29 November 2010

Old dog, new tricks.

I’m racking up a pretty sizable list of life lessons this year. They cover a broad range of topics, but one of the simplest and most easily glossed-over is the importance of cutting myself some slack. This lesson isn’t new or particularly revelatory. I’m pretty sure my parents started down this line with me about 20 years ago. Well-intentioned friends, mentors, bosses and even an adversary or two have repeated the refrain in the years since. As a certain sage family member has been reminding me recently though, you won’t hear even good advice until you’re ready to. It seems like two decades might be the maturity date on this particular lesson.

This was all intended as a prelude to my explanation about the recent lack of blogging and trying not to pressure (or pressurize, as everyone seems to say here) myself into having some complex and well-honed plan for each entry before sitting down to write. The short story is that I’m struggling between my desire to put something vaguely interesting together, maintain the right balance of what I want to be public and private, and find enough time when I’m in the right headspace to write. The result has been, well, nothing. Sorry about that.

In my attempt to follow through on the aforementioned life lesson though, I’m trying not to pile more pressure onto myself about this. I’m going to write when I can and try to cut myself a little slack when I can’t. I’ll let you know how things go on that front. In the meantime, here are some odds and ends I’ve had on the brain but haven’t managed to meld into some comprehensible narrative:

- Things feel like they’re getting better in Monrovia in some actually visible ways. I’ve often scoffed at the broken-windows theory of urban revitalization, but I’m now wondering if there might just be something to it. Watching cleaning crews attack trash-filled thickets with cutlasses and seeing clean new buses (gifts of the Indian government) pick up passengers along Tubman Boulevard provide a sense of progress. These are small and reversible steps to be sure – weeds grow back and a vehicle in this country is only as good as the maintenance budget allocated to it – but they are also signs of some wheels of government turning in tandem. That makes me happy and hopeful.

- I made a pretty fabulous new dish the other night that involved sautéed pumpkin and onions over bouillon-infused couscous. I need to try it a few more times before I’m ready to write down a recipe, but the leftovers this morning were even better that I expected, so the exit polls look pretty good.

- I’m going to Europe for a few weeks in December. I thought I wanted to go the whole year without any winter, but it turns out that I kind of miss wearing sweaters and coats. Two weeks sound just about right. My mom and I will be eating our way through Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic and possibly Hungary, just for good measure.

- It seems like every week I’m really happy about a different thing I brought with me from home. I didn’t actually bring that much stuff, but I’m feeling remarkably good about some of the choices. This week’s winner is definitely my iPod dock. Between morning radio, evening cooking/dancing music and nighttime jazz, I’m well accompanied in my otherwise eerily-quiet apartment.

- After ages of slogging through Middlemarch (which I’m actually enjoying, though can’t handle that much fiction in a row) I set it down a few weeks ago to read a book by Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild. I had high hopes for the book (Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy) but was somewhat disappointed. Most of this was really a problem of inappropriate expectations. I was quite excited about reading the book because I really like both Ehrenreich and Hochschild and couldn’t believe I’d somehow missed a book they had co-written. I also thought it was a new book (explaining how I’d missed it). In my haste to get the book before I left the States, I didn’t bother to check either of these assumptions. It turns out it was a decade-old collection of essays the two had edited together. Though its statistics and aggressive use of the term third-world were dated, most of the essays (save the last, which was pretty awful) were still interesting. There was even a piece on IHSS workers in California, just for good measure. It was fine overall, but not particularly illuminating. Now back to Middlemarch, with possible time out for Little Bee while I’m traveling.

I’ll leave it there for now. I’m off to enjoy the rest of President Tubman’s Birthday…

1 comment:

  1. For the record, I wholeheartedly buy into the broken windows theory. I actually got to report on a talk given by Mr. Sociologist-Who-Came-Up-With-the-Theory (I don't remember his name) when I worked for the Austin Business Journal. It worked for the New York subway system and I am glad to see it's working in Liberia. Second, the same book disappointment happens with Malcolm Gladwell's What the Dog Saw, which is not advertised as, but is a compilation of his New Yorker articles. A gem here and there, but none of it as interesting as Blink, Outliers or Tipping Point. He does his best work when HE determines the subject, not his editors. Finally, glad things are lookin up.

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