A few months ago, an alarmingly attractive and discerning young lady named Lindsay contacted me and asked me if I would like to fly to New York City and be a guest on something called The Good Life Podcast. I immediately said yes and then asked her what that was.
The Good Life Project is comprised of a number of ambitious (and successful) initiatives created by Jonathan Fields, a writer and entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to living a good one. It appears that Jonathan has discovered that living a good life means helping other people live a good one, too. So, Fields has spent his life traveling around the world, launching big projects aimed at inspiring, connecting, pushing, enlightening, and generally helping people figure out how to feel and do better in a world that seems to punish us in all sorts of new and exciting ways on a regular basis.
Lindsay — who I’ve not yet had the pleasure to meet but who is clearly a winsome and nimble and possessing of good genes — is a PaperGirl reader and that’s how all this came about. Actually, she also used to watch me in the Neo ensemble here in Chicago; she said her dad saw my one-woman show and still talks about it. If Lindsay had asked me just to come over and hang out with her and her dad, I would’ve done that, too. Going to NYC tomorrow is pretty fancy, though, so that’s nice.
Some businesspeople in this world do in-and-out trips all the time: they fly into Atlanta from Cleveland for a lunch meeting then fly back in time for dinner. I’ve done a same-day trip maybe once before in my life; tomorrow will make it two. It worked out this way because there is an appointment on Thursday here at home that I can’t move, but the truth is that I am not interested in staying longer in New York City.
It’s too much, still. Because Yuri, who was a big part of my life and always will be. Because it saw most of my 34th year of life. And the air when I left, the rain that day — I’ll never forget it and that’s too bad.
There are 350k subscribers to The Good Life Project podcast, so I admit I’m a little nervous about doing the show. That’s 700k ears. Jonathan wants to ask me about quilting and writing and writing about quilting and if I get to have some tea in the studio with me, it should all be just fine. I’ll be sure to let you know when my episode is posted. I’ll also let you know how it felt to feel the pavement in shoes that haven’t walked on it, yet.
Living in New York City, it’s required by law that you have a gig one night a week. It can be anything. Smack fish on your head to Metal Machine Music outside La Mama; present a tinikling showcase in Tompkins Square Park; host a series of one-woman one-act plays on the subway — sky’s the limit. And fear not:if what you do is poorly attended, all the better, as this means you must really want it.
I’m kidding about starting a band or a duo act with Yuri — kinda. I’ve made up songs all my life but, never being formally trained to play an instrument, all songs I’ve “composed” either stayed in my head or died immediately on the mental/vocal vine. My love of writing poems is a result of my love of writing little songs — or the other way around. I like words, so I like to play with them in all kinds of ways. When words have different tones (a.k.a. become songs) well, that’s terrific.
The other night, Yuri and I went to go see a singer at Joe’s Pub. She was wonderful. Floanne was her name; she is French. We went because Yuri was having trouble getting a bike out of the Citibike docking station the day before the show, when a pretty lady approached him and helped him out because that is what happens in New York City constantly, as I have discovered.** The pretty lady was Floanne. She gave him a flyer after helping him with the bike. “Eets a good show for a date,” Floanne said with a wink. Yuri brought the flyer home and said, “Baby, I’ma take you out tomorrow night!” And sure enough, he did. Boy, did we have fun. And there was a big screen onstage for live tweeting during Floanne’s show and I tweeted that we were there because of the bike assistance incident. Floanne is now following me on Twitter.
Where was I?
Oh, right: Yuri and my plot to become the next Carly Simon/James Taylor musical power couple.
The first song on the album is going to be my song about Shipshewana. When I was there last month for the big quilt festival, I drove in from Chicago. As I got deeper and deeper into Amish country, I got more and more inspired. The fields were verdant! The sky was blue. And I had been told by someone that the county is a dry one, which means you can’t buy or sell alcohol. Like, maybe at all? I’ll have to check on that one. It didn’t bother me much: I didn’t have plans to do any drinkin’, but I started singing this song about Shipshewana, a kind of ode, but real Judy Garland-y, and it went like this:
“The cows are lowing/the traffic is slowing,
The buggies are all on the shoulder!
There’s lemonade to be had/and that ain’t so bad
But it’s Saturday night/alright, alright,
And whatchoo gonna do?
So.. Whatcha’wanna do/Shipshewana, you
Whatcha’wanna do, tonight?
Caaaaaaaan’t even dance
So whatcha’wanna do…tonight.”
It’s a real sweet-sounding song, so please don’t read those lyrics and think I’m dogging on Shipshewana. I love it there. It’s just a song about not doing all the things that most of the rest of the state of Indiana is probably doing on a Saturday night. It’s really fun to say the word “Shipshewana” and it’s even more fun to sing it and rhyme it with “whatcha’wanna.”
Now if only we had enough money to buy Yuri a baby grand and a whole other apartment to put it in.
**It’s not that pretty French singers constantly come to your aid in New York — it’s people in general who do. You’ll have to go to Paris for more pretty singers per block…maybe.
Alone, because Yuri isn’t here, yet. I wish he was. Baby? I wish you were.
And I’m pretty sure I’m a cliche, a thirtysomething woman, transplanted, enchanted and terrified by New York City tonight. (I’ll have you know I’ve seen exactly 0.75 episodes of Sex & The City — and that estimate may be generous. I believe the show has something to do with a woman who blogs or writes a column inside Manhattan and has a lot of shoes. I do have a lot of shoes, but they are mostly in storage in Chicago. There is no room in Manhattan for lots of shoes unless you have lots of money and I do not have lots of money. I have a little money, and that is for rent, now. Goodbye, shoes.)
I saw a boa constrictor (anaconda? python?) snake today, curled around a girl’s shoulders; a snake handler was selling pictures with it at The Cube at Astor Place. That beast was so astonishingly thick and long, I gasped out loud when I saw it, nearly fell over a waiting Yellow Cab. I saw a rainshower and a sunbeam, both through the tree that bows over 2nd and St. Mark’s. I saw a girl so pretty my teeth hurt. She was getting coffee, wearing a short skirt with daisies on it. I thought these exact three thoughts in rapid succession: 1) there is nothing more powerful on this earth than a beautiful girl; 2) fashion/perception is everything; 3) New York will fall in a terrorist attack, hurricane, or contagion and this girl and me, we are as good as dead.
So I’m fitting in!
This post was supposed to be a Tale From The Move because I need more time to get my New York thoughts in order. It’s all too raw and green, like an East Village wheatgrass shot. Better to go back to Chicago.
The laundry room in my (former) building has these cute bookshelves that serve as a resident library. Leave a book or magazine, take a book or magazine. Isn’t that charming? I think so. I was a dutiful, silent member of this library from the day I moved into the building, leaving excellent magazines (e.g., Vogue, New York, Harper’s) whenever I washed muh’ skivvies. I took stuff, too, but for the most part, I was giving more than I got. Though I scored decent magazines that I would have never gotten on my own (Town & Country, House Beautiful, etc.), the vast majority of the books available were not so much my taste. but I rarely got any good books, except the time I spied an early edition of Bellow’s Dangling Man; I still have that copy and yes, it’s currently in storage.
When I packed up to move out, I had a big box of books that I decided would be my gift to the building. When I took my box up to the 20th floor, however, I had to make room. Some of the titles I decided to uh, liberate, included Danielle Steele’s clearly impossible-to-resist The Klone & I; Robert James Waller’s lesser-known Puerta Vallarta Squeeze; and what looked to be Dan Brown’s entire catalog. Ew. I put those all near recycle bin. They had been there for over two years!
Here are a few titles I left for the good people of [REDACTED]:
Fraud, David Rakoff (Doubleday, 2001) The Chinese Opium Wars, Jack Beeching (Mariner Books, 1977) Marriage & Morals, Bertrand Russell (Liveright, 1970)
…and a copy of Madame Bovery and many others I can’t recall, now.
I met my friend Mark for lunch today at the Walnut Room. We sat near the windows and looked out at the gorgeous Chicago spring day.
“I bought flowers for my mom online for Mother’s Day,” said Mark. “At the checkout, there was an option to pay with bitcoin.” Mark is extremely skeptical about pretty much everything, so he was grumpy: it’s hard to be wary of Bitcoin when it helps you buy flowers for Mom.
“That’s great!” I said, clapping. “I bought a mattress on Overstock.com with bitcoin. Did you read PaperGirl yesterday? It was all about bit –”
“Yeah, yeah, I read it,” Mark said. “That’s why I brought it up. I have questions. How do you buy them?”
I welcomed the interrogation. It was with some trepidation I dove into all this yesterday; talking to Mark might help me iron out the second half of my bitcoin treatise.
“You can go to Coinbase.com, set up an account, and buy bitcoin,” I said, “Or you can buy bitcoin in person, from a trader. I went on LocalBitcoin.com and found a trader with a great customer rating and met him and bought bitcoin from him. It was easy. It was fun.” Mark knows that that trader was Yuri. So romantic, right?? I know.
“And you use real money to buy them,” Mark said, eyeing me. The waiter came and we both ordered the tortilla soup.
“Yes,” I said. “And they’re not actual coins, you realize. Each bitcoin is a line of code. And you put them –”
“Where do you put them?”
“In a bitcoin wallet, poodle. Just like you put cash or cards in a physical wallet, you put bitcoin in a digital wallet. Each bitcoin has its own serial number. Those numbers live in your phone or your computer. Remember, dollars have serial numbers too — and your credit card is a string of numbers — a lot of how bitcoin works we already use everyday.”
Mark shook his head. “What keeps someone from making up fake numbers? Making a fake bitcoin would be way easier than making a fake dollar bill, right? No paper. And is there a finite number of these things? Who invented it, anyway? And who’s profiting?!” Mark slurped his soup and then — with his mouth extremely full — he managed to say, “You’re never gonna be able to explain all this.”
I told him I’d try. And I’d keep it short, too.
In 2008, a programmer — possibly a group of programmers — known as Satoshi Nakamoto, wrote a brilliant piece of code and put it out on the Internet for free. Even the most dour of bitcoin critics agree: Nakamoto’s digital currency model was (is) genius. This is because his bitcoin model, among its other elegant features, got rid of two huge problems with buying goods and services online: 1) no longer did every single online transaction have to go through a bank or credit card company, with all their fees, security breaches, and data gathering; and b) he solved the problem of double-spending.
The first problem is easy to get your mind around, even if you don’t agree it’s a problem. Now, to that second thing. If you don’t have a bank or credit card company to vouch for you, to say, “Yeah, you really bought that llama — it shows it right here on your statement,” how can you prove you did? Equally bad — just as Mark worried — if someone, like a bank, isn’t monitoring the system, who’s to stop some guy from making all kinds of fake bitcoin and buying zillions of dollars worth of stuff (e.g., llamas) with fake money?
Nakamoto designed bitcoin so that the community of bitcoin users verify the transactions. Instead of a bank making one central ledger of what’s circulating, the bitcoin users do it, verifying all of the transactions — yep, every one of them — at the same time. There are a finite number of bitcoins in existence (21 million) and they all have a unique serial number or code. If someone tries to use a fake bitcoin, the transaction is caught as it tries to get through the system and it’s rejected. So there is regulation: it’s just in the hands of the people using the currency, not A Big Bank, not MasterCard or Visa. (We used to get along without those things, you know.) How all the verifications happen is rather complicated and computer-y and I am willing and able (more or less) to explain it. My fear is that I have asked much of you, gentle reader, and you have been most faithful; perhaps it’s wise to discuss that last bit (!) of the bitcoin system another day.
Two last things, and then let’s finish with the love story:
First, Bitcoin has a PR problem because in the beginning, the anonymity of the currency appealed to people buying nefarious things online. I hardly need to point out that as I type, lots of people are buying nefarious things, online and otherwise, with U.S. dollars, too. But this early sketchiness (and a trading company, Mt. Gox, that was doing bad business) dealt a harsh blow to bitcoin and it’s gonna be recovering from that for awhile. A few shady apples hurt the bunch, but as Bitcoin grows, matures, goes through a modicum of regulation, and problem-solves, these early specks will flick out. (Also: the “crypto” in “cryptocurrency” refers to the encrypted codes within the system, but people see “crypto” and register “cryptic” as in “confusing.” It’s not a perfect word, “cryptocurrency.”)
Lastly: Bitcoin is new. Really new. Anyone reading this is way ahead of most of the general public — and good for you! Curiosity and inquiry = great! More and more merchants are accepting the cryptocurrency for payment (e.g., Amazon, Gyft, Overstock, etc.) but until you can pay your energy bill online with it, bitcoin has a ways to go. It takes a village, but remember: the Internet itself was new not so long ago, and people were skeptical and cynical about it, too. Look where we are now.
One of the reasons I care so much for Yuri is because he wants to build the village. He believes in the ability of bitcoin to make the world a better place, so he works tirelessly for his company, a bitcoin trading firm in NYC. He is a miner. He goes out of his way to patronize businesses that accept bitcoin. He gets involved in the growing, global community and recently gave a lecture at his alma mater about his work. A person with a passion is a beautiful thing to behold. And to, you know, hold.
“I still don’t know,” Mark said, pushing his empty soup bowl away. “But I think it’s cool you tackled the topic. Good job.”
I thanked him, and paid the check. With my credit card.