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Saturday, January 27, 2007


When we watch nature programs, I side with the deer grazing innocently in the field, while my boyfriend Mark sides with the cheetah stalking it.

I identify with animals with eyes on both sides of their heads. They are peace loving. They lead lives without bloodshed, searching for food and water, creating burrows or living in herds. All they want to do is survive. Who could blame them? Then camera shifts back to the cheetah hungrily licking its toothy chops, and I hear Mark sighing with pity.

During the inevitable chase sequence, we are both gripped by the drama, each silently rooting for his (or her, much more deserving) team. I hide my face in my hands and shyly peek through my fingers, while Mark looks on fearlessly, devouring the graphic details.

‘Look!’ He cries out, pointing at the screen. ‘Oooh!’ and when the deer is torn brutally to shreds, he exclaims ‘Oh, wow!’ If the gods are merciful and deer somehow manages escape, he says nothing and looks down at his book or computer screen. No comment.

I, too, feel for the hungry cheetah and cheetah cubs. Nature is brutal – everyone needs to eat, and someone has to play the role of food. Often when the camera focuses on the cheetah, then pans to the innocent deer grazing nearby, Mark turns and blinks at me. ‘Do you really want to see this?’

Most of the time I shrug and cover my face. But on those hard days, when the battle to find space on the subway has been too much, or when my workload has been too demanding and the day too long, I pat him on the head and say, no. No sweetie, let’s see it another time, thanks.

Photo by Mnesterpics.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007


I went to the deli for yogurt tonight, in honor of my new diet. My friend Nancy is doing it, and we call it ‘The Eat Less Diet’. The simple premise is that you ingest fewer calories than you burn. Nancy has lost 20 pounds in less than two months, and she looks amazing. I want to look amazing, too.

I’m going on this diet because I eat like a man. I manage to eat enormous amounts of food and somehow fit into size 6 pants. One day, this ability will vanish and I will become a monster, and the prospect of this frightens me.

I eat more than my boyfriend Mark does, yet he's much more muscular and six inches taller than me. I think I have a problem.

Last night’s dinner, for instance, was leftover stuffed cabbage. We reheated three plump servings in the oven, soaked in their savory tomato sauce. Mark was gracious and served me two of the three servings, announcing that he was making himself a proper grilled cheese sandwich.

I raced through the two stuffed cabbages in their delicious sauce, followed by a grilled cheese sandwich for dessert. This morning I woke up and decided to start the diet.

I’m curious to see how this goes. For exercise, I’ve joined a nearby gym. When I’ll find the time to go is beyond me, but this gym is open an improbable 24-hours a day, so there are no excuses. I plan to get back to free weights, the elliptical machine and the dreaded treadmill, all devices of torture that I visited regularly before I met Mark, eighteen months and ten pounds ago.

I tell people I’m dieting for my health. In truth, I’m dieting so not to become a monster. The world has too many monsters, after all.

A proper grilled cheese sandwich begins with a griddle, then white bread with butter face down, then two slices of American cheese in the middle, finished with white bread with butter face up. They are delicious.

Photo by Lopolis.


Monday, January 22, 2007

Old Hands, New Beginnings

Photo by 1115 on Flickr.

I have a favorite anecdote I tell people when they’re despairing.

Long ago, I’d read an article in Art News about an accomplished woman painter. By chance, she sat in as a substitute teacher for a friend hers who taught a pottery class. After that one class, she was hooked. She changed media at the advanced age of 70. She became a sculptor and is now known for making large scale urns that are often placed in the landscape. Moral of the story: it’s never too late.

I’ve tried to find out more about her, but I’ve long since thrown away that magazine. Internet research has resulted in nothing. The world of large scale clay urns in the landscape is bigger than you’d think. But it doesn’t matter who she is. She can exist as an idea, and that is enough.

She’s the idea that your future is separate from your age and that we live in a world of unlimited possibilities. She’s the idea that our worlds can shift at any time, as long as we’re open and willing. She's the idea that it takes guts to really live. And she’s the idea that we can change, due to a chance event, our own wills, or a little bit of both.

The story of the woman potter is compelling because her discovery occurs at the age of 70, and for most, that's a long way away. This is proof of the ironic truth that it's the space of not knowing the future gives us hope. It’s when you think you know everything, when you think that life is already mapped out and inescapable, that things become really dismal.

Related posts: Ms. Annie Proulx.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Next Stop, Brooklyn

I usually take the D train home, and at rush hour, it’s packed. Some nights when I’m exhausted, it sounds like people are arguing around me. I feel I should understand what they’re saying. Then I realize they’re speaking Cantonese.

At Grand Street, Chinatown, the doors open and half the train leaves. I shift my spot, gaining a seat or a space near a pole. The train lurches forward and bumps along unsteadily, like a groggy cow rising after her afternoon nap. The train surfaces, as the tunnel becomes a bridge, cuing passengers flip open their cellphones to make last minute calls. Outside, buildings push themselves up against the elevated tracks, as if trying to get a peek in, their windows close and grimy.

The trip across the bridge to Brooklyn is accompanied by a great screeching of metal, and a stop-go stop-go that forces my feet repeatedly into the pointy parts of my shoes. I am often clinging to a pole, trying to read a magazine, my handbag swinging in mid-air. Turning the page is an acrobatic trick. Then the tracks descend underground again and the lurching continues, the train fumbling clumsily toward the next stop.

I have to wonder whether the trip will ever be swift in the future. In a few years, will I be immersed in a magazine article, while buildings and bridge rush by? Will I ever careen wildly above the East River?

I don’t enjoy the trip right now, but part of me hopes it will never change. The D train sets Brooklyn apart. It’s still slightly inconvenient to get here, and as someone who believes that good things only come after bit of effort, I feel that's right. I don’t want the streets to be overrun with tourists or chain stores. I don’t want to wonder where the charm went. I want this place to remain pure and authentic. Call me old fashioned. I’m not ready for change.


Saturday, January 13, 2007

Ms. Annie Proulx

I was messing around on the internet this afternoon and discovered that Annie Proulx, the woman who wrote both ‘The Shipping News’ and ‘Brokeback Mountain’, did not start writing fiction until the age of 50. That's five-zero. She won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for the former, and I remember reading the latter when it was first published in The New Yorker, as a short story in 1997.

It's pretty amazing that I can vividly recall that reading experience almost 10 years ago, when I can't remember the names of countries or the presidents of those countries or people I've met the day before. But that’s what reading a short story can be at times, a distinct experience with its own memory. And that's a fact both humbling and hopeful to a struggling writer of short stories.



Today we treated ourselves to a bubble bath, he on one end, me on the other, our legs outstretched and overlapping, the water hot and slippery. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the medicine cabinet misted over. Below it, on the toilet seat, our clothes lay in a tidy, folded pile. We were two grown adults in a normal-sized tub, and I felt like one of seventeen clowns jammed in a car.

‘It’s nice’, he said.


‘Smells good.’


He wiggled his toes and grinned toothily, trying to draw me out. I winked back, but all I could think about was phosphorous, sewage pipes bleeding goo into the ocean, gasping fish and high school chem class. Nature was out there with its struggling ice caps and abnormal winter temperatures, while here we were in our perfectly bubbled oasis.

He saw me looking blankly at the water and once again read my mind. ‘Stop thinking about the fishes’, he said. ‘The fishes are okay. They’re happy and they’re swimming free’.

I looked up and made a face. He flicked a bubble mound my way and the world went back to being good again.


Monday, January 8, 2007

Montauk, The End

The other day, Mark drove and I sat beside him, in a Dramamine-induced haze. It was only the first week of January, but because the world is coming to an end, the weatherpeople were predicting a record high of 70 degrees. And so we decided it was time to revisit nature, traveling through the Hamptons on to Montauk, the eastern tip of Long Island, where we’d hit water and have to turn back.

But because the air was so warm, and the water a bit less so, there was nothing but fog for us to see. As we wound along the generous roads, I could make out the twisting trunks of old trees alongside and the tidy lawns of well-to-do lives in the background. Everything was quiet and misted over, and I felt like I was looking at the insides of my brain.

We sped through Southampton, then Bridgehampton, then East Hampton, with all the fancy stores in between. Gradually, the trees shriveled and crept away from the road, to tussle with the brush and tall grasses. The road bucked and struggled a little, as if in protest, and suddenly it gave way, to finish in a long swooping curve. We’d reached ‘The Point’, or ‘The End’, as they call it, the end of the road.

We circled, hopeful to catch a glimmer of the water meeting the horizon. But the road kept going and we kept following it and eventually, we were home.

Day trips are easily accessible destinations just outside the five boroughs of New York City.
Photo by Evilcabeza.


Sunday, January 7, 2007

On Driving

Driving has become the new default activity for Mark and I, ever since his purchase of Clive, a deep blue Mini Cooper S, just before Thanksgiving last year. Before the car, when we didn’t have plans for the weekend, we’d make the journey on foot from Greenpoint, Brooklyn, to its hipper sister, Williamsburg. We’d go to my favorite antiques store, where I wouldn’t buy anything, and then to his favorite record store, where he would. We’d grab a few plump bagels, plastic containers of egg and chicken salad, and make the journey back, where we’d eat our picnic lunch hunched over the coffee table. The routine gave us a sense of purpose – you go, you buy lunch, you come back, you eat lunch. One had to have lunch, after all.

This is what I’ve learned in the short time that ‘we’ have had the car: Driving is a great way to pass time and feel productive, but it is not too far from another of our pastimes, sitting on the couch in front of the large screen tv. In both scenarios, one sits in comfort beside a companion, with easy access to food and water. One sees new places. One is entertained.

Ironically, after driving for a while, or actually, after being driven, I feel much the same as after sitting on the couch in front of the tv: I want to get up and walk around. I want air. I want to experience the world rather than watch it go by.

But then, once I pass a certain threshold, I am officially Beyond Hope. I no longer want to get up and walk around. I want to surrender to the black faux leather or the soft, nubby green fabric. I want to sleep. I usually do. I want to never get up again.

What most people don’t realize is that driving, as an experience, depends very much on which seat you occupy. To the passenger, the trip is not nearly as entertaining as it could be. You’re not so concerned about the guy in front of you or the guy in back of you, how bad the roads are, how bad the other drivers are, or how we’re doing on gas. Thoughts, instead, revolve around one’s bladder and the next rest stop or, as designated navigator, simply not getting lost.

It’s only been the first few months, and I’m sure this new world of the road will unfold and expand in unexpected ways. As driver and passenger, Mark and I will discover new things, each from our different vantage points. Perhaps I’ll learn stick shift and the roles will be uncomfortably reversed. Perhaps I’ll arrive at a new mindset, making the passenger seat more engaged. Until I figure it all out, I’ll just buckle myself in, and try to enjoy the ride.

Photo by Rob Lightbody.


Saturday, January 6, 2007

Introductions, Please

So what is this lame-o thing, anyhow?

For now, 'New York Portraits' is a space for my writing. My name is Kitty and I write personal essays and short fiction. Perhaps tomorrow I'll be writing biographies and technical manuals, who knows. Anyway, I thought it'd be best just to begin, so here I am.

Perhaps, too, in the future, this space will be renamed and moved and redesigned. What the space is called and where it is is not so important. What's important is that it exists.