Much To My Delight

Much To My Delight

What it’s like to be a therapist: Part 2

 

Recently I applied for a new job. It sounded really, really good on paper. Lots of benefits. Opportunity to get unlimited free psychological training. An office with a window and…wait for it… ITS OWN BATHROOM, the highest honor ever bestowed an employee. Having your own bathroom is the ultimate luxury. It means you’ve made it.

So I did three separate interviews for this job, and was pretty sure I had it in the bag. I mean, it seemed like I had performed pretty well, and I met their qualifications for the position. But then weeks passed after my second round of interviews and I hadn’t heard back. I jotted off a quick email to check the status of the job and requested that they let me know their decision either way.

I must say, I was a little surprised and (pretty turned off) when they never even bothered to reply to my email letting me know if I got the job or not. They’d indicated that they were down to their last few candidates, and it certainly wasn’t inappropriate for me to ask for clarity. For a day or two, I was pretty disappointed. The idea of starting something new and fresh is always exciting to me, and as much as I tried to convince myself not to, I’d gotten my hopes up about this opportunity. It seemed like a really good job.

But then I really thought about it. Even though there are no benefits, my office is dark and windowless, the pay can be inconsistent and I share a sincerely lackluster bathroom with many people, I really, really like my current job. Actually, I love it. Very much. And when faced with the idea of a different job, it dawned on me that I’d be more sad to leave than excited to go.

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I work in an outpatient mental health clinic that opens its doors to almost every type of New Yorker. My youngest client right now is 18, and my oldest is 74. I’ve worked with people from Ghana, Puerto Rico, England, Poland, North Korea, South Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, and even really exotic places like Sarasota, Florida. My current roster includes lawyers, photographers, flamenco musicians, fire-breathers, DJs, bankers, security guards, landlords, cashiers, copyeditors, accountants, painters, former drug dealers, and rock singers. I have many clients who are homeless or live in institutional settings. I have clients who have survived unimaginable pain, loss, trauma, abuse, eating disorders, and addictions. I have clients who have served half of their lives in prison. Clients who’ve made it through situations I can only imagine. Situations I’m almost certain I would have barely survived myself.

I’ve celebrated with clients as they become parents. I’ve mourned with clients after losing parents. I have clients who’ve lost businesses, spouses, children, jobs, homes and friends. I’ve met with people on the precipice of great change, in the middle of a crisis, at the end of a season. I see many, many people who are looking and longing for love.

I could be a real chump and say I do it simply because I love to help others. That my heart feels whole and happy serving my community. I mean, that’s true of course, but it’s not the whole truth. For every 10 clients who have found me helpful there has been one who didn’t click with me at all, who’s looked me in the eye and asked, “What am I supposed to get out of this? Because right now, I’m not getting anything.” It happens. You try not to take it too personally.

But there’s more to my  clinic job that keeps me there than just the sweet social-worky notion of extending a hand. The relationships built between a therapist and a client are real, and they are built on a foundation of respect and unconditional positive regard. I like and enjoy my clients, and when they knock on my door, I am glad to see them.

But the real reason I stay in a clinic setting–when there is potential for more money and benefits elsewhere, especially in private practice–is because I am madly, passionately, ridiculously in awe of the variety of clients– of people--I get to share time with in my office. We draw a wonderful group of clients toward our clinic, and they represent what I love about New York City itself–incredible diversity. They share their most intimate thoughts and experiences with me, and continually serve as a reminder that life is a beautiful, weird, and often painful collective experience. My job is like seeing a new Humans of New York post every 45 minutes. It’s fascinating work that stretches me to feel nearly every type of emotion in an average workday.

(PS: These are obviously not pictures of my clients, but other lovely people I’ve spotted in NY:)…

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The job I was interviewing for was in the counseling center of a very specialized university, which means that most of the clients would have been around the same age, and struggling with many of the same things. Naturally, there are always significant differences between college-aged students, but there’s no way it would have offered the range of diversity that my current job does. I’m completely at peace with the way everything turned out, and at the end of the day, I’m not 100% sure I would have accepted the new job had it been offered to me.

But, damn. How awesome would it have been to have my own bathroom?

 

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On the Road Again: Trying to Conquer my Fear of Driving

 

I was sweating when I reached the counter. I wasn’t sure if it was nerves, or the humidity that hung in the air like a damp blanket and hit me in the face like hot bus exhaust the minute I departed the plane in Houston. When you grow up in coastal Texas, humidity is more than just a weather condition. It’s part of your sense memory.

“I have a car reserved for rental,” I told the woman at the counter. We did the routine paperwork, and when she saw my New York license she became curious and started asking questions.

She leaned over the counter, and dipped her head toward me like we were two girlfriends gossiping: “I heard the people are really rude there.”  she tittered. This is a pretty tired New York cliche at this point, and as an outsider turned insider, I always feel compelled to defend New Yorkers and distinguish why their public interactions appear brusque. Plus, I can vouch that privately, socially, (ie: while they’re not commuting), the New Yorkers I know are some of the kindest, warmest, most welcoming people I’ve ever met.

“No, they’re not rude—there are just a lot of them in a small space, and they’re kind of in a hurry.”

“Well, what about the food? I heard they have really good food there.”

“The food in New York is amazing, but I like the food here better.” I wasn’t saying this as a courtesy. New York has every type of cuisine imaginable, but I can’t get a $2 breakfast burrito or my mother’s chicken pot pie in Queens. I have no early memories associated with a pastrami sandwich or a Michelin-rated restaurant, and nothing ever tastes as good as nostalgia feels.

The line was getting long, so it was time to get down to brass tacks. She asked questions about insurance and GPS and whether I wanted to pre-pay for a full tank of gas.

“I’ll go ahead and leave the gas pumping to y’all.”  I told her. “I’m from New York.  I’m gonna be in a hurry.”

She passed the keys over the counter, into a palm still tinged with perspiration. She could have said “Welcome to Houston” as I headed toward the lot. Instead she winked, and welcomed me home.

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***

What I couldn’t bring myself to tell the agent was that I hadn’t driven a car in 10 years. Sounds long, doesn’t it?

A decade-long sabbatical from driving has been another side effect of living in New York City;  in addition to giving up simple luxuries like central air, big closets and dishwashers, I’d also turned in my car keys long ago.  I liken New York City traffic to an aggressive and hostile video game with cabs and bicyclists and horse-drawn carriages all darting in and out trying not to get hit by their opponents. I have never felt compelled to participate in this game. I get anxious and jumpy as a spectator.

Vin has a car and feels completely energized driving through the city. Meanwhile, I’m gripping the door handle just waiting to get side-swiped by an overzealous cab driver. When people ask me if I drive I joke and say, “I don’t drive…I’m driven.” Vin thought it was cute the first time. Now he finds it pretty annoying, and he’s completely right. Especially when I want to be driven somewhere he has no interest in going. I’m one Long Island IKEA trip away from marital counseling.

So, no… I didn’t explain all this to the rental agent because no one wants to rent a car to a girl who’s terrified of driving. I didn’t tell her that renting a car in Texas was phase one of my three-phase New Year’s resolution to get back in the saddle again. This rental wasn’t just about getting myself around while visiting Texas; it was about reclaiming my independence and reintroducing myself to something I used to love but have grown to fear.

Driving used to be one of my very favorite things to do. When I turned 16, I couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel, and my favorite memories of my teen years include driving up and down the long road overlooking the Galveston beach in my little red car. Driving meant independence and exploration and freedom. It’s what I did when I was overwhelmed or anxious, stressed out or sad. Driving was my escape, and my car was my sanctuary. I was never afraid of getting lost. I never worried about everyone else around me. I was fearless. But I’d avoided driving for so long that it had now become frightening, and the longer I put it off, the scarier the concept was becoming.

So here I was. Twenty years after learning how to drive and muttering “you can do it, you can do it” under my breath in the Hertz parking lot. Finally I found it. Stall 523. And wouldn’t you know it?  The car was red.

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Adjust the mirrors. Move the seat forward. Strap in. Ready. Go!

Before I knew it, I was on 1-45 south, moving out of Houston and toward Galveston. Neither of my parents live in my hometown anymore, but neither one is very far away. I’d purposely scheduled my flight to arrive after rush hour, so the highway lanes were wide open and mercifully empty. I rolled the windows down, tuned into the classic country station and looked around. It was the first time I’d been alone in a car in ten years, and I’d forgotten how much I liked it. Forgotten how loud and terribly I let myself sing when no one else is around. Forgotten how easy it is to disappear in your own thoughts when the roads are wide and empty and clear.

And then I missed my exit and started spewing obscenities.

But I called dad, and he directed me to the restaurant where he and his wife and neighbors were eating crawfish and boiled potatoes. When I pulled into the dirt parking lot in my little red car I was surrounded on all sides by big Ford trucks. The building looked like a distressed barn, and the entire front was painted like a huge Texas flag. To my dad, it was just another dinner up the road in Bacliff. To me, it was a total caricature. It was exactly what people outside the state imagine Texas to be. It reminded me of the questions New Yorkers asked when I first moved away, when my old roommate from Brooklyn would lean in and say: “I heard everyone in Texas rides horses to work and carries a loaded pistol. Is that true?”

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***

The next day, everyone I was visiting had to work, so I had the entire day to do as I wished. I chose to use up some of that pre-paid gas by driving into my hometown. As the wheels tipped onto the causeway– the stretch of highway over the water that connects “the mainland” to Galveston Island– a pop country song called “My Hometown” began to play. The song was corny as hell, but the timing was eerie. And though I like it far better, the Bruce Springsteen version just wouldn’t have been the same.

I spent that entire day driving around alone, and it was my favorite day in a very, very long time.

I drove down the long stretch of Broadway, past historical homes and mansions that survived legendary hurricanes, and parked on the cobblestone streets of Galveston’s historic Strand district. I walked in and out of tiny shops and bought myself a chocolate malted from La King’s, an old-fashioned candy shop with wrought-iron chairs and creaky wooden floors, where you can buy gooey homemade fudge and watch candymakers in white aprons and stiff hats stretch their arms out wide as they pull taffy in flavors like root beer, key lime pie and sassparilla, whatever that is.

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I drove up and down the seawall, over and over again, just like I did when I was a kid learning to drive. I drove by new businesses and old haunts, past miles of sandy beach and restaurants where we’d order shrimp po-boys and fried hushpuppies. I drove to the far east end, where kids would drag race, and then back to the west side, where we’d gather on Saturday nights to gossip with friends and flirt with boys.

The window was down so my hair got wild and tangled and messy. The radio was cranked and when the first 30 seconds of “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” began its steady rise and haunting swell, I almost lost my mind. Everything about the day felt familiar and warm and safe. Everything about it reminded me of being 16 again. Everything except my reflection in the rear-view mirror.

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And then, because I was alone and feeling grossly sentimental, I drove myself out to our old house, which my mom sold about five years ago. Childhood homes are emotional landmines, and that day I really, really wanted to feel the hit. I pulled slowly into the old cul-de-sac, and geared myself up for a really good cry. Instead, I laughed. For no logical reason, an enormous and beautiful peacock was strutting around my old front yard, as if I had spent my childhood on some magical wildlife preserve. It was one of the oddest things I’ve ever seen, and for a minute, I was sure I imagined it.  Life is so cool, isn’t it? And weird. Life is really, really weird.

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It struck me then how something so familiar can also feel so foreign. How time and distance and perspective can shift expectations and routines and lifestyles, even accents.

It’s almost 20 years now since I lived in Galveston, and the truth is, it will always be my hometown but I no longer consider it home.  I am almost 100% positive I will never live there again, and though I think of it fondly and often, I don’t spend an inordinate amount of time longing for its grasp.

Let’s put it this way:  I bought a souvenir t-shirt while I was in town. If anything proves I’m no longer a local, it’s that.

I notice the quirks and charms of my hometown in a way that I never could when I lived there, which is perhaps less a result of being an outsider peeking in and more the result of a grown-up looking back with great affection. I feel gratitude to have been raised in a place where women call their contemporaries miss and their elders ma’am. To have grown up in a town where you can wish your friend happy birthday by placing an ad in the local paper,  and you are nearly always recognized at the grocery store. My parents did me a great service by raising me and my brother in that town. And I did myself a service by exploring other places and wandering other roads, even when the path was very unclear.

I learned to love driving again by going back to the first place I ever did it. How’s that for a circular ending? And though my husband is always missed when he’s not around, the journey would not have been the same with a guy from Queens along for the ride.

If he had come, I wouldn’t have pushed myself to rent a car and drive to and from the Houston airport. I wouldn’t have had the luxury of driving around by myself for hours, reminiscing like crazy as I wove that little red car up and down memory lane.

And I wouldn’t have had him on the other side, standing outside La Guardia in the pouring rain with open arms, waiting to welcome me home.

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Inside My Handbag

I’m always very curious about the inner lives of others, so I have a soft spot for those posts when bloggers give readers a look inside their handbags. Usually it’s a well-curated vignette containing designer sunglasses, a really chic wallet, an iPhone/blackberry/Ipad/Kindle, a healthy little snack of shelled almonds or green juice made from squeezed kale, and beautifully packaged cosmetics. Occasionally someone will admit they cleared out the balled-up receipts and spare change before taking the picture.

Anyway, thought I’d let you go behind my scenes and check out what I drag around on my hip most days. It just occurred to me that I wrote about looking in other peoples’ closets yesterday, so I must have some kind of theme going. Maybe it’s all the spring cleaning I haven’t done yet. Clearly.

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1. Non-designer wallet (not pictured)- typically stuffed with used metrocards, a punchcard for the bubble tea place down the street, my very old grad school I.D. (it was a good picture)

2. Nearly destroyed bag of Chex Mix

3. Half-empty bottle of Seltzer water to wash down the chex mix. Those pretzels were making me thirsty.

4. At least seven errant appointment cards

5. New contact cases, fresh from the drugstore

6. a $1 bill and 84 cents in loose change

7. Two homemade “larabars” made with dates, pulverized pecans and coconut

8. last week’s ziploc bag that held two larabars

9. Professional reading material: “I Hate You…Don’t Leave Me.”

10. Beauty tools including a hairbrush with a broken mirror on the back, concealer jar filled with empty promises, a few lipsticks, a makeup brush, contact rewetting drops and a fresh pantyliner

11. Plastic serveware

Another glam slam from Queens! What would we see if you dumped out your purse on the floor right now? (or man-bag, for you non-female readers).

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A Peek Inside my Closet

 

Last night I watched a silly entertainment show giving viewers a peek into celebrity closets.  I don’t know why I feel compelled to watch such things, as programs like these usually make my own tiny closet blush from embarrassment in the corner.

Among a few others, Paris Hilton showed me her closet. It was predictably huge and filled with so many shiny objects that I was nearly blind in one eye by the end of the show. She had rows and rows of designer heels, a mountain of metallic clutches and sequined cocktail dresses as far as one eye could see. Her closet was as dazzling and colorful as a Mardi Gras float, and the only way I could have pulled off any of her outfits was if I was headed to Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve or out for a night of intense gambling. I bought a gold lame’ scarf at a vintage shop several years ago and still haven’t found an appropriate venue to wear it. I wouldn’t even know what to do with a whole dress in that fabric. I’d probably have to sell it for parts.

I slept fitfully last night after turning off the TV, and between R.E.M. cycles, dreamt of Paris Hilton being given a tour of my closet. Unfortunately it’s pretty rare for me to remember details of my dreams, but I do recall her being extremely underwhelmed. Which is weird considering I hit up the GAP’s 40% off sale yesterday and stocked up on some very sensible basics.

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(my current day closet…Paris, eat your heart out)

As a 30-something therapist, my closet does not lend itself to a lot of flashiness. My weekdays are spent in dark slacks and tidy blazers; weekends are for ripped jeans and tee-shirts, and–if there is any justice at all in this world– someday soon, flip-flops. I reserve high heels for weddings and short sexy dresses for my next lifetime.

When I was 22 and new to the city, I had a lot of fun with my clothes. After moving here from Texas, it was my first time really needing plenty of sweaters and coats and scarves, and I loved adding them to the mix. I started shopping at vintage stores and making bold choices. I bought funky leather jackets and bright skirts that were fun to twirl around in. I wore tight colorful pants that made my butt look good. I wore big hats that grabbed attention.  I worked in magazine publishing at the time, where that kind of sartorial creativity was appreciated and the only dress code prescribed was for all your important parts to be covered up. I was 22 and I felt very young, very free and very adventurous. My clothing reflected how I felt about life, how I felt about living in New York City, how I felt about being young.

DSC_7778(one of my first NYC “closets”– a hanging rod that was literally sandwiched between my wall and my bed)

At 36, I feel like I’m at a bit of a crossroads, style-wise. I’m not one of those people who feel like you have to give up mini-skirts after 25 or needs to wear Ann Taylor twinsets at work to be taken seriously. Clothing is a personal thing, and if you feel good in it, you should wear it. These days I feel best when I’m wearing simple, chic, comfortable pieces that suit my body, work with the weather and will still look good on a 4o-year-old woman, because let’s face it, if I’m buying investment pieces, that’s who’ll be wearing them in a few years. (Hold on, my stomach hurts after writing that sentence. I’ll be right back…).

Everyone’s got their own style, and it’s constantly evolving. Some people couldn’t give a rip about personal style, and that’s cool too. I’m currently caught somewhere between wanting to dress like Kate Middleton, the average Parisian and Stevie Nicks circa Rumours. I’m not exactly sure how to blend the three, but I’m working on it. I live in a city where one can get away with almost anything, but I no longer feel like I want to. I just want to look good and feel like myself.

Still, it’s been hard to have any style at all this winter, and the frigid temps and icy streets have had me pulling out the same tired outfits for months on end. Black pants, sweater, scarf. I’ve felt extremely dowdy in my black puffy jacket and incredibly unsexy in my scuffed flat boots. Winter weight gain hasn’t helped. My mojo took a little break, and I’ve decided I’d like it back.

It had nothing to do with my dream and even less to do with Paris Hilton, but I woke up feeling compelled to dress myself in something pretty today, practicality be damned. It’s amazing what a black skirt and heeled boots can do for your posture, and downright thrilling the way a rose-colored shirt can make your cheeks appear as though they haven’t spent the last five months hidden from the sun.

I’m not a woman with designer bags or beautiful shoes.  I’m a 30-something therapist with cotton basics on her back and sensible shoes on her feet. No beading, no sequins, no fur, no frills. I look pretty good today and I can pull it together style-wise when necessary, but nothing in my closet is ever going to be exciting enough to warrant a TV crew taking a peek inside.

Oh well. We’ll always have Paris.

 

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A Day in the Life: When Texans visit NYC.

Pardon the radio silence around these parts. I got real busy hustling around the city showing my dad, his wife Angie and my aunt Renee a good time. My feet are still recovering and I’m patiently waiting for my shoe leather to magically regenerate. We hit the city hard Wednesday through Sunday, but Saturday was the New Yorkiest day of them all. Here’s the breakdown of what happens when three Texans visit their New York kids.

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9:30 AM: Our group enters Balthazar, the Taj Mahal of weekend brunching. This is where Leonardo Dicaprio used to dine with his posse back in the late 90s. Where the beautiful people pay $22 for a bread basket and ten bucks for half a grapefruit, thus making it a New York institution (and a place you wait to visit until the folks are in town). But really, it’s just so pretty in there and the food is UNBELIEVABLE. I don’t take photos of meals in restaurants, but my poached eggs florentine with spinach and artichokes and buuuuttttter and so much creeeeeeam was pure, opulent, thigh-swelling MAGIC. Whew, I just got a flashback and it smelled delicious.

10:40 AM:  We hit the subway uptown to scope out some stores on 5th Avenue. The Apple Store is actually navigable this early in the morning, so I pick up a new cell phone case. I buy a customizable one, which means I pick out any photo I’ve taken, send it to the company and they’ll print it on a case for me. I’m thinking about this one from a graffiti wall:

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But Vin continues to push for this:

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Interesting choices, both. However I am also considering this guy:

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11:15 AM:  We go to an uber-fancy store to have a watch battery replaced. It is empty except for the five of us (who plan on buying nothing) and a staff of at least 15 people looking well-heeled and extremely bored. Vin and I amble over to the engagement ring case, just to gawk and watch pretty things sparkle under the spotlights. A very well-dressed gentleman approaches us and coos, “Ahhh, looking for an engagement ring?”.

Vin wastes no time replying, “No, thank you. We’re already married.”

“Congratulations,” he says flatly, and scurries away. There are no other customers in the store, which means he has no other trees to bark up. He huddles in the corner with a coworker, mentally willing some rich people to go shopping today.

Suddenly a scent not befitting such a fine establishment permeates the air around us, and I have finally found the title to my first book. I shall call it “Who Farted in Cartier?”. Works for both humor or mystery.

 

11:25 AM: Sensing a good time to exit, I grab dad and Vin and we stand outside the store while the ladies finish business. There is a man with a sandwich board standing on the corner, trying to direct traffic to a cafe down the street.

“Lunch, lunch, lunch, lunch, lunch, lunch, lunch, lunch, lunch, lunch.”

Dad delights in this very much. I think he giggles a few times.

“Lunch, lunch, lunch, lunch, lunch, lunch, lunch, lunch, lunch…chicken on riiiiiiice!, lunch, lunch, lunch, lunch…chicken on riiiiiiiiice!”

 

12 noon:  Since we’re still full from our French breakfast, we pass on the lunch lunch lunch and journey to Top of the Rock to catch some spectacular city views. Dad jokes that it’s like paying $25 for an elevator ride, but even a jaded New Yorker like me is pretty impressed by this.

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2:00 PM:  It’s one of the first truly beautiful spring days of the season, so we keep the tourist-vibe going by moving up to Central Park. We bring some sandwiches with us, and have a picnic on benches. As far as family activities go, I think this one’s pretty damn cute.

2:20:  Two teenage boys on skateboards spend at least 15 minutes within two feet of us. Their conversation makes my fallopian tubes want to tie themselves into a sailor’s knot.

2:40:  We finish up lunch, then head through the pretty tunnel that leads to Bethesda Fountain. At the base of the stairs is an opera singer who I posit is using her $100,000 Juilliard education to busk for loose change at the park. I give her two bucks and pray she pays off her student debt by the time she has her first grandchild.

 

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2:50-4:00:  The park is bursting with action, and the people-watching is grade-A, top-notch and included the following:  A man on an antique typewriter selling custom poems, two separate acrobatic troupes, a model doing a photoshoot wearing a sari, a model doing a photoshoot in a Marilyn Monroe-inspired outfit, a thousand dogs, a million toddlers and a woman playing violin while swinging a hula hoop around her hips like a ring orbiting Saturn.

4:01 PM:  A girl walks by with a cell phone case that looks like a pack of McDonald’s french fries.

4:03 PM:  A guy walks by with French fries on his t-shirt.

4:04 PM:  I decide the universe is trying to tell us something.

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(Clearly this is an old picture…water in the fountain + green trees= wishful thinking)

4:10 PM:  Walk back to dad and Angie’s midtown hotel to rest for a few hours. On the way, we pass a group of Amish teenagers. I’m pretty sure they’re in the big city while on rumspringa, and are spending a potentially debaucherous year enjoying “English” life before deciding if they’d like to join the Amish church. “Amish teenager on Rumspringa deciding whether to go English or go home” has been my dream client since the minute I finished grad school. I am SO tempted to hand them business cards, but I don’t think they’re allowed to have pockets or handbags.

4:15:  I imagine what an Amish teenager would put on her cell phone case if she had one. Maybe a shoo-fly pie, or something really risque like a cartoon drawing of a pointy heel or a red lace bra.

4:20:  We are trapped in a crowd (typical) next to a guy who speaks curtly to his girlfriend who is trying to move to the less crowded side of the sidewalk. His preference is to walk right on the edge of the sidewalk so that he’s one step away from falling off the curb. He brusquely snaps at her: “This is how I like to walk. I want to be able to see stuff. Don’t walk away from me.”

4:22:  About 20 feet later he plows into a row of newspaper kiosks and almost causes a 10-person pile-up on the sidewalk. “Hey”, I think to myself. “That’s how he likes to walk”. I don’t care for this fellow. I’m blaming him for the fart in Cartier. He wasn’t there, but whatever.

4:30-7:00:  We lay around in the hotel, watching The Man in the Iron Mask. I find myself wishing I looked as pretty as young, long-haired Leo Dicaprio and wondering if he still frequents Balthazar. I bet he doesn’t freak out over $10 half-grapefruits.

7:05:  We rally and head to dinner. It’s in the theater district at a family-style Italian restaurant called Carmine’s. A few sidewalks are roped off for construction, so the crowds are thicker than an average Saturday in Times Square. And by thicker than average, I really mean we are casually strolling through the 5th circle of hell.

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(this is an old picture. Thin crowd + short-sleeves= wishful thinking)

7:10 PM:  A woman still holding a sign from 2010 warns us about the upcoming rapture. Right next to her is a guy covered in banana leaves promoting marijuana legalization.

7:11:  “This is a big hot mess,” my dad says in his thick Texas accent.

At this point, I’m sure he thinks his firstborn child is crazy for living amidst such insanity and is aching for a commute in his car along a road that looks more like this:

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8:00 PM:  We meet up with Vin’s parents and siblings for a big family-style dinner, eating from enormous platters. There’s calamari and lasagna and tiramisu and a huge prime rib served over broccoli rabe and surrounded by a delicious moat of thick, starchy french fries. The universe has spoken. (I don’t have any stock photos of french fries so you’ll have to settle for calamari…).

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10:15 PM:  Dinner ends at the exact moment all the theaters let out. I have lived in New York City for 15 years, and I have actually never been caught in foot traffic that thick. It wasn’t a record I was trying to break and it was exactly like wading through molasses. I keep looking back at the Texans, expecting them to have all broken out in rashes or at least have passed out in a gutter or something.

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10:40 PM: We finally make our way over to 8th Avenue as we try to avoid the bedlam on Broadway. Halfway down the street we are trapped at a crosswalk as an enormous charter bus has tried to go left, but is unable to complete the turn due to a huge dumpster parked on the street. It’s annoying, but I’m willing to wait.

10:42: Vin and my dad begin gesturing to the bus driver to help him back out of the street without hitting 5-10 vehicles.

10:45:  Pedestrians are getting pissed. They’re crossing in front and in back of the bus, as the driver tries to right his wrong. He’s having a hard time.

10:48: Vin and dad step into three lanes of traffic, using their hands as stop signs to passing cars. My father is standing in the middle of 8th avenue with both arms in a V like he’s conducting the New York City Philharmonic. I do some quick mental math, trying to remember how many free shots of Sambuca he had after dinner. It was at least three.

10:49:  My dad is grinning from ear to ear. He looks like he is having the funnest night of his entire life. I hope he doesn’t die this way.

10:53:  The bus driver has finally backed that thing up.  I breathe a sigh of relief, and begin to reflect on our big New Yorky day. I got a cool cell phone case and ate brunch at Balthazar. I saw the city from way up high and felt the sun on my face in Central Park. I spent time with several of my favorite people on the planet. Our families shared dinner around a big round table, and clinked glasses as we toasted to all the good things.  The universe is looking out for us. My husband and father are still alive.

10:55:  I gotta say, today was a good day.

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A Different Kind of Life.

 

I’ve heard people refer to New York City as the center of the universe. I disagree. Respectfully, of course.

City life can be a lot of fun, but I certainly don’t thumb my nose at smaller towns or slower paces. I don’t think I lead a more interesting life simply by virtue of a New York address. In fact, I daydream about a different life in other places all the time. So do my friends here. I think it’s only natural after a winter like ours, housing prices like these, and subway rides that evoke nostalgia for singing alone in a car.

My facebook feed has become a portal through which I’m allowed a tiny glimpse into other ways of living. I’ve got relatives on ranches, whose status updates include tagging calves and plowing land for harvest, who spend days in open fields and nights haloed by pinky-orange sunsets. I have friends reporting from my charming Texan hometown, where they throw fancy balls for Mardi Gras and eat shrimp po’boys on wooden decks overlooking the gulf. My best friend Callie in Santa Monica walks her dog between palm trees and sandy bike paths. And then there’s my college writing buddy Ty, who posts pictures of a pretty sweet life in Portland. Lazy Sundays with friends relaxing on front porches, strumming guitars in bare feet, babies curled in mamas’ laps.

It all sounds wonderful. I could live very happily in any of those scenarios. I think…

 

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If I had 1,000 different lifetimes, I would live them all a different way. I don’t know if this makes me wildly curious and open-minded or notoriously fickle and perennially unsure. I’m sure it explains why I moved from Texas to New York to Colorado and back again. But really, who hasn’t fantasized about a different kind of life?

I could move to a tiny town in the Berkshires and open a little bakery, the kind with a striped awning out front and the scent of warm sugar drifting out the windows. I’d wake up early to dust rolls with cinnamon and shake flour from my apron. I’d spend my afternoons wresting cookies from big glass jars, gossiping with locals and telling folks to have a good day.

We could settle on the coast somewhere in California. We’d cruise around with the windows down and the radio up, a life of blinding sunrises and windblown hair. On weekends we could hike through hills, or drag soft blankets and wicker picnic baskets to the beach. We’d drive home with sand on the floorboards, Vin’s left hand perched like a hummingbird on the rooftop, my right arm waving out the window like a pageant queen, sharing a slow-dance with the cool, salty breeze.

We could fritter around Europe, hopping trains, taking pictures. A life of cobblestone streets and flower stands. Writing and reading in tiny cafes. Walking for hours, exploring museums and churches and neighborhoods until our feet ached. Espresso shots and buttery pastries after long lunches and late dinners.

We could move to Austin or Dallas or Houston, so I could share Sunday barbecue with my parents, and watch my niece continue to grow into a strong and graceful young woman.

 

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There are about a million different ways to live a very wonderful life. I try not to torture myself with this knowledge.

Trying to picture one ideal life feels like the long running scene from Forrest Gump, where he keeps an even pace as he moves from coast to coast across the country, starting under a banner of willow trees in Mississippi before traveling along flat lands and high plains, through main streets in small midwestern towns and painted mountains of the southwest. He runs down open roads that seem to stretch on forever, past long yellow fields of wheat and dry patches of brown desert, all the way to the ocean and back again. No place is more beautiful than the other, and at the end of his journey all he really wants to do is go home.

And I guess that’s how you decide where home is–the place that yanks you out of your daydreams. The place where you are always remembered by the people who sell you your eggs and your coffee. Where your friends embrace you like family and your memories stack on top of one another like playing cards. It’s where you feel like you belong. Where you feel like yourself. Where you feel both a thrill and a comfort to look around at the life you’ve chosen and realize that the grass–though perhaps not literally–is pretty damn green exactly where you are.

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Home, Sweet Friggin’ Home

 

So, it’s no secret, but Vin and I are looking to become home (or most likely, apartment) owners soon. It’s no easy task in this neck of the woods, and we sometimes question our sanity when we have to crunch numbers and look at how much we need to save for a down payment to stay here in our beloved Astoria. This neighborhood is not elite, but it’s growing in popularity by the day. Hip restaurants are opening every week on every corner, and while we sure enjoy them (brussels sprout pizza with truffle oil for everyone!), we realize they are also a harbinger of expensive things to come. Cool your jets, Astoria. We need you to stay within our price range.

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So last Wednesday while taking a long walk around the ‘hood, I stumbled on a very interesting property on a quiet, off-the-way street. It was a two-story house with an actual backyard, and it was unattached on both sides which means nothing in the midwest and everything in the northeast. To say it was in poor shape was a bit of an understatement, as it was clearly a burned-out shell of its former self, and had probably been occupied by a family of rats and squatters over the past some-odd months. It looked like it had undergone some kind of severe trauma–maybe fire–but there was something about it that scratched an itch I didn’t know I had. The idea of a project, finding an old house in bad shape and fixing it up, sounded really challenging and fun to me. Clearly, the hope was that it would be sold for a song because of its horrible condition.

I texted this picture to Vinny with the caption: “Our money pit/dream home?”

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He was immediately on-board with the idea, much like I thought he would be. Vin has the hands of a craftsman, the mind of Bob Vila and the patience of a saint. He’s been subscribing to This Old House and The Family Handyman for the past five years and hoarding old issues beneath his bedside table. He’s been waiting for this house for years. He’s had ideas for projects just drifting around his brain with nowhere to go. This house was his port in the storm.

We made a plan to take a walk to the house on Saturday and eat a fancy Astoria brunch right after. We were both really excited about the house’s potential, and continued to hope it was within our price range. In my mind, I could see myself knocking out the tiny windows up front and replacing them with really big ones, the light streaming so bright into the kitchen that I’d need to wear Ray-bans to chop vegetables. I didn’t know it then, but Vin revealed later that he pictured himself hammering nails and hanging drywall with his father, the rough edges of the house becoming something they could sand down together. The idea of a father/son reno gave me the vapors. It was gonna be just like that Kevin Kline movie, only way less depressing.

So Saturday came, and we took a walk over to the house. There was a yellow ticket on the fence as the owner had been cited for excessive garbage strewn about the yard just the day before. We took a walk around the side, careful not to step on the empty vodka bottles and shards of broken glass that had been blown out of the jagged windows. The damage was much worse than we had expected, but it was also much bigger than I’d realized.  This probably looks like a tiny nightmare if you’re reading this from Florida or Iowa or Texas, but to two Queens people in a two-room apartment? We’re talking brokedown palace.

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Sure, the windows were filled in with concrete and the siding looked like it had been blasted with a stungun, but this place had a lot of raw potential. And, as it turns out, it sat squarely on two plots of land. For the right price, maybe we could see ourselves turning this dump into a diamond.

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Uproot some of these funky little trees, put down some grass, plant some flowerbeds. This could be a very pretty garden.

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And that there looks like a high-quality item. How much that set ya back, Clark?

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And while we had to admit that fixing up a place this wrecked was just a tad ambitious for two novices like us, we made contact with the realtor nonetheless.

Our hearts dropped a bit when she wrote back and explained that someone scooped it up last week, and it was no longer on the market. This was now someone else’s fixer-upper. Someone else’s dream. Probably someone who knows a lot more about what to do with a place like this. This house was a no. We took ourselves out for lunch around the corner. Truffle oil and goat cheese crostini. Damn this neighborhood.

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And so our search for our first home purchase continues. And like every person with an iota of taste before us, we will do all we can to avoid living a life behind the ubiquitous Queens shiny fence.

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PS: For a fun little game, come over to my Facebook page and place your bets on how much this wrecked house sold for.  If you don’t live in NYC, it will probably blow your minds. If you do, I’m sure it won’t. But it will make you consider moving to Florida.

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Lucky.

Like everyone else, I’ve spent the past few weeks tipping my face to the window and searching for signs of spring. February has always been my least favorite month, and this one has been a particular bear. My client attendance has been way down because of the terrible weather, and between bitter cold temperatures and stubborn mounds of ice on the sidewalk that refused to budge, there have been a series of incidents, ranging from annoying to expensive, that have given me and Vinny reason to pause and ask ourselves if the universe is trying to test our patience.

Over the past few weeks our television has died, the pipes in our apartment sprung a major leak and needed to all be replaced, a rat went scurrying around the living room, the overhead light in our kitchen broke and last Sunday, we had to have our car towed off the highway because the engine started smoking and eventually met its death in the garage of a Goodyear tire center in Commack, Long Island.

As we wait for the floor in our apartment to be replaced following the water damage, we continue to store all the workers’ paint and tools. How they’ve made due without them for the past two weeks, I have no idea, but this place is a mess and it’s driving me a little nuts. The car has since been towed back to its rightful birthplace of Queens, and is lingering in an automotive shop until the new engine arrives from Florida. We’ve been sending our girl notes and flowers as she eagerly waits for her transplant. It was touch-and-go there for a minute, but we think she’s gonna make it.

The energy in our home has been off, and we’ve both been a little cranky. We’ve been waiting for February to end since it began, and last night–finally–it did.

I set the table properly, with pretty plates and real presentation, and cooked up an indulgent dinner of steak with caramelized shallots and loaded baked potatoes. He brought home tulips, one of my favorite signs of spring.

After dinner we nuzzled on our old, lumpy couch, the one whose cushions look like they just went ten rounds in a losing battle. We chatted about our days without the interruption of our TV while my head assumed its rightful position in the crook of his arm.

“I think we’re lucky,” I say, and kiss the bridge of his nose.

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Why I Curse on My Blog

 

Blog subscribers come and go; that’s just the nature of the beast. People unsubscribe when the content bores, when pictures or recipes suck, when nothing unique or original is being produced. And I have noticed, on my blog in particular, that people unsubscribe whenever a few choice dirty words are dropped on the page.

I mean, it could just be coincidental…but I really think it’s not. Every time I have sworn on a blog post, at least two or three people unsubscribed shortly after.  Because I only post about once a week, it’s pretty easy to surmise which was the offending post. I recently described the rat in my apartment as both an asshole and a filthy motherfucker, and I still can’t think of more accurate ways to describe that little bastard.  I don’t know much about the values or leanings of the majority of my readers, but I can say with confidence I am not offending my girlfriends in Queens, because they’re the ones writing comments on my FB wall like, “Loved this post Jenn. You cursed twice…and it was the good one.”

So let’s talk about profanity.

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My clients almost always apologize after cursing in session for the first time. I establish very quickly that they should never censor themselves in therapy.

“This is your space. You can say anything you want in here,” I tell them, and mean it. I almost always follow up with, “Trust me, I’ve heard that word before and I say it myself.”  But this wasn’t always the case.

I was the most straight-laced teenager on the planet, and spent my formative years actively avoiding colorful and potentially offensive language. I grew up in a sweet and charming beach town called Galveston, which was recently named one of the Top 10 Friendliest Small Cities in America. When it was time for yearbook favorites, I was nominated in the category of “Most Courteous”, the teenage equivalent of “Biggest Waste of Hormonal Mood Swings” or “Person We’d Secretly Like to Punch in the Face”. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I was definitely not the Jennifer Lawrence of my high school. I was Anne Hathaway.

I didn’t start cursing until my early 20s after taking to the hard, mean streets of New York City, a town where the gutters run with filth and the mouths follow suit. On my first day of work in publishing, my editor gave me the office tour. When she referred to the ladies’ restroom as “the john”, I knew a tide was turning and that my mind and mouth were about to become much dirtier places.

I don’t remember when I finally pulled the trigger on dropping my first F-bomb, but I’m sure it was an occasion befitting such vulgarity. I do, however, remember feeling very empowered and genuine and free, because I felt as though I was truly getting my point across. Sometimes a well-placed curse word really capures a feeling, and being all mamby-pamby with language can dilute the strength of the message. Case in point: The mother of my best friend in high school is a beautiful and elegant woman who would yell, “Ohhhhhhhh, double-darn!” when someone cut her off in traffic. You could tell by her hesitation that she really wanted to scream something else, and if she had, I’m sure she would have felt tremendous satisfaction and significant tension release. She also would have shocked the hell out of everyone in the car.

When someone who rarely curses suddenly says a word as powerful as fuck, people tend to take notice. And that’s why I still use curse words carefully and conservatively—both orally and in writing. I too would like to be described as a beautiful and elegant woman. Still, I’m not willing to censor myself to an unreasonable or unnecessary degree. I think I have a firm grasp of when it’s appropriate and when it’s inappropriate to swear. I don’t curse in staff meetings or around your children. It’s all a personal choice, and I choose to occasionally pepper my writing with profanity for emphasis and descriptive value. I also use it to add humor, which it almost always does. My aim is never to offend, or to water strong words down with overuse. When I use an expletive, it’s always judiciously chosen and for good reason.

If I were writing about food or fashion or home decor on my blog, there would be no real purpose for profanity and I wouldn’t use it. But because this is a story-telling blog, I’m not willing to eliminate descriptive words that could make a story richer, fuller, funnier or more authentic. If I lose a few readers because of those words, that’s a hit worth taking, in my opinion. If I’ve learned anything at all in my short time on this planet it’s that you’ll never please everyone, and if someone is turned off by occasional curse words, this might not be the right blog to read. Still, I can promise that I’ll never intentionally write something truly offensive or overtly controversial, because it’s just not my personal style. Anyone who knows me can attest to that.

And so, as I see the numbers on my subscriber list falling, I pull up my bootstraps, fire up the computer and tell myself the same thing I tell my clients, the ones who tread cautiously while trying to express themselves in an honest, authentic way.

This space is yours. You can say anything you want in here.

 

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All in a day’s work.

 

“Let me feel your hands,” he asked, before extending his right arm toward mine.

One of my therapy clients had just accused me of “never working a day in my life” and wanted physical evidence of how easy I had it.

I laughed at the irony of the situation, as the evidence of my working was right in front of his face. “What do you need to feel my hands for?” I asked. “You know exactly what I do for a living.”

I was reminded of this conversation Saturday while standing on a hardened mound of snow with a large plastic shovel in my hands and utility boots on my feet. Vinny and I were finally making strides to unearth our Honda, which had been fossilized by several feet of ice and snow over the past two weeks. It was a hell of an undertaking as every snowplow in the county appeared to have rolled down Broadway in the interim, essentially burying the vehicle in a copious mix of snow, filth and salt which had now hardened like a rock and clung like a barnacle. Last week the snow was vanilla soft-serve. Now it had deep freezer burn.

The top layer was pretty easy to scoop away, but once we started going lower we realized our grave error in letting this task go ignored for the past week. Plastic shovels work great in sand but serve no purpose in ice, and it was starting to look like that freakin’ groundhog was about to cost us a fortune in parking tickets as this car wouldn’t be leaving this spot until the ground thawed in mid to late April. Or July, the way this winter’s been going.

And then, like some kind of urban fairytale, two sanitation workers parked their plow truck behind our car. They walked toward us with ice picks and metal shovels, their neon green bibs gleaming like shields. They started stabbing the ice around our car with the pick so Vin and I could easily scoop it away. They dug and dug until the ground was clear, and waited until Vin warmed up the engine to make sure we were truly free. Everything was working out so well that my hopes climbed too high; as more and more snow was brushed off the car I started feeling the anticipation of a dramatic reveal, as some part of my brain actually began to believe that all that snow was actually a magic dust sprinkled from the sky, the kind that turns soap into bars of gold and 15-year-old Hondas into brand new Mini-Coopers. Alas, that was not the case.

Still, we were happy as clams and super grateful to the city, who put these two hard-working fellas in our path. They were our knights in rubber armor, and they were clearly doing the kind of job my client would describe as work.

Vin shook their hands. I wanted to touch them.

 

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About Jenn.


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Kindly ignore the "food/friends/fun" part on the top of this page. It no longer describes this blog; I just don't know how to change it. Pretend it says something more accurate like "Stories of my Life", or "For a good time, read Jenn". The deets: I'm a 30-something Texan who moved to New York, became a therapist, and married a guy named Vinny from Queens. I delight in observing the world around me, and write about it here.

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