Can I tell you a secret? I have a new crush…
I’m coming to realize that I am living my days in cycles. Not in cycles of the moon or cycles of the feminine variety, but cycles where take care of myself, do the things that matter, and feel good— until I decide I’m too busy or too strong or too…(whatever) to need do to keep myself happy and healthy. I stop doing these good-for-me, soul-fullfilling things, and I ride the wave of karma from my last round of good deeds until eventually that wave breaks, and there I am on the shore, feeling sick, sad, and generally sorry for myself. Then I write, I frown, and I try to dig myself out. At which point I begin doing these things I know I should again (until I don’t anymore), and the cycle begins again.
As always, I’m looking at it in the context of growing up. In adulthood, there isn’t anyone to tell you what you should be doing. No one tells you when to go to bed, what to eat for dinner, or when to clean your room. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a curfew. Or eat healthy food. Or clean your apartment. The hardest part is that you actually have to start making rules for yourself. You have to decide what keeps you happy, healthy, productive, or at the very least sane, and you have to tell yourself to do it. Force yourself to do it. Remind yourself why, and remind yourself that by ignoring these rules, you are effectively choosing not to be content and well. Which, your graduate-educated self should realize is fairly moronic.
These are the rules I’m discovering are the ones that matter for me. And writing them here is the first step to recognizing their importance in my life (and that I should be, you know, following them.)
1. Sleep. No matter how much coffee you drink, no matter how much fun you were having the night before, if you don’t sleep, you can’t function well. You can exist, but you’ll be cranky, and that’s no fun for anyone, especially you.
2. Do yoga, at least once a week. Every time you do it, you leave with a physical high, feeling centered and strong, like you can face absolutely everything that is thrown at you. So, when you go 3 weeks without doing yoga and you can’t believe how incompetent and incapable you feel, stop wondering why. Get on the mat.
3. Your friends are your lifeline–make time for them. Don’t go weeks without seeing your best friends, don’t worry about where you’re going or how hip it is. And as you walk out the door parting ways, appreciate the warm, happy feeling that fills every inch of you.
4. When you look in the mirror, tell yourself you are beautiful. Don’t look at the parts of your body that you aren’t satisfied with when you say this: find a part that you do think is beautiful, say these words to that part. Pretty soon your beautiful eyes, jawline, and smile will bleed into each other, and you’ll start to see a beautiful head. Keep working down from there.
5. Work really hard at work. Don’t sit there waiting for someone to tell you to do something or wishing you had more to do. Find something to do–even if it means getting ahead on a project no one else is thinking about–and chip away at it. At the end of the day, if nothing else, you’ll know you did everything you could and that you deserve to be proud of yourself. Even just knowing, yourself, that you’re awesome is a great feeling. All other agreeing opinions are icing.
6. Get creative–it exercises your intellect and your emotion at the same time. Read a book or listen to a song that fills you with indescribable feelings and passions. Bask in them. Write about them. Paint them. Tell someone about them, and don’t stand still while you’re doing it.
7. Stay in touch. Maybe it’s penning a letter or typing an email, or maybe it’s picking up the phone to call. Wishing you were the one answering the phone instead of dialing it is not an excuse.
8. Drink water, eat your vegetables. Defying this cliche doesn’t mean you’re independent or a free-thinker–it means you have a headache and feel sick to your stomach–and that’s just dumb.
9. Remember, stuff doesn’t really make you happy. Another cliche, but really. If you’re doing everything else on this list, you won’t feel the compulsive need to buy things, and the things you do buy will please you more.
10. Clean. Organize your room, give everything a home, and watch how much more in control of your life you feel. Sweep, take out the trash, and scrub the damn bathtub. (It’s not really so bad, I promise)
and 11. (because you will always be the kind of person who has 11 rules) Just try. Even if, after writing these rules, you don’t follow every single one and you feel the cycle coming back around again, you’re making progress. As long as you’re one step ahead of where you were yesterday, you’re as perfect as you need to be.
As we used to say in college, sitting on the floor together, and as seems to be the truth more and more every day: The only thing worse than growing up is never quite learning how. –Joel Plaskett
It was another Thursday, and I was running just that hair late whereby your fate, meaning the time you arrive at the office, is completely depended upon the trains. If you’re just a moment on the right side of the equation, meaning you walked fast enough down the street or swiped your Metrocard smoothly enough on the first swipe, or if the trains are running behind by just enough time to make up for your delay, a train will be pulling up just as you’re getting to the track. City-dwellers, you’ve been there, right? It feels like a fantastic victory when you arrive just as the train does, and it speeds you along to your destination, or to the connecting station where you will board the other train which will take you to where you want to go. And depending on if you can catch a train right as you’re walking up to that platform, you could be walking through the revolving doors of your own glass-skyscraper right on time.
Ahh, the little victories.
Other times, it doesn’t work out quite like you would hope. On this particular Thursday, I made my first train in the nick of time. Congratulating myself, I hoped off at the next stop, speedily weaving my way through other commuters and dashing down the stairs in perfect time for my next train to arrive. Perfect! I remember thinking the trains are on my side today. We crossed the bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan, where I could see the sun glimmering off the skyscrapers in the financial district, and we sped past the next stop. And then we stopped. But not at the next stop—between two stops. Ladies and Gentleman, we are being held momentarily, said the announcer. We all waited, patiently at first, as the minutes passed. And passed. And passed. Through the windows we could see other trains passing. Other trains that should be running on the same tracks as we are. Trains start and stop routinely in the morning, sometimes smoothly and briefly, but other times the halt is jarring and more immediate, knocking even the kind of veteran subway rider who doesn’t hold on off their balance. This was a particularly jarring stop today, and we were waiting for longer than I’ve ever had to wait before. We sat for a whole twenty minutes, looking at our watches, rolling our eyes, and exchanging commiserating glances, knowing that all of us on this train have somewhere to be and that we’re all in this together. That’s where I feel community in this city most—on the trains.
Finally we were moving again, as inexplicably as when we stopped. When we hit the next station, there was a train across the platform that those of us who do this often knew we should board. When a Q train and an N or R train pull into 34th Street, the N or R will almost always leave first. Come this way everyday like I, and my fellow commuters, do, and you learn tricks like this. We crossed the platform, boarded the other train, and the doors closed. At 57th Street where I got off, I spotted the guy who sits in the cube next to mine. He edits e-books, wears flannel, and puts as much thought into his shoes as I do. We talk about his shoes sometimes on the cube street, when we’re not talking about dating in the city or what it’s like to be twenty-something here. (All eight of us are.) Coincidentally, he is also from Michigan. His exasperated expression matched mine exactly, though it was hidden a little better behind a beard and a pair of Ray Bans. We both rolled our eyes, feeling that kind of comradery that comes with being trapped together on a train that’s moving forward, or not moving forward, at a pace and frequency that you can’t control.
He and I swiped our cards, gates being lowered to allow us the privileged of pressing the button to call an elevator to take us to our cubicles. He remarked on the irony of leaving early for work, only to arrive late. I agreed, noting that I was happy I’d taken the extra minute to make a pot of coffee before I left.
That evening I was afforded a rare privilege. I jumped in the first car of the D train just as the doors were closing, congratulating myself on a victory, that I would make it down to my boyfriend in the Village 5-6 minutes faster than I would have if I had been 30 seconds later.
I looked forward, as I always do, but this time I could actually see something. I could see the tracks in front of us. They were blurred by the dirty glass, but I could see the green lights on the walls of the tunnels, beckoning us forward, and I could see the red lights in the distance cautioning us to slow down, changing to green as they allowed us to pass. Twists and turns. Station platforms, people tapping their feet, people dashing down the stairs like I had to catch this train. Then it was green. Green. Green. And we were speeding on an express line past the local stations, faster and faster as the sea of green seemed endless, ending only as we’d reached out next stop. My stop. I got off and scurried up the stairs.
I got to thinking that maybe this—yesterday, and the subway—is what being in your twenties is like. You can choose which trains to get on—most places have more than one way you can take to get there. The 4 to the Q. Or the 3 to the D. Get off at 47th or 59th Street. And the longer you’re there, the better you get at picking which trains to take. You choose the express trains, knowing they’ll get you where you want to be twice as fast. You start to count the stops and choose one express train over another, weighing simultaneously the difference in walking time you’ll have once you get off the train. You learn which trains come when and exactly what time you need to leave your apartment to get to the station when your train is supposed to arrive. When you get really good, you learn the patterns, and you get off the Q train at 34th Street when an R pulls up—even though you’re leaving an express train to get on a local one—because you can be almost certain that it will actually get you to your stop faster. Almost
But you can’t be sure. You can’t know when the train will actually be there or leave. And even when you do get on, you can’t know when your train is going to stop, gently or abruptly, and keep you immobile for 20 minutes as you watch other trains and people pass you by. Or even if it’s just for five minutes, in that fifth minute, the fear of twenty is excruciating.
You also can’t usually see where you’re going. It’s an act of faith, really. You just have to assume that if you get on the train you think is right, it will take you where you want to go. (With the MTA, you know that’s only an assumption.) And if it doesn’t take you there—if the local is running express or if there’s construction or if you just plain got on the wrong train—then you get off, and figure out another train that you think will get you there. You have to have faith that it’s going to work out how it’s supposed to, or that if it doesn’t you’ll have the presence of mind to be able to adjust your course. And after you choose your course, you just have to wait. Wait for the train to arrive, wait for your stop to come, wait out the delays, long or short, and sip your coffee, taking comfort in the glances and eye-rolls from others, knowing that we are all in this train together, and knowing that we’ll all get wherever it is that we are going eventually.
Impromptu UNIQLO reunion! Just think about where we were (almost exactly) a year ago, in this very same bar, and where we are today…so proud of everybody! Cheers!
An unexpected reunion developed tonight; there were visitors, friends of theirs from Japan, and I’d been try to make plans with one of them, who is gone from it all like me, for a week. With others for longer. I expected a couple people I knew and an interesting evening of the translation barrier I remember so well. I was anticipating a quiet evening, pleasant smiles, and lots of hand gestures.
There were a lot of hand gestures (“shit just got real!“), but it was anything but quiet. With sixteen of us passing through, at least thirteen of us crammed together on benches and on stools around at any given time, it was hard not to be raucous. Almost all the members of our training group, save a couple who have moved from the city and a couple out on dates, and most of us haven’t see each other in months. Stories began flowing, and we realized something surreal. Almost a year ago to the day, the same people sat around a table 4 feet from that one. (Who am I kidding…this is New York…Make that 2 feet, not including chairs)
I can see it like it was yesterday. It was our first Friday after combat. We’d survived the first week, no one had cried while actually on the clock, and beyond the beginnings of some serious damage to our psyches, we were relatively unscathed. The happy hour specials were the same. Half off beers and appetizers, pitchers and 10cent wings starting at 8. We ordered nachos piled high with beef and jalapenos, artichoke dip, potato skins, Purple Haze—practically the same things. We were getting to know each other, deciding what secrets we would share and what secrets we should keep, what stories were fodder for polite conversation and which ones we wouldn’t bother with just yet. When the bill came, we screeched to a halt. No one had cash. What do you mean they can’t take all our cards? A card minimum? We pulled out phones for addition, pens for calculations, and at least half of us shuffled next door defeatedly to withdraw money we didn’t have from the ATM. Three weeks without pay? What kind of a place is this we thought? And little did we know …
Tonight we found ourselves in the same place. But one thing was different—us. Looking around the table, each of us had something about us that had changed. Longer hair. Darker lipstick. Different clothes. But most importantly, we were all people, friends, with one more year under our belts. We laughed more. We were one year older, wiser, closer to living the life we were dreaming of living.
For me it was refreshing for so many reasons. First, it was incredible to see so many of us together, and to see all of us doing so well. After dinner he, my fellow Midwesterner, and I were standing around when he said “everyone’s doing alright.” More than alright, I said. I think everyone is doing great! Sure, none of us have everything exactly perfect, but we’re all learning and growing, we’ve all traveled to incredible places and been moved to this incredible place now. And we live here. Maybe we work harder or longer than we want to, maybe we wish we got to do more of this and less of that, but really, who doesn’t? This is adulthood, this is life. It’s reality, not an episode of Friends. But the gift we had, that you could see in everyone’s face, was that we had grown and were better for it. And we were, and are, Friends.
Not only did I feel happy for them, but I felt happy for me. Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing all the right things, everything I could be, and if I’m missing something crucial that’s going to make all the difference one day. Sometimes I wonder why I’m not excruciatingly happy every minute of every day, and I wonder if I’m supposed to be, and if I am, what I’m doing wrong. And then I remember about me what I see in their faces. I’m just doing it. I’m not so worried about what it all means and what it could mean, and I’m just happy to be here sharing a table with these fine people.
And you know, when you take all the pressure and perfectionism out of it, we’re all doing pretty damn well. We’re living and working in one of the greatest cities on Earth. We’re making ends meat (or more than that in some cases), and some of us, including myself, are lucky enough to enjoy what we do. We’re making friends, dating, traveling. And who knows, maybe one day we’ll even write a book with a title so obscene it can’t even be be printed, like he said he would. I hope so.
When the bill came tonight, we split it between us. Most of us had learned by now that in this city you must carry cash, and all of us cared enough about each other (and had enough in the bank) not to worry about who at most of the 112 wings we ordered. (Though in his defense, they were really freakin’ cheap.) We said goodbyes, parted ways, and went back to our lives, ready to get on with the business of living, living in and through these formative years.
So, my friends, congratulations to all of you–to all of us–for making it this far. Cheers to the year that has passed and to many more to come!
All through college I had this mantra, a gift from a friend, that “College is the time to be Selfish.” If you were reading things here back then you remember, right? And boy, did I try. I was decidedly single. I traveled from place to place, careful never to drop down roots, sucking down food, wine, and experiences faster than the ink stamps in my passport could dry. I gave up running everything at my school and settled for a year-long vice-president position and the acting chair of etiquette in my peer group. And at the end, I graduated and found I had become this shell of a person, so starved for real meaning and connection, and so over-saturated with melodrama and the search for meaning that it took a year of undoing to recognize my own reflection again. Excellent, Check, Life lesson learned.
Then I moved to New York, made new friends, and decided that my new self needed to jump back into things, and that I desperately needed to connect with other people to find meaning. That’s a literary truth, right? That kid in Into the Wild went off into the wilderness trying to learn it, and just about every English teacher I’ve ever had has tried to teach it to me. So I did, and things were unbelievably incredible, and anyone who saw me back at home at Christmas remembers sun shining out of my ass. Self actualization–hoorah!
But then it was January, and it was cold and dark and suddenly, the honeymoon was over. You may have inferred this, as I have been avoiding you, which is essentially because I have been avoiding me, which has been really difficult and thus miserable as I have been holed up all winter with myself various in small New York apartments and recreational establishments. So what has been going on??? I’ve been seeing people, starting to plan more events, and continuing to develop at work. Why do I feel like I did in college, and why do I feel so empty inside? I’m connected, I’m connected, oh God I’m connected with people every SECOND in this city so what on Earth is the problem?!? Some reflection has caused me to go back, recalling those collegiate days, and fumbling through the lessons I learned, hoping that I had just missed one.
I did. But ironically, it was the one that I was trying to earn the whole time–the one about selfishness. But that was my mantra! But that was what I kept in mind in everything I did! How could I not have learned the lesson I knew from freshman year I needed to learn! Well that’s just it. The part of selfishness I was missing, the valuable part, was the happiness. True to form, I was so eager to learn the lesson, that selfishness was lonely and unfulfilling, that I subconsciously sabotaged my own experiment, peppering it with discontentment, setting myself up to reach the end and say “Golly gee, I feel so dissatisfied. Time to go back to unfailing optimism and endless altruism!”
I started to suspect this might be a problem during my job search last year. Agencies I interviewed with, both to demonstrate their fun-loving work environment and also to secretly test whether your offline personality would flow freely under the influence with your peers, often asked what I liked to do in my free time. What my hobbies were. What I like to do when I’m not working or doing anything for anyone else. I had some answer of course, but I always felt like I had to force it. Every other question in my interviews came to me naturally, but I actually had to prepare to answer questions about what I like to do in my spare time. About what I enjoy. About what I do for me. Seems a little backwards, I thought, but I tabled that issue, recognizing I had things like gainful employment to be focusing on. But of course, it came back.
Ok, so the obvious answer to this question is that I should join a club or just start doing things. Take an underwater-basketweaving class. Join a waterpolo league. Skydive naked. Whatever. What I usually like to say I enjoy doing is planning parties, talking to and helping people, writing letters, and generally spending time with my friends. I started a bookclub with my roommate to get some intellectual stimulation, and I’m thinking about doing a team sport this summer. Everything I gravitate toward as a hobby or activity is group-oriented…because I’m an extrovert! I like people! I like lots of people all the time. I moved to New York for heaven sakes! The tricky part comes in the integration of my extroversion with this pursuit. I can’t just do things with people, because frankly, that means I end up doing things for people. That was my favorite vice, and side-step around selfishness, in college–to do something that I loved but that also helped other people. Planning sorority events. Writing letters. Spending time philosophizing about the meaning of life with my friends. All great things, but not a single one of them was just for me. And that, my friends, is how I missed my own lesson.
I must begin to find things that fulfill me, Rachel, and only me. Separate from the world around me and the world I love. But how does an extrovert go about doing that? Many extroverts struggle with the problem of differentiation, often in the form of taking advice and making decisions; frankly, growing up in a introverted household and being as unequivocally headstrong as I am, I can usually make my own decisions, and I don’t typically rely on the opinions my friends or family to a fault. What I do lack, though, is things I do just for myself. It’s not that I can’t be alone–I can, and I enjoy it. But usually I find myself running errands, crossing things off my to do list, or doing something that really is about other people–writing letters, planning a party, shopping for Christmas gifts. Going to the gym and running have helped keep my wits about me, but they are as much about conquering those impossible few pounds to give myself a chance in this city of unbelievably beautiful people. Even this blog, which I do write mainly for myself, serves as a way to communicate with my loved ones across the country and the world, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the compliments I get from people about my narrative voice.
It all comes crashing down on me every once and a while, especially in the winter when it’s dark and gray, and especially in this place where mere existence takes decidedly more work than anywhere I have ever lived (and where we get 2 hours less daylight than in Michigan, which sounds insignificant until you find yourself robbed of those two hours). This particular day we were just sitting around the apartment, cooking, discussing new cell phones, watching something on the television that didn’t involve too much thinking. His mind moves in a hundred different directions like mine, except when mine is, and then he’s as cool and as calm as ripples in the Atlantic lapping up against our island. I couldn’t stand it, the chaos and yet the mundaneness of it all, so he took me outside on a walk. It was the first sunny day, tolerably warm, in some time, and we walked through Washington Square Park, taking a seat in the basin of the inactive fountain, carving out a spot between other sunseekers like us.
I spilled it all out, spitting everything inside of me into that basin, and the sun was kind enough to dry the tears as they rolled down my cheeks. The thing is, I’ve always been a big fish in a small pond. I’m used to being one of the prettiest, one of the smartest, one of the most able to influence. I’ve never been the smartest, the prettiest, or the most powerful, but I’ve always been at the top, and in this city, I never will be. Even if I work as hard as I possibly can, I’ll never have the money, the political or family influence, or the ruthless desire to own this city. My face will probably never be on the cover of the New York Times. And I’m not just trying to be self-deprecating. There are some things in this country, and a city like this especially, that you can only get with familial connections or money as a result of unbelievable self-sacrifice. As Mike, my new therapist says, I could find something that I am really good at and sell my soul to it and become incredibly successful and incredibly rich and maneuver into a position of power here, but frankly, I’m just too well adjusted to give up my life and the people I love just to make my name mean something. So sometimes I wonder why I moved here, to this place where I will never be as awesome as I could have been somewhere else. He thought for a moment, taking in the sun and rubbing his hand gently up and down my back. I understand that feeling, he said, and I felt the same way too when I first moved here. But what I really value about living here is that it’s forced me to learn how to be satisfied with being awesome just for me. So maybe you’ll never run this town, but maybe while you’re here you can learn to be happy with yourself for yourself, not because it has anything to do with anybody else.
This city is a great place to lose yourself, but it’s also a great place to find yourself, because there’s no way that you can worry about everyone here. You can’t worry about being as good as all of them (or better, somehow), and you can’t worry about helping them all. And once you’ve got those two things off the table, all you can do is worry about you. Perhaps it’s a little late for a New Year’s resolution, but that’s what I want to do this year. I want to find things I can do (and that I enjoy!) for me and me alone, and I want to begin to learn who I am. When no one is watching, when no one is sleeping beside me, when I’m not trying do anything for anyone else. And not because I want to learn a lesson, but because I want to be happy.