Monday, June 25, 2012

Brain Crushes: Riki Lindhome and Josh Radnor

If we've hung out in the past 10 days, you probably know that I am obsessed with a girl comedy band called Garfunkel and Oates. If I haven't chained you to the nearest fixture and made you watch videos while I laugh like a hyena in your ear, then I strongly encourage you to make your way to YouTube and watch Self Esteem and pretty much all of their clips from The Half Hour before I find you and make you do so against your will. I just think it will be funnier for you this way. (Please note that they are in no way appropriate for kids or work...)

Well, my obsession with them has also turned into a full-blown girl crush on Riki Lindhome. I think she is smart, talented and witty--the best kind of girl crush. She's also real--she puts her flaws, idiosyncrasies and mistakes out there for the world to see and laugh at...booty calls and all.

I have started listening to her podcast show, Making It, and the most recent one was the most interesting thing I have read/heard/seen in a while. She talked for almost an hour and a half with Josh Radnor from How I Met Your Mother. I liked Josh from the show, but this interview introduced me to his brain and now I really like him. (And, as Garfunkel and Oates say: like can lead to like-like, and like-like can lead to love.)

I highly recommend that anyone who considers themselves creative in any way listen to the entire thing, but here are a few highlights that I couldn't wait to share from their conversation:

  • Josh mentions that highly creative personalities are known for starting more projects than they can finish and leaving some dormant for long periods of time. Sound like anyone you know? The interesting thing though, was what his therapist told him about his tendency (one that he thought was a negative trait). He told him to keep doing it. He said it's good to do that because it creates a "'fertile messy terrain" and, because creativity begets more creativity, it is the best thing you can do to create good material. "Whatever is called to be finished," he said, "will be finished." This makes me feel so much better about all of the unfinished craft projects and abandoned drafts on my blogger account.

  • I love what Josh's meditation coach says about self-improvement: "If you're aware of "it", you've already highlighted "it" for deletion. Whatever that defect is. If you're aware of it, you know it and it's on it's way out. It's when you're not aware of something that it's wrecking all it's havoc."

  • Josh and Riki talk a lot about listening to your intuition from early on in your career. I identified with this because I remember how ambitious and determined I was when starting my writing career. I acknowledged the joke about English majors learning to ask "Do you want fries with that?" but I never once thought I had chosen the wrong career or wondered if I'd succeed. I just took the next opportunity, and the next, and the next. What I found interesting about their conversation is that Josh talks about turning acting parts down early on in his career, just letting his gut feelings lead him. I love the idea of how being choosy now and listening what your gut says about what is in front of you can lead to success later on.

  • Another great quote: "That was a big revelation for me...that something can be true, and its opposite can be true at the same time. I think it was a physicist that said, "The opposite of a lesser truth is a falsehood; the opposite of a greater truth is another great truth."

  • I loved Josh's response to Riki asking about how his life has changed since being on HIMYM: "I'm from the midwest... You know, I'm someone who went to college and likes books. I'm not apologizing for that. I'm doing my best to hold on to my soul out here.. and that requires finding a community of people who are really into integrity and who are really honest."
Riki and Josh also discuss using writing as a way to learn more about yourself, the importance and ramifications of having a personal code of ethics, the huge responsibility that comes with having a gift for something, the importance of telling your own story, and how formal training in something you are passionate about can nearly ruin you. If any of those topics interest you, find some time to listen up.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

10 Reasons It's Awesome to Be Single

I don't care what they say about bridezillas, the ones who lose their heads during wedding season are the single girls. To paraphrase Sex and the City, sometimes one minus a plus-one feels like it adds up to zero.

It is a joy (and an honor) to celebrate with your girlfriends as they enter married life and commit themselves to the men they love (and the men you've come to consider family along the ride). And who doesn't love a party?

But the season itself can cloud an otherwise confident single girl's mind. You find yourself wondering, where did that twinge of insecurity even come from? Because it kind of stung when it bit me in the ass.

But, you know what? It doesn't scar. It's just temporary and it just requires choosing your thoughts and sprinkling them with a little bit of optimism and good friendship. Really, it just requires falling back in love with your (totally amazing) single life and delving back into it, full force.

But for those crazy moments, here, my friends, are 10 reasons it's awesome to be single. Sing it from the rooftops, sisters. RSVP for one and think of the possibilities. 

1. It is entirely possible that you will be able to have breakfast with Chris D'Elia one day.

2. Two words: Garlicky pesto. Pile it on, girlfriend.

3. Fortune cookies hold so much suspense. I will find love in the strangest places? Elaborate!?!?

4. You can stay out as late as you want. Feel like an impromptu swim with your crazy single friends at McCarty's cove "on the way home" from the bar? Jump in, chicky. Make a big splash in those boy shorts. Ditch your dress and shoes at the shore. You know what, take a hot tub when you get home. Who cares if it's 4am? You can sleep in tomorrow.

5. You can leave unfinished craft projects strewn throughout your house. One of the many perks of living alone is that the only person you can annoy is yourself. (Don't let this happen though.)

6. You can mercilessly flirt with the handsome banker. And the bartender with the eyes. And the shy but sweet guy who works in the bookstore. And the bad boy in line at the liquor store. And the... Oh, well, you get the picture. No regrets.

7. Girl power is pretty intoxicating. It feels deliciously fulfilling when you sign that mortgage/book that trip to Jamaica/send in your registration for a new class and know you made it possible.

8. You can buy the $40 mascara without caring where the receipt ends up.

9. You don't have to shave your legs as often. Awe. Some.

10. There's not a soul in the world who can argue against a bright pink closet.

So there you go. If you're ever feeling lonely, all you need to do is think about how much opportunity is in your life. You can go anywhere, be anything, and do anyone anything. And if you need comic relief, I highly recommend this book.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Currently Coveting

I don't know what it is about this month, but I am feeling a lot of want, want, want. My wallet is not conducive to a lot of buy, buy, buy (and my schedule isn't too keen for go, go, go) so I figured maybe if I shared some of it here, maybe we could appreciate the awesomeness together and I'd be content instead of covetous.

This kitchen make-over makes me really jealous. In fact, the whole house is pretty rad.

This Michigan-shaped cutting board belongs in my kitchen. (Props for remembering the U.P.)

This map-inspired scarf makes me yearn for fall. (Just a little bit though, don't worry.) It makes me yearn a lot for NY.

I want to go to Senegal and swim.

I want this rug for my spare bedroom, but I can't imagine the mess of Henley hair.

I want to go see Brett Dennen at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival this weekend.

I would wear this dress and these shoes, because in the perfect world I am creating with these links those shoes would be comfortable enough for a festival. And he would meet me there. And then we would order a gluten-free pesto pizza from Brown Dog Pizza and live happily ever after.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Let Food Be Thy Medicine

On Wednesday I prepared for a colonoscopy that was ordered to try and figure out some of the funny digestive issues I've had over the last several months. The utmost goal is to figure out if the digestive issues are connected in any way with my hard-to-diagnose back issues, and then (finally) move forward, with that new information in hand.

Over the 24+ hours that I was limited to only liquids (thank goodness for my juicer), I realized how important food had become to me. Not just as a means for energy, vitamins and minerals, but as a way to pass time, grow, learn, share and express myself. When I had to stop working out, I filled my days with recipes, cookbooks, and nutritional information; it became the way that I was able to be good to myself, and therefore it was the second-best stress reliever to my usual walks, rides, runs and rows (sniff, sniff: I really miss rowing).

So intense has my curiosity become with pairing flavors, trying new foods or techniques, and only allowing the best to make its way into my body--I literally spent the entire day haunted by what I could not read, cook, and view.

Support from Allison. That's supposed to say "I went with a big jar... The nuts and the fridge were taunting me", referring to the mason jars of nuts on my counter. Apparently the starvation had already set in. ;)

During my juice-only day, Intagram pictures from fellow foodies that usually serve as inspiration only made me jealous. My requisite daily trips to a few dozen food blogs made me feel shameful, like I was perusing for porn. Pinterest was out of the question. Facebook friends who rarely if ever post food pictures seemed to suddenly decide Wednesday was the day that they would share their mouth-watering photos of seared tuna or grilled pineapple. Even someone's steak looked good--and I have never desired a steak in my lifetime. By 1pm, I decided to avoid Facebook entirely when I realized I follow more foodies than friends. 

I worked a bit from home, but then realized that sick time is a benefit, and although deadlines are looming and our biggest fundraiser is a week away, I decided that I deserved to take some time to kick my feet up, considering what was about to happen to my body. So I read a dozen or so men's magazines that my friend Matt kindly dropped off (Esquire for the "What I've Learned" guest column, GQ for the style shots, Maxim for the funny comics and Rolling Stone--not a men's magazine, I realize--for the interviews. Hello Johnny Mayer, still love ya).

I set myself up on the couch (closest perch to the bathroom, after all) and I relaxed. I took in a Harry Potter movie and a very scary movie called Fear Island, which I don't recommend watching if you live alone [insert pun about getting the shit scared out of you here]. And then I realized--since I was already obsesssing about food anyway, what a great chance this was for me to take stock of all the changes I've made in my diet and the new habits I've formed. What an opportunity to revisit what's been working, strategize how to avoid what hasn't and have a fresh start going forward.

So these are the things I've learned about my diet that work after looking through my two food journals (both ditched after a few weeks of entries, but informative nonetheless):

(Side note: I guess I should say: I'm not a doctor, nor a nutritionist, nor a nurse, nor any kind of health professional. This is not meant to be advice. This is just my journey to working out the kinks in my body... many kinks that added up to a full-blown crisis for me.)

Eliminating dairy most of the time. My skin is clearer, my--um--digestion has improved in some ways, and I felt a bit more energized when I stopped eating it. I don't worry if there is milk in my mashed potatoes at a wedding reception, I'll ocassionally eat some goat cheese or a dish my mom makes that reminds me of childhood, and I'll sometimes eat a slice or two of cheese at an event, but these are the exceptions, not the rule. I used to load up salads with feta or inhale half a block of cheddar cheese for a snack, so giving up dairy has taught me a lot about discipline. But it's also taught me ways to be more creative in the kitchen, and it helped me form a new philosophy about prioritizing health before taste. (Though--I haven't had to sacrifice much taste due to a million food blogs and a new arsenal of knowledge regarding substitutes.) My mom recently told me that it makes sense that I am intolerant to dairy because I had to be switched to soy formula when I was younger. Um, thanks Mom. Only took you 28 years to relay that key piece of info.

Via Pinterest. Both the dairy and gluten for me were things that I started make connections about after doing tons of research. Both were challenging mentally ("What the hell do you mean, no saltines in my soup?!" See also: "I would trade my left arm for some of that artichoke dip you just ordered."). But at a certain point, I knew that I need to be diligent with both eliminations--to the degree that was necessary--to be happier and healthier.

Eliminating gluten all of the time. I came across the possibility that I had a gluten issue when I was researching dairy-free recipes and I read other people's accounts of their struggles with it. The range of issues that those with gluten intolerance show is incredible and the list startled me because I saw myself in it. In addition to digestive issues, it was tingly hands, a bloated feeling, a feeling of being stuffed and hungry at the same time, stuffy nose/sinus issues (especially after drinking beer), and sores in my mouth (that I didn't even notice until they disappeared!). There are other issues that could possibly be related, but I'm not sure because I still have some untangling to do in other areas of my health. These include: muscle pain, forgetfulness (this is probably just lack of quality sleep for me), loss of balance (probably just the fact that my quad muscles have 1-inch difference in circumference due to my back problems), and headaches (again, thinking this might be due to lack of sleep, or possibly neck strain from the position I sleep in, which is the least painful for my back). These are just the ones that showed up in my current list of oh,-wait-that's-not-normal symptoms; others have different symptoms.

A lot of people think this is a fad diet--and for some it is. (Side note: It bothers me to no end to know that Elisabeth Hasselbeck from The View is some people's only reference to someone living gluten-free. I know she's celiac but the chick gets on my very last nerve. She's so in-your-face about it, it's ridiculous.) All I know is that within two weeks, the tingling in my hands (that my doctor said was from poor circulation from sleeping) was gone, and within an month, my sinuses were much better and the bloated feeling was all but gone. Not to mention the sores in my mouth, which disappeared within days.

I know it's crazy to think that someone can have such drastic results, but I recently ate it twice in the matter of a few days, and my mouth and sinus symptoms came back immediately. Now that I mention it, I suffered headaches in the days following as well. That's enough for me to get right back on the "g-free" wagon. (Ugh: "Elisabeth Hasselbeck brings gluten-free living into the spotlight as the next big movement in health and wellness." I can't wait until the next-next big movement comes along so less people will roll their eyes when I search for gluten in the ingredients of something.)

Being aware of food combinations. I became aware of this when elimatinating gluten and dairy did not solve all of my problems. Food combining has helped me be more mindful not only about what I put into my body, but what has to happen in order for my body to process what I put into it. It's something that I am still exploring, but I am happy to report that I no longer want to die after eating a Border Bowl now that I know I should choose either all beans or all rice.

I do want to note that changing your diet, while very personal, is also very public. It's the reason I'm comfortable writing this blog post, because like it or not, 9 times out of 10 it becomes a topic of conversation when you turn down something you used to love at a family picnic, or ask the waitress if she can check if the chips are made with corn rather than wheat. Coworkers, family, friends, acquantinces, even strangers, they all have curiosities, misconceptions, opinions and judgements. This was the hardest thing about making these changes.

While most people have been incredibly supportive and politely curious (and I'm happy to talk about it... it helps to normalize it and anchor it into my lifestyle), I have gotten some interesting reactions. Comments that amount to "Who-does-she-think-she-is?" or "That's-kind-of-like-Atkin's,-right?" or "oh,-that's-nice,-how-much-weight-are-you-trying-to-lose?" I've even gotten a few 'knowing' nods of "good-luck-but-I-bet-you're-over-reacting" and "oh-you're-another-one-who-fell-for-that-nonsense". The only thing you can do is smile, be kind, tip well, and take it all in stride. It's mostly more about them than it was ever about me. But this quote makes a lot of sense for me, and it has helped me choose how I think about it going forward:

Via Pinterest.

What I've learned through all of this is that while it takes a lot of time to plan ahead with so many "limitations", I actually revel in that very fact. During a time when my body is at the mercy of whichever doctor I am waiting 6 weeks to see, it empowers me to know that I am making thoughtful, healthy decisions for myself. I also have never been more overwhelmed by the amazing foods I can eat, and the new recipes I can't wait to try. And one more pin because you know I love 'em:

Via Pinterest.

So the procedure was easy-breezy and the doctor says everything looks normal. The results of my biopsies will come soon. Time will tell what exactly that means, but it's one step closer to untangling this mess. Oh, and my post-starvation request of a gluten-free gourmet burrito with veggies (rice, hold the beans, per food combining 101) from Border Grill was as delicious as I thought it would be during those 24+ hours I spent thinking about it. At least, that's what my parents reported. I was pretty groggy when I devoured it. :)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Ciao-Ciao! :OR: How I Found My Self Worth In Sorrento

With so many people around me preparing for the best day of their lives, I have been thinking lately about the best days of mine. I don't think they were necessarily the graduations, though those held their own symbolism: accomplishments, milestones, progress. I don't think they were the birthdays, though I did feel loved. I don't even think they were the days I found out I won writing awards or saw my words in print. I think it was the first time I decided, really proclaimed, that I was worth far more than I was being given.

My mom usually takes some time to warm up to an idea, so when I suggested a European cruise for the destination of my grad school graduation trip, she balked. Us? In Europe? For the first time? Alone? She told me she'd think about it, but when she had suggested a trip, she was thinking on this continent. I'm fairly certain she didn't give it another thought.

Until, that is, I delivered an $800 check for the airline tickets, which was when she knew I was serious. The deal was I would pay my airfare and my parents would cover the rest. (And unless we were going to a NASCAR race, my dad was more than happy to man the house while we "gallivanted".)

So after months of meticulous planning and many nights deliberating between different cruise lines and researching different port cities, we set sail.

We left my nervous father with extra long hugs at the tiny Marquette airport and set off for Rome by way of Chicago. I followed my nervous mother through baggage check. Eight port cities waited for us on a 14-day cruise.

In departing, I was also leaving behind a quasi-relationship, a "relationship" with air quotes, one in which I was an anxious ball of energy, so wound up and turned around that I was not behaving like myself. He was constantly alternating between declaring his desire to be "casual" and leaving me charming voicemails (as constantly as someone who waits two weeks and then calls three days in a row can do). We were a tangle of misunderstandings, mixed messages and fear. If we'd had a song, ours would have been measure after measure of staccato played in different tempos. (Staccato, an Italian word meaning 'detached', indicates that the note is to be played shorter than notated, usually half the value, the rest of the metric value falling silent.)

We had a pattern: he would warm up to the idea (of what? of me? of us? of love? of his own worth?), spend a few days leaning too closely in the bar or giggling the morning away in bed, and then disappear for a week, two weeks, a month. He greeted me after an ER trip with an intense kiss: "I'm so glad you're okay! I need you to be okay!" We watched movies and laughed on the couch while he healed from a snowmobiling accident. We had lengthy conversations about the things that lovers talk about: politics, family, fears, dreams. He once disappeared for 5 weeks and then called me on Valentine's Day, sure that we'd spend the following night together. (We did.) After a week of checking my phone constantly, he called me the night before my birthday, sure that, despite me having friends in town, we would meet up that night. (We did.) On the night of my actual birthday, he showed up two hours late to a party I had invited him to weeks in advance. He was drunk after dinner with his friends, and looking for cake. My friends gathered in my living room the next day and listened as I cried my trademark tears. I was being reeled in slowly and then cast out to sea, but I always had my eye out for the hook.

I was miserable, and I had no say in the amount of time we spent together. Yet I ate it up, making myself available and squirreling away jokes to tell him in an effort to keep him longer. He was often sad or drunk, but making him smile made me smile. Just as suddenly as he would decide he needed to see me, he would drop away.

So I left the States in the way I usually leave relationships: with knots in my stomach, filled with uncertainty and general unease. I never returned his last phone call, and then I awoke to a 5am alarm and boarded a plane: The proverbial double barline.  In other areas of my life, there is nothing I hate more than misunderstandings and unfinished business, yet this is my typical relationship exit style: I have to hurt you last, and then I need you to disappear forever, or at least long enough for the lesson to set in. (I'm working on that.)

This chapter in my memoir will be titled "Barlines". 
For the first two days in between great food, martinis on the deck, daily excursions to fabulous places, and a lot of pool time, my mind wandered. I walked around in a daze. It wasn't jet-lag but passed with my mom and aunt as such. I checked my voicemail from the middle of the Tyrrhenian Sea more than I care to admit. (The Visa bill, on the other hand, was quick to remind.) I quietly wallowed, feigning excitement for things that would otherwise have made me squeal: nightly towel animals, beautiful gazpacho, endless sushi on deck three.

On the third day, a small group of us traveled to Sorrento, a small town in Southern Italy. In an 80-passenger bus, we wound up narrow roads and zipped past pedestrians sauntering happily down the sidewalks. From up on the cliffs, we looked down into a canyon of houses and shops, the entire hillside peppered with a stark contrast of trees and stone buildings.  Everywhere you looked, there were polka-dotted lemon and lime trees. Once our bus parked, we darted in and out of shops and finally settled down to lunch with wine in a little cafe overlooking the sea. The endless water impressed the others, but it only reminded me of home.

The passerbys looked so happy, so youthful and strong, so incredibly content. I watched intently, looking to glean wisdom from these people, whose lives looked effortless and full of love.

Suddenly, I realized what I had done. It was the first time in my life that I saw my relationship-with-air-quotes pattern so clearly--not just the how, but the why. I had been settling for way less than I was worth, agonizing over boys to whom I was an afterthought (if they even thought of me at all). I had been doubling over, clawing at something I wasn't even sure was a good fit, just for the sake of having something, someone. As I was nearing the end of grad school, I knew I was gearing up for something. Yet, I was terrified to go it alone.

It dawned on me: I was creating my own misery. I was all but inviting the misery in, asking whether it prefered water or soda, and fussing over it while it contaminated the great life I was building myself. I let that sink in as my mom and aunt obsessed over which gifts to buy for whom. When the waiter checked in, I used the only string of Italian words I had bothered to learn: "un altro, per favore" ("another, please."). As I sipped on the preservative-free (and therefore hangover-free) wine, I felt my jaw loosen for what felt like the first time since we boarded the little plane in Marquette.

I took notice of a woman walking by. She was easily the boldest woman I'd ever seen in person. Her dark glossy hair was tied up in a twist and her wrist was wrapped in a red silk scarf. Her cat-eyed sunglasses were a tad too big for her cherubic face--but glamorously so. She was wearing a chic and refined outfit, so quintessentially European she was almost a caricature. The expression on her face was unreadable, but there was no doubt she was confident. She was going somewhere, and the crowd in front of the cafe, likely another tour, seemed to part for her.

A man in tan pants, a loose white top and suspenders (!) suddenly came running after her. Compared to the men in suits sitting at the cafe on this airy Sunday, he looked sloppy, uncouth. "Celia," he called out, then a cascade of desperate-sounding Italian I couldn't understand. He grabbed her arm, she turned only for a second, long enough to say, "Ciao-ciao" ("Bye-bye") and then walked away, looking unaffected. The man stood for a second, shoulders slumped, and he snapped his fingers as if to say, I am such a fool, and then turned back to where he had come from.

(In the coming days, we would hear "Ciao ciao!" all around us. It seemed it was the chic way to say goodbye, almost as if to say, "bye bye, baby!" with a certain attitude. It became a joke in our cabin--"I'm going to the loo, ciao ciao!")

I imagined myself walking away from anyone, let alone a handsome man in suspenders, so calmly, almost flippantly, willing myself to believe that I had it in me. It occurred to me that maybe Celia wasn't walking away from the boy. Maybe she was walking away from who she was with that boy, or even countless boys before him. (It occurred to me later that maybe wine made me a little dramatic.)

I looked around at the rest of the people in the cafe, at my mom and aunt who were still discussing the proper size of limoncello to give their co-workers. I looked after Celia, but she had rounded a corner.

"Grazie," I told the waiter as he set down my meal. I glanced in the direction that Celia had gone. I said a silent "Grazie" to her as well.

I let the moment linger, waiting just a while longer to begin eating, which in itself felt very European. I felt the warm wind on my cheeks, let it toss my hair wildly, slapping it against my forehead. I said a silent "Grazie" to myself for good measure, for getting myself to uncharted territories, for not letting fear hold me back, for finally letting go.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Books I Might Write Someday

My friend Allison and I recently took a spontaneous jaunt through Marquette on a Wednesday night. We ended up compulsively Googling on our phones under the table playing trivia at a local bar, while commiserating about how startlingly young the other trivia-players were. But earlier in the night, we stopped for a patio beverage, and then meandered on in search of food. While we indulged on chips with salsa and fries with mustard (me) and ranch (her), we talked about life: inspiration, body image, dating horror stories, family dynamics, health, regrets, and--in true fashion for two type-A gals--goals and lessons learned.

It was one of those conversation that never ends; it weaved effortlessly back and forth between her thoughts and mine, without interruptions, censorship or fear of monopolizing someone's time. I'm an editor by my very nature and it's a rare occasion when I can walk away from spontaneous conversations feeling like I've said everything I needed to say in the best way I knew how. But I am so myself and so at ease with Allison that I can edit myself out loud in real time. Quality friendship allows this. It's one of the many reasons I love the girl.

The conversation turned to writing and we talked about all of the stories we had to share, all of the stories that were still unfolding, and all of the possibility in our lives. We made lists of projects we should collaborate on: Where our interests, backgrounds and outlooks intersected, complemented one another or balanced one another out.

While one project is in the works (eeek!), I will save the other titles and topics we came up with for later because if there is one thing I know about Allison, the girl delivers her dreams. It's something I admire about her and I can only hope some of it is rubbing off on me.

But in hopes that I may one day ditch my filter, push aside my fear of losing acceptance at the expense of honesty and overcome my complex about getting every word just right, here are a few books I might write someday. Heads up for my byline, people. (And be sure to read the dedication page, where I only hope to adequately thank my wonderful friends for helping me see how funny this cruel, wacky world really is.)

He's Out There Somewhere: What Not to Say to Your Token Single Friend

Doctors May Be The Death Of Me: My Journey To Fix My Back, My Gut and My Relationship with Health Care

Everything Happens For A Reason and 42 Other Lame-Ass Things People Say When Life Hands You Lemons (And Why They're Usually Right)

Type A-nnoying: Toning Down Your Perfectionism, Cultivating Patience and Learning When to Surrender Control (Tips For Happy Relationships) <---Obviously I'll be editing this one for a good long while. :)

Kiss ALL of the Frogs: A Letter To Every Boy I've Ever Loved...If Even For a Hot Minute

Friday, June 1, 2012

Why I Love(d) NY

I mentioned last weekend that I've been feeling restless, dreamy, greedy for something.

Whenever this happens, I start thinking of New York. When I interned there in 2005, I was freshly 21, heading to the city of dreams with two of my best friends. 4 months, 3 girlfriends, 2 apartments, 1 goal: fun of the fabulous variety.

I had no idea what to expect. I grew up in rural Michigan and except for a few family trips to Las Vegas to visit relatives, a couple class trips to Chicago and one church group trip to New Orleans, my travel radius was about 250 miles.

It was extraordinary. I laughed, I learned, I loved... and I lost: I lost weight, I lost anxiety, I lost self-consciousness, I lost self-doubt. In the city that never sleeps, I slept like a baby. In the city where 8 million people buzz around each other going about their own business, I made friends. In a city where you can easily lose yourself, I found out who I could be.

But there came a time to come home. I cried, I cleaned, I created last-minute memories via a newly opened Visa card. But after shipping a few boxes of books home, I flew back to finish my degree.

As time went on, reason after reason kept me from moving back. I pursued my Master's degree close to home because I had close relationships with my advisers and could therefore have more control over the direction of my studies. (And also, it was free.) My late advisor told me to stop waffling. "New York will always be there when you need it," she said. (She was right: I've been back in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2011, and it has never disappointed me.)

I stayed close to home when my dad was injured at work and had to have two back surgeries. I got job after job to gain more experience. I even bought a house and began to set down roots. New York has always been in the back of my mind, though, for two reasons: It had made me happy, and I wanted to be that happy again.

What was the magic there? Was it the hustle, the bustle, the unlimited entertainment? Was it the freedom, the opportunity, the hope? Or did I just find happiness in an unexpected place during a time that could not be recreated because it was just kismet? When else can three fresh-faced girls bubbling with excitement during a thrilling time in their career tackle a new city together? When else can you have friends and family fly to visit you almost every weekend, with an entire world at your fingertips?

Those circumstances might be unique, but was that happiness able to be replicated? What could I learn from it if I studied it hard enough?

And then there's the cold hard truth: I never went back. I'm a girl who takes care of her own business. I track down the perfect entry way bench. I say I will go to Europe for my graduation and I go. I set goals and I try every angle, every way, every possible avenue to reach them. But I never went, and I have always asked myself why? If it makes you so happy, as Sheryl Crow would say, then it can't be so bad. So just. make. it. happen. But I never did. I would even venture so far as to say it's the only thing I've ever really wanted that I didn't make a reality.
"We pick up in New York City
I'm trying to find the [wo]man I never got to be
But when I push down on the pavement,
I find the whole thing so much harder than it seems" 
--John Mayer, "Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey"
Okay, so what was my city hangover trying to tell me?

After 6 7 years (holy cats!), I'm still not sure. Only that my world was a little bit brighter there, and my gut tells me it wasn't just the city lights. Alas, here are my top five theories about why New York made me so happy (in hopes to apply these key lessons wherever I land right this second).

1. I found my limits--and I pushed right through them. I will never forget going out into the garage to say goodbye to my dad the night before my flight left. He was already crying and I thought he was scared for me. But he was proud. And if you know me at all, that unraveled me. I mean, it made me happy, but I was a pile of tears and angst. Was I doing the right thing? My mom was more matter-of-fact, making sure I had everything I needed, and tucking a beautiful new watch in my suitcase for me to find when I landed. She was trying to avoid crying because she wanted to be strong for me. This just made me more unsure. I felt bottled up, hesitant. I felt like I had gone too far.

It took me a good five days to feel like I made the right decision getting on that plane. I pushed through the threshold of what I thought I could endure--being away from my family--and on the other side, I found that there was a wide open world to explore, and that I could find happiness in a little corner of it, and still feel completely loved and supported.

2. I found my voice. I had originally taken an internship with a privately-owned book-packager and literary publishing agency. I had aced my interview over spring break and was ready to soak in every bit of knowledge that I could. But my boss was only looking for a free receptionist. In fact, she just wanted a slave (and not your average intern slave; she wanted the shackled kind): I babysat her 18-month-old daughter during important meetings and then was chastised if she cried; I walked 42 blocks roundtrip to file a police report for her "stolen" cellphone; I called to complain about the accommodations on her recent personal trips, and was encouraged to get as big of a refund as I could. I spent a few weeks trying to put myself in my place (I was an intern, after all) while asking a million questions of the other employees, who were mostly overworked interns themselves. But as time went on, she became more hostile and demanding; it was an all-around uncomfortable and disappointing experience.

So I quit.  After rehearsing a few times in the mirror, I pushed my shoulders back, walked in her office and told her I wasn't getting the experience I came to get. After a few phone calls trying to convince me to come back, she conceded that it was time to find another slave intern.

I was about to walk my butt over to Old Navy and ask for an application, but my advisor (the same one who offered the guidance above) put out an email to all of her contacts through the professional organizations she belonged to: "Bright young student needs an internship," the email read. "She worked her butt off to get to New York and has been mistreated.... I think the publishing world owes her a hand. Can you help?"

And help they did. Many offered informational interviews; it was already June and their intern programs were full. So I spent a few days touring the big publishing houses, asking as many questions as I could think of and guzzling down their free soda. I accepted that maybe I would just spend my summer selling plastic flip flops. But one editor came through and delivered. My knees were knocking when I walked into W.W. Norton's Fifth Avenue office and told the doorman who I was there to see. But I was offered a internship in the text book division, and the rest was history.

I am grateful to those who helped (and will always pay it forward), but I am equally grateful that I saw my worth and actually spoke it out loud.

3. I found a passion. I lived it out loud three days a week as I hustled in and out of the subway, on and off the bus, back and forth to and from Norton. I put hundreds of miles on my summer sandals as I ran from office to office, spent hours in front of the hot copy machine, sweating in the July heat and eating lunch out of the vending machine, obsessively preparing galleys for the editors. I filled my tote bag with books from the take-one-please library, and I read those books until late, late at night (albeit scanning the floor for mice at the same time).

4. I found love. Sure, I dated, I crushed, and I got crushed. I even spontaneously asked my cute German coworker, Bernd, out to dinner when it started raining on the walk to the Subway station. But what I really mean is that I started to love myself. I spent entire afternoons walking with nowhere in mind, enjoying my own company. On days that I didn't work, I went down to Chelsea Piers and laid in the lawn, devouring books from Anna's aunt's shelves. Somewhere in between day trips with visitors and all-night dancing sessions with Jackie at Joshua Tree, the doubts in my mind quieted. I'm sure if I dug out my journals, you'd be able to see a marked difference between my insecure ramblings from May and June and my writings in July and August. Something just clicked.

5. I found a lifestyle I loved. When people ask me what I loved about the city, I always say that we lucked out with the location of our apartment. We rented from my friend Anna's aunt in a neighborhood called Chelsea. Our apartment was 3 blocks from the Chelsea Market, and just about every other day, I would walk down and buy some fresh veggies, whatever looked good. If Anna was with me, we would manhandle the food bar (once hilariously mistaking huge chunks of tofu for feta) or hit up a tasting at the wine store.

I loved walking everywhere, or catching a cab late at night. I loved trying new things, even if I had to spit my oysters in my napkin and beg Jackie to finish them. I loved my complete independence, even if I did once call my parents screaming about a mouse. I loved watching people in the grocery store. I loved how, even in a city of millions, you'd sometimes see the same people over and over again. I even loved the creepy guy on the next stoop (okay, that one might just be nostalgia talking). I loved how rude and genuinely bothered our super was. I loved not knowing whether a cabbie would ignore me, share his conspiracies, give me sage advice, or try to convince me that he thought was a supermodel.

I loved that you could take a subway and have perfect timing as your guests were arriving from a completely different state via Penn Station in the middle of town. When they emerged, you could offer them their choice of anything in the world: it was all at your fingertips.

I even loved lugging my laundry down the block and reading in silent companionship with the other patrons while the machines buzzed and people dropped quarters into the soap dispenser.

I loved competitively hailing a cab and eventually saying with assertive confidence, "17th Street between 8th and 9th, please." I loved the feeling that I had mastered something new and that something so universal and expansive was becoming, in some small but specific way, mine--and I think it's annoyed me that I have never quite felt like I mastered living in Marquette.

Enthusiasm from Cafe Wha.


These two offered shenanigans at our home away from home (away from home): Foley's.

We woke up one Saturday and our street had become a festival. I dream that happens one day on Lee Street.

Me, Jackie and Anna watching a movie in Bryant Park.