Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Depressed? Happy?

I realized earlier in the month as I was doing some movie screening that movies can depress me in a lot of ways. Depressing content. Bad movies make me feel queasy at the (to me) wasted money and the time I'm wasting watching them.

Gadgets depress me. Ones I have even when they work, but mostly when they start to fail. It wears me out upgrading programs on computers. Gadgets I've thought of getting but haven't depress me because of the confusion of thinking about them: smart phones, GPS devices, a new laptop, a new digital camera. Do I even need the last ones if I get a smart enough first one? When gadgets start to have glitches in behavior or their batteries quit holding a charge? That's depressing.

Cleaning depresses me because you have to do it over and over. Ditto cooking. (You have to cook then you made a mess you have to clean, then you get hungry again.)

The newspapers depress me with news of violence and hate and economic distress. They depress me when I pay for them and they pile up, unread.

And yet. I love newspapers. I like sitting down, folding one over and reading entire articles. Newspapers make me happy in a way nothing else does. Reading news and blogs online? I like it but it makes me nervous in a way and may depress me more and it is so hard to fall asleep at the keyboard. But in your chair with a newspaper? Yeah! Yep, a newspaper, a cup of coffee. Heaven. Add a notebook and pen and some interesting surroundings. Very cool.

I like walking around and taking pictures. I get depressed about organizing all my photos or finding something fresh for Austin, Texas Daily Photo after almost 800 posts. Plus tomorrow is a theme day. The theme? Empty? I'm kind of empty of ideas for it, too. I love my shop window pictures. They make me happy in a way that isn't even sensible.

It makes me happy to watch Wimbledon on my big plasma TV in an air-conditioned room. But a little depressed that I didn't get to play myself today (rain). But I'm happy it rained. We are in a long, long drought. That's a little depressing. When temps soar over a hundred? That depressing, too. Today the high was supposed to be 93. Depressing to think that it "doesn't sound too bad." And it actually, um, felt kind of cool when we walked to a restaurant to meet friends.

It makes me happy that we made a trip to NYC. It was so fun. More on that later. It depresses me that due to some watchful waiting on a parent's health and other duties we can't get away for another trip next month. It makes me happy that we might find time to do some of our volunteer work and maybe some Central Texas getaways.

Crossword puzzle and the new Ken-Ken make me happy. The time wasted on them? A little depressed.

I'm happy I'm retired. Depressed that I haven't done more with the time. My motto "Pretending to Write but Really Just Blogging" was funnier when I actually did blog and not just tweet. My tweets don't seem to excite much interest unless I misuse grammar. Typos, grammar errors, misspelled words all depress me. A well-turned sentence makes me happy. Learning a new word or usage makes me happy. The other morning a friend directed me to an NPR deal where you can submit "Three-Minute Fiction." I quickly wrote a story of about the right number of words. I didn't submit it. It was about writer's block and the things we do to displace the writing. I was happy to write it and not submit it. I was depressed to think about all the writing projects I'm not writing.

I'm happy I'm as healthy as I am. Depressed about some injuries and things that are failing. I'm happy I can exercise as much as I do. Depressed that I'm not more diligent. I love to eat. Eating makes me happy. I'm depressed that I don't manage to eat more healthy foods. I'm depressed at what I weigh, but happy I don't weigh twenty pounds more like I used to.

I go back and forth between the happy and the depressed. Everyone does unless their life is uniformly miserable. Even then?

Sunday, June 14, 2009


This is the view from our friends' apartment they are letting us use this week. Yeah, the Chrysler Building. Cool.

We haven't really hit our stride yet, but we've eaten at two favorite places and gone to Crawford Doyle Booksellers. I love that little store where everything seems curated so you just see so many things you want to buy (or that you have a copy of at home and think you should read or read again).

There was a huge parade on Fifth Avenue for Puerto Rico day. There were police barricades on Madison where cars had not been allowed to park (or been removed) with the barricades out into the street as if to accommodate large numbers of people. People were going by with flags of Puerto Rico, everything was covered with them.
We ask one of policemen (there were one or more on every corner) if there was going to be a parade here, too. "No, this is for the aftermath," he said. Oh. Large crowds. Aftermaths. We don't do that well. So we decided to rest up a bit before the evening.

One of our reasons for being in NYC is the literary-geeky Bloomsday readings of James Joyce's Ulysses. We have just added to our schedule an afternoon reading that will include a friend reading part of the book. Add this to the evening one at Symphony Space on Tuesday and we will be thoroughly ensconced in Joyce Tuesday. (For the uninformed, Joyce's book takes place in one 24 hour period beginning the morning of June 16, 1904.) Yes, I've 'read' it. And maybe I even understood a little.

So far we've had an easy time getting into the two restaurants we tried (where we only called in the hour before to get a table). We saw lots of empty tables for lunch today on Lex. And we received the sad news that our favorite downtown Austin wine bar, Taste, had closed. Yeah, it's officially a recession. Well we'll be spending some money around NYC and then we will come home and keep supporting the other restaurants and venues and charities we love. But will it be enough?

Sunday, June 07, 2009

What Would You Pay For?

If you are reading this (all three or four of you), I know that you will give your mouse or tracking device a nudge or two and sit still long enough to look at the picture and read a sentence. Much has been made about the fate of paper and ink journalism of late and how, as they migrate content online, we are mostly not willing to do more than get access to the Internet and click. Apparently this is a result of many things, one of which may be that your fellow denizens of cyberspace are willing to slave away on blogs that are pretty good journalism in some cases...and let you in with not so much as a plea for donations.

Today's SundayStyles in The New York Times has an article about fallow blogs. It pretty concisely chronicles what happens to these vehicles...people start a different blog, move to other social media, feel misunderstood by readers who are friends, get tired of publicity or are disappointed that blogging for free doesn't lead to wealth and fame and an ink and paper contract.

Says here that the joke is that these blogs "have an audience of one." That amused me because I often feel that way but...it doesn't bother me a bit. Creating these things makes a nice record of this and that and I can refer to it later to bolster my terrible memory. (We saw Norman Lear on TV today and FFP was asking about when we saw him in person and I asked him a question. In three seconds a Google search directed at an old blog yielded an entry with a quote from the man's answer to my question that I'd forgotten.)

Anyway, back to paying for it. I never expect to make money with writing based on these blog entries (or based on anything really). (Yes, I know you are nodding. Or at least I'm nodding if me, myself, my audience is reading this later.) I never expect to sell my reflection photo series either. [Thanks to a Second Street shop called Miss Behave for this one.]

But, for myself, I would pay to read stuff. I do, in fact, pay an annual fee for a ad-less, enhanced online dictionary. I would pay to read some of the blogs I like. I'm not much of an ad-clicker, but I'd pay a small fee to view some blogs. The problem with this model is figuring out when to charge and how to take the stress out and make people realize what they are getting. I think you'd need to give people unlimited re-views for a period of time (just like I can get in my newspaper or on my dictionary site) and, of course, the sites would have to have predictable, quality content like The Times but not like this blog (or maybe yours).

Meanwhile, I'll write my blogs and hope to remember my life. I regret not doing the exhaustive 'journal' of olden days either in public or in private. To think I once publicly announced all my meals and snacks. Wait. I'd pay for someone else to follow me around and create that! Or. Maybe not.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Lost in the Swirl

I am nothing. That's not the utterance of an incredible depression. It's just that I don't identify myself as some one thing to really get rabid about it. Other people perceive that I am incredibly serious about something: tennis, downtown, walking, writing, blogging (a different thing than writing in my book), food (especially odd food), certain performing arts, travel, certain causes. But really I don't feel very focused on any of these things. Perhaps that's just fine. Perhaps, however, I should have a position to flog, a cause to support, a passion (or two). Maybe it would be satisfying.

I see people in the real or virtual world who have become experts on something, out of passion or necessity and focus a lot of their life there. Maybe they are parents addressing a specific problem their kids have. (A friend's daughter has a new blog about cooking a special diet for her autistic son, for example.) Maybe they so love an art form that they dedicate a blog to it and get a book contract and give seminars. Maybe their job is writing about technology or social goings on. (I follow a couple of guys at the local paper who've buried themselves in these activities.) Maybe they are experts at film or a certain area of technology and really spend tons of time on it, get a job in the field, etc. etc.

I don't feel like I've ever done that. I've had ideas about how, if I dedicated the time to just one thing I could do this or that wonderful project like no one else. But I don't ever do it. Now that I'm retired and living on what I made during a long, haphazard career doing what was in front of me, maybe it's OK to be entirely unfocused. Just rocking along and not making a mark. I hope so.

[Photo is a reflection in a botanical gift shop trailer at the complex of trailers on S. First including Torchy's.]

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

One Year Downtown

Hard as it is to believe, we closed on our condo a year ago. So one year downtown? Wow. It's true that we didn't sell our house until August, but we spent almost every night down here after we closed and (that same day) moved in a few things (a sleeper sofa, two chairs, boxes of CDs, a tiny flat screen TV we got off the Internet, a coffee table whose glass top we kept having to move around as we finished out our place out with built-ins, electronics, some new furniture). We spent a lot of our days at the house, packing, cleaning, tossing, organizing. We left our Capresso at the house and moved in a new coffee pot at first. (I knew we were committed when the Capresso came downtown and we tucked that new drip pot away for the disastrous day when our beloved caffeine machine fails us.)

There are pros and cons to everything, of course, and sure there are things I miss about being in my old neighborhood. I miss the restaurants that were convenient there (Fonda San Miguel, 34th St., Blue Star and Billy's on Burnet), watching nature unfold in the yard (although I don't miss trying to tame it or the poison ivy) and I miss being able to go out to my car if I forget something without riding the elevator.

But being downtown mostly rocks. All in all I might like to live in a more expensive building but it's hard to imagine a better location than this one with three restaurants (two well-established now and one soon to open) and a grocery store downstairs. Then there is Whole Foods only a half mile away and a multitude of other bars, restaurants and coffee shops within a half mile or so. We are right across the street from our beloved Butler Dance Education Center, the home of Ballet Austin, and really positioned for events there. We can easily walk to Long Center, the Paramount and, though it's a bit further afield, we've made our way on foot to the Blanton, Erwin Center, PAC, KLRU studios and Harry Ransom Center at UT. I was talking to one of the neighbors in my old hood the other day and they said it was just an illusion, a mindset, that it was no further from our old house to, say, the Performing Arts than from the new place. Actually, it is a mile and a third further. This is pretty significant, adding over two and a half miles of walking to a round trip. And, of course, walking downtown from the old place would be beyond daunting to me, not to mention time-consuming. Of course, we could bike but I'd be a danger to myself. Bikes, in fact are a dange to me when they don't yield to pedestrians in crosswalks or they ride on the sidewalks. I've become more sanguine about it over the months but it still makes me mad to be crowded or almost sideswiped by someone on a bike, riding where they really don't belong or disobeying traffic rules. I dodge and anticipate now, though. I also think we walk faster and smarter from all the practice. We sense when bikes or cars are going to threaten us. As it gets hot, we seem to find the shady side of the street more easily, too.

We can walk to Old West Austin, Clarksville, SoCo, South First, South Lamar. We claim any place we can easily walk to as our neighborhood. In the picture above, FFP stands on Bouldin Avenue as we were walking home after having Sunday brunch (a taco from Torchys trailer). It isn't hard to find your way home with a beacon like that.

We can go to Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar or Alamo Ritz and see a movie while eating and drinking beer. We can go to the Elephant Room any night of the week and see jazz.

While we don't have a yard with squirrels, birds, geckos (and pests, too), we do have an expansive view of streets and buildings and Lady Bird Lake. We can walk down by the lake and see plenty of plants and turtles and ducks and squirrels. We can walk to several parks. It is really nice to have a view of a vast sweep of sky. We can see east and, from the balcony south and north. A few steps across the hall we have a western view. We've enjoyed watching construction downtown on the Austonian, the W, Spring and, when we walk around, the Four Seasons.

We've worn out shoe leather and discovered innumerable things down here even though, in the past, we came downtown often enough. The good news is that Cathy's Cleaners picks up and delivers our cleaning and they do shoe repair.

Having sifted and sorted, we have to be more heartless about getting rid of stuff and not letting it pile up quite as much. Magazines and papers have to go to recycling sooner. The place is too small to tolerate not putting stuff away and picking up after ourselves a bit. In the old house, we sometimes locked the dog (who sadly died before we moved) and piles of junk in a room for a party. No such extra space now.

We still get lots of magazines and papers, though. The three papers are delivered to our door in the morning. No wet papers ever again. And nothing could ever stop us buying books so, one day, another purge will have to happen.

It's been a great year, really, if the first three months were a little tough going getting the house ready and sold and getting this place like we wanted. We've gotten into the rhythm of being downtown and what it means to drive certain places away from downtown during rush hour. (We mostly avoid this.) Our cars sometimes sit for days and if it weren't for our parents and our visits to the club (it's about four miles away...if not too far to walk, too time-consuming). Our life really is simpler in lots of ways and we are trying to find even more ways to make it so. We are banking at banks we can walk to and our main broker has a nearby office, too. We try to make every trip count when we leave the building, too.

We plan to live here until we can't take care of ourselves here or we claim our death. It will be interesting to see how things look in five, ten, fifteen even twenty years if we and the world last here.

We are going on a trip in a couple of weeks. We won't need a house sitter...a friend in the building can stop by and check stuff and retrieve mail if we like. The concierge will hold packages. We could even take a bus to the airport although we would have to walk a half mile to the Airport Flyer stop. Wish there were a closer one. They might want to reconsider that bus route based on all the residents on this end of downtown! (But I doubt they will...Capital Metro is too involved in massive fiascoes to consider something as simple as having a bus go a half mile west to make it convenient to, literally, probably 2000 more people. Not that I can't walk a half mile with my luggage but will I in the Texas heat?)

Yeah, it's a new, simpler lifestyle. It is amazingly, better in a lot of ways than I dreamed with no major disappointments. And if you are reading this and you are someone I see in person, please don't ask any of the following questions: (1) have you moved downtown yet? (2) do you love it? (3) are lots of the condos vacant? (4) how will they ever fill all those condos? (5) which building do you live in? (6) where is that? (7) how do you ever manage to get provisions living downtown so far from a grocery store? This last one is the funniest. While we have to drive a little over two miles to a Randall's, I bet many people who ask this live much further from one or at least as far. And we can literally go downstairs to a convenient store and deli for many things. And the biggest Whole Foods in the world is a half mile away and ridiculously easy to walk to.

It's not Manhattan, but it'll do.