Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Don't Mix Work and Play (Doh!)

The other day, I was having a really productive brain storm session at my desk and found some silly putty/play doh concoction that I'd been given after a training. I took it out of the jar and happily played with it, letting it ooze between my fingers and form various shapes while I continued working. I received a phone call unexpectedly and placed the putty on my lap for safe keeping, until my call was over, when I could continue playing with it.

Thirty minutes or so later, my call ends and I get up to stretch my legs, having completely forgotten about my toy. I should clarify; I tried to get up. The putty had made it's way between my legs and literally stuck them together like a tree trunk. A few desperate moments of tugging at it, and I was able to at least separate my legs...but the putty had made it's way in through every cotton fiber in my pants that it touched.

Luckily, I happened to have a pair of black tights in my purse, as well as a sweater on that was just long enough to be loosely considered a sweater dress. It also happened late in the day on Friday, the one time it just might be acceptable to get play doh stuck on one's clothing.

the putty looked mysteriously like Nickelodeon slime.

Lesson #48 when living in a big city (or a lesson in simply being an adult): mixing work and play is risky business. Always have an extra pair of clothing on hand in case you're as accident prone as I am.

I'm happy to report that while visiting for Thanksgiving, my clever mother was able to clean the putty out, resulting in clean black pants. I generally wear black because it's the one shade that'll allow me to spill freely without consequence, but even I surprise myself sometimes.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chasing Happiness

This guy's not worried about climbing the mountain; he's just enjoying the view.

When a 5 year old works on a sand castle on the beach all afternoon, is she preoccupied with thinking what it’ll look like when it’s completed? How accomplished she’ll feel once it’s done? No. She enjoys the act of creating it and focuses her attention on the process, not the outcome.

I recently watched this terrific Ted Talk that discusses how we basically pluck happiness out of our lives by focusing an inordinate amount on the outcomes in life, which by definition we do not fully control. We influence it, of course, but at least part of any outcome relies on outside factors outside our control. The process, on the other hand, is completely our own. It is our choice to either find joy in it and accept that things may not (and usually don’t) go as planned, or to spend our lives fighting it, consumed with thoughts of how our lives should be, if only our desired outcome occurs.

Now, this focus on the outcome is something that we’ve grown accustomed to for a long time. The focus on report cards, trying out for the school play, an attempt to make the science team in 4th grade were the outcomes that we placed value on, and in doing so, much of the appreciation for the process is sapped.

Are there outcomes I’d like to see in my life? Are there goals I’d like to achieve and a firm belief that I can? Yes, absolutely. Yet when I think back on goals and outcomes that have gone my way in the past, the initial thrill is intoxicating, and I’m overjoyed. The euphoria doesn’t tend to last, though, and before I know it, I’m thinking about what next to achieve in order to get a similar high. The cycle is never ending, if we allow it to be. 

What I’ve learned and enjoyed along the way, though, is what really stays with me. The most beautiful thing about this concept is that every single day can be a part of a process towards something; whether that something ever happens doesn’t end up mattering. 

Lesson #47: recognize the simplicity and beauty of enjoying the process, for example, of cooking fresh vegetables from a farmer’s market instead of obsessing over how great it’ll be when you weigh 10 less pounds. Maybe eating those vegetables will in fact help you lose weight, but you’re missing the pleasure if that’s the thought process.  If we’re focused on climbing the proverbial mountain simply to say we’ve done it, we end up not really experiencing much at all.

Strangely, this way of thinking actually helps embolden my choices in life. The fear of failure is less prominent when I don’t think in a binary manner, focusing on how one choice might affect an outcome. Instead, I have faith that enjoyment of the process will lead to good outcomes enough of the time; and if those outcomes aren’t realized, that’s fine - I had a damn good time along the way.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Fire, Water and Government Know Nothing of Mercy

Ever notice how many amazingly delicious restaurants there are in NYC? Just me?

My (overly simplistic) theory is that rent is so high, coupled with the high cost of running a restaurant, that only the best, most visited restaurants can survive. That means only good things for the masses.

Lesson #46: you almost can't go wrong when it comes to restaurants in the city (the restaurant shown above is likely an exception). The people demand good food, and generally only visit places that have it. Be as adventurous as possible, and explore new neighborhoods on the premise of checking out the specialty cuisine in that 'hood.

It's simple economics, right? Delicious restaurants exist because people here want it, and are willing to pay. If a restaurant comes along that's sub-par, or has exorbitant prices they can't back up, then they'll likely go out of business.

Supply and demand is the simplest economic theory I can think of, and it's very loosely referenced above. Yet it's one our government has apparently stopped embracing this theory in some cases, as this article entails:

"The nation's chicken industry is having a difficult year. Chicken producers are struggling with higher costs of running their business at the same time that consumers are buying less meat.

This has created a glut of chicken products in the market.

Total chicken production in the first half of 2011 rose 4% compared to the same period a year ago, while demand for chicken has cooled, according to the National Chicken Council.

Consequently, retail prices for chicken product have dipped.

The Department of Agriculture, keenly aware of these issues, announced Monday that it will make a special purchase of up to $40 million of chicken products, which the government will then donate to federal food assistance programs such as soup kitchens and its national Feeding America programs."

This is beyond absurd. Essentially, we're giving handouts to factory farms because fewer people want to/can afford to eat their products?

If the chicken farmers were restaurant owners in this fine city, those fuckers would be out of business. Instead, we're the ones footing the bill, which, in a sickening twist, is fed back to the most vulnerable.

"A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage." - Herbert Hoover's 1928 presidential slogan. 
"Gross." - me, 2011, after reading that slogan.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

For a pleasant commute, follow the crowd

"eeny, meeny, miny, moe"

If you've spent any time in a city, you likely know the incessant waiting for the train and the way excitement builds as you hear a faint rumbling in the distance. The next thing you know, your heart is pounding, endorphins flood your body, and an almost empty train car stops directly in front of you.

"It's destiny! My lucky day!" you marvel to your clever self, boarding the train with confidence. You happened to miss all the other crowded cars and found the perfect spot! Look, there are seats all around! But the second you enter, the doors close in and the sinking feeling sets in. It's too late. What is that smell??

Lesson #45: when riding the subway, don't choose the least populated car. Groups of people have a funny way of avoiding undesirable things, like train cars without Air Conditioning in the summer, without heat in winter, trains with loud proselytizers, foul smells, and so on. Take their lead, and join the more populated train cars. If you do choose a bad car, move at the next stop. (I'm not going to recommend the illegal, yet highly exhilarating, moving between subway cars. at least not in writing.)

Almost every time I've boarded the one empty car, there's a very clear reason no one else is on it. Create a little mystery in your life by not boarding that car, and not looking back. Well, if you really want, board the next car over, and peer through the window to see if you can figure out the issue. It's likely more fun than dealing with said issue. But I repeat, stay where you are and revel in your good choices, should you remember this lesson.

Friday, August 12, 2011

the space between

I'm not quoting a Dave Matthews song here but rather a calming meditation technique I recently learned.

I partook in a lovely workshop on stress management a few weeks ago and was surprised at how much I've been able to use the knowledge. The workshop was 2 hours, but the takeaway could be boiled down into the following easy four step meditation to alleviate stress:

1. deep breath
2. relax muscles and be mindful of tension
3. improve posture
4. notice the open space around

The fourth step, noticing the open space around oneself, is what's most relevant to city life, though there may be the least of it here. There's something about open space that calms me, with notable exceptions of corn fields and urban sprawl. Here in nyc, we're constantly barraged by people, tourists and residents alike, and it's hard to not feel constricted. But in almost every situation, the amount of open space vastly overwhelms anything physical. Maybe it's too simplistic, but open space represents possibility in my mind. If I can change my method of perception to one that fixates on possibility, why not?

lesson #44: repeat the above four steps in stressful moments. When strapped for time, just take in your surroundings and every bit of space that encircles you.

A perfect use of the 4 step method was at an outdoor concert at prospect park. While show-goers surrounded me, I was mesmerized by the clear sky above, music reverberating off my chest and the ground, and stopped worrying about anything else. When in doubt, look above! Just don't count on nature to relieve stress by trying to see any birds.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Blasé to the end

I had a moment while grocery shopping this morning that has haunted me the entire day. Searching for hummus, I happed upon the seafood section instead and was suddenly eye to eye with a lobster on death row. A mere few feet away sat gelatinous slabs of fish flesh, quivering underneath the air conditioner. My lobster pal appeared to be eyeing the fish as well. After briefly entertaining a plan for his escape route, I started wondering if he knew his fate would be similar, that the water that surrounding him would be the last? (last non-boiling water, that is.)

How is it that we're constantly surrounded by death, packaged nicely in delis or prepared "artfully" in restaurants, yet we can't come to grips with our own mortality and constantly make light of death?

It seems that New Yorkers are more acclimated with the concept of a sudden death. Since there are so many people per capita, you're bound to hear about local deaths more often, or even glimpse it. But acclimatation breeds apathy. I've heard many people complain about train delays due to "assholes" who jumped in. Of course, no one likes waiting, and it's true that people make idiotic decisions, but I find this troubling. The attitude "how does it affect me?" that we're all guilty of seems to permeate from every city block, but it's precisely the opposite. "How can I affect it?" It being whatever it is that was wrong in the first place, if we ever want to see true change.

Even today, upon hearing of Amy Winehouse's death, most reactions were of the "told you so" realm - "bitch should've gone to Rehab!" Beyond that being a terrible (and terribly easy) joke to make, it shows a lack of caring for the most powerful thing in the world: life. Not to mention a loss of beauty and a troubled, old soul, but that's beyond the point.

I remember when I was a child, and saw someone get hurt. My initial reaction was laughter because I didn't know what else to do. Do we ever really learn? Is this attitude just an adult version of this same uncomfortable feeling? A way of covering up (almost) everyone's fear of death, and more importantly, fear of the unknown? (even the people of Bon Temps seem to respect the dead better than we do). Are we so mortified by our own mortality that we adopt attitudes of nonchalance, unless faced with a death of someone close? There are more questions regarding death than can ever be answered, but to me it's clear the answer is not indifference.

Lesson #43: don't allow the city, or anyone/place, to strip you of your compassion. There's a lot of bad shit in the world, but infinitely more good.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Search for the Perfect Cone

On this very American holiday weekend, I'd like to discuss something close to my heart: frozen desserts. I recently searched for the perfect ice cream cone and my quest had a misstep that was so amateur, I'm almost embarrassed. But in the spirit of openness and freedom, here's my simple tip.

There variety of reasons people follow certain dietary guidelines. It's easy to assume when others take the same actions as you (as in, not eating animals or their parts), they're following the same set of beliefs. Not a good assumption.

However, the beautiful thing about it is that it allows you to explore other viewpoints that happen to converge nicely with yours. Specifically in New York, while searching for vegan ice cream, you can get a taste of:

Israel (kashrut)
Jamaica (ital movement)
Americana (too many movements to name)

They're all just a bus or subway trip away. Just don't get your hopes up until you....

Lesson #42: CALL AHEAD before making a trek to the outer boroughs! And if you're smart, don't assume what you find on the web to be true. I hope to one day live in a land where sites are updated and truthful, even interactive, but until then, pick up your phone and call.

In all, I think it took about 2 hours of traveling and re-routing the course simply because I didn't call ahead. I ended up with delicious Kosher non dairy ice cream and was surrounded by lovely Hasidic children eating their cones as well. It was a great experience, but after venturing far and wide to other (closed) spots, I felt vindicated but mostly pleasantly full.

Though I must say: Lula's Apothecary is a sweet, yet sinister mistress that I feel absolutely compelled to mention in a post about ice cream. This is the only place worth not calling ahead - the mere chance they're open is enough for me.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I didn't choose to be an American...but I did choose to be a New Yorker

"I'm so glad I live in New York City and not in the United States." - tweet from R.L. Stine, 11/2/2010

When not scaring the heeby-jeebies out of schoolchildren, RL Stine has some surprisingly eloquent insights. I couldn't have said it better than he did, which is why I'm dedicating an entry to it. It perfectly captures my sentiment as of late, especially since the last election cycle when I've thanked my lucky stars to live in a place that is essentially an island unto itself.

Lesson #41 is this: In the same way that "friends are the family you choose,' it's okay and good to gravitate towards living in a place where you feel you belong at that time in your life. I will always be a Michigander and awkward Mid-Westerner at heart. I appreciate and admire the Great Lake state and have almost entirely positive things to say and find myself OD'ing on Michigan pride (ahem, Eminem Chrysler commercial from a few months back). I miss Vernors and Oberon daily. I think about Lake Michigan often and pine for the sandy, clean beaches full of sandy blond, clean kids, especially when I'm avoiding glass while at the crowded but great Coney Island. I could go on and on, and perhaps will in another post.

I have times where I feel guilty for leaving my home state when times are perhaps the toughest they've ever been. Much in the same way teens need to get the hell out of their parents house and go to college at 18, I had the same pang to move on - for the time being at least.

But I am nevertheless thrilled to be exactly where I am right now. Living in a new place allows one to be an ambassador of your origin, but of course allows you to experience much more that you can eventually share, regardless of where you're off to next.

This Op-Ed, from the New York Times, of course, does a succinct job of explaining my sentiment over the past months, and includes the following brilliant line:

"Chance made me an American, but I chose to be a New Yorker. I probably always was." - Tony Judt

No matter how much I love and miss Vernor's, though, I can't bring myself to call it 'pop' again, against the behest of the entire Midwest. Sorry, friends/family/upbringing: soda just sounds better.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

One Man's Trash is Another's Treasure

My lesson today is so incredibly simple, so dreaded, but so damn effective at keeping bugs/critters at bay.

Lesson #40: Take out the trash more than you think is necessary; make it a daily, even twice a day habit as you see fit. When you leave your apartment. Before you go to sleep. Half way through your shower, should you remember (sometimes I get carried away).

I know, it's no fun (even 50 Cent hates doing it), but I'm not exaggerating when I say that taking out the trash consistently, even obsessively, has saved me stress. It's also encouraged me to take note of my consumption and also improved my fairly pristine recycling habit, since I'm more conscious of what I'm tossing.

When I was newer to my apartment, there were days I waited or forgot to take it out for a couple days, maybe because I thought I had more important things to do than avoid getting bugs. Those were also the days that I've seen roaches and ants. Not a happy coincidence, but I was happy that the main cause was so utterly simple.

This hyper-cleanliness has ebbed in and out over the months, but the true treasure is that I find myself resting easier with the faint smell of bleach softly, delicately burning my nostrils.

After all, New York is already populated enough with inconsiderate vermin, and then there are the insects.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you

- F. Scott Fitzgerald

While boarding a flight and preparing for takeoff, I tend to immediately close myself off to surroundings. Headphones on, sleeping mask ready, and cash in hand for exorbitantly priced plane wine to lull myself to sleep - this trio works like a charm.

But while I purposely drown out the in-flight crash landing instructions, I recently realized that there's an important message to be found in these directions: in the event of an emergency, help yourself before attempting anything else (I'd say anyone, but I think that's territory for parents only. Write about what you know, right?).

The emergency that allowed me to come to the conclusion was a raging hangover, the variety that only strikes but a few times per year. I've cut back on the number of times I stay out drinking in this city, but when I do, watch out - a hurricane is brewing. The city becomes a giant enabler - God bless any former addicts or alcoholics trying to live here, because it can feel like substances are pushed at every corner. My feeble attempts to get to the gym, eat a healthy meal, or simply go to bed at a decent hour are scoffed at by the NYC Fun Police.

As with most lessons, this one is simple but can be used with varying levels of complexity.

Lesson #39 in moving to a big city: Help yourself before you think about doing anything else; there's always a lot to do, but you're going to do a much better job if you get a handle on your own life. I'm using the simplest example I know: being incredibly hung over and looking around my messy apartment, my growing to-do list, and the nagging voice in my head telling me to "better myself," which isn't enjoyable when paired with sudden, burning flashes of how many drinks I've had the night before. So this past weekend, I did things differently.

Instead of half-assing my day, running errands in a hazy state, scrounging around for bits of sanity in my mind, I allowed myself a luxurious hang-over. I basically stopped reminding myself of how I could've stopped drinking earlier, drank more water, or sweated a little less on the dance floor; I embraced the leftover party raging through my system. Then I took a shower to cleanse the Ke$ha-esque glitter I'd accumulated through the night and washed that hangover right outta my hair.

Until early evening, I didn't feel totally like myself for 2 reasons: 1. I was hungover and hazy, but more importantly, 2. I wasn't upset with myself for it. If anything, I looked at my actions as a mother might view her 2 year old: reprehensible, but oddly adorable and endearing. And at the end of the day, I had a new zest for life that only can come after hitting rock bottom.

I also realized that it feels good to have a day without expectations of oneself and just dedicated to whatever whim comes my way. And it would feel good to have such a day when not mercilessly hungover.

So did I energize my community, strengthen my friendships, and clean my small but nicely situated apartment that evening? No. None of the above. But a little self love went a long way that day, and I am a happier person for it. As always, cheers to days like these and to not figuring out everything at once.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Aix Rated

I'm experiencing insomnia while pondering my imminent return to the city that never sleeps. Instead of tossing and turning, I'm transcribing notes I took from the train ride to Paris to quell my racing mind and impart a little French wisdom before I forget any of it.

There's something about the watching the French countryside pass in subtle waves of green that forces one to be contemplative. After spending the last days with a best pal in Aix en Provence, and a true immersion in French living, I find myself already reminiscing about lazy dinners consisting of bread and wine (ahh the joys of vegan living in France), sunny picnics, and spending cherished time with mon ami, Meggie.

After days of resisting French cheese and cake, I've endulged in Aix-related (but most definitely not X rated) isms, as they're even harder to resist, so forgive me if a few make their way into this blog. Here are a few notable moments from the past week:
1. Upon asking for the check, post 3 hour dinner, our waiter simply hands the group the wine menu and requests that we "order another bottle instead!" Aixasperating, but endearing.
2. Everyday is perfect for a picnic - in Aix, at least. We spent two afternoons sun-bathing, a nearly cloudless sky above and our market bounties below. Also: is there a bad time for a bottle of French wine?
3. Wandering the city streets, running on espresso and wine, makes getting lost easy, and getting lost in your own thoughts easier. But waiting until a best friend finishes class, to enjoy more espresso/wine with, can make the quietest cobblestone street echo with anticipation.
4. While I couldn't participate in the cake eating, where a toy is hidden into a baked cake, and the person that finds in his cake is "King/Queen for the day," I was treated instead to an impromptu clarinet solo by our host; his joie de vivre was contagious.

I've come to realize that la pura vida exists anywhere you're willing to look, even waiting in the gritty sidewalk cracks of any city, as long as you're open to appreciation of the moment. I will say, without a doubt, the sidewalk cracks in NYC are vastly superior to those in France - I have a new appreciation for Americans cleaning up after their dogs (a sub lesson to below: take more care to watch where you're walking.)

Lesson #38: Recognize the need to get out, break free of your surroundings, and choose a place that's as opposite to your life as possible. If you can, go somewhere international if you'd like your flight to remain in the "On Time" category (at least my picture here captures this sentiment as of late). Lastly, this may not always be possible, but my advice would be to immerse yourself in another culture and way of living - the time away will feel longer, but more importantly, you may even momentarily forget where you're from, where you're going, and relish that only this exact moment matters. And maybe you'll even miss that great big bear of a city after all - but mostly, you'll appreciate how easy it is to come and go.