Sunday, April 23, 2006

New York was unsettling

for no good reason though I think I must attribute it to a combination of sleep-deprivation and general weariness and homesickness. The good parts of the trip were absolutely lovely--nice meetings with students, enjoyable drinks and coffees and such with assorted friends, dinner with my lovely agent Liz Gately (and basically I am not going to have any news here about novel-related stuff until I really have definite news, which could be months from now, but the book will probably go out to publishers next week so cross your fingers), an exceptionally nice evening with my brother & his delightful fiancee and our step-grandfather, Wayne Koestenbaum's book party (v. fun, and I read the book in the departure terminal at LaGuardia this morning, will post about it a bit later on, it's charming though it made me belatedly self-conscious when someone looked askance at the title Best-selling Jewish Porn Films).

And an amazing conference on moral and psychological weakness at the Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia, which was what I was really there for; some of it was rather abstruse and philosophical, though it is fun for a change to listen to serious arguments about why there is no such thing as weakness of will (think of it as "preference reversal" instead) and why it is not nearly so surprising that diabetes patients are non-compliant as that they do take their medication, but the Saturday-morning panel (the most pressing motivation for my trip) was an absolutely wonderful pair of papers on Hamlet's weakness, my former dissertation advisor David Bromwich speaking on “Sincerity and the Resistance to Single-mindedness” and the British critic A. D. Nuttall on “Hamlet: A Man Made Ill by Thought." (Nuttall is the author among other things of an extremely interesting book called A New Mimesis, I read it ten years ago & it made a great impression on me, I've just checked it out of the library again to reread.)

It was such an interesting discussion, we were all just sitting there in awe, and I firmly resolved to reread Hamlet at the earliest opportunity (what a crazy play...) and all of Shakespeare this summer if at all possible. Because I tend to get a bit compulsive about these things, the summer before my oral exams in grad school I read (as well as about a million other books) three times through the complete works of Shakespeare, before that I had always had excellent long-sighted eyesight but seriously the type in the Riverside Shakespeare totally did me in, I was thereafter shortsighted. You never believe it when people tell you when you're a kid that reading so much will ruin your eyesight, but it may indeed be truth rather than myth.

But it has also been a few days of mishaps, the dear friend I was staying with was stricken the first night with a virulent stomach virus that I fear is now waiting inside me like a time bomb (if I do not get it, I will be very surprised, and will certainly pour a libation in thanks to the gods of health, but I have resigned myself to being struck down on Tuesday or Wednesday of this week, it seems unavoidable), which made everything much less nice than it would have been otherwise; not to mention that because I am an idiot and have the worst sense of direction in the world (put it down to the fact that I'm never really paying attention to these things, you wouldn't believe how bad I am about this stuff), on Friday night I was on the verge of a total nervous breakdown trying to get back to where I was staying. It was a super-simple task, it was about midnight & I thought I would just take a cab back from the West Village to the financial district. But I got impatient and broke the cardinal New York transportation rule which is never get into a livery cab on the street, particularly if the driver hopefully says "You show me?" after you say the address--he had no idea where John Street was, nor Fulton Street, and then somehow (this is ludicrous, I still don't know how it quite happened) he turned onto the bridge to Brooklyn & so we went to Brooklyn and then we came back & it was all pretty funny but I figured I'd better get out & find some more effective way of getting back.

So there I was on N. Moore St. in Tribeca (which I am told does not stand for "North," v. confusing) and called my poor stomach-virused friend & told her I was vexedly en route. And figured at this point (since I had given every last dollar in my pocket to the hapless livery driver) I would just walk. So I energetically & determinedly walked for about twenty-five minutes in what I was certain must be the right direction, only then it was gradually dawning on me that it wasn't right at all and with horror I realized that I was actually by now at the corner of West Houston and West Street (oh, say, about five minutes' walk from the Bedford Street bar I'd started out from more than an hour earlier), having gone in exactly the opposite direction from what I imagined. So I got money and a taxi and rode to John Street in bitter self-reproach at my own idiocy, I first lived in New York in 1990 and it is certainly the only city I have any claim to know how to find my way around in and yet....

And then last night I was again making my way from Tribeca to John Street around eleven at night, after the previous night I was very careful to get myself pointed in the right direction but I wasn't in the mood to take a cab, you know how when you don't get one right away it then becomes off-putting & you think you might as well walk. So I was making my way south on Broadway, the weather was awful in a way that somehow suited my mood (forty-something degrees, driving rain, insane wind, etc., plus I was carrying this garment bag with clothes in it I had earlier retrieved from my real apartment--traumatically, it is weird going into your own place when it is in the hands of even the nicest subletter, as my subletter is, but I had to get this stuff before my brother's wedding so as not to have to spend a gazillion dollars on clothes I do not want).

And I was crossing oh, maybe, Worth Street, soaking wet & lugging garment bag but not altogether sorry to be surrounded by the elements, and then (you will not believe this, I am still just furious thinking about it) though the light was totally mine a madman cab driver took a crazed left without stopping to look and slammed right into me!

The front of the car just kind of clipped me on the hip, I was totally knocked over & the shoe went flying off my right foot. Of course the driver was mortified (I don't know what he was thinking), & it was clear I wasn't hurt, and some girls just behind me went & found my shoe & so forth, and I trudged the rest of the way back to John Street (not nearly so shaken up, I might add, as the last time I was in a minor cab accident, I was sitting in the back seat without my seatbelt & a lane-crossing other cab slammed into the one I was in & I hit my forehead very hard on the partition, it was not pleasant & there is something really nerve-racking about that crash of metal on metal you get when two cars hit each other, this was mild in comparison). But I have a huge bruise on the side of my leg where the car hit me & I didn't go to sleep till very late.

This is really beginning to sound as though I should not be allowed out unsupervised! But the main point is that I will be home soon, the afternoon of May 21st to be precise, and this will be just as well for the sake of self-preservation and traffic safety, I cannot believe how hapless I am sometimes....


  1. Ohmigosh, what a horrid odyssey through Manhattan! Mean streets, indeed. On another note, hurrah on the novel going out, and fingers crossed here.

  2. How awful! You came during such a terrible stretch of bad weather - right now it is a bit better although still not warm as it was last week.

    I'm currently struggling to finish my review of Black Swan Green (which I adored - I'm eager to hear your thoughts when you get to it. Mitchell is quickily rising up the ranks of my favorite authors), partially because I feel as though I'm starting to write a pseudoacademic paper rather than a review. Do you have ever this issue - I remember Prof. Shapiro once talking about the best reviews attempting to get the author's "intention" behind the work (a point which we try strenously *not* to approach in scholarly analysis, I think), but in trying to do that I feel as though I'm not reviewing the book at all, or that I'm trying to make some large thesis about its "point." At any rate, this piece is long overdue and I must get back to it....

    Oh! And the Journal is at the printer - we should have copies sometime at the end of the week, I hope, and I will send you one as soon as we get it. This year's issue is quite strong, I think.


  3. Hello Jenny
    I attempted to comment on this posting yesterday but blogger was playing up and it swallowed it. (Blogger seems to have been very unstable over the past weeks.)
    I was really sorry to read about your traffic experience. It sounds really unsettling, and even though you say you weren't hurt, I am sure you must have been shaken up. I do hope your subsequent postings indicate that the virus did not in the event hit, and that you have managed to relax beautifully in some way to recover from all these threats.
    Take care (and good luck with the library books -- how on earth you checked out so many is a mystery to me, but then I am in the UK where such things are eked out in miserly fashion!)

  4. Oh my goodness, what a nightmare! But my favorite part of this post was momentarily startling at the thought that Wayne Koestenbaum was your step-grandfather! (Obviously I do know how punctuation works, but apparently not when I'm reading quickly.)