general ideas

The Cave

Well, I’m back in New York. It’s been a while, more than a year in fact. The last time I visited was December 2013 and, for a bit of background, I had only been out in Aspen for a little more than six months. I was definitely still transitioning but, after a busy first summer of events, I was positive about the changes I’d made. This time around I’ve been in Aspen for two years and when people ask how things are going, I am not so quick to answer.

Earlier this week I spent the better part of three days on the Eastern Shore of Maryland attending the Institute’s staff seminar. The seminar is structured much like the organization’s executive seminar. There are assigned readings – Aristotle, Socrates, Martin Luther King – on which the discussions – on human nature, virtue, morality, leadership – are based. The conversation around the seminar table is intense, challenging, introspective and, from my experience, highly emotional. Although I was more on the quieter side I was still tuned in and connected to the discussions and, two days later, back in my own stomping grounds I am very much still processing exactly how the seminar has affected me or will affect me over the next few months. 

The final piece we read was Plato’s Republic. In the first few pages of the text, Plato describes prisoners in a cave, watching the shadows of puppets which are moving around behind them. One of the prisoners is released and dragged up into the light, which is – at first – torturous and painful. Once acclimated he finds a whole new world around him which changes his perception of the environment within the cave where he once lived. At one point this prisoner goes back down into the cave, where he finds he can either revert to his old way of life or share the greater experience of his time “in the light” with the others and encourage them to make the change as well.

Now I, naturally, am wondering if my trip to New York this weekend might be akin to the prisoner heading back down into his cave. During my time in New York I was very easily lost in the thick of it all, rarely questioning life and what else might be happening outside of the city’s limits. So, having spent so much time outside of the city in the light of the Rocky Mountains, am I more apt to readjust to the darkness of the cave or share with my friends how enlightening life outside of the gridlock and grind can be? 

Incomplete

This past Friday, I hosted a coloring party at my office. It’s part of my role as a member of the Professional Development Group – a small contingent of employees who take on the challenge of connecting staff throughout the various Institute offices through programming (i.e. guest speakers, seminars and the like). When joining the group back in December of last year, I brought to light my professional – and personal – goal of introducing more creativity into one’s daily routine. And, when a colleague shared a recent article in the NY Times about coloring for grown-ups, I thought… bingo.

So, come Friday, 10 or so of us – all “grown ups” in various stages of our professional careers – took seats around a wide, round table and began to color. The pages and postcards from our chosen book, the Secret Garden, were no easy task. The intricacies and teeny-tiny lines made the design fairly challenging – the levels of concentration and precision (if you’re into that) trumped most of the conversation at the table; although there were a few strands of chatter that emerged once someone took their eyes off of the task at hand. After several hours, there were a few completed postcards… but for about half of the group, there was still work to do. Their work was incomplete.

Which was 100% okay. There were no rules, I said. Color outside the lines, leave white space and of course you can come back to it later, when you have a spare second to shade in a spot or two. Simply leave it in my mailbox whenever you’re done. I myself hadn’t finished my design. So, like the others, I packed up my spot and tucked my page into my bag, where it has sat since Friday morning. Untouched. Unfinished.

All in all the event was a success. After all, it did bring people together – on a different level than that of a weekly meeting or even a professional brainstorm. But, I couldn’t help but feel like a disappointment to myself. Here is one more “piece” that I’ve started and have yet to finish. Sure, it’s only been a few days (and, in my defense, I did scour the desk drawers for some rogue colored pencils or fine-point markers that I had stashed away, turning up nothing) but it’s been a few years for some of my other creative saplings. Essays abandoned. Memoirs suspended. And it’s not just pieces of writing. There are three blank canvases and a set of oil paints tucked in a dark corner. A clarinet in my childhood bedroom. Will my poor little coloring page be left hanging with the rest of my creative pursuits? I realize it’s a question that only I can answer, or better yet, determine.

But, is that was this is about? The results? Or is it more about the method? Bringing to light my lack of discipline and inventory of unfinished work was not the intention of the coloring party. It wasn’t a competition or a race. It was supposed to be fun, a way to exercise a different part of the brain, alleviate stress, remind us that life isn’t always about work. Creativity itself is constantly touted as a method for stress reduction, for an increase in productivity, for success. Grown-ups across the world are clamoring for these books, the latest and greatest antioxidants of the mind. When complete, the design is a reminder of the pathway it took to get there, proof that they can discover a creative side of themselves that might be hidden far beneath professional goals, skill sets and proficiencies.

My essays, canvases, even the clarinet. Those pathways are still there, waiting for me to pick back up where I left off. And perhaps my biggest road block is where my concentration lies: the finish line. Results. By looking so far ahead, squinting into the horizon for that infinitesimal line to cross, I forget all about the beauty of the present, the wonder uncovered in every step forward (or sideways and backwards), and the benefit in taking one’s time, even if it means pausing for one moment – or many – to gather my thoughts.

It’s been a while…

Almost two years since my last blog post?! Yikes, it really has been a while. And instead of fixating on that 2 million pound elephant… perhaps I’ll take the easy road and kick things off in 2015 with a little reflection exercise.

Back in my MFA days, I was assigned to read Joe Brainard’s I Remember, which was a little gem of creative writing that was quite unconventional in its construction. There was no plot, no real story line, just page after page of sentences beginning with “I remember…” – a collage of words, memory and imagination. And since it has been such a long while, I’ll start with that.

It’s been a while since I’ve taken the 6 train uptown to the Upper East Side and back to my 5th floor walk up apartment, walked through that apartment building door and taken a deep breath of preparation for the climb ahead.

It’s been a while since I’ve participated in a yoga class. Everyone here in Aspen seems to be so naturally good at yoga. And back in New York and Delaware, for whatever reason, it seemed easier to blend into the background. I prefer running on trails where my self-consciousness is swallowed whole by the immense amount of open space around me.

It’s been a while since I’ve felt sand between my toes and the sting of the Atlantic ocean water along the Delaware shoreline.

It’s been a while since I’ve worked as a waitress, but I can’t help but feel a bit of the anxiety that comes with “being in the weeds” while dining in a full, busy restaurant.

It’s been a while, a short while, since my Aunt passed away in November 2014, but I think of her everyday and, in quiet moments, replay her laugh in my mind.

It’s been a while but I’ve never forgotten the thrill of jumping off of a swing and, perhaps more so, those final few seconds of anticipation before the rush of weightlessness.

It’s been a while since I’ve written much of anything. But, then again, does that really matter? In the words of Scarlet O’Hara, “I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.”

 

 

 

Cat Bath

RemyLast night, I dreamt that I gave my cat, Remy, a bath. For anyone who knows Remy, the thought of giving her a bath is both hilarious and terrifying. She has… So. Much. Fur. And she’s sassy. As far as she’s concerned, the only person giving her a bath is herself. And it in no way shape or form involves water.

For whatever reason – in said dream – she didn’t put up too much of a fuss. She was a little annoyed at first but, eventually, she settled down and let me gently pour the water over her, lather the soap and give her a nice, relaxing rinse (avoiding her face of course). I don’t know what happened after I was finished. We didn’t get to the drying part. I guess my subconscious had decided to shake that one off.

So… What does it all mean??

I’m not usually in the habit of asking myself that question in order to avoid any potential reasons to worry, panic or stir up hypochondriac tendencies. But, against my own caution, I attempted an interpretation:

Think of something that you’ve never done before, something that you know would be extraordinarily difficult and potentially disastrous if you tried to do it. This is something you could have tried to do earlier, either when you were young and impressionable or the thing or person you are doing it to/with is young and impressionable. You dread it. You fear it. But, in the end, you suck it up and give it a go. And, by god, it’s not that bad. You might even be good at it. You might suck at it. It might be a huge failure. But at least you tried.

I’ll probably never give Remy a bath. At this point, she’s going on three and let’s just say I’m not up for that battle of wills. But it’s not about Remy is it? The most literal thing that comes to mind is learning a foreign language. But maybe that’s not it either. It could have been a look back at that day I decided to leave my job in NY. Or whatever writing goals I have yet to satisfy… publishing that first collection of essays, or pitching to Self.

But maybe it doesn’t need to fit the mold exactly. Maybe it’s a fable of a more general nature: about trusting what you do and how you do it. Though you might be expecting the worst, it turns out that – with a bucket full of optimism and bar of good faith – you have the tools you need to get the job done.

 

 

Looking Back…

“You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.” -Alan Alda

It’s been a few weeks since I stumbled upon this quote on Facebook. I think it may have been on Dr. Andrew Weil’s page, popping up in my newsfeed one morning as I sat in my newly claimed “office,” which is actually the dining room at my parent’s house. Floor to ceiling sliding glass doors look out onto the back porch. Should the weather cooperate, afternoons are particularly glorious and full of sunlight. It’s the best room in the entire house, in my opinion. The cats agree. Read more…

Just My Opinion

So the topic of this week’s writing workshop is opinion.  And I’ve decided to include the first draft of my submitted opinion piece below.  While the content, Hurricane Irene, is a bit dated. I still feel it’s relevance… after all, news is news.

White Noise

On Monday August 22, we were still anticipating the weekend ahead at the Delaware Beaches, which would be spent celebrating the closing of my friend’s single chapter by drinking margaritas and playing in the sand.  In the midst of our pre-planning email fury, one of our friends mentioned the possibility of a hurricane coming up the East coast.  What hurricane?

A day later things started to get shaky.  Tuesday afternoon a 5.8 magnitude earthquake, possibly the strongest to ever hit Virginia according to the Washington Post, rattled people from Maine to South Carolina.  I didn’t feel a thing.  Emails, calls, and instant messages about the quake derailed everyone’s productivity for the afternoon. Hurricane Irene was suddenly on the back burner, finishing last on the ticker tape headlines.  There were plenty of news stories, CNN alerts, and radio broadcasts about the earthquake, but they seemed to dissipate as quickly as the earthquake had.  No aftershock.

But the news stations got another chance to overdo it.

Thursday rolled around and, suddenly, there was no longer a bachelorette party to look forward to.  In my office, low grumblings of cancelled events and inconveniences gave way to anxious chatter about evacuation zones and emergency supplies.  A friend of mine, who lives downtown in the Financial District, asked if she could bring her family to my apartment, which perched on the higher ground of the Upper East Side.

They arrived on Saturday around noon, and, upon their arrival, we promptly plopped ourselves down on the couch to do what every good citizen would in the wake of a state emergency: watch the news.  Purging itself of regular scheduled programs, the network stations (which were the only ones received by my television) fixated on the pending storm.  And wasn’t this their moment to shine.  Anchors were tucked comfortably into the mahogany desks while meteorologists pranced in front of their radar screens, outfitted in their Sunday best, hair placed perfectly and teeth as white as ever.  Video footage of grayish-blue, foamy storm surge was slipped in between broadcast developments, hinting of possible danger.  Novice field reporters in slick raincoats braced themselves for gale-force winds and downpours.  It was slated to be the worst hurricane the Northern East Coast had seen in decades and it seemed as though the news was going to squeeze every last drop of airtime out of it that they could. As the hours of Saturday evening dwindled on, and there was nothing left to do but sleep, I dreamt about the late-night crews still broadcasting, howling their projections on perilous developments into the wee hours of the night.  Each twist and turn of their footage contributed to the sheer force of this story as a spectacle of entertainment.

On Sunday the TV came back on.  Scenes of fallen trees, muddy streets and flooded roadways were narrated with stoic commentary.  We watched reporters valiantly slush through mud and plough through flood waters in pick-up trucks as they traversed the most affected parts of the city.  Water lapped deviously at the edges of the Battery Park promenade.  Look at this! They exclaimed. The tide was sure to rise.  A clip of a girl in a bright pink shirt walking through two feet of water cycled over and over.  Just as I thought I was seeing a twisted expression of amusement on her face, the screen would flip to an image of the empty, eerie New York streets.

Enough was enough.  We ventured outside, at the behest of the media, to find breakfast.  The sky was light, and a fine rain sifted through the air.  Off of first avenue, the only open diner was packed with people wanting to see for themselves how the city had fared against the storm.  Hours and days later, we would come to find out that, while the city was (for the most part) in tact, nearby areas in upstate New York and New England had been completely demolished.  CNN reported the following week that the death toll as of August 30th stood at 43 (it is now known to have caused over 56 deaths) and that over 2.85 million customers were without power.  And we were watching close-ups of piles of sticks and panoramic views of broken boardwalks.

With full stomachs were returned to the apartment, back to the couch, to the news, and to the reporters, hoping that they might have the answer to the most pertinent question of the hour: “When can people go home?”  A live press conference was soon to start, we were assured as our eyes lingered on the empty City Hall podium.  We waited, anxiously for information that might actually serve us, help us, and inform us.  We were tired of watching reporters splashing around.

Finally, Mayor Bloomberg centered himself behind the microphone.  The news anchors hushed.  Bloomberg’s mouth opened but there was no sound.  All that we heard was a bit of fumbling with microphones mixed with improvised apologies about technical difficulties.  And then, silence.  But, no fear, the reporters would eagerly fill the void.

 

The Sunday Stretch

retrocede\ret-roh-SEED\
verb: to go back :recede
:to cede back (as a territory)

I have recently discovered that it might actually be nice to make a habit of waking up early on Saturday and Sunday. Usually, on weekend mornings, I can be found, dozing but not quite sleeping, in my bed. 11am is a good hour to get things started. Back in college I could stay stationary till about mid-afternoon.

This past Sunday I was awake at 9 (which is still technically sleeping in, since I wake up anytime between 7:30 and 8 on weekdays). My Mom was coming in to town. She arrived around 10:30am and we promptly set out for brunch at Square Meal. The walk over to 92nd and Madison was pleasant, and our brunch? Even better… the food tasted as fresh as the spring green paint on the wall looked. I had bread pudding French Toast (and a side of bacon of course) and, since my normal breakfast involves a 150 calorie bowl of Special K, let’s just say I needed to walk. So we took a leisurely stroll around the Central Park reservoir and before retroceding to the apartment, tackled the new Fairway grocery store on 86th and 2nd. We were back by 3pm. Whew! (And yes, the Fairway experience is another post.)

Time for a nap.

4pm rolled around and I was back to busy, cooking my lunches for the week with the produce and poultry we found at the Fairway. After a glass of wine and a bit of couch time, we ventured out once again for dinner at Spigalo on 2nd Ave. Keeping quaint, we sampled baked clams and modest bowls of bucatini pasta, mine with tuna and plum tomatoes, my mother’s with assorted seafood in a light marinara sauce. Finished with a blueberry tart.

It’s amazing how getting up just a few hours early seems to make the weekend that much longer. And it’s equally as pleasing that I seem to be able to actually relax on Sunday, and avoid the fret and worry duo until Monday morning. Having Mom around helps.

Bite Marks

The city has been a strange place the past few weeks.  It almost seems as though the world isn’t quite right – some star is misaligned with the rest and therefore cooky things start happening.  But then again, it’s New York and people rushing across the street dodging oncoming traffic, crying in doorways, and acting on average a bit strange doesn’t really seem too out of place.

I took the subway three times today and two out of those three times I noticed a man wearing a bandage on his neck.  The first guy, slim and dressed in grey and brown, had two nude band-aids that were positioned parallel to one another, the first starting right where about where his jawline met his neck.  The second guy, wearing a black tee shirt and jeans, was sitting down in the corner seat on the subway, eyes closed.  A stark white patch of gauze was taped onto the side of his neck and also covered his ear lobe.

My immediate reaction was that True Blood, the HBO series was actually real and New Yorkers were being sucked on by vampires.  And ironically enough, the advertisements in the subway car on one of these trips were for the CW series, Vampire Diaries – which I have no desire to see but I am sure it has it’s moments.

So much of entertainment today is fantasy.  True Blood, Twilight, Vampire Diaries – all tap into this mystical notion of the superhuman.  The final movie of Harry Potter debuts to the general public tonight at midnight and, on the walk home (to avoid the subway and any encounters with bandaged men) I ran into Hagrid look-a-likes and girls giggling in Harry Potter spectacles.

I have my own fantasy: getting out of New York.  My sister just moved to West Virginia and a friend from work is heading back to Ohio in just a few weeks.  I have move envy.  I think that if I move away I will be miraculously cured of all that ails me – my frustrations with work, with men, with money, with food, with anything.  By moving somewhere else I will find myself in utter bliss, with the wind blowing lightly and the sun shining brightly.  But I know better.  Wherever you move, whatever moves with you.

 

 

Dexter: Season 3: Disc 2

plaguey\PLAY-ghee\
adjective: causing irritation or annoyance : troublesome

I am about to miss class due to a head cold that has turned my noggin into what feels like an alien’s nest. It is quite possible that those little green characters from the Mucinex commercials are there too.

So, I figured that I would tune into the blog and share something that has been mulling over in my mind for the past few weeks. Dexter Season 3, Discs 2 – 4 have been in my Netflix queue for months – not just a few weeks (like the long wait FAQ says is the usual case) – but months. Well before the holidays. This plaguey wait is particularly frustrating due to the fact that Dexter Seasons 1 and 2 came and went without trouble. And to top it off, I have now watched Dexter Season 3, Disc 1 twice! This was only because I naively thought that, since it had been so long since I had seen an episode, a refresher course was needed.

The simple fact is, I cannot imagine that every single last DVD from Dexter Season 3, Discs 2-4 has been held hostage in people’s homes since December, or November – whenever that the “long wait” appeared in passive aggressive lower face red type in my queue next to the DVD titles. There are quite a few other TV shows with just as much appeal as Dexter waiting to be watched. Netflix says so, based on my like of violent crime dramas, they have suggested several. But I want Dexter.

I find it a bit disconcerting that there is actually a genre on Netflix labeled violent crime dramas and that, from my queue, they have gathered that I am into them. Yikes… I mean what is it about crime anyway? Violent crime that is… it seems like these types of shows are flooding the networks – Criminal Minds has to be one of the hand down creepiest, aggressive, gory shows on network television. And they are coming out with a spin-off.

If I can’t have Dexter, I will politely decline any other violent crime drama suggestions for that of a different nature; White Collar, thankfully, was readily available when I added it to the top of the queue. I just watched the first episode of season 1 at Annie’s the other night, and Matt Bomer’s blue eyes aside, the premise of the show was actually pretty captivating. Not to mention there was absolutely no bloodshed… just clean-cut, good-old con-man crime. Ah, gotta love it.

Tourism, a Causerie

cohesive\koh-HEE-siv\
adjective:exhibiting or producing a condition in which people or things are closely united

Last week I handed in two complete, cohesive essays. And since I have limited bandwith to write anything additionally creative, I think I’ll include the beginning pages of one of my essays, on tourism…

The Tourism Kaleidoscope

We continued on our journey, in Cappadocia, Turkey, winding around the tunnels of underground cities and awkwardly climbing into basalt rock caves like children playing politely on a jungle gym. Fatih, our tour guide, was always with us, never ahead or behind; he stuck with us like a friend and casually shared bits of information, instead of lecturing or teaching. I watched a few tourists from other groups gravitate toward his voice as he whispered local secrets; swells of jealously toward these trespassers rose within me. We strolled together through the open-air museum of Göreme, a Christian monastery turned national park and World Heritage Site, which contained more than 30 rock-carved churches and chapels and vibrant frescoes from the 10th, 11th, and 12th centuries.

Treading in and out of the caves, I began to notice the relevance of my camera. When I would bring it to my eye, Fatih would stop and retreat to the background, avoiding the picture. It was there, in Göreme, that I decided I no longer wanted to be that tourist, the one who thrives on picture taking, thereby seeing an entire trip through a secondary lens, the one who relies on context, and the one who travels to a country to observe instead of experience.

Sometime before I got to Cappadocia, I became aware of the concept of tourism as something that had lost its panache. A tourist, “one that makes a tour for pleasure or culture,” sounds fashionable enough, but it carries a bit of baggage. Picture a group of “them,” folks touting pickpocket-proof carry-alls, wide-brimmed hats, camera lenses, pearly white sneakers and their eccentric, energetic leader carrying a neon-colored flag or balloon. Sunscreen spoils native aromas, and whimpering kids drag the soles of their sneakers along squeaky floors, leaving trails of rubbery goo. This scene is as immediate to the term tourist as a box of Kleenex is to the word tissue.

Today, you should be one of several things: a “traveler”, a “jetsetter”, a “globe-trotter”, a “trekker”, a “vacationer” or a “staycationer”, anything but a “tourist.” You should have “insider info” and avoid the typical spots that function as feeding frenzies for picture sharks. You should dress to fit in with the locals. If you are American, you should look un-American. You do not want to be one of the brainless sheep with a fanny pack. Accordingly to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), plenty of tourists roam the globe: “In 2009, travel for leisure, recreation and holidays accounted for just over half of all international tourist arrivals (446 million arrivals). Some 15% of international tourists reported travelling for business and professional purposes and another 27% travelled for specific purposes, such as visiting friends and relatives, religious reasons and pilgrimages, health treatment, etc.” This is a pastime here to stay.

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