A lot of people make jokes about how, when you get old, it's no longer fun to blow out the candles on your birthday cake. But not me. I don't care if lighting all those candles threatens to turn the icing into a buttery puddle--I want the candles, and I want to make a wish! If I pass out trying to blow out my candles, so be it.
I've never been into big birthdays, but at my advanced age (I can hear some people who know me chortling) and in my new role as mother and custodian of Liam's birthday experiences, I no longer expect fireworks beyond birthday candles. Just a cake of some kind and a little quality time with my boys.
That said, may I state for the record that a surprise birthday party does NOT make up for pretending all day to have forgotten a person's birthday. Not that I'm speaking from experience here. I did not walk around with a lump in my throat for 10 hours during sophomore year in college when nobody said "happy birthday," and I did not buy myself a cupcake, and I DEFINITELY did not cry out of relief ("I do exist!) when the surprise was revealed. Right... it was a little like that youtube video a while back of the girl crying (really crying) when she finds out she's going to Disneyworld. Only... she was, like, 5. And this DIDN'T happen to me when I was, say, 17.
My best birthday gift ever? A marriage proposal from my best-friend and now husband, Arnulfo. It's possible that this was a little overdue (in my opinion) but NO WAY was it preceeded by any tearful, "are we getting married or what?" conversations. (There is a pattern in the non-events of my life, right...)
But that's history... And anyway, it was worth the wait. I never would have had enough faith in me to put an expensive ring on my finger while standing on a jety in the Gulf of Mexico, but lucky for us all, I didn't drop it into the ocean. Whew.
I have two complaints to file today. These have been simmering--no, festering--for weeks, and it's time I said something.
(1) Reading on my iPad is NOT, NOT, NOT the f***ing same. Don't get me wrong, as a writer and PhD student in Paris, I don't know what I'd do without my ebooks and pdfs. Cry? Watch my creative stomach consume itself, Twila Tharp-style? But!! I miss holding books. I miss bookmarks. I miss feeling where I am in a book by the number of pages ahead and behind my present location. I miss writing in the margins. I miss flipping through the pages. Yes, a search function felt "handy" at first, but now I just wish I could follow my own mind's map through the physical pages in a physical book. Andrew Karre, those thoughts you had about discreteness? They're not just idle worries. They're the stuff of my current angst. By the way, I'm pretty sure the Andrew of August 18, 2011, did some time travel and read my (now) diary to be able to write this:
I love books for their self-contained universes. I worry about what happens to the discreteness of those universes when there is nothing to prevent me from barging through every thin place, every interdimensional wormhole I encounter. It seems that every step toward pervasive electronic books reveals another way in which paper books are perfect technology.
Me too!! I want paper baaaack!*
(2) The Twitter character limit that used to seem "fun" and "challenging" is currently pissing me off. I know, I know, I even said Twitter could make you a better writer by training you to self-edit. And probably it can. But who f***ing cares when they want to communicate a semi-nuanced thought? I'm sick of feeling like a bad Hemingway imitator. I'm embarrassed by my chronic two-tweet messages. Yes, yes, I know I can enable a "long message" linking feature, but that makes me feel like I have diarrhea of the keys. Or like I've signed up for a modification that I should be good enough not to need. Damn it, why isn't it 200 characters? Just give me that. Can't they base the bulk of a Twitter message on an overweight Paris pigeon instead of that skinny, too-damn-cute chickadee they used to weigh out our characters? Come on, guys...
*No friggin' surprise that Andrew called this one. He's brilliant, like I said here.
To ring in 2012, I offer you this scene: a Paris Metro car full of people on their way home, their facial expressions ranging from impatient to bored. In the middle of us all, a woman with her amplifier strapped to a dolly, sings into a microphone that lets us hear her loud and clear (whether we want to or not) as she croons "Sway" with a very thick French accent.
At first, I found it a bit annoying to have my eardrums accosted by accordionists, singers, and other performers on the Metro when all I wanted was to get home from work and see my boys. But then I began to really pay attention to these performers. Some clearly were doing it just for the money--the handful of change they shamed or pressured travelers into giving them before they finally stepped off the train and went to inflict auditory torture on someone else. The instrument they carried was basically just an accessory to their panhandling efforts.
Other buskers were different--well dressed and apparently indifferent to whether or not they received donations. I have a theory (perhaps totally bogus) that these performers see the Metro as a kind of endless open-mike opportunity. They have a captive audience, after all.
But for my shy self, the proportions of their courage boggle the mind. A captive audience, yes, but a very cranky audience determined not to be moved by their music. Is it the challenge that appeals? And has a Metro crowd ever burst out into applause? I'd love to know.
While I have sometimes wanted to pay the Metro performers money to please, please STOP playing, our little boy Liam is a huge fan of all music, no matter how bad. He'll sway to an out-of-tune accordion, elevator music, or even a cellphone ringtone. So I guess--when he's with us--the buskers can count on at least one appreciative member in their captive audience.
And maybe, with enough courage, one real listener is enough to make it worthwhile. That's what I'm trying to remember this new year, knee-deep as I am in scary, rough-drafting for novel #3.