Much To My Delight

Much To My Delight

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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Lucky.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And yes. I still live in a basement.

 

If you’re looking for some uncensored, in-your-face commentary that makes you evaluate your physical appearance, your job, your financial status and/or your general station in life, look no further than an eight-year-old kid. They’re old enough to have extremely keen observational skills, but still young enough to get away with saying things most adults would get punched for.

On my last visit with my brother’s daughter Allison–who, by the way, is one of my favorite and most treasured people on this planet–I got schooled on my choice in real estate.

“Do you still live in a basement?” She scrunched up her cute little nose and pronounced the word “basement” as if I were locked away in a Mexican prison or held captive on that brokedown cruise ship with bags of poop lining the hallways.

Now, in her defense, Allison has never seen where I live. Clearly she heard that I lived in a basement from someone else, and who knows what inflection they gave the word. Also in Allison’s defense, she lives in Texas and in all likelihood has never seen a basement other than the ones in fairy tales where they lock up dragons or TV shows where they hide dead bodies in musty old freezers.

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{ My foyer. We’re working on the lighting.}

Also, in her defense…she’s eight. She’s not exactly in a position to know how tough it is to find decent rent in New York City. But because she is eight, I had to tailor my reply to be more cordial than curt. It can be tricky.

“Yes dear. I still live in a basement. It’s actually not that bad. Kinda cozy. You should come stay with me sometime.” Because she is my blood, I will even go the extra mile and banish the dragon for the weekend. He can stay at the abandoned crack den next door.

Now, if Allison were an adult, my response would have been a little different, in that I would have attempted to school him or her back.

“Ahemmmm, actually, it’s not really a basement– I believe the term you’re looking for is garden apartment. And PS:  We pay pretty reasonable rent, are exempt from any street noise, are really close to the subway, have an open kitchen with more than three inches of counterspace and a backyard with a plentiful fig tree in it.” Slam. Dun-duh-duh.

And if I were feeling particularly sentimental, I’d add this:

This was the first New York City apartment I was able to afford all on my own. I had TWENTY-FOUR roommates through my late teens and 20s. This basement was the first place that was all mine.

This is the apartment that has cosmic significance to me. The day I found this apartment was also the day I received my acceptance letter for grad school. I found a new home and a new career path on the same day, and that day felt really freaking special.

This is the apartment that is too small to hold all my friends. It’s where I’ve hosted bridal and baby showers, big festive celebrations and small, quiet dinners. This is where I show other people how much they mean to me, whether it’s with a plate of warm homemade cookies or an invitation to keep me up past my bedtime. It’s where 17 old friends were crammed tightly this weekend for Friendsgiving Dinner, sharing what they love about one another and laughing till their sides hurt.

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Most of all, this is the first and only home I’ve shared with the love of my life.  It’s the apartment where we learned the arts of teamwork, partnership and compromise. It’s where he cut his teeth fixing toilets and tricky doors, and where I learned to hang pictures with nails instead of thumbtacks. It’s the apartment we’ll think of when we get to the age where we begin most conversations with “Remember when…?”.

Years from now, when we’re still paying down the mortgage on our palatial brownstone in the East 70s, we’ll think back on our time in that garden apartment in Astoria, the one with the open kitchen and the sweet fig tree in the yard. We’ll think of our low overhead, and how easy things were. We’ll think of running to the grocery next door for slice-and-bake cookies and walking hand-in-hand to trendy restaurants down the street. We’ll laugh about the kitchen drawers that always jammed and the bathroom door that swelled up in the summertime. We’ll smile remembering our friends posing through chattered teeth in the backyard during our Christmas party, of cuddling on our tiny loveseat watching movies, of friends’ babies rolling on the bed. We’ll think back to our first anniversary, and quietly swaying to our wedding song on the white tile floor.

I’m old enough to understand  how special these years are.  I’m young enough to still wish we could freeze time forever.

But the kid’s eight. I’m not going to bore her with that sentimental crap.

Instead, I’ll throw my niece a bone and give her something else to make fun of.  Kid, if you really wanna mock something, feel free to take a stab at my couch. A dingy, lumpy, misshapen mess with no hope for the future.

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Looks like two pigs fightin’ under a blanket.

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A post about marriage on our first anniversary.

 

“So, does it feel different now that you’re married?”

We were asked this question pretty often right after the wedding, and I always chalked it up to small talk, never giving much thought to my reply.

“Ah, you know…we’ve lived together for years already. Getting married was just a party/a formality/a piece of paper/something we did for our parents.”

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And in some ways, this answer was true. At its core, our relationship has remained basically the same as we progressed from dating to engaged to married over the past 10 years. In fact, this was a topic that a group of friends began discussing this past weekend over a backyard bonfire, with the consensus agreeing that the real change occurred not when we answered, “I will” at engagement, or “I do” at the wedding, but way before, when the initial seed of “I want to spend my life with this person” first entered our thoughts.

Vin and I dated almost nine years before getting engaged. We dated long-distance. We dated short-distance. We lived in different boroughs. We lived in the same borough. We moved in together. We filed for a domestic partnership. We were accepted as members of the others’ family. We saw each other through tough times like unemployment, accidents, surgeries, bad haircuts. We knew we were in it for the long haul a long time ago.

Given all that, it makes sense that people would ask us, “So, is it any different now than you’re married?”

And the real answer for me, when we go beyond the small talk bullshit, is yes. Oh yes. And that’s because one very big thing has changed since we got married, almost exactly one year ago.

Me.

I’ve changed a lot in this past year. I am less anxious and more at ease.  I’m so much happier. I’m the most relaxed I’ve been, probably ever.  And yes, it is in large part because we finally got married. I kind of hate how unprogressive that sounds, but it’s the truth.

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Bear with me here, because this is something that’s still difficult for me to talk about. It still feels very private to me, but it’s also a part of our story. Like many women and some men before me, I was ready to get married a long time before my partner was. It was frustrating, and nerve-fraying,  and at times, completely heart-wrenching. It was difficult to navigate my late 20s and early 30s with a very clear idea of the changes I wanted to make in my life, but being unable to put them into action until someone else was ready to make them too.

There were times I felt completely powerless about the direction of my own future, and that was really hard for me. It was hard for him too. I worried a lot, and I wondered a lot. I am by nature very much a planner, and it was extraordinarily difficult for me to remain patient enough to accept that my partner had the same end goal in sight for our future, but was keeping a much different pace. I also really hated talking about the issue with other people.

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There are a lot of reinforced ideas that swirl around in our culture regarding love and commitment. Dating for a very long period before marriage is definitely not romanticized or applauded. Prince William dragged his heels to get married because he knew doing so would alter his life in every conceivable way–he’d have to endure a media circus wedding and feel immediate pressure to sire his nation’s future ruler. So the beautiful and smart woman he dated since college got slapped with the stupid and insulting nickname “Waity Katie”. To me, they seemed rational and level-headed, which seems like a pretty good basis for a marriage. But no one ever described them that way before their royal engagement. I bet even Prince William was told to “piss or get off the throne” a few times.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is this. Some people date for a long time before getting married. Some people date for a short time. Some people have kids before they get married. Some people get married and never have kids. Some people choose to never get married at all. Many others are unfortunately not even given the choice. There’s really no right or wrong way to do it, as long as both partners are spending an equal amount of time gazing in at each other while also looking out in the same general direction.

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Clearly, Vin and I fell into the “slow and steady wins the race” camp. It wasn’t always easy, but it was certainly worth the wait. And at the end of the day, I’m just glad to be sitting here writing a post about my lovely husband and not the one who got away.

Our first anniversary is this Sunday, and when I reflect on our inaugural year of marriage I am filled with a quiet, irrepressible joy. Like I mentioned before, I’m more relaxed. I’m more at ease. And I’m very, very happy. I love being married. I’m happy to report that from what I can tell, so does he.

That’s not to say that we’ve got it all figured out. We have no idea what’s coming next. We’re not exactly sure where to go from here. Sometimes Vin and I still feel like two confused kids thinking about what they want their lives to look like when they’re all grown up.

There’s still so much for us to figure out in this relationship, in this home, in this marriage, in this life. Hell, we still don’t even know what we’re doing this weekend to celebrate.

But one thing is for absolute certain.

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By god, there will be donuts.

 

 

All photos by Jason + Anna Photography

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When your best friend has kids…and you don’t.

 

You may have picked up on this already, but I have no children. When you’re 26 or 29 or 32 maybe it’s not a striking detail, but when you’re 36, I think people start wondering, “So when are you going to have kids?”

As much as I’d love to discuss my fertility with the internet, this is not going to be that type of post. When (or if) I’ll have kids is not something I plan to write about on a public blog. That one’s too precious. That one gets saved for my husband, my mother and my closest girlfriends. And possibly a shrink if necessary.

But what I would like to write about is what happens when you hit the stage when many of your girlfriends have children, and you don’t. Because lately I’ve noticed that more people in my social circle have reproduced than haven’t, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t change things quite a lot.

With local friends, it hasn’t made a startling difference. Clearly, my friends who are parents are inclined to more family-friendly social activities, but luckily, we still spend a good amount of time with the couples we’re close with who have children. The kids have all just become part of our extended family, and it’s a beautiful thing, because they’re all really beautiful kids.

The biggest change has happened with my best friend Missy, who I wrote about on the day she delivered her second daughter. Missy and I met our freshman year in college, and I was drawn to her immediately because of her boundless energy, positive attitude and general enthusiasm for everything. She is an incredibly generous friend and an overall wonderful human being. And though I don’t get to witness it firsthand very often at all, I believe she is a truly amazing mother.

In addition to working as a director of a medical facility, she takes her two daughters to numerous activities throughout the week, and volunteers much of her time to charity. She is incredibly busy, and her calendar sounds astoundingly full. Missy lives in Texas, and I live in New York, so the majority of our friendship is shared over the phone. This is where things get tricky. Because as any adult person with a job and other obligations knows, finding spare time to chat with a friend on the phone is a rare and precious thing, and it becomes even more challenging when one or both of the participants have children.

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<Missy’s baby is so…squirmy.>

Our phone conversations have become fewer and they’ve become shorter. They are squeezed in between long days at work, playdates and errands, usually on commutes home while still juggling other tasks. It doesn’t help that I’ve also just never been much of a phone person. And though I think we’d both hate to admit it, the differences in our lifestyles are becoming more and more evident. I have taxis honking in my background, and she has little girls chatting in hers. If we lived nearby, I’d just head over to their house and play with all three of them. There are so many times I wish that I could. 

I can’t remember a phone call over the past year that didn’t include her asking: “So…any news?”.  I know her well enough to know she’s hoping for news beyond a job promotion or a big vacation being planned. She wants to know how close I am to joining her in the experience of motherhood, and I don’t blame her for wanting to know this. If I were in her position as a friend, I think I’d want to know too. Missy gets to share in the joys and the struggles of parenthood with many of her girlfriends, and as one of her very best friends, I know she really wants to share them with me too.

I caught Missy off guard last week when I called her. She had just picked up her oldest daughter from pre-school, and was playing with her before driving to soccer practice. She was a little distracted, and ended up getting off the line to continue helping her little girl with a craft project.

And that’s exactly the way it’s supposed to be.

Her daughter is a child and needs her attention.

I am an adult, with a recognition that people and relationships evolve and change over time.

She is a mother, and I’m not. She lives in Texas, and I live in New York. It’s getting harder for us to stay close.

But it certainly won’t stop us from trying.

Vincent+Jennifer_Wed-0097(photo by Jason & Anna Ball)

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What it’s really like to be a therapist.

 

“How do you do it? Listen to sad stories all day and not go home depressed? What’s it like being a therapist?”

This is a question you’re often asked when you work in a mental health clinic.

I will tell you what it’s like.

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You wake up every morning humbled by the knowledge that people trust you with stories that are sacred. Stories that deserve your respect and your attention, because you might be the first and only person to have ever heard them.

You learn to let go of little gripes and complaints, because when stacked against some of the stuff you hear, you’re now able to decipher what’s worth the negative energy, and what’s not.

You look at the good in your life– your health, security, relationships–not with guilt or embarrassment, but with a deeper appreciation and more profound gratitude than you ever knew was possible.  You realize you have enough stuff. You want more experiences. Priorities change. Perspectives shift.

You make a point to do things that make you happy–like cook, or paint, or write or throw parties to celebrate the life you’ve been given. Instead of hobbies, you call these activities your “self-care” or “coping mechanisms”.

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You try really hard to practice what you preach. Sometimes you are successful. Other times, you’re not. You try really hard to exercise patience. With some people, this is easy. With some people, it’s not.

You treat your clients with respect, and view them as whole people instead of a set of problems. You acknowledge their pain, absorb their grief, and normalize their fears. The beauty of this role is that you share in their joys and triumphs just the same.

You laugh, genuinely and often, because people are funny and amazing. You smile too, because they are also incredibly strong, resilient and brave.

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And when a new client walks into your office and begins telling you unimaginably awful stories about her childhood, the kind that make you wonder how she’s able to simply stand up every day, you feel your heavy heart sag until you worry it might actually fall out of your chest. You complete your intake forms like a professional, while fighting off the urge to cry until she has left the room. You wonder if  you could tolerate that much pain. You marvel at the strength people are able to find. You remind yourself to call your parents to thank them for treating you like a human being.

You close the door behind her, and cover your face with your palms.  A few deep breaths. A sip of water.

Then you open the door again, and say hello to your 4:15.

That’s what it’s like to be a therapist.

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this one’s for you, pop

A good while ago, I think it was probably during my college years, I went to lunch with my dad in Galveston. The details of that lunch are long gone, but our recessional out of the restaurant has been burned into my brain forever.

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As we walked side by side, chatting about life and love and other topical issues, I became so engrossed in our conversation that I walked face-first into a very large– and extremely hard– street pole.

I couldn’t tell you whether it was a stop sign or a street light because it’s been about 15 years and I’m still seeing stars.

In that moment, my father did what any concerned parent who just saw his daughter smack herself into a metal pole would do.

He laughed his ass off.

And it wasn’t some nervous, embarrassed chuckle, either. My father has this ridiculous, high-pitched, southern-drawl-infused tee-hee-hee  that emerges when he thinks something is really, really funny. And me walking into a pole qualified. My father comes from the Three Stooges school of humor, so to him, people falling down or getting clubbed in the face is the zenith of comedic art. Not only was my father completely indifferent about my potential head injury, but I had just inadvertently made his day.

“Dad!” I yelled at him. “Shouldn’t your first instinct be to ask if I’m okay?”

“Aw, Jenn– you’re always banging your head into things. I know you’re fine. You need to cowboy up, girl.”

“Cowboy up” is the Texan translation for “Stop your bitching”, and a turn of phrase I’ve gotten very accustomed to hearing from my father. My dad is not much for complaining, and that goes for his kids too. I guess the way he figures, if there’s a problem then there is also a solution, and we should probably get to work on that instead of boo-hooing about it. I’m sure if we were bleeding from our brains he would show appropriate concern, but a piddly scratch on the knee or pole in the face? That’s cowboy up time.

Sometimes, when I do something dumb like stub my toe (hey! that really does hurt!) or get frustrated with a temperamental printer and find myself losing my cool, I’ll give myself a little “Cowboy up, Jenn”, and put things back in perspective. I’m sure there are at least a few other people in New York City muttering this to themselves on occasion. You need to be a bit of a cowboy to survive in a big city.

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Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Thanks for making me realize that rising above doesn’t have to be so hard.

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 But mostly, thanks for always making sure I have a soft place to fall during those times when I can’t.

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You Can’t Hurry Love

You Can’t Hurry Love

I am single. Have been for a while. Most of my life, come to think of it.

Being single wouldn’t be so terrible it it weren’t for dating, which is, of course, abysmal. Not only are unsuccessful dates a drain on my time, patience and energy, I’m now convinced they are what have kept me from realizing my full intellectual potential. With every blah date I go on, I’ve filled another inch of valuable gray matter with completely trivial knowledge about someone I didn’t know longer than the span of  a meal. If I could somehow eliminate several useless dates each year and focus my energy on the unique and complex tapestry of just one person, think of all the interesting, viable information I could insert into all that unreserved space. Imagine the possibilities! I’ll no longer need to know how much Derek adores motown and fears bacteria. The full spectrum of Alex’s allergies and Bryan’s junior high insecurities erased; replaced with a blow-by-blow account of the Battle of Saratoga or the chronological order of our country’s presidents. I could finally explain math to a small child, maybe pick up a Slavic language or two. I could Feng Shui entire buildings in a single bound.

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Then there’s the maintenance. Dating takes effort and upkeep, and I’m getting tired of knocking myself out for people I barely know. I don’t want to rush home from work to pluck my eyebrows and paint my nails. I don’t need one more person in the world noticing the gaps in my teeth or the way my jaw clicks when I yawn during boring stories. I don’t want to catch my date noticing a pretty girl. I don’t want my date to catch me looking at my watch. I don’t want to force myself to think of interesting things to say. I don’t want to have the following conversations in front of my door ever again.

 

Me: “Thank you very much for the drinks.”

Man: “Yeah, well, you owe me.”

 

Me: “That restaurant was really great.”

Man: “I’m going to Detroit tomorrow. Can you feed my cats?”

 

Me: “I had a great time at the concert with you. Thanks for taking me.”

Man: “What kind of booze do you have at your place?”

 

Me: “This was one of the best dates I’ve ever had.”

Man: “Wanna get naked?”

The cutest ones lack ambition. The ambitious ones don’t have time for a girlfriend. The sensitive ones want to talk on the phone too long. The ones who are smart enough to realize I’m funny have annoying laughs. They’re all ruled by a single appendage, which in its moment of greatest resourcefulness ends up spray-painting the bathroom wall. It’s enough to make me abandon my quest for a man altogether. I’d  date a woman, but vanity precludes me from becoming a successful lesbian, as any potential for intimacy would likely be eclipsed by a bitter awareness that her breasts were bigger and better than mine. So back to square one I go.

I know I can’t hurry love, but what about lust? Flirtation? Friendly banter bearing the slightest indication of long-term companionship? Could I put a rush order on any of that? I’m tired of always being the third wheel. I want someone to pull out my chair and hang up my coat. I want someone to hold my hand, tell me I’m pretty, call me their girl. I don’t want to waste valuable time. I don’t want to be a cynic. Tonight, I really don’t want to eat dinner alone.

 

*This writing is about 11 years old–breaking out the oldies just for fun, and because I’m too lazy to write something new:)

 

 

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