What the snow means

19
Jan
2009

You forget how much the weather is a part of our lives. I took a walk in a beautiful snow covered Prospect Park this morning and was inspired. And it has been snowing all day, that wet, large-flake kind that has something magic about it. It is impossible for me not to smile in this snow. Even though I grew up with it, it has been years since it was a part of any climate I have made a home in. I wonder how each season affects our moods and outlooks, and how climate affects our sense of the possible in our lives. I know winter can be a sad time for many people (and I’ll admit the bitter cold windy days are less fun), but there is something wonderous and beautiful about the snow.

Tenement life

17
Jan
2009

Today I went down to meet my cousin (who lives here), and my Aunt and Uncle (who are in town visiting) for a visit to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. There are several tours that one can take, each depicting a particular group of people, their tenement and tour description of what their lives were like.  Our particular tour was focused on Jewish families living there and working in the garment district, which in its heyday was enormous. The tour was not only educational, but implicitly political, dealing with subjects such as the history of worker safety and sweatshops, unionization, immigration, and family life in the US and on the Lower East Side in particular. Our tour guide, Max, was excellent, posing interesting questions about our definitions of sweatshop conditions and the like. It is interesting that there is no simple objective way to say for sure if someone is working (or living) in horrible conditions, as it depends significantly on our own current standards for health, worker safety and exploitation. I was struck by how much many of the circumstances in the tenements mirrored conditions I had seen in India. Some labor practices seem to exist side by side with a certain level of economic development. It was abundantly obvious looking at these places why unionization was at one time such an important lever for improving working conditions in our society. I highly recommend the museum if you should come to New York. I am sure I will return to take another tour.

What does one need?

16
Jan
2009

At the moment, I am having a little difficulty determining what to do. I am staying in my friend Sivan’s home, and although she has been very gracious and welcoming, I feel like it is not my space.  Call me Virginia (if you must), but I feel I need a room of my own. I need a quiet space to be and work with few distractions. Nothing fancy or large, but simple and ordered. The awkwardness of living in someone else’s space is getting to me a little. That said, I feel that I should probably secure at least a modicum of work before committing to a lease or long term renting. It is a big advantage not to be paying rent right now and I am very grateful to my friends for offering me a bed in their homes. Perhaps I should just bite the bullet and get a little defensible space of my own. My job search and writing are both feeling a little scattered. It is funny that in (most) of the time of my traveling, I didn’t feel so much in need of this, as I always knew I would be moving on sooner or later, and never felt too attached to any place or space. Now having decided to make a go of it here in one place, for an open ended length of time, I feel a desire to have a small mooring. Nothing major, but something to tether to as I thrust myself into New York and its life, in the city I hope to call home.

1551

13
Jan
2009

In case you are wondering about the title, that is the database assigned article number for this post. I figure 1551 is as descriptive as anything. It includes any number of draft revisions of posts and pages and any other type of entry on this blog. I have to admit to having a bit of a fascination with statistics, especially ones that relate to me or my life. And I have a number of ways of slicing and dicing information related to this blog. For instance:

This blog’s first post was on September 11, 2006.

The number of posts to this blog currently stands at 851.

The number of comments on the blog is 1,190.

The wordcount on all published posts is 137,320.

The longest post was 3,257 words. The shortest 0 words (picture posts).

The average post length is 158 words.

The most commented on post had 14 comments.

And the most prolific commenter posted 165 comments and is my mother.

And some random NYC notes

12
Jan
2009

– An absolutely astonishing number of people wear black here. And about eighty percent of them head to toe.

– I hear a lot of complaining about a wide variety of things on the subway. Including the subway itself.

– So far, it seems like a lot of people are nice enough to hold the door for the person behind them, but a much smaller number care to give up their seat on the subway.

Random Brooklyn Notes

12
Jan
2009

– There are a surprisingly large number of dog owners here, and an even more surprisingly large number of them that dress their pets in elaborate winter ensembles.

– There are a number of very good restaurants in Brooklyn.

– Park Slope is called such because the entire area slopes gently downhill from Prospect Park. Go figure.

– Not quite as much as Manhattanites don’t like to leave Manhattan, but Brooklynites prefer, all things being equal, to stay in Brooklyn. But they sometimes have no choice.

– The “R” train is almost always a bad choice (despite it being geographically the closest stop to me).

The golden era of stalking

9
Jan
2009

A week or so ago, friends of mine and I were out at a restaurant enjoying a great meal. Our waiter was quite a handsome fellow, and there was a bit of flirting and eye contact going on between us throughout the meal. A few days later, a complimentary comment was left on my blog by this same waiter. At first I didn’t know it was him, but a little sleuthing and clues from the comment let me to that conclusion. I emailed him back and we learned a little about each other over several emails exchanged. Looking into my weblogs for clues as to how he found me, I noticed that his path through the site started with a google search on my full name. I quickly realized that he must have copied that name from the credit card receipt, plugged it into a search engine, and my blog was the first entry that came up.

My friends are divided as to whether this constitutes stalking behavior. I don’t think so, although direct contact would have been considered so in a previous era. This gets back to an issue I have explored in the past relating to the ease of information access on the internet. In a previous era, if someone I had flirted with in a restaurant had wanted to find me, they first would have had to get my name somehow. Credit cards in restaurants were in much less use. Assuming they could find my name, they would then need to consult the phone books (of several boroughs in New York) to find my information. If I wasn’t listed or didn’t have a phone in my name, their last hopes would involve placing a “missed connections” ad in a publication like the Village Voice, or going down to the public records office looking for a needle in a haystack to search for my name in any of various indexes.  THAT would definitely qualify as stalking.

But as information becomes easier and easier to access, the effort expended to track someone is ridiculously small and insignificant. And someone like me that maintains a public blog generally wants to be found, intentionally or not. I would argue that the current and real definition of stalking must be something far more menacing than a 5 second google search. Who among us hasn’t googled for information before going on an interview or a date? Who doesn’t look up old friends and acquaintances on facebook and the like? In a modern society, we are constantly trading our privacy for convenience, whether it be in the use of credit cards, online banking, social networking sites, what-have-you. Implicit in our acceptance of the convenience of modern life is the erosion of what used to be considered “private”. We like to feel that we have some measure of control, but as soon as we accept the trappings of modern life, we accept this loss of the possibility of anonymity to a greater or lesser degree. If we feel that stocking up on canned goods and moving to a small cabin in the mountains is an option, we had better be prepared to live in a culture of oneself, cut off from the world.

I am not in any way arguing that our loss of privacy is a good thing. In many ways it is a very bad thing. Who likes the idea of companies (or the government) tracking our spending habits and online (or offline) activity. This information can and has been abused. But the only thing we can really do as a society is to try to protect against the misuse of this information as much as possible, by enacting legislation and trying to set our own personal example in the respect of others’ privacy. Of course, each of us has a different threshold for what we consider trespassing, and it is almost impossible to know what the boundaries are. Generally speaking, it seems the younger the person, the less concerned with privacy in the traditional sense, since they have grown up in the world with the Internet always present in their lives.

In the long run, we are inevitably headed (for better or worse) towards a situation of less and less privacy, to the point of being able to know each other’s thoughts and deepest desires on a whim.  There will be both cultural and technological changes that will permit this to happen.We already have scientific proof of concept all around us. Our culture will undergo massive, sustained, but barely noticed upheaval as we move towards a collective mind. There will be many small steps along the way, but ultimately we are headed for something not terribly unlike the Borg in old Star Trek episodes. Americans in particular shutter at a loss of individuality, perceived as it is at the center of our culture. But for convenience sake, we will all go quite willingly. And like most things, these changes cannot be said to be all good or all bad. Still, it would be nice if we decided, individually or as a culture, to explore these issues as they are happening, rather than just waking up one day to the realization.

Mapping my thoughts

7
Jan
2009

It is raining and dark and cold outside. Days like this are demotivating (or give me an excuse perhaps) but I haven’t really felt like doing much. Looking out the window, I see low clouds blurring much of the skyline, and there is a calm sense of melancholy in the atmosphere. Today I have not been thinking very clearly, with thoughts wandering to all sorts of things, finding work, my travels, old friends on facebook, maps, food, book writing, updating my cv, politics and headaches. On more than one occasion today I have been asked by people what I have been up to the last couple of years and in response I just send them this map:

There is something wondrous about maps and mapping. They are really just another representation of experience. A map is a schematic and abstract representation often (as in my case) keyed to so many disparate memories, yet the map’s structure brings them all together.

Slumdogs

6
Jan
2009

My friend Jai and I went to go see Slumdog Millionarire yesterday in Greenwich Village. It was very good, and in particular the images of slum life in Mumbai and Indian city chaos in general were far more faithful and true than in any other movie I have seen. It is especially interesting to put this movie up against something as trite as Darjeeling Limited for comparison. Slumdog has a much more authentic take on Indian life. Darjeeling was nothing but someone’s fantasy version of India, the one Wes Anderson (the director) wishes existed in place of the real.

There were also several scenes in the movie that depicted things that I always imagined happened in India while I was there (like refilling old mineral water bottles with tap and resealing them for resale, for example). I was left wondering how much western audiences would be able to connect with this film (if the film’s success is any gauge they apparently very much are) as it seemed to me greatly enhanced by my previous experience of Mumbai.