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Thursday February 27, 2003, 23:33

The biggest trick these days is to actually give myself the time to just sit down and do things for myself. This should, on its own, be an easy enough thing to do, considering that, on days like yesterday, I did not even leave the apartment. The closest I come on days such as that one are stray glances out my windows at the city. Occasionally, I will poke my head outside to see just how cold it is, or just how brisk the air feels. But my feet do not actually ever make it out, exposed to the elements.

This evening, however, I did leave the apartment and did enter the great big world. I took what I considered a "personal day" for myself, which essentially meant that I did not spend all day working working working for fear that if I were to, for a single moment, take my eyes off of my computer, that my entire project would go crumbling to the ground in a sad pile of broken promises and lost clients. Instead, I spent much of my day working, and much of my day not working, and much of my day planning for an evening that would decidedly not involve working. It would, instead, involve fiction.

Specifically, I had written in my calendar 1 that there was going to be a Selected Shorts reading at Symphony Space that I wanted to attend. I spend most weekends sitting at home, or walking about, listening to the radio. I listen to a lot of talk radio on NPR, National Public Radio (or otherwise known as "the most liberal thing on the dial.") But it works for me, and it sits in that realm of community that similarly attracts me to the web -- it's a little rough around the edges, but it tells a good story and is pretty good at bringing people together. The weekends are even more verbose than weekdays, featuring more fluff than current events, and one of the programs that I listen to quite regularly is Selected Shorts, a program during which actors read short works of fiction for a live audience. That's it. It is storytelling at its purest and now that I live in the same city as the program is produced, I have been telling myself that it is my duty as an NPR nerd and lover of words to make my own personal little pilgramage to the Upper West Side to listen to some stories.

The reading itself was wonderful, and I only fell asleep during the opening reading of Henry James, whom I just can not seem to understand. Two of James' pieces were read this evening, and I understood neither of them. His convoluted sentence structure may be a work of literary genius, but I had no idea what was going on. A Hemmingway piece was read, and then Adam Gopnik, whose "Paris to the Moon" I had been reading just before heading off to London for six months and who had been introducing the other two pieces, read a chapter from his book. There is something quite special about going to live events like that, where everyone gathers in the same room to watch someone on a stage reading something aloud. Even more than a solo theatrical performance, a straight reading of a work draws the audience into a community. It's the power of the storyteller, not as an actor, though there were elements of acting to be found in these readings, but as a leader of a journey into a work of fiction that truly holds my fondness for the medium.

The understanding during a reading is that the performer is an audience member, standing outside of the work, not as a part of it. An actor will attack a piece and become the piece. He will enter the piece, embody the piece, and present it to an audience. The actor is on one side of the work and the audience on the other. The storyteller will walk along-side the audience, not quite a casual observer, and certainly not without skill, but will in the end serve only as a delivery agent. The storyteller delivers words, not lines, and does not try to hide this fact from the audience.

I also realized that leaving the apartment offers me a larger pool of experiences upon which to draw, creatively. It's very difficult to spin tales of the world when the most one sees of the world is the slice of the sky as seen from one's window. To be sure, much of my writing has come from times when I have been gainfully employed and was spending most of my days in an office. However, most of my inspiration in those darkest of days came from my commute, from my interactions with my fellow New Yorkers (or Bostonians, I suppose). From my interaction with the man at the coffee place across the street. From the throngs of people on the escalator. Not from my sitting in front of my computer, working.

And so we arrive at the real trick in life. The trick is not, as I've been told, to find a job that one loves and figure out a way to get paid for it. Instead, the goal should be to find something one loves to do and to just do it. How often have we heard "I used to love going to the theatre, but who has the time any more?!" The thing that we most often forget is that the things we have to do should not get in the way of the things we want to do. Especially if that roadblock happens to be a job. With the job firmly established, it becomes easy to slip into the belief that work is something that needs to occur to support the rest of one's life. But what about the life that is to be supported? If that never happens, then the work is unimportant. The oft mentioned paradox of living in a city like New York is that we have the apartment in the city to be close to the jobs that pay the incredibly high salaries that will support the cost of the apartment in New York that we will never see because we are too busy trying to make the money to spend time in the apartment in which we live simply because we are working too hard for too little money.

So is it really impossible to follow ones' dreams while maintaining the rest of ones' existence? Poppycock! People just need to realize that spending the time and money on a personal passion is far more important than said time and money.

Right, so I like to go out and meet strangers. This is a new development for me in the past couple of years, and it is something that I love doing. I like being put into situations where I get to talk to people and know that I'm starting with a clean slate. They know nothing about me and we get to go on a first date of sorts. But so often I tell myself that I can not leave for fear that I will be missing out on some really important working time. What?! Indeed, if there are looming deadlines, then there are deadlines. But if I do not take advantage of my current situation then the time spent here will be wasted.

So this evening I went out to a reading and I met a lovely young woman named Liz. We shared some small talk about NPR and I described my attendance at the event as a direct result of my being the aforementioned NPR nerd. She nodded in solemn agreement. I describe myself as a "throwback to the late 90s, where people were still living off the fat of the... whatever," when she asked what it was that I do for a living. "Web programmer!" I cried, and threw my hands in the air. "That is so late nineties!" Again, she agreed.

And so it went. We watched the reading. I nudged her behind me as she drifted off to sleep, and when the reading was over, she smiled, thanked me for telling her how to get cheap tickets to future readings, said it was nice meeting me, and ran off.

And I, having satisfied my need for human contact for the day, I did the same, running off and returning home, happy, my brain reeling. People are a drug. I've only recently remembered that it's ok to get my fix.

1. I used to have a Palm V personal digital assistant. I still have it. Unfortunately, it has become a bit tempermental when it comes to inputting anything, and I just can't be bothered to buy a new one. So I got a calendar that displays a month at a time in a thin, page-sized book. I used these all through high school, and, as they are giveaways from a pharmaceutical company for doctors, it has all sorts of great reference charts in the back. I can't decipher most of them, but they're always fun to look at. Well, to me at least. The calendar also lists area codes in the United States, time zones, national holidays and more. I can slide papers into it and throw it into my bag, and I'm never worried that I'm not going to be able to get my calendar out of it. The only problem is that it's not as flexible as my Palm. I can't schedule birthdays into it in perpetuity. It doesn't store phone numbers very effectively. And I can't use it as a calculator. Until I figure out what to use as a replacement for my Palm V, however, the 2003 Physician's Planner is holding up just fine.

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