Narcissism

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A couple nights ago, I was curled up on my couch, reading a John Cheever short story. Sadly, every few passages, I would lay down the book, pick up my phone and check my Facebook and more importantly, the stats page on my blog, this blog, easilycrestfallen.com. I thoroughly enjoyed the story about a midwestern writer with some delusions about his writing talents. It rang true because here I was reading a Cheever masterpiece and I kept setting it aside to see what people on the internet might be saying about, well, you know where this is headed.

So yesterday, I was talking to my friend Eboni about how I feel like I’m slipping into a rabbit hole and I don’t know how to get out. She suggested I take a one week break from Facebook, Twitter and most importantly, checking the stats page on my blog, this blog easilycrestfallen.com. When she suggested it, I told her she was cruel to even suggest it, it would be like 7 days without a heartbeat, it would kill me. “Do you know how much LIVING goes on on Facebook in a week’s time?” I might have said. I countered with, “24 hours”, she guffawed. I whispered, “Forty eight hours?” She told me I was going to do whatever I wanted anyway. So, we and by we, I mean I decided that I would take a 48 hour break from Facebook, Twitter and checking those damn stats. She did say I could continue to post to my blog. Actually, that’s the point. Unlike every other time I post something, I won’t be able to immediately run to my stats page or see how many “likes” I’ve received on Facebook. In fact, it will be 48 hours (well, 39 hours and 28 minutes now: I started my sabbatical last night) before I know how my little offering will be received by the masses. I feel like an old-time writer again, like John Cheever even. And don’t be too judgemental about me. Trust me when I say that Cheever was even more of a narcissist than I am.

Blogger Ray Barnhart

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So, something interesting happened after I posted one of my recents blogs, The Truth about Paul which I’d written about an incident that took place while I was in Bible College. I was kind of proud of it and yesterday morning, I thought I would send it to the gay news website, Towleroad.com. I did not have a lot of expectations, I just thought, just send the link, who knows what could happen.

I could lie to you and say that I completely forgot about sending it, but the truth is, all morning, I kept checking the statistics on my blog. If you are a blogger, you know about statistics pages. They tell you how many views you’ve received, which of your posts are getting the most traffic, what countries are viewing you, what links led people to you blog, etc., etc. If you are a blogger, I hope you are a more rational, less obsessive compulsive individual than myself. Because I am obsessed with my stats page.

When I started this blog a few weeks ago, I told myself the blog was for me. I wanted to write about the subjects and post the pictures and videos that appealed to me, what I would want to read if I was reading a blog. That’s what I told myself. And I’ve been pleased with the following my little blog has collected along the way. I’ve received some nice compliments, I’ve interacted with a few members of the wordpress blog community. I’ve also felt a pride that I’ve been writing. I am not the greatest writer and I think of myself as an even worse editor, but I’ve started to see possibilities in my writing that I had not seen previously.

Anyway, getting back to yesterday. At one point in the morning, I checked my stats and I had 115 views, which is good for me. Anything over 100 is always good. I knew that that traffic came from my friend Alan who has 2,373 friends on facebook who had reposted the piece with a kind endorsement. Alan is one of those special people who remembers meeting every person who comes into his path, kind of like Marilu Henner, but likeable. Anyway, at about 11:00 am, I had 115 views and then at 11:15, I checked again and I had 345. Something was up. I went to the Towleroad website and sure enough, they had pasted a link to my blog in an article about Daniel Dobson, the man who was the springboard for my post. : “Daniel Dobson, son of prominent West Michigan minister, talks about being a gay Christian. “It’s morally right for me to do it. I feel I have something good to contribute to the conversation, something positive.” Blogger Ray Barnhart offers a response to Dobson’s disclosure.” ( http://www.towleroad.com/2013/05/news-20.html#ixzz2V10D0hBt) They referred to me as BLOGGER RAY BARNHART!

I was so excited and of course, I spent the rest of the day checking my stats every 6 seconds. It kept ticking up until it petered out this afternoon. In 24 hours, my blog had 1400 views, an easilycrestfallen record. I can now say that someone in Iceland has read my blog. (Þakka þér, nýja vini!) It was exhilerating, then exhausting and then it gave way to depressing. It was this little bright spot in my day, my year actually. And now I feel the way I always felt on the Sunday after my town’s yearly Fall festival, Neewollah ended. The carnival came, we ate the jaffles, we crowned the queen, we listened to the Oak Ridge Boys, and now it’s over. I guess I should be happier, but there are reasons why I call my blog easilycrestfallen.

Guest Blogger: Barbara Cameron

A couple days ago, my friend Barbara asked me if I was going to have guest bloggers. She said my post about pools prompted her to write something and wondered if I’d be interested in sharing it. I said I would be thrilled to post her piece. Not only is she the one person with whom I always talk books, she also recently won an award from the American Literary Review in the Creative Non-fiction category.

Enjoy:

Opening Ray’s envelope inviting us to join him in the pool, the visuals drew me right in. I was a swimmer my whole life. My father threw me literally in the ocean at age three and said sink or swim. I swam. Later, being on the Cherry Valley Swim Club swim team defined me in my early years, and I loved it because: I was fat and I was not an athlete. When we played baseball and football on my street, I was put in the most unnecessary position and constantly yelled at to “stop dancing around and daydreaming over there and pay attention.”
In the water, I felt thin. My body slimmed down and smoothed out, weightless. Every Saturday morning we had swim meets, and I won trophies because in the water as opposed to on land, I could move swiftly. One week, my father, strict, overbearing and one of the most amazing long distance swimmers I have ever encountered, must have gotten up from the sidelines because in the middle of a relay race, as I was doing my turn, twirling under the water, my favorite part – action specific to dance, gymnastics, which on land I couldn’t master gracefully, ready to press my feet against the cement and push off to give me that added advantage the “turn” gives all swimmers, I heard above me that bellowing voice from the man the entire neighborhood was afraid of, my father, yelling, “You’re losing time on your turns!”
It wasn’t an instant transition; it took building our summerhouse on the jersey shore, therefore, shifting allegiance naturally to the ocean, but by the time I was in high school I found myself saying, “I hate pools.” Why? I would say, “Too confining, no waves, nothing happens; it’s boring.”
Reading Ray’s piece I thought: no, too hard.
I fell in love with the ocean because I succeeded there, on my terms and on my father’s, because, like him, I was fearless in the ocean. And the poetry of this story is the same ironic poetry my father invokes in most stories I tell about him: the strictest father on the street, he trusted us, so we had no curfew. He had no rules in the ocean. He too stopped swimming in pools because they confined him; no cement walls, no lanes. He stopped swimming in the ocean while the lifeguards were there because – as he put it one day when they dragged it out and drove off with him in the beach patrol jeep because he refused to swim in front of the stand, “I’ll be damned if anyone is going to tell me where to swim in the god damn Atlantic Ocean.”
He took me out as far as we could go, almost unable to see the shore (terrifying my mother). He taught me how to get back to shore when we were caught in a rip tide together once. I fell in love with the waves crashing this way and that, getting out past the surf and floating, on a raft or on my body – bearing absolutely nothing and doing my favorite thing in the world: daydreaming.

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Morning Swim

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If I’m lucky, every morning I start my day with a swim.  About four years ago, I joined a gym with access to an outdoor pool and ever since, swimming has been a regular part of my life. Because I swim, I tend to have a bit of a tan year round and at least once a day, someone will ask me where I got my tan.  I’ll tell them I swim regularly and they will always respond, “Oh, I loooove swimming.”  It amazes me how every time I start my first lap, I instantly feel like a child again.  I’m not a doctor or scientist, (insert best joke here) but I believe we love to swim because it subconciously reminds us of swimming in our mother’s bellies as fetuses.  Feel free to quote me on that.

The other reason I think we love swimming is that it’s sensual.  This blog adheres to a strict PG-13 guideline so I won’t elaborate too much further, but swimming is sexy.  People with attractive bodies look hot in swimsuits. 

I’ve compiled an album of swimming pools, please peruse, comment, if you feel compelled.  Summer’s here, it’s time to dive into the pool!

Edward Hopper

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When I was 22, I bought my first piece of “art” at a flea market while visiting Orange County, California on vacation.  It was a print of Gottfried Helnwein’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams.  Proudly, I carted the framed print back to my small Missouri town and hung it prominently on the living room wall in my apartment.  Every morning when I woke up and walked into the living room, I gazed happily at my purchase.  I’d look at the images of Marilyn and James Dean and Elvis and Bogart, trying to understand something great about art and myself.  I loved the picture because it reminded me of a painting I loved called Nighthawks that was one of the works of art in the childhood board game, Masterpiece.  

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Somewhere between 1990 and now, I did become a little more sophisticated in my relationship with art, though I will never be an art historian or expert.  I moved to New York in 1992 and spent a lot of time going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art and other New York museums where I discovered the works of American realist Edward Hopper with my own eyes.  For the longest time, I would tell people that Hopper was my favorite artist.  There is an exhibit that just opened at the Whitney, the first major museum exhibition to focus on his drawings and creative process. In the last few years, it seems like Hopper is more popular than ever and I believe what makes him so beloved is the fact that anyone can look at a Hopper painting and be moved by it. He evokes childhood, he evokes a simpler time. His subjects are lonely, staring into space or their cup of coffee. We relate to his art. When I lived in New York, I would go to the 24 hour donut shop on my corner and I felt like I was living Nighthawks. When I look at the gentleman at his gas pump in Gas, I think of my father who owned gas stations when I was growing up. The few times I worked an office job, I spent way too much time daydreaming like the man in Office in a Small City. Even now, when I walk into an old theatre, I think about the lonely girl standing at the rear in New York Movie. Art is subjective, thank goodness, but Hopper is, in my humble opinion, among the most universal of artists.
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Now that I am a little older, I think of Edward Hopper a little differently. I still count him among my favorites, but I always think of him as the first painter I really loved, the first one who I felt like he was painting just for me. When I look at the paintings of other artists I now gravitate to, like John Sloan, or Winslow Homer, or George Bellows, or Thomas Eakins, or John Koch, there is almost always a recognition that I love them because they remind me a little of Hopper. My apartment walls no longer boast mass market prints, but rather paintings and photographs that Eric and I have collected through the years. Some were collected at yard sales. Some were gifts. And many remind me of the works of Edward Hopper. It makes sense, because, of course, you never forget your first.
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Remembering Art

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“You give them a good product, good service,” said Levkovitz, who has spent 50 of his 62 years in the deli business. “They come in, and over a period of years they feel at home. They live by themselves. If they went to other restaurants, they’re strangers. Here, they’re friends.”

The quote above is from an 1986 L.A. Times article about Langer’s Deli.  The man speaking was Art Levkovitz who worked there for over 25 years.  After he “retired”, he went to work at a restaurant named Barney Greengrass and that is how I had the privilege of knowing him.  He passed away two years ago at 86 on May 24, 2011. This morning I woke up thinking about him and his funeral which took place on the Sunday of Memorial weekend of that year.  I still work at Barney Greengrass and even now someone every day will ask about Art or tell us how much they miss Art.  Sometimes people offer stories about him, sometimes people get a little teary talking about him.  There are a few things that always make me think of him.  I have an orange Oxford shirt that once, when I was a little portlier, I wore it and 6 times that day he told me I looked like a jack-o-lantern.  I’ve never worn the shirt since.  I also think about, crave actually, his kippered salmon salad.  I know the ingredients: kippered salmon, red onion, celery, fresh dill, tabasco, lime juice, mayonnaise, but I will never know the exact recipe, the increments, that made it so delicious.  My other thing that I think about when I think about Art is how he always asked me how my parents were doing.  If you knew Art even a little, you knew his love for his family was at the heart of who he was.  He was always bragging about his son and daughter and grandson.  And you heard it in his voice every time he called his wife “sweetie” when he talked to her on the phone from work.

I have had a few friends over the years who have asked me when I was going to grow up and stop working in restaurants.  And by the way, if you are reading this and you were one of the people who asked me that and you’re wondering if I forgot when you asked me that, No, I have not forgotten you asking me that.  There is something inherently theatrical about working in a restaurant.  People don’t just go to a restaurant for delicious food, they come in for the experience.  Art understood that.  

I don’t know how long I will work in restaurants.  I wonder about it, sometimes I worry about it.  But when I think about Art and the legacy he left and the way he touched people’s lives in the decades he spent working in this field, I do feel like I’m in good company.

Manhattan, When I was Young

1333647646_real-housewives-of-nyc-zoomThey say that anything is possible.  An example of this is that one of Bravo’s Real Housewives led me to one of my favorite authors.  In early 2012, when I read that someone named Carole Radziwill was going to be one of the new Real Housewives of New York, I picked up her book, What Remains, a New York Times bestseller about her husband and their friendship with his cousin, JFK Jr. and JFK Jr’s wife Carolyn Bessette Kennedy.  I was moved by her well-written account of love and loss. She wrote in the book about another book Manhattan, When I was Young and how it was a comfort to her during a troubling time.  Talking me into reading a book about New York City is about as difficult as talking me into eating chocolate cake for breakfast.  So, I read it.  The author, Mary Cantwell, broke the book into five different parts, the five different apartments she lived in when she first moved to Manhattan in the 1950’s, first as an unmarried college graduate with a new job into her first years of marriage and early motherhood in the 1960’s.  The book is about her husband and children and jobs, but centrally it’s about a stranger coming to New York and finding their place.  I loved it.  And then I read her other books, American Girl: Scenes from a Small-Town Childhood and Speaking with Strangers: A Memoir.  All three are currently available as a trilogy called Manhattan Memoir.  I read all three in the span of a few days and they are wonderful.  The first is about her childhood, the third is largely about her daughters and travels writing for Mademoiselle and Vogue.  But her second is the one that touched me most.  While I was reading it, I google earthed every address she talked about in the book.  Of course, every building is still there.  And it wasn’t hard to imagine a twenty-something moving to New York, a heart full of dreams, making their way with successes and failures in the big city.  She reminded me of Peggy from Mad Men, but she also reminded me of someone else I know even better.  

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