Happy Hour

I have mixed feelings about attending conferences by myself.  On the one hand, and I think everyone can agree, getting away is nice.  On the other, traveling solo means eating meals by yourself (or ordering room service in your bathrobe) and awkwardly meandering through happy hours and social events looking for eye contact, a smile, anything that gives you an in, so that you can avoid looking like a complete idiot by tacking yourself on to a circle of people who obviously know each other, laughing casually in an effort to squeeze into the conversation.

I am great one on one.  Sales meetings, business discussions on the trade floor, and the like are a piece of cake.  Couldn’t be easier.  But in Las Vegas at happy hour, I was by myself, sipping a glass of sauvignon blanc, watching two alien figures in stilts (outfitted in bubble costumes and led lights) scare the heck out of people.  That’s Vegas for you.  As freaky as these “light people” were, they were a blessing, a conversation starter.  I asked a lady next to me, who was also sipping solo, how her day was and we were off, covering everything from Hawaiian real estate to holistic and alternative medicine for pets. A few others joined our conversation as the appendages of the light people swung over our heads.  I even felt relaxed enough to eat a mini crab cake.

But after twenty minutes, my newfound conversationalist was calling it a night and I was quickly back to where I had started.  So, I headed in another direction (away from the light people) and searched for an new in.  I found a smile at the corner of a high top table and started chatting with John and Jessica, both of whom are based in Vegas at the host hotel.  We chatted for a while but John had door duty and Jessica had business to attend too, so I reluctantly said goodbye again.  It was about that time that I had had enough, and slipped out of the bar and headed back to my hotel, to my kingsize bed.

One of the keynote speakers at the conference the next morning talked for an hour about what it means to be vulnerable.  She went off on a few other tangents about anxiety and what it means to be joyous, but she talked a lot about how much people hate feeling, being and acting vulnerable – yet it is often what defines us. The happiest people in life, she said, are those who don’t feel vulnerable but rather those who feel comfortable being so.  I couldn’t help but thinking this in terms of being alone, whether it be alone at happy hour, in an airport, or in my apartment.  Somewhere along the course of my time here in New York, it became difficult for me to be alone; I shy away from it just as others shy away from vulnerability.  Maybe being alone and being vulnerable are one and the same.  I haven’t quite figured it all out yet.  It might be one of those memories that I look back on in ten years and say, oh, I get it now.

The next morning I had an email from Jessica saying how glad she was to have met me and that I was so brave to have come up to speak with them, being that I was at a conference by myself. I felt slightly pitied, and a bit disconcerted, but ended up with a positive sentiment.  Sure, I could have easily abandoned any hope of socializing all-together and take the easier hermitic path but, no, I gave it a shot.  Now I just have to take the awkward meandering route as many times as it takes to start feeling completely comfortable with being alone, whether in a room full of people or by myself on the couch. Practice. Practice. Practice.

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.

Stockpile

Word of the Day: beguile
\bih-GHYLE\
verb 1: to deceive by cunning means
2: to draw notice or interest by wiles or charm
3: to cause (as time) to pass pleasantly

Most of the time the ads in the subway are for movies or alcohol – specifically Absolut Vodka. But this past week I’ve noticed the walls of the 86th street subway station on the upper east side have been flanked with the announcement that a Fairway grocery store is coming to the neighborhood.

This is exciting news indeed. In fact, the first time that I went to a grocery store in New York, I went to a Fairway- the original on the upper west side near my first apartment. I grabbed a cart like any good grocery store patron would and navigated the narrow aisles carefully, adding pastas, produce, and poultry. It was only when I was in the check-out line that I realized I had only my hands as means to transport these items back to my apartment – which was a three block walk. Not to mention the three flights of stairs. The impatient clerk asked me if I wanted delivery service and while I contemplated the ease of such an idea, I finally decided to balance the bags on my arms and, like a loaded workhorse, carry my own weight back home. After that, I only used baskets.

Maybe most people go to the grocery store once a week or, for those of us in the city, possibly twice. Okay maybe three times. Getting just what you need is a city-standard. But someway or another, the stock in the fridge and on the pantry seems to add up. Not only do I buy more than I need (despite my efforts to keep it light) but I opt for Chinese take out or a slice of pizza and leave the fresh stuff in the crisper.

So after last Monday’s trip to Gristedes on 89th, I decided to use as much as I can from my apartment market to beguile my tastebuds before heading to the Fairway which isn’t slated to open until the 20th of July. Tonight I baked salmon and topped with a lentil soup mix from the pantry. Not bad for leftovers.

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.

 

 

Idle

Well I am off again. Back from Bali just about a month ago and I am en route to Aspen for a quick two-day site-visit for the 2012 Summit, which will take place next June. And with two weddings and a bridal shower in June – let’s just say I didn’t have much time to wind down – let alone get back into a routine. The gym misses me.

But idleness is a sneaky thing – something that I might akin to a margarita. Both seem well and good, but indulge too much, and it suddenly doesn’t seem so wonderful anymore.

I think I have a problem being idle, sitting, resting, doing nothing. Memorial Day weekend (after returning from Bali with food poisoning) I had the perfect opportunity and excuse to do absolutely nothing. Sleep, rest, relax. Yet, I called my parents myriad times a day (especially in the early morning) and complained about not being able to come home or that I had nothing to do. I called for take out or would head back to bed and sleep for hours just to do something. It wasn’t nearly as calming as I originally expected.

But is this really being idle? Or is idle what I want to be? Often times, when I find myself in these ambivalent situations, I am alone – and I am finding more and more that I really attest to being that way. Although I admit that there are times when there is nothing better than coming back to the peace and quiet of an apartment that is yours and yours alone… but I can think of ten words that I’d like to be rather than idle: content, peaceful, complacent – well maybe just three for now.

I had a goal this summer, to write 60 pages of something for next semester – something that might turn into my thesis. But gosh, I am struggling. Even writing on my blog seems hard-boiled – my sentences feel forced and so does my subject. And I am frustrated because I find myself wanting to talk about idleness, feeling like a stranger in my own city, tequila (yes, I tried that) but I wind up feeling a bit lost, and playing it a bit too wishy-washy… generating more questions than answers.

PS: Word of the Day is:
hard-boiled\HAHRD-BOYLD\
adjective 1a: devoid of sentimentality : tough
b: of, relating to, or being a detective story featuring a tough unsentimental protagonist and a matter-of-fact attitude towards violence
2: hardheaded, practical

Symptoms

It’s been just over a month since I’ve returned from Bali, where I recently spent a majority of my month of May.  One week, I worked harder than I have possibly ever worked before, directing a conference of 300 people, and somehow managing to block out everything “Bali”.  It was easier knowing that after the Summit ended I would have some time to finally soak it all in.  So the week that followed was spent lounging in luxury resorts, practicing being a caffeine-free vegetarian (only the caffeine-free part has stuck) and enjoying massages every other day.  Those two consecutive weeks couldn’t have been more opposite from one another.  The first was rewarding and the second was much needed.

On the way back from Bali I ate something undetectably horrible and I was suddenly and very much sick for a better part of the long haul flight from Hong Kong to Vancouver.  And the decision to take a sleeping pill had made it even worse.  Sleeping pills always warn against operating heavy machinery but they never mentioned that basic operations of your own body would be so difficult.  I did eventually make it back to NY and up the four flights of stairs and into my bed – and that is where I stayed for the next 30 hours.

Holed up in my apartment, I was sheltered from the outside world.  I was up at 2am and back asleep by 9am. That Monday (Memorial Day) I managed a visit to the grocery store at 8am, but successfully avoided the mad rush at the grocery store during prime time hours and had to dodge only a few early risers who were as non-confrontational as I.  We all seemed rather peaceful in our early morning activities.

Tuesday morning I was back at the office.  Same thing on Wednesday, Thursday… and so on.  I’ve gotten over the jet lag but something is still not quite right.  You would have thought that going from New York to Bali would have been an adjustment, but coming back has seemed harder.  The city is tough and mean and ruthless.  People are introverted and are protective of their smiles.  Some people say I am still working back into my routine, but I was spoiled by Bali.  Not by the spa treatments, the canopy beds, and the beachside cabanas but by the people, who made me feel as though I had lived there for years. This September, I will have lived in the city for five years and, strangely enough, it still doesn’t feel quite like home.

Aftermath

Word of the day: equilibrium
noun \ˌē-kwə-ˈli-brē-əm, ˌe-\
a : a state of intellectual or emotional balance : poise
b : a state of adjustment between opposing or divergent influences or elements

Exactly one week ago, I landed in Bali. Since arriving, I had little time to take in the sites, adjust to the heat, sleep, eat, or blog… but now, the Global Spa Summit has concluded, and – after a bit of sleeping in this morning – I put my feet in the Indian Ocean, had a massage, and at last, a few deep breaths. Tomorrow Molly and I head up to Ubud, to COMO Shambhala Estate, where we will stay for three nights. We visited the property last Saturday evening – the Estate itself has been built into the landscape of the Ubud mountains. Everyone we have talked to has said that Ubud is the heart of island, full of culture and tradition. I can’t wait to get there!

Last night the GSS team and many of the delegates took a trip to Seminyak – which is the party area of Bali. We stopped first at the newly opened W retreat, and I had dinner with friends at a table surrounded a bamboo cage. We called it a lobster trap and others said we looked like little caged birds. After dinner, where we cooked our own salmon on a “hot rock”, we headed to the bars – first a club called cocoon and then another one called the cave. Now, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I saw a trend! Cage, Cocoon, Cave… for the past week, I have been surrounded by beautiful Bali – still closed in, surrounded, unable to let loose and soak in all in.

But today! Today we had a slow lunch by the beach, a dip in the ocean, and this afternoon, I had my first Balinese massage. My therapist worked hard on my upper back and neck muscles – removing the knots, soothing the tension. As the oils soaked into my skin, I felt myself transitioning to equilibrium.

I am ready for Bali.

Helloo from Hong Kong

Molly and I, after a 15 hour flight, have been hanging out in the Hong Kong airport – sipping Starbucks and working on emails… Our flight for Bali leaves in just about an hour. The airport is surrounded by mountains on either side – that appeared slowly as the sun rose.

What’s on tap for the evening? Arrive in Bali, get to the hotel, squeeze in a workout to relieve the aches and pains in our knees, dinner with Susie, and then perhaps some organizing and yes, of course, handling emails…

Word of the day? Bandwidth :)
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Drained

microcosm\MY-kruh-kahz-um\
noun 1: a little world; especially : the human race or human nature seen as an epitome of the world or the universe
2: a community or other unity that is an epitome of a larger unity

Starting last Friday, my kitchen has been on a slow, minor meltdown. That morning, I was working on the dishes and I felt a rush of water at my feet. Looking down, I saw water pouring out from the kitchen cabinet; it seeped along the already warping linoleum tiles, threatening the hallway’s hardwood floors. I quickly ran for towels and after sopping up the mess, I opened the cabinet door to investigate. A pipe, running perpendicular from the actual drain was dripping smugly. Several dozen paper towels later, I got things under control within the cabinet and resumed my stance at the sink. Then I turned on the faucet and did it all over again.

Thankfully, I was heading out for the weekend and thought that almost 48 hours without h20 would leave the sink dry and good to go. Any clogs might evaporate or decompose (ewww) and worse comes to worse I’d pick up a bottle of DrainO and conquer the unruly pipe.

Well, Monday was a crazy day. And, my fitness trainer gave me one hell of a talking to, which more or less meant that if I didn’t get on the treadmill everyday for the next five weeks, I would end up wasting a significant amount of money and end up loosing a measly number of pounds. After that, I didn’t feel much like DrainO.

But I did end up making a Pyrex casserole dish of chicken, a batch of sauteed broccoli and brussel sprouts and a pot of rice. Then I used a plate to dish up my dinner, and a fork, and a knife. There were a few serving spoons involved and colander. I had a “sink full” of dishes with no sink to wash in.

I had two options. The first, the bathroom sink is about as shallow as one of those seashells you find on the beach. So, I turned on the hot water in the bathtub and went to work. I bent awkwardly over the faucet and soaped up pot, and pan, and knife, and fork and impatiently waited until all traces of soap were gone from their surfaces. After rinsing each piece I ran back to the kitchen to deposit it into the drying rack, as if I was on Nickelodeon’s Gag or Guts or whatever show it was that made fools out of the willing.

Tuesday, after a sushi dinner, I stopped at Duane Reade and found the DrainO. The last bottle. Dumping it down the faucet, I fixated my gaze on the drain that was bound to spurt. It didn’t. But an hour later it did. This time with the stench of poisonous chemicals that probably shouldn’t be going down drains in the first place. Papertowels back in hand, I was back in the microcosm of my kitchen cabinet, sopping up water and chemicals and rust. I waited for five minutes and turned on the hot water, in the gentlest of streams. It trickled and twirled down the sink and, for what seemed like ten minutes, there was no drip from the unruly drain. As long as the faucet wasn’t on full force, it seemed as if, for now, the gremlins of the drain would be kept at bay.

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