Much To My Delight

Much To My Delight

Call the mechanic: I think my inner GPS is broken.

 

A few years ago, Vin and I took a trip to Barcelona with my family. Of the six of us, my husband was the only one who didn’t speak a lick of Spanish, which by most accounts would make him the least useful member of the troop. But of course, because Vin is essentially a human compass, the opposite was true. He became the unofficial leader of our travels, while the members of my family–myself included–just followed him around like a pack of sheep. Vin’s sense of direction is so sharp he doesn’t even truly require GPS or maps or a cell phone. I imagine he could just stick a thumb in the air and be able to point himself due north.

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<Vin mapping the route. Aunt and uncle dreaming of tapas.>

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<Me, Aunt, Dad. Strong jaws; weak navigators.>

My kinkfolk are very bright and talented in many ways, but it’s a well-documented fact that none of us can find our way out of a paper bag. I can’t be sure without checking some old records, but it’s entirely possible that a lack of direction is how the first settlers of our family ended up in the state of Texas. They probably had their sights set on California but got frustrated on the journey and said, “Aw, hell. I can’t figger this stupid map out. Let’s just stay here.”

Although I rather hoped it would skip a generation, I definitely inherited the poor direction gene. It is my burden and it is my birthright, and though it is often embarrassing and damn inconvenient, my inability to walk a straight path to any destination is one of many traits that connects me to my clan. I’d rather not share with you how many times I’ve led visitors to the city around in circles (cough…cough…it happened last weekend) or gotten completely flustered while mapping out my path to a restaurant, store, baby shower, or job interview only to arrive at my destination sweaty, distressed and exhausted.

One might think that living in a place for 15 years would orient me to the various trains, bus routes, bridges, tunnels, bike paths and overpasses that connect one section to another, but that is unfortunately not the case. My ability to get lost within my own town is in direct proportion to the times I leave my house. If I haven’t been there before, there is a fairly high probability that I will amble in the completely opposite direction of my destination before realizing my mistake, making a pivot turn and doubling back.

Eventually I will figure out where I am going but it will most likely include any, or all, of the following: heavy breathing, rapid pulse, pursed lips, unsuppressed whining, and noticeable pit stains. Some people find these high-tech gizmos called smartphones and GPS to be useful in their quest to find shit. Some people stop and ask for directions or pull out the old-fashioned paper maps from days of yore. Some people are just beyond help, and can get themselves lost while using a combination of all three. I am one of the unfortunate fools who falls into the latter category, and for that I blame my father.  Out of respect to the man, I won’t tell you all the filthy names my dad has called his car’s GPS system, but I can assure you the apple don’t fall far from the tree. (good thing too. I’d never find my way back.)

***

As I hinted in my last post, the last few weeks have been pretty stressful, and more and more, I find myself needing a quiet reprieve from city life. Vin had to work all weekend, so when an invitation to spend the day in a beautiful leafy town called Cold Spring came around, I couldn’t resist. I was so excited to spend a sunny Saturday with Vin’s brother, his wife and their twin babies that I high-tailed it to Penn Station, bought myself a ticket and hopped right on the train.

To Cold Spring Harbour. On Long Island. I traveled a whole hour on the wrong damn train line. That’s impressive, even for me.

So I didn’t get to spend the day bouncing a chubby baby on my knee or swirling a glass of white while giggling with my sister-in-law; instead I nestled right back into a pleather seat on a city-bound commuter train, surrounded on all sides by 20-something Long Island bros heading into Manhattan for a big night out. Instead of fresh, clean, Cold Spring air, I found myself breathing in stale beer and excessive cologne. I was disappointed, but I can find the humor in it too.

It didn’t turn out to be the relaxing Saturday I had mapped out for myself, but what are you gonna do?  It’s the potholes in the road that keep the ride interesting. If there weren’t unexpected detours and delays, we’d never know that feeling of pure gratitude when we finally arrive where we’ve always wanted to go. There’s a reason for those bumper stickers, the ones that promote life as a journey, and not a destination.

It’s to make dorks like me feel better about getting lost all the time.

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Writer’s Block

 

When I started this blog back in 2010, everything about it seemed easy and fun. I had just started my first year of full time work in a mental health clinic, and felt like I needed a light-hearted creative outlet to balance out the heavy content I was beginning to process with clients. I also missed the act of writing everyday (my previous job had been in magazine writing) and wanted a place and a reason to get back into that groove.

But lately… hmmph. The well has really gone dry. I open up the screen every morning and have a staring contest. My mind turns to mush and my eyes fixate on the screen, or my chipped toenail polish, or the unmowed lawn at the edge of my chair. My fingers? They just drape themselves over the keyboard–limp, useless–waiting for my brain to send them a signal to do something purposeful.

It’s the biggest cliche in the book to write about your writer’s block and writers are supposed to avoid cliches at all costs. But sometimes the only way out is through, so today I’m just going to try to work my way through it by essentially talking to myself. If you’d like to come along and listen, you are more than welcome, but I must warn you upfront that my motives are purely selfish and this post is more for me than it is for you.

I’ll treat you to ice cream next week. Of course by that time, it might be more appropriate to go out for soup.

I can think of a few reasons why I’m having a harder time writing these days. A change in season means a change in routine, and sometimes I have a hard time adapting to one. Maybe I’m not writing because I’m so drained at the end of my work day that the mere idea of trying to complete a few interesting sentences seems an impossible task. I do SO much sitting all day that it feels particularly lazy to do more sitting and navel-gazing at home. I’m having a hard time writing because I’m absolutely awful about editing myself as I go along, which leads me to a bunch of false starts without ever really finishing anything. Many times I’ve written something perfectly acceptable for this mom-and-pop writing blog with a puny readership and I still can’t pull the trigger because I feel it’s not good enough. There are also a million great and interesting subjects that I’d like to write about, but won’t, because they’re too personal to share in this space. Sorry internet–I don’t always trust you with my secrets. So I write nothing instead. And the longer I write nothing, the drier the well becomes. It’s like all those Spanish classes I took for years–if you don’t use it, you lose it.

Or maybe I just don’t want to write anymore. Maybe I find the act of writing a bit pretentious. Maybe I consider it boring. Maybe I find it too tedious and would rather do something where my brain doesn’t have to work as hard. Maybe I should watch more reality TV or spend more time surfing the internet. I don’t like to brag, but I’m pretty awesome at checking Facebook compulsively. Perhaps that’s my true calling. That, or it’s another one of my downfalls.

Maybe I’m just going through a phase–like acne or awkward bangs–and one day I’ll wake up, turn on my computer, and my fingers will make sparks again. I hope so, because I can think of a few reasons why I think it’s important for me to keep writing these days.

I have a day job that can be an emotional siphon, the kind where you spend 8-10 hours listening to others share stories that can be alternately sad, scary or stressful without always having the time to check in with yourself about how you’re feeling about life. Right now I can say I’m feeling a little bogged down by it, and I’m going to need to make a few changes–including finding my own therapist–to get some of my balance back. When you look outward all day long, it’s not pretentious to look inward for a measly hour or two a day. It’s essential. Writing has always been a preferred method for processing my feelings, and without it, they’re starting to build up and wreak havoc. My dad asked me how I was doing the other day and I nearly burst into tears.

In the wise words of one of my clients: “Pressure busts pipes.”

Time to make some changes. Time to fill the well. I’m ready to clear the pipes.

 

 

 

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Fake it till you make it: A true story of a spray tan

 

Yesterday I got an airbrush tan from a 15-year-old. Few experiences have been more uncomfortable than standing in my bra and underwear with a shower cap on my head while a gorgeously fresh teenager sprayed my every nook and cranny a deep golden brown.

I’m afraid of the sun, so sunless tanning lotion is something I’ve always used at home. Annoyed with the bad streak jobs and a scent that rivaled kitty litter, Vin finally broke down and gave me a gift certificate to Beach Bum Tanning.

So I went into a dark room with a girl who can’t legally drive yet and stripped down to my underpants. Now, is it just me, or does giving spray tans to half-naked people strike you as a wildly inappropriate summer job for a 15-year-old? What ever happened to lifeguarding or scooping ice cream?

Anyway, the kid described the process in detail. Always a sucker for the upsell, I paid 20 extra bucks for the deluxe spray, set and shellacking job, kinda like getting the final wax seal on your Honda at the carwash.

“So, I’m gonna put three different coats on you.” She explained.
“You mean like chicken?” Ha, ha…look at me–making jokes in my underpants.
“Um, no. I mean, smell it. It definitely doesn’t smell like chicken. It smells really good. Like pineapple!”

And it really did! It smelled like pineapple! So I stepped on some freshly browned towels, spread my legs wide and assumed what she called the “Scarecrow position”–arms out to the sides with the elbows hanging down like a rag doll. She sprayed, I turned, she sprayed, and I turned until I was sufficiently coated. And it really was just like chicken, instead of breaded I felt more like rotisserie.

For the finale, she used a little powder brush to smooth over any uneven spots. As her brush tickled the fold between my butt and upper thigh, I let out a giggle and a sarcastic, “Lucky you!”

She looked up at me seriously and said, “What do you mean?”

What ever happened to teenagers understanding sarcasm?

Once the spraydown was over, I stepped off the towels and went to check myself out in the mirror. Mind you, I was still in my underwear and a shower cap–which–believe it or not, isn’t my best look to begin with. Not only did my body look really, really dirty, but I took one look at my dark face and actually offended myself. I looked like I was ready to get booed off-stage at a Comedy Central roast.

“Oh no, honey. You’ve gotta wipe some of this off my face. I can’t walk down the street like this.” I pleaded.
“Oh, really? Wow. You’re like the total opposite of most of the people who come in here. Most people ask me to make it darker.” Any darker and I would have looked ready for a body-building competition. The only thing I needed was a sequined bikini. And abs.

 

 
I actually look more normal in these photos than I did in person. 
The camera lightened up my skin tone quite a bit. Trust me–it was scary. Also, do my nostrils look tan?
For comparison’s sake, this is my normal hue. 

So she made a few quick wiping strokes down my face, and I was out the door. I put on some dark shades and avoided any main streets. I felt like an Oompa Loompa with a height advantage. The kid assured me that it would look more natural once I showered four hours later.

At home, I inspected myself closely. As my tan developed over the next three hours, I became increasingly amused/ horrified with myself. Every time I’d look in the mirror I’d gasp in terror, then laugh uncontrollably. My tan line was positively vulgar, but on the upside, my teeth and the whites of my eyes were gleaming like never before.

And though only a wee little babe, my little sprayer knew what she was talking about. After the shower, my tan was golden and even and natural. So Vin, if you’re reading this, thanks so much for the gift certificate to the tanning place. And if you find yourself stumped about the next gift certificate to give me, make it for Stanley Steamer. My tan stained the hell out of our couch.

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A Note About Trends (This post though!)

 

Last Sunday morning Vin and I went out for brunch, as is custom. We’re trying to stretch our wings, so we journeyed to a really cool Mexican spot in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The tables were basically all two-tops running down the length of a wall so it was the perfect place for eavesdropping and checking out other peoples’ food. I was happily enjoying my chilaquiles when the couple next to us had their meals delivered. As the waiter approached them, the male patron seemed especially eager, and was carefully watching his plate of huevos rancheros as it made its final descent to the table.

When the food finally made touchdown, the man rejoiced with a hearty “BOOOOOOM!” loud enough for us to hear, and of course, ridicule. He also used both hands to enthusiastically gesture that his eggs had arrived.

Vinny and I glanced at each other and almost choked on our chorizo. Doesn’t this guy know that BOOM! is like sooooooo 2013?

People of Crown Heights and beyond, I think it’s time to retire BOOM. In my opinion, boom is not clever or funny because it’s tired and overdone and has been used in every crappy commercial for the last two years.  (See also: amazeballs, totes adorbs, keep calm and blah-blah-blah). Plus, if you check Instagram or blogs or Twitter or FB or whatever else the kids are updating these days, there are clearly a whole new slew of trendy catchphrases to latch onto. And here is where I try to integrate as many of them as possible into one blog post without completely blowing out all my brain cells. Please, to enjoy.

#NO FILTER

*******

Sooooo this just happened.

I was so hungry I literally thought I was dying, so I walked to the grocery. True story– our grocery store is so close to our house we call it “the pantry” (LOLZ for dayz) and I live in Queens so not only is it open 24 hours, but it also carries E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G. including lots of really cool stuff from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Latin America and the Middle East, so… winning! You can get an entire lamb’s head (complete with eyeball) if you need it, and their selection of farty lentils and empanada wrappers almost makes up for the fact that 75 percent of the produce looks like it’s been thrown against a wall. #whaty’alldotomypeaches? #groceryfail

I’m a total foodie, so when i go to the store I have to make a list because I walk in and suddenly i”m like “I NEED ALL THE THINGS!”.  Srsly,  I get totally hangry and then I can’t. even. stop. myself from throwing everything in my cart. Except it’s not a cart, it’s a basket because UUUMMM HELLOO, I live in Queens and we don’t even have room for carts here. The struggle is real, y’all.

My first stop is the cheese aisle because, duh–it’s cheese. I’m obsesssssssssed with cheese. Cheese is my fave. Cheese is EVERYTHING. I need more cheese in my life right now. Then I remember I’m lactose intolerant and literally start crying. Okay, I didn’t literally cry. That’s silly. I’m a grown woman.

(I definitely got emotional though.)

I move back over to the fruits and veggies to load up on stuff for green smoothies. Everything looks a-maze. I throw a pineapple in my basket. It’s super heavy but WANT. I move over to the kale. It’s gorge and I LOVES IT. I grab bananas, and fresh ginger and quinoa and lemons and parsley and chia seeds and everything else that falls under the category of vegan- healthy- paleo- clean eats- organic- gluten-free- veggie porn. I’m going to make the freshest, healthiest, most drool-worthy green smoothie everrrrr and I’m going to live for it and it’s going to taste amaaaaaaaaazzzzzzzzing. Ah-maze-ing.

Still.

That puffy white bread though…

That sexy can of Pringles though…

That Ben and Jerrys’ Triple-Caramel-Chunk though…

I am crushing on them. HARD. I can’t even. I caaaaaaaaan’t. STOP IT. Gah. OMG. I DIE. I am completely dying. I’M TOTALLY, 100 PERCENT DEAD. Not even mostly dead, but DEAD. Like, as a doornail.

And then I see it.

THIS. This exactly. This right here. This right now. Ummmmm, are you even serious??? This stuff is my jam!!

Oh wait, this is jam. Nom-nom-nom, strawberry. And with a name like Smucker’s, it has to be good. Into the basket it goes. Right next to my farty lentils. BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM! (i hate myself. i can’t help myself.)

I make my way to the freezer case for a really big bag of ice so I can dump it over my head and film it. OMG It’s gonna be so cold, but it’s for a great cause and I look pretty good wet and YOLO FOMO YOKO ONO. But before I head home to drench my blowout, lemme take a selfie.

me in grocereee

#greasy hair, i sorta care #dear mom, send chapstick #no filter #hahaha, just kidding– in our mid-30s we use all the filters #grocery shopping rules #this is the widest aisle in the whole store #ootd secret–the initials on this monogram necklace aren’t mine cause i bought it for $2 at a flea market # i had no idea what ootd meant until i wrote this post #an old man caught me taking this picture  #i felt really stupid taking it

Totally winning at grocery shopping. EPIC trip. Time for champs!

 

Sorry. I’m not sorry.

 

 

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15 Years in New York (and I still can’t tell you which bridge is which)

 

It just occurred to me that this month marks fifteen years since I moved to New York City.

No friends, no family, no job, no furniture…just three hockey bags stuffed with clothes and a key to a $500 room in a shared apartment across the river in Hoboken. It’s a good thing I did this at 22, because I can assure you I would never pull this shit at 37.

At 22, I wanted adventure. It felt like I was on a tourist visa and my time here would someday run out, so I treated the early years like one long vacation. I knew I’d eventually move away and I did. I made it a full two years before I came running back. But why on earth would I do that? This place is crazy!

I came back because without great fanfare or ceremony, New York very quietly became home. Over the years, I acquired a lot of friends, family, jobs and furniture (most of it crap from Ikea, but whatever). There is no longer a push to finish up all the fun I’m going to have before I settle somewhere reasonable. Fifteen years ago I stretched my limbs and ended up here. Now my roots are tucked firmly underground, buried beneath a mound of cold gray concrete, deep with cracks and littered with sun-dried chewing gum.

Like any long-term relationship, it hasn’t been all cakepops and roses, and for all her architectural glory, culinary splendor, retail majesty, and theatrical glitter, New York City also kicks its occupants right in the shins with a melange of discourteous odors, robust armies of mites and vermin, hideously scary ROUSes (rents of unusual size), and dangerous tidal waves of human currents. Walking through certain streets in New York City is like being swept into a violently rotating tornado, a delirious funnel spun out of smog and bus exhaust filled with tattered newspapers, expired metrocards, crushed coffee cups, cheap broken umbrellas and paper sacks filled with barely-burnt sugared cashews. There are areas in Manhattan that feel like they’ve been set on fire, where the constant flicker of light and color make your eyes tear and the clamor of honks and blares thump in your temples like a steel drum.

But then you turn a corner onto a narrow street paved with crumbling bricks and spot a community garden you’ve never noticed before. You look skyward and catch an utterly bizarre installation peeking behind the glass of a local artist’s window. The wheels of your car tip onto the Queensboro Bridge and the skyline unfolds like a subway map to welcome you into the mouth of a postcard. You feel the first chill of rain on your forehead and, like magic, a man appears with fifty umbrellas.

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There is a reason New York City is photographed, filmed and rhapsodized to death. It can dropkick your spirit and swallow your soul, but if you have a high tolerance for frustration and confined spaces, you will be rewarded a multitude of inimitable quirks and charms found almost nowhere else. It can be daunting, and callous, and occasionally unkind, but one thing this city will never, ever be is boring.

In exchange for occasionally breaking your back and crushing your heart, as payback for pushing through biting winters and sticky summers, as pennance for small closets and very little kitchen space, you will be rewarded the guarantee to experience, witness, feel, taste, hear, smell or do something interesting every single day. Some days it’s spying a group of young shirtless men doing flips over groups of tourists in Washington Square Park or a man strolling casually around the East Village with an enormous yellow python draped across his shoulders.

Sometimes it’s walking outside and catching a movie crew filming on your stoop or watching a long-limbed model shift and contort herself for a team of photographers, right in the middle of a busy street. There are women here who push their dogs around in Maclaren baby strollers and men with buckets on their heads playing didgeridoos outside your subway station. It is a city shared by oddballs and outcasts, starving artists and superstars, executives and refugees, sometimes living only a block or a building away from someone living an entirely different kind of life.

You can go to the Bronx and ask an old Italian man to roll you a handmade cigar or a young shopgirl to pipe fresh mascarpone into a cannoli shell so crisp it immediately shatters under the weight of your teeth. You can head to Harlem and have your hair braided on the street for 25 dollars, or drive around parts of Williamsburg to witness dozens of Orthodox men in long black coats walk so slowly and calmly it’s like they’ve figured out the secret to life. You can take the 7 to Jackson Heights and have the most authentic dining experience outside of Pakistan, Colombia, or Bangladesh, or take a cab to midtown, Gramercy or Brooklyn and have the most memorable and extravagant dining experience of your natural born life.

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You will hear every language.  You will find a store for every need. You will smell a thousand different cuisines being cooked every day. You will never see, do, or experience everything New York has to offer because it is constantly, fearlessly, endlessly changing. If you live here, you’re never done. There’s always more.

You either love living in New York City or you begin to hate living in New York City. You either learn to accept its curtness, or you grow to resent it. People have strong opinions about this town. It’s not an easy place to live, but it’s also not an easy place to leave. There will never be a market for an “I feel ambivalent about NY” t-shirt.

This city is loud, grimy, ugly, beautiful, strange, sophisticated, sexy, exciting and just straight up weird. It’s a wonderful place, it really is. It is to me, anyway. At 37, I guess I still want some adventure. And so I stay.

Happy 15th anniversary to you and me, NYC. Loving you hasn’t always been easy, but it’s definitely been worth it. You’re my first, my last, my everything.

 

PS: You need a shower.

PPS: And where is that 2nd avenue train line you promised years ago?

PPPS:  Enough with the parking tickets already. We get it.

 

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Snip, Snip. Just the Tip.

 

I always forget how much I hate making small talk until I need a haircut.

I can tolerate people weeping openly, can engage in conversation about disturbing thoughts or memories, and manage to stay pretty calm when someone presents in crisis, but try talking to me about the weather and I become almost useless. Can’t swing it. You’ve got exactly four minutes to discuss how humid it’s been and then I’m going to start asking questions about your childhood.

Because of this aversion to small talk, I avoid beauty treatments at large, and put off the necessary ones (like haircuts) until my locks have become so raggedy that the ends start begging for sweet release. I really knew I needed a cut when last week one of my sassier clients looked at me curiously and asked: “Why is your hair not sexy today?” Shortly after that comment she asked when I planned to bring cookies into the office again. I can’t reward this behavior with baked goods. But I can get a haircut.

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<Modeling my resting bitch face, circa 2011>

Anyway, my hair was “not sexy” because the last stylist I tried to make small talk with didn’t really put in the layers my thick hair demands. His touch was too subtle, too sparing. He was a young, handsome guy who’d just moved here from Serbia a few months prior, so our conversations actually had a bit more heft to them since I married into a Croatian family. Still, once I shared my impressive knowledge of the language (Sretan Bozic! Sretan Uskrs! Bog!) and my affection for Eastern European pastries, we pretty much ran out of subjects to cover. Plus, his English wasn’t great and my Serbo-Croatian repertoire consists only of Merry Christmas, Happy Easter and goodbye.

So Friday, after an impressively short workday, I popped into a salon I pass everyday on my way home from the train. It is a bare bones, no-frills kind of joint that mostly attracts very old ladies with steel walkers and names like Esther. The walls are painted an unsettling shade of green and the lighting is so harsh it’s like every crease in your face has been put under a veil of magnifying glass. When I walked in and asked for just a haircut, the receptionist seemed relieved they wouldn’t be preforming another weekly wash and set.

I was quickly sent over to a teensy Asian woman named Susie, who was eager to understand why I had never come see her before if I lived on this street for seven years. She wanted to know where my hair had been and who’d had their hands on it. A lot of people had–I’m a notorious salon jumper. She critiqued its color (the left side was too blonde), its shape (she agreed with my client–not sexy. needed more layers) and its ability to keep my husband’s attention (don’t worry; by the time I’m done with you he won’t be able to keep his hands out of it!).

I found Susie pleasant. Just enough talk to make me comfortable and get the information needed to meet my beauty needs, but not so much that I felt pressure to endure endless conversation about my hair or anyone else’s. Mostly I was just relieved that she never asked me what I do for a living. When you work as a therapist, sometimes this conversation can be really weird, and I’ve had some awkward exchanges with past stylists: (PS: All quotes verbatim)

“Who would want to work with crazy people?” (Perhaps there’s a more tactful way you’d like to ask this question.)

“So my boyfriend does this thing where he hides out in the bedroom for days playing video games and not showering. He also never wants to have sex with me and has to count to 20 before doing anything. What’s his problem?” (As much as I’d love to diagnose your partner without ever having met him, I think I would rather sit quietly and read this magazine on my lap.)

Everyone comes in here and tells me their problems. I’m pretty much a therapist too.” ( Super! Would you consider yourself more Gestalt or Jungian in practice? )

But Susie was a pro, and she appeared eager to have me settle down and commit to a regular stylist as my hair had clearly already made its way around town. She was kind of cute, and kept pointing out what she considered her assets as a stylist. After sharing a particularly useful bit of information (“Never keep your hair parted the same way all the time. It thins your hair. Flip it to the right one week, then wear it on the left the next week”), she exclaimed, “See! Susie shares all the best tips!” Susie did share the best tips.

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<Doing what Susie taught me and flipping me hair to the opposite side. Hello volume! That Susie!!>

After making an unmemorable statement she thought was funny, she said, “See! Susie makes all the customers laugh. I’m funny, right?” Susie was funny, actually. Right after cutting my long bangs she sang, “Snip, snip! Just the tip!” and the pre-pubescent part of my brain almost exploded.

By the end of the cut and dry, I was pretty much sold on Susie, especially as the tally for the event was only thirty-five bucks. I was happy with her handiwork and so was she. As I left the salon she called out, “Make your husband take you out to dinner tonight. I hope he recognizes you!”

So we went out to dinner, and by sheer coincidence, the restaurant was next door to the last salon I visited. The weather was lovely, so we ate outside on the sidewalk in front. As luck would have it, out comes my Serbian hairstylist for a smoke break. He was looking in my general direction, so I gave a friendly, slightly awkward wave. Based on the furtive look on his face, I’m still not sure if he thought I was some random girl flirting with him or, as Susie predicted, I had become wholly unrecognizable.

Either way, I was just relieved he didn’t come up to the table and start talking about the weather.

 

 

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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:

sad tree

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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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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