Tuesday, April 29, 2008

NY Comic-Con 2008

I spotted this on Bunche's blog. The non-delinquent pictured here is writer Larry Hama, who I've known even longer than I've known Babc0ck or Kraiger. He was always friendly to me back in my early days of interning at Epic Comics (which was like the indie label of Marvel). Sometimes, Larry would drop by my desk and help me with the New York Times crossword puzzle.

I wish I still had time to do the crossword puzzle. Procrastinating time these days is dedicated to blogging, reading friend's blogs, or daydreaming about a world in which I have more time to procrastinate.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Stalking Dik-Diks with Yasir

Look what popped up in my e-mail!

Yasir (last seen teaching in Cairo) just got back from visiting Kenya with his wife. They had a great trip (though coming home was a bit disappointing, but similar to an experience I had while leaving Cairo.)

You might think something like this:
What? They went to Kenya? Are they crazy? Didn't they just have riots there?

Riots, schmiots. It's not like the country was overrun by maniacs or rabid elephants. The Kenyan media is all over the news, and you can bet we heard about every instance of protest after the elections. We often assume that for everything we hear about, there are dozens of incidents on the ground. Not so...we heard about them all, and not one of them involved rioting lions in Masai Mara.

Worried about the falling dollar? Now is the time to go to Kenya. For tourists, it's as safe as it ever is (meaning you still shouldn't carry a bag in downtown Nairobi), and the dik-diks don't bite.

That said, my interest in contrarian-travel doesn't extend to Zimbabwe right now, during the election recounts.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Unlikely Scenery

It's cherry blossom season here in JC.

Sure, you've heard about going to Washington, DC, or Japan to see cherry blossoms. But here in one of the densest urban areas in the country, I just get to look out of my window.

The last image is me cheating; I took it a year ago when Amanda was visiting.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Mere Setback on the Road to Kampala

My e-pal Anne-Marie is finally in Uganda, where her blog will chronicle the rewards and challenges of running the Red Chilli Kampala backpacker's lodge.

Anne-Marie was originally going to manage the Red Chilli Rest Camp at Murchison Falls last year. That's when she found me. The rest camp was right up the hill from where I lived—and blogged—in the summer of 2005. A-M didn't make it to Uganda last year, and instead spent the year in London undergoing painful treatments for breast cancer.

She's a remarkable woman, having approached breast cancer with the same positive nature that got her across West Africa in a pink heap-of-crap banger car a few years back.

A lot of medical procedures and a clean bill of health later, Anne-Marie left her day job and moved to Uganda. She's there now, and I love today's post on her blog. She found my friend Celsius and gave him a copy of Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik, which he is mentioned in. I wish I'd seen how baffled he must have been before she managed to explain what was going on. I can't remember now if he knew I was writing a book, but he always called me Mary, so it probably took a lot of explaining on Anne-Marie's part.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

L'il Me

My mother put up photos of L'il Marie on her blog yesterday. Aunt Peggy tried to post something about me as a wee kid, kicking and swearing at ducks. Unfortunately, the comments form swallowed it whole.

Which might be for the best.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

But What's the Question?

Today I celebrate, or rather attempt to ignore, my second twenty-first birthday.

A half a life ago, at 21, I was a college intern at Marvel Comics. I lived in JC, on Fifth Street back then.

I ran into an ex-boyfriend in front of the New School last week. I hadn't seen him in about 15 years, since before I'd moved to Manhattan, back in the heady days of indie rock when bands slept on the floor of our group house, when the Other Marie, Nancy, and I used to tear around town in faux leopard-print coats (though mine was dalmatian), when we'd sail past doormen, when we'd inherit indie-rock-royalty secondhand clothes via Otis, when Nancy once marched up to Kim G0rdon and thanked her for a conspicuous furry coat she was wearing (it looked like Cookie Monster's pelt).

The ex, who surely never wore a Kim G. coat, but probably reviewed many LPs that she'd played on, asked what I was doing these days.

"I'm a comic book editor."

"STILL??? And where are you living?"


And then he'd just laughed. I'd stammered that I'd done a lot in the meantime, but it was kind of embarrassing.

"I went around the world a few times," I said, talking too fast and too nervously. "I've written four books. I've bought and sold two condos, left comics and returned to them over and over, lived in Uganda, Spain, Australia, and Kuwait...I wasn't in JC the whole time. I haven't been in comics this whole time."

Really, I'm not as pathetic as it sounds! I've done things! My years haven't been utterly controlled by inertia!

"Is your friend still married to D? I can't remember her name."

What? Could he be serious?

And suddenly, my awkwardness evaporated. Smugly, I answered.

"Marie. Her name is Marie."

Anyway, I'm 42 years old now. It's probably time I did more than talk about my next book. Mustn't let inertia take over!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

'Nuff Said

On second thought, maybe I'll wait a while before jumping back into the real estate market.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Hey Kids, More Comics!

Okay, not comics. Visual storytelling. Comics are on my mind today because it's the big New York comic book convention weekend. I'm exhausted from running around, my voice is hoarse, and I'm in the kind of daze that can only come from constantly being "on" and chatty while simultaneously keeping an eye out for real live Stormtroopers, Boba Fetts, and Mister Ts. (I was keen to send camera phone photos to C down in Princeton, as I suspect he is still a bit baffled by this world that I live and work in. I doubt the Boba Fetts cleared things up much.)

One thing I've noticed in my world travels is that many cultures have heritages of visual storytelling. Papua New Guinea has its storyboards, carved boards that feature a scene or sequential scenes. Sri Lanka has paintings in temples. Ethiopia does too. Egypt has hieroglyphics. Heck, even cavemen made pictures to communicate stories.

Here are some examples of visual storytelling from around the world.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Hey, Kids! Comics!

People always laugh when I say that Archie comics are published in the Middle East. "Don't you have to cover up Betty and Veronica," they ask.

Of course not. The Gulf has movies and satellite TV. Western pop culture, for better or worse, has no borders.

Nevertheless, certain cultural concessions must be made for the most conservative countries. So Betty and Veronica do not wear bikinis, for example. They wear modified burqinis. (In an unmodified one, Veronica would have her hair covered, and her arms & shins would not be showing.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

My Clark Kent Mode

There's an article in Newsweek about my day job right now.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Class of '84

I found a mug full of old ID cards in my garage the other day. This one made me laugh!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Home Is Where the Power Tools Are

While we're on the topic of real estate, I am currently agonizing over when to jump back into the real estate market.

I've been on the sidelines for a while—having sold by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin in the nick of time—and have been waiting for things to level off. I personally believe we still have a long way to go before the market hits bottom and starts creeping up again. I don't believe that there are regions that won't be touched. I just think they get touched later, perhaps in different ways.

Say, for example, that the financial services industry gets wrecked. Doesn't that eventually trickle down into lost jobs, lost bonuses, and lost ability to spend like crazy?

One would think.

In another scenario, property values explode at an insane rate, creating unsustainable financial situations that depend on too many x-factors. Job loss, ARMs, divorces, property taxes, even flooding are all factors that can affect people's best-laid plans. Are Manhattan and the surrounding areas immune? Are we all suffering from mass delusions? If we're so immune, then what's up with the foreclosures near me? The apartments for sale in the high $200s when last year nothing was under $300k?

So if I'm so sure we've barely begun our slide, why am I tempted to buy right now?

A couple of single-family, four-story brick houses from the 1800s have gone up for sale near me. They need complete overhauls. I would have to rent out a "granny flat" in the bottom floor to cover the property taxes and utilities. The mortgage would be as much as renting elsewhere, but I'd be pushing it if I lost my job or jumped back into freelancing. I'm not one for precarious lending situations.

But the idea of a house, a real house with a backyard one stop from Greenwich Village, is tempting. A whole room just for my underwear, as C is fond of saying. An office! A guest room! A dog! Another dog and office for my guests! My real estate strategy is this: Buy what you can afford, and buy with intent to live in it. Can I? Could I? What about future travel? What about renovating? What a hassle.

Then today, I looked at the before and after shots of my last place. Wow.

Can I do it? Do I have the energy and skill to renovate for a third time?


Will I?

Get back to me on that one.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Found Object

I haven't even finished organizing my photos yet, or digitizing my vinyl, but today was the first stunning day of the season, so I was inspired to launch into other projects.

I put Yancey's air conditioner back into the window I had replaced over the winter. I unpacked lightweight blankets and put away the down comforter, packed up the space heaters, went to the gym, got halfway through an application to a writing workshop, scoured the neighborhood for potential homes to buy (a needs-gutting 4-story house on Pavonia is under $400k now!), drank a smoothie, and started cleaning out the garage.

Everything in the garage fits into one of three categories.

    ·Things that belong there (tools, bike, camping gear, old tax records, window a/c units, tripod, Babc0ck's Shop-Vac)
    ·Things that don't belong anywhere else (cow art, comic books, CD jewel cases, vinyl LPs, Victorian pocket door (needs TLC)
    ·Trash (old furniture, coloring supplies, Roller Blades, VHS tapes, unopened Hong Kong handover Monopoly game (WTF?)

And then I found this. It's the original listing for my Avenue B condo when I sold it in January, 2001. I bought it for $56,500 in 1992. Had I held onto it, I could have gotten $400k later. That's all right. I got to do a lot with the proceeds, including mariesworldtour and buying another place (since sold).

Friday, April 11, 2008

Don't Be a Meanie

Work, obligations, and responsibilities all reached a kind of mind-numbing. brain-boggling crescendo yesterday. I cancelled some plans and tried to cool it. Instead of racing around town trying to do it all in the few non-working hours I allow myself, I just met C at his friend Katherine's author-musician interview event, Upstairs on the Square.

Author Min Jin Lee (Free Food for Millionaires) and musician Mike Doughty were the guests. One question put to them was about how they dealt with negative criticism. Their answers perfectly expressed my feelings on the same issue.

"On iTunes," said Doughty, "I'll see ten reviews. Seven are good, and three are bad, and I'll focus and obsess on the three."

Min Jin Lee said it even better.

"When I read mean things that people write on Amazon, I feel bad. I wish they'd stop."


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Smokin' in the Boys (and Girls) Room

This handy combination cigarette holder/toilet roll dispenser was in a stall in the Santa Marta airport. Smoking didn't seem especially common in Colombia. This is probably a relic from another time, like ashtrays by airplane seats in older planes.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Tonight's Lesson

I love this program Soundslides! C was showing it to his class and I got all nosy and checked it out.

Hint: Turn up the sound.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Shedding the Past

Eric the Esky has left this mortal coil. Long live Eric the Esky.

Why, you may ask, have I unceremoniously placed this small cooler in the trash?

Eric lived in my garage, along with all my camping gear. I was in the garage today—taking my bicycle out for the season—and Eric caught my eye.

Turbo bought this Igloo cooler for $4.94 at a second-hand store in Santa Barbara, for the 2002 cross-country camping trip we took in Henry the Ford Taurus. Turbo must have been in a goofy mood (oh, big surprise) because he wrote all over the cooler with a Sharpie.

I sat there looking at this dopey cooler, and it dawned on me.

Turbo was four romances ago. It's bad enough you still have his car. What would C think if you went camping and asked him to go get the milk from the cooler?

I went straight to Target and bought a new cooler. Eric, meanwhile, went to that big campsite in the sky.

Maybe it's time I tossed out that Australian beer holder too.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Marie in Candelaria

I could write for hours about the pros and cons of traveling with another person versus traveling solo.

But this is complicated. I'm used to traveling alone, but I enjoy traveling with some people, like C. So I won't write about it today. There's work to be done here in New York City, and it has nothing to do with Colombia, traveling, or the merits of cooperation or independence.

One thing, though, that I like. Traveling with another person means you end up with photos of yourself. And lucky me, C happens to be an excellent photographer. Here, he snapped a shot of me smiling at my own exhaustion as we trudged up a Candelaria hill (at altitude). Well, I was trudging. He was barreling.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

"Juan in a Million"

He's got a moustache and a hat. His best friend is a mule. And because he hawks something I desire, he comes across as less insidious to me than other commercial mascots, like Ronald McDonald or Aunt Jemima.

He's Juan Valdez, a goofy, fifty-year-old advertising creation designed to sell Colombian coffee. He's not real, though the actor that portrays him certainly is.

I never gave much thought to Juan Valdez, until I got to Colombia. But he has inspired a chain of high-end coffee shops, the kind where the sight of them fill you with relief. Overstuffed chairs! Strong java! Air conditioning! I learned to adore his manipulative, folksy self.

Which isn't what I expected. On arrival in Colombia, I was surprised that this character was embraced rather than viewed with skepticism. He's friendly, open, lovable; a happy coffee farmer content with his lot in life. This dopey, clich├ęd guy initially gave me the willies.

But that was before I realized how hot it was on the Colombian coast. My discomfort transformed into relief and adoration for Juan Valdez about 20 minutes into walking around in the Cartagena sun. When we stumbled over a Juan Valdez coffee shop just a few blocks from our hotel, both C and I were delighted. Strong coffee and a cool respite from the sun. Suddenly, the fictional coffee farmer had turned into a hospitable old friend.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Time Travel

What a wonderful thing it is to travel! It makes me think on my feet, takes me away from routine, engages parts of my brain that atrophy in normal life, and reminds me of life beyond the bubble of day job, trains, yoga, and sleep.

Years ago, I left Marvel for MariesWorldTour after too many years spent toiling away for 8-11 months in order to facilitate those few months abroad.

"I've got this backwards," I thought. "The formula is amiss." The majority of my life was for work. The precious leftover weeks were for me.

"I'm going to create lasting change," I decided.

In the end, real change eluded me. Coming home ultimately produced valiant efforts at lifestyle change devolving into... the exact same thing I left behind years ago. Traveling alone around the entire world on buses and ships, living in Australia, renting in Uganda, roaming the streets of Barcelona and Berlin devolved into chasing someone else's dreams again.

I make comics, kids.


Traveling transcends real time. Days feel like weeks. Weeks feel like months. Months feel like years. And coming home, it all catches up and time gleefully has its vengeance. Days of sitting at a desk blur together, as weeks race by into months, months to years. There's no time for anything of my own.

Somehow, after all this practice, the Reluctant Editor still doesn't have it right.