How to Lurk Without Dastardly Intentions

Lurking is one of my favorite pastimes.

Sure, it’s often associated with creepiness, what with it also being the favorite pastime of shady characters with hooks for hands, red feathery sombreros and slender yet pointy mustaches. Sure, you’re probably tempted to follow up each mention with “in the shadows.”

But lurking isn’t exclusively for dastardly deeds. It can even happen on a gorgeous afternoon. Saturday was one of those days.

Before I go on, let me preface this by saying it almost didn’t happen. I’d spent much of the morning lounging and reading and surfing (the dry land interwebs kind) that by the time I was ready to go exploring, it was well into the afternoon.

No matter, I thought. It was time to dust off the good ol’ DSLR, charge the batteries, and head on out.

The charger. Where was the charger? Not in the usual spots – the camera bag, on my desk, under my desk, under the bed, in the overhead closet, on the bottom right corner of the closet. It wasn’t in the common rooms or common closets or common nooks behind the couch.

Forty-five minutes of fruitless searching later, I panicked. I CAN’T GO ON. MY BLOG WILL CEASE TO EXIST. AND WITH IT MY WILL TO WRITE AND LIVE AND STUFF.

I then decided to do the next most logical thing. I would research DSLRs online, go to Best Buy, buy a new camera despite not having the funds for it, take pictures and somehow do it all before it was supposed to rain. In two hours.

And then I realized that was impossible. So I panicked some more.

As a last resort, I consulted one of the most amazing tools in reconnecting the dots of my scattered existence: my blog.

I knew the last time I traveled with the camera was here. The charger, I surmised, was either at the beach house or inside the cold, heartless depths of the bin that is airport security.

But then I also knew I charged my batteries right before doing this. Which meant the charger had to be in the apartment somewhere.

And then, I knew.

Looking back, it was quite elementary, my dear reader. The charger, I realized, was clearly on the left side of the closet, next to the ironing board, under a mound of sweaters I hadn’t worn in years and probably never will again.

The lurk was on.

I’m often asked (by my imaginary readers) just how to effectively lurk. I’m by no means a professional, but I’ve spent enough time creeping about to dish out some words of lurkdom. It’s actually very much like walking, which we all do in varying degrees day to day. What sets it apart from snapping a picture on the way to something is there’s intentional exploration involved. That’s where it gets a little less comfortable. Instead of nonchalantly snapping pictures on the way to something, this IS the something you’re walking to. It adds a bit of pressure and an element of “Oh man, am I doing this right?” You’re probably not. Because there isn’t one right way to do this.

The best thing to do is not to over think it. Here are some things that have helped me.

To effectively lurk, you must be incognito. So, put down your multicolored jeggings for now. It’s all about blending in. As for me, I wore the New Yorker uniform: black sweater, black jeans, black flats and black backpack.

Be flexible. The original plan was to gett off at Union Square and walk about 15 minutes to a coffee shop in East Village. But when I emerged from underground, there was so much activity there I stayed.

Observe. I honed this through reporting and from watching the photographers at the local papers I worked for. I must admit that blending in is much easier just with a notepad and a pen. With a camera, people get nervous. Sometimes they want to engage. It’s useful for a little bit of color, but sometimes it results in awkward pictures. I find that it helps to linger long enough for people to stop caring you’re there.

Observing means taking note of the little things. Just because there are 50 people taking pictures in the same place doesn’t mean you will all end up with the same pictures. I like to find funny or non-obvious things, preferably with people in it. I didn’t notice this until after I’d uploaded the picture, but this egg-grabber had bloody fingers.

Color is also neat. And don’t be afraid to get in people’s faces. I’m short, so I often get a lot of people’s backs and limbs in my shots. I don’t mind it, though. It adds movement and an insight into the plight of the vertically challenged.

Sounds are important. I wasn’t in the mood to talk that day, so I wore headphones without actually listening to anything. It’s useful for keeping some sort of distance between you and the subjects, and it also gives people the impression you’re not really listening to whatever they’re saying. Conversations are interesting. In New York, people are used to eavesdroppers and eavesdropping (One guy: “They inject it in your stomach?” Gross.).

The pianist, after a song: “We just met today. He got here two minutes ago.”

Be friendly. Maybe it helps I look 12 and harmless, but I find people are receptive to smiles. New York might be the exception in that people are used to having cameras around, especially on Union Square near the film school. In the event someone does say, “Get outta my face, you picture-taking chipmunk,” just admit defeat, put the camera down and slink off. The good news is, I haven’t had too many of those.

Be confident. The guy on the left actually gave me the death stare after I snapped this picture. He wasn’t having it. So, I did what any normal little person would do in the face of imminent danger. I stood next to him. He dared not look at me like that again.

I’d seen this guy before. Matthew Silver the Great Performer works for the universe.

Finally, just shoot. They say the best camera is the one you have with you (which explains why I’ve been Instagramming everything), but the DSLR has its purpose. I love its quickness and versatility. I love pretending I’m on a super important photo expedition somewhere exotic. I still get nervous when I pick up the DSLR for the first time in a long time. It takes a while to get confident with it. When this happens, I find the best thing to do is to survey the area, walk around, take a deep breath and just shoot.

Happy lurking, friends.

10 Things That Happened

There’s no guilt quite like the kind inflicted by an un-updated blog.

It simmers, at first smaller than the smallest dust speck, until it eventually metastasizes into outright self-loathing.

When this happens, I do what any writer would do when faced with a problem created by blank documents. I ignore it. I pretend it doesn’t exist. I even go so far as to not bother visiting it, for fear of mindlessly clicking on the counter to see just how many people have NOT visited in the last century.

I was doing so well, too. Updating at least once a week – sometimes, gasp, multiple times. People high-fived me. You, there, they said as I passed them by in my too-cool frock reserved for proper bloggers. You updated again. I want to be you.

But that’s the trouble with earning approval from the blog masses. The pressure to keep up the momentum mounts. Will she or won’t she? the blog masses wonder. Post more! they say. Then: You’re slacking. Weeks later, confusion. Where are you, Karen, the blogger of blog-unworthy things?! And then, nothing.

Life goes on. People forget. The blog languishes.

Usually this happens when work picks up or New York approaches visitor season, which for me and most people are the months between March and December, or something earth-shatteringly depressing happens that I can’t bring myself to write. In public.

Nonetheless. I am here. I can’t promise I won’t disappear again, but that’s the beauty of blogville. As in life, nothing is certain. Except for this post.

ONE. While you’re here, I figured I might as well update you on 10 things that happened since I’ve been gone. Fresh from research, I took a few days off work to write an epic novel. Is that redundant? Is that like saying a general consensus or an epic epic? Whatever. Five frenzied days of little sleep, marathon writing sessions and lack of sunlight later, it was complete. It’s about a wizard who takes under his wing a young lad who becomes king after pulling out a sword from a stone. I’ve heard grumblings that this story has been “done before” and it’s “even become a popular Disney movie complete with an adorable owl named after a Greek mathematician.” They’re just jealous. I’m already working on my next epic epic: a love story about a high school girl and a dashing, glittery vampire.

TWO. “The Artist” won the Oscar. I absolutely enjoyed this movie. Partly because Jean Dujardin reminded me of how Coach Taylor said so much with his eyes. It further reminded me how stories can be told with little dialogue. In the silent movie, the face, the body, the music say it all.

THREE. I covered a judges dinner that featured a speech of funny patent jokes. Sometimes, I get obsessed with a line or word or phrase that I’ll work an entire article around it. This was one of those times. So was this one.

FOUR. I went to a gymnastics meet for the first time ever (The picture above was taken that afternoon at the ever so awesome High Line). Anyone who knows me well knows I’m a gym fanatic. This is often met with: “Oh?” (Code: Weirdo) and then, perhaps to salvage what’s left of my seemingly normal image, “Were you a gymnast?” No, I wasn’t, I tell them, because my parents thought it was too dangerous. When I was 12, I did fracture my left elbow mid-gymnast reenactment because the stool I was jumping on collapsed under my weight and sent me hurtling to the floor with nothing but my arm to break my fall. From that, I learned one thing. My daughters will be gymnasts. And they will like it.

FIVE. I learned everyone needs a break sometimes.

SIX. Whitney Houston died. Surprisingly, I learned the news the old-fashioned way. I was at a bar, where the news spread from bartender to barback to bartendee to person to person to the bartender for the 50th time. People shared stories. People shared theories. Phil and I went to karaoke.

SEVEN. There’s nothing that captures the New York experience quite like dressing up in your best and singing “Proud Mary” to a bunch of strangers ready for a night out. Not that I’ve done it. Yet.

EIGHT. Spring came. It’s something that happens without much fanfare but with noticeable changes. Everyone smiles a little more, wears a little less black, holds a little more doors and walks a little slower. OK, that last one was a stretch.

NINE. I went to Egypt and all I got was this stinkin’ picture.

TEN. With warm weather come the demonstrations. Union Square is always poppin’ with these.

BONUS. I took the train. Over and over and over again. There’s really nothing notable about this one, but I didn’t say there had to be.

So, what about you? What’s going on in your neck of the woods, concrete jungle, worn but fantastically comfortable sofa?

The days so far

And that’s how I spent my Super Bowl weekend.

Other than that, I’ve been so beat this week I haven’t had energy to write patent-related ramblings (Stop that. You, with the pumping of the fist).

Luckily, that’s what pictures are for. Here’s a few days in my life.

On my way back from a meeting at City Bakery, I looked to my left long enough to walk back to the middle of the crosswalk and snap this picture. If that cab looks like it’s gunning for me, it’s because it was.

City Bakery, by the way, is the kind of place where you have to be vigilant about finding a table at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday. On the upside, there’s never a need to fill awkward silences because no such thing exists there.

The roomies and I are trying to do this thing where we get together more than once every leap year.

Though I’ll always refer to them here as my roomies, one of them actually moved out months ago. Still, it’s not uncommon for New York roomies to never see each other. Which is not always a bad thing.

One Wednesday, the original plan was Buffalo Cantina for dinner, land of buffalo wings and more buffalo wings. But when I found out there was a creative nonfiction panel at Housing Works in SoHo, I dragged everyone to, you guessed it, a bookstore. The buffalo wings (and it’s not every day I say this) had to wait.

I wanted to hear about a piece I’d read some time ago that explored why Asian males, despite doing well in academic settings, usually don’t successfully climb the corporate ladder. Turns out New York Mag editors, as editors tend to do, had assigned the story to a writer with a tenuous connection to the subject matter: “You, Asian guy. You’re up.”

One night in Park Slope, a friend celebrated his birthday at Pacific Standard. Presidential debate playing in the background with very serious spectators in attendance? Check. One dude adamantly arguing about why shark fin soup is a symbol of this generation’s disposable nature? Check.

It was That Kind of Night.

As always, lots of train ennui have been had.

(Ennui. Just wanted to say it again.)

As well as fun but photo-unworthy libations.

One of them in Beauty & Essex.

The kind of place with snazzy bathrooms.

And snazzy tiles.

On most nights, this is what I see when I head home.

Happy Friday, friends.