Monthly Archives: December 2014

maplewood


maplewood noun, a suburban township in Essex County, NJ

Shadows of children playing soccer are seen on a wall at street in Benguela

Even with all of the things that are so awful, if you walk into your yard and stay there looking at almost anything for five minutes, you will be stunned by how marvelous life is and how incredibly lucky we are to have it.

– Alice Walker

This year for my office Secret Santa I received a tshirt that said “I Hate New Jersey.” At first I thought it was funny and then I got to thinking about it and changed my mind. It actually bothered me after I thought I about it for a while. I commute everyday on NJ Transit, which is notoriously known for delays and inconveniences. It makes my life depressing most days and lately I haven’t had my heart in it. I do audibly complain about it at work, but people don’t know me very well there and only know what they hear the next cube over. Lately the world misconstrues opinions and preferences for negativity and unhappiness. For an opinionated person like me, that sucks. If you know me, you know that I much more than someone who complains.  The truth is, everyday,  I miss my son, my house, my husband.  I actually love New Jersey – Maplewood to be exact, but I’ve built my entire life in a way that often prevents me from realizing that I do. So the other day, after I came to this realization, I decided to list in my head the things I love the most so that I don’t forget them.

I love Maplewood…

…because of those little kids always playing soccer in the driveway of Cactus Charlies. Every Thursday or Friday I end up picking up beer at the liquor store on Highland Place in Maplewood Village. There is never parking and I end up trolling the block until someone pulls out of a parallel spot or pull over on the non parking side of the street and put my hazards on. It takes 2 minutes to buy beer and there aren’t generally cops looking to ticket. I usually park near Cactus Charlies, and there are always a small group of young boys – 8 or 9 years old, kicking around a soccer ball against the side of the restaurant in the driveway there. Rain or shine, winter or spring, they seem to be there having the best time. There are no overbearing parents coaching or standing around bragging, just these kids playing around. I never wish for them to be playing in the park or even on the grass. In my heart I feel it is the way that soccer is meant to be practiced – where  ever it’s convenient and natural. And I love Maplewood for this impromptu game of soccer that I always see in the driveway of the Mexican restaurant. It’s because it feels so natural and un choreagraphed, which can be rare in our affluent suburb.

… for my yoga music playing coffee shop that serves Tiramisu flavored coffee once a week. Whether it’s after a tough Crossfit WOD or a lazy Saturday morning after a restless sick toddler night, I walk into Village Coffee and am greeted by the soothing sounds of dharma chanting and a smile. I find buying coffee much more soothing and happy here instead of the trendy bakery down the block. No fuss or pretension. As a friend once said, it’s just normal, not fancy, and that’s what I prefer. Sometimes I’ll head there early before my train and sit at a table and drink my coffee for a bit before heading into the city. It’s peaceful and calming even when it’s crowded and it feels like home.

Speaking of Crossfit, I love Maplewood for that too – but not just because it’s whipped my ass into shape. For so long after we moved from Brooklyn, I struggled to find a workout that would keep me coming back. Flywheel spinning was great for a while, but what I didn’t realize is that having support from others is what was needed to keep me coming back for more. I’ve always been shy and not the most outgoing person in general, but on my first day at Crossfit, I had teammates that cheered me on when they didn’t even know me…when I wasn’t even in very good shape and couldn’t keep up. It reminded me of track practices from so long ago that were my lifeline during tough times. Crossfit made me open up and meet people – different people that I would have never met had it not been for our common interest in exercising.  It’s been nearly a year and I still go at least 2 or 3 times a week at the minimum, mostly at 6 am. I am part of a team. I’ve made great friends. There may come a time when I have to take a hiatus for a while, but I know I will always be back for more.

… for 1978 Arts. Never heard of it? It’s sad that many people don’t know where it is, but I think 2015 will be the year I try to spread the word to more people.  I knew a little bit about it from my neighbor from when I first moved. It’s a small artist community that exists on Springfield Ave in a small cinder block building that isn’t open a lot. The building itself was gifted to Maplewood by an artist and it is run by volunteers that live in the town. It is an undiscovered gem. For the past few months I’ve been able to use the space for life drawing and finally found the motivation to take my love for my AS220 drawing nights in Providence and make them a reality in Maplewood.  I’ve met talented and wonderful people from Maplewood and neighboring towns. People that were hungry for the same type of interaction and creative outlet as I was – a quiet, safe and beautiful space where for a few hours we can reconnect with that neglected, artistic, creative side that probably spends most days latent and brooding.

…because of my neighbors. Yesterday while my strep inflicted son napped, I went out to check the mail and found a cellophane bag of cookies and a note in my mailbox from our neighbor. The note was an entertaining account of their year and the cookies were delicious. On other occasions, different neighbors have delivered the food share when I had forgotten it was ready that day, or walked our dog while I was in labor with my son in the hospital. They’ve mourned the loss of our dog with us, weathered multiple hurricanes and shared bulk garbage pickups. Each year I look forward to the Memorial Day parade that runs down our block just to see everyone out in front of their houses, the first days of blissful summer upon us.  But most beloved of all is the space in our In our yard the shrubs that borders our neighbors yard separate slightly –  where our son and the neighbors children sneak through to visit each other. It’s like something out of an old novel or storybook and I think it might just be the best thing about living in Maplewood – the gateway – as I like to think of it. As I sit here writing this on the most gloomy, damp of days, I know in a few months the sun will be shining and there will be children sneaking into each other’s yards looking to play and enjoy the day.  Even if you took away everything else, I would still love Maplewood if only for this.

Oh yeah….and Garden State was filmed in Maplewood too 🙂

 

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television


television noun.  a system for converting visual images (with sound) into electrical signals, transmitting them by radio or other means, and displaying them electronically on a screen;

television

I decided to take a cab to Penn Station last night. As usual, the cab had that intangible odor that wasn’t pleasant, but not unpleasant enough to make one get out and brave the 15 minute walk in cold darkness. On the ride down 8th Avenue, past the few erotica stores mixed in with raw juiceries, you can look up into the pane glass windows of the apartments that rise above the bodegas and Duane Reades. For the most part, all you can see are shadows of large rubber tree plants and modern lamps, their owners most likely making the same slow journey as I toward their sanctuaries. But every once in a while, instead of shadows of plants and lamps, you will catch the flickering glow of an apartment where someone is watching television, the fuzzy random shadows that cast across the walls colliding with the raucous city outside.

I always wonder what the story is behind the person in that apartment, if there is even a person at home or if they left the television on. Do they have the flu and are snuggled down deep into the cushions of their sofa wrapped up in an afghan their mother in law knit for them? Maybe there are two teenagers home alone from school watching ABC Family or a horror movie, popcorn littering the Design Within Reach area rug beneath them, or perhaps a broken hearted sufferer who couldn’t bear to leave the sanctuary of their small place in the world, relying on reality television to escape the pain of their latest break up or loss.

I guess it might be odd to say that I think of television as more than what comes across the screen for me to watch. There is a comfort in the very act of just having it on sometimes. I know I am a 36 year old privileged white suburban mom who is supposed to scoff at all mainstream television in exchange for a constant stream of This American Life and Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me on NPR, but there is still a place in my heart for this influential invention, the television. Not so much because of a need to watch Bravo schlock and Downton Abbey, but because of the comfort it provides at different times and for different people.

It goes back as far as my early years when I used to sleep at my grandma’s house. She was the type to sleep with the tv on and I remember being 5 years old in her bed with the pink and yellow neon flower sheets watching old Dragnet episodes on her small yellow plastic, black and white console that sat on the dresser, casting those same peaceful shadows I noticed last night during my cab ride. They were a sense of comfort to me even back then, those shadows and her low, nasal snore. I wonder if she knew that I never really slept a wink. I still remember the hours I counted down until Hot Fudge came on and I knew it was Sunday morning.


Or years later when we watched for days the Twin Towers collapsing, asking ourselves over and over whether what we were watching was real. Those days weren’t about peace or sanctuary, but the stark reality of the changing world we were living in. During times of tragedy, television is our connection to those suffering elsewhere, a reality check in case we forget how horrible the world can be at times. It’s true to say that without television we would probably be happier since we wouldn’t be aware of all of the evil in the world and some people ban television in their home entirely because of this fact alone.

Television is most appropriate as a backdrop, as an accent to our lives. It’s when television becomes more than that, that it becomes dangerous and not so good for us. Like everything else in life, used in moderation, it is a beautiful, enriching thing, a tool for providing rich memories – like Sunday football gatherings. A stronghold in times of uncertainty, like on 9/11. It shouldn’t be used in place of parenting or a long term escape from an unpleasant reality, but I don’t think it is inherently evil. Television is like a bag of delicious potato chips. Some days, you can eat 3 and walk away because you’ve got a handle on life and you’re feeling good. Other days you eat the whole bag because you had a bad day at work. The way we use television is a reflection of who we are at the moment and what we are going through. Sometimes we need to be alone, with that low flickering light, curled up under an afghan with a pint of ice cream, pretending we’re friends with people we will never meet on screen while still maintaining the sanctuary of solitude. Television allows the illusion of friendship, when all we want is to be alone, safety while we tend to our voyeuristic nature in viewing life’s disasters and the illusion of safety with its flickering glow casting moving shadows on dark walls that others watch through windows and question what the story is behind them.

Television is a medium of entertainment which permits millions of people to listen to the same joke at the same time, and yet remain lonesome. – TS Eliot

 

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