’s spelling words in a story. My protagonist, it seems clear, is a clown. Perhaps a sad clown, living in a basement. Unable to embrace his sexuality in a harsh, unforgiving world – a world which treads upon his pinky toe.
I wonder what these readers were looking for. I wonder what they thought when they ended up with some piece of fluff about cupcakes and finger puppets.
This blog is my new favorite thing to read.
Yes, I’m bitter that there’s obviously no need for me to write anything ever, because someone’s already sassily moving about Brooklyn and discussing the world in a far more clever way than I ever will, but that’s not what we’re here to discuss.
What we’re here to discuss is the fact that the ‘about’ page cites the thus-far unsuccessful search for decent Mexican food in New York.
This is a problem.
Now, I like Mike an awful lot – obviously, since I’m about to truck myself, my cats, and my forty boxes of books across the country – but I don’t know that I like him more than a really good chimichanga.
I’ve been trying to have faith. Isn’t New York the food capital of, like, THE WORLD? It stands to reason this is not an impossible quest. The fact that I’ve lived in New York the last six summers and haven’t managed to find a decent Mexican place, the fact that every other California transplant I know assures me it will never happen – I have not yet these things dissuade me.
But now – it’s on the internet. That means it’s true.
I’ve eaten more chips and salsa in the past week than is in any way reasonable. And, clearly, I need to continue to do so.