Much To My Delight

Much To My Delight

What it’s like to be a therapist, part 4

 

He enters my office each week with two enormous bags. One is a 50-pound army sack he pulls over his shoulders like a backpack; the other a large black leather duffel he stuffs onto his arm. He fits every single thing he owns in those two bags, and carries them everywhere he goes. He has to. He lives in a shelter, and there are no lockers for him to stow his belongings.

He drags his luggage onto crowded buses, through narrow subway stairwells, and up and down the avenues by foot when he doesn’t have metro fare. It’s exhausting just to watch him carry those things, but somehow he manages. He hasn’t missed a single appointment yet. He never makes excuses and he always shows up exactly ten minutes early, which is more than I can say for 85% of my other clients.

He is never without those heavy bags.

I ask how his week’s been going and he tells me about the nice people he’s met recently. He has the kind of warm and easy smile that makes him very approachable, and he is often the recipient of random generosity and kindness, which makes me very happy to hear. This week he was given several free lunches, a couple cups of coffee, and a free phone charger. A few weeks ago a relative sent him jeans and sneakers, his only pair of each. But the biggest gift he received was a late model ipod, and he considers it his saving grace. The music keeps him calm and helps him manage some very serious symptoms that make his life much more complicated than most.

In a material sense, he has very little. But in his mind–where it really counts–he already has everything he needs. I know, because he told me as such.

He says he feels lucky. He tells me how appreciative he is when people offer him a muffin or a stick of gum.

He says, more than once:  ”I am grateful.”

He is a remarkable person who I definitely wouldn’t know if I didn’t have this job. And if I’m being honest, he is the kind of person I pass probably 15 times a day without ever stopping to offer a muffin or a stick of gum. You can slap a fancy word like countertransference on it if you want to, but I’m not sure it’s possible to engage in this kind of conversation without pausing to examine your own values.

This job I do gives me no choice but to check in with myself on a regular basis. It’s helping me become more open-minded and less judgmental. It’s encouraging me to complain less and appreciate more.

Speaking with this gentleman is a humbling experience.

I am grateful for it.

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Here’s where I try to write about my creative process without putting you all to sleep.

Posting has slowed down a bit for me, so I’m always incredibly grateful when someone writes and gives me a great idea for a post. Today’s thanks are extended to the lovely Maryn at The Well, who asked me to answer these 10 questions from Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit.

I had a little fun with mine, and encourage you to do the same! If you’re a blogger looking to examine your creative habits, feel free to copy these questions and send your link to Maryn at The Well too.

Here goes:

 

1. What is the first creative moment you remember?

When I was probably 7 or 8 years old, my parents bought a new refrigerator. It arrived in a long, slender cardboard box. My brother and I flipped it on its side, brought in a collection of small household items, some blankets, and a box of markers and created a trailer home that we lived in quite comfortably for about a week. When it started falling apart, we flattened it out and used it to toboggan ourselves down the stairs. We didn’t play again until our parents bought a new stove in 1989.

2. What is the best idea you ever had?

When I was a kid and pre-teen, I fantasized about becoming an author when I grew up. At this point I was still journaling a lot and saw promise in many of my ideas. Most of my entries centered around my homework and what mom made for dinner, but trust me, they showed great potential and were actually quite fascinating to skim extremely briefly.

In this phase of life, I really enjoyed staring at myself in reflective surfaces and imagining what I would grow up to look like. Specifically, I found myself posing several times a week for the photo I would eventually use for my book’s jacket cover. I needed to figure out how many teeth to show when smiling so I could look extremely pretty while also convincing people I was incredibly smart.

My favorite place to practice this was in my room, at night, under the light of my reading lamp. The lamp’s polished brass was super reflective, and when I tilted it a certain way my face not only looked thinner, but more tan and blemish-free.

What I’m telling you is this:  You know those warming filters on your iphone camera that make you look so much hotter than you actually are?

I invented those.

 

3. What is the dumbest idea you ever had?

Besides not banking on photo filters 25 years ago? Let’s see. That would be shaving off all my arm hair in the 6th grade. Luckily it did not grow back thicker and darker like my mother warned.

IMG_6792See that, Ma? Almost no arm hair at all. Wive’s tail effectively busted. 

4. What is your creative ambition?

To write a collection of personal essays. In my head, the writing reminds people of David Sedaris (you know who he is) and Rick Bragg (you’ve probably never heard of him, but trust me, he’s good). Think a large portion of funny with a small side order of sentimentality, caught just before it turns too gooey.

 

5. What are the vital steps to achieving this ambition?

Step 1: Make tea. Strike that. Let’s do coffee.

Step 2: Sit.

Step 3: Write.

Step 4: Curse. Wring hands. Knead knots from forehead.

Step 5: Recover.

Step 6. Pray. Bargain. Center. Take a walk. Curse again, just because it’s so fun.

Step 7. Sit.

Step 8:  Write.

Step 9: Repeat daily until completion.

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All my creative pursuits begin with coffee.

 

6. Describe your first successful creative act.

I took a fiction class at UT, which was a stretch for me because I was more of a journalism/creative non-fiction kind of gal. The first story I submitted was crap, but the second one grabbed the professor’s attention and he requested I read it aloud to the very large class. It was the type of scenario that gave you an ego boost and stomach cramps at the same time.

The story was fiction in the truest sense, and for some reason I’d chosen to base it on a young girl’s sudden recollection of her childhood sexual abuse (an interesting choice for a future therapist, no?). The professor pulled me aside and asked if it would be too triggering for me to read it aloud, as he had assumed it was based on personal experience due to some of the explicit details. a) I thought it was very sensitive and responsible of my professor to do this. b) I gained confidence in my skills as a writer that day.

 

7. Describe your second successful act. How does it compare to the first?

I made a baby shower card for one of my besties who loves country music. I drew a baby with big blonde hair and bright lipstick, with a onesie that read “Burpin’ 9 to 5″. I thought that was pretty good. It’s ridiculous for me to compare this act to the first, but creativity comes in many forms.

8. Which artists do you admire most and why? What do you have in common?

I have always been drawn to personal essays, humor, and Southern writing. I like old-fashioned storytelling with simple language and rich detail. Growing up, my favorite thing to read were Lewis Grizzard’s columns, which only ran in Southern newspapers. I loved them because they were short, easy to read, down-to-earth and full of charm. He was very funny, but he also found a way to pull at the heartstrings in a very subtle way. I have always tried to strike this balance, and if I had to name a greatest influence, it’d be him.

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The writer I admire the most is Rick Bragg, who I mentioned before. His books and articles are wonderful to read and simply beautifully written. Some people would probably find him a bit heavy-handed with the metaphor, but I just go crazy for it. I have read his memoir “All Over But the Shoutin’” probably six times, and never tire of the way he writes. I have always loved the Southern voice, and his drips with honey without becoming cloyingly sweet.  If my writing were ever compared to his, I’d be really proud.

 

9. What is your greatest fear?

Wasting, losing, or squandering valuable time. Also, mice.

 

10. What is your idea of mastery?

Getting your point across in as few words as possible.

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While You Were Sleeping

 

There are two camps of people, generally–morning people and night people. I’m not going to tell you which kind I am, but  I will let you know upfront that some of my very first bras are still defrosting.

I’ve been a card-carrying member of the “morning person” camp since childhood, a fate that drew much ridicule in my pre-teen days as I was always the first one to fall asleep at slumber parties. Sweet little Southern* girls they were, my friends not only froze my bra as punishment, but on separate occasions also threw all of my clothes out a 2nd-floor window, used a mattress-sized maxipad as a kick-me sign, and hurled a small (but very dead) frog in my face. Sweet Southern girls, my ass. Those bitches were ruthless.

But now we’re all grown up and those girls are now women who spend their evenings praying for their small children to go down as easily as their friend Jennifer did all those years ago. I know this because I generally wake up around the same time as all the mommies with young children. They are typically the only people making comments on Facebook at 7 a.m. on Saturday mornings, usually with declarations like: “Dear Baby Jesus, All I ask is for one full night of sleep. ONE NIGHT.” or “Somebody send help. I need an IV of French Roast. Stat.”

So yeah, I still go to bed early and wake up early. Everyday. Weekends too. Call me a drip. Call me a party pooper. Call me an old lady. Just don’t call me after 11 because I will be knocked the eff out. Clearly, all of this will be subject to change if my husband and I decide to make a human, but for now, this is my life. Down by 11, up by 6:30.

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The ritual in our house goes like this: Around 10:20 pm I settle into bed, then at 10:30, Vin comes into the room and reads beside me. I read too, for exactly three minutes until the book falls on my face. Vin removes the book, turns off the lamp, and turns on the big box fan in the corner to keep me cool and create white noise. The white noise is to block out whatever Vin then decides to do for the next four or five hours.

Because when I go to bed, Vinny’s night has just begun.

Born and raised in the city that never sleeps, Vinny burns the midnight oil until at least 2 or 3 every night. The only time I spend those hours vertically on purpose are if my best friend is getting married, the party of the decade is underway or I’m promised a glimpse of a lunar eclipse that only occurs once every 200 years. He goes to bed around 2, and he’s up around 9 or 10. On weekends–much later on both ends.

The man has a good four hours to kill late at night after I’ve gone to sleep, and while I’d never encourage it, if he ever wanted to lead some salacious double-life, he is certainly married to the right dupe. For all I know, he could be spending his late nights bouncing between boobie bars and grimy fight clubs. He could be plotting some great heist or gambling away our savings in Atlantic City. Instead, I’m pretty sure he uses that time to do freelance work, record music at his studio in Brooklyn, play Madden or guitar, watch copious amounts of Sports Center, and make midnight runs to the 24-hour grocery for questionable snacks. Thankfully, I’ve never found a red bra stuffed in the couch cushions or poker chips strewn across the coffee table. I have, however, found several half-eaten Entenmann’s crumb cakes on the kitchen counter. Scoundrel!

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Now, in the morning, I have my five or six hours of “me” time. I’m most productive in the early morning, so on a typical weekend I use the hours between 6:30 and 11:30 am to grocery shop, do food prep for the week, clean house, write or read in the yard, and take the train into the city for a long walk. I cherish this time and find that I don’t really enjoy sleeping in because it pains me to waste daylight hours. My circadian rhythms match those of an 87-year-old man (ie: my grandfather).

It used to really bother me that Vin and I lead such separate lives at the beginning and ends of our days. We both spend so much time at work that it seems like we should spend as much of our off-time together as possible. I’d love it if he were the kind of guy to join me on a 2-hour early-morning hike across the city, and he’d be elated if I joined him at a midnight movie without drooling down my shirt. But the simple fact is, he is a night owl and I am a lark. Unless we both miraculously get jobs that offer similar schedules or we experience a dramatic life change that would require a shift in our basic biological functioning, this is how days and nights are done, with each of us spending hours on our own while the other is sleeping.

And then, out of nowhere, come those sweet little moments that make you realize every cloud in the nighttime sky does indeed have a silver lining.

Jen & Vin at the Bar

 

One night last week, the motor in our bedroom fan completely conked out. Of course, we didn’t realize it was broken until it was 10:30 and I was already tucking in for the night. I kicked the blanket off the bed and wrestled the sheets with my bare feet, my legs poking their way from beneath a cotton tangle so I wouldn’t drench them with sweat. I told Vin I’d stop by one of the variety stores near our apartment on the way home from work the next day. He shut off the lamp, kissed me goodnight, and walked into the living room. If he turned on the TV, he must have had to lean in to hear it. My white-noise machine had officially kicked the bucket, and he always tries hard not to wake me up.

Still, shortly after midnight, he did.

I rolled over in the pitch dark, and through squinty eyes watched Vin remove the broken machine from its perch in the corner and carefully plug in a new fan so I could get a good night’s rest. He’d managed to find one of the only Home Depots that stayed open until midnight, hopped in the car, and bought a replacement. It was such a loving act, and it was one of those moments that reminded me how lucky I am to be married to such a thoughtful and kind person.

I mean, sure, he could have made this sweet gesture right after a quick stop at Cheetah’s Gentleman’s Club, but I really doubt it.

 

 

*(technically, Texans are Southwestern but it doesn’t sound as gentile. Plus, you know I don’t really think y’all are bitches. Love ya, mean it.)

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You want the good news or the bad news first?

 

Last night I had the strangest dream. I sailed away to China in a little row boat to find ya, and you said you had to get your laundry clean. Just kidding. That’s a line from an awesomely awful song from the ’80s. Two points to whoever can name it.

I did have a weird dream last night though. And the night before. My dreams have become more vivid and strange as I’ve gotten older and I’m not exactly sure what that means for my psyche, but it makes for some interesting 2 a.m. conversations with my husband.

Still in a fog, I mumble to him: “Dude. I just had the weirdest dream. I was eating brunch with a group of girlfriends, when all of a sudden we got news from neighbors that a nuclear holocaust was about to destroy the entire world. So we got in our cars and drove to the place we were told would be the safest.”

“Where was it?” He leaned in, completely captivated by the story created in my subconscious mind. (This is a total fabrication. He didn’t ask me where the holding place was. He was too invested in Sports Center.)

“It was I-Hop.” I said. The safe place was I-Hop. (Side note: Did y’all know they put pancake batter in their omelets to make them more fluffy? That’s fucking gross.)

The night before that I dreamed I was in a rocket ship, headed for space with a large group of drag queens. We were mid-atmosphere when I got slapped across the face for accidentally calling someone her birth-name of Clarence instead of her chosen stage name, Clarice.

I’m not really sure what the point of me telling you my dreams is. Frankly, I’m lacking in material which is why I haven’t blogged in a month. So when opening up this page I thought to myself, who wouldn’t want to hear about pancakes and drag queens? So now that we’re reacquainted, I guess I’ll just give a brief, albeit convoluted update on what’s been happening this summer, a few recent thoughts, and some moderately insightful observations about life in general. Hold onto your hats, kittens. This is going to be the most interesting thing you read in the next three minutes. (This is total fabrication. You will probably leave this page to read an article about gross things restaurants do to make your food look better. By the way, did you know that when they photograph ice cream for TV they’re really using two big scoops of butter?).

* I am currently writing this post from my little backyard in Queens, my personal oasis. I am wearing a 10-year-old nightgown, eyeglasses and a towel on my head. There is a little Italian man staring at me from his back patio. I wave hello. It is a nice morning. I love this backyard so very much, and am using it as much as I possibly can this summer because…

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*The house we rent is for sale. Arrrrrrrrghhhhh. People have come by to look at it, and some have expressed at least moderate interest in buying it. This was something we figured would eventually happen, and it’s weird that it’s occurring in the  same year we feel closest to leaving this nest and buying our own. We would *like” to buy something by the end of this year, but now we are really feeling the pressure to have our ducks in a row and our dollars in a large green pile.

One night a few weeks ago, the realtor showed the house to an inspector. The next few nights were sleepless for me, which is unusual and rare (don’t hate–congratulate). By that Sunday I had a full-on panic meltdown and bawled my eyes out. I released a big bulk of the tension, and I’ve slept like a baby ever since. (Therapist’s note–just let it go. Cry it out already.)

Hence, this has become the summer of saving. No traveling on deck, less eating out, more buckling down. I even added an extra day at work. Time to get serious! Our big, dreamy goal at present is to buy a two-family home in our current neighborhood of Astoria, and rent out the second apartment to help pay down the mortgage. All phalanges crossed that we come closer to becoming home owners/landlords by the end of 2014. All we need is a few more tens of thousands of dollars so we can buy a house in poor repair that costs quite a bit more than half a mil. (This is not a fabrication. It’s fucking gross.)

*I spent my birthday on a picnic blanket in Central Park with a great group of friends. It was a sublimely wonderful day, and not just because people showered me with cupcakes, donuts and fried chicken. I was in my favorite place with my favorite people, and that’s a special way to usher in a new year of life. I love my friends. Such good humans.

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* After seven summers of fruitfulness, this winter was officially too brutal for the backyard fig tree. This is what it usually looks like by late July…

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This is what it looks like on this first day of July this year:

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If that’s not symbolic for what’s most likely our last summer in this apartment, I don’t know what is! The grapes have turned to raisins and the tree’s turned into a scenery piece for a Tim Burton flick.

* I have REALLY gotten back into cooking lately. I go through phases where I simply can’t be bothered with fussy dinners, and then I go through periods when I want to create elaborate, interesting and special meals. I’m in the latter phase right now, and have started a new summer tradition where I’m opening up my home to local friends every Wednesday night for dinner. Here was the first installation.

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* Our toilet seat is busted for the second time in six months. Every time I sit down, I have to hold onto the wall to prevent myself from falling into the bowl. It’s an awkward warning to hand out to visitors:

“Hey guys, feel free to use our toilet…just follow these instructions. Ladies–pretend you’re on a boogie board and try to find your balance. Fellas–just take the whole seat off, place gently on the floor and replace when your mission is complete.”

*I became an auntie to TWO separate sets of twins!! Crazy, right? They are tiny and adorable and both sets have the coolest parents in the world. Lucky kids, very lucky auntie and uncle.

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* In hindsight, I recognize that my birthday balloons looks like a huge set of boobs.

I opened in an awkward place so I might as well end in one.

 

 

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Flowers in the Attic: You smell DELICIOUS.

 

If you are a Generation X’er like myself, I will bet you a bazillion dollars that you had a copy of VC Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic as a pre-teen girl, and that you acquired it in some kind of seedy 7th grade underground book market because your mother wouldn’t buy it for you. You fed on it late at night, presumably by the light of a full moon or a shanghaied flashlight, with your sheets pulled tightly over your head to create an impenetrable cotton fortress. You felt everything reading that book–exhilarated, disgusted, shocked, embarrassed, perhaps even a little bit dirty. You couldn’t sleep because you were too excited. You could never look at your brother the same way. It was so, so bad but so, so good. The book jacket classifies it as a “gothic melodrama” — a pretty conservative description for something geared toward teenagers that featured themes like child neglect, torture, murder and incest. Babysitter’s Club this was not.

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Anyway, if loving Flowers in the Attic is wrong, I don’t want to be right. I’m thinking about starting a book club just so I can get some women of a certain age together to make paper flowers, eat powdered donuts and discuss how fucked up it is that this is considered YA fiction. During our meeting, we’ll screen the new remake of the movie, currently airing on Lifetime Television.

Yes, ladies. It’s happened. It’s here. There’s a remake of Flowers in the Attic on Lifetime. Get it while the gettin’s goooooood!!

And by good, I of course mean awful!!! So awful! I loved it so much, you don’t even understand. In an homage to the original experience, I captured it on TIVO and gobbled it up early in the morning in secret before my husband was awake. It was such a delectable way to start my Saturday.

The casting was brilliant. Ellen Burstyn played the evil grandmother and she scared the absolute shit out of me.

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flavorwire.com

And check out who plays the mother, Corrine…

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{You said it sister– not me.}

So, let’s pause and discuss Heather Graham for a second. Greatest actor of our generation, right? This line from the movie tickled me because it’s the exact phrase in my thought bubble every time I see her act.  She looked beautiful in the movie, but her acting was handily outshone by all four of the people cast to play her children, two of whom were five years old.

If you’ve read the book or seen the original movie, you already know what happened to those sweet, innocent tow-headed kids. Nothing good. Being locked in an attic for two years will do terrible things to your psyche, your sexual proclivities and your skin tone. It will also make a great jumping off point for the sequel, so viewers can further titillate themselves by glimpsing into the future and seeing how the kids fared ten years after their escape, presumably after a decade of trauma counseling.

And we call this…Petals on the Wind.

God bless you Lifetime. You filled my Saturday with so much joy. And guys, don’t worry. I took breaks between these movies to go outside and get some fresh air and sunshine. If the first film taught me anything it’s that blonde hair and gray skin do not mix.

This time, Vin was awake so I had to nibble on my guilty pleasure between eye rolls and audible whines of disapproval. He was looking twitchy, and I could tell he was fiending for some hockey highlights or basketball.

“If you change the channel, I will murder you,” I warned. This seemed pretty rational–even understated–at the time, especially when juxtaposed against the truly unsettling threats being tossed around on-screen. Plus, there was a suicide-by-donuts scene coming up, and I honestly thought he’d enjoy it.

lifetime.com petals

lifetime.com

I know I was! I wasn’t familiar with this story, and had forgotten that there had been several follow-up books in the continuing saga of this very dysfunctional family. And my goodness–this one was even more salacious, more tawdry, more disturbing and more campy than the first. So much maliciousness, so much ridiculously bad acting, so many uncomfortable love scenes. I know…ew. It was ridiculous and over-the-top and I was yelling at the screen the whole time. “Listen, I get it! He’s hot and he’s a doctor, but HE’S YOUR BROTHER!!!!”. At one point I cried out, “I need a girlfriend here on the couch with me!” because I wanted someone to share the fun with.

And I guess that’s why I wrote this post today. I’m certainly no film critic. But I really wanted to share this special experience with you, my invisible internet friends. I know you understand me, because you were there. In the ’80s, under the covers, in the shadows. If not in solid form, than in spirit. This post is for you. Please, set your Tivo’s and invite me over. It will be such a gas.

And to my mother, who tried in vain to shield me from these hallmarks of 80′s youth culture. Brava, lady. You were doing parenting right. I can see why you thought this material was inappropriate for children.

But for cultured, experienced, classy, educated adults? Mmm, mmm, mmm. Sweet as powdered sugar.

 

 

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Some Thoughts on Aging.

 

One morning last October, during the early part of my 36th trip around the sun, I woke up with a crick in my neck. It is now weeks away from June and the crick is still there, except it’s no longer a crick, it’s a creak, which means one thing. An obvious, sometimes painful, but often beautiful truth. I’m growing older.

Newsflash: You are too. And you know it. But if you’re anything like me, you still have a hard time really believing it. You think it every time you and your girlfriends swap recipes in lieu of mini-skirts or you brag about your high-end vacuum cleaner. You realize it every time you look over at your husband, fully engrossed in a news program or stock tips or golf on TV. You are amazed to look down at your children with their little faces and limited responsibilities, with the head-smacking recognition that HOLY SHIT I’m the grown-up in this house. I have moved on to a completely different plane of life and I didn’t even feel it coming.

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Yesterday I was three feet tall, and now I’m rubbing thick cream into hands that sometimes feel like paper.

Yesterday I was passing notes in the hallway, and now I’m decorating cupcakes for my daughter’s class.

Yesterday I got my first job, and now I’m a year away from retirement.

Yesterday I held you, and now I’m kissing you goodbye.

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Isn’t it weird? Doesn’t it go fast? Does anyone actually feel their age, or are we all just in a constant state of stupefaction that we’re not 7 or 18 or 23 anymore? I think one of the most oft repeated sentences I hear at work is:  ”How is it possible that I’m already…(29) (36) (48) (55) (60)(73), etc…

I’m almost 37. It’s not old. But it’s not super young. I’m not even sure it’s really in the middle either. It’s just…37.

Thirty-seven sounds interesting to me. Sexy, even. Thirty-seven isn’t girlish and innocent; it’s grown-up and self-assured, guided more by instinct and experience than blind faith and others’ advise. At 37, risks have been taken, mistakes made, lessons learned. There are still dreams left to chase, milestones to be reached, different paths to welcome or reject. There is still enough time ahead to do the things you’ve fantasized about, and enough time behind to make you rev up your pace so you can make sure they actually get done.

Because at 37, time is sterling. We talk about time constantly. We talk about how we want more of it. How we want to spend it wisely. How we want it for ourselves. How we want to share it with others. We want to learn how to suspend it. Generate it. Savor it.

Lately life has been showing me little reminders that tides have turned and I am being commissioned to a new phase. Even though time doesn’t exactly feel like it’s fleeting, there is an understanding that it is indeed finite. That it’s rolling along at a steady clip, and I am required to keep pace, whether I like it or not. In this phase there are decisions to settle, nests to feather, biological calls that must be consciously answered or prudently silenced. I don’t wish I were younger. I wish I had more time.

How is it possible that I’m already 37?

I ask myself this as I’m interviewing interns at my agency, whose boundless enthusiasm and wide-eyed eagerness practically bolster me from my own chair. I ask myself this as many of my friends deliver their first, second and even third child. I ask myself this while balanced on the hard wooden bleachers of a high school gym, as my 8-year-old niece climbs to the top of the pyramid during a cheerleading competition.

Has it really been 20 years since I’ve held a pom-pon?

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I have a client in his early 60s who said to me last week: “I’m not that bothered by growing older. All of the finest things in the world are aged.” Damn, I thought to myself. What a great way to view this weird, wonderful, difficult process.

So I am challenging myself to not be too bothered by growing older.

I will simply jump the hurdles that life presents, and strive to make my days meaningful. To keep trying. To keep doing. To keep planning things to look forward to. To give others my best. To give my dreams a shot. If I fuck up, I’ll start all over again. I’ll take the time I’ve been given and I’ll maximize it. Enjoy it. Savor it.

Really, what other option is there?  We’re all moving down the same road, we’re just at different mile markers. Let’s give each other high-fives and rah-rahs along the way. It’s going to be an adventure. And we’re all going to be just fine.

We’ve got spirit.

Yes, we do.

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Cheap, Fun Things to Do in NYC (in Every Borough)

 

Get your kicks ready. Put some cash on the Metrocard. These suggestions involve a lot of walking, and a lot of traveling from borough to borough. Most people complain about how expensive New York City is, but there are TONS of things to do here that are either completely free or extremely affordable. The first trick to getting the most out of a trip to New York City (or making the most of living in NYC) is opening yourself up to experiences outside of Manhattan, because the other boroughs add so much to the culture of the city as a whole.

The second trick? Get a really comfortable pair of shoes.

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1. On the west side, Take the 1, 2 or 3 train to Columbia University at 110th Street. On the east side, take the 6 or 4/5 to 96th or higher, if you like. Walk down…all the way down until your feet collapse under the weight of you. I started doing this when I lived on West 93rd street. If I went after work I’d sometimes pass friends heading home on their commutes, which was really fun.

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2. Stroll through Chelsea Market (preferably on a weekday). Watch the bakers knead dough into bread. Admire the artistry on a million painted cupcakes. Imagine Giada DeLaurentis giving you a personal tour through Buon Italia. Sample the incredible selection of flavored oils and salts at The Filling Station. Buy a snack and walk out the back door…

3. Then take your gelato, or crepe or lobster bisque up to the Highline (one of the entry points is right behind Chelsea Market). It’s an elevated park that runs from Gansevoort to West 30th Street, and it’s great.  Hang on the bleachers, relax on the wooden chaise lounges, then walk the length of it. It’s a great vantage point, and there are always cool art installations to admire.

3. Ride the Staten Island ferry to Staten Island, and back again. It’s free, and a pretty lovely view of downtown Manhattan on a warm, breezy day. Alternatively, take the $2 tram over the East River to Roosevelt Island. No cars are allowed on, so you have to walk around. Its strange history is fascinating.

13. Amuse yourself at one of the city’s summer street festivals in various boroughs. They’re all basically the same, but that’s part of the fun. They sell the most random stuff (socks, toiletry samples, vegetable peelers?) and all offer the same food (fresh lemonade, Italian sausages, zeppoles, crepes), but they are so quintessentially summertime in New York.

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4. Take the Hoboken ferry  (or the PATH train) to Hoboken, NJ, and take a walk around. This little town is stinking adorable, and offers an amazing view of the city from the park at the water’s edge. Don’t forget to walk down the main thoroughfare in town–Washington Street. Tons of cute little shops, bars, restaurants and Carlo’s Bakery (from “Cake Boss” fame).

5. Hit the Brooklyn Flea and peruse the unique vintage goods. While you’re there, grab some delicious and unique grub at Williamsburg’s huge food vendor-palooza–Smorgasburg. There are smaller versions of this in Queens at LIC Flea and Astoria Flea.

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6. Walk the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn, then hang at Brooklyn Bridge Park for a while. It’s awesome. Walk back from Brooklyn to Manhattan, and behold one of the greatest views ever. I never get tired of this (until I get side-swiped by a bicycle).

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7. If you have more time to spend on the Brooklyn side, don’t miss a stroll through DUMBO (downtown under the manhattan bridge overpass). What a cool area. Check out the view beneath the two bridges and the vintage carousel on the water, then grab a pastry from the wonderful French bakery, Almondine. Keep going to the end of the block, then spend some time in the coolest bookstore/art space–  The PowerHouse Arena. (PS: If you’re looking for uniquely beautiful kids’ books–this is the place).

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8. Little Italy on Mulberry street is okay, but let’s face it–it’s cheesier than a plate of lasagna (much like this sentence). For a more authentic experience, head to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, long-considered the “real” Little Italy of NYC. Arthur Avenue Retail Market is a don’t-miss for food lovers (they  even have a guy rolling cigars up front, which is pretty cool). My favorite thing to do in the area is grab some fresh (AND CHEAP) homemade pasta and ravioli from Borgatti’s Ravioli & Egg Noodles to cook at home. This place is a gem.

9. You don’t have to hop on a train to bask in the splendor of Grand Central. It’s crazy hectic and nuts in there, but its splendor cannot be denied. (Also: I still haven’t done it, but you’ve gotta try the whispering wall in there).

10. Take the N or R train to Coney Island! It’s so retro, it’s fabulous. Walk the boardwalk, eat something greasy, do some grade-A people watching, and catch the Coney Island Circus Sideshow ($10 adults; $5 kids) around the corner from Nathan’s hot dogs. (Do the side show before you eat, not after–watching people swallow knives or drive nails through their nose (no, seriously) could make anyone lose their lunch).

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11. Grab a coffee and walk around the West Village, arguably one of the most charming neighborhoods in Manhattan. Feeling daring? Plop on someone’s stoop and read the Times.

12. Pardon the obvious, but get thee to Central Park! It’s hard to not feel good about life in Central Park. It’s wonderful. My favorite spot is the area near Bethesda Fountain, because there’s just so much activity always happening (photo shoots! acrobatic troupes! musical performers! disco rollerskaters!). I’d rather meet a friend for a lap around the park than happy hour.

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14. Watch some seriously impressive–and aggressive–basketball action at the West 4th Street Courts, otherwise known as “The Cage”.

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15. Take the ferry to Governer’s Island in the summertime ($2, round-trip). Once you’re there, you’ll marvel that this little oasis from the city exists. The Jazz Age Lawn Fest is held there for two weekends in the summer (June 14/15 and August 16/17). My friends got engaged there two years ago, and the band even played them a dance!

16. Explore Pearl River Mart, a Chinese emporium with trinkets and tschotskes for days. I miss the days when this was a dusty, grimy, 3-story wonderland on Canal Street, but the glossier version on Broadway is still extremely fun to browse for unique gifts.

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17. Is it Tuesday? You can get free admission to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden today (you can also get free admission here on Saturdays from 10-12). Is it Wednesday? Today’s the day to head to the Bronx; the New York Botanical Garden is free all day today (and from 9-10 am on Saturdays), and the Bronx Zoo offers pay-what-you-can admission. (PS: Admission to the Botanic Gardens in Brooklyn is free every weekend from November through February).

18. Grab a lemon or cherry ice from the Lemon Ice King in Corona, Queens, then cross the street to watch European men play bocce ball in the middle of the street. This is what New York is all about.

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19. Eating a full meal at Balthazar is an ambrosial experience, but it’s definitely on the high end. To indulge in their atmosphere and goodies on the cheap, grab a take-away croissant and a coffee (I had one of the best lattes of my life there) and walk around SOHO, window-shopping. It’s like Paris meets New York without maxing out your credit card.

20. See a super-cheap or free concert through Celebrate Brooklyn at the Prospect Park Bandshell. Janelle Monae is playing there for FREE in early June. One of my favorite shows ever was there, and it only set me back three bucks!
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21.  The New Yorkiest foods are all the cheapest eats in town. Grab a slice, a bagel, a knish, a hot dog, a pretzel, some awful glazed nuts, a black and white cookie, or a Mister Softee dipped cone. Head toward nearest park. Delight in your New Yorkiness.
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22. Work off the calories at one of the free exercise classes available every day of the week, in every borough through Shape Up NYC.  There’s your basic yoga, Zumba, and Cardio Kick-boxing, but they also offer classes in African Dance, Women’s Self-Defense, and Pre-Natal belly dancing!

24. See a movie outside in a park or on a pier. They’re totally free! This year, I can’t wait for Princess Bride, Back to the Future, Zoolander and Clueless. Apparently there’s some popular movie called Frozen that will also be shown later this summer, but I’m letting that one go.

25. Think beyond Central Park–NYC is full of so many great, green outdoor spaces. Some favorites are Riverside Drive Park, Washington Square Park, Ft. Greene Park, and Astoria Park. Lay around, read a book, people-watch, picnic.

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26. Eat donuts. They’re cheap. They’re delicious. They’re dough magic. New York City is donut crazy, and we have a lot of fancy-pants, artisanal varieties. The favorites: Doughnut Plant (Chelsea, Lower East Side), Dough (Bedford-Stuy, Smorgasburg), Peter Pan (Greenpoint, BK), Dough Loco (East Harlem), and the 100% vegan, totally adorable Dun-Well Donut shop in East Williamsburg.
27. Explore all the borough’s fantastic ethnic enclaves and marvel in the various cultures that comprise this wonderful place. Here’s a fun list of New York City’s ethnic neighborhoods. I love popping into grocery stores in different neighborhoods and stocking up on hard-to-find spices.
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28. Pretend you’re making a coffee table book and start a fun photography project with your camera or iphone. Once you start noticing something ubiquitous in NYC, take a picture whenever you see it. Fun ideas include bicycles, bodegas, hot dog stands, newspaper kiosks, people on cell phones, and abandoned metrocards.
29. Simply look up! Delight in all the odd little things that make New York City such a unique and wonderful place. There’s a whole lot of cool stuff happening way up high, from art installations, graffiti, larger-than-life ads and swank apartment penthouses.
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30. The best entertainment money can buy is a $5 round-trip Metrocard. Take the train to a neighborhood you’ve never been to before, walk around and explore. Think beyond Manhattan–some of the best things in New York City are tucked away in neighborhoods you’ve never set foot in.
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(All photos by Jenn of Much to My Delight.)

 

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When you’re married to a really thin person.

 

You ever seen those couples who get up at 6 a.m., put on matching hoodies and go jogging together? They usually “fuel” with some kind of green juice before lacing up, then do some stretches on the edge of a track and run laps side-by-side before exchanging high-fives at the finish line.

Vinny and I are not that couple. I’d like for us to be that couple, to a certain extent. Maybe not necessarily jogging (because I hate it), but it’d be great if we ate well and participated in some type of exercise either separately or together, and routinely. As we get older, I think more and more about how important it is for us to lead a long life together and it feels like if we form some good habits now it will ensure we have energy and good health later. I really like this guy, so I’m hoping to ride this thing out as long as we can.

cake^ Off to a great start! (photo by Jason & Anna Photography)^

If you’ve not yet noticed, I am married to a very slim person. A naturally slim person. The kind of person who can throw back an entire crumb cake without feeling a tug on his waistband, who’s never had to ask himself if a moment on the lips is worth a lifetime on the hips. In the nearly 14 years that I have known him, Vinny has gained weight exactly twice. One time was during a two-month road trip when he spent 8 hours a day in a car seat, stopping only to buy drive-through hamburgers, and the second time was when he broke his ankle in two places and was bed-bound for three months. Both times he gained weight in the exact area that needed filling out, and stayed perfectly trim and hard as a rock everywhere else. This is all to say that Vinny has never worried about weight gain a day in his life. Oh! And in other news that falls under the category of life isn’t fair, his eyelashes are really long and dark too.

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Whereas my husband’s svelte figure comes naturally, my relative thinness is the result of a faithful combination of bargaining, restriction and prayer. I don’t have a fast metabolism, so bad habits catch up to me quickly. I’m not tall, so two new pounds looks like seven. If I was bed-bound for three months, my entire body would turn into spongy mush and my face would be round as pie. I wouldn’t say that I’m fixated on my shape and size, but I’m definitely aware of what it takes to maintain a reasonable weight and healthy body and I really want to do so. As someone in her mid-30s, it’s getting harder to ignore the fact that I should probably be spending my Saturday mornings in a spin class, not the doughnut shop.

That said, last Saturday morning a miracle occurred. I convinced Vinny to lap the entire track of Central Park with me. We walked, of course. Baby steps, people. Baby steps.

And it was great!! The sun was shining, people were happy, frisbees were flying. Dogs were running, babies were laughing, joggers were panting. Seriously, as some of the only walkers on the jogging track, it was hard not to notice how much more effort and energy the joggers were putting into the endeavor. We actually felt bad for them. It didn’t sound fun what they were doing. We spent the first half of our walk amazed by how many joggers there were, and how awful it looked.

Then we got lapped by a guy in his mid-70s and felt extremely lazy.

Up around the northern part of the park, I started feeling stabby hunger pains. I have always lamented the fact that the only food you can find in the park are hot dogs, pretzels and ice cream bars, but this realization actually inspired my business side.

“Why aren’t there any food trucks in the park?” I asked. “Do you know how much money a smoothie cart or a taco truck would make parked right here? They’d make a fortune!” PS: If someone would be willing to back me financially, let’s work on this project. We spent the next part of our walk talking about food, and trying to figure out what we’d grab for lunch. After a few other options were thrown out (Oh! But the famous Levain cookies are soooo close!!), we kept our Saturday virtuous and decided we’d head to the salad bar at Whole Foods after our jaunt.

He looked at me and said, “Sounds good. We’ll do the salad bar.” I began to think we were turning into one of those matching hoodie couples. “But you know I’m getting tiramisu after, right?”

“Of course you are dear,” I said. I told him he was a great workout buddy, and gave him an enthusiastic high five right there on the track.

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What it’s like to be a therapist, part III

 

Some days are harder than others. Today is a hard day, and it won’t stop raining which feels like the worst kind of cliche.

I’ve been seeing a woman named “N” for about nine months, and I think she’s incredible. She came to our office for therapy last year after her youngest son was the victim of an assault so severe he is still relearning how to speak, walk, dress and feed himself. She spent six months traveling two hours every single day to visit him in the hospital. She now cares for his needs round the clock from their room at the family shelter. She is a deacon at her church, a volunteer in her community and the greatest example of maternal devotion I have ever witnessed.

She comes to see me once a week, and we review her methods for coping:  Walk, church, massage, sing, pray. She has good days, and she has bad days, but she is always patient, gracious and kind. I respect and admire her very much.

I got a terrible call yesterday. While accompanying her youngest son to another medical appointment, her oldest son was shot and killed.

It’s the kind of news that makes your chest hurt. The kind that rattles your faith and makes you want to shake your fist at the sky. It is hard for me to even imagine that much pain.

I hung up the phone and cried like a baby.

I reviewed my own methods for coping:  Cook, stretch, read, write, breathe.

And I remind myself that it is not my pain. That I am just holding it for a little while.

Some days are harder than others.

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If the younger generation doesn’t get into opera, then guess what? NO MORE OPERA!

 

If there is one adjective I’d use to describe myself, it’s sophistimicated. To wit:  I sometimes put my pinky out when I’m drinking tea, I never burp in staff meetings and I always eventually correct myself when I notice my elbows are on the dinner table. I am practically the physical embodiment of Miss Manners.

Knowing this, it seemed only natural that my friend Kerri would approach me about sharing an evening at the opera. Also, it makes sense that she would ask me since I put it out into the universe (blog-o-verse?) that attending an opera was on my NYC bucket list.

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So she booked four tickets for herself and her husband Nick, and me and Vinny to see La Boheme. You know La Boheme even if you don’t think you know La Boheme.  It’s the opera that RENT was based on. (It’s amazing how city life–whether it’s set in Paris or New York–remains the same. Here we are, generations later, still complaining about the rent being too damn high.)

I had some time to spend outside the Met while the others parked. I was delighted to see that unlike Broadway shows, where people roll in wearing ratty jeans and carrying bright yellow bags from the M&M store down the street, people still dress up for a night at the opera. It’s the kind of place where young girls wear stoles over bare shoulders, and old men wear fedoras and bow-ties. (It’s amazing how little city life has changed. Here we are, generations later, bringing back fedoras and bow-ties.)

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^^^That’s some bold pattern-mixing, bro.^^^

Finally it was time to move inside. If you’ve never been to the Met at Lincoln Center, it’s worth the price of admission just to be inside this place. I usually cringe at real fancy-pants joints because they always feel pretentious, but the Met’s decor, despite its flash, is pure, opulent elegance. Red velvet lines the walls and the cascading stairs, the ceiling is painted gilded gold, and the chandeliers are spectacular and damn near blinding. It’s special and it’s beautiful. You feel privileged to be there.

Weeks prior, we had joked about wearing opera-length gloves and binoculars, but when I saw beautiful Kerri on the plush red velvet steps, that girl was wearing the cowboy boots she bought while visiting Texas for our wedding. I thanked her for bringing some real culture to the place.

We continued climbing the stairs until we got to our $37 seats. We knew we were in the right place when the altitude sickness kicked in.

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 ^^^What time is it? It’s SHOWTIME!^^^

So here is a complete layperson’s quickie synopsis of an opera. So, wow. These people are like, reallllly melodramatic. I guess everything sounds dramatic when  you’re singing instead of speaking, but if this show had been performed in English I would have laughed my ass off. The opera was set in France and performed in Italian, so thankfully the opera house has these nifty little ticker tapes on the back of each chair so you can see the English translation. The arias are so incredibly full and beautiful and powerful, that reading the English translation made you realize how banal some of these conversations were.

In Act I, a man sang so beautifully I almost cried. I looked down and read the English translation and realized that he just said “I need to finish my article for the Beaver Times. I’ll be finished in five minutes.”

And then there’s the pace at which romance blooms. Two people meet for the first time, and ten minutes later the chick is like, “Tell me that you love me.” We had to hold ourselves back from yelling “Pump the brakes!” from up in the cheap seats. I mean, I guess you gotta move fast when TB is sweeping the country, but still, a little hard to get never hurt anyone.

 And then there’s the sets. Holeee cow. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more impressed by a set before. The stage was the size of my entire neighborhood. In one act there was a horse, a donkey, a few carriages, an entire city block and about 200 people on stage.  Then, out of nowhere, a full marching band tromped across the stage. It’s difficult to imagine any space in Manhattan being able to hold that much. I can’t even fit a tall bottle of olive oil in my kitchen cabinets.

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^^^AP photo by Ken Howard for the Metropolitan Opera^^^

I’m not going to spoil it for anyone by revealing the ending, but let’s just say it ended in pretty dramatic fashion, which should come as no surprise. And then came the bows, which lasted so long it was an almost an act in itself. But these performers deserve every minute of applause. Their talent is humbling.

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 ^^^Photobombed by a glum statue. PS: I’m not pregnant. This was a bad angle.^^^

The curtain dropped, the crowds parted and we headed toward our own carriage (ie: Honda) to head back to Queens. And in the spirit of the evening, I shall sing what happens next in Italian:  Mio marito ha spinto a un ristorante per ottenere un Hamburger al Formaggio.

Loose English translation: Vinny drove to Burger King for a Whopper deluxe.

Now that’s a buona Friday notte.

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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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