Tag Archives: Change

Live Like We’re Dying

26 Oct

Photo by DMT

I am a sliver lining kind of woman.

No matter how awful things seem at any given time, I always seem to be able to find the good side of any situation.

A few weeks ago, J. asked me how I maintain my fairly consistent positive outlook on life.  I had to think about it for a while because I had no clear cut answer for her.  Some days, I’m not really sure how I do it [many of my students might suggest it’s the result of watching the film Peaceful Warrior twenty-five times], and some days I’m not very successful at it.  I thought about her question for a few days, and took a close look at what things contribute to my ability to maintain an optimistic attitude, and I’ve come up with a few lists of things that help me.

For the next few posts, I’d like to offer up these lists and ask those of you who read, to contribute whatever it is that helps you maintain an optimistic outlook on life.

I’d like to say from the outset that these are the things that have worked for me – your mileage will vary – so take what you can use and set the rest aside.  Trust your instincts and do what feels right for you, but keep an open mind and remember that what doesn’t work today, might work tomorrow or next week or next year.

Optimism 101- Mary’s Reading List

1. Simple Abundance – Sarah ban Breathnatch — I’ve read this book of daily meditations for women for the past four years.  Some of what she writes is unrelated to anything in my life, but a lot of her short essays hit at the heart of something I’m struggling with, and I’m finding that with this latest reading, the essays are like old friends that I love, but haven’t seen in a while – familiar and comforting, but new again.  [Lest you think I’m a goody-two-shoes, on my earnest days, I jump in ready to believe, but on my cynical days, I roll my eyes and wonder who in the world could be this optimistic.  That usually makes me laugh at myself].

2. Choosing Happiness – Stephanie Dowrick — This book is made up of short readings about how to develop, cultivate and maintain happiness.  It is full of helpful offerings that are designed to give the reader a way to envision their life in a more positive way, and then to follow through to reflect that outlook.  I frequently turn to this book when I am experiencing a difficulty that causes me to revert back to unproductive [read: negative] behaviors.

3. A Girl Named Zippy – Haven Kimmell — Forget the fact that Kimmel is the author of my all-time favorite book, The Solace of Leaving Early, Zippy is quite possibly the single funniest memoir I’ve ever read.  Seriously, how could you not love Zippy’s mother? She tells Zippy that instead of being birthed at a hospital, she’d been acquired in a fair-ground trade with wandering gypsies in exchange for a special purse. As Zippy is taking in this information her mother throws in an “oh by the way” comment that Zippy had been born with a tail, which they’d had removed so she could wear pants.  When I need a laugh-out-loud read, I reach for this book.

4. Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand — This might seem like an odd choice for me since Rand’s book basically extols the virtues of unchecked capitalism, but I read this book with D. last summer and I loved it.  I read it less as a treatise on how to get rid of socialism, and more as a psychological drama about how individuals wrestle with making decisions about what they “should” do and what they want to do.  I loved Dagny Taggert because she was a strong woman who wanted to do what was right for herself, her company, and her dream – and none of her decisions were easy.  I liked the book even more after a new biography about Rand revealed that she violated the ideals she’d written about in Atlas in order to get the book published.  Breaking rules in pursuit of a dream makes me cheer!

5. Stone Butch Blues – Leslie Feinberg — If I could make this required reading for every individual in the world, I would.  A novel based on Feinberg’s real-life experiences being gay and transgender in Buffalo, New York during the 1950s, 60s and 70s, this book breaks down the ways in which homophobia is insidiously woven into the fabric of every aspect of our lives.  And yet, even in the most horrendous experiences, Feinberg manages to hold onto the thread of human dignity and the power of friendship and kindness.  If you can walk away from this book unaffected, then you need to find the Emerald City and ask the Wizard of Oz for a heart.

6. Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live – Martha Beck — This book took me a long time to read because it was frightening to have someone who has never met me, seem to know me so well.  Dr. Beck is a well know life coach who has written numerous books and also writes a monthly column for Oprah Magazine.  I love her writing because she is forthright, but understanding and kind.  This book helped me understand what it would take to actually live the life I love, and love the life I live.

7. Life Strategies: Doing What Works, Doing What Matters – Dr. Phil McGraw — I love this book because it is a no-nonsense, in-your-face, wake-up-and-smell-the-coffee kind of book.  When someone recommended this book to me, I rolled my eyes and sighed heavily, the person recommending it said “I know, I think he’s hokey too, but give this book a chance!”  I’m glad I did.  Dr. Phil’s ten Life Laws are probably the most helpful pieces of advice I’ve ever read, and I love his unsentimental approach.  He recognizes the difficulties we all face, but ultimately says “Man up, and do something about it.”

8. The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency – Alexander McCall Smith — Actually, I own the entire series of the Mma. Ramotswe mysteries, and I love every book in the series.  Mma Ramotswe is a wonderful, beautiful, and resourceful character who is absolutely human.  I love her acknowledgment of the ways in which all of the pieces fit together – of a mystery or a community.  She radiates love, and as a result, I love her, too.

9.  A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose – Eckhart Tolle – This book surprised me when I read it because I was expecting to cast it aside after a chapter or two.  I thought Tolle’s combination of philosophy and spirituality would be far too over the top for a pragmatic dreamer.  I was wrong.  What I found when I read this book was that I was fully engrossed in what Tolle was explaining, and I actually ended up reading the entire book in a weekend because I couldn’t put it down.  What resonated the most for me, at the time, was Tolle’s explanation of how the ego drives negative action through fear.  Critics argue that Tolle’s discussion is nothing new, but it was a new way for me to understand my own life, and I appreciated it.

10. The Women of Brewster Place – Gloria Naylor – This is one of the most beautifully written novels I’ve ever read.  Naylor captures the spirit of a community of women in a way that no other author ever has.  This book is uplifting and heartbreaking.  It underscores the courage and dogged determination of the women who live in Brewster Place, and the writing is absolutely breathtaking.

I know this seems like an odd mishmash of reading materials – it is.  It is in no way comprehensive [as if any list ever could be].  This list simply represents books that have been useful to me as I’ve searched for answers to my millions of questions.  And after reading these books, I find that not only do I not have any definitive answers, I have actually come up with more questions.

Read it Again Books, my local used bookstore, and Amazon.com love me.

One Year to Move Blog Music


Here I Go Again

21 Oct

Photo by DMT

Teacher, teach thyself.

I spend a great deal of time trying to teach students to “go with the flow” and accept that the only thing we can control are our own responses to situations.  But I also recognize that this is much easier said than done, since, for those of us who like to feel like we’re in control of our lives, change can be incredibly challenging.

Over the past few weeks I’ve had to let go and trust that the changes that are happening are going to make my life better, but I’ll tell you, it ain’t easy.

I spent this past weekend training to begin my second job, which involves selling computer technology. While it was exciting and invigorating, I kept asking myself whether or not this was going to not only interfere with my dream of moving to New York, but also if I was being asked to do something that goes against who I am and how I view the world.

One of the things I have always dreaded about shopping is walking into a store and feeling pressured by pushy salespeople to “buy, buy, buy!”  In fact, in my experience, the pushiness of sales people is precisely the thing that will cause me to turn and leave without buying anything – even if I need it.

I’m pretty stubborn.

I understand that, on a basic level, selling involves educating people in order give them the information they need to make a purchase, but I wasn’t sure if I was someone who could participate in pushing people to buy things. As a result, the intellectually idealistic part of me argued with the pragmatic realist part of me all weekend.

As a teacher, part of my job is to “sell knowledge,” and since I do this in a proprietary institution, the sales feature is a large part of what I do, but it’s never felt like the main purpose.  I’ve always viewed education as a free and open exchange of ideas, rather than the process of “selling a product.”  I don’t go into the classroom with the notion that I have to convert students to my way of thinking because, for me, that feels like an abuse of knowledge and power.  My goal has always been to give students the information they need in order to make decisions that will benefit them.  How they use that information is entirely up to them.

However, I’ve also come to recognize that part of my job is to show students the value of the education they’ve purchased.  If they can’t see the value and, as a result, decide not to continue to pay for access to the information my school offers, then I will be out of a job.  Coming to that realization made me feel uncomfortable, at first, because it made the relationship between education and economics uncomfortably clear.  It’s not an open and free exchange of ideas. In the end, it’s a service that people are paying for and my job involves selling that service to the best of my ability.

What I realized is that my primary concern was with what I view as the ethical responsibility of educating people.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t view myself as any more ethical than the next person, I just know what I believe and every day I do the best I can to adhere to the beliefs that my conscience can bear.  If I can look myself in the eye every day and honestly say that I’ve treated people in a way that recognizes and respects their human dignity, then I’m satisfied I’ve done the best I can.  If I don’t feel that I have done that, then I admit my mistakes, evaluate what needs to be changed, and improve the next time.

My Cultural Diversity class happened to provide me with one of these teachable moments this past week.

This class is an evening class that runs from 8:30-10:30 two nights a week, and has 40 students registered, and on this particular evening we’d engaged in a lively discussion about the challenges related to becoming culturally diverse.  The class engaged in an exciting conversation, and I’d had to remind people not to talk over one another a number of times.  At the tail end of the discussion, two young men [who’ve been in classes with me before, and are good students] had a side conversation going while I was trying to explain the directions for the quiz that was to be given during the next class period.  Without asking any questions, I turned and barked at them, “Stop talking!  NOW!”  And they did.

Later, I felt guilty about my reaction.  Not because I’d wanted them to be quite while I was giving directions, but because I felt like I’d failed to model the kind of professional behavior that I want students to adopt, and because I felt like I’d missed something important.  Over the next few days, I thought about why I’d reacted the way I had, and came to the conclusion that it was the result of a number of factors – one of which I could actually change.

I realized that one of the problems with the large group discussion was that while, in theory, it gave everyone a chance to talk and listen to what others had to say about a particular issue, it really didn’t get students involved in an active sense.  The sheer number of students in the class combined with the limited time we have, means that those who wanted to participate had to wait their turn to be called on, and with a discussion like this, there was a lot to say.  I could see that in a late-night classroom full of students who, for the most part, are experiential learners, this could be frustrating, thus the side conversations.

So, I came into the next class period and admitted my mistake.  The guys I’d barked at didn’t even remember what had happened, and that made me laugh.  Then I informed the class that as a result of my epiphany, we were going to change it up a bit and get everyone more involved in the discussion.  I assigned small groups a portion of the information we were covering that class period, and made them responsible for making sense of a few key points and then explaining these points to the rest of the class.  As I watched the groups discuss their topics, I was able to see that students who had been quiet during the large group discussion now felt more comfortable talking and students who wanted to talk were talking. As an added bonus, while they wrestled with the ideas I was able to move around the room and push them toward developing more nuanced explanations, which they later shared with their classmates.  Overall it was a successful change, but it also made it clear to me that I am in the business of “selling knowledge,” and I have to make it useful to my “consumers” in order for them to “make a purchase.”

What made me connect all of this?

I spend a lot of time thinking about things – obviously.  I am constantly looking for new ways to learn and teach, but it was the push I got from the weekend training for my new job that helped me make the concrete connection.  I realized this new job will be something that I’ve already been doing.  It will utilize my teaching skills since I’ll be working for a corporation whose belief is that they “enrich people’s lives” – and the extent to which they believe this means that they don’t have to try and sell anything.  At the end of the weekend training, I was shocked to learn that there are no numbers or quotas for the sales people to meet.  The job of sales people in this company is to provide people with the information they need in order to make decisions that will improve their lives.

That’s it.

At my new job they actually believe that “those who are crazy enough to believe they can change the world – are the ones who do” and as a result the profit this company makes is viewed as the logical by-product of treating people with kindness, dignity and respect.

My conscience can definitely live with that.

One Year to Move Soundtrack

Cool Change

30 Aug

Living Room – before. Photo by MAG

When I was fourteen, my mother decided she would be nice and surprise me by painting my bedroom a very cheerful shade of yellow, and rearranging my furniture to “freshen things up a bit.”  I loved the new color, but the rearranged furniture was beyond the pale.  Shedding tears of frustration, I stubbornly – and immediately – began to move everything back to exactly where it had been before the painting began – by my own big self. However, in the process of moving furniture around, I discovered a whole new way of arranging the room and wound up loving it.

Contrary to popular belief, control freaks don’t eschew change, we just want to be in charge of it.

Recently, a friend told me about a conversation he’d had while drinking in a dive bar in Harlem nearly a decade ago.  L. said that a man on the bar stool next to him, an Iraqi immigrant in his 50s, started a conversation by saying that he believed human beings needed to move every six months in order to avoid becoming complacent.  L. said that he listened as the man argued his case [in the way that people who are slightly inebriated tend to do] and was fascinated by the rationale. The man argued that most humans get too comfortable when they live in one spot for too long, and that in order to keep the mind and body fresh one needs to move frequently in order to experience new ways of looking at the world.  Where he came up with the six month time frame, L. had no idea, and while he understood the theory, L. couldn’t quite buy into the prospect of physically moving that often.

I, too, understand what the man was getting at, but since I am a person who breaks into a cold sweat at the thought of having to pack a suitcase for an occasional weekend in Chicago, having to pack up everything I own and physically move it to a new location every six months would, in all likelihood, require frequent – and hefty – doses of Xanex.

However, I do think that this man had the right idea.  For a lot of folks, “getting comfortable” is the point of what they do – it’s why they hold jobs and buy property – and it’s what makes them feel safe and secure.  However, stability and security frequently come at a price because while comforting, these things can also be deadening.  I think this is what the Iraqi gentleman was trying to explain; an attachment to “things,” in the name of security, is dangerous when it leads to complacency.  His answer?  Forward movement.

I think that, for me, the key to adapting to change is about both forward movement and backward glances.  I need the new experiences, but I also need the memories to remind me where I’ve been.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve been someone who has sought out change, and I can look back now and see that the reason for this is fairly simple — I cannot stand being bored, and the only antidote to boredom is the constant challenge presented by change.  This need, combined with my impulsive nature, has made for some rather interesting life experiences, but I can honestly say that I can count, on one hand, the number of times I’ve actually been bored in my life.  Fortunately, my lifelong, overwhelming need to write has also meant that each change in my life has been scrupulously recorded in one of my many journals.  Through the combination of my experiences and my writing, I can clearly see that change, more often than not, ends up being beneficial for me — even when I’m not in control of it — so I’ve tried to re-frame my attitude toward [and approach to] change, and for the most part, I’ve been successful.

The change I’m facing as I prepare to move to New York City both excites and unnerves me.

I’m excited by the prospect of actually living a dream – of living in “the city that never sleeps” and of finding new ways to satisfy my constant need to learn and grow.  I am in love with the notion that I could hop on the subway and, in a relatively short period of time, be somewhere new and exciting.  I love the fact that New York is a vibrant, ever-changing place where I could experience the vast array of cultures, cuisines, and architecture simply by walking in one direction or another.  I love that the city is a living, breathing historical artifact that embodies the drives and desires of the millions of people who have worked to create it.  And what excites me the most is thinking about how I could be a part of it all!

Photo by DMT

When I daydream about living in New York City, I picture myself striding down a crowded sidewalk, heading toward a museum, restaurant, or concert.  I envision myself meeting scores of new and interesting people everywhere from the subway to the corner bodega.  And I smile when I think about the fact that New York offers me a kind of paradise when it comes to my need for constant stimulation.

However, I also feel nervous about leaving the safety and security of my home in Michigan, and setting out to discover the unknown.  The truth is that without my familiar physical surroundings, I’m afraid I’ll forget what I’ve learned about how to live this life that I love so much.

I love my apartment in Michigan because it’s been the place in which I’ve undergone a metamorphosis.  When I moved in almost two years ago, I was excited about the prospect of living on my own and shaping my life into something that reflected who I was and who I wanted to be.  Bit by bit, I began discarding the artifacts left over from my former life, and replacing them with things that felt more like “me.”

It was cathartic and freeing to let go of the past and begin to discover what I liked, but it was also a little scary since I didn’t know what I liked and I was constantly worried that I’d make the “wrong” choice.  I started small – replacing my lunch bag and purchasing two new coffee mugs – and gradually worked my way up to redecorating my living room and workspace this past summer.  I found that when I stopped and really listened to my gut instincts, I rarely made mistakes, and the “mistakes” I did make were usually the result of one of two things: either doing what I thought I “should” do or rushing into a purchase when my instincts told me to wait and see.  I also began to realize that nothing had to be permanent.  If I didn’t like what I’d done, I could return what I’d bought and try again – decorating wasn’t a trap, instead it became a process of discovery.

In the beginning, it was a little frightening to let go of the things that had come to define me during the decade I’d spent with my ex-partner.  Actually, I was in turmoil, at times, because I had to stop and take a cold hard look at how much of myself I’d given up during the relationship – and sometimes the view wasn’t pretty.  My decorating epiphany came the day I finally replaced the rosebud covered bedspread and matching pink sheets [which I’d never really liked, but had agreed to simply to prevent an argument] with a simple two-toned taupe duvet cover and a set of sheets in an earthy yellow-green shade from IKEA.  I loved the simplicity of the design-free earth tones; uncluttered and calming.  The bedroom emboldened me, and soon I replaced the Martha Stewart yellow-with-blue-flowers shower curtain with a taupe/tan/off-white curtain in a simple geometric design and towels in muted earth tones.

Redecorating, a task that had previously felt overwhelming, became a pleasurable pursuit as I sought out things that made me feel at home in my home.  I could choose whatever suited me!  I didn’t have to negotiate or justify what I liked and wanted! And I didn’t feel pressured to spend a lot of money on my purchases, in fact, a lot of times I found that I took greater satisfaction in unearthing deals in the most unlikely places [I found my bathroom rug, which perfectly matches my zen color scheme, at Meijer for under $10.00].

Photo by MAG

On a trip to Chicago, J. and I browsed the fabric selection at The Needle Shop, and found the perfect fabric with which I could make a headboard for my bed.  I bought plywood and a staple gun at Home Depot, batting and foam at JoAnne Fabrics, brought it all home, and proceeded to make a headboard that perfectly matches my bedroom decor.  In a true act of serendipity, D. forwarded a photo he’d taken long before I’d envisioned the headboard, and one of the buildings in the photo happened to match the colors in the fabric and my sheets, so I framed it and hung it over my bed.

This past June, I felt like I finally had the confidence to tackle my living room and work space.  I prepared by scouring interior design books and magazines for ideas, and asking for advice from J. and my interior design students.  I also began collecting art that fit my decorating scheme, and meant something to me.  A typography print one of my Art History students made for her final project, one of L.’s paintings, and a number of D’s photographs all grace my walls, and make this apartment feel like home.

One of the nicest parts of redecorating was being able to do it “my own big self.”  My ex-partner was a stickler for details and wouldn’t let me put together furniture or hang pictures because I don’t tend to do things the “right way” [and I will openly admit that when it comes to reading directions, I fail – epically].  Decorating my apartment has given my friends some good laughs as I’ve learned how to use a power drill [FYI: The attachment on the power drill is for screws, not for drilling holes in the walls], and put together my furniture.  Did it take me several long afternoons-turned-into-evenings to assemble my bedroom chair and my living room sofa?  Yes.  Are my curtain rods hung on nails because I can’t figure out how to drill holes for screws in the walls above my sliding glass doors?  Yes.  Are all of my pictures hung at slightly odd angles because I didn’t use a level to line up the nails?  You bet.  Do I care?  Not in the least.

Living Room – after. Photo by MA

So, how can I move away from this wonderful haven where I’ve learned how to live freely and dream openly, again?  Honestly, I don’t know.  Packing up and leaving will be difficult and, most likely, painful, but I will do it because, as D. has reminded me time and again, “You can’t lose your memories, Mary.  They are yours to keep — forever.”

And I have faith that I will.

My Way

18 Aug


Photo by DMT


Frank Sinatra on Crack saved me.

Last week I made a big, bold – and impulsive – declaration about living a dream.  When I made it, I believed it.  I was feeling excited about the possibilities and confident in my ability to make things happen.  I was ready to elope!  Over the weekend the realities began to set in.

As anyone who has ever planned for a move knows, there are a million things that need to be done before the actual move can happen, and when you start talking about moving to a whole new state, the tasks begin to exponentially multiply.  This weekend I dove into the dream by pulling out all of my financial records for the past year in order to pull together a budget.  Oh please, don’t look at me like that.  Most Americans don’t have a budget spreadsheet that calculates everything down to the penny.  Or maybe that’s just me.

The point is that once I pulled out all of the paperwork and had it spread out on my desk, I started to feel overwhelmed.  I started thinking about all of the other tasks I’d need to complete – culling my possessions so that I can downsize from 750 sq. ft. of living space to 450 sq. ft., packing my remaining possessions, finding someone to load them up, move them, and unload them 1000 miles away – and it made me want to scrap the budget and head out to the pool.  My stubbornness won out, and I stayed in and worked on the budget.  A few hours later, as I saved my Excel spreadsheet, I realized that I’d only input two months worth of data. Again, the pool beckoned, and this time I gave in.

The truth is – I’m scared.

I’m scared because I want to make this dream a reality so badly that I can taste it, but I also know that I don’t have control over what will or will not happen.  I’m scared because I’ve put this dream out there in the blog universe and shared it with everyone I know.  I’m scared because I want to do this “right” even though I know that there is no right way to do anything.

I also know that people who love and care about me are a little concerned about this latest development.  I tend to be a wide-eyed optimist who views the world in a positive light. It baffles those who aren’t able to understand how I maintain sunny outlook, and it worries those who have watched me leap – and fall. My friends and family worry about me because they think my optimism is someday going to get me killed, and New York’s reputation isn’t helping matters.

Some of it is an issue of physical safety.  I’m the kind of person who truly believes that you get back what you put out there, so if I’m just polite and respectful to the drug dealers on the corner, they’ll reciprocate.  If there were a contest, I’d probably be voted “Person Most Likely to Be Killed While Introducing Herself in a Dangerous Neighborhood.” The realist in me understands that I’m not going to stop a bullet just by being nice to it, but the idealist believes that in order for the bullet not to fly in the first place someone has to start somewhere.  This does not allay the fears of the people who love me.

When I told D. that I had found a beautiful Hamilton Heights apartment that was also totally affordable, he responded “Mary, there’s a reason it’s nice AND affordable. It’s in Harlem, looks like it’s near Columbia University, which is not a nice area.”  And I replied, “But can’t we all just get along?  I mean, if I’m in my optimistic, chirpy bubble what can go wrong?” His lack of response let me know that the irresistible force had met the immovable object.

Since stereotypes about New Yorkers and their rude attitudes abound, other people worry that my Pollyanna-style approach to life will cause me to be eaten alive in the big city.

Recently I was talking about this move with a very dear and trusted friend.  T. looked at me and said, “I was telling my daughter about you.  I told her how you always see everything so positively and that you always look for the good in every person.  You’re the kind of person who would ask a bank robber if they’d done it because they needed money for food! You need to protect yourself a little more otherwise you’re going to get used and hurt. New York isn’t going to be safe for you!”

I smiled as I replied, “I know, but here’s what I understand about myself.  I look at the world in a positive light because I’ve tried operating from the self-protection side, and you know what?  It didn’t make me happy.  I want to see things in a positive light because that’s what I believe is possible, and I’m happiest when I’m living in a way that leaves the world around me a little brighter.” I understood exactly what she meant, though, and I took it as a compliment because I know we love and respect each other.  I really do believe that, in the end, only kindness matters.

I’m still scared, though. I don’t want to let people down, but more than that, I don’t want to let me down.

And that’s where Frank enters the story.

When I get ready to teach my routine includes tuning into a radio station that I laughingly call “Crack Radio” [it’s actually Doug 93.1 FM].  The station’s tag line is “We play everything,” and  do they ever.  The result is a wacky mix that never fails to strike a chord in me.  When I tuned in yesterday the Boss was belting out “No Surrender,” which was followed by “Only the Good Die Young,” and “I Won’t Back Down.” I laughed out loud and shook my head as I returned to getting ready – and thinking about my dream-related fears.  I had just settled in to the beginnings of a “flash flood” (when my brain opens up and unleashes the full fury of my thoughts in a torrential downpour) when I heard the quiet opening notes.

Sinatra’s strong, clear voice floated out of the little speaker, “And now, the end is near/So I face the final curtain.”   His tone was calm, but resigned to the knowledge that this was the end. “Regrets, I’ve had a few;/But then again, too few to mention/I did what I had to do/And saw it through without exemption.”  Both the music and Frank’s voice rose as he exclaimed “I’m sure there were times you knew/When I bit off more than I could chew.”  I stood still, listening to him confidently declare “I faced it all and I stood tall/And did it my way!”  Tears welled up in my eyes, as the Chairman lowered his voice and sang “I’ve loved, I’ve laughed, and cried/I’ve had my fill; my share of losing.” Frank understood me, and as the music swelled for the final verse, my tears flowed freely.  I lifted my chin, straightened my shoulders, and faced myself in the mirror as Frank belted out the final verse, “For what is a man, what has he got?/If not himself, then he has naught./To say the things he truly feels;/And not the words of one who kneels./The record shows I took the blows -/And did it my way!”

At that moment, I knew that no matter how scared I might feel as I work toward New York City, I’m not going to quit.  I can’t control what’s going to happen at the end of this journey, but I can say with absolute certainty – I’m going to do it my way.

And I know that Old Blue Eyes has my back.

Falling for New York City

12 Aug



Photo by DMT


Three years ago, my best friend, J., and I traveled to New York City to celebrate my 4oth birthday. We stayed in the SoHotel at night, and by day, we walked the sidewalks searching out the best breakfast restaurants, finding small fabric stores, exploring the nooks and crannies of Greenwich, Chinatown, and Little Italy.  One memorable day, we walked down 5th Avenue, and stopped in H.Stern, where I casually convinced J. to try on a $12,000 necklace. My friend is an experienced traveler who had visited New York many times before, but she patiently did the tourist things, like waiting in line for over an hour to ride the elevator up to the top of the Empire State Building so that I could see the view and take the same photos that millions of other tourists have taken – poorly.  J. is also a serious foodie, so she had mapped out our meals from day one to day four.  We ate breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien, lunch at Balthazar and picked up cheese, hard salami and good French baguettes at Dean and Deluca for dinner.  Another night we ate dinner at Hampton Chutney Co., and then stopped to sample rice pudding at Rice to Riches.  If you want to eat your way through New York, J. is hands down the best person to plan your itinerary.

It was a painful trip for me, not only because I had failed to bring comfortable walking shoes and wound up with blisters on the first day, but also because the trip illuminated the fact that I was not at all happy in my long-term relationship.  New York made me realize that my life in Michigan had become miserable and small.  I could see that I was definitely not living the life I loved nor loving the life I lived. This epiphany, combined with the blisters, did not make me the best traveling companion, but J. was more than understanding about what was going on and took it in stride. We had an incredibly good time in spite of everything.

I returned home with a vague nagging sense of wanting something more out of life, but I had no idea what that was.  As life with my partner became less satisfying, I would look toward New York as an example of something bigger, richer, and more fulfilling.  I would think about it, search out information about it, and talk about it non-stop until one day it struck me – I had had a brief, but torrid affair with New York City.  I didn’t want to admit this because it made me feel guilty and ashamed, but the more I thought about New York, the less happy I was in my relationship.  My partner wasn’t as exciting, interesting, or engaging as the city had been.  New York was sleek and sexy, and when I flirted with it I felt vibrant and alive again.  I wanted to be living a fast-paced life full of activity with interesting places to go and new people to meet. Instead, I was sitting on a suburban couch watching other people living interesting lives while I wasted mine simply observing.

A year and a half after my birthday trip the relationship hit rock bottom.  I told my partner that I wanted something more out of my life and moved out. I set about reclaiming my life and began to enjoy it immensely, and for a while, my new-found freedom was a substitute for my city crush.  I began doing all of the things that I had been dreaming about, and though I didn’t feel the urgent need to leave Michigan, after a few months I knew I was beginning to settle for something less than I wanted.  Detroit would never be New York City – not even close.

I had only visited New York City for four days on that first trip, but the memory of it lingered, and I wanted to know more.  I’d scour the shelves in libraries and bookstores in search of new guide books, photography collections, or even novels set in New York.  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Invisible Man, and even American Psycho found a home on my bookshelves. I rented any movie that even mentioned New York, and I watched Manhattan, Wallstreet, and When Harry Met Sally so many times that it became more economical to buy my own copies than to keep renting them.  I begged a good friend of mine, D. (who lives in the city), to send me anything he could find having to do with New York and he generously fed my crush by supplying photographs that he took as he moved around the city for business and pleasure.  I couldn’t get enough of them.  As the months passed, I found myself lost in D.’s photographs and my own memories of walking on the cobbled streets in SoHo, riding the subway, and peering down alleys as J. and I explored the city.

I’d spent four short days getting acquainted with the city, and now I was dreaming about it like an obsessed lover.  I was falling. I yearned for the city.  I wanted it, and yet I did everything I could to deny that I was practically physically aching to return to it. And as is true of all illicit love affairs, the denial ran deep.  I would tell people that while I loved the history, the buildings, and the culture, I couldn’t really see myself actually living in a concrete jungle.  I would laugh as I reassured others that this was just a phase I was going through.  I wasn’t that invested in it. I could stop any time I wanted.  I wouldn’t actually move there.

Would I?


No, I couldn’t.

In the spring of 2009, I began contemplating what it would mean to actually return to visit New York.  At first it was just a promise of another brief rendezvous.  I would go alone and stay longer – maybe two weeks? As I calculated and recalculated the cost of flights, hotels, and all of the museums and restaurants I’d visit, I realized that two weeks would be expensive and not nearly enough time.  I planned and plotted ways to lower the costs and extend my stay – even just a few extra days – but I knew it wouldn’t satiate the need.  Secretly, I began to fantasize about what it would feel like to pick up and move to New York permanently.

I told no one, and it gave me a delicious thrill when, late at night, I would pull up my web browser and scan the apartment for rent ads in the Times. I dreamed about living in Harlem or Brooklyn or Queens.  When I finally confided in D., a former Midwesterner himself, that I really did want to move to the city, he replied with a matter-of-fact, “Then you should.”

However, when I’d hesitantly tell Michigan-based friends and family members that I wanted to move from Michigan to New York City, most would give me the “why the hell would you want to do that?” look.  I’d listen to their laundry lists of reasons why New York is a “nice place to visit, but not a place you’d want to live,” and logically, I knew they had a point.  I was raised in the suburbs where there was plenty of grass and lots of space.  New York City would be loud and crowded.  The cost of living in Michigan was reasonable and affordable.  Living in New York would cost me an arm and a leg, at the very least.  And as they’d point out, I’d be so far away – from them.  I’d acknowledge their concerns, but I’d be looking off into the distance, while replying, “There’s just something about it that really appeals to me.  I love it.”

They would remind me (in their practical, grown-up voices) that sometimes love is just not enough, and I’d dutifully nod as I reminded myself that a one-sided love affair wasn’t logical, rational, or realistic. I was basing my love on one short visit, and a collection of someone else’s photographs. I told myself that it was ridiculous to want to move to an unknown city where I’d be utterly alone.  I’d be thousands of miles away from my family and friends. I had no job or apartment, and I definitely didn’t have enough of a savings account to get me through the rough times.  Yet, every day I would sign on to the New York Times site, devour the regional news and follow it with a chaser of the Times Real Estate section. I couldn’t stay away.  I didn’t want to stay away.  I wanted to get closer; to embrace the city.  I wanted to love the city — and have it love me back.

Then, one night, D. sent me a shot of 42nd Street, and it looked like everything I had ever dreamed New York City would be – bright lights, whirling colors, constant motion. The moment I saw it, I began to sob.  I couldn’t deny it any longer – I was absolutely, totally, head-over-heels in love with New York City.  It wasn’t rational, reasonable, or logical — it was pure visceral emotion.  That night I decided that no matter what anyone said, I was going to find a way to move to New York.  I was determined that nothing, absolutely nothing, was going to weaken my resolve.  We would elope if we had to.  I would throw my suitcase out my bedroom window, shimmy down the drain pipe, hop into the waiting car and head out to meet the city!  I would do it, and nobody could stop me!

The next morning, I woke up and realized that my idea didn’t make any sense.  Kicking common sense to the curb and running off to live in New York City without a well-defined plan might be romantic and exciting to dream about, but in the end it was the equivalent of a Vegas wedding between two tipsy strangers.  I was being irrational and overly emotional.  I needed to grow up and be more practical about my decisions.  I’d been swept up in the moment and the emotion, but it was a love affair that would only end up breaking my heart — and, most likely, my bank account.

I began to build new walls of denial as I constructed yet another logical and rational defense, but all the while I could feel the pull of the city – stronger this time.

Soon I was back in the bookstores, renting movies, and begging D. to take more pictures. I wanted – no, I needed – to know what the city was doing, so I signed up to receive updates from Daily Candy, which told me about new museum exhibits, concerts, restaurants, and sales.  I combed the announcements, located everything on a subway map I’d kept from the trip, and then pestered D. to go and check out the things that I thought were interesting.  He was incredibly patient, and compromised by sending me pictures of things he was interested in, but basically told me that no human could keep up with my demand for information – at least not one who had a job.  And while he was happy to provide photos for me, he wasn’t interested in becoming the middle man in this growing affair, and I had to find other ways to connect.

Late one night last winter, I found myself exploring the streets of Chelsea using Google Earth.  I wanted to know everything there was to know about the streets of New York. I wanted to see them, to learn them and feel them.  When I finally looked up at the clock and realized that I’d been “walking” the streets for four hours, I knew this had become more than just a casual affair.   My cheeks flushed as I finally admitted, to myself, that I was in love.  Admitting that was scary, but sometimes love requires a leap of faith, and after all of my hemming and hawing, I was finally ready jump.  I would find a way to move to New York City – by any means necessary.

So, here I am and the fall of 2010 is on it’s way.  I have acknowledged that I love New York City in a way that transcends rationality and reason, and that I am ready to make a commitment.  However, I need a plan. Where do I want to live? Where can I afford to live?  What will I do for work? Where will I shop?  Is it safe?  Are New Yorkers really that rude? Will I be as in love with the city when I am living in it or will I find that I’ve made a huge mistake? I have a million questions, and not a lot of answers.

I have no idea how this is going to turn out, all I know is that by January 2012 I plan to be settled in an apartment in New York City.  Stick with me for the next year, and find out how I make my way from Detroit, Michigan to New York City, New York.  I may not know exactly how I’m going to do this, but I do know that I am incredibly motivated, willing to take action and unbelievably stubborn.

Especially now that “I’m in a New York state of mind.”


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