Much To My Delight

Much To My Delight

Almost, Not Quite, Just About 40

I’m going to need to update my sidebar soon. It describes me as a 30-something, and that won’t be true much longer.

The race to 40 is not a race at all, but a slow and steady march toward the other side of youth into a land of eye lift serums, fortified yogurt and yearly mammograms. I finally upgraded my skin care routine, which until recently included drugstore cleanser and a drop of coconut oil. I discovered my upper eyelids were starting to droop at the same time I realized it’s time for nose hair clippers. I walked into Kiehls’ flagship store on 2nd avenue and announced to the first guy I saw, “Help me. I’m turning 40″. His name was Bobby, and his eyes danced as he dreamed of commissions while playing dress up with my face. When the bill came I looked Bobby in the eye and said, “Listen, if in two weeks I don’t look like an eighth grader, I’m coming here and demanding my money back.” He laughed and said, “You’re not turning 40. You’re going to be young forever! You have a young spirit.”

I thought about what Bobby said, about having a young spirit and all, and I decided that he’s wrong.

I don’t have a young spirit. My spirit has no interest in staying up late and playing beer pong. My spirit craves 9pm bedtimes and takes probiotics after every meal. My spirit gets overwhelmed in crowds and shoves two fingers in her ears at rock concerts. I actually have a very old spirit with a good sense of humor and a slight curiosity about the whole thing. The whole thing being…what happens next anyway?

I have a profile on the social networking site Facebook (you too?!) and have been following along as all my friends from high school and college turn “THE BIG 4-0” this year. Some of them threw ’70s or ’80s-themed birthday parties. Two had enormous displays in their front yards, the letters 4 and 0 constructed entirely out of balloons. Most booked sitters and took nice vacations someplace tropical; Hawaii, Jamaica, Miami, Puerto Rico. That’s the route I’m going as well. The tickets are booked and I’m already stocking up on big straw hats, which I plan to wear faithfully in this next chapter of my story.

chicks

bevo

It’s been kind of a trip watching my oldest friends hit this age, the one that used to be associated with mid-life crises and tipping  ”over the hill”. I don’t live close to these friends or see them often, so all I get are little snapshots every few months. What I see are tasteful, grown-up houses and kids dressed for the first day of kindergarten or fifth grade, and sometimes even high school. My old friends are running businesses and church fundraisers. They’re PTA moms and soccer dads. A couple have health problems, the kind you only start to develop “after a certain age”. A few are switching gears or completely starting over.

None of this matters because I see them now as I did then.  The people I grew up with will be 16 or 18 or 22 forever, at least to me. True, most of them don’t look too different physically, but more than that–and as corny as it sounds–their spirits really have remained the same.  Situations and lifestyles and faces change, but at the end of the day or the start of a decade, I’m starting to believe youthfulness has a shot at everlasting.

Eh, we’re not really turning 40. We have young spirits. We’re going to be young forever.

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How personal do you get on your blog?

 

I just discovered this new writer who is making me lose my shit on the subway. Her stories are so outrageous and searingly funny that I can’t stop grinning from ear to ear, shaking my head, and laughing out loud. I clutch my stomach and wipe the happy tears from my eyes. And then, I try to tame myself down. Because that’s what I do.

One of the reasons her writing is so strong is because it’s uninhibited, honest and raw. This chick really puts it all out there. Admittedly, not all of her stuff is up my alley (there’s an entire essay dedicated to the rankness of her farts), but many of her stories had me doubled over in pain from laughing so hard because nothing was off limits–ridiculous sex stories, truly mortifying moments, hysterical family memories.  She’s almost painfully self-aware, and ballsy enough to call attention to her baser qualities. She allowed herself to be very vulnerable and writes in a way that shows she’s clearly not afraid of embarrassing herself. But she also seems afraid to write things that have the potential to truly embarrass others, and that’s where I struggle most as someone who writes in the first-person as opposed to fiction.

how personal should i get on my blog?

The best writing, in my opinion, is just like this. You have to pretend there is no one reading your stuff in order to give yourself permission to really let go. You can’t look over your shoulder worrying “Who’s going to read this?”. You can’t pause and say, “But how will this make me look?” or “What will my mother think?”. Writing without those types of restrictions is refreshing and real, and reminds the reader that at the end of the day, we’re all just a bunch of fools fumbling around trying to figure ourselves out.

I really wish I could let myself write this way, but I can’t. Turns out, I am an inhibited person in life and on paper. I have my reasons, and if you’re a blogger who finds herself holding back from writing the whole dirty truth, I bet you do too. My reasons are this: I have a husband, a family, a personal life and a full-time job to consider, and if something I write compromises any of those things, I’d have a really difficult time recovering from that. To me, that risk will never be worth any potential rewards.

So, back to this writer. Her name is Sara Barron, and if you like to laugh you should read her two books because she is truly funny in a way that I will never be. First of all, she ain’t afraid to let her freak flag fly, and will entertain you with many tales of sexual hilarity, including the time she got carpal tunnel syndrome from excessive masturbation and discovered her grandmother’s vibrator in a bedside table drawer. This is a classic distinction of what will always make someone like her funnier than someone like me– had this stuff happened to me, I would carry those tales with me until the day I died. Maybe I would share them at an intimate gathering of my very closest friends, but that’s it. They’d go no further. Two hilarious stories up in smoke, because I couldn’t handle embarrassing myself that way, and my family would (rightly) spear me with a long, pointy dagger if I publicly upset my grandmother. I would never want to bring negative attention to someone I love so much. Plus, I’m still counting on her to direct traffic to my blog.

The truth is, I’m not really at risk for that to happen anyway. I don’t have a ton of wild stories to tell because I’ve never been an incredibly wild person. I have been cautious and relatively conservative my whole life. At slumber parties, the other girls would sneak out the front door and have boys meet them down the street. I’d stay in the house, read magazines in the corner, then put myself to bed at a reasonable hour so I’d wake feeling refreshed in the morning. I usually shared my first few pancakes with the host’s mother; we’d clink juice glasses and swap sections of the newspaper.

I also have a hard time writing openly about my personal feelings. My observations– no problem. But my feelings? That’s very difficult. I’ve got the hang of “show, don’t tell”, particularly when it comes to describing a scene or a setting, but when it comes down to really shooting from the hip and writing from the heart, I struggle. I’m like the Georgia O’Keefe of blogging– all landscapes, no self-portraits.

I am a psychotherapist, and all day long I work within boundaries. Boundaries are huge with dorks like us. I have a job in which I purposely shroud my own background, personal feelings, values, and biases so that I can actively listen, accept and learn about everyone else’s. I have done such a good job at this that it’s now difficult to swing the other way– to let my guard down, to let someone in, to reveal too much. And yes, the idea that my clients would find this blog is something I worry about and tailor my writing around all the time. That’s why I have a different name at work than I do on here, and my Facebook page is named after a movie character. I’m wearing dark sunglasses and a big floppy hat in my Instagram photo. At my day job, my identity is not a secret, but my personal details are to always be sort of vague. This runs exactly counter to the kind of first-person writing I do, and I’m having so much trouble navigating that divide.

Like I said, I’m just another fool fumbling around, trying to figure it all out. With this blog, and the little book of essays I’m stringing together, I continue my quest to determine which stories to tell and how. I’m still trying to get a handle of knowing how far to push and when to pull back. The shape of things is still rather nebulous, with loose shapeless edges that stretch far from center. Nothing is tight; nothing is concrete or secure. It’s a bit of a freefall, frankly.

But there is one thing I do know for sure. My grandmother’s secrets will always be safe with me.

 

 

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38 Special

 

At the end of the week, I’ll turn 38. I remember when my parents were 38. I was in junior high. They were in the suburbs.

I’ve been on a quest lately to not think too hard or long about what it means to quickly approach an age that ends in zero and rhymes with Lordy. I’ve forbidden myself from trying to tailor my life’s choices to some kind of pre-ordained timeline because literally nothing I’ve ever pictured myself doing has been completed by the age I expected to, and it’s all worked out just fine. I have no intentions of reading or writing a blog post titled “The 38 things you need to get done by age 38″. I’ll do things on my own watch, thank-you-very-much, and I’m guessing you will too.

I’m not going to take cheap shots at my new age with self-deprecation and tired rants about ticking clocks. I’m not going to congratulate myself for how much I’ve figured out (girl, please) or chide myself for not having everything my childhood self would have anticipated my 38-year-old self to have by now. I’m not going to hyperbolize by spending too much time addressing the subtle lines framing my mouth, the extra fold of skin above my eyes or the elegant bunions on my feet. I’m not going to insult 38 by making it sound old when it simply isn’t. I’m also not going to lie and say that my brain functions much differently than it did when I was 22, because unfortunately (fortunately?) it doesn’t.

me in centrla park

I’m not going to generalize too much because 38 probably looks different on me than it does (or will, or did…) on you. I don’t know what 38 looks like to you. But this is what it looks and feels like for me.

Thirty eight is 25 years of wearing makeup and still not understanding how to apply eye liner so it doesn’t smudge all over my face. It’s searching high and low for the magical concealer that will erase the purple beneath my eyes without creasing at the corners of them. It’s wearing clothes that fit the season and my body type, and almost never the latest trend. It’s being in good physical health, and never taking that fact for granted. It’s putting on a wide-brimmed hat and looking exactly like my mother.

Thirty-eight is not fully understanding why, but finding a small, peculiar thrill in menial tasks like refilling soap dispensers and throwing out an old sponge in exchange for a new one. It’s opening the fridge and feeling gratitude for its fullness. It’s appreciating that I’m not living paycheck to paycheck anymore, that we’re actually doing all right, that we’ve hit a smooth spot in the road where we can just cruise for a while. It’s feeling like we’re not just two kids trying to figure it out anymore, but two smart, capable grown-ups who are making plans and getting things done.

Thirty-eight is right in the thick of it, job-wise. It’s working hard and taking pride in getting up each morning knowing I have somewhere to be, and something to do. It’s living within our means and saving for our future; skipping the labels and status symbols because no one really cares what we can and can’t afford, anyway. It’s tightening the belt in a million ways while saving room in the budget for good bread from the bakery and Sunday brunch with fancy lattes, because life’s too short to be joyless, and weekends are too precious to waste on sad oatmeal and drip coffee.

good coffee

Thirty-eight is having more friends who are parents than friends who are not. It’s loving their childrens’ laughter and big hugs and silly songs, but also feeling excited to go home to my quiet apartment, just my husband and me. It’s seeing friends far less often, but treasuring time with them even more. It’s sifting out who and what’s important, and adjusting plans accordingly. It’s fewer acquaintances, deeper connections, richer conversations. It’s being more comfortable saying no. It’s giving up on the idea of pleasing everybody and making good on the promise to always be true to myself.

Thirty-eight is fewer people calling me kiddo, and more and more addressing me as ma’am. It’s being practically invisible to 20-something boys and a sweet juicy peach to divorced 53-year-old men. It’s identifying with the parents in sitcoms instead of the kids. It’s getting excited over things like fancy vegetable peelers and front-loading washers and dryers. It’s passing groups of teenagers on the street and thinking, “Was I ever that loud?”. It’s spending Friday nights at home and feeling completely satisfied.

Thirty-eight is one month away from my 20th high school reunion in Texas. It’s not dieting or working out like crazy to prepare for it, but shopping for a nice dress that fits me well and is impervious to pit stains. It’s hoping they have fried shrimp and name tags because fried shrimp are delicious and I’ve forgotten a whole lot of names. It’s getting excited to reconnect with my first girlfriends, the ones I met in pre-school who’ve grown up to live with their families in beautiful houses but who live on in my mind as pretty 16-year-olds leaning against their first car on 103rd Street. It’s thinking about how simple things were then, but also reflecting on how pretty great things are now.

Thirty-eight isn’t the beginning, and it hopefully isn’t anywhere near the end, and there’s no way to measure if it’s hovering around the middle. It’s having some things set in stone and others completely up in the air. It’s lingering a little too long in the station between comfortable security and total freedom, and being caught in a weird head space of wanting to tuck roots underground while still fantasizing about running away to a muggy tropical island or a village in the south of France.

Thirty-eight is being curious about my future but constantly homesick for my past, being ready to peek behind the curtain to reveal what comes next while wishing I could yank back the trembling hands of that eternally ticking clock, so I could start at the very beginning and do it all over again.

cute me and vinny

 

 

 

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What Happens Next… After Five Years of Blogging.

 

My grandparents often send me clippings from their local newspaper.  Usually, it’s recipes from the HEB store or articles mentioning Croatia, where my husband’s family is from. Years ago, my grandmother sent me a big feature article from Austin Monthly, with a tiny note attached.

“Dear Jennifer”, wrote my grandmother. She has always been the official correspondent from Grandparent HQ. “This gal was featured in the Austin newspaper in a big article about how she got a book deal from starting this thing called a web-log. Maybe you should do one. Maybe you could get a book deal too.”

My grandparents have always been some of my biggest fans, and have even created a binder where they keep things I’ve written through the years. I’ve leafed through the binder to find articles I wrote as a journalism student, stories from a now defunct website I used to write for, and papers I drafted in high school. They’ve even kept emails they thought I composed particularly well.

“Oh, but you wrote it so nice it sounded like a real story!” Grandma would reply, when asked why she printed and saved an email I sent her in 2001. ”I showed it to some of my friends. They enjoyed it too.” My body of work is already quite well known by every golfer and Lutheran in Marble Falls, Texas.

So I checked out the blog. It was Stephanie Klein’s Greek Tragedy– the OG of the blog world, back when it was full of personal stories and free from copious advertising. She was a terrific writer– sharp and honest with a strong, original voice. Some of my initial thoughts were “Damn, this girl has amazing hair”, “This chick has quite the mouth on her”, and “Huh. Maybe I should start a blog. Maybe I could get a book deal too!”.

Now this would be an amazing place to say… and I did it! Dear Readers, after five years of your loyalty I am proud to say I have finally landed a real-live-book deal! Grandma’s plan worked!!”

DSC_9816

Well that day ain’t here yet, but I will tell you that I’ve been working harder to hasten its arrival. I’ve been writing a book. Yes! A real, live book! Can I tell you what a pretentious A-hole I feel like writing that? Who isn’t writing a book? I’m sure half the Kardashians have written  a book. Snooki has a book. If they can do it, why can’t I?

If you’ve been reading for a while (and bless you for that, really) you’ll have noticed that this blog has gone through many iterations over the past five years of me tending it. It started as a fun way to document things I was doing around the city. I posted lots of pictures and recipes and scattered some stories in between. I spent a lot of time on here, and really enjoyed the creative outlet after work. But I could never keep up with 3 or 4 posts a week coupled with my job and personal life, and the only thing I’ve ever really been consistent with is my complete and utter inconsistency. I don’t make a lot of apologies for it because this blog is not my occupation, and I never want writing to feel like another obligation. I’ve taken long breaks and short breaks. Some months I posted every week, some months went by without posting at all.

I have done an absolutely terrible job at promoting this site, and the numbers show. I paid 50 bucks for a sponsorship ad once, gained about three followers, and never went down that road again. I feel like a jerk spreading my stuff on Facebook and twitter, which I’m not even convinced helps anyway. If I get one new bloglovin’ follower every other month, I’m thrilled. A lot of people say that content is king, but I respectfully disagree. It takes a lot more than original content to make yourself noticeable on the internet. I’m sure I could have paid a designer to make my site look more professional, paid more attention to learning about SEO, or spent more of my day commenting on other blogs in order to create a bigger community here, but with a (sometimes draining) full time job and a small budget, I just never took the time.

Time! There is never enough time!

I don’t know how other bloggers do it- I really don’t. I’ve done a lot of evaluating and rejiggering to find out where my time is best invested, and have made adjustments accordingly. I don’t post a lot of pictures anymore, because with my limited back-end knowledge and utter lack of technical prowess, uploading, editing and arranging pictures in a post added at least an hour to the process. There are pages on this site that have been “under construction” for two or three years, and the truth is, they will probably remain that way. I’ve chosen to concentrate my energy on my writing, and the other stuff is just not that important to me. I don’t really feel like spending time tweeting and retweeting either. I find social media a big enough time-suck as it is.

I kind of gave up on the idea of this becoming a popular blog long ago. My posts do not go viral, they are not the type that get “pinned”, and I will never be recognized on the street.  Isn’t that a trip? I have seen “famous” bloggers around the city, and completely recognize them. I’ve seen “Love, Taza” pushing her baby carriage through the Upper West Side; I’ve seen women I follow on Instagram hanging out on the Highline or Bryant Park. One time I even saw Stephanie Klein buying cheese at Central Market in Austin and had a completely embarrassing fan-girl moment. Anyway, I don’t think it’s in the cards for me to become one of those recognizable bloggers. Fine by me.

In many ways, I am glad to be an “under-the-radar” blog, because it’s allowed me to write without a lot of outside influence or pressure. I have not been subject to the criticism or scrutiny that bigger blogs have. To my knowledge, I don’t have many “haters”, but instead have a smart and thoughtful cheering section who encourages me to share my pieces more often. I haven’t had to adjust my content to fit some larger standard because I simply don’t care about fitting one. As a result, I’ve been able to write what I want to write without worrying too much if it will appeal to a mass circulation. Most importantly, checking in here on a semi-regular basis has really, really helped me establish my writing voice. I feel like I’ve developed a very specific writing style that sounds like “me” at this point, and if I’d been writing for a really large group of people, it’s possible I might have derailed from it.

A week or two ago, Vin was scrolling through my Instagram feed, and happened upon a really sweet comment from a reader, urging me to “Write a book already!”.

“Isn’t it weird?” he asked. “Complete strangers are able to follow you and read your posts?”

I was surprised by his reaction, because getting complete strangers to read my posts has been the whole point of having these social media accounts, and a blog. “Of course it’s not weird! When complete strangers tell me to write a book, it’s the most encouraging thing in the world!”.

Seriously, it is. Please never underestimate the impact of your kindness. When you say “You should write a book!” to someone who has always dreamed of writing a book, you are doing many things at once–you’re making her day, you’re quelling her insecurities, and you’re lighting a big bonfire under her butt.  At least that’s what many of you–family, friends, and far-flung readers alike–have done for me. Your notes of encouragement have meant more to me than I could begin to describe. They make me feel like my thoughts matter.

As such, I have been writing here less, and trying to write this beast of a book more. If it shapes up the way it looks in my head, it will be a collection of short personal essays, filled with stories I’ve never shared on the blog before. Right now all the essays are still in the phase Anne Lamont refers to as “the shitty first draft”, but I plan to go back and gussy them up later. I hope they will strike a balance between funny and sweet, and remain consistent with the voice I think I have begun to develop here, on this little web-log that came about after my grandmother sent me a clipping from the newspaper.

If you know any literary agents who are partial to non-fiction and personal essays, feel free to slip them my number. There’s a $20 bill with your name on it if you do. I figure that’s a better investment at this point than a sponsorship ad.

And if (I mean whenwhen!) I ever do finish this next writing project, I already know when and where I’d like to schedule my first stop on the book tour. Pencil me in for springtime in Marble Falls, just after the bluebonnets have made their brilliant debut. I’ll be parked at a skirted table in front of the Lutheran church, where I’ve already established a loyal and supportive fan base.

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On Being an Introvert

 

I’ve taken the Myers-Briggs tests at least 10 times over the past 10 years, always thinking I can somehow outsmart the test and end up with a different result. Nope. Every time, same one.

INFJ. Introversion. Intuition. Feeling. Judging. Apparently it’s the most rare of all personality types, with only 1% of the population testing this particular combination. It’s the one area in my life where I actually feel exotic.

The first times I took the test, I was sure I must have done something wrong. The introverted part of the equation really threw me off because I always considered myself a pretty outgoing person. I was confused. But I can be so chatty! I love throwing parties! I’m not meek or shy! But the more I really learned about what it means to be an introvert, the more I understood that the test was bang on.

Introversion is not about being shy, and extraversion is not about being gregarious. It’s about energy, and where you draw it from. Extroverts gain the most energy from being with others; introverts from within. If you haven’t read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, I definitely recommend it, especially if you other introverted types want to feel very understood.

The following is a passage from the book, but if someone ever asked me for a soundbite on how to best describe myself, this would basically be it:

Introverts may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.

This is me to the letter. In addition, there are other qualities inhabited by INFJs that really describe me as well– perfectionism, overly sensitive to criticism, prone to burnout. I also carry a lot of guilt with me for not keeping up with old friends as well as I should. Talking on the phone has never been one of my favored activities.

When I was a kid, I attended a lot of slumber parties. I would have a great time at them, doing the typical girl things–braiding hair, making Rice Krispies treats, prank-calling boys–but there would always come a point in the evening when I would retreat in a corner and start reading magazines (as an adult, it’s cookbooks:). In college, I loved hanging out with my roommates and going to parties but I also spent a whole lot of time driving through town alone to clear my thoughts. Sometimes I would park my car and sit on the side of a hill for hours to write or think. Being alone wasn’t something that bothered me or made me feel lonely; it was something that nourished and refreshed me, as long as it was in the right doses.

quiet

(Vin caught me taking a break from the party at a friend’s cabin)

My social engine is in very good working condition, but it peters out after four to six hours of activity. I’m not someone who needs or wants constant social plans. I’ve never partied till I dropped. I party till about 11 or 12 (max), so I can make sure and get enough rest so I can wake up early and have my precious alone time. I realize this makes me sound about as fun as a night of staying in and doing taxes. And yes–for the curious– the idea of having someone around ALL THE TIME (ahem, like a baby) is very frightening for someone who cherishes solitary time the way that I do.

I’ve learned to accept that I may never be considered the life of the party, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like going to them!  In fact, Friday night I was so desperate to be sociable that I practically begged my coworker and her boyfriend to go out with me after work.  We had drinks and dinner and dessert and talked to junkies in Tomkins Square Park. I got the social interaction that I craved and then I was ready to go home and hang out with myself. At 8:45.

Like many introverts, I spend a lot of time in my own head and tend to consider my thoughts one of my better companions. It is no coincidence that my personality type and a lifelong love for writing go hand in hand. My career choice as a therapist makes a whole lot of sense in that context too.  One-on-one interactions tend to be my favorite, and if a group is any larger than six, my voice may be the one you hear the least often. I’m not always a quiet or reserved person, but I sure can be. I absolutely hate to yell over other people. I hate to yell, period. If a situation requires yelling in order to be heard, I’d rather sit and listen. Or leave the room.

When I was 25, I made an attempt to teach 3rd grade in the South Bronx. It was a very unfortunate circumstance that the particular school where I taught was incredibly poorly run, with very little support from the administration, veteran teachers, and parents. A disproportionate amount of the students had significant behavioral issues, and I spent more time each day breaking up fights than I did teaching anything. After so many times sending kids to his office, the principal finally suggested I begin shutting my door and yelling at the students to improve classroom management.

You can imagine how well that went.

I couldn’t sleep. I barely ate. I cried every Sunday night. I dropped 15 pounds in less than three months. I was miserable, a nervous wreck. I was working against my natural disposition, my temperament, and my core self. I quit the day before Thanksgiving break. (that’s where the N for Intuition part comes in–when you know something is off, you just know). Still, that job taught me a lot. Working with large groups and being the focus of attention in a room? No thanks. Not for me. Pulling someone aside and talking to them one on one? Much better. My failure as a teacher was my inspiration to become a therapist, and even though there are stressful days in my current occupation, there has never been a day– not one– that stressed me out like teaching did. Play to your strengths! (PS: There might not be another group of people in the world I respect more than teachers.)

get ur freak on

(See? Introverts can have fun too! Here I am…puttin’ my back into it.)

Anyway, enough talking about myself.

I’m starting to feel uncomfortable.

 

Have you taken the Myers-Briggs Test? Are you an introvert or an extrovert, or a little bit of both? I’m very curious…please share!

 

 

 

 

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Tonight You Will Be Visited by the Ghost of Office Christmas Parties Past

 

The first time I went to a real company Christmas party I was 22 and brand new in the city. I had just started working for a publishing company as a writer and editor for a series of hairstyling magazines and used my journalism degree to write captions like “Pump up the Volume!”, “Color to Dye For”, and my personal favorite: “What About Bob?”. The company had a lot of titles and were each represented by people who seemed to look like they were perfectly matched to the magazine’s content. The whole staff of Guitar World looked vaguely like rockers, and played guitar at their desks between assignments. The folks at Dog News had pics of their pets on their cubicle walls, and the women who worked for Romantic Country were soft spoken and surrounded by bowls of potpourri. I hoped I was representing my team well by having a decent head of hair. Free highlights and endless beauty swag definitely helped.

The staff Christmas party was held at the Bryant Park Bar & Grill, a classic NYC spot right in front of Bryant Park and behind the public library. It was a seated meal with filet mignon, and I remember feeling pretty proud to work in a place that served us expensive steak for the holidays. They also gave us champagne flutes from Tiffany’s as party favors. I couldn’t wait to tell the folks back home about that.

I ate dinner at an assigned table with the rest of my staff, but I was itching to introduce myself to others in the company since I was still an import looking to make friends. Across the room was a group of people around my age, mostly guys, so I tentatively approached them. I was immediately drawn to the only guy in the entire place wearing a suit. Everyone else had come straight from work in their blue jeans, but he changed into something special for the occasion. I thought that was sweet.

We talked and joked for most of the night and decided to become friends. The next morning I came to work to find him sitting in my office chair, hands folded over his chest and feet propped up on my desk.

And that’s the story of how I met my husband.

me and v

Left: Me and Vin as babies at the office  Right: Back in the years of fancy work parties (Sushi and cocktails…those were the days)

 

14 years later…

Last Friday was apparently the official office Christmas party night in the city. We both had ours to attend, and were excited to compare notes at the end of the evening.

I work in a non-profit, so expectations for retirement and holiday parties are kept extremely low. The idea to even have a holiday party was only bounced around a week prior to the event, and my curiosity was piqued as to what they could throw together in such a short amount of time. My office is not in a traditional building–it’s in a converted brownstone, so it’s a series of long hallways with tiny, dark bedrooms used as therapy offices. My room also has a sink in the corner, which I have found to be surprisingly useful over the past few years.

There is really only one place in the building that can contain our staff for parties–and that’s the group therapy room. During the day, it’s all AA meetings and DUI classes, but at night, the room transforms into the staff social area. It feels very naughty to drink Barolo from plastic cups in that room. With the lights on, the thrift store artwork– which can only be described as “bric-a-brac” is on full display, but with the overheads turned off and twinkly strands of colored lights draped from the ceiling, I have to admit that our funky group room was able to acquire a pretty sexy holiday glow. We had a few nice little snacks and some pastries from down the street, and then one of our more outgoing admin staff members used the drafty room’s acoustics to belt a karaoke version of “Oh Holy Night”, quickly followed by some Donna Summer and I Will Survive. Therapists tend to be a pretty demure bunch, so we were all grateful for the entertainment. I didn’t take any pictures because A) it was really freaking dark in there and B) Seems uncouth to post pictures of a mental health clinic online.

A few blocks away, Vin was attending his company party, for which he’d received an embossed invitation over a month ago. It was a roaring 20s- themed bash complete with live band and hired swing dancers held in an opulent ballroom that used to be an old bank. Staff dressed in flapper dresses and feather headbands or suspenders and bowties. There was a costume contest. They had fancy finger foods and rivers of free booze. Halfway through the night, Vin texted me this picture along with two videos of professional swing dancing that I have no idea how to upload:

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To which I replied: I can’t believe this shit.

Over the years together, we’ve each changed jobs a handful of times, and at this point in our respective careers, our workplaces could not be more opposite. When I visit him at his job, I tend to spend a lot of time in the restroom because compared to ours, it feels like the lobby of the Plaza. It’s especially nice because it’s not shared by male co-workers, like mine is. As a side note, for the love of all that is good and holy, WIPE THE SEAT DOWN.

But I digress.

I am probably past the days of bonuses and goodie bags. There is no swag in social work. There aren’t a ton of benefits or added perks in the non-profit life, except for the satisfaction of knowing you’re doing something good for others (which is perhaps, the biggest perk of all). And at the end of the day, I wouldn’t trade the work I do all year for a fancier party at the end of it. I wouldn’t even trade it for a subscription to the jelly-of-the-month club, and that’s the gift that keeps on giving the whole year.

I still have those champagne flutes from Tiffany’s.  I’ll drink to that.

 

 

 

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This is Marriage.

About two years ago, I stepped into a small mound of cow shit. It’s a memory I just can’t shake, mostly because I was barefoot at the time. And wearing a really long white dress.

I stepped barefoot into a meadow muffin on my wedding day. That has to be good luck, right?

None of the magazines prepared me for that. They tell you to bring hairspray and lip gloss and bobby pins, but no one ever warns you that choosing an offbeat wedding location like a farm or a field might mean stepping into something other than rose petals on your special-special day.

My groom, ever the gentleman, sprinted to our reception tent and grabbed some wet paper towels from the bar area. I held up the hem of my dress as I waited, then he ran back, got down on one knee and gently but thoroughly removed the poo from between my toes.

I felt just like Cinderella.

***

We both became pretty violently sick on the second half of our honeymoon. He was headfirst in a bucket during an afternoon at sea, and I spent several days hacking up a lung after catching some historic plague from the most toxic airplane restroom in all of the Hawaiian islands.

My coughing fits were so constant and uncontrollable that they rendered me fairly useless. We tried to make the most of it, but one night I just had to stay in and cough my brains out.  We put on a movie and ordered $10 popcorn from room service, then he spent about 45 minutes quietly combing the tangles out of my hair. It’s possible he doesn’t remember doing that, but I’ll never forget it. We stared down a dozen mind-numbingly beautiful sunsets on that trip, but that’s my favorite snapshot.

***

I remember having a conversation with another woman about movies once, and I was asked to choose the most romantic scene of all time. She had never seen the film I referenced—Babel--and when I described the scene to her, she looked at me like I didn’t understand her question. I think I actually grossed her out.

Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett are a married couple traveling in Morocco. She gets shot, and they’re lying together on the crumbling floor of a
concrete room in the middle of the desert. After several hours of holding it in, Cate says she really has to pee. I can’t remember exactly, but Brad holds a bowl or something between her legs. And while she lays on her side relieving herself, he holds her and kisses her softly. I don’t remember anything else from that movie, but the intimacy of that scene has always stayed with me.

Marriage is not exactly a glossy production. It’s what happens behind your locked door, in a space kept very separate from the rest of your everyday world. It’s taking your contacts out at the end of the day and switching into a pair of old scratched glasses. Marriage is 9 pm, in pajama pants, with ruddy skin and no mascara. It’s dirty socks inches from the hamper and sticky floors that neither of you is rushing to clean. Marriage is an accidental fart under the covers and having a really good laugh about it.

Marriage is trusting another person enough to let them see the best and the worst of you, and not really worrying about the latter discrediting the former. It’s an unrestrained mix of laughter and tears, often at the same time, or at least in the same afternoon. It’s being the person you are when no one else is watching, when you can fully embrace whatever mood you woke up in because your mercurial tides are so familiar that you both know how to avoid the swells.

Marriage is hearing bad news at the same time. It’s holding onto what matters and letting go of what doesn’t and being comfortable with occasionally running out of things to say. It’s making mistakes, and learning more about yourself on those days than on the ones when you did everything good and right. It’s making peace with the silly ways in which you are different, and finding more appreciation for the really important ways in which you are almost exactly the same.

It’s sometimes being so sick you can barely scrape yourself off the floor and knowing there is someone to run out and buy you saltine crackers. It’s feeling like hell and saying so, because there is no need to sugarcoat your feelings. Marriage is understanding that home is not a place but a person, that warm spot in the crook of an arm where you burrow yourself and think: “I belong here.” It’s you, stripped down to your pure, authentically flawed soul and inviting one person to witness what no one else has the privilege to see.

Love is bliss when the days are easy.

It is a balm when things get rough.

And it really, really comes in handy when shit hits the fan. Or your foot.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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A Different Kind of Life.

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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