Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Am I Wrecking Your Marriage?

Is same-sex marriage a threat to heterosexual marriage? Do supporters of same-sex marriage actually simply oppose marriage itself?

Those are the conclusions drawn by David Blankenhorn in the April 2 edition of The Weekly Standard. While he is forced to admit that no one “can scientifically prove that allowing gay marriage causes the institution of marriage to get weaker” and to add that “correlation does not imply causation,” he nonetheless launches ahead based on the discredited research of Stanley Kurtz to argue precisely that the correlation between the legalization of gay marriage and certain statistics about attitudes toward heterosexual marriage implies that gay marriage causes bad straight marriages.

Kurtz is famous for reporting that the legalization of same-sex marriage in Scandinavia resulted in lower rates of heterosexual marriage, higher rates of divorce, and an increase in out-of-wedlock childbirth. The reality is that in Denmark, for example, after a decades-long decline in straight marriage rates, that trend began to reverse itself in the 1980s, and continued to climb after the legalization of same-sex marriage in 1989. The marriage rates in Sweden, Norway and Iceland are higher now than they were before legal protections for same-sex couples were established. The divorce rates in the region are unchanged.

Ignoring for a moment that he’s working from a lethally flawed premise, Blankenhorn makes the assertion that even if correlation is not necessarily causation, there are “recurring patterns in the data” from international surveys about attitudes toward marriage that are significant.

He relies on responses from the 2002 International Social Survey Programme and the World Values Survey. First he presumes either a yes or no answer, then he presumes that advocates of “traditional” marriage will answer the questions a certain way, and then, lo and behold, he discovers that the countries with higher rates of responses that disagree with “traditional” views on marriage are the countries with more progressive attitudes toward same-sex relationships.

The statements to which respondents are asked to agree or disagree are pretty damn silly. For example, Statement 1 is, “Married people are generally happier than unmarried people.” A wise man once said, “Love isn’t the answer to all your problems, it’s a whole set of new ones.” Statement 2 is, “People who want children ought to get married.” I think a clear majority of same-sex couples would agree with that; that’s why they’re suing for marriage. Or perhaps Statement 3, “One parent can bring up a child as well as two parents together.” That largely depends on the two parents in question; as the majority opinion in Hernandez v. Robles pointed out, heterosexuals can have children by accident. Two people not responsible enough to avoid an unintended pregnancy are not necessarily going to be ideal parents. And some relationships – even married, heterosexual ones – are dysfunctional, unhealthy, and unhappy. Only someone with an extremely limited, narrow and simplistic life experience could possibly respond to any of these statements with anything other than a “Yes, but…” or a “No, but…”.

Buried under all this is the unsupportable presumption that the absolute worst, most dysfunctional married heterosexual parents are better parents than someone like Mary Cheney, who has been with her partner for 14 years and has made the conscious decision to raise a child.

Blankenhorn tallies up the responses to these surveys and notes that “a rise in unwed childbearing goes hand in hand with a weakening of the belief that people who want to have children should get married.” That statement may be true, but Blankenhorn ends up resorting to “giving up the search for causation” – his words – in order to claim that gay marriage causes heterosexuals to have children outside of marriage. Huh?

Then he makes the extraordinary claim that “people who have devoted much of their professional lives to attacking marriage as an institution almost always favor gay marriage.” He cites Judith Stacey, professor of sociology at NYU, saying she champions same-sex marriage “precisely in the hope of dethroning once and for all the traditional ‘conjugal institution.’”

Note, please, the placement of the quotation marks above. “Dethroning once and for all the traditional” is 100% pure Blankenhorn. What Dr. Stacey actually said, in testimony before Congress, was, “Subjecting the conjugal institution to this sort of heightened democratic scrutiny could help it to assume varied, creative and adaptive contours.” Then she urged them “to value the meaning and quality of intimate bonds over their customary forms.” [Emphasis added.]

Having worked now for nearly two years for the organization singularly most responsible for the advancement of gay rights in the United States, especially same-sex marriage, I have to tell you that my co-workers are not even remotely cynical about marriage. Marriage – both its legal rights, responsibilities and protections as well as its social and symbolic benefits – is extremely important to us. We are not in any way interested in attempting to “undermine” marriage; “for decades, heterosexuals have been doing a fine job on that all by themselves” – again, quoting Blankenhorn.

Yet somehow we are expected to believe that the gay community’s desire for permanent, meaningful and legally protected commitment is at the heart of the heterosexual community’s myriad relationship failures. In order to make that argument, people like Blankenhorn have to claim that to “value the meaning and quality of intimate bonds” is perverse and less important to stability than genitalia.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Battlestar Shocker!

WARNING: This post contains absolutely no spoilers.

So the Cylons are into Bob Dylan, is that it? Sure, makes perfect sense.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

No Reason to Ever Come Back to New York

Okay, that's an exaggeration. I'm sure I will be back to visit New York as frequently as my schedule and budget allows.

I have often joked with friends and acquaintances that some morning in Portland undoubtedly I will wake up and say, "I need a bagel!" and hop on jetBlue and fly back to Manhattan. Of course, they have bagels in Portland. Blueberry bagels and strawberry bagels and apple cinnamon bagels and all manner of heretical, unorthodox bagels. (I may be in favor of openly gay bishops, but I am conservative enough that I am opposed to non-traditional bagel flavors. It's just wrong, folks, and if you don't understand why, there's something wrong with you, too.) But it's not just the questionable new flavors, it's the consistency. Maybe it's New York's godawful tap water, or the pollution in the air, or some ontological mystery, but New York bagels are just better. They're definitive. In Portland, any dinner roll with a hole in it can be called a "bagel."

And so imagine my joy when today during confirmation class, one of my table mates passed me an article he'd cut out from The New York Times about Portland. It turns out H&H bagels are available at Mother's Bistro on Stark Street.

Oy, it's a mitzvah!

PB & A

Katharine Jefferts Schori, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (essentially the Archbishop of America), attended the 11:00 service at my church today -- not to officiate or preach, just to sit in.

Unfortunately, I didn't know about that until the rector mentioned it during confirmation class afterward. Argh! ++Katharine was just elected this past year, and will serve a 9 year term as head of the American province of the Anglican Communion. Most likely it will be during this time that we will see whether the Communion holds or falls apart, so she has an extraordinarily important role to play. Her very tenure is a threat to certain other members of the church, who have difficulty accepting women as priests, let alone as primates. (That's primates as in heads of Anglican provinces, not the biological order containing monkeys, apes and humans, although there are some Christians out there who dispute that, too.)

I am so bummed -- I would really like to meet her! Maybe someday.

Here's a sample of the PB's wisdom from a recent sermon:

Living in community also requires multifocal lenses, and we've had some small experience here in doing that. We've looked beyond ourselves to the Anglican Communion, and internally toward our varied members. We are trying to see with others' perspectives, and sometimes it can be both painful and annoying. We don't see as clearly or easily when we gaze on unfamiliar depths, when we are invited to hold together both Radner and Grieb, both unchanging truth and continuing revelation.

There are some kinds of fish and other aquatic animals that actually have bipartite eyes - they see at the same time both above and below the surface of the water, and their brains figure out how to interpret those quite different images and make a coherent whole. As a body, we are wrestling with a collection of images - perhaps even more like the eye of a social insect, with multiple facets - but most of us assume that the image we form most easily is the only right and true one. The blesser of the gospel, however, sees more than that one, easy image. The blesser of all invites us into that deeper seeing as well - stretch, strain, imagine, and you, too, can begin to see like the Three do, like the One does.

When we have seen that blessing, however briefly, it begins to rise into more easily visible depths, it comes more clearly into focus and into what we call "normal reality." To see as God sees is to begin to make real, whether it is the work of the [Millennium Development Goals], the work going on now in Louisiana and Mississippi, caring for the homecoming soldier, or liberating those in chains. To see as God sees is to bless what is into the reality of the God's reign.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Let's Hear it for the Bishops

First, apologies that there hasn't been anything of substance on this blog for quite a while, and that I've been really bad about keeping up with other blogs. I even totally fell away from a really interesting discussion going on over at Gary's. I have just been so busy at work with all my regular duties plus wrapping things up and interviewing for my successor and then going home at night and doing research for the trip and planning and packing, that I haven't had much time.


The Episcopal Church is in the news again. You may recall that about a month ago, the leaders of the 38 autonomous provinces that make up the Anglican Communion met in Tanzania to discuss the ongoing tension over the Episcopal Church's attitudes toward homosexuality. The leaders, called primates, issued what they called a "communiqué," in the form of an ultimatum, that essentially called on the Episcopal Church to cease and desist from consecrating gay bishops and blessing same-sex unions by September of this year, or face being kicked out of the Anglican Communion. They also proposed a primatial oversight committee from outside the Episcopal Church to monitor and enforce the demands.

This week, the House of Bishops, comprised of the leaders of each diocese of the Episcopal Church, met to discuss and respond to the primates. They rejected the idea of "pastoral oversight" as hopelessly incongruent with our own church's constitution, as it would be a "delegation of primatial authority," a "compromise of autonomy," a violation of "our founding principles...following our own liberation from colonialism," and "a very serious departure from our English Reformation heritage," because it would sacrifice "the emancipation of the laity for the exclusive leadership of high-ranking Bishops. And, for the first time since our separation from the papacy in the 16th century, it replaces the local governance of the Church by its own people with the decisions of a distant and unaccountable group of prelates."

They did not address the specific issues of same-sex unions and the consecration of gay bishops, largely because the people of the Episcopal Church are not of a single mind on either subject, but also because there is nothing in the structure of the Anglican Communion that allows for foreign bishops to dictate our beliefs or practices. The bishops did unequivocally state, "We proclaim the Gospel of what God has done and is doing in Christ, of the dignity of every human being, and of justice, compassion, and peace. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no male or female, no slave or free. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children, including women, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children, including gay and lesbian persons, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church."

As far as the survival of the Communion goes, the bishops said, "We proclaim a Gospel that welcomes diversity of thought and encourages free and open theological debate as a way of seeking God's truth. If that means that others reject us and communion with us, as some have already done, we must with great regret and sorrow accept their decision."

During the meeting in Tanzania, Katharine Jefferts Schori, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, asked Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to come to America to meet with our leaders and discuss these issues. She was told his calendar was full.

I am confident that Abp. Williams' schedule is quite busy, and I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. But somehow I remain unconvinced that he could not make time to accept an invitation to meet with a province that is being threatened with expulsion.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I've Been Knighted!

On Friday we began placing advertisements to find my replacement at work; I've already received well over 200 applications. I'm grateful to have this particular experience right now, because I'm getting ideas for resumes and cover letters that stand out, and it's also helping me form a mental list of cliches to avoid. When I start sending cover letters out, they are going to rock.

Word to the wise: if you say in your cover letter that you are "detail oriented," you probably don't want to misspell the name of the company you are applying to.

So far, my favorite letter of interest begins, "Dear Sir Andy."

Sunday, March 18, 2007

I'm Sorry, Did You Say, Bong Hits 4 Jesus???

The Supreme Court is going to hear an unusual free speech case tomorrow. Five years ago, as the Olympic torch was passing through Juneau, Alaska, on its way to Salt Lake City, a local high school principal allowed her students out of class to watch. One enterprising young man, hoping to get on TV, unfurled a banner just as the torch went by -- a fourteen-foot long banner -- that read, "Bong Hits 4 Jesus."

After refusing to take down the sign, the student was suspended for 10 days. He sued, claiming violation of his free speech rights...and has won every step of the way to the high court.

The case basically rests on the question of whether school officials have the right to restrict students' speech when it promotes illegal activity. The principal is being represented by Ken Starr -- remember him? The student is represented by the ACLU -- no surprise there.

Now, if you were a Christian conservative wingnut, which side would you be on? Surprise! According to The New York Times, groups like Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice and the Alliance Defense Fund, taking time out of its usual habits, such as suing an Ohio university that offered domestic partnership benefits to same-sex couples, claiming it violated the state ban on recognition of same-sex relationships, have entered briefs in support of the ACLU's case.

They worry that a ruling in favor of the school board would be a threat to students' religious freedom.

I won't offer an opinion on who's right, here. I'm still laughing too hard. All I can say is, I hope this boy goes on to study marketing. He's got a gift.

Friday, March 16, 2007

When Cows Stress Out

One of the ways I like to pass my time during the hour or so it takes me to travel to and from my job is to check out what people are reading on the A train. There's a lot of pulpy, low-brow stuff -- against which I have absolutely nothing, because the subway is often not conducive to intense concentration. So I see The New York Post, The Daily News, People, In Touch (not the gay porn magazine, the celebrity rag), and stuff like that. Of course there's also The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine, The New Yorker, TimeOut New York, along with The Nation, The Economist, The Financial Times and other high-brow lefty publications.

The books tend to be sophisticated, too: Dante, Chomsky, Rushdie.

Today, however, I saw a man reading a publication I'd never even heard of, one filled with ads for combines and other kinds of farm equipment -- not something you see in Manhattan very often. As he turned the page, I caught a glimpse of the name of the magazine: Hoard's Dairyman.

The article he was reading was, "Is Your Cow Overbooked?"

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Playing around with my new iSight

I guess Starbuck wasn't in the mood.

Surprise! I converted

I had to ponder it for quite a while, but I think I've made the right decision, even if it's kind of scary right now.

No, I'm still Episcopalian.

Still gay.

Still male.

Didn't become a Republican.

I bought a Mac! So, here's to my first post using my new laptop, which will enable me not only continue to hunt for jobs during my 6 day "Cats Across America Tour," but also keep you, gentle readers, updated daily on our travel progress, hopefully including delightful anecdotes and funny photos from America's heartland.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

It's Official: Homeless and Unemployed

I turned in my resignation at work today.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

America and its Moral Policies

I have a question for Marine General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who told The Chicago Tribune that he believed "homosexual acts" are immoral. "I do not believe the United States is well served by a policy that says it is OK to be immoral in any way," he said.

So, General Pace, what are your views on:
  • Launching an unprovoked war of aggression, including invasion and occupation, in order to force a country at gunpoint to convert to a representative democracy which apparently no one there wants
  • Lying about the justifications for the invasion by misrepresenting and exaggerating intelligence
  • Spending tens of thousands of lives only to fail at the objective through incompetence and heartlessness
  • State-sponsored torture
  • Illegal surveillance of American citizens
  • Illegal detention of American citizens
  • Kidnapping of innocent people from American soil and foreign countries in order to "render" them to other governments for interrogation under torture
  • Detaining American citizens in solitary confinement without charging them with a crime and denying them access to legal representation
  • Detaining hundreds of foreign citizens at a prison camp thousands of miles away from their homes and making them wait months and even years before even beginning to grant them access to anything resembling due process: a military tribunal at which, among other atrocities, the accused is not allowed to see the evidence that is presented against him
  • Executing the mentally retarded
  • Spending $2 trillion on an illegal, immoral war launched under false pretenses while 48 million Americans have no access to health insurance
  • The medical care the tens of thousands of wounded Iraq veterans have -- or more precisely, have not -- received for the sacrifice they made because of President Bush's lies and delusions

Seems to me no one personally involved in President Bush's War for Terror has any standing to comment on what constitutes moral public policy.

Monday, March 12, 2007

An Evolutionary Explanation for Atheism

I've been giving more thought to the recent New York Times Magazine article "Darwin's God." It occurred to me that if we accept the scientific evidence that "children are born with a tendency to believe in omniscience, invisible minds, immaterial souls," then one possible explanation for the emergence of atheism would be when a person rejects the dogma they have been taught by their family and/or culture because it conflicts with what they innately know to be true about the nature of the Divine. In fact, that's one of the most basic arguments atheists make: "If there were a God, he'd..." Because they know better.


Hello, time change. When the alarm clock went off in the pitch-black at 6:00 this morning, I have to say I wasn't especially enthusiastic about it. Nevertheless, I stumbled out of bed and did my usual Monday yoga routine. Normally the cats start trying to wake me up shortly before the alarm clock goes off so they can have their breakfast. Today I noticed, as I was unrolling the yoga mat, they had both gone back to sleep.


Speaking of The New York Times, I was looking at a men's fashion slideshow (the model is beautiful) when I came across this caption: "Lanvin green-and gray knitted silk tank, $603."

Sunday, March 11, 2007

House of Flying Kitties

No wonder my downstairs neighbor doesn't like me. Enjoy!

Sunday Photo Blogging: Happy First Birthday, Rocky & Starbuck!

Today Rocky and Starbuck celebrate their first birthday. Okay, okay, fine, they actually have no idea. I'm celebrating it. They've certainly grown in the nine months since I got them for my birthday! These guys are so much fun; they have such great, distinct personalities and quirks. They are super affectionate and very talkative. Our six-day journey across the United States is going to be quite an adventure.

The promised video is not quite ready; keep checking back, and hopefully we'll have that up on YouTube soon!

They get along so well; they are often snuggling together on the bed or the sofa, or sitting next to each other like this on the window sill, meowing at the pigeons.

Starbuck can be a little moody.

My bud, Rocky.

I think this is basically what goes on when I'm not home.

Below are shots of the kind of shenanigans you'll see in the video. We have this toy, generously given to the cats over Thanksgiving by their beloved Uncle JP, that they absolutely go crazy for. I don't normally advertise on my blog, but this thing is called "Da Bird." It's just feathers on a string at the end of something like a fishing pole, but they go nuts for it. If you have active cats and you're looking for a great toy, I highly recommend it.

No, I am not throwing my cats up in the air and taking pictures of them. They just go flying for this silly toy. Rocky likes to rocket straight up into the air -- he can get to about five feet off the ground.

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's Super Starbuck! Look at that form! I gave it a 10, but the judge back there on the sofa only gave it an 8.5.

Rocky, precariously balanced on the banister. It's one of his favorite spots. He likes to sit there and meow at me in the morning. Don't forget to check back soon for Rocky & Starbuck on YouTube!
Note: photos 2, 5, 6 & 7 courtesy of "Uncle JP," who is also our videographer -- a very special thank you to him!

Friday, March 09, 2007

The God of Evolution

Last Sunday, The New York Times Magazine’s cover article – which remained the #1 emailed Times piece for several days – was entitled “Darwin’s God,” and it focused on the efforts to explain the existence of religion as a product of evolution.

The author was careful to say the question is “not whether God exists, which is a matter for philosophers and theologians, but why the belief does.”

Evolutionary biologists have come up against a wall when it comes to the existence of religion; Darwinism teaches that in order for traits to survive, they must contribute either to survival or reproduction, and while the vast majority of the world’s inhabitants – both today and stretching back into the mists of prehistory – believe in the existence of the supernatural, religion seems “to use up physical and mental resources without an obvious benefit for survival.”

Many of the ideas discussed in this article are fascinating and plausible; I enthusiastically recommend it. But I could not help noticing that I did not recognize Christianity in their descriptions of religion. Scott Atran, an anthropologist, feels that “so many aspects of religious belief involve misattribution and misunderstanding of the real world,” and that “religious belief requires taking ‘what is materially false to be true’ and ‘what is materially true to be false.’”

Whoa. No wonder Mr. Atran finds religion inscrutable. I would challenge any of my skeptic/atheist/agnostic readers to identify any belief I profess that is “materially false." True, I hold some beliefs which are beyond the province of empirical scientific study, but by that very distinction they cannot be labeled, even by a noted anthropologist, as “materially false.” The author, Robin Marantz Henig, ponders, “what believer would want to subject his own devotion to rationalism’s cold, hard scrutiny?”

Umm…me? Unlike many of my fundamentalist counterparts, I am not afraid of scientific inquiry. I believe in God, and I believe God is ultimate truth, and therefore I believe any honest inquiry, even a scientific one, leads to God. And I find nothing in any of the theories offered here that gives me significant pause for thought over whether there really is a God. Moreover, I find the research that clearly indicates children are predisposed to “believe in omniscience, invisible minds [and] immaterial souls” is evidence in favor of the Divine. Whether those beliefs take the form of an organized theology has to do with the culture and environment in which the children grow up, but the tendency toward faith appears to be innate and universal, despite having no evolutionary benefit. It shatters the conventional secular wisdom that children are “brainwashed” into religion; it rather suggests that one must be trained into atheism, instead.

And even if there is an objective, purely scientific, evolutionary explanation for why people believe in the existence of God, so what? Scientist Justin Barrett asks, “Suppose science produces a convincing account for why I think my wife loves me – should I then stop believing that she does?”

At the risk of chauvinism, even though I believe all the spiritual traditions of the world contain wisdom and truth, the sophisticated theology of the major faiths deserve more credit than to be casually derided as superstition or easy comfort in a meaningless world. Christianity in particular, while clearly prone to perversion for personal or political purposes, is not simply a refuge for people who are afraid of death, as this article proposes.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

SoHo, TriBeCa, DUMBO…WaHi?

This Sunday, The New York Times ran an interesting, if slightly bizarre, write-up of the neighborhood I’ve called home for the past thirteen years: Washington Heights.

Nestled snuggly in upper Manhattan between Inwood (the uppermost neighborhood) and Harlem, Washington Heights has long been the last island bastion of spacious, affordable apartments. That’s why I came up here in the first place, back in 1994: fellow students at Manhattan School of Music enthusiastically recommended the area. Here I could afford (with my parents’ generous help) a large (by New York standards, huge) 1 bedroom that in any neighborhood south of about 125th Street would have gone for at least three times what I paid for it.

It’s an interesting part of the world. I managed to get into a good building right at the central intersection of the “toniest” part of the neighborhood, on Fort Washington Avenue near West 187th Street. When I first moved in, the majority of my neighbors were elderly orthodox Jews – the lady in 3A used to bring me leftover rugelach after her Sunday mah jongg game; the other major groups were the Russians and a surprisingly large population of Serbians, plus a generous sampling of young, white struggling artistic types: musicians and actors, mostly. Get on any northbound A train at 42nd Street around 11:00 p.m. and you will undoubtedly end up with the entire chorus of any particular Broadway musical you choose on its way home to the Heights. Open your windows on a warm Saturday afternoon and there’s a soprano to the south tuning and perfecting her D-flats in “Sempre libera” and a tenor to the north smoothing out the runs from “Il mio tesoro,” or a tuba player across the alley playing “Ride of the Valkyries” ad nauseum.

And then there were, and are, the Dominicans, who are largely the focus of the Times write-up. There are hundreds of thousands of Dominicans in an area roughly one mile square; so many, in fact, that the current President of the Dominican Republic campaigned here – marched down the street in front of my apartment, no less. And little wonder: he grew up here.

The Times article centers on the effects of the gradual gentrification of the neighborhood, which are mostly adverse for the less-affluent Dominicans who have claimed this area for so long. When I first arrived, there really wasn’t much here. In fact, as recently as 2001, I remember a lunch-break conversation with a co-worker who happened to live across the street. “Did you see the new restaurant that’s opening on 187th?” “Yes, it has tables!”

Now there are three very nice, very good restaurants on 187th, plus a diner (meh) and a Chinese take-out (ew…avoid), and an Indian place around the corner. There are several new places down on 181st, with tables and menus and everything, including a Japanese restaurant and the fancy, high-priced (but worth it) Hispaniola, next door to what has to be the best liquor store in all of Manhattan. Seriously. We even have a Starbucks.

Washington Heights has much to commend it; I have always liked the fact that upon surfacing from the subway at 181st Street after a busy day in the craziness downtown, you find yourself in a different world, with (relatively) quiet, tree-lined streets. It’s a family-friendly, community-minded kind of place, liberal and politically active, a place where Jewish people stand outside the supermarket protesting Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. A place where free public yoga classes are taught in the park next to the community meditation garden, just over the monument commemorating the Battle of Fort Washington. At the end of the street is Fort Tryon Park, with its beautiful Heather Garden and panoramic views of the Hudson River, which has been the subject of so many of my photo posts here, and via a short walk, the famous Cloisters, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art specializing in medieval Christian artwork.

One can’t deny that the neighborhood is changing, however. As I have mentioned before, I walk ten minutes north each morning to the next uptown subway stop in order to get a seat for the hour-long ride to work, because the population of 9-5 professionals living here has positively exploded. According to the Times, 35% of the white households in the neighborhood earn between $75-200,000. (12% of the Dominican households manage that; the median Dominican household income for the neighborhood is $32,800.) My current 600 square-foot apartment was $750/month when I took it back in 1996; with rent-stabilized increases, it’s now $1,023, but after I leave it next month and the landlord renovates it, I’m guessing it will probably go for $1,500.

As Washington Heights becomes whiter and more affluent, there seems to be a desire to alter what the neighborhood is called, to shed the image of a heavily-latino, neglected, crime-ridden part of town (which you can still find if you just cross to the east side of Broadway). A few years ago, realtors were pushing my neighborhood as “Hudson Heights.” The Times says the new hipsters are calling it “WaHi.” (Which, I’m sorry, is lame, yo.) When I was in Los Angeles in September, I impressed new acquaintances by saying I live on the Upper North Side. The best alternative, giving a nod to the significant gay population, comes from drag superstar Hedda Lettuce, who calls it “Upper upper upper upper upper upper Chelsea.”

In my opinion, however, there’s nothing wrong with Washington Heights.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Some Destiny

Raise your hand if you think that's the last we'll see of Kara Thrace.

But I Found What I Was Looking For

On the post below – oh, thanks, everyone, for your awesome suggestions – reader KR (and good friend for…let’s tactfully say a long time) proposed adding U2’s great song “But I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” to my Leaving New York Roadtrip Playlist. It got me thinking.

No, I can’t claim these last few years went according to plan. It would be wrong to suggest that there wasn’t a cloud of disappointment hanging over the horizon, the shadow of what might have been. But that’s probably true of everyone’s life.

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m leaving New York because I’m giving up, that I’m retreating to Oregon with my tail between my legs to lick my emotional wounds. New York has been great. I don’t regret coming here. I’m not angry, jaded, or disillusioned. I’ve just reached the point where it’s time to close this chapter and start a new one.

The story of how I got here is a long and complicated one with several bizarre twists of fate, but I can start with that day in the summer of 1993 when I had the opportunity to sing for Ellen Faull, former City Opera diva and professor emerita of the Juilliard School. Sure, I entertained the fantasy that she would love my singing and arrange for me to go study in New York. But when that actually happened, it was stunning.

I was scared. Me, in New York City? Me, at a conservatory? I didn’t feel ready for either of those things. (And remember, this was pre-Giuliani scary Times Square squeegee-guy New York.) But I said to myself, “Look, buster: if you don’t do this, if you don’t give this a try, you will regret it for the rest of your life.” If I didn’t like it, if it didn’t work out, I could always go home.

Okay, I’m not where I hoped I’d be. But I went places and did things I never dreamed I’d do. I had opportunities and experiences I’d be a fool not to still be amazed at and grateful for. But forget the career for the moment.

New York. There is no place in the world I would rather have spent my 20s than New York City. I went through adolescence in Portland, but I grew up in Manhattan. I am not the same person I was when I got here; I am profoundly changed for the better. The people I have encountered, the friendships I have made, and the wealth of experiences – from exhilarating to devastating – well, I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

Do I have any regrets? I wish I’d had more confidence when I was younger. I was cute; I wish I’d known that and put it to better use. I wish I had not taken my singing so seriously; I wish I would have allowed myself to take a few more risks and had more fun. Oh well.

So no, this is not surrender. This was amazing. I didn’t go as far as I hoped, but I exceeded all my expectations. I come away from this feeling blessed and lucky. I will treasure these past 13 years all the days of my life.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Next Week...

Sunday photoblogging returns, with a tribute to a couple of very special cats on the occasion of their first birthday, featuring Rocky & Starbuck's YouTube debut!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

And Every Day, Some Go Away

I'm working on my "Leaving New York/Road Trip" Playlist. Here's what I've got so far:

  1. "Go West," The Village People
  2. "Into the West," Annie Lenox (from The Return of the King)
  3. "Getting out of town," 42nd Street
  4. "Another Hundred People," Company
  5. "Don't Rain on my Parade," Funny Girl
  6. "Tennessee Homesick Blues," Dolly Parton
  7. "The Best is Yet to Come," Frank Sinatra
  8. "Roam," B-52's
  9. "Here I Go Again," Whitesnake

That will probably get me as far as Paramus. Any suggestions? Unfortunately, "Holiday Road" from National Lampoon's Vacation is not available on iTunes, nor is the soundtrack commercially available.

#6 might seem like an odd choice, especially since I'm not going anywhere near Tennessee, but consider the lyrics:

New York City ain't no kind of place
For a country girl suburban gay with a friendly face
If you smile people look at you funny
They take it wrong
The greenest state in the land of the free
And the home of the Grand Ole Opry Tillamook Cheese Factory
Is calling me back to my Smoky Cascade Mountain home

The lyrics from #9 kind of hit home, too.

I also need a name for this adventure. I'm thinking about calling it the Cats Across America Tour. Any other ideas?