Tag Archives: Life Changes

There is a Light that Never Goes Out

26 Mar
Chicago Winter. Photo by MAG

Chicago Winter. Photo by MAG

The first time I’d seen him, he was bundled in a camel overcoat, fast asleep.

I thought I was extremely lucky when I hopped on the almost empty El car at the Chicago stop and grabbed a seat during rush hour, but once the doors closed, I quickly realized why the car was deserted.  The stench coming from the corner made my eyes water and I followed the lead of the man next to me and pulled my scarf up over my nose and mouth to filter the air enough to be able to make it to the Clark/Division stop where I quickly changed cars.

I didn’t really think much about it after that.  Over the past year, I’ve become acclimated to riding public transport and have learned to adjust to the inevitable clash of cultures, and this brutal Chicago winter has made me even more aware of the challenges faced by the city’s poor and homeless residents.   The CTA became a refuge from the subzero temperatures, and to their credit, the CTA employees who run the trains did their best to shepherd the all-day riders onto one car in order to keep an eye on people and make sure no one froze to death.

Last week, I saw him again.

I recognized the tattered camel overcoat, and the smell.  As he walked the platform the crowd of people parted and gave him a wide berth.  When he found a bench to settle down on, the man sitting there got up and moved ten feet away.  Everyone on the platform turned their backs and looked away as if not looking would make the man – and the smell – disappear.  I wanted to look away, too, but I’d just written my last blog entry about how I was going to smile at strangers and help when I could, so I looked.

The man sat on the bench fiddling with a pair of ripped gloves that barely covered his fingers, a tattered black plastic bag at his feet.  He stared at the ground as he tugged his coat, pulling it more tightly around his body, as I debated about what I should do.  And then in an instant, I knew.

I walked over and leaned down close enough to say, “Good morning, sir.”  Startled, the man looked up and then looked away quickly.

Taking a deep breath, I continued, “Have you had breakfast?”

He looked back up, confused for a moment, and asked, “What?”

I repeated, “Have you had breakfast yet?”

He ducked his head and gestured toward the black bag, “Not yet, but I’m going to have a bite soon.”

I reached into my messenger bag and pulled out the PBJ sandwich that I’d packed before I left the apartment that morning and offered it to him, saying, “It’s just PBJ, but you’re more than welcome to it.”

He smiled a little and replied, “Oh no, ma’am, I’m fine.  I’ve got breakfast in this here bag. But thank you.”

My first impulse was to press further and make him take the sandwich, but I quickly understood what he was saying and backed off, tucking the sandwich back into my bag.

Sometimes preserving one’s dignity trumps hunger.

I smiled at him, and asked a question that I would spend the next few days kicking myself for asking, “Do you need anything else, sir?”

What kind of idiot question was that?  Of course he needing something else.  He needed a lot of things, but since he’d refused the sandwich I didn’t know what else to offer and I didn’t want to insult him by assuming I did.

He smiled back at me, and replied, “Oh no, I’m fine, ma’am.  Thank you.”

As I looked at him and nodded, he lifted his head and looked right into my eyes as he smiled in a way that could only be described as serene and said, “And God bless you, ma’am.  God bless you.”

I returned his smile and his blessing, and then stepped on the train leaving him sitting on the bench.

As the car sped down the tracks I felt sad for a moment because I hadn’t been able to do anything for the man.  I hadn’t been able to give him anything or help in any measurable way.

And then I thought about the way he’d looked me in the eye, raising his head and smiling as he blessed me.

Maybe the greatest gift we can offer another person is the dignity of being seen.


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

Don’t Stop Believin’

13 Oct



Slide by MAG, Photo by DMT


Changes are afoot!

It’s been a while since I posted anything, but as I reminded students all last term, “One thing at a time.”

My journey continues as I find myself taking a second job in order to help build my New York City fund.  That’s not the only reason I am taking this second job, but it’s a big part of the reason why I can dig down deep and find the will to work more.  I’m also excited about the opportunities this new job might open up, and even if it doesn’t end up being a direct stepping stone, it will be something I enjoy doing.  Or at the very least, something I learn from!

During my blogging hiatus I thought a lot about what it is I need in order to shape my life into something I really love, and last week I think I came up with some basic answers.  I was inspired to do so because, a few weeks ago, the head of the Academic Advising center where I teach asked me to give the key note address at our Honor’s Brunch.  So, last Friday I showed up with a Power Point presentation for a talk entitled “Success: How to Achieve and Maintain It.”

Those who know me would probably be surprised to know that I was scared to give the speech.  Why?  Because I don’t know that I know what success is, and because I was afraid of embarrassing my students in front of their guests if I didn’t know.  I need not have worried so much.

I explained to the audience that I think success is about the combination of attitude and action.  The three factors that I see as most important to achieving and maintaining success are: dreaming, trusting, and choosing.


Slide by MAG, Photo by DMT


This blog contributed to my first point – we need to give ourselves permission to dream big, we need to plan, and we need to adjust.  It always amazes me how inflexible people become when they don’t get exactly what they want, but then for a large part of my life, I’ve been one of those people.  It wasn’t until I realized that the branches on a tree that survive the storm, are the ones that bend and sway when the storm hits.  The ones that lack flexibility are the ones that crack and come crashing to the ground only to wind up in the wood chipper.

Motivational or depressing?  You make the call.

The second point I made was that we need to learn to trust.  Mainly, we need to learn to trust ourselves, and this is a constant struggle – for me, anyway.


Slide by MAG, Photo by DMT


D. once told me that the key to happiness is to “…do what you want to do, and don’t do what you don’t want to do.”  The first time he said this to me, I got defensive because it sounds like such a selfish life philosophy.  There are many things I don’t want to do, but are necessary if I want to live within civil society!  Over the past year, I’ve done some very deep soul searching about this, though, and I’ve realized that he’s right.

Everything I want to do is what makes me happy, and everything I don’t want to do ends up undermining my confidence in myself and leaving me feeling unhappy.  I may not love the administrative work related to teaching [recording grades, filling out forms, or attending meetings], but I love reading my students work, seeing evidence of their successes, and feeling like I’ve contributed to making our school a better place in which to get an education.  So, when I really think about it, I am always doing what I want to do – even when I think I’d rather be doing something else.

I think the key to trusting oneself is to follow your heart.  When you are doing what is right for you – you know it.  You feel it.

However, in order to be able to trust yourself, you also have to build a network of people who are willing to give you unwavering support, honest feedback, and the gift of truth — even when it hurts a little.  And you have to be able to trust that those people are the ones whose investment in you is in helping you find a way to express your authentic self and live a life that makes you happy.  However, you also have to realize that each individual has their own wants, needs, hopes and fears, and that sometimes even the best intentions of the people you trust will conflict with what you feel is right for you. That’s when you have to trust yourself.

As I told my audience, “You need to know that everything that has to do with your life – who you are, how you behave, what you believe and feel – is all about you, and everything that is outside of “you” has absolutely nothing to do with you.”  It’s a hard lesson to learn.  Believe me.  I know.


Slide by MAG, Photo by Sandra Arundini


The third point I made was that life is all about choosing.  Many people argue that emotions are not things that can be controlled, and on some basic level they are right.  It’s  not the emotion that can be controlled, it’s the choices about how to express those emotions that are absolutely within our control. Every single reaction, emotion, and response to every situation in our lives is about choice.

We shape our own reality.

A few terms ago, I had a student in one of my classes who was my resident skeptic.  She didn’t believe a lot of what I was teaching because it didn’t fit her view of the world, and I recognized that it was partly because she needed her views in order to fortify her own well-developed defenses.  What was interesting to me was that she never missed a class, failed to complete an assignment or hesitated to participate in a discussion.  She just needed to find her own way and all I could do was supply the information she’d need to make her own choices.

On the last day of class, I asked the students to write an honest review of the class, the materials, and the teaching methods.  I explained that since I had been evaluating them all term, it was only fair that they have the opportunity to evaluate me.  This is a difficult exercise for a lot of people because we are taught to say what we think we should say rather than what we really think. Students, in particular, don’t want to say anything critical because they recognize that they are not in positions of power, and critical comments could adversely affect their grade.  However, one of my basic beliefs is that honest feedback should always be welcomed because it’s the only way we ever learn anything.  As a result, I try and model the kind of behavior that instills trust – and then teach students diplomatic ways of expressing their truths.

My skeptic hemmed and hawed about writing the review and proclaimed, several times, “I just can’t write it, Ms. G!”  I assured her that I had no doubt that she could write it, but that she was choosing not to.  I finally reminded her that if she chose not to complete the assignment, the consequence would be that she’d lose the points.  After about 30 minutes of protesting, she got down to some serious writing.  Her responses about the class and the materials were helpful, but it was her response to the teaching methods that was fascinating.

She complimented me for directing the class and maintaining a stable, peaceful environment in the classroom, and then she added, “What probably needs improvement is her perception of reality (I guess).  She has her own opinion and she needs to be more open to the real world.  I think she lives in her own little optimistic, chirpy bubble.”

I stared at the paper for a few seconds, and then I started laughing out loud – at myself! She was right, I do choose optimism!  I choose to see the good in people and situations, I try to be understanding of human frailties, and I try to be kind whenever I can – we’re all fighting a hard battle. I recognize that this can be frustrating and annoying to those who choose to see the glass as half empty because it conflicts with their protective mechanisms.  I explained to the audience that I could see how many instructors might view this kind of statement from a student as overly critical, and they would act defensively, and that I understand why they would.  However, I chose to see my skeptic’s assessment as an indication of the trust she had placed in me – she trusted that she could tell me what she really thought, and that I would read it with an open mind and understand.

I did.  Whether or not she intended it to, it took my breath away.

To sum up my talk, I put up a slide that contained the words to a poem that is commonly attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, but was actually written by a woman named Bessie Stanley.  The poem is called “Success.”

To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of
false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden
patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.

We all have the potential to be successful.  We just have to have the courage of our convictions and do what makes us happy — the rest will follow naturally.

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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