Wednesday, July 11, 2012

An open letter to tourists visiting Washington, DC

Dear visitors,

Hello! Welcome to Washington. I hope you enjoy your stay. 

DC is a wonderful place to experience with kids. My parents brought my sister and me to Washington for the first time when we were in elementary school. We had a fabulous time, and I even decided to attend college here and make it my home after graduation. That said, while I think it's awesome that you and your three hellions adorable children have decided to visit my beloved city, allow me to offer you some words of wisdom that will keep me from wanting to kick your ass make your trip more enjoyable.

DC's subway system is great. If your kids are anywhere like I was at their age, they'll find it more entertaining than most of the actual museums and monuments. You'll want to take it everywhere. But when you do, please, listen to the announcements. When the train operator says "doors closing," he's not kidding! They're closing! They're not like elevator doors that will re-open if you (or your backpack or stroller or your child's head--seriously, I've seen it) is in the way! GET OUT OF THE WAY. And, for pete's sake, don't try to hold the doors open. Know why? Because you will break them! This is a surefire way to get a train full of riders REALLY pissed at you, because they will offload the entire train and make everyone wait until a new train arrives. And guess what? When that new train arrives, it will be EVEN MORE FULL than before because now there are TWO trains-worth of people on it. So, please: don't block the doors. It's not hard.

Once you've gotten safely onto the train--congratulations!--and the doors have closed without incident, please HOLD ON. Don't be too cool for school or too good for the handrails, because inevitably YOU will be that jackass who loses his balance and falls over when the train starts moving, landing in the lap of the lady next to you or knocking over 15 other passengers who are just trying to read The Economist or Fifty Shades of Grey on their Kindles. The handrails are there for a reason. We are all using them. You should, too. And hold onto your kids (and make THEM hold the rails), lest they go flying across the car and whack their heads on an armrest or something. Just hold on. Please.

Mazel tov! You've made it to your destination. Now that you've disembarked, make your way out of the station. The Metro station agents are happy to give you directions if you're unsure which exit to use. Inevitably, you'll take an escalator to get up to ground level. But for the love of all that is holy, people, when you get to the top of the escalator, DO NOT JUST STAND THERE! Look, I'm sorry for getting all caps-lock-y about this, but HELLO. There are five hundred people right behind you. You are blocking ALL OF THEM. MOVE YO'SELF OUT OF THE WAY. We understand that you may need to consult a map/iPhone/sign/the North Star to figure out which direction you need to walk to get to the Air and Space Museum or the nearest Starbucks (or, in my neighborhood, the National Zoo). But must you do it directly at the top of the escalator? No. Your iPhone will work just as well if you move six feet to the side. 

Please, don't let this scare you away from using the Metro. It's a great resource that is by far the best way to see the sights. All that we, the residents of DC and the surrounding suburbs, ask is that you use some common sense. There are 700,000-some people just trying to get to work without incident. We're happy you're here, and we'll happily point you in the right direction or recommend a restaurant. We think it's wonderful that your children have the opportunity to visit such a culturally-rich place. We love DC, and we want you to as well. 


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Obligatory "what I've been reading" report

Like most of the U.S., we had a record-breaking heat streak over the last couple of weeks, with 11 days above 95 degrees and heat indexes (indices?) over 110. It was ridiculous. I stepped outside yesterday morning to a downright cool 75 degrees with a light breeze, and I nearly wept with joy.

The good thing about it being too hot to move is that I haven't felt the least bit guilty about taking to my couch with the AC on full blast and a book on my lap. Up to this month I'd been keeping pace with my annual book goal (60 books in 2012, up from 50 in 2011, but just barely. Over the last few days, I'm finally ahead again.

I'm currently 34 books down. Here are some of my favorites from the year so far:

State of Wonder (Ann Patchett): My book club read this book by the author of Bel Canto (among other things) earlier this year, a fascinating tale of a pharmaceutical researcher who heads deep into the Amazon in search of her mentor, who has disappeared while working on a valuable new drug. Amazon describes it as "a narrative replete with poison arrows, devouring snakes, and a neighboring tribe of cannibals ... where unlikely beauty stands beside unimaginable loss. It is a tale that leads the reader into the very heart of darkness, and then shows us what lies on the other side." Great description, gripping book.

The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern): Man, this book is beautiful. The story of a magical circus that appears out of thin air and a duel between Celia and Marco, two young magicians who have been trained by two rival instructors. The imagery is breathtaking, and the story is enthralling. I didn't want it to end.

Unbroken (Laura Hillenbrand): The true story of Louis Zamperini reads like a thriller: an Air Force bomber pilot crashes over the Pacific during World War II, survives weeks on the open water while battling sharks, a floundering raft, debilitating thirst and starvation, and enemy airplanes, only to be captured and imprisoned by the Japanese.

The Fault in Our Stars (John Green): I quite literally read this book in five hours. The author is one of the two guys who wrote the awesome Will Grayson, Will Grayson (which I read last year), and I'm now firmly on the read-everything-John-Green-has-ever-written train. Yes, it's about teenagers with cancer, but it's also funny, irreverant, and raw. This is my #1 favorite so far this year.

Other stuff I've read and enjoyed:

The first two Game of Thrones books (George R.R. Martin): They take for-ev-er to read, but they're good.

The first two novels of The Spellman Files (Lisa Lutz): Totally enjoyable fluff, perfect for the beach or for when you've just spent weeks on a massive, dark Game of Thrones tome.

Jonathan Tropper's This Is Where I Leave You: Holly is a big Tropper fan, and it's not hard to see why.

So tell me--what are you reading and loving this summer? I head to the beach soon, so I'm amassing my stock of books for the week.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

On being busy (or...not)

Last week, I read a piece in The New York Times that I haven't been able to stop thinking about. Titled "The 'Busy' Trap," it examined the culture of "busyness" and the premium our society places on always having something to do, always going going going.

"If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: “That’s a good problem to have,” or “Better than the opposite.”

Notice it isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs who tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet. It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence."

The article struck a chord with me, but not because I'm one of the busy ones. In fact, I'm decidedly the opposite. 

"I am not busy. I am the laziest ambitious person I know."

Much of the time, I'm not really busy at all. Because I like it that way, and I actively schedule free time into my week. But I often find myself telling people I'm busy, however, not because I particularly care myself that I'm not busy, but because my friends are always busy--and always talking about it--and by comparison I feel lazy. Like they are somehow "better" or "more fulfilled" or something. I hadn't even realized that until I read the article.  "How've you been?" people ask me. "Oh, you know. Busy. Lots going on," I'll respond without thinking.

Sure, there are times of year where I am truly, legitimately busy. But more often than not, I have plenty of free time. 

I like idleness. I always have, and I think it's largely because of my love of reading. My idleness is never really all that idle, because there's always a book to read (or a DVR'd Modern Family to watch, or a crossword to do), and that is--to me--enjoyable. Yes, it's leisure time, but I also view reading as educational and a sort of personal growth. And more than that, it's healthy.

The Times article pleased me a lot, not just because it removes the negative stigma from idleness, but because it frames it as a key component in mental health.

"Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done."

Anyway, it's a compelling argument that made me stop and think (and a lot of other people too, apparently--it made its way around Facebook like wildfire, and it received over 800 comments on the Times website). What about you? Are you the go-go-go type, or do you revel in idleness?