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? 


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.

Reclaim the Morning

Yesterday was one of those days. Yes, those days. The ones that you know are going to be tough the moment you wake up. And, to be honest, it was my doing. I plucked that morsel of negativity out of nowhere and let it fester in my body. For many reasons, which I’m not going to focus on, my life feels uncertain, ungrounded and upended. Yesterday marked two years of life and work in Colorado, in the Roaring Fork Valley and, for those many reasons, I felt distant rather than connected. Homesick rather than joyful.

Halfway through the day, I met a fellow writer from the Aspen Writers’ Network for lunch. We talked a bit about her latest novel and the editing process she is currently consumed with. When she asked about my writing, I couldn’t tell her too much. Except that I wasn’t writing very much of anything. And, with that, came an anecdote about my reservations of life here, what I was doing, how uncertain everything felt and the disclaimer that I felt a bit sheepish about this sob story.

Well this is the perfect time for you to write, she said, right in the middle of angst and times of great emotion. It’s true, writers do accomplish some of our best work it these times of strife. After all, the catchphrase “troubled artist” has to come from somewhere. But, in all seriousness, what she said resonated. Why couldn’t I use this “blah” to my advantage, and turn it into something else.

Time. It’s always my biggest excuse. When do I have time to write? Not after work, when I am always too tired and the thought of looking at a blank page or screen – and producing creative words – induces a mild wave of panic that settles into a dull ache between my shoulder blades. Ok, perhaps it isn’t that bad but, nevertheless, post-work creativity is rarely an option.

About four years ago, I found myself in the Balinese jungle of Ubud talking with an Ayurvedic doctor about my life. The circumstances sound so much more exotic than they really were. Instead of trekking through the jungle to find a 110-year-old man with a century of Ayurvedic knowledge, I was on a resort property, in a tiny little office, talking to a young man behind a desk. Nevertheless, his words stuck with me and at the time I took fastidious notes – on my ideal diet, exercise, sleep patterns and, interesting enough, my most productive hours of the day.

I’ll have to find those notes. I can’t quite remember if the most “productive” hours were the exact words he used, but I’ll use those for now. His answer? 6am – 9am. At the time, my inner self groaned. I was not, nor ever thought I’d be, the kind of person who popped up in bed at 6am without an alarm clock, ready to seize the day, and make the absolute most of the next three hours. I’m a snoozer.

Four years later, I’m still that snoozer and there have been hundreds of 6am-9am windows of productivity that I have consciously missed out on because I was deep into my last cycle of REM sleep. But to give myself a little credit, it is rare that I sleep past 10 or 11am these days, perhaps once every few months. I consider it progress, especially when at one point – in my much younger years – sleeping past 12noon was not uncommon.

And now I have a new catalyst to launch me back into mornings. A dog. Her bladder has a max hold time of 6-7 hours. Going to bed at 10:30/11pm means that by 6am, she’s up and ready to pee. We’ve only had her for two and a half weeks but getting out of bed for her isn’t all that hard. And, with that, it’s settled. After she has done her business and we set foot back into the house, it’s time to do mine. It’s time to reclaim my morning hours in the name of productivity – and creativity. I’ve only got myself to blame for missing out on these hours for as long as I have but, then again, it’s not about the hours that have passed.

Gathering the regret and discontent lodged in between my shoulder blades, I’ll take a step back, a deep breath, and redirect. These feelings don’t have to be a concrete road block, instead they can be fuel to get it all started. So, with the dog back in bed, and the house still, I’ll quietly re-stake a claim in my early mornings to come.

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…


adjective: cleverly stylish : chic, smart

It’s been a month since I moved out of New York. Wait, scratch that. Five weeks. Well, five and a half. Aside from losing my grip on the passage of time, I think I’ve been managing quite well. Setting an alarm is a rare necessity, naps are frequent, I assume the role of kitchen assistant almost everyday and, when I get the chance, promote myself to CEO when the time is right (aka when my Mom has a long day). I made it to a yoga class on Wednesday, run mid-afternoon errands and meet friends for lunch or happy hour. Every week I apply to at least two or three jobs and make verbal commitments to set aside time for writing. It’s bliss. But…  Read more…

Summer Vacation

So… a work week has passed since I left the office and began my work-part-time-enjoy-the-city-to-the-fullest-sleep-in-stay-out-late-revel-in-freedom last month in New York.

It feels a bit like a summer vacation. But instead of staying out, sleeping in and spending my days at the pool, I have been acting rather responsibly.  I head to bed when I feel tired and wake when I’m rested, which has usually been somewhere around 9:45 (yes, A.M.). Read more…

Cat’s Out of the Bag

I’m leaving New York.

It is amazing how quickly I can type those four words, say them, think them.  But the act of leaving won’t be as swift. And that’s exactly what I’m hoping for. For the past six years, I’ve rushed everywhere – to work, to dinner, to a yoga class, to catch a train.  “Rush” hours. And hours and hours.

So, I’ve got six weeks to go.  It’s the perfect amount of time.  Any less and my departure would be like ripping off a bandaid which has stuck to my skin for the better part of a decade.  Any more, and I might akin my move to a painstaking disembowelment.  Well, it might not be THAT bad. Read more…


So, it’s been an embarrassingly long time since I’ve posted a blog.  260 days.  Therefore, I’ve come to the decision that I’ll pick up right where I left off.

Attending a conference.

Earlier this week, I made my second trip to Aspen, Colorado this month to attend the Aspen Ideas Festival, put on by the Aspen Institute.  Just twenty days earlier, I was running my own conference on the campus of the Aspen, Meadows.  Aspen is an absolutely wonderful place. It’s easy to navigate, has stellar breakfast and deli options and is surrounded by stunning countryside (aka the Rocky Mountains). It is also remarkably clean. Clean smelling, clean looking.  Leaving a smelly, polluted New York for a few days in the crisp mountain air seems like just the place for enlightenment. Read more…

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