Much To My Delight

Much To My Delight

A Face Made for Pictures

Years ago, back in the early aughts, when I was but a poreless, fresh-faced ingenue, I was stopped on 23rd Street by a generally unthreatening stranger. I don’t remember how he phrased it exactly, but what I remember hearing was: “You have a face made for pictures.”

I thought this sounded better than the typical street comment, far more flattering than something like “Hey! I like your butt!” or “You look like trash. Can I take you out?”

I was young and naive so I stopped to chat with him for a bit, and as it turned out, he was actually a small-time movie producer. In fact, he was just coming home from filming all day. “Oh boy!” I thought. This was it! I am totally getting discovered right now! Id always heard about being at the right place at the right time, and my time had finally come! Wait till the kids back home hear about this– stopped by an actual movie producer on the street in New York City and asked to star in his next picture! I’m gonna razzle-dazzle ‘em!”

“So tell me…” I leaned in. ‘What were you just filming? Have I seen any of your work before?” My fingers were crossed behind my back, praying for him to say he’d filmed Grease I and II and was now working on casting part three. I would be phenomenal as Sandy’s Texan cousin, the one from Dallas with big hair and lots of jewelry who seems real “Aw, shucks” and superficial on the surface but shows great depth and emotional complexity once you get to know her.

“My movies don’t really make it to theaters,” he explained, “but they make a lot of money. They’re adult movies. Any chance you’re interested? I really mean it. You have a great look.”

So, porn. I have a face made for porn. I felt like calling my parents and thanking them for their genetic contributions. How proud they would be.

(PS: Please note that I only have the face for porn, not the body).

***

“Can I draw you?”

It’s the line every woman has dreamed of hearing from a man since Kate pulled Leo into her wood-paneled cruise cabin and drooped a huge diamond between her double lattes. To be asked “Can I draw you?” indicates a face not just stunning but special, the kind that should be committed to paper and tucked away in a vault or framed and tipped on a mantle. Unless, of course, that drawing highlights your bare naked boobies– then it should be wrapped in butcher paper and tucked in your underwear drawer for safe-keeping.

Earlier this week, a young man took a seat next to me on the subway. In his lap was a sketch pad; his pants pockets were stuffed with colored pencils.

“Excuse me?” I asked. My ears were stuffed with headphones even though I was busy reading a book. I’m a New Yorker. I multi-task.

“Can I draw you?” He asked again. He had a very serious look on his face. I recognized that look. It was the look of someone startled by beauty, an artist who had finally found his muse. A man looking– really looking– into the heart and soul of a woman. As a 38-year-old in the dead of winter, I was neither poreless or fresh-faced; I was slightly chapped and quite ruddy, with a complete and utter absence of anything resembling a youthful glow. But I guess you could say he found my inner glow, and who was I to deny him the joy of capturing that?

“So, where will this drawing be going?” I asked. I was a bit more cautious in my older age, and didn’t want to find my face wallpapering a mens’ restroom in midtown or attached to some product placement for hemorrhoid cream. I support art and the people who make it, but I have a face made for porn, and I need to protect myself. Plus, if he was going to make money off my dry chapped face, I wanted in for 50%. I’m a New Yorker. Let’s make a deal.

“Well, my main goal is for you to give me 20 bucks when I’m done with it.”

“Sorry, that’s not gonna happen. I’m on a tight budget right now.” My ego dropped to my shoes where it belongs, and my nose went back into my book. The artist tried again and asked the dude across from us if he could draw him, but he was getting off at the next stop, so the artist turned his attention back to me.

“Can I still draw you while you read? Would that be ok?”

“Sure, knock yourself out.” I was curious to see his artistic interpretation of my face. I’ve been drawn as a cartoon a few times, and I actually found the likeness pretty remarkable. My mother sat for an artist as a (blonde) teenage girl and he drew her with thick black hair in a gauzy one-shouldered dress like Cleopatra. Mine were always a bit more literal.

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A cartoon drawing of me with my other dance team compadres in high school. I’d say “guess which one is me!” but my name’s right underneath it, so that kind of spoils the fun…

When you know someone is drawing you, it’s impossible to just sit there and breathe in and out like a normal person. I was happy he was sitting to the left of me; that’s my good side. But he was sitting so damn close I knew I’d have to do a bit of facial contortion to really get the best angles. I found myself trying to elongate my neck and make my cheekbones look more angular by cocking my head slightly to the right. I tilted up my wool cap to show off more of that beautiful forehead. I wiped my nose to make sure there weren’t any little surprises.

As we approached 57th Street, he focused back on closing the deal.

“I’m getting off at the next stop. Do you want this picture?” This guy’s affect was totally flat, devoid of all emotion.

cartoon drawing woman

I looked over at the portrait of my face and felt a twinge of sadness. His version of me looked so melancholy, completely spiritless. I looked like every other commuter on the subway–weary, bored, exhausted. Plus– and there’s really no way to say this without sounding like an asshole– I thought I was prettier than that?

He’d scribbled a big 5 on the corner, and I’m still not sure if that was his calling card or some kind of subliminal message, but I ended up handing him a $5 bill and taking the portrait home. It was all I had, and I could appreciate this guy’s hustle, as well as his talent. Artists have to pay the bills somehow, and he’d come up with a pretty interesting strategy.

It’s not the kind of thing I’ll lock in a vault or tip on the mantle, but it’ll definitely make a fine addition to my underwear drawer.

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Developing Self-Discipline

 

She was in the pool with one of my twin nephews while my foot dipped in and out of the water. I’d neglected to bring my bathing suit, and regretted it immediately. They looked really refreshed in there.

“What were the highlights of your summer?” My sweet sister-in-law asked, spinning a towheaded toddler around and around in the water. It looked like she was having one of hers right there.

I stumbled around that question for a minute, because while I checked off most of the boxes on my annual city-in-the-summer list, I didn’t do anything totally out of the ordinary. No travel, save for a brief, sweaty trip to Texas and nothing that would make SUMMER 2015 stick out in my mind as being particularly memorable.

(Wait, I take that back… seeing George Clinton and Parliament Funk on the beach was pretty bad-ass.) Plus…these views from a sunset cruise were awfully killer.

statue of liberty

night sky

This year, more than any other, has been about keeping my nose to the grindstone. This has been a year when work has definitely trumped play, where jumping right in has been replaced by patiently holding off. For me and Vin, this year has been all about saving. We pick up extra shifts when they’re available and turn down pricy events when offered. I have two main objectives this year–SAVE MONEY. FINISH ROUGH DRAFT–and anything that deters too significantly from that goal is usually something I graciously decline.

It’s called discipline, and I’m trying really hard to have more of it.

We watched Whiplash last week, a movie which hinges on the idea that discipline (and a bit of emotional torture) is the path to mastery; that if you really want to become great at something, you do it and you do it and you do it until your fingers bleed.

My discipline is far less severe and punishing, and I have done it for years. My discipline is waking up very early (today it was 5:30) and writing. My fingers have never bled, but they have definitely cramped so I feel as though I might be getting somewhere. I sit in my little backyard with my computer perched on a tiny rolling desk I purchased expressly for this purpose. I drink coffee–hot, never iced–and am almost always wearing something absolutely ridiculous–pajama pants, a mismatched tank top and usually one of my husband’s dirty button-downs he left out the night before. I am always wearing glasses–never contacts, not yet–and my hair is either very dirty or exceptionally clean with a towel coiled around it like a serpent. I type and type and type and then I lose myself and read with great concentration from the Book of Face, where my friends tell me all their secrets and post pictures of their children on the first day of school.

From there, my discipline is interrupted by one or two more refills of coffee, followed by subsequent trips to the bathroom, where it becomes aggressively necessary for me to scrub the toilet. I realize then that the sink looks a little grubby, so I scrub that too. Then I realize my mascara expired two years ago so I go on a bender throwing out old cosmetics. By this time, I have to pee again, and since the toilet is where all great ideas are born, I take this moment to appreciate the divine intervention my coffee inevitably provides each day as I write my great pages. I will leave this bathroom feeling fully inspired, my bladder temporarily free of interruption, my electric fingers ready to charge at that keyboard of mine. After washing my hands, of course.

And this, this is the discipline.

I am writing a book of essays, so I read books of essays rather compulsively, the same ones over and over by people I consider masters of the art–Didion, Daum, Crosley, and mostly Sedaris, because he is the freaking king of all kings. I read them now not for pleasure, but for education, checking for structure, pacing, dialogue and flow. I am not concerned about publishing anything; I am simply committing myself to finishing something. I make notes in the margins, flag certain passages with post-its (my dad calls them FLYTS for fucking little yellow things. He also calls capers “rat turds”, which would lead one to believe he dislikes them but nothing could be further from the truth.). Anyway, clearly I digress. The point is, my father has a special way of expressing himself, and I continue my pursuit of the same.

In Whiplash, the teacher instills in his students that the two most harmful words in the English language are “good job”. Subscribing to this notion, I’ve stopped patting myself on the back. I no longer look to my friends and readers for effusive praise and positive reinforcement. You won’t catch me winking in the mirror anytime soon.

So if you’ll excuse me, I have to get off the internet now. I need to go scrub my toilet and punch myself in the face.

 

 

*I was inspired to write about my creative process after reading a really funny post about how hard it is to blog on Avoiding Atrophy. Go check it out!

 

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You Can’t Go Home Again

 

Hoboken was the first place I lived when I moved to the New York City area. It’s a teeny little town–only one square mile–on the other side of the Hudson River. To you non-NYC folk, this means that Hoboken is in New Jersey which means my Queens-born husband has a tendency to stick his nose up in its general direction. I’ve hinted during our house-hunt that I’d be open to buying in Hoboken. Vin has been less enthusiastic about the idea. (I believe the phrase he used was “over my dead body”, which means there’s still a 50% chance of me moving there.)

Anyway, it’s set up like this: Once you get off the train that connects the city to Hoboken, you walk along the waterfront, where you get some really killer views of lower Manhattan. The next street is all gorgeous old brownstones, the kind that give you chest pains and make you reconsider a career in finance. The street after that is almost 100% bars, restaurants and tiny boutiques. The rest of the town is mostly tree-lined and residential. It’s a nice-looking place.

hoboken waterfront frank sinatra park

But Hoboken is a chicken wing town. What I mean is, any town with a superfluous amount of beer and chicken wing specials on any given weeknight is a very young town. If you live in Hoboken, chances are you are either very old and Italian, around 29 1/2 with a yuppie spouse and a fat little baby, or fresh out of a dorm room. It’s very well known as a recent-post-grad haven. You can’t throw a rock in Hoboken without hitting someone between the ages of 22 and 25.

I don’t remember how I heard about Hoboken, but I found my first roommates there via craigslist, which in 1999 was still pretty new and considered an excellent way to get yourself murdered. I responded to an ad for an “open house” to find a third roommate for a place on 8th and Willow, and showed up drenched in sweat at the tail end of July with about 25 other girls in their early 20s. We were all trying to win favor with the two lucky lease-bearers, two 24-year-old girls offering an incredibly small, windowless bedroom to the person least likely to stab them in their sleep.  The bedroom for rent was right in the middle of the apartment, dark and tiny, with a door that swung into the room instead of out into the hallway, so that every time you tried to leave you’d have to wedge yourself through the narrow slot between your twin-sized bed and the wall. But at $550, it was a steal. I got the final rose that day and moved in three weeks later, a bold move on my roommates’ end since I was broke and unemployed with no prospects on the horizon. 

At 22, Hoboken was like heaven. I’d never lived in walking distance of anything before, so having groceries and cocktails and tampons only a block away was very liberating. I’d temp and job-hunt in the cit during the day, then at night I’d put on cute outfits and lip gloss and try to meet new friends., either in Hoboken or back in Manhattan. The local restaurants and bars were packed with people my own age, so it felt like college got extended by a year or two. There was a dance club two blocks away and I liked to wear really tight pants and make out with relatively attractive strangers there. We lived next door to a greasy Chinese takeout restaurant, which I believed was the greatest gift God had ever given me. I lived on egg rolls and ambition. They were good times.

For the past 14 years, I have looked back on those early Hoboken days with great fondness and affection. So on occasion, I like to call up my friend Kim– who lives in New Jersey– to see if she’ll grab dinner or drinks with me in my old stomping grounds. I hadn’t been there on a Friday night in a while, but it’s safe to say that Hoboken Friday Night hasn’t changed a bit.

But holy shit… I sure have.

I chose a restaurant that was Mexican/Japanese fusion, meaning I could have chips and guac as an appetizer and sushi as the main event which is basically my idea of a perfect evening. We sat in a precious little backyard with Christmas lights strung up through trees. I had a strawberry- jalapeño margarita to whet my appetite, and excitement began to build around the “Guacamole Trio” we ordered.

guacamole and chips

When it arrived I was disturbed to discover that they had topped three tiny bowls of fairly decent guacamole with ill-advised toppings– a heavy dose of cotija cheese (bland at best, but not completely mad at it), a smattering of diced pineapple (eh…okay, but I prefer mango), and a handful of soft, buttery-yellow corn kernels straight out of a can (OFF WITH THEIR HEADS). Not only were we in New Jersey, world-renowned for their delectably sweet farm-fresh corn, but we were also smack dab in the middle of summer produce season, putting fresh corn at a cost of like, I don’t know, two cents an ear? Haven’t they seen all the documentaries? Corn is the cheapest food product in the freaking world. Plus, who puts corn in their guacamole anyway? It was like a crime against delicious appetizers. And New Jersey farmers. And Mexico! (And Japan, by proxy). 

After our meal, I suggested we go to a rooftop bar around the corner where I’ve oft romanticized one luxurious night I had as a plump-faced 23-year-old, getting smashed with girlfriends while admiring the New York City skyline. At 38, the first stop in the bar is naturally the restroom, a petite space with a meager line and an impudent little patron using one of two narrow stalls as her personal phone booth while young girls with tanned skin and short skirts waited patiently outside the door for their turn to empty their aching bladders, filled to the brim with cheap beer and sparkling wine. When it was finally my turn at bat, I tried to imbue my flush with disapproval, holding the lever down slightly longer than necessary to discursively coax the birdy from her perch. She remained undeterred, so I soaped and rinsed my hands, then made a second attempt at eviction by giving myself the most thorough electric hand-dry of the 21st century. (*as this post goes live, it’s now three days later, and she is still in the stall screaming: “No…I’m at City Something…I can’t remember what it’s called…whatever, it’s on 14th Street, use google maps”.) Eventually I surrendered and dragged Kim upstairs to the roof top deck, where I hoped to enjoy a cocktail (I was imagining gin or vodka, infused with cucumber and fragrant fresh herbs), a great skyline view, and most importantly, a chair.

The space was 1,000 times smaller and less appealing than I remembered it, with a huge crowd of recent college grads all standing and packed tightly around three large TVs, sloshing beer and blowing smoke up each others’ nostrils. I grimaced at Kim–who at almost 30 is my very youngest friend–and said, “Girl, no. I can’t do this. Can we go find some ice cream or something?”

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My second Hoboken home was on the top floor of this five-story walk-up building. My butt was a work of art.

So we walked back down the main street littered with bars and restaurants and eventually landed on a crepe place.  I ordered a simple crepe with lemon and sugar and a vanilla latte. We took a seat out on the sidewalk so we could enjoy the nice summer breeze and the sweet spicy fragrance of buffalo sauce tickling the air. When our desserts arrived, I took one look at my little glass mug and immediately recognized my “latte” as Maxwell House International Cafe Style Beverage Mix, that aluminum box of chalky powder one keeps in his or her desk drawer for emergency purposes only. My eggy crepe had been mopped with a sugary, lemon-flavored goo which stuck like gum to the roof of my mouth and made me long for Paris, or at the very least, the charming bistro in my neighborhood where crisp, delicate, lace-like crepes are spun from organic buckwheat flour before a gauzy sprinkle of powdered sugar and the gentlest squeeze of bright lemon fall upon them like light summer rain.

I looked around at the passerby–clean-cut bros in button-down shirts and packs of nubile young women in summer dresses and high heels, full of life and excitement and enough energy to yank them back into the city they had just returned from after a full day of work. The girls were prepared to walk blocks and blocks to the train in those heels, and they were flaunting the types of hairstyles that looked freshly blown. It all just looked like so much effort. Did I really do all that? Was this really my life at one time? My God, it seems like so long ago.

It was an interesting moment for me, for not only was I confronted with the fact I was now a crotchety old fart, but somewhere along the way I’d also become incredibly snobby. Where was the cooly unconcerned 22-year-old of yore, chatting with strangers and living life with unrestrained joie de vivre? Whatever happened to that young girl in tight pants making out with strangers and scarfing $2 egg rolls after a night at the club? Maybe she is gone forever, and all that’s left is a straight-laced working stiff with a love for quality food and sensible footwear. Perhaps this is just the course life follows, a few buoyant years of chirpy, non-chalantness before pining for watering holes where one can enjoy meaningful conversation, adequate seating and corn-free guacamole.

Or maybe that 22-year-girl is still there; she’s just trapped between her twin bed and a narrow wall in a tiny house on Willow Street, on the other side of the river. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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If you’re gonna spew, spew into this

A therapist’s office is supposed to promote relaxation. We paint the room in soft, soothing colors and turn on lamps instead of overhead lights. Some buy fresh flowers once a week (not me, I’ve got a house to buy) while others invest in fine leather sofas or beautiful, non-threatening artwork. You want to create an atmosphere that feels safe, calm and serene.

That is exponentially harder to do once someone has barfed all over it.

Due to difficulty finding childcare, several of my clients occasionally bring their small children into sessions. It is painfully boring for them as I have nothing in there that could entertain a child, so I usually just ply them with office letterhead and a red pen and tell them to draw their mother a picture. One day, a cute kindergartner came in with his mom. She was wise enough to supply him with an iPad, so we could talk and he could remain occupied.

His mother and I were in the middle of a very serious discussion when all of the sudden, without warning or fanfare, the little boy stood up, turned to face my big leather chair and puked up his entire homeroom all over it. It happened on a Friday, and if you went to elementary school in the United States during this century, you know that means pizza day. My pale green office was suddenly awash with pink.

I’m guessing mothers are accustomed to acts of violent and spontaneous barfing from time to time, but as a non-mother, this child’s sudden volcanic ejection caught me completely off guard. It was alarming to be in the position of having vomit on the chair, the rug and the floor and I looked longingly at the sink bizarrely placed in the corner of my office. It finally had an opportunity to serve a purpose, and the moment was completely wasted.

Once someone has puked in a therapy office, there is no more talk–there is only action–so I was more than pleased to be the professional person who needed to quickly flee the room in order to obtain enough paper towels to remove this incident from my chair, my rug, and my short-term memory.

I ran down to the basement. There were enough boxes of Kleenex to get a theater full of women through a Sunday matinee of Beaches, and not a single roll of paper towel to be found. I made a quick call to the janitor (clean up on aisle 9!) while discreetly asking people if they were hoarding towels in their offices. Finally the psychiatrist gave up his sad little roll, and I brought it upstairs.

The mother was on her hands and knees, furiously mopping off her kids’ backpack and my furniture with whatever errant cloth she could find. Meanwhile, the kid looked completely non-plussed and was back to playing with the ipad in another chair. He was smiling broadly and his little legs swung back and forth without a care. He looked like he was ready for his Friday night to get underway, maybe hit up an arcade or a G-rated flick on the way home. He wasn’t even crying. I cry every time I puke. It’s just so…upsetting.

I began to long for my own childhood. A simpler time when someone else was there to kiss my boo-boos, wipe away tears, undo my mistakes, and clean up my barf.

Maybe I should talk to my therapist about this.

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What it’s like to be a therapist.

This year, more than any other, I’m working with a lot of clients who are grieving. I have two clients who’ve lost husbands this year, and one who’s lost a child. They are some of the toughest sessions to get through, because their pain is tangible.

In seven years, I can remember exactly three times that I cried in session. Not a big cry– I’ve never done that with someone else in the room– but a tiny pinprick in the corner of the eye, the kind another person would never notice.

Actors are trained to cry on command, but therapists are expected to do the opposite. We need to be comfortable with uncomfortable conversations, because the last thing our clients need to worry about is whether  or not we’re okay. I mean, would you feel comfortable if you caught your therapist choking back sobs while you spoke? Probably not.

what it's like to be a therapist

It’s not stoicism that lets us do this, it’s repetition. Anybody can get used to anything, as long as they repeat it often enough. How do doctors perform surgery? How do soldiers shoot a gun? How does my brother–a child abuse prosecutor– look at evidence for his cases and still get to sleep at night?

These days I rarely cry when something is sad, and it sometimes makes me feel like a human totem pole–hard and wooden. I obviously have capacity for empathy (if I didn’t have that, I’d be very worried indeed), but it’s extremely rare for me to get teary-eyed when something is sad. Professional hazard, I guess.

I cry very easily, however, when something is emotionally moving. Wedding vows. Someone offering their seat on the subway to a stranger. Small children or old couples holding hands. The ukulele version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

Last week a high school friend posted a video on her Facebook wall of her 8 or 9 year old daughter opening an email announcing she’d made an elite soccer team. The little girl lost her mind and was literally overwhelmed with joy, crying and exclaiming “I made it! I made it! Mommy, I MADE it!” before crumpling in a ball on the kitchen floor. Hot, happy tears streamed down my face. I watched it four times.

Sometimes it feels really weird to cry so easily at some things but withhold that normal emotional response from so many other experiences.

But last week I read Sheryl Sandburg’s post about losing her husband suddenly, and it absolutely gutted me. I read it traveling home on the subway after having spent a long day in my office, a dark little room where I hear people describe grief like hers every single day.

I read that post and cried, because it was sad and painful to read. I cried the kind of tears other people were likely to notice, and had to use the back of my hand to wipe them from my cheeks.

And it’s a strange comfort to know I can still do that.

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All the Things a New Yorker Thinks After a Weekend in Connecticut

 

New York City can be a bit of an asshole sometimes, in every way possible. It’s too crowded, too dirty, too stinky, too aggressive, too fast, and on top of all that, really expensive. After a while, you start to wonder if you’re becoming a bit of an asshole yourself. Am I too loud? Too aggressive? Too pushy? Too impatient? Did the stink rub off on me?

When that feeling comes over us, Vin and I know it’s time to get out of town for a day or two. And when we do, we like to check ourselves in at a bed and breakfast. Hotel rooms remind me of apartments, and I already live in one of those. But B&Bs are real, grown-up houses with wooden shutters and knick-knacks and windows and elbow space. You sleep in a big room filled with books and plants and a nice person who knows how to make good coffee serves you frittata and scones fresh from the oven in the morning. B&Bs are wonderful, and I’m always surprised when people say they’d feel uncomfortable in one.

So we booked a room in a place called Henrietta House in Ashford, Connecticut and drove out Friday night after work. The traffic was, predictably, an asshole. Starting Memorial Day weekend and stretching into the summer, most people get the same idea as us and head as far away from the city as possible.

We clarified prior to leaving the city that our itinerary was to do nothing, and that’s exactly what we did. We sat on the back porch, napped, read, played guitar, stepped over chickens, and ate delicious food. The air was cool, and we slept like logs under a big puffy cloud of a blanket. Parking was easy so we went in and out as we pleased. The most strenuous thing we did was a very light, short hike.

We were in Connecticut, birthplace of lyme disease, so we navigated the trail with the precision of tightrope walkers, trying not to brush into anything suspect. When we stumbled on a tiny bridge crossing over a lovely little stream, I urged Vinny to sit down, close his eyes, and participate in a mindfulness exercise with me. I crossed my legs, one over the other like a pretzel, shut my eyes and drew in a deep breath. I concentrated on my breathing–in and out, in and out–and tried to focus on nothing but the movement of my diaphragm and the calming trickle of the stream below us.

I finally opened my eyes and glanced to my right, expecting to see Vin in full lotus, floating off on some higher plane into a state of zen. Instead, I found him playing Clash of Clans on his dumb phone.

“Vinny! Mindfulness!” I yelled. Because everyone knows the way to get your husband to feel more relaxed is to nag him into a meditative trance.

So he powered off his phone and we both shut our eyes. It’s lovely when you find someone you can share silence with.

“I can’t believe this babbling brook doesn’t make you have to pee.” he said. That boy talks too much.

“It does. Let’s go. Mindfulness over.” Sometimes I shudder to think of everything I might accomplish in this life if I didn’t have a bladder the size of a walnut.

***

The next morning we shared breakfast with the owner Marian and her assistant Jasmine, two women I found myself relating to in very different ways. Jasmine had already moved around quite a bit at 26, and geeked out over things like good cheese and coffee, just like me. And the inn’s owner Marian was a fellow Texas gal and UT alum, who’d also found herself out on the East Coast years ago. She was great fun to talk to–well-traveled, well-read, opinionated, bold–and I found myself comparing her to many of the smart, sassy Texan women I’ve known through the years, many of whom I’m lucky enough to share a bloodline with. She has this great old house with deep brick fireplaces and wide-planked wooden floors. She travels, and fills her home with beautiful, special things. She gardens. She loves cooking, and cares deeply about fresh, real food. She has big glass jars of flour and sugar on her kitchen counter where she rolls out buttery scones and homemade pie crust. She belongs to a memoir writing club.

She is living my Act IV.

I’m still not exactly sure which act I’m in at the moment (the latter part of Act II, maybe?) but one day I will outgrow it, of that I am certain. One day I will grow tired of city life, of crowded subway cars and overpriced cereal boxes, and I will want to chuck it all and head out to the country. It doesn’t actually have to be the country either, just some place with slower speeds, cleaner air and better customer service.  I used to picture my Act IV as a summer camp owner, but in recent years “Bed and Breakfast owner” sounds much more appealing because, as my grandpa says, kids can really “clutter up a place”. Clearly, I’m not rushing to get to my Act IV- I still have a few other things to tackle first. All I’m saying is I can see retirement in the horizon, and I think I’m going to be really good at it.

After we said our goodbyes to Marian and Jasmine, it was time to drive to our friends’ Tara and Evan’s house in another part of Connecticut, closer to the city. They were hosting a “porch party” to celebrate the completion of the new front addition to their house. Their home is already very beautiful and surrounded on all sides by lush trees and piles of soft grass. Their new porch is long and deep, wide enough to fit a big wooden table and all of our friends’ running children. When I walked up to their house, I was immediately reminded of the wide wooden porch that stretched across the main buildings at my childhood summer camp, where I’d sit on a rickety bench with a cabinmate, swinging our legs back and forth, trying to catch the ice cream before it melted into sticky rivers between our fingers.

I don’t know how to explain what I felt at that moment. It wasn’t envy; I’m happy for my friends, and I have no qualms about inviting myself over to sit in front of their house and lick ice cream off my hand. I guess what I felt was…confused. Conflicted. Reflective. Vinny and I have been spending all this time researching very specific types of housing in the New York area, but are we making the right choices? Are we looking in the right direction? Is spending all this money on a house in the city the way to go? Are our priorities all screwed up? Am I closer to Act IV than I’ve realized?

The next morning I woke up in a FOUL mood. I’m not a particularly moody person, so when a nasty one comes on it is swift, merciless, and I’m embarrassed to say–very, very unattractive. This one was accompanied by sniveling and pouting and not-hormonally-induced crying. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off; I felt cranky and unhappy to be back in my small Astoria apartment. I had tasted a different life– a life where you shoo chickens instead of people off your back steps, where people are rarely in a rush, where the color green is not the exception but the rule– and I was having trouble finding the advantage of my living situation over that one. It felt like my apartment’s walls were closing in on me, making it difficult to breathe.

“What are we doooooooiiiiiiiiiing?” I cried to Vin. Poor guy had just woken up, and the first thing he had to listen to on his day off was my moaning. “This place is crazy. It’s crazy!”"There’s no physical beauuuuuutttttyyyyyyyyy here. It’s ridiculous to pay so much to get so little!” Sometimes New York City is the asshole. Sometimes I am.

To his credit, Vin navigates these moments like a pro. He is calm and patient with me. He’s a great listener. He lets me vent without letting me get myself too worked up. He’d make an amazing therapist actually.

After a good cry, I suggested we go for a walk down the street. It was Memorial Day, and there was a street fair right on our block. I needed New York to dazzle me that day, and I didn’t feel like going far to get it.

New York City’s summer street fairs are the same every time, and they pop up almost every weekend in different neighborhoods. It’s always the same vendors selling bizarre, random junk like $5 handbags, makeup samples, cheap bras and magnets. The humid air makes your shirt stick to your back, and is laden with the smell of sausage and peppers, fried zeppolis, and various meats-on-a-stick. There are bouncy houses and rides for the kids, boardwalk games, and live demonstrations from the Sham-Wow guy. I never buy or eat anything (unless Dough donuts show up–then I can’t resist), but I always walk through when I see a fair. The street fairs are synonymous with summer in New York City, and I’ve been here long enough to feel nostalgic about them.

By the time we reached the end of the street, I felt better. I needed a reminder of why this place is special and interesting, and why Act IV is still a few scenes away. I looked back down the street and smiled at the kids swinging hula hips around their waists, at the plumes of smoke from the barbecue pits, and the beautiful diversity of the people in my neighborhood. Then I looked down, and realized my fly had been open the entire walk. It was a sign from the universe, telling me to lighten up.

 ***

Last week I was chatting with a gentleman who told me how much he looks forward to seeing the pots of tulips on Park Avenue every spring. He goes for morning walks with a pair of scissors so he can bring them home and admire their beauty.

I thought that was a pretty crummy thing to do. Nothing beautiful or special is without sacrifice, and if you want flowers in your home, you should turn over your cash and buy them or turn over the soil and plant them, not steal them from a community flowerpot. And if you’re not able to bring them home, all you have to do is lace up your shoes and go visit them more often.

The natural beauty is there. You just have to walk a little further to see it.

 

 

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The Top 10 Ways to Make Your Post Go Viral

 

I was a journalism major in college, with the ultimate goal to write for magazines. In those days, there were very few things published exclusively as online content. In fact, when I interned at Texas Monthly my senior year, I worked in what was called the “new media” department, which basically involved taking copy from the last month’s issue and retyping it for this crazy new thing they were rolling out called a website. Oh! How times have changed!

Now the whole world’s online, and getting published is easier than ever–especially if you abide by the following ten rules.

 how to make a post go viral

 

1. Make a list.

It doesn’t really matter what’s on it; lists are today’s greatest literary device. Websites really like publishing them, and readers adore skimming them because we all have the attention span of an avocado. Try starting your post/article with a digit and watch the numbers climb! Here are some examples:

10 ways to Lose Weight While Main-lining Cool Ranch Doritos and Vodka Cocktails

My 8 All-Time Favorite Varieties of Hard Cheese

The 6.5 Best Places to Clip Your Toenails in Public without Getting Caught

 

2. Write about S.E.X.

You didn’t hear it here first– but sex DOES sell. People are nosy freaks and they want to know what you’re doing between, on top of and under your sheets. Write a funny little story about shopping for a vibrator, your first threesome, or the time things got so out of hand the neighbors called the cops. Don’t worry about your personal life– it won’t affect it at all!

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3. Reveal your Darkest Secret

The inter webs are the new Maury Povich show. If you have something you’ve been holding close to your chest (i.e.: you have three boobs, you reuse dental floss, you’re really a giant cat living as a human) it’s time to clear the air and find a public forum to spill the beans to.

 

4. Discuss, in great detail, your most painful memory. 

There are plenty of websites that really want you to relive your trauma so other people can read about it. It doesn’t have to be well-written, or provide a message of caution, hope or encouragement to others. Just go there, because it makes for a compelling story and we are all very curious to know more about your misfortune.

 

5. Teach us Something

Put on a hat and call yourself an expert in one of the following areas, because this is what we really want to learn right now. Start your headline with HOW TO and then add any one, or a combination of the following:

make money, save money, find more time, waste less time, get clear skin, lose weight, gain social media followers, grow your blog, shrink your belly, save the planet, destroy your enemies, find your life’s purpose, lose your bad habits, stop craving sugar, raise polite geniuses, go vegan without dreaming of bacon, stop comparing yourself to others, find more joy, organize all your crap, stop farting in fancy places, keep your teeth from falling out, and make this year your greatest year EVER.

 

6. Write about Simplifying

We are all burdened by our over-scheduled, over-crowded, over-stuffed lives. If you really want to please the masses, give us a multi-step, super-complicated instructional online guidebook on simplifying every aspect of daily living. We want pictures of how you threw away everything you owned and started from scratch, starting with your wardrobe and ending with your kitchen utensils. Readers love a clean slate. Writers love a project.

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7. Tackle Controversial Subjects

Please share your personal insights and colorful opinions about ISIS, abortion, sexual harassment, medical marijuana, Obamacare, vaccinations for children, concealed handguns, gay marriage, physician-assisted suicide, affirmative action, animal testing, climate change, evolution versus creationism, and racial profiling. Do as little research as possible, and if you really want it to go viral, write completely out of your ass and have a blast reading the comments section. As an alternative, you can address one of those “open letters” to someone who’s made waves recently in the media.

 

8. Document Your Detox

Give up something vital–whether it’s food, booze, technology, or The Real Housewives franchise. Remember: Show, don’t tell. We all need to feel the withdrawal.

 

9. Let us Inside

Take us somewhere we’ve never been before, and give us something salacious to peek at. I can think of a few places that pique my curiosity, and I’d give an eye-tooth to take a tour through a monastery, a jail, a nudist colony, the dressing room of a strip club, a dominatrix’s den, Bellevue Hospital, and the man cave in the basement of the White House.

 

10. Write about Motherhood

Nothing makes waves faster on the internet than an article about motherhood. People live for stories like “1,000 things I want my daughter to know by age 3″ and “If you don’t breast-feed your children they will grow horns and become a blight on your community”.

Ask these questions to an audience: Should I become a mother? When should I become a mother? What if I don’t want to be a mother? What if I’m turning into my mother? Am I the right kind of mother? Should I work? Should I home-school? Should they cry it out? Should I cry it out? Can I name a girl Sephora, or will people automatically think of the makeup store?

Parenting is no easy task, and people like to share their every thought and feeling about it by reaching out to people they don’t know via computer.

 

And there you have it! Now go out there and break the internet with naked pictures of your butt.

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And I think to myself… what a puzzling world

 

Last Thursday morning I brewed a pot of coffee and turned on The Today Show. As I was about to leave the house for work, a breaking report came on. The headline blasted across the screen IT WAS ON PURPOSE, referring to the airplane crash in the French Alps the day prior, when a co-pilot deliberately turned 150 people over to God. I felt my heart drop to my stomach. It was sickening, horrifying, and hard to imagine.

Thursday afternoon, a coworker walked down our office hallway looking startled, and told us that she’d just seen an explosion around the corner. The storefront had been blown right off a restaurant on the next block, and she had seen and heard the terror that happened afterward as people ran outside, bleeding. It triggered a 7-alarm fire and three buildings collapsed, leaving 19 injured, 2 missing and many without their homes and businesses. It is so upsetting to see a huge hole where these classic East Village buildings were, and so scary to think of what it must have been like for the people inside them that day.

Between these two events, I met with several clients, one of whom, when describing news events completely unrelated to the two just described said: “The world is a shitty place.” I’d heard statements relatively similar to this throughout the week. “Life sucks”, “people suck”, “the world sucks”, “New York sucks”. It’s part and parcel of my job. Many people over many days iterating that the world is a shitty place full of shitty people.

Earlier in the week I agreed with a different client that a lot of bad things happen in the world, on her street, in the city. But I also reminded her that a lot of good happens too, if she can remember to look for it.

Sometimes it’s hard not to absorb the message that everything sucks, and some days–like Thursday– it’s hard to disagree with it.

I cut out of work early that day. I cancelled my last few appointments because our street was blocked off by firetrucks and heavy smoke was making it hard to breathe.

I took a seat on a still-uncrowded subway car and tried to tune out the world. If you’ve ever ridden a NYC subway before, you’re aware this is no easy task. Especially when a little boy– no older than three or four– plops right next to you and starts swinging his skinny legs and chatting his little head off.

His mother stood in front of him, and together they started playing a game of rock, paper, scissors. He was so animated and excited to play with her, and she was so clearly delighted by him. They did at least 10 rounds as we traveled through five or six stations together, giggling and tickling each other as they played.

It was a sweet, innocent moment on a day when I’d really needed one of those.

I remembered to look for it.

I found the good.

 

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We Are All Annoying Now

 

Last Wednesday was the first legitimately sunny, pleasant, vaguely warm day we’ve seen in the northeast since late October, so I couldn’t wait to get out of the office and into Astoria park, right along the water. I hadn’t been since at least November, and the first day doing anything after the winter thaw is a momentous occasion.

And it was glorious! Birds were chirping. Joggers were jogging. Dogs and babies got walked. Teenagers rolled weed. All was right in the world.

And everyone– I mean everyone– was taking pictures of everything on their phones.

And I was right there with ‘em. I tried at least six different angles to try to get the money shot- the one of the bridge, the park, the skyline and the water all in one frame. I spotted no fewer than five people trying for the same picture, using their hand as some type of visor. But it was six o’clock and the sun was so high and bright that it kept blowing out my shot. And so instead of soaking it up and letting it warm my face, I allowed the sun to annoy me for getting in the way of my documenting my lovely evening.

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And then I paused and asked myself why I was taking a picture in the first place.

I go walking in that park all the time. It’s not a unique experience for me. And I’ve taken that exact picture before. Skyline, water, bridge. Anyone who’s ever been to that park has taken that shot. I’ve taken it at least 10 times. There’s absolutely no reason for me to take that picture again. And there’s definitely no reason for me to spend five minutes trying to artfully arrange a photo so I can post it to Instagram.

And why is that exactly?

Because… NO ONE CARES!!!

Does anyone really care that I went to Astoria Park Wednesday? No.

Is anyone truly itching to see the sun set over someone else’s piece of sky? No.

Do I really need to humble-brag about choosing exercise over Netflix after work? No.

So why post it? Why do we post photos at all? Why do we take pictures of every damn thing we do and see these days? I’m not judging, because I participate.  I’m just starting to legitimately wonder why.

***

My 20-year high school reunion is this summer. (Please, I know what you’re all thinking…I don’t look a day over 19). As part of the preparations, the planning committee has requested alumni submit four pictures– two current shots, and two from 1995. As you can imagine, it’s pretty easy for me to scrounge up current day photos. I have about 12,000 on my desktop and I can simply aim my phone at my face and create one right now if I wanted to.

But I have been struggling to find two photos from my high school days. Back then, cameras were brought out for special occasions only. When you had your photograph taken, it was for a specific event or reason, not because Hey! I’m on my way to school and my hair looks good so click, click, click!. Pictures of shoes and outfits and coffees and flower arrangements were only taken for catalogs. Asparagus only crossed its legs and posed for photographs when it was about to be featured in a cookbook. It’s not like my mom pulled out pretty placemats and thoughtfully styled her meatloaf so she could snap a picture of it before calling us down to dinner. We would have thought she was nuts if she’d done that.

It’s a strange thing to have a small camera easily accessed at all times. I’ll be honest and say that’s the primary reason I ended up switching to a smartphone–the camera. I can live without texting (I hate it) and can always check email and social media on my laptop. But I loved the idea of joining Instagram, and having easy access to a camera, just in case something extraordinary caught my eye and I needed to get a photo of it.

That was my intention–to have a camera present so I could catch extraordinary  or compelling moments. But the truth of these tiny cameras (on my instagram feed, anyway) is that they capture more relatively trivial moments than anything else. A picture of our feet during yoga class, a pair of shoes on the floor, a lipstick-stained glass of Sauvignon Blanc, a piece of avocado toast. There are some people who appear to create moments out of nothing for the sake of having something pretty to put on their photo feed. There are people who curate little vignettes out of household items to post on their Instagram. I love the concept of finding beauty in everyday things, in taking time to appreciate and share gratitude for the simple joys in life, but sometimes I worry that by constantly documenting the minutia of daily life we are also interrupting the natural flow of it.

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It’s one thing to stop and smell the flowers, but no one does that. They stop and photograph the flowers. And then they tweak the photo for the perfect shade of pink. I know this is true, because I did it last week. I love the image of five champagne glasses clinking at the same time, but understand that creating this image requires one member of the party to cut themselves out of the celebration to jump behind the lens.

So what is it with all the photos? Is it narcissism? Is it “branding”? Is it bragging? Or is it just plain fun?

If these photos were postcards, “Wish You Were Here” wouldn’t be written across the top of them. It’d say something more like “Look Where I Am.”

When you live in a walking city, it’s easy to see these phone-and-photo offenders because they are absolutely everywhere. NYC is a very instagrammable city, and everywhere you go, there is bound to be a phone in the air pointing at something. If they’re not taking pictures, they’re looking at them. They’re in line at the grocery store, ignoring the clerk and obsessing over the phone. They’re colliding into us on the sidewalk, looking down when they should be looking forward. They’re at the gym, monopolizing machines for twice as long because they’re scrolling their feed between sets. Yesterday I spotted a girl in the locker room who stood there, topless, for at least ten minutes simply hypnotized by her phone. (Part of me thinks she was just an exhibitionist though; she had really good boobs).

I don’t blame the phones. I blame the people. Phones don’t annoy people. People annoy people.

Sometimes I picture a group of aliens coming down from another planet to check out our species and report back. I think they’d be pretty weirded out by our culture right now. I’m a little weirded out every time I ride the subway home and look to the bench of people in front of me. It’s so hard to find someone not looking at their phone. It is actually incredibly rare for me to see someone without their phone. They have become extensions of our bodies, as critical to walking out the door in the morning as house keys. Many of us are accomplishing tasks in little fits and bursts, interrupted by time-outs filled with glassy-eyed scrolling. I know it’s not just me.

***

As I read more and more articles about the rapid changes in technology, I can’t help but think that eventually there will be some kind of revolt or pushback about the way phones are to be used in public.

When we went to the Louvre two years ago, the Mona Lisa was impossible to admire because there were 75 iphones or Ipads covering her face. It was gross, and I can’t imagine the museum will let that shit go on forever (I hope not, anyway). And the other day, while walking by a shop selling macarons–the ultimate in photogenically girly baked goods– I spotted a small sign on the window urging passerby to not interrupt their bakers by taking photos. I feel like we’re on the precipice of a “Stop the Insanity” moment.

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I’m still not exactly sure the point I’m trying to make with this post. I’m certainly not about to make a pledge to stop taking pictures of things with my iphone. I’m not asking you to stop either–I enjoy looking at your pictures, I really do. Ultimately, I think most people share photos because we all have our own stories to tell, and photos are a way to offer others a sliver glimpse into our individual worlds. And that, I think, is pretty cool. And how could I judge that? I blog, for chrissakes!

So next week, when I’ve forgotten all about this little rant and post a photo of me sitting in a field of tulips, holding up my perfect hamburger while relaxing in the pinky-orange glow of the setting sun, I hope you will do me the favor of clicking like.

I can’t explain why, but I find it very validating.

 

 

 

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About Therapist Confidentiality…and Compassion

 

If you’re familiar at all with the therapeutic process, you’re well aware that the number one rule is confidentiality. When a client sees me for treatment, what they share with me is sacred. I can’t reveal any of their identifying information. I’m obligated by law to keep my trap shut. Their stories are not mine to share.

If I’m being honest though, there are times when I wish they were. But not for the reason you’re probably thinking. I’d be an unforgivable unethical jerk to turn my clients’ stories into a book. (But trust me, they’d make an amazing one.)

I hear fascinating stuff in sessions. People lead very interesting lives in this town; far more interesting than mine. Many people have also been through some extremely hard, extraordinarily painful situations. I find myself feeling moved, inspired, surprised, and humbled at least a dozen times a day. And my clients and I laugh so loud and often people strolling the hallway must wonder what in the world goes on behind my office door.

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So yeah, on occasion, I have the shameful wish that I could be more open about who my clients are, what they’ve been through, how they’re changing and what they’re feeling. It’s amazing how much you can learn about yourself when you’re listening to someone else.

I became a more compassionate person when I became a therapist. I had no choice. It’s the foundation of the job.

And sometimes I think if other people heard what I have the privilege to hear, the world would be a more compassionate place.

I have a job where I meet and learn intimate details about people that are, by and large, vastly different from myself. I meet people who think and behave differently than I do. People who come from environments that feel like foreign countries to me, even if they’re only a few subway stops away. People whose interests, choices, behaviors, personalities and backgrounds are completely opposite of my own.

In my personal life, how often do I connect with people who are vastly different from myself? Not very.

Isn’t that what makes Humans of New York so beloved? He plucks the average person off the street, takes their photo and passes them the mic to briefly share their story. And even when their story involves something society generally disapproves of (ie: crime, drug use), there are floods of comments showing compassion, support, encouragement and understanding. A lot of people see a junkie on the corner. Brandon (of HONY) sees a whole person with many different facets, who is hiding behind a mountain of pain.  And once he shares that on his site, other people are able to see that too.

I’m fortunate to have a job that pushes me to find the good in everyone.

And the great news is that you don’t have to be a therapist to do this.

You can simply choose to.

 

 

I’m writing this today as part of the initiative to find 1,000 bloggers to write about compassion today so we can flood the internet with good. You can find other stories about compassion by searching #1000speak on twitter.

Be kind, for everyone you know is fighting a hard battle.

 

 

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