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Pompeii

21 Mar
Chicago Night. Photo by MAG

Chicago Night. Photo by MAG

I can’t stop thinking about L’Wren Scott.

I didn’t exactly run in her social circle. I never met her, wore her fashion designs or even followed her career, other than to take note of her name in fashion magazines.  I didn’t even know that she was Mick Jagger’s partner.

What haunts me is that at 49, for reasons unclear to those closest to her, she chose to end her life, and, according to news reports, she did it in a way that reflected her well-mannered reputation – by asking her assistant to drop by in the morning rather than “bothering” or “inconveniencing” anyone.

By all accounts, Ms. Scott had a happy relationship with Mr. Jagger, and her business, though going through the normal ups and downs of all burgeoning businesses, seemed to be heading for success with the signing of a $250,000 contract to collaborate with Banana Republic.  This week her friend, reporter Cathryn Horyn, wrote in a New York Times tribute entitled “Memories of a Friend, a Teacher, and a Fighter” that Scott was under a great deal of pressure to make her clothing line successful, and that in a tense conversation Horyn told Scott she needed to “give herself a time limit to resolve matters or get out. Putting her health in jeopardy because of stress was not worth it…” Scott did not like – or heed – the advice, and continued to strive for success.

It’s this – and more – that makes me grieve for a woman I don’t know.

There’s no way of knowing what was going through her mind at the moment she decided to end her life, but I understand why she might have felt like it was the only solution, and that deeply disturbs me.

It’s scary to be a strong, intelligent, ambitious, aging woman in this society.  So many people depend on you, and if you are successful, it’s usually because your over-achieving perfectionist tendencies have pushed you past your fears to the point where you jump in and make it work – at all costs.  Whether it’s being successful in your education, your career, your health, your marriage, your child rearing, your athletic achievements, or your hobbies and interests, the drive toward excellence can leave even the strongest of women questioning their abilities.

Age makes it even more difficult because at a certain point you start to question all of your choices – past and present.

I say this because at 47, I find myself very far away from what I was educated to do and facing a number of health issues that never even crossed my mind at 27 or even 37.  My salary is far below the level of what I should be making, given my education level (and student loan debt) and abilities, and I’m paying off debts that I accrued for living expenses and health insurance in my past life.  I’ve managed to put my massive student loans in forbearance as I have tried to land jobs with pay that would allow me to afford to pay the $958.00 a month that the loan company is asking for, but those days are soon coming to an end – even if I haven’t landed a job with an adequate salary.  These new health challenges add a whole new level of stress to the money mix, but there’s no way to avoid them because right now they’re not terribly serious but if I ignore them, they’ll cost me much more in the long run, both financially and physically.

And it all reminds me that I’m not getting any younger

Only my family and a few close friends know what’s weighing on me – until now.

I say this, not because I am looking for sympathy or a handout or an excuse, I say this because even though her life is none of my business, I think I understand what might have been going through L’Wren Scott’s mind that night, and I have to wonder if maybe we should be making these thoughts other people’s business.

I understand how wonderful and scary it feels to be someone who other people look to for support and stability.  It’s a lot of responsibility.  I understand the weight of trying to be a cheerful role model and avoid showing how scared and alone you feel because other people are relying on you to be the strong one.  I understand how humiliating and shameful it feels to wonder how your finances, health, [or fill in the blank] have gotten so out of your control, and to be afraid to ask for help because then everyone will definitely know what a failure you really are.  They’ll know you’re a fraud and that everything you’ve accomplished has been nothing but accidental luck.  And I know many, many other women feel like this, as well.

But here’s where Ms. Scott and I differ.

I hear this message, but I don’t buy into it because I’m fortunate that I have people in my life who I can let down my guard with and show all the ugly unlovable parts of myself to.  I’m fortunate that they love me and offer help even when I’m at my absolute most stubborn (because I’m positive that I am a total failure, that everyone else is doing it “right,” and that if I would stop being so damn lazy and just work a little harder I could overcome all the obstacles and manage everything my own big self),  and I’m so very, very fortunate that they step forward and offer it despite my incredibly high walls and fierce defenses.

It makes me deeply sad and unbelievably angry that the world lost yet another generous, loving, kind, intelligent, creative woman this week because in that one brief moment, she didn’t believe she could ask for help, and because no one was able to reach out and offer in time.

In their recent Top 40 pop hit, Pompeii, the British group Bastille asks, “How am I gonna be an optimist about this?”

Here’s how…

I’m going to use this as an opportunity to reach out to others and let them know I’m available.  I’m going to pay attention to the people close to me, and I’m going to let them know how much they mean to me on a more regular basis.  I’m going to smile at strangers and offer to help when I can.  In other words, I’m going to try harder to be the change I want to see in the world.

And maybe by helping others, I’ll remind myself that I’m worthy of being helped, too.

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Beautiful

21 May
20120520-042659.jpg

Me and the Saginaw soccer girls; Photo by John and/or Robert

A few weeks ago, I had the great fortune of meeting a group of young women who reminded me that it’s never to early – or too late – jump in and live life to the fullest.  These young soccer players had traveled south from Saginaw to play in a tournament over Mother’s Day weekend, and on the Friday night before the games began, they showed up at my department store cosmetics counter enthusiastically asking to be made over.

From the moment they arrived, I was fascinated by their energy and bright spirits.  Their words tumbled out of their mouths and over each others sentences as they begged me to give them smokey eyes and glossy lips, and before I could respond, aided by the tag on my apron, they were calling me by my first name.  “Mary, please?” “Mary, can you make me look glamourous?”  “What do you think of this color, Mary?”

How could I resist?

The first question I asked was whether their mothers would allow them to wear makeup.  I learned this one the hard way, when, one afternoon, a group of pre-teen girls showed up and begged to try the new mascara our line had just launched.  Since I have no children of my own, it never occurred to me that some mothers might not want their daughters to wear makeup at home, let alone test it out in a department store.  So, I meticulously applied a layer of lengthening mascara to the lashes of a young woman who, it turned out, was not even supposed to be wearing lip gloss. 

When her mother showed up, all hell broke loose at the counter.  I apologized profusely, soaked a cotton ball with makeup remover, handed it to the girl, and swore to myself that I’d never again forget to ask, yet knowing full well that the answer I’d get would most likely be questionable.

Hey, I was twelve once, too.

The girls all assured me that their mothers would not mind a bit, and because they had such open and honest little faces, I decided to trust them.

I’m so glad I did.

Since being hired at this counter, I’ve made peace with the giant cosmetics industry by deciding that I would never sell a product based on what a woman was lacking, but rather as a means of enhancing the beauty she already possessed. It’s the only way I can look at myself in the mirror as I apply my own makeup every morning.

The Saginaw girls were already gorgeous – to me – and as I listened to them, I was reminded of the excitement I felt when, at twelve, I pulled out the shoe box (hidden under my bed) that contained a compact, a lipstick (Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers in Watermelon), and a pallet of very blue eye shadow that I’d dug out of the discount bin at Walgreens, and applied them all – libreally.

Not wanting to repeat the debacle that defines my seventh grade picture (read: orange hair courtesy of Sun-In and blue eye shadow up to my eyebrows), I gave them each the option of a “natural on the go glow” or a “Saturday night party girl” look.  As I worked, I listened to them talk about everything – music, soccer, boys, school, and each other.  They were hilariously honest and asked a million questions, which they quickly answered themselves as I concentrated on applying colors that complemented their skin tones.

I answered their questions, and only interjected when they began to talk about how someone was worried about what boys thought of her fat thighs.  I was shocked because not one of them was remotely close to being overweight, and because they were expressing the exact same fears that I had at twelve – and, if I’m honest, still have at forty-five.

Ugh.

I told them that all of the cool guys I know do not judge a women based on the size of her thighs, stomach or any other part of her body, to which they smartly shot back, “Her boobs!  Boys look a a girl’s boobs and judge her!”  I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing as I replied, “Yes, they do.  And they will for the rest of your lives, but as long as they are not rude about it, just pretend not to notice because they simply can’t help it.”  This caused them to laugh loudly and talk about the boys in their favorite band (which they told me the name of, numerous times, and I still can’t remember).

When I was done with each girl, I held up a mirror and asked them what they thought.  I watched as a look of awe spread across their faces giving way to excitement, and I knew I was watching each one of them see themselves as beautiful and grown-up. The funny thing is that I hadn’t applied a lot of makeup – a little blush, a little light eyeshadow, a coat of mascara and some lip gloss – so they were simply looking at slightly enhanced versions of their own natural beauty.

When they were done, one of the mothers came to pick them up and take them back to the hotel.  She approved of the job I’d done as she gathered up her little ducklings so they could hit the pool before bed. Both the mother and I were openly envious of the fact that they still had energy to burn.

The next night, my soccer friends returned with three new teammates, and we went through the routine again, except this time they talked with me like I was an old friend. Again, asking questions, telling me about school, soccer, boys, and all of the wonderful things that twelve-year old girls will talk about when an adult treats them like they’re grown up.  When I was done, they handed me a stack of notes they’d written on the back of sheets we use to outline the products we’ve used during a makeover.

Later, after they’d left, I unfolded the notes and found that they’d written “Mary, from your favorite person you’ll ever meet.  Mary, your the best person I ever met. Love, M.” and “A.A. is soooo cool and loves Mary” and “M.C. is the most amazing person ever and she LOVES Mary!”

As I read the notes, I teared up, and thought, “We should all be so lucky have a group of adoring twelve-year olds in our lives.”

What will stick with me forever, though, is the moment when, on the second night, one of the girls began talking about not being pretty enough, I cut in and said, “You’re beautiful.  With or without makeup, you are absolutely stunning and gorgeous because you are *you*!”  All at once, five girls began singing the lyrics to “Beautiful” – loud and proud, ignoring all of the looks that other shoppers and cosmetics sales people shot at them. They sang, in unison, through the chorus, and all I could do was stand back and smile as I watched them.

I hope I never forget how empowering it felt to watch a group of young women be that bold and beautiful.

Fortunately, I know that if I ever do, I’ll have a team of intelligent, hilarious, and fiercely strong young friends around to remind me.

Empire State Building

22 Jan

March 2007 - photo by JMW

This picture used to make me shudder, and if I’m honest, it still does, a little bit.

For a long time, I buried this photo in an attempt to try and forget what the image represented – a woman who was pretty miserable because she was certain she was a failure. At the time this picture was taken, I had stopped working on my Ph.D. (an endeavor that had occupied nearly fifteen years of my life), was working as a low-wage receptionist at a veterinary clinic, and was in a relationship that was well on its way to failing.

I was depressed, demoralized, and disconnected from both family and friends, and I couldn’t see how I was ever going to turn things around and find joy in life again.

I thought there was something terribly wrong with me, and that if I just “tried harder” I could make it all work. After all, “other people” didn’t seem to be having the problems I was having. “Other people” coped with challenges and overcame obstacles so much better than I did. If I was unhappy, then it must be my fault because “other people” were making it work.

The problem was that I didn’t have any concrete evidence of who these “other people” were or exactly what they were doing. All I could see was what was on the outside, and since I couldn’t see inside “other people’s” situations (and I didn’t dare ask questions since that would have exposed my weaknesses), I couldn’t figure out how “they” were doing it so much better than I was.

That winter, J. suggested that perhaps we should travel to New York in celebration of my 40th birthday. I was enthusiastic about the trip, but a part of me didn’t want to go because I felt so ashamed of who I was – of who I’d become.

I knew I’d gained a lot of weight over the years, and I didn’t want to embarrass J. (who is one of the most fashionable women I know) by showing up in New York City looking like a frumpy (and decidedly un-cosmopolitan) tourist. J. calmly reassured me that she didn’t care what I looked like, the trip was about her and I spending time together in a place that offered us the chance to explore and discover new things.

I don’t know if she knew it then, but she threw me the lifeline that pulled me back from the edge of the abyss.

The four days we spent in New York City rekindled my spirit, and reignited my desire to live a life of purpose; to learn; to grow; to change! I came back from the trip inspired by all that we’d done and seen, and I immediately began to make changes. Not all of the changes were well received, nor were they done the “right” way, but the point was that I could now see that there was more to life than what I’d been living – and I wanted something more.

This did not bode well for my relationship, and a year and a half later, I called it quits and moved out. It was scary to be on my own after ten years of living with my ex-partner, and a part of me wondered if I’d be able to actually make it on my own.

October 2008 - photo by JMW

The support of family and friends pulled me through the roughest patches, and I soon found myself loving life in a way that I hadn’t for a very long time.

I’d begun losing weight during the breakup, but I soon found myself plateauing and unable to get past the first 35 pounds. Frustrated by my lack of progress, I retreated into some bad habits that I’d developed as a means of trying to control situations that felt completely out of my control (going long periods of time without eating anything), and was frustrated as I backslid.

It was at that point that D., ever the pragmatic realist, served up a whopping dose of honesty and sparked a change in my direction. As I complained about my inability to make myself eat on a regular basis and spun out theory after theory about why I simply couldn’t do this, he matter-of-factly said, “I don’t get it. It’s simple. Put food in your mouth. Chew. Swallow. Problem solved.”

At first I was pissed at his unemotional response to what felt like a deeply emotional issue. How could he possibly understand the difficulty of eating on a regular basis? I stubbornly refused to believe that the solution was that simple, so D. let it go and left me to my theorizing.

It wasn’t until the personal trainer I hired (to help me organize workouts and re-evaluate my diet) went through my food diaries and commented that I was undoing all of the work I’d done by denying my body the proper nutrition it needed to run efficiently, that I began to understand that there was merit in what D. had said months before. However, I stubbornly resisted the trainer’s advice until he finally said, “Look, either you get on board with the program or you quit. But I’ll tell you this, if you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you can expect the exact same results you’ve been getting – nothing.”

I got the message – and changed my approach.

Once I did, I found that implementing his suggestions was a matter of doing what D. had suggested months before: Put food in mouth. Chew. Swallow. Problem solved.

And I lost another 85 pounds over the next year.

What this experience taught me was invaluable as I worked to change other aspects of my life, and realized that in order to change I was going to have to employ the knowledge of those who had experience in the areas I wanted to improve.

January 2010 - photo by MAG

Over the past five years I’ve worked with medical professionals, a life coach, and countless individuals who have skills that I’d like to develop. I’ve listened to them, employed their advice, and adjusted it when the fit wasn’t quite right.

I’ve started asking questions, talking about things openly and honestly, and stopped thinking that “other people” somehow have it all figured out.

They don’t.

It was when I started listening to that inner voice that lets me know when something is working (and when it isn’t) that I realized my life is simply that – my life.

And while I can look at the choices others are making and the results they’re getting, there’s no way for me to know all of the factors that have gone into their decisions. The outcome of their choices is uniquely their own, and measuring myself against “other people” doesn’t do me – or them – any favors.

Five years after my first trip to New York City, I am a decidedly happier and healthier version of myself. I feel more confident, more secure in my decisions, and more self-assured about the direction my life is taking. I don’t know where the next five years will lead, but if the last five are any indication, I’m going to wind up someplace absolutely amazing.

And I’m looking forward to the adventure!

August 2011 - photo by MAG

Dreamer Profile: Dan Levinson

17 Nov

Dan Levinson - Photo by Miriam Kruger

NAME: Dan Levinson
WEB ADDRESS/BLOG SITE: www.civilunrestclothing.com
EMAIL ADDRESS: creative@civilunrestclothing.com

  • What is the dream you are pursuing?

I’ve started my own t-shirt design company, called Civil Unrest Clothing. I’m excited to see my designs on random people walking around the mall, the city, the world!

  • What inspired you dream about doing this project?

I’ve been doing graphic design work for a long time, and always love seeing my work in different places, publicly. I’m a big supporter of the City of Detroit, and also have taken an interest in the social atmosphere of late, regarding the public’s displeasure with big business, government, etc.

  • What challenges have you faced in order to pursue on this dream?

The main challenge, as is common for artists, is financial. It’s not difficult to produce the designs, and create a website to sell the products… but finding funds to market/advertise the products to the public, as well as finding multiple methods of printing the shirts, is proving to be costly.

  • What has surprised you the most about pursuing this dream?

I guess I’m a little surprised at the positive feedback I’ve gotten so far. I thought I’d get some good response from friends and family, because that’s what they do.  But I’ve gotten great responses and support from people I don’t even know that well.

  • What have been the most rewarding aspects of pursuing this dream?

See the above answer!

  • Is there anything you wish you would have known or done differently?

Not really, although there is more about social media, networking, and advertising that would really help me in marketing my site and products. Instead, I have to pay someone to do this part of the work for me.

  • Where do you hope this dream leads?

Well, of course I’d like to make zillions of dollars (ok, even a couple thousand would be nice) selling my shirts… but equally as motivating is the idea that one day I could see a celebrity wearing my one of my designs on stage somewhere, or getting my work recognized nationally or globally.

  • Who inspires you to dream?

There are many people who inspire me to dream… I’ve met some fantastic people over the last couple of years who are so creative, talented, and passionate about what they do. They inspire me to go above and beyond, and not sit idly and wish for something to come to me. I’ve got to go out and get what I want! No one’s going to give it to me. And passion begets passion. When I see someone who is so excited about what they do on a daily basis, it inspires me to raise my energy level up, and be the best person, designer, parent, friend I can be.

Drop Me Off in Harlem

5 Jul

42nd Street & Madison Ave.- Photo by MAG

One Year to Move Soundtrack

What happens when you turn a woman, who marches to the beat of her own drummer, loose in New York City? You get a week full of surprise and adventure, of course!

The first few hours I was in the city, I attempted to navigate it on my own – and got lost. 

How, you ask? 

Well, it was a collision of various factors, the main one being my stubborn desire to do things “my own big self.”  However, as usual, the screw-ups led to some amazing discoveries that couldn’t possibly have happened had I colored inside the lines – or followed directions.

When I arrived at Port Authority [much earlier than anticipated],  D. was still in class, so he texted me and told me to hang out around 42nd St. for a bit, and when his class let out, he’d come meet me and help me find my hotel. 

42nd Street was bustling with activity at 1:00pm on a Saturday, and as I tried to navigate around all of the tourists [who were slowly walking the sidewalks] with my suitcase, I quickly adopted the New Yorker walk – fast and purposeful.

It was wonderful to be in a place that was so full of activity, so I explored for a few blocks, looking for a place to sit down and have a cup of coffee and wait, but every establishment seemed to be full of people enjoying a leisurely break from whatever they were doing, and who seemed to have no intention of vacating their tables [I wouldn’t have wanted to either!].  As I scanned a third Starbucks, I suddenly got the bright idea to find my hotel myself and drop off my bag at the desk.

I thought I could do this quickly and efficiently, and be back on 42nd by the time D. got out of class.

Brilliant idea, right?  Ah yes, the best laid plans…

I pulled up my NYC Subway map, located 113th Street, and saw that the C Train would take me right to 110th where I could walk three blocks to the hotel.  I patted myself on the back for being so resourceful, and headed down into the subway station to buy a Metro Card.  I did this without incident, and hopped right on the C Train at 42nd Street.

This was where the real adventure began.

Why I thought my hotel was on 113th St. is the first mystery.  The address for the hotel was 113 Jane Street, and somehow, in my mind, that translated to an address on 113th.  Thinking back, I still can’t figure out why I thought that.  It might have been because the streets in Michigan are “Mile” Streets [8 Mile, 9 Mile, etc.], but that still doesn’t account for the fact that the building number isn’t the street number.  In the end, all I can do is chalk it up to the excitement of finally being in New York.

Once on the C Train, the driver made an announcement that I couldn’t quite hear.  It turned out that on weekends, the C Train goes express between 59th St. and 125th St.  You got it – no stopping.  Once I understood, I shrugged and thought, “Oh well, so I have to walk thirteen blocks instead of three. No biggie.”  Plus, it was kind of nice to sit back and relax.

When I arrived at 125th, I got off the train, hauled my bag up the stairs, and headed out to find my hotel.  I must have looked like I knew what I was doing because a few people stopped me and asked for directions.  I laughed and said I had no idea where they needed to go because I’d just arrived in the city myself!

As I walked south on St. Nicholas, I came across the Nine West Outlet store, and just as I stopped to take a photo, D. texted me and asked where I was.  I texted back, “125th St. and St. Nicholas.”  His response was, “WTF?”  I told him what my plan had been, and he asked why I hadn’t used the directions he’d sent me for getting to the hotel.  I texted back that I couldn’t remember where I’d saved them in my phone.

He told me to return to 125th and hop on the train towards downtown, so I did.  The only problem was that I still had it in my mind that my hotel was close by, so I got off the train at 110th St.

Don’t ask.  I do not know why.

By now, it was raining steadily and I was sweating like crazy from having walked up and down the subway stairs lugging my suitcase.  When D. texted and asked where I was, I told him “110th and Cathedral.” He replied, “Oh good! Keep coming downtown to 34th!”  But I had already flagged down a cab and decided that it would be okay to pay for a driver to take me the remaining few blocks to my hotel.

In the cab, I gave the driver the address of the hotel, and he said, “That’s over on the south west side of town, ma’am.”  To which I replied [as I consulted the map I’d picked up at the airport], “Oh no you don’t, according to my map it should be about three blocks from here!” The driver was a very kind and patient person who knew stubborn when he saw it, so he smiled and told me to direct him – and I tried.

Meanwhile, D. and I were texting back and forth about where to meet.  Finally, D. said, “Tell the driver to take you to 21st and 7th.”  So, I stopped being stubborn, gave the driver the streets and let him do his job.

While driving, he turned slightly and asked me if I was from Alaska.  I was confused, and replied, “No, why do you ask?”  He replied, “Well, you said you’re very hot, you’ve rolled down the window, and now you’ve got your head sticking out in the rain. I figured you must be from somewhere very cold.”  I laughed, and we began a conversation that lasted the entire 20-minute cab ride.  His name was Alpha, and he said he was from Guinea.  I asked what he did there before he came to New York, and he told me he’d been an economist, but that he’d given it up to find a better life in the U.S.  He asked me what I did for a living, and I told him I was a college instructor.  This began a very philosophical exchange about the American educational system, and how it might be improved.

By the time we reached 21st and 7th, Alpha was concerned about how I would get to my hotel.  I told him my friend would be waiting and he would help me find it.  Alpha asked if my friend knew New York better than I did, and I assured him he did.  When we got to the corner, Alpha asked where my friend was, and I replied, “Oh, I’m sure he’s here somewhere!”  My kindly cabbie then offered to wait and see if my friend had shown up, just in case I needed a ride to the hotel.  I’m sure he was mostly motivated by economic necessity [and the fact that I’d tipped him $5.00], but he was such a kind man that I think he was also concerned about my ability to navigate the city – and about turning me loose on another unsuspecting cab driver.

21st Street & 7th Ave. - Photo by DMT

D. was waiting on the opposite corner, and as he crossed the street I yelled “Hey you!” as I did a little dance of joy on the corner.  He laughed, and yelled back, “Welcome to New York!”  We hauled my bag a few blocks to the nearest Starbucks, had coffee and caught up while we waited for the rain to subside.

When the storm had passed, D. and I caught a cab to my hotel where I checked in and dropped off my bag.  The rest of the afternoon was spent walking, riding the subway, and seeing the parts of the city that D. knew I wanted to see [to be detailed in my next post].

My first few hours in New York City were filled with so much excitement that I began to wonder the rest of the trip would measure up.  I need not have worried, my entire trip was even more wonderful that I had anticipated, and it confirmed my belief that I do, indeed, belong in New York.

And in case you were curious about where I went – here’s a map of my travel to Harlem and back.

First Day on Subway

Stay tuned for more adventures!

Night Moves

25 Apr

Financial District. Photo by DMT

T minus 47 and counting!

I’ve been exploring options for evening activities in New York City, and I can barely contain my excitement!  There are hundreds of things to do in the city in June – and the vast majority of them are FREE!

From June 6-July 30, Shakespeare in the Park will be staging both Measure for Measure and All’s Well that Ends Well!  Free tickets are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis at the Delacourte Theater in Central Park, but the line appears to begin at 6:00 am on the day of the performance with distribution beginning at 1:00 pm.  I’m familiar with these types of lines, so the question will be whether or not I want to spend a portion of one of my days waiting in line for a ticket.  It could be an adventure, though, so I haven’t ruled it out!

On June 14, from 5:45-9:00 pm NYC hosts the 33rd Annual Museum Mile Festival.  Called “New York’s Biggest Block Party” the festival covers 23 blocks and offers free admission to nine of the city’s most popular museums.  This year’s opening ceremony will take place at El Museo del Barrio, and then move into the streets for a festival of art, music and street performances designed to excite and entertain visitors and residents alike.

Broadway offers Rush and SRO tickets to popular shows at substantially discounted prices, if one is willing to get up early and be at the box office hours before it opens.

Nasty Mondays at Le Poisson Rouge sound like an amazing mix of rock, punk, country, new wave, alternative, where “no genre is off limits and no era is out of place”according to Barcelona DJs Max and Soren! The only drawback might be that NYC clubs are geared toward the terminally hip, and at 44, I think I might have crossed the line from hip to middle-aged and boring about ten years ago, but you never know unless you try!

On June 14, the Joyce Theater will stage Performance A of Rioult. The Joyce says, “Acclaimed for exquisite, sensual dancers and masterful choreography, RIOULT presents two world premieres on two diverse and superb programs. Program A features the much-anticipated world premiere of Bare Bach, an evening of powerful dances, set to Bach masterpieces, that magically transforms the experience of the composer’s works. Program B switches gears with a world premiere, performed to the music of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, Aaron Jay Kernis that inaugurates RIOULT’s Dance to Contemporary Composers series. Passionate, intensely human, intelligent work for audiences who are ready to be deeply moved — see RIOULT.”  A limited number of discounted tickets [$10.00!] can be purchased by calling Joyce Charge at 212-242-0800.

What excites me about the nightlife in New York City is that there is so much to do for so little money!  I recognize that the trade off might be time spent waiting in line or having less than perfect seats at a show, but the reality is that performances and events are about the experience of being part of community of observers and participants.

And while I have no idea what I’ll actually be able to experience while in New York, I am intrigued and excited by the “night moves” that the city has to offer!

One Year to Move Soundtrack

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

21 Mar

East Village. Photo by DMT

82 days and counting!

Last week I booked my flight to New York City, and wrote about conquering fears through researching my options.  This week I think it a good idea to share the resources I used [and will be using] to make my decisions.

A couple of months ago, while surfing the web at work and becoming quite frustrated, a travel-savvy co-worker literally leaned over my computer and pointed my web browser to the Kayak site. Kayak is a site that consolidates information from hundreds of other travel sites, and allows users to find flights, hotel rooms, cars and the best deals on all things travel-related. That small act of kindness led me to download the Kayak app for my iPhone and allowed me to search for flights at my convenience, bookmark the options I found, and program settings to notify me when ticket prices changed.  As a result, I was able to find the exact flight times and dates I needed, and paid less than $300.00 for my ticket.

During our 2007 trip, J. and I stayed at the cozy SoHotel, and enjoyed everything about it. Well, almost everything. J. does not enjoy sharing a room with me because apparently I snore – rather loudly.  We promised that the next time we traveled together, we’d find a hotel where we could book separate rooms at a reasonable rate.  Reasonable rates for separate rooms in New York City?  Right.

Never doubt the [research] power or perseverance of a woman who requires a good night’s sleep.

J. found the perfect place at The Jane.  Located at 113 Jane Street in the West Village, the hotel was designed by William A. Boring [most well-known for the Ellis Island immigrant station] and originally built as a hotel for sailors. As a result, The Jane offers rooms with a single twin bed – much like a ship’s cabin – and shared bathrooms on each floor.  The rooms are surprisingly well outfitted for such a small space, and offer flat screen televisions, iPod docking stations, and Wifi access – all for the reasonable price of $99.00 a night [plus a 14.75% city/state tax and a $3.50 hotel occupancy fee – quite a switch from the hotel’s original fee of “.25 per night for sailors, and .50 per night for all others.” I wish].

The hotel was renovated in 2008, and is absolutely beautiful – both inside and out! If you want to learn more, read Christopher Gray’s wonderful article in the NY Times, entitled “Popeye Slept Here, and Now Olive Oyl Can, Too!”, about The Jane’s history.

One thing that has made me simultaneously excited and nervous about traveling to New York is the public transportation system [and not just because I hold out hope that Rod Stewart will, in fact, be there singing to me. C’mon, this blog is all about dreaming big!!].  I loved the bus and subway system during the last trip, but that was because I was with an experienced traveler who knew how to efficiently navigate the system.  This time, I’m on my own, and although I have an incredibly good sense of direction [late night holiday season excursions in downtown Detroit notwithstanding], I tend to get flustered when I feel like I don’t know where I’m going or how to get there.

One would think that the teacher in me would be able to negate this fear.  After all, how many times have students heard me say, “The only stupid question is one that is not asked”?

Right.

The truth is that I get nervous because I’m afraid of looking out of place.  That make me nervous because I’m worried that what they say about New York will be true – visitors are easily targeted because they don’t look like they know where they’re going.  I don’t want to become a statistic, but then who does?

My biggest fear was how to get from La Guardia Airport to the hotel because I knew I’d have to take both a bus and the subway, but I had no idea how to determine that itinerary.  I got fairly worked up about the problem, until I realized I had a big gun [of information] at my disposal  – a native New Yorker.

I immediately wrote D. who gave me several options – the bus/subway combo, which would take an hour or so, at a cost of $2.50 or the cab option, which would cut travel to 30 minutes or less, but cost me $30-40.00.  D. kindly advised me that the bus option would be “a pain in the ass if you have big luggage,” to which I replied, “I travel pretty light -one bag [on wheels] and one purse – now, the number of pairs of heels in the bag…”

I also located David Pogue’s succinct NY Times review of the most helpful navigation apps for New York City.  I downloaded HopStop, an app that gives travelers both walking and transit directions to and from any location in NYC, and found it useful as I started planning my time in the city. I have also been using my iPhone map app to get acclimated to where things are, and that makes me feel a little more secure.

What I can actually do while in New York is yet another concern because while I want to have a great time, I do not have the budget [this time!] to live large in the Big Apple.  Though, I must admit, that there is something incredibly fun and challenging about figuring out how I can have the best experience for the least amount of money.  I think this is a throw back to the fact that I derive the greatest satisfaction from that which meets my needs at the lowest cost – those who know me will recognize this as the “cost-per-use-benefit analysis” that I use for buying shoes.

As I plan my meals in New York, I’ve found Urbanspoon New York to be incredibly useful.  This app allows users to search by location, type of food and price, and provides links to reviews, both by restaurant critics and the average customer.  The mobile app has a feature that I’ve grown to love as I’ve used it – you can lock one of the three categories [I lock price in the $ zone] and then “spin” the wheel to get a location and type of cuisine!  I’ve started compiling a list of places that sound deliciously interesting!

Finally, for anyone planning any kind of trip, Slide Share posted the “Fifty Mobile Travel Apps You Should Know.” I’ve found many of them interesting for my urban trip, but there are lots of apps aimed at helping those who are driving to their destinations, as well.  It’s a great presentation with a lot of useful information!

I’m excited about the planning because it will provide me with so many options that once I’m actually in New York City I won’t waste a moment being nervous or worried about what to do or where to go.

This girl is going to have fun!

One Year to Move Soundtrack

Saturday in the Park

6 Sep

 

 

Downtown Chicago. Photo by MAG

 

If I can’t be in New York City, then Chicago is the next best place to be.

This past weekend I traveled to Chicago to visit J. and to get a little taste of a big city. As I’ve said before, J. is a serious foodie, so I know that when I visit her I can count on taking a break from my usual fare — protein drinks and frozen dinners — the food itinerary this Labor Day weekend was amazing, as usual!

On Saturday, we started the day with an amazing baked squash and onion tart that J. had made the day before, and then headed out to power-walk through an outdoor mall. J. and I don’t mess around when we shop because neither of us has the patience for browsing. We stop in stores that interest us, do a quick sweep of the entire place, and can be out in under 10 minutes – unless one of finds something to try on, then we’re out in 15.

After our trip to the mall, we headed to the Edgewater area and picked up lunch from Gaztro-Wagon. Owned by Matt Maroni [yes, he’s heard all of the requisite jokes], this little restaurant offers the most amazing naan-wiches. I had the Braised lamb with queso Panela, apricots, walnuts and padron peppers, and J. tried the Fingerling Potato with fennel, mushroom puree, and goat cheese. We also tried an order of the plantain chips and split a real Oatmeal Cream Pie [these are not at all like Little Debbie makes them!].

 

Otom dining area. Photo by MAG

 

Many hours later, we dressed up and headed out to Otom, Joseph DeVito’s restaurant down in the Chicago meatpacking district. Otom is a quiet spot that focuses on New American cuisine with a Southern flair, and its interior might just make even the most hardcore graphic designer smile as it combines Paul Smith’s iconic stripes with exposed brick and sleek modern furniture.

What really shines at Otom are both the food and the impeccable service. The staff was friendly, attentive and incredibly knowledgeable about the food, and it seemed as if DeVito had addressed all of the biggest pet peeves that diners have! The courses were served efficiently without being rushed, and when the server boxed up our leftovers she didn’t bring them back to the table. Instead, the bag was kept in a side area until we paid our check. This solved the problem of having leftovers sitting on the table during coffee – or under the table and being forgotten.

We started the meal with green tea smoked octopus served with grilled cherry tomatoes, fennel, and pie pan squash. For the main course, I ordered the Chef’s Fish Special, which was a combination of mussels, crayfish, and marlin on a bed of wilted spinach and fingerling potatoes, and J. had the Duck Breast with somen noodles, miso dashi, baby bok choy, green onion and duck egg. And we had to split an order of the “Mac & Cheese” made with trofie, sweet corn, white cheddar and accompanied by a corn fritter that could actually have been called dessert. We agreed that next time we’re going to hijack the server and demand a plate of the fritters to start.

 

Photo by MAG

 

Otom is pricey, but we had a Groupon that deducted $60.00 off of our meal, so the entire dinner ended up costing $50.00 with tip.

On Sunday, we put on our walking shoes and took the El from Lincoln Park to North Avenue and had lunch at Epic Burger. The burgers here are outstanding – fresh, perfectly cooked and on the best buns ever! The menu is limited, and as a result, they do burgers right!

After lunch, we walked from North Avenue down to Michigan Avenue, and strolled the Magnificent Mile in search of Garrett’s Popcorn. Garrett’s is an iconic Chicago snack shop which specializes in – you guessed it – popcorn. Year round, the line in front of Garrett’s Michigan Avenue store stretches down the block, and Labor Day weekend was no exception. We waited patiently in line with fifty other folks, only to find out that they were out of cheese popcorn just as we reached the front of the line. Since I was bringing it back for a Garrett’s junkie in Michigan, I made an executive decision and settled for a large bag of caramel corn.

 

Nine West. Photo by MAG

 

We also had to do the obligatory stop at what those who know me would call “The Mothership” – Nine West – to browse the shoe sales and see what they were carrying for fall. I didn’t buy anything because I couldn’t justify the cost/use value [the cost of the shoes divided by the number of times they will be worn], but just being in the store was enough — this time.

In the Michigan Avenue Gap store, I passed another milestone in my preparation for New York City. I bought a skirt – size large. For many folks [who are not women fighting with their weight], this will have no significance whatsoever, but for me it was a glorious moment as I stood in the dressing room modeling the first skirt I’d put on in fifteen years that wasn’t marked “1, 2 or 3X.” You’d better believe I bought it! I did not push my luck and try on pants, though. I’ll save that for the next trip.

 

Gap skirt. Photo by MAG

 

By the time we caught the El back to Lincoln Park, we’d been walking [and/or waiting in line] for about five hours, and were hungry – again! We made a quick stop at Nhu Lan Bakery on Lawrence Street, and picked up the best banh mi sandwiches in the city. If you go there, I highly recommend the #11. It’s a mixture of tofu that has the texture of cooked meat, sweet and sour pickled slaw and hot peppers on a freshly baked baguette. It’s a delicious and inexpensive meal, and tastes wonderful with a nice cold Brooklyn Lager.

We capped off the meal with a slice of J.’s freshly made Pistachio Cake with Fig Jam and Cream Cheese Frosting as we watched Inspector Lewis and Detective Hathaway solve yet another murder mystery.

I might still be a year away from my New York City experience, but in the meantime, Chicago will stand in quite nicely.

People Get Ready

14 Aug

 

Photo by DMT

 

During the past several years, I’ve often wondered what’s taken me so long to make the decision and begin to work toward moving to New York City. The answer to this question is one that simultaneously makes me ashamed and proud.

My initial trip to New York, while opening my eyes to a whole new world, also left me feeling insecure and out of place. As J. and I walked the streets of New York, I felt like a country bumpkin.  New Yorkers, even the scruffiest of them, are stylish people, and as I looked around and observed the crowds, I felt old, fat and out of place.  Returning to Michigan only served to exacerbate the feeling.  I’m loathe to admit it, but two years ago I didn’t think I was “good enough” for New York City.

I was overweight, out of shape, and lacking style and pizazz in my wardrobe, makeup and hair. I was Eliza Dolittle before Henry Higgins.  Cinderella before her Fairy Godmother showed up and waved her wand. The proverbial Ugly Duckling before that whole swan thing.  Okay, maybe I’m being a little dramatic.  Don’t get me wrong, I had a lot of other things going for me – I am a kind, intelligent person who is an excellent teacher and is funny as hell – I just didn’t have the outward appearance that reflected these qualities in a way that would fit into a New York City lifestyle.

Once I’d broken up with my ex-partner, I started to make some big changes. I moved into an apartment complex that offered a gym membership as part of my lease, and started working out regularly.  I quit eating fast food, at first, because I could no longer afford the expense, but as I watched my body begin to change, I realized that eliminating it from my diet had also meant I’d eliminated the calories.  I switched over to more healthy foods, and even began cooking, which “shocked and awed” many people who know me.  Slowly, the pounds came off and I began to feel more energetic and attractive.  When I hit a plateau in the spring of 2009, I hired a personal trainer to advise me about how to get better results from my workouts and counsel me about my nutrition issues, and with his help I lost another 60 pounds.

The weight loss meant that I also needed to replace my clothing, for this I turned to the Fashion Design students at the college where I teach general education classes.  My students were more than happy to advise me, and recommended that I wear shorter skirts and higher heels.  At first, this felt ridiculous.  A 43-year old teacher wearing above-the-knee skirts and 3″ heels?  Unacceptable!  Impossible!  Outrageous!  Well…maybe just one short skirt.  And those high heels are kind of cute.

My students were unflaggingly kind and enthusiastic despite my resistance.  They encouraged and applauded every small change I made, and continued to make suggestions and offer advice.  Every couple of months, J. would travel to Michigan from Chicago to shop with me and slowly but surely I acquired a wardrobe that reflected the more fashionable woman I wanted to be.  As I lost more weight, it became easier to find stylish bargains, and I was excited as I moved from the world of Plus Size Xs to the world of S/M/L.  The moment of triumph came last spring when J. (who is a size 6, and can wear anything) and I were perusing the sale racks at the Gap, and I wondered out loud if a t-shirt would fit me.  J. encouraged me to try it on, and lo and behold, I found that I could fit into shirts from the Gap!

A year before my Gap shopping experience, D. did me a favor for which I will never truly be able to thank him.  For years I’d been a bottle blond, I don’t remember when or why I’d started dying my hair blond, but it had become a habit and I wasn’t sure I liked it anymore.  I mentioned this to D. during a conversation, and he said that he’d always had a personal preference for brunettes, but that was just him.  Since I respect him as a friend and an artist, his casual comment caused me to start wondering if perhaps brunettes were the ones who have more fun, and as usual, I read too much into what he’d said, and heard him daring me to take a chance and try something different (and as usual, his response was “What the hell are you talking about?”).

By the next day I was at the store buying hair dye and making the switch.  It was unsettling, but once I’d gotten used the dramatic change, I began to feel like I’d come home to myself.  As a blond, I had worn more dramatic makeup, but as a brunette, I didn’t need as much since my hair color complimented my skin tone instead of detracting from it.  I ditched my red lipstick and dramatic eye makeup, trading it in for more natural shades of eyeshadow and lip gloss.  The results were dramatic, and the response was overwhelmingly positive.  I felt more confident and….did I dare to admit it?  I began to feel sexy enough to flirt with New York.

As the months rolled on, I learned new tricks for improving my hair and makeup, and I bought more skirts and heels.  I was amassing a New York-worthy wardrobe, and I finally felt like I had style.

These days, I wear a combination of clothes from Vive La Femme, the Avenue, Lane Bryant, the Gap, and Ralph Lauren, and my shoes are mostly from Nine West.  No matter whether I am at work or play, I feel fashionable and that makes me feel confident.

It’s been a long, challenging road, and I’m nowhere near the end, but now I feel like I’ve got enough confidence and style to say “Yes!” to a date with New York City.

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