Downtown’s Change of Address

I’m moving. Online, that is.

The focus will remain somewhat the same. I’ll still write about New York, but you’ll find more culturally-related posts and reviews from me as well. I’m reorganizing the writing part of my brain and with that comes a need to shift, physically, via the interwebs. I’m packing my words in their little beat-up valises and moving them over to The Brow. You can also find my Uptown/Downtown posts archived over there, too. I may occasionally post here at Uptown/Downtown, but if I do, I’ll be sure to redirect you via The Brow.

My dear Uptown, it has been fun. You’ve helped keep me in line and posting more regularly and for longer than I ever thought I was capable of. For that & more, I am truly grateful.

– xo Downtown

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Why I like this City.

ok. I LOVE Central Park. I like the City.

Photography by Oleg Gapanyuk and Andrei Zubets. Presentation by John Colebrook

Photography by Oleg Gapanyuk and Andrei Zubets. Presentation by John Colebrook


and there’s more, as in the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, etc.

Still Crazy After All of These Years [& Thank God!]

I will open this post with a Jedi mind trick: You will go see Carrie Fisher’s “Wishful Drinking” on Broadway. Now.

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I thought I knew what to expect as we (my mom insisted on joining me for this show) made our way to our seats on the first night of previews. I read the book version of “Wishful Drinking” and had a sense of the story we were about to witness played out on stage. In “Wishful Drinking” the book, Carrie Fisher talks about her family. Her friends & lovers. Her career. Her drugs. Her mental illness. Her ECT. Oh, and Star Wars.

In the show, however, Carrie Fisher the writer/actor/Princess of Alderaan, has an energy and comedic timing that the book simply cannot convey. She talks about her FAMILY, with the help of a visual aid, which feels like a set of vintage Hollywood trading cards. Everyone from Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton are a part of her collection. Her FRIENDS & LOVERS, including Paul Simon and Bryan Lourd. Her CAREER. Her DRUGS (ok, there were too many things I could have linked to on this one, so I went with the most recent). Her MENTAL ILLNESS. Her ECT. And STAR WARS. I resort to using caps when describing these things because Fisher’s life is big and bold and she lives it big(ly) and boldly. It’s also scary, joyous, painful, and funny as hell. She manages to strike a delicate balance between all of these emotions and delivers her story with warmth and a welcomed sense of nostalgia. She makes a life that sounds so outrageous to all of us also seem so accessible.

It cannot be denied that Carrie Fisher is a great writer. But it must not be forgotten that she is an equally great performer. In “Wishful Drinking” she truly is her STORY. And what a f*cking story it is. –Downtown

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You can find “Wishful Drinking” (somewhat ironically) at Studio 54 (till January 3rd, 2010) or on the bookshelf of your local bookstore. You can also find Carrie Fisher (and her bad-ass humor) on Twitter and blogging on her website.

Disclaimer: If you go to the show, be prepared for big time audience participation. Think Blue Man Group-type participation, but with words, cursing, and a sex doll. Ok, not at all like Blue Man Group.

All The Sad, Young [and Middle-Aged] Literary Types

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Crowds descended upon Brooklyn Borough Hall/Plaza and Columbus Park today for the Brooklyn Book Festival (btw, poor website and flyer layout, BBF! The microscopic signs on the vendors didn’t help, either). I rode the 3 train to Brooklyn for the book festival’s “Literature in a Digital Age” panel. Per my reading of the panel description, this what I thought I was going to hear:

Some say the “age of the book” is ending and a glorious new “digital era” is dawning. Others turn the page and keep reading. How do new forms of media affect our literary culture, and how do writers and publishers adapt to them? Featuring John Freeman (The Tyranny of Email), Dwight Garner (Read Me) and Sarah Schmelling (Ophelia Joined the Group Maidens Who Don’t Float: Classic Lit Signs On To Facebook). Moderated by Maud Newton, blogger of maudnewton.com.

Before I dissect the panel, I need an aside in order to talk about my admiration for Maud Newton and her website. Newton is, and has always been, my favorite literary blogger. I stumbled upon her blog in college and it still remains as the first entry I put onto the bookmarks bar of every computer I’ve had since. When I read her blog, I feel as if I’m a breath away from turning a page instead of clicking my computer’s track pad. She is the internet’s throwback to the printed word writer. And, apart from myself, she was probably the second American to discover the incredible Scottish writer [my favorite living writer], A.L. Kennedy … and one the first to blog about her (this isn’t the earliest piece Maud wrote about her, but it has the best ALK-related links). As a panelist for the Literature in the Digital Age event, Maud would have been a wonderful choice and fulfilled every aspect of literature in the digital age (she blogs, she tweets, she reads books on her iPhone, etc).

As a moderator, however, Maud fell short of engaging the crowd. The conversation she started felt too intimate for such a large space. So much so, that the panelists physically turned their bodies away from the audience to engage with her personally. Maud is also high-literary minded, in that it seems the printed-on-paper word is her only god. This would be fine, but not for the moderator of a panel who needs to keep an open mind and press questions on panelists about the various facets of the digital age and how it affects books — including the buying and selling of books — and how authors engage with their audiences.

The panelists represented a tiny slice of internet pie. Freeman and Garner may write online (sometimes) but they are still journalists and writers of the old school. Even Schmelling’s work is primarily in print. As a result, the panel felt like a dusty old paperback that’s been sitting for too long on a high shelf at The Strand. What they were missing was someone more acquainted with social networking, digital media and the publishing world. Perhaps a marketing head (or even assistant) at one of the big houses, a digital media strategist, or even a blog/Internet-savvy publicist. Ideally, they should have had someone from Harper Studio, where they are changing the face of book publishing and how authors (and imprints) build audiences & interact with their readers.

An additional ingredient that may have helped keep this book panel from the bargain bin would have been to have someone under age 30 representing some aspect of the publishing industry. Let’s face the truth here, my generation (the Net Generation) has grown up with computers. I’ve spent most of my life carrying around everything from floppy discs in my backpack to USBs on my key ring and Google Docs housed somewhere in cyberland. Though panelist John Freeman didn’t appear to be too far off from 30 — a quick Google search only turned up the phrase “young editor of Granta” — he isn’t savvy to new media and confessed Granta has only started tweeting recently. Granta is online, but like the New Yorker, with limited access, and no pay by the article option to unlock individual pieces.

In addition to these discrepancies, none of the panelists has ever read a book on an e-reader. I believe it was Garner who offered a sliver of hope to the rest of the dusty paperback panel: a reader will soon reach up onto the high shelf and buy them: “Readers are up 5 percent from last year. People are putting aside more time at the end of the day to turn off their computers and read, offline.”

I’m not certain where this statistic came from, but I’d like to believe it’s true. We can all use the break from the backlight of a computer. But when I log off, I turn on my Kindle. It reads like a book, there’s no backlight (it’s all ambient light), and it saves me time, money (at $299, and bet $7.99 and $10 per book, it’s already paid for itself twice over), space and it’s convenient — all things a New Yorker living in the digital age (and in a city-sized apartment) can’t live without.
–Downtown

P.S. I was a little disappointed to hear Maud Newton say one of the reasons she started her blog was so she could avoid having to interact with people face-to-face. That’s how people thought when blogs first started in the 1990s. It was a way to share your words, but hide behind them as well. Now the internet brings people together: Reuniting friends, allowing for people across the country or the world to collaborate, or nearly missed connections the chance to bump into one another or even, the opportunity to avoid each other.

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For as long as we’ve been here, at 8:46am on 9/11 a bell rings throughout my daughter’s school. S-I-L-E-N-C-E. A second bell sounds 8:47am and classes resume. My son’s school, according to him, treats the day like any other.

In my own class yesterday morning at Columbia University, the professor, who’d been at work on Wall Street on September 11, 2001, briefly but strongly encouraged us, at some point in the day, to take a moment to reflect. We should speak with someone who had been near or at the World Trade Center in 2001. He said we need not head downtown immediately but sometime during the course of our journalistic studies, we should.

I’ve been near the site. I’ve read the Man Who Walked Between the Towers more than 25 times with my school boy. I can’t go to the site. I can’t watch the news clips that run the same footage over and over and over again.51HXNRZKPSL._SS500_

Our world changed forever on that day. For all of us, your generation especially DT, time is now defined by where we were on 9/11, pre and post.

I’ve been alive for as long as the towers have been standing. Longer.

Pre: I visited the Twin Towers when they were a new addition to the skyline. I dined at Windows on the World with my parents, grandmother and great aunt and uncle. It was very fancy. I worked for Cantor Fitzgerald in Los Angeles but spent time in One World Trade Center with Mr. Cantor and art department colleagues.

On September 11, 2001, I lived in Los Angeles with my husband and two kidlets. Our children’s godmother called from Chicago before 6am PST. She called because I had been an employee of Cantor Fitzgerald until 1997. We both knew people in the towers.

Post: Often, not just on September 11, I remember the people I knew who died. I remember what it was like to visit New York months after September 11 and see American flags hanging all along Park Avenue. I remember the sense of kindness people in New York and Los Angeles extended toward one another. I recognize how strange it is feels when an airplane flies over the center of Manhattan. I always stop when I see a fire house or engine and look for a 9/11 plaque. I take a breath in remembrance of the fallen. I try not to ride the subway without a tiny flashlight. (that’s a holdover from Los Angeles though, earthquake land = it’s good to have a flashlight). And on the subject of light, I’m repeatedly entranced by Tribute of Light.

For my kids, well, I don’t know what they recall. The then toddler’s school closed for the day. We stuck together and went to school with the then second-grader. We sat in a circle in her classroom and talked about truths vs. rumors. We didn’t know any truths at the time except that the sun came up as it did every day. We were safe. Our family, near and far (LA and NYC) was safe. But something horrible had happened far away. It was something that had never happened in our country. Planes crashed. People died. But we were safe. Safe was the operating word. And this was a day that was unlike any we’d ever known. We didn’t/I couldn’t watch or listen to any television coverage. I didn’t want my kids to catch any glimpse of the images.

A few months later when the physician/scientist/husband flew to Washington, DC on business, our little one had it in his head that his dad was going to be speaking with the President. His idea that the dad would talk about making the world a safer place. We explained that wasn’t the aim of the trip and that there wasn’t a meeting with the POTUS. But the boy persisted and we indulged his simple pleasure.

And that’s it. Simple. Thank you, dear DT, to remind me to cherish the good moments and take stock and remember, especially on September 11, that la vie est belle.

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Mirror, Mirror
This is a day where I look in the mirror and I don’t judge myself. I am happy just being alive.

Eight years ago I didn’t know how many of my extended family members and friends were still alive. They were trapped in in stairwells, on the streets of lower Manhattan, in college dorms surrounded by clouds of smoke, and, fortuitously, stuck with flat tires on bridges instead of delivering an order to Windows on the World, or had decided to take a meeting uptown instead of in their office in Tower 2, overslept and were still on the train enroute to work at Cantor Fitzgerald, and even in a chemo treatment instead of at their desk in Tower 1.

I was in Ithaca, NY safe in my college apartment, glued to the TV and trying frantically to get through to ANYONE on my cell phone. I was relaying news updates to a high school friend via instant messenger, since she was living in Morocco and they were censoring the news. By 5pm everyone we knew was accounted for, but many others were not so lucky.

Take a moment to look in your own mirror, to reflect on the life you’ve lived over the past eight years. Hug your family a little tighter, kiss your partner a little longer. Relish the simple “I Love You” as you sign off a call or say good-bye. Appreciate every minute of the day, because, as we learned in 2001, it can all change in an instant. la vita è bella.
–Downtown

Sunday Afternoon in the Park with

“Red flags indicate that the lawns are closed due to inclement weather or maintenance work. When the grass is wet, it is more susceptible to damage.” That’s what a sign reads…

I LOVE Central Park and am grateful to the Central Park Conservancy and the Parks Department for all that they do to keep the Park in good order but Sunday’s Sheep Meadow closure, ok, after nearly a week’s worth of rain, if my memory serves me correctly, was enough to send me back to the burning hills of CA. The 15 year old and I set out to read al fresco and this is what we found:
Sheep Meadow Closed due to inclement weather

According to the Central Park website, “The Sheep Meadow is meticulously cared for by the parks department and rigid rules enforced to ensure that it doesn’t suffer the decline caused by overuse. On a crowded weekend afternoon as many as 30,000 visitors may arrive to enjoy the tree ringed expanse and it is only by careful management that meadow can be preserved.”IMG00241-20090830-1732