Monday, December 8, 2008

Nippy in New York: A letter of apology to Winter

For all of us who have been poking fun at winter - calling it names, threatening it with mid-sized "autumn" jackets and stealing its lunch money on long lunch breaks in the park – we stand corrected. Because it. Is. Here.

And it is frigid. Eye-watering, knuckle-crunching, knee-bucklingly frigid. Walking to the liquor store is like breast stroking your way away from the sinking Titanic toward some distant horizon. Work has never felt so far away. The avenues have turned to arctic tundras. Cafes and bars have turned into oases of finger numbing relief. Tourists are holed up in covered buses and battery park public restrooms like refugees with street-bought hats and gloves and geeky “I heart Ny” fleece headbands. Any food or drink below room temperature becomes obsolete and from coffee cup to change receptacle, the entire city subsists on those red starbucks coffee cups that monopolize public trash cans like red wrapping paper the day after xmas. Christmas lights outside of shops along 8th avenue make you sleepy and nostalgiac, half from memories of December in your hometown and half from the eyeball-piercing cold. You’re sleeping in your socks and sitting on your bathroom floor after a shower until you are 100% dry before facing a cold living room. Morning showers and leaving the house without a hat are completely out of the question. All your outfits go into perpetual hiding and your sense of style on a multi-month sebatacle as you’re cycling through your cosby sweater collection, donning your heinous navy-and-orange NFL knit hats and shoving your canvas sneakers to the back of your closet. After a windy winter run along the east river, you’ll find that your sweat has frozen to your hair at the bottom of your neck. Most of all, the heaps of living quilts that gather in church doorways at night when you pass by create this big, awful crawling in your chest – made up of mostly sympathy, some gratitude and some just plain guilt. Being without a home or that sordid smell of central heating on days like this, let alone nights, is absolutely and stomach-turning-ly unimaginable to most New Yorkers. The thought of bearing that unhappy wind for more than your daily commute makes you outright nauseous as you pass – and the corresponding guilt of not having to makes you turn your eyes away and walk on.

We’re a grouchy bunch on these sub-arctic days inbetween the bearable ones. Even I have stepped on more than one toe pushing my way into a Starbucks door. But in general, its just about layers, layers, more layers and many different kinds of wool. Each of which you’ll know by name after you live here for one winter – lambswool, smartwool, llamawool… I can just hear all of my Midwestern friends and relatives yucking it up while reading this – and I have no excuses. This is one sally-ass southwesterner just looking for a little sympathy. And all I want for Christmas is my two big toes- I haven’t felt them for days!

I’d write more but I…can’t…feel…my…lips….

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Miracle on 1st Avenue: The gift that keeps on giving

“Tonight is your answer”. And with that, we chose change. And with that we started change. And with that we felt change.

The streets of New York erupted in celebration. Shrieking, laughing, honking, singing - in jubilant rows of legs and lungs we swept New York and thanked each other. There was no floor and no sky, no edges confining us. The elixir of hope and alcohol made for one huge epic rush as that verdict turned us inside out on the world. All our stories gooping together into one candidate, one word America, one mish mash of the barrel scraping bottoms and red hot victories and bone crushing, sky-stripping loves. Each of us in debt to the next person and paying it forward to the last.

I watched the acceptance speech on my way home alone along First Avenue, edging in to a crowded bar in the East Village where I couldn’t see the television but could only hear the words. The TV could only go so loud so the crowd was self regulating its own volume so that we could all hear. And once he started talking, even the sideways drunks and the out of town indifferents fell silent. A world away my brother listened to the same words that I heard, used the little energy he had left underneath height of radiation sickness and post-transplant cell die-off to walk in circles on the tile of the sealed bone marrow transplant floor, dragging his IV pole behind him. “He’s not feeling great.” Said my mom. “But he’s up”. We may not be feeling great, America, tired of being in arms, tired of problems with no pretty faces and tired of just saying “ok”, but we’re up.
Last week I got the greatest gift I’ll ever receive – the ability to give the greatest gift I’d ever give. We always love our brothers. But they don’t always earn that kind of deep-seated, gravity-defying respect that comes when you watch someone just keep ‘getting up’ like that. They kept telling me I was saving his life. I thought that was pretty funny. As if I could take credit for perfect genetic matches, medical miracles and all the hard, dirty, blood-crusted work he'd put in to survive. I'd just flown in for a weekend holiday at the What-It-Takes-to-Beat-Cancer Motel. I wasn't saving anyone's life, only helping this cool guy (who was still my brother even without eyebrows and eyelashes) save his own. And the pleasure, as they say, was all mine. Its me who should be thanking him. For showing me how to live bigger. Give better. Love wider.

He looks a lot different now. And when he gets better he’ll look different yet again. He, we, will be different. Starting now. And there will be more - more sleepy thanksgiving dinners, more sickening losses and untidy misgivings, more falling-down-the-stairs in loves, more day by day by days of our lives that are both so big and so little. Things will never be the same again. Thank God for that. Its time – for Change.

For transplant patients who have to die before they can live, they call last week Day Zero – your "second birthday". And they count from there. Days and then weeks and then months of your new life. Yesterday was Day 7. And a new birthday for the proper noun we like to call America. Just like radiation sickness, GI tract cell die-off and the effect of chemotherapy on the kidneys, birth is an ugly thing. But beautiful just the same. One week old. And a couple of stem cells later. Let the living begin. Or continue, that is.

Some people on the streets of New York fell over drunk, some flew up in exhilaration, some cranked up the music, some jumped down into the crowds. Some used big words like “hope” some small like “Yes”. Some woke up in soft arms to bright eyes, some fell asleep across windy sidewalks and tapping feet. Some said thank you thank you, some didn’t, but more than just a few of us were grateful. Some listened wide-eyed and wild haired to Obama’s words as they carried across the country, not without their own timbre but simply bringing, in echoes, our own hopes back to us. Me, I just couldn’t stop laughing. “Tonight is your answer”.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Road to New York Sports Club is Paved with Baked Goods: a Hero's Journey

So I’m going to the gym on a rainy Wednesday. Im already in a bad disposition because a) I wanted to do something outside and its now pouring, b) my umbrella (which cost me some outrageous amount at urban outfitters that only an idiot would pay for an umbrella) is too small to keep me efficiently dry and c) I’ve been denying myself my daily cupcake/cookie/brownie/doughnut/whatever fix under the frivolous pretense that I should try to curb my sugar intake because “its not good for me” (I’d recently read a very silly little article on Type 2 diabetes). I get to the gym with hoards of other post-office-worker-outers, many of whom I recognize from repeating this ritual every Wednesday at 7, to find that the women’s locker room is under construction – we will be changing in a janitorial closet. Its everything I can do to not let this deter me from another confrontation with my archnemisis the treadmill. But after surviving near trampling, potential damage to personal property and multiple affronts on my girlish modesty by the other ravenously stressed-out corporate women in a very small janitorial closet (it may sound hot, but believe me, nothing could be less so), I’m now on the treadmill and at last left to sweat and suffer in peace to Britney Spears “You Want a Piece of Me” (Hey, you all listen to it too when you run. At least I can admit it…).

So I’m settling into the normal spaced out zone (otherwise known as the orange stripe heart rate zone, says my treadmill. I’m waiting for the day your treadmill will be able to give you your cholesterol levels, calculate your risk of cancer and give you relationship advice), when suddenly, there it is, this uncontrolled and pervasive smell wafting through the gym. And it smells like – waffles! Funnel cakes maybe. Carmel corn. Cookies baking? Whatever it is, its some sweet baked little number making everyone in the gym miserable.

You’d think that when you are cranking up the incline on your treadmill and sweating out the balsamic vinegarette you ate for lunch, that waffles would be the last thing you’d desire. Not so. The smell is so delicate and yet so unavoidable, no matter how focused you are on running in place and winning a race against Paula Ratcliffe in your head, you still cannot shake the image of yourself sitting on your couch eating waffles, fluffy and warm from the wafflemaker. Goddamnit!

Glancing around I see I am not the only one fighting off the effects of the smell – there are looks of grave despair on nearly all of the faces around me. A cruel and pathetic scene this one, and one of pure determination. Like a massive army of warriors collectively warring our physical impulses with societal expectations, we run place. But, you know, gloriously in place, like Mel Gibson in armour against a blue screen. The smell suddenly gets stronger as the outside door is helped open for a woman without adequate transitional umbrella skills, whatever it is outside that is so delicious is now practically sitting in front of us you can smell it so precicely and its right about now that we start dropping ranks like flies. With every man down, every ponytailed director of finance who jumps off the treadmill before the track even stops rolling, the rest of us look back at the casualty longingly. I grapple with the smell for 10 minutes more, mentally seesawing from self flagellation to uncontrolled indulgence, until finally, dripping sweat and quite possibly at my ugliest and hungriest ever, I stumble off my human hamster wheel, scoop up my gym bag and race next door to the bakery for whatever they are baking that most closely resembles a waffle. What kind of bakery is open this late anyway? And of course, when I arrive there is a line. I get behind two other gym-deserters I recognize from the janitorial closet.

If you look into this matter, you’ll realize that the majority of New York gyms are strategically placed in a similar fashion – right next door to aromatic “The Best Pizza in Manhattan” joints, delightfully well-lit liquor stores stocked with frosty bottles of Blue Moon, quaint kitchenettes and hearty delis. Many may attribute this phenomenon to New York’s famous variety of shops, food, pleasures and vices all compacted into a very small space that of course ends up being right next door to every local gym...making regularly eating things you shouldn’t just plain convenient and leaving we well-intended Manhattan-ites perpetually pursuing this constantly transforming version of hyper-hedonism while our metabolisms and wallets try desparately to keep up. You can tell I feel strongly about this matter based on the length of that run-on sentence. This is indeed a city where you can have everything you want (from shoes to midnight waffles) as long as you can pay it off…later. Now this mass consolidation and constant availability of all the things you should and should not do onto one island could be the reason that all gyms are next to bakeries, yes. But actually I think its really just a big conspiracy instigated by New York Sports Club to make sure that I never cancel my gym membership as I run off the cinnamon roll I have not yet eaten.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

"No Place to Stand": Manhattan on the Move

It was another day in my shiny office, 7 World Trade. Another overcast morning, another sticky subway ride, another jet fuel cup of black tea, another wade upstream through the crowd pumping from the PATH train entrance. For all those who came back to World Trade this morning, it was also "another day" - one that, unlike mine, looked completely and irreparably different. For me, an office building. For them a memorial. For me, a groggy thursday morning. For them a mark on the calendar when everything they knew changed.

When I finally made it through the thickened security and up to my office, I went straight to the window and watched as the sun rose mustard yellow over downtown, sweeping the thick crust of people around theGround Zero fence. I had a perfect bird's eye view of the private ceremony starting below amidst the haggard steel spine and mean-looking cranes of the ground zero construction. Lofted in glass above the scene, it felt almost like I was a nosy neighbor peeping in through the window's at a stranger's funeral. What did I know of this place's memories?

There were huge crowds gathered to hear the city leaders' speeches, family members returning to the site to remember and read their relatives names and relive the pain of that day, all among the buzz of another Manhattan morning, the roar of a anti-government protest outside my building and all of us just creaking in to another day of work. It seems like an uncomfortable, totally unfair and yet appropriate juxtaposition. Pockets of sacred moments never allowed to lie still among the constant movement and muscle of life that continually moves forward, even when we want to stop and grieve for what is lost.

When I sat down to my desk during the quiet of the early morning (anyone who has worked for a digital group knows the office stays uncannily quiet until around 10 or 10:30...) I looked up all the pictures of September 11th on the internet just to try and imagine what this place must have looked like back then. I never saw the world trade centers in person. I only know the look of this place without them and I try to imagine what it must be like now for those who remember. And it's a funny feeling because, although sometimes, late at night especially, you can still feel what happened here, for the most part this place for me has an entirely different meaning and feeling from those returning here this morning. And I got to thinking - its funny how places, no matter what happened there or what they mean to us, unforgivably and inevitably change. That the heart is the best place to keep things…the spirit the best place to let them go. Can New York, can my family, can I…do both?

It seems like a good day to both remember whats gone from these places of ours and also to celebrate re-growth and the perserverence of the human spirit. Most things never remain the same among us - change is the only thing you can count on. But I couldn't be more glad to be changing alongside people that I consider this courageous. People I know in my life, just like those who came here this morning on the anniversary of this day, who 'keep on keeping on'. Showing us, together, just what takes to hold up an entire city ...or an entire family... from the ground up.
Yesterday when I left my building late, Ground Zero was dark in front of the two beams of blue light shooting up from downtown to commemorate 9/11. Looking up at them from way down here where they began, those light beams seemed to be symbols not of the twin towers themselves, steel and glass and magnificent height, but instead of the people who hold up cities, nations, families, marriages, hospital wards...and anything else that needs holding up or prodding on. In that dark instant when I first saw them they made me think of my two parents. Two perfectly parallel beams of light in the lives around them, each one on their own path, never crossing or blending but always next to one another on their way up to where they burst into blue flame of light on contact with an overcast sky. I couldn't see where these spotlights began – and if I could, the site would no doubt look just like regular spotlights, not divine orbs or shooting stars – regular old cheap casino spotlights shooting up inspiration among the construction rubble of human struggle, triumph, cigarette butts, coffee cups and all the rest. But out of this they still create these brilliant lights that are visible to everyone in the city. Near and far, New Yorkers see those lights and they remember that this is their city – our city. Everything from the filthy sidewalks to the gorgeously lit peak of the empire state. Its theirs and they help it to keep on changing, keep on moving, keep on keeping on. The currents of our lives carrying us through these places we wish so hard would hold the water weight of our memories. If they could hold our memories for us, then we could swim back to the way it was, to remember past happinesses, because things were so different then. But rivers leave no marks, no trails, no footsteps in the sand or blood stains on their ripples. You can tread water against the current and look back for them forever or you can keep your feet out in front of you to brace the rapids, the way they tell you to do in river rafting if you ever fall out of a raft in white water. And so I watch the PATH train rumbling rudely and thoughtlessly behind those holding silent vigil amidst the mounds of dirt and construction. In some mean, toothy way, it is just New York's way of giving them what they came back for... "Another" morning that refuses to sit still.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Growing Pains: America's Got Guts

Ok get ready. Here comes # 3,809,899th blog post on the DNC acceptance speech hitting blogosphere – you know I can’t resist!’

It’s ironic that I had written my past blog post about great speakers before I watched Obama’s speech. Quite obviously, he hits all the high notes when it comes to a talented speaker – and I don’t need to paraphrase once more what everyone else is saying about the impact of the speech (that was more than self-evident) nor the terrific tactics of his delivery. But I felt as I watched that I owed this man a blog post. After all: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

It was perfect how I watched it. On streaming video the morning after in a high rise above ground zero. Yep. I didn’t even make it home in time to catch the live speech last night. At first I felt like Id committed some kind of treason to the crown punishable by disenfranchisement, guillotined from my own Gen Y, excommunication from my Obama facebook group, or hell, even social media altogether. ME? Miss THE DNC acceptance speech? Or, in the words of a friend of mine when he found out I missed the live broadcast, am I really “slipping”?? But I did watch it. And it seemed appropriate that I’d watch this man deliver this speech of the future under my wide-open, dusky Colorado evening sky at our very own Invesco stadium, while I ate instant oatmeal over ground zero in glassy 7 World Trade and picked up a voicemail from my sister and cousin who had called me from the crowd at Invesco the night before to tell me I was there in spirit.

The man’s got guts. And that really means something. Because life takes guts. Things like families, economies, day jobs, politics, break ups, deficits, careers, international diplomacy and Biphenotypic Leukemia – they take balls. Big ones. But not necessarily ones of steel. Just (at the risk of being graphic) regular, everyday ones. Obama did rise to the occasion – he didn’t leave McCain with any excess praise or unneccessary competitive compliments. Nor did he leave him with too much mud on the old mug – slinging one or two small handfuls of mud is probably healthy for the pure scale of a pending presidential election. He showed that he’s got ‘em. And I like that. Be brave America. GOP republicans like to talk to Americans like theyr are babies. Don’t you wowy, lil guys, big president gonna take care of dem big bad terrorists for you. You just sit back and suckle, hushed sweetly by downloaded videos of Monica Lewinsky and rocked gently to sleep with inactive phrases like moral fiber. No, there was none of that. Which will probably thin the ranks a little by those who, lets face it, just want to have a presidential sugar daddy. Obama even talked about individual and mutual responsibility. This isn’t about me, he said, its about you. Hey guys, this isn’t just my problem. And its not yours either. It’s ours. Now there’s a moral dilemma for you. Government wobbling on the psychological divide between you and I, us and them. The ever-present political pickle – how do we make a thing work for US, both united and divided (depending on the issue). But I thought he dealt with it well – ok, then you do your job. So I can do mine. And We can do ours. Whatever that looks like. Isn’t that just the real kicker anyway. Think about the moral ambiguity of having cancer – well your own cells are turning on you, so we are giving you a medicine that is supposed to kill a part of you but not all and hopefully the part of you that lives is the part you want to keep. When I was sitting with my brother in the hospital while he finally slept through a tremouring fever that visibly shook his shoulders, I told him one thing in his sleep because it was the only thing I could think of to say. And it was similar, in my opinion, to what Obama could think of to say to America yesterday under the sky of my homestate. I said “Be Brave, Alec. Be brave.” What would you have said?

And Obama did say some other great things. It was a magnificent middle class message, aimed tactfully at the hard workers of this country. He said things I liked about education (and would like even more if I saw them in actualization), led an interesting counter-attack on outsourcing strategies, paid simple homage to the Divided We Fall bumper stickers and rhetorically marched steadfastly among middle Americans, never straying too far to the coasts in vernacular or subject matter. He didn’t pay a fleeting compliment to the Nouveau riche, not even a tip of the hat to the Main Line. It was a squared shouldered handshake with the middle managers and the working class. Risky, yes it was. Brave? It was that too. He would have wasted a lot of time trying to make oratory eye contact with all socio-economic segments of America. The results of this election should be more than interesting. Above all the other things Obama said (many of which were both powerful and moving), I liked that he told us to get our s*#t together. Buck up. Face the morning. Because there is no going back now. This is where the rubber hits the road. You can do it at top speed hanging halfway out the window of the passenger seat or you can buckle up and drive. Reverse doesn't work on the freeways of international politics or the 6 lanes of life.

It seems that at this point in my life, I am surrounded by the pain of growing up. As if my number has at last come up and its time to turn in my term paper and freakin graduate. Most adults (who are adults) remember this painful phase of their own, when IT happened and they had to take responsibility for their own lives and not the life they had been “given”. Moving far away, building a life on your own, paying bills, finding that that laws of logic also govern the laws of relationships (and that the Beatles were 100% wrong when they said “all you need is love” - what is that statistic, is it financial discord that causes 70% of all divorces?), watching your parents struggle or someone you love fight hand to hand combat with mortality. It’s like watching Cinderella die an unclimactic (and a very adult) death. Many adults remember the day Cinderella died for them. What’s different is just how she met her untimely end. Was it the wicked stepmother in the kitchen with the frying pan, the prince himself with the knife in the ballroom, or a freak middle aged liposuction accident in the conservatory? However it happens, her fate is inevitably sealed and the screenwriters have really got it out for her, one way or another. She’s like Kenny in South Park. She and her awesome (free) dress, perfect life and flawless relationship. But its not all bad. Once she is dead you can forget about being perfect. And start focusing on being brave. Thats where the real change, the real growth and the real good stuff happens. So maybe that is what Obama was asking of America last night. Maybe he’s asking us to just grow up at last.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Mathematics and Metaphors: What Makes People Listen?

My job here in New York is all about listening. And those of you who know me well know that listening, being the antithesis of talking, is not my strongest suite. As my work now requires that I do so more frequently, I’ve been doing a little more listening than usual. Now, as someone who works out life’s issues verbally instead of cognitively, I found to my surprise that listening occasionally leads to thinking. And thinking hard. This is all just to say, “so I’ve been thinking”…

about what makes people listen-worthy. They say in presentations, the audience will remember some miniscule percent of what is said – some 5 or 10 minutes of a 1 hour presentation. What material gets listened to and, better yet, what delivery can make plain material worth listening to?

I’ve met people in life who are great speakers. And most of those great speakers are also great people. Which makes sense simply because being a great person, thrown in with a little sing-songy syntax and a subject the speaker really cares about, is just plain compelling to other great people, as well as people who are good people looking to be great…you get the point. So I’ve been thinking through these people I’ve met – my parents both more than qualify, a political leader here and there (I like the way Obama has turned “Hope” into more of a verb than a noun), as well as this New York City spiritual leader I’ve been following named August Gold, my friend the master of mutual inspiration Simon Sinek, and a few others I’ve met along the road. Another one of these people came to our offices this morning and as I found myself yet again mysteriously, well, actually listening, I started asking myself why. I was sure it didn’t have everything to do with just how white his teeth were or the way he referenced his eight-year-old son in a conversation about business communication. No, there was surely something that all these people whom I enjoyed listening to had in common. A common trait, trick, knack or know-how that made me pay attention. I’ve decided the answer lies in two things:

1) Gravity. Good speakers have gravity. When they come into a room and sit in front of you they really sit there. And you can feel Newton’s second law at work on you. This seems frivolous and, well simple, and it is. But to get a commitment from a listener to listen the speaker must first commit to, literally and figuratively, sit with the listener. The good ones can sit with large groups of people even. When someone approaches you with a weight and a presence, being with only you for that whole half an hour instead of with their horrible mother-in-law, their cross-dressing Austrian burlesque dancer/ lover or their breakfast….People worth listening to can somehow sink to a sublevel below that frequency at which most people operate hovering above the ground, buzzing from apartment to office, lover to coworker, project to project, struggle to bliss, all just a foot’s length from the ground but never quite touching down.

Most of the successful people in the world learn quickly that life isn’t that condusive to growing “roots” – the minute you root yourself somewhere and say “this is forever”, your life goals change, your dog runs away, your career path takes a mean right turn into the trees, your supposed life partner leaves you for a (much prettier) Minnesotan, or someone steals your doormat. That’s life -you can sign in blood but there will always be a plasma-proof legal loophole. Great speakers, though, these really great speakers Im talking about who are usually at the same time really great teachers and leaders, they manage to grow roots everywhere for whatever temporary period of time. Every relationship, every conversation, every project, every moment, they grow roots. It takes lots of extra effort, risk, vulnerability, time, loss and an extraordinary amount of trust in strangers. But for those who can do this, those who can touch down to the ground and bring a gravity, a realness to their conversations, they are always listened to. Because others know that when those with gravity talk, they talk from the bottom up. Not just from themselves as a business executive, an entrepreneur, a mother or an underpaid divorcee from Kentucky, but as all these people, as themselves. You see how I try to explain it and can’t with any words other than one? Gravity. You’ve met these people too. You know what I mean.

2) Metaphors. Good speakers and teachers make all subjects into familiar, tangible metaphors. This includes things like unusual and interesting phrases of speech (such as “kick him out of bed for eating crackers” or “5’2” soaking wet and hanging from a pole”) to break up boorish business babble. Every day metaphors that simplify and domesticate complex, intimidating subjects. Personal anecdotes that reminds the listener, you and I are just the same, just people trying to be successful at both life and business. This is where speakers break what I call the B2B barrier – a business to business suit and tie conversation turns into two very real (last time I checked) people who happen to be in business and are having a conversation. The web is conveniently mimicking this move – businesspeople are now connecting via facebook, high-brow executives are making themselves vulnerable to the masses with informal, stream-of-conciousness and (gasp!) open-for-commentary blogs, Gen Yers are pouring into the business world with new expectations around work-life balance and it all converges in one crashing, virtual reality online called web 2.0. However comfortable or uncomfortable this may make the aristocrats of an old-world school of business, its happening. So that even the most traditional executives might want to have a snazzy headshot and favorite movie quote ready for their next product release or webcast. Not sure if you got the memo – but if you’re the CEO of a company, part of your business’ brand is your brand. If not your blog then your management style, if not your own social community then your vision and your visible purpose for being in business at all. What you are all about defines what your business is - and its getting easier for the world at large to see both you and your company. If you don’t believe me ask Google.

And this is what makes good executives like my mom, great. Not only are they sharp, strategic, efficient, managerial and articulate, they are personable. You can relate to them. And they speak in a language you understand, they can storybook a business plan better than Hans Christian Anderson could cannonize socio-economic dynamics. How? Its all about the metaphors. Stories. A way of approaching things that harken back to our childhood days. Stories that carry real meaning for us, about life and love and death and families and money and sunday baseball games and all that riffraff. (What is life anyway if not a series of different stories, all of our stories, told and retold in all different forms?) Suddenly "Return on Investment" turns into "Would you rather spend eight years doing something you hate for the title that you want or spend eight years holding titles you hate doing all the things you love." Get it?

You’ll notice also that these metaphors are never boring – they touch on something that the producers of Gossip Girl have down pat –namely that if you are writing a speech and trying to think of a metaphor, if at all possible, choose one with the most amount of blood, sex and scandal. It has a better chance of making it into that 5 minutes of material that the audience retains.

Overall, I am in utter admiration of these people who have this skill. The business world, and (case and point) the world at large that so informs the business world, needs more of them. My dad always says “life is all about showing up.” This is true on so many different levels –showing up at all, showing up authentically, showing up for others when you are needed, etc etc. And so to all those who are aspiring great speakers, teachers, leaders...a brief public service message from a recent listening convert – if you want people to listen, you’ve first got to “show up”. And when you do, make sure you show up as yourself.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Putting the "Heal" in "Health": Life Lessons Learned in Whole Foods

I take vitamins now. Yep, I am now one of those people. Those vitmin takers, those, worker-outers, those I-Can't-Believe-Its-Not-Butter-ers. I am that 16th girl in line in my work-out clothes at a crowded Whole Foods in New York City, waiting to buy a salad, a tub of yogurt, all-natural cookies that taste a bit like the lipstick I ate out of my mom's makeup drawer when I was 5, and a multi-vitamin that costs more than all the rest of it added up, not to mention the last DVD I bought. But all that does not matter because as I get closer to the cashier, I am feeling oh so trendy and healthy. All I need now is a good self-tanner (real sun would scramble my DNA and comprimise my current temple of health)... I look around at all the other aspiring healthy people in line around me, eating salad instead of ribs, buying all natural deoderant instead of lady speed stick, flipping through gluten-free cookbooks, tapping their feet impatiently so they can return to their Grammercy apartments and pop in their favorite yoga DVD, and I can almost hear their collective thoughts ringing down the line "Less trans fat, more crunches, gym tonight, bar tomorrow, no you canNOT have that, chapstick with antioxidants, thank God they finally thought of that." I turn my multivitamin over in my hand and remember why I ended up here in the first place looking for a superwoman multi-vitamin.

“Hi” said my brother.
“Hi, how are you, how are you feeling? Chemo today? More tests? Are you walking much, whats up whats up?” bumbling idiot. Stuffing his head with questions wont help him forget that he has cancer, Kate…
“I’ve been better.”
“Oh. Right. Yep.”

A girl next to me is talking loudly to her friend while trying on a too small, cosmopolitan-red Theory dress in Bloomingdales. “Why does this make me look so fat? My shoulders are huge? What shoes should I wear, they have to be the right color” Her face looks so pained that the desire to to shake her and say “yes but do you have leukemia??” passes and I go back to simply recognizing that familiar feeling I see in her face as she surveys herself in the mirror. A girl in a pink dress passes behind me toward the BCBG section, dragging her tortured boyfriend behind her. The mimes of everyday trifles, troubles and insecurities pass by me in the form of all different colors, materials and lipstick colors. Bloomingdales. A watering hole for the unfulfilled. And here I am in my usual spot among all the usual suspects under all the magnifying mirrors desparately inspecting my external imperfections in order to neglect the internal ones, buzzing from dress to dress...while my family watches the hospital parking lot empty car by car as they wait for my brother's bloodcounts drop into neutropenia (which is supposed to be a good sign).

“So the bad news is this second chemo treatment isn’t working they way it needs to. They are starting me on a new regimen.”

Heart hitting the floor and I am pounding on God’s (whoever that is) door and screaming profanities before slipping back to earth and sliding down the wall of Bloomingdales, taking a $500 dollar silk dress with me. I consider tearing it to pieces with my teeth and tying it around my forehead while the sky falls in sharp little pieces around me. Grief is 100 times sharper when you're not the one whose loosing something. You're just here to watch. Nothing. Makes. Any damn sense.

“The good news is – you are a bone marrow donor. A 10 for 10 genetic match.”

Merry Christmas, Kate. You’ve been a very good girl. Well, most of the time anyway. I know you asked for a Barbie mansion. Then a pair of rollerskates. Then a red iPod. I know you really wanted that red iPod. But this year, I thought you might like the chance to save your brother’s life. We don’t give many people this kind of gift here at the North Pole, as you can imagine. But I guess you earned it. Well, he did anyway.

They say the scar over his heart where they pulled a blood clot the size of a baseball out of his stretched atrium in a record 17 minutes (the biggest one they’d ever seen) is healing nicely. He hasn’t lost his hair yet, despite the battery of chemo drugs charging over his immune system, scything through his cells like pirates through a victim crew (except these are supposed to be the good guys). Its hard, they say, to look at him, at his current life sealed inside a hospital room without white blood cells, locked in an epic battle for but against his own body, without, well, crying. Or hating God. Or...something. He doesn’t wimper, my brother. He never really did that, not even when we were young. His is an ever-so adult struggle with an oh-so-adult life challenge. But oh do I want to whimper for him. Throw a fit against the unfairness of life and beat my fists on the table of whatever celestial monarch pointed to him and said "You. Leukemia. One year. Take him away." Those fits turn out to be for my benefit only. He just doesn't need my kicking and crying. No hero ever needs to be cried over. Only your sincere belief in their victory. This I can also give him. Along with a couple of stem cells.

Maybe someday that heart scar, along with the four other angry scars on his chest from various drains, chest tubes and biopsies, will barely be visible. Someday he’ll be able to distantly retrace his steps through hell, high water and late-night, perpetually well-lit hospital wards only via those scars as they happily fade. But I hope they never completely disappear. Because that’s what they are. Heart scars. People keep saying “things will never ever be the same”. Cancer or not, when do things ever stay the same anyway? I had a brother that I knew once. But this weekend, I’m taking my multi-vitamin and I’m going home to Colorado to meet the new one. I hope he likes me. Because I love the hell out of him.

So about this Whole Foods line. "Thinner, happier, prettier, cleaner, higher, firmer, purer, fresher, better, faster!!” Webster’s definition of healthy-“enjoying health and vigor of body, mind, or spirit”. Where is the whole foods aisle for mind and spirit? Is there an all-natural mineral oil for that? We health nuts, (from Boulder, Colorado or not) spend so much time saying No to ourselves. Maybe we just need to say Yes to the right things. And if we stopped saying No so often…that might be easier. Saying Yes often enough to remember how good Santa was to us this year, - these great legs (ok maybe with a little cellulite here and there) to stand in this endless line with. And the appetite to want that delicious, humongous chocolate bar at the checkout. I think I’ll skip the gym tonight, maybe walk home instead.
I put down the Lipstick-cookies and back away slowly. Then slip the chocolate bar in my basket next to the bank-breaking multi-vitamin. Viva la RevoluciĆ³n.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Magic Mountain: Take That Ride

Today is my brother’s birthday. 21 Years of hanging out in the world together. Ever wonder what its like to be 21 and have leukemia?

I wrestled with myself for weeks over wether or not to include my brother’s recent saga in my blog. Too public? Too exposed a forum for such a delicate topic? Too heavy, too self-important, too scary? Too presumptuous to discuss a topic that isn’t mine to share? But when I woke up this morning celebrating not only my brother’s 21st year of life in general but also the way he’s living it…I figured if we built the blogosphere to share everything except empathy and inspiration along with business best practices, then we’re moving backwards instead of forwards and the web 2.0 movement is simply a 21st century online reprise of the industrial revolution. Eat your heart out, Dickens.

But let me get this straight -I'm not speaking for him (when he decides to speak about this, believe me the world will listen), I'm just speaking for me. A person like him is just too precious not to be shared with the rest of the world

It’s not really the details that matter. They matter to him, they matter to us, but details aren’t what is worth celebrating in life so I wont include them here. Don’t get me wrong, details are a necessary part of getting things done and even for moving forward through life. Nothing gets you out of bed like an unpaid rent check or a crowded Laundromat that opens at 7 or intimate results of an abdominal CT scan. Details can be a blessing in comparison to the things that make you not want to get out of bed in the first place. In general, details are a necessary, trifling and yet ok, kind of mindlessly satisfying aspect of life. I mean, how else were you planning to spend 31025 days of being alive? Just as long as you use them for what they are – not something you’d write a novel about. In New York, everything is about details. You can spend, if you so choose, your entire life getting to the Laundromat, let alone picking up your laundry, getting it home and putting it away in your closet. I realize that normal people don’t have the distgustingly high number of dry-clean only knit tops that I do, but you get the idea. You see? Even thinking about details, I digress…

Ok, so my brother got cancer. It took me months for me to think or say that word in association with someone I love so much, let alone write it. You know, that feeling that THAT word just doesn’t apply to me. It’s a phenomenon of human conciousness developed acutely during the, what was it, anal phase of pre-speech psychological developement? (oh I dunno, ask Freud) – there is "me" and "not me" – and THAT word, cancer, is decisively not me or us. Kind of like no matter who you are, “them” doesn’t ever apply to you (and you can arbitrarily choose the peramiters of your core group of course, then redefine them throughout life as you choose). I guess that’s how I felt about cancer and my family- like that is the kind of stuff that happens on Lifetime and then goes conveniently away once primetime news come on. Once again I find use for this darling paternal phrase of mine – denial is more than a river in Egypt. You don’t need to tell that to my 21 year old brother.

Here are all the details you really need to know –

One. Life can be like a head-on collision – a lot can happen in 1 second of it (no doubt right while you are idiotically and self-absorbantly fiddling with your air conditioner and botching the words to Madonna's "Like A Prayer") and chances are you’ll be damn near unrecognizable afterward. College graduation with honors today, leukemia, chemotherapy, open-heart surgery and a bone marrow transplant tomorrow. No need to buckle your seatbelt – you’ll get used to your new face. And you know what? The new one will be even better. Long live the resilience of the human spirit and the synergies of real-live unconditional love once all else falls away.

Two – Doctor’s usually know 30% less than they say they do. I wouldn’t suggest getting statistical with any Doctor, especially not oncologists. That said, the good ones have mastered this thing called hope. Optimism. And honesty. And these things (among others) are crucial to any human undertaking. To all those in the medical community-- the harsh reality is of course that you’ll never beat death full-stop. None of us can. But you can sure as hell get in some really good rounds if you give death a few worhtwhile reasons to sit back and watch for another 60 years.

Three –Is there a rule against having a role model who is three years younger than you? If so, I suggest the books be reviewed. Because you just don’t meet a man like this every day. And I still can’t believe we happen to share the same last name.

21 years ago my brother and I turned up on the same doorstep of existence. Maybe every other day since then I’ve taken for granted being able to share things with him (after the age of 6 he stopped wanting to share them of course, which was fine, more Dancing Disco barbies leftover for me). Life is a hard thing not to take for granted. If you happen to know someone who lives every single second to the absolute fullest then I’d like to meet them, chances are they’ve never been dumped cruelly or had a yeast infection. But there are people out there who, simply through their presence in a room, a family, a life or a world, remind us to go ahead and ride the big roller coaster while we’re here in this derranged little human amusement park. The lows are pretty darn low on this ride but it’s only down there you’ll learn how to enjoy the highs. Why spend the whole day on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and the Teacups (a ride which could potentially be used to simulate what regular chemotherapy must feel like...)? When you get off you’ll be glad you went for Magic Mountain.

And as for you, Alec, on your birthday. You’re an inspiration. To me, to your parents, your family, your friends, your Doctors, your community…and now to the blogosphere. All that inspiration in 2 months, not to mention the last 21 years. Now that’s an achievement. Good on ya, kid. Happy Birthday, Mr. (future) President.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Doing it and Doing it and Doing it well: Keep at it Manhattan

They say in business, and life in general, you should do one thing better than everyone else instead of trying to do many things well enough. New Yorkers do three things really, really well. Cut corners, drink and keep out boredom. Oh, and make egg bagels. No one does a bagel with egg better than New York delis...

#1- New Yorkers have the absolute best strategies for getting there faster, getting it cheaper, finding that extra inch that puts them first over the line. If its just before rush hour, then take the 6 from 23rd to Union Square and transfer to the express. This will take you approximately 20.47 minutes. If it is rush hour or off hours, then its faster to walk to the express instead of waiting a lifetime for the 6 train or bargaining for 6 inches of body space on a crowded train for just one stop. These hindrances can cost you up to 8 minutes, where are walking the extra few avenues will take you approximately 5.8. If it is neither rush hour, nor off hours, then its a toss up - you can then make the decision based on how your legs are feeling or the quality of shoes you are wearing. If you go to the very last car on the train, you will save 45 seconds walking accross the platform to your daily exit and instead will arrive right in front of it. The best grocery store to shop at is Trader Joes - it is right next to whole foods and the same groceries will cost you at least 20 dollars less. However, you must go to Trader Joes ouside of rush hours, or else you will spend literally an hour waiting in a line of nearly 1000 people to check out. Right before closing at 10 is the best time. There are also several staples you cannot get at Trader Joes, which will necessitate another trip to another bodega or grocery store. Go to Brooklyn for the best sushi for the best price and the little laundromats on the upper east side for the cheapest tailoring. You'll still want to wear closed toed shoes in alphabet city. Dont go out at night in the meatpacking district unless you know someone - for we New York nobodys, its time better spend dressing to the nines and going to the lower east side or the swankier side of get the idea. If there is a corner to be cut, an edge to be gained, a dollar to be saved, New Yorkers will be the first to cut it.

#2 - I used to wonder how New Yorkers spend such an outrageous amount of money and liver function on alcohol. The first time you order a martini here, expect to turn out both your stomach and your wallet. Its damn expensive. So expensive, you'd think that people would boycott, protest, rise up, start patronizing local liquor stores instead of putting all of New York's fashion students through school with four shots of jager. Nope. New Yorkers are street smart on everything except alcohol. Its the one rip off that manages to continually slip underneath our radar. Maybe its that a 16 dollar mix drink doesnt seem THAT outrageous after you've already had three. Then you wonder how Manhattan's ER's manage don't get overrun every Friday night with alcohol victims. Particularly by the heavily bronzed fashion avenue aspiring models who subsist on crytal light. How do these leafy waifs down three grey goose and vodkas in an hour and still stay standing while Im white knuckled against the bar? It is one of the great mysteries of this Great Big Apple. But I suspect it has something to do with expensive bottled water, top shelf liquor and really, really forgiving friends.

#3 - I've been planning on writing a book. I figure, it would be really great to really commit to my one true love (hopefully mountain biking wont get its feelings hurt by being my #2) and finish my first novel by the time I'm 25. It doesnt even have to be that interesting these days - I've got it all worked out, it just has to be about New York, hopefully about the fashion publishing industry and be easily converted into a screenplay featuring Amanda Bines. Everytime I think about this commitment I get very excited. I can see myself up at night, writers glasses on in my underwear with a glass of water and a laptop, breezing through my life-changing new novel. Tonight, I say to myself on the train, tonight I go home and I write. Then the night comes and Im working late, spending 20 minutes on the train, an annoyingly long 15 minutes walking, an hour running, another hour showering, 20 minutes making dinner, 10 minutes cleaning, my glorious 30 minute daily gab with Ericka, 20 minutes downloading hte new Coldplay album and suddenly its 12:15, Im getting up at 7 and instead of my image of myself on the train, Im drinking wine out of a starbucks mug and falling asleep against my bedroom door after writing one measly line, that isnt even that good. This is a great example of how New Yorkers never get bored. And if you ever do, gasp, have the time to even think about being bored, there is the toothpaste you need, the dreaded work-out guilt, Pinkberry, Gossip Girls reruns, brunch dates, things that you forgot to tell your roomate over Gchat that day that you were DYING to tell her, and, when all else fails, SOME kind of bar within a 30 foot radius of your apartment (and a garunteed good one within a half mile radius). Good thing most New Yorkers commute or all newspapers would quickly go out of business. And Barnes and Noble for that matter. Those hot, never bored commuters will just LOVE my new novel...its all about them! Sidenote - not enough New Yorkers recycle their newspapers, magazines and bottles. We really need to work on that... Maybe Ill dedicate my novel to New York's devoted recyclers, 10% of proceeds go to Eco-Cycle in big green letters...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Welcome to the Concrete Jungle: The Beginnings of a Swampy New York Summer

Drowning in split pea soup - you try to scream but your nose and eyes and throat fill up with hot, thick, grainy broth, your limbs try to thrash but they only wave slowly in the stiff broth, you want to close your eyes and just expire but you cant force your lids down over the hot mess covering your entire body. Yep. Thats kind of what its like.

"Heat Wave crashes in to the northeastern seaboard." "New York under fire." "Scorching temps to continue through Tuesday." "New York - Its HOT!"

These are the headlines crammed into subway trash cans, sweat stains running the ink. Walking, standing, talking, eating, no matter what you are doing, you wish you were either sleeping or dead. The whole city waves with heat, runs with sweat, reeks of bloating, humid rot like a corpse in the southern sun. Subway cars blow sticky hot air through molten underground vats of stagnant hot air. The long canyon of Park Avenue fogs with dirty humidity. The City moves slower than usual, struggling to flex its bustling limbs in sweltering wet temperatures. Ugh.

OK ok let me back up. Saturday morning, 8:30 am. Im jammed in a corral with hundreds of other women, waiting to run a 10K. We'd all love to be doing some last minute stretching, but we're packed in back to back behind the start line, listening to the pre-race speeches, waiting and sweating. Looking around at my fellow runners, most of us are looking like we already ran the race - sweat running around our ears and shining on our top lips. None of us had the heart to ask what the current temparature was. We knew we were screwed when we left our apartments and the hot breeze made us sweat harder instead of providing any relief. The gun goes off and we're off and running.

The first few miles are uphill and genereally enjoyable - steady pace, saving the real energy for a big push the last two miles to beat my last 10K time. All around all you hear is clop clop clop of hundreds of feet on the payment, steaming breath, the friction of sweat-drenched nylon reluctantly rubbing together as your shorts stick to your inner thighs. I start my Ipod.

By the time we hit Harlem at 9:15, its somewhere in the 90s, Im sure of it. The whole neighborhood has an industrial yellow haze, like soupy smoke rising from a factory, except its the smog and humidity condensing in the rising sun, souping over the neighborhood, leaving lower Harlem looking juandiced, shabby and spoiled. We turn into the park and the group has hit the normal slow-down around 2.5 miles, accented with heat exhaustion and the weight of our own sweat. We hit another hill and you can almost hear the group of runners groan collectively. My hot and tired body is asking, why, why must I do this??

Around 4 miles the the training kicks in, and just in time. I feel refreshed, energized and steady, comfortable in my pace enough to push it back up to race speed, grounded in my heavy legs, solid in my body's intertia. Im passing people now, hanging round the left side, my favorite spot to be, frinding on the edges of the moving, sweating, flexing mass and bouncing gradually toward the front of my wave. My training helps me make up time on the hills when the rest of the group lags and soon Im back up to 8 minute miles, breathing is fast but easy and Im all warmed up and ready for the finish. This wasn't so bad at all, now was it?

Mile 5. Im a dead weight in the dead, dead heat. The humidity has taken an unexpected turn for the worst, the sun has brought the lower layers of the atmosphere to a boil, leaving central park like an oil bubble in a skillet in between hot lumps of buildings. My time stays almost where it is but now those 8.5 minute miles are labored, beat to death out of my heavy legs and dragged out through this steaming swamp of a park. Breathing is like sucking sand through a straw. Waves of heat rising up from my body's overheating core sindge the backs of my eyeballs and when I emerge from them Im somehow still running, still moving toward the finish line like a ladybug through hot tar. Im not going to stop and walk because, well, I dont want to, but also because it takes too much energy to stop - the law of intertia has set me in perpetual motion until I either reach the finish or pitch forward face first one my thighs run out of glucose.

Mile 5.8. Oh. God. This is awful, terrible, miserable, woe is me and my exhausted body, now just a mass of muscle and guts liquifying in the oven of my thin, deep frying skin. Every once in a while a thought hits me, wait a minute, this is VOLUNTARY?'

Finish line is .2 miles ahead. Normally this is the time to use your last burst of energy and speed to shave off that last half minute. I reach for it...and find that it is 100% not there. My gunpowder is gone and my reserves thrown overboard in sweat by an overheating nervous system. I dont even see the people lining the finish, and I cant even focus on hte clock long enough to see those final seconds. The women around me are falling like flies, red in the faces, dry heaving, swearing. I cross the finish line and my vision shrinks to half. Pass out or vomit, which is it going to be? Out of courtesy to those finishing behind me, naturally, I crash into the portapotty just accross the finish and choose vomit. Well hello first heat wave of the summer.

Heat waves make New Yorkers excessively grouchy. The normal energy that it takes to live life as a New Yorker is now augmented by doing it in 85% humidity. I remember feighning heat exhaustion on those long training runs in Colorado summers, leaving at noon in July, coming back parched and violently grouchy but proud that I could endure such unnecessary suffering. This, I now realize, was silly child's play in comparison to a 7:30 pm run at sunset in the chicken pot pie that is now New York. New Yorkers simply cant shower enough in days like these. The energy it takes to towel dry after a shower is enough in this heat to bring sweat back to your upper lip. The pits of your knees and arms are perpetually sticking with your movements like the back of a curling sticker. And you are just never, ever fully clean. New York in summer is Marc Jacobs on a safari - it might be designer but now its drenched in sweat and reeks of 20 perspiring bodies packed into a subway. Getting dressed up feels like covering a spoilt, rotting dead body with that makeup they put on corpses for funerals. If we could run in between air conditioned buildings we would - but running in this heat is out of the question of course. Did I mention how hot it is?

Sunday I went to Brooklyn to watch the basketball game. Brooklyn is one cool place - Ill have ot write another blog entry about the glories of Brooklyn some other time...but believe me, its just plain cool in every way. The train took nearly 45 minutes to come - heat waves tend to screw the the electrical systems in subways like other forms of extreme weather conditions. 10:30om on a sunday, me and 200 other New Yorkers are sweating it out together on a tiny Union Square underground subway platform, vying for space under the silly little underground ceiling fans, blowing hot air around and finding new ways to express our annoyance without drawing too much attention to ourselves. Ah, new yorker bonding. You would think that because the subway is underground that it would be cooler than above ground. Not so. I think it may have to do with the fact that if you take an underground drainpipe that would normally be cool and fill it with hundreds of warm-bodied, disease carrying rats squirming over each other and emitting however many BTUs of body heat, then its probably enough to raise the temparature of the drain pipe by X amount. In New york of course, the rats are of both rodent and human origin. The train finally comes with ample air conditioning that nearly sends your body into shock, like throwing you from two days in a mid-summer Vietnemese swamp into a fishing hole in an artic lake.

Its a hot Brooklyn night, and the heat has churned up a fiery lightning storm. Im headed down a dark street unknowingly in the wrong direction. As I readjust to being above ground, the usual film of sweat soon recovers my face and my pores prickle as they reopen to the steamy night. Brooklyn, being a little more open than the streets of Manhattan stiflingly cloistered in by tall buildings, feels a little cleaner, a little less oppressive than stinking, steaming, sweating manhattan. The street goes uncomfortably darker - this is definately not 5th avenue. I pass by a spiralling old parish church- tall, spired and black in the molasses hot night, eerie in the lack of street lighting and backlit by a raging lightning storm in the distance, shots of yellow fire igniting the sky as if someone was taking a match to the sweltering, combustable humudity in the air. I somehow felt I had been suddenly transorted into a chapter of The Scarlet Letter, or maybe Heart of Darkness. He saw me before I saw him. Tall, thin, so black he was almost the color of the black church to my right, his head hooded in white. It was the eyes. I saw them from the whole length of the street. Fixed on me, burning, like white orbs in a black whirling sea. He walked slowly, as if in a dream, his eyes fixed on me with a not alltogether human glow. As if he saw only me and didnt see me at all, all at one time. My intuition had been throwing red flags the second i started down this street- now it was setting off flares. If I ran, would he chase me? The closer we came, he and I, the more I didnt like the whif of his presence. My knees refused to bend, the immense heat pressed out on my chest. I held my breath. Just as he reached me, lighting lit up the church behind us. I couldnt stand to look at those eyes up close- I shut my eyes and felt them looking at me sideways as we passed. A man emerged from a nearby building enough to shatter the silence, his front door slamming in the dark enough of a disturbance to allow me, the cornered rat, to scurry from the trap. I ran the rest of the way to 5th avenue, only to reach 3rd. I crossed the street, told myself I was being silly and superstitious, and as punishment for my silly fear, forced myself to walk back the way I came on the other side of the street. Sweat poured down my body and licked my hairline. As I passed the church a second time, I saw a tall, hooded figure in white pacing back toward third avenue - back down the long, spiny black fence of the old parish as if guarding it or confined within in. His arms swinging slowly and purposefully, like the mechanical murder of a beef rancher. He turned his pupilless eyes on me from accross the street. It took me .08 seconds to break into a run, thunder rolling behind the sound of my feet pounding the steaming street.

Friday, May 30, 2008

A Memorable Memorial Day: Escape to Montreal

It was 10:30 on Friday morning, the day before memorial day weekend. I had slugged into work, bug-eyed from the wear and tear of the rainy, muggy work week. I had thought about flying back to Colorado for the weekend to see all the people I missed so dearly and to run the Boulder Boulder, but tickets would have cost me a month's rent and I had just ran my fastest 10K ever at the Healthy Kidney race in Central park the weekend prior - thus my legs had still not 100% forgiven me. So I settled into the not altogether terrible prospect of another glorious New York weekend - streetside drinks, brunch, walks in the park, shopping, (shhh maybe a cupcake or two), more drinks, laundry, until, Oops, suddenly its Monday night and your munging through your cupboards (a three day weekend and you still hadnt made it to the grocery store) in search of anything remotely edible, remarking to yourself how quickly your life is passing you by.... sigh.

In my daily IM conversation with my friend Tyler (who, in the true essence of IM, sits only two rows away from me) we tired of small talk and finally landed on the topic of all the exciting trips we'd take for distraction - Colorado, Utah, New Hampshire, a tour of the South, his hometown in Georgia, San Francisco - a road trip accross the country even! Him having never been west of the Mississipi and I who wouldn't know a southern gentleman if he picked me up in a 19th century horse and buggy, we had oh so many good ideas. Its always fun getting to know a new friend--it mimics the honeymoon period of all romances within a friendship. For the first week of your friendship you never run out of fascinating things to say, you're enthralled with your similarities, small annoyances are still cute quirks and, best of all, you are completely taken by all the glamourous things you will do with said new friend - Trips to Budapest, half marathons, the opera, or drinks at this great pizza and beer bar. For the standard friendship, this cute little honeymoon phase usually wears off within a week or so of pizza and beer eating, after which you realize that most of the plans you made were happy inklings that will never to come to pass. This rule of new friendship, although generally reliable, was not the case with two dangerously whimsical and equally as stubbornly committed to being unpredicable people as we turned out to be.

Our conversation went something like this:

"Too bad we aren't going anywhere fun for memorial weekend."

"Yeah. Too bad."

"Hey. Why dont we go somewhere!"

"Ok. Where?"

"I dont know. Boston. The adarondacks. Vermont. Montreal. Virginia?"

"Montreal is awesome. Lets go there!"

"Ok. You think Im joking. But Im dead serious."

"I am too."



"Do you think we will be good travel partners? I hardly know you. What if we want to kill each other after two days."

"I guess we will find out."

Five hours of scouring train tickets, plane tickets, travel websites and discount airline traps of all kinds, we were sitting in an STA Travel office in the West village giddy with excitement.

"Hello. We want to go to Montreal."

The ticket agent, hardened by years of bubbling, youthful travelers but nonetheless taken aback at our dual enthusiasm, raises an eyebrow, "Ok. When would you like to fly out?"

"Um. Tomorrow? Tomorrow morning please."

Approximately 14 hours later, we arrived at the airport, two near strangers, tired, poorly packed and absolutely thrilled. As our plane took off we turned to each other and said simultaneously, "We are SO awesome!!"

Turns out we were not only good travel partners and fast friends - but also mirror images of one another. By the time our plane touched the ground in Montreal, we had discovered that we were each other's very own dopplegangers - mannerisms, aspirations, interests, talents, histories, beliefs, you name it. Who ever thought my long lost twin would end up being a redheaded GUY from Georgia? To top off the sense of uncanniness one feels when they have met their long lost, separated at birth redheaded brother , we were born within 5 days of each other, same year. Wierd. By the end of the trip we would be giving advice as such "Well from what I know about you, and seeing that I AM you, I would suggest that you do X about this problem".

As you all know all too well about me when I meet a new friend, acquaintence or unfortunate neighbor on a train... Im not sure I shut my mouth for more than 5 minutes during the whole flight in to Montreal. My normal verbal diarreah was thus enhanced by the utterly platonic nature of our fast friendship and by the feeling that in reality I was merely talking to myself, and myself, in redheaded form, was reflecting myself back to me in his (my) responses. And it was a good thing I came equipped with my normal knee-jerk reaction distraction mechanism (words. lots of them) because I hadn't been on a puddle-jumper plane in years and now, stuck in this hot little tootpaste tube of an airplane cabin with a lot of French Canadians and no snacks, I can remember why I avoid them. Ah turbulence. So THIS is why they serve alcohol on planes. Quaint yet regular. Modern yet historic. Exotic and yet oh so comfortable and strangely familiar just below the surface (aka the French is fabulous and all but when you are nearly peeing in your pants to find a bathroom you can ask in English). I couldn't quite decide which city it reminded me most of - Portland in the financial districts, Seattle in the residential, Dublin in the drinking quarter and Budapest in the old district? I couldn't quite decide. But whichever it was, I was in love. And keenly intent on leaving the place with a near perfect french accent. And the men...let me just say in passing, I'm not sure Ive ever witnessed so many good bone structures walking around all at once. My "type" just took on a whole new meaning.

We spent the first afternoon shopping, had an accidental run in with a 40% off sale at French Connection and turned up, arms full of bags and parched, conveniently on the deck of an irish pub. The afternoon was glorious, the sun still high and the brie sandwiches, suprisingly delicious at this dank Irish dive. Getting up from a situation like that...sun, people watching, brie cheese, beer and the satisfaction of bags full of new a bit like getting out of the bathtub when you are a kid. Nothing could be more excruciating. Luckily, a night on a new town was beckoning to us as a just reward if we could only pull ourselves from those warm wooden deck chairs and drag ourselves back to our hotel.

Just when I thought Montreal could not be more delightful...I discovered our hotel room's balcony by accident, getting out of the shower. The window was one of those floor to ceiling doors, the balcony one of those European-style terraces, a simple white fence suspended just out from the window with no room for you to step out, only enough room for you to hang out over hte street, carelessly suspended halfway inside and out of the window. Standing there alone in the room, the sun setting over the "Mont" casting late in the day shadows through the window, bringing in a breeze so warm I nearly dropped my towel and leaning out this oh so glorious terrace window 25 floors above MOntreal, I immediately began my Jackie Onassis routine...wave to the loving crowds, oh how they love my dress...oops, now Im a ravishing Italian beauty stolen from my terrace in Rome and carried away to Paris by some dark-haired Hungarian blacksmith...or maybe just a small town girl from Colorado on spontaneous holiday from very big city life, standing before all of Montreal in a towel...while three teenage boys look on from below...oops. Now Im legs in the air, toppling over the edge of the bed in a frantic scramble to get inside...

The next two days were spent in utter bliss - the most uncomplicated, unregimented vacation I have ever taken - eating, drinking, eating more, walking walking walking, buying, pointing, laughing, eating, more drinking, repeating and pointing " I love I love I love!". I loved Montreal so much, that, in fact, by the end I never even finished the sentence i.e. "I love that church"..."I'd just point and say "I Love." This was much more efficient, because I could point out more than one object of my affection at one and express my overwhelming love for it. The city is a strolling, rolling city, with all kinds of quiet charms and very few airs or in-your-face spectacles - things that keep my beloved New York forever running. Old Montreal was particularly captivating and we haunted it for 2 days solid. Narrow alleys, cobblestone streets, old stone buildings, flowerbeds hanging charmingly from stone windows, hot chocolate and brie sandwiches in small restaurant with low ceilings much like a wine cellar in an old castle except doors wide open to the street and the steaming rain from outside. Cupcakes across from an old church served by happy smiling French Canadians. 7 solid hours in the sun, eating out, walking out, hanging out...Running around desparately in search of sunscreen for our irish skin after said 7 solid hours. Ah. Heaven.

To top off an altogether perfect weekend, we missed our flight home. 50 dollars in flight change fees bought me and my newest best friend 3 more hours of wine drinking, penne eating and philosophizing at the airport until we had not a single problem, curiosity, belief, traumatic experience or hidden disappointment left unexplored. From the plane, I watched the setting sun leave pink streaks of stay clouds accross the horizon, like torn bits of a princess' dress as she runs home from her carriage, slowly turning into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight. I Cinderella, hereby leave my glass slipper in Montreal and run back to my steamy, muggy, hungry New York. Who said Cinderella needed prince at the ball?
And after 3 days of non-stop talking that you all know only I can do without taking breaths (only bites and sips) in between, I slept the whole flight home.

(Pictures coming soon)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Big Business' Brothers in Arms: Meet the Warriors of Wall Street

I've joined the ranks. The ranks of underslept, overworked, understated, over-expected, underestimated yet overachieving New Yorkers. Ghosts in suits, ties and pointy leather shoes that haunt the subways after 10pm on a weekday. Even a quiet upbringing, a balanced childhood and a limited attention span couldn't save me from being drafted and now I'm trudging along with the rest at 11:32pm on another nondescript Tuesday, thanking God for DVR.

Yes, these corporate night crawlers do indeed exist among the normal, the well rounded and the wellslept. And there are many, many of them walking quietly amongst you here in Go-Getter Gotham. They are the culprits who make the rest of us normal people feel guilty for an unanswered weekend email at 5am, who crowd the pre-made frozen food aisle, whose daily excercise consists of walking to and from the subway, supplemented by the weight-loss effects of a constant stress and sleepless night diet, and who may be single-handedly responsible for the destruction of the nuclear family (although I think that particular illustrious illusion had it coming anyway).

11:34pm, the late night train finally arrives, freckled with sleeping bums and stiff red ties wrinkled only slightly from another day at the office. The bums, passed out, discussing racism with the voice in their head or sleeping, look 10 times as lively as these suited soldiers, whose bleary-eyes have the cloudy, fixed appearance of a 2-day old dead person left undisturbed. This is the ugly underworld of the corporate world and these are its creatures. It is truly disturbing and more than slightly eerie to see them arrayed and upright in their pressed Kenneth Cole heather grey at such an ungodly, lightless, soulless hour - collared, corporate vampires marching up a gruelling corporate ladder, ambition's very own army of indentured servants who simultaneously rule the New York class system and slave for it as both lords and serfs of modern commerce. How unperterbed they look, how unmoved and mechanical, normal and untired as if a 11pm commute was as normal and regular as brushing your teeth before bed. If you see any glimpse of these reclusive creatures during their prime commuting hours, then chances are you yourself are one of them.
I slump on to the train, my head heavy and my posture dissolved into a puddle. The painful act of moving my eyelids over my parched eyeballs in order to keep them open, feels like peeling a bandaid slowly off of unwashed skin. I am consumed by all of the things my body desparately wants -social interaction, unlimited sleep, simple carbohydrates, visual stimulation, circulation to my immobile limbs. But my fellow soldiers march on, stare unseeingly at the passing platforms out the train window, holding their briefcases as if they were an extra appendage they'd been born with much like a third nipple, never checking their watches and even feigning to cast me a look that clearly says 'dont worry newbie, you'll get used to it. The hunger pangs and the dizzy spells both subside after your first promotion.' The more lively ones are blankly thumbing their blackberries like a kid fixed in front of a video game theyve been playing for 8 hours straight but havent beaten.
No one is slumped, leaning, shuteyed, drooling, raving from sleep deprivation or even making anything that even resembles a facial expression. They don't even look anxious to get home because this IS home - the uptown apartments that they work this hard to afford are like time shares for the rare but occasional vacation of an extra 2 hours of sleep on the weekends or dinner with their girlfriends, who are either enlisted as well or filling the hole with nail salons and the sweet-smelling dressing rooms of Bloomingdales.

My stop arrives and I drag myself up to the street as the rest of my commerce comrades pass me robotically on the stairs. Welcome to corporate New York - Has my number really come up?

Monday, May 5, 2008

KinderCorporate: Employed Again and not a moment too soon

Oh first days. They never get easier. You pass all the tests required of you to officially make it into adulthood. You get yourself, a job, a life, a wardrobe, a bank account and even a 401K, and you think you are in the clear. Its a contract - turn in your high metabolism, all the fun in birthdays and finally your innocence to seal the deal in exchange for taxes, electricity bills, this thing called champagne, relationships that should work out but don't, high heel shoes that finally fit and (hallelluia) the end of your never ending awkward phase. To the outside world you look like a perfect grown up. But alas, you've been fooled. Inside you are still a kindergartener waiting for another first day to bring out your true self. The visible end of the awkward phase was only a temporary concession. You should have read the fine print.

My first day outfit was perfect. Something between postmodern sophistication with a to-hell-with-it twist, and, you guessed it, cowboy boots. And yes I had it laid out the night before. Last minute second guesses - a belt so no one would think I was fat and green tights so no one would think I was boring. Its all about first impressions right? My boss had kindly emailed me the night before to let me know I didn't have to come in until late morning when she'd have more time, which of course, gave me more time to obsess over whether or not I could really do this job, let alone figure out how to use the elevators with no floor selection buttons, without falling flat on my face. On my way to the subway I realized too late that I may have overlooked one important detail in the choice of my first day outfit. I hadnt thought that the belt would make my skirt a tad bit shorter - a little shorter than I would have liked on a first day, but hey, it could be worse. At least its not see-through, right? Right??

Ok, so Ive made it through the subway at rush hour. Only slightly dishevelled and unnerved, I emerge from the subway into a bright new New York morning. Sun glinting off of every window, the grind of ground zero construction, swarms of rabid tourists obstructing corporate foot traffic and looking at us as if we were part of some mad museum exhibit called Financial District 101. Step One. Starbucks. There is one on the corner (of course). Excellent. Step two. Fight your way to the office through the obstacle course of tourists without spilling your Starbucks beverage or breaking your New York stride. This, however, is more of a challenge then you;d think. Step three. Put on your new york game face. 'Excuse me, could you please get out of my way, Im on my way to close a very big acquisition, meet with a very important C-Level executive over breakfast and then meet with my team to plan for our very high profile trip to Mumbai next week.' Game face - check. Despite my nervousness, Im now starting to feel pretty good. Arriving at the spaceship that was now the doorstep to my office building, I found myself reaching for my camera, catching a glimpse of myself in the glass doors and saying to myself...well I'll be damned. I mean I said I'd do it, come here on a whim and build a life, and hell, here I am, Mary Tyler friggin Moore, although visibly more awkward, frightened and...early. Damnit. What kind of geek arrives 30 minutes early for her first day at work? Why didnt I just bring a brown paper sack lunch and a thermos while Im at it, maybe a copy of Grapes of Wrath to recite at my first staff meeting? Ok, I'll just putz around the fountain in the courtyard and look like I belong here.

Time successfully wasted. I turn up at the security desk. Hi Im Kate - oh um Harris, I work at Mansueto and its my first day! I cant help doing that annoying little excited half jump when I introduce myself as a real live employee of this office. The security gaurd is not impressed. "You're a little late, aren't you, Harris." The way he says it its as if I should drop down and give him 20. My enthusiasm falls to my ankles. "They um told me to come late." "Well it sez hea you supposed to be here at 9." "Well they called me last night and told me to come later." "You sure, Harris? Says here 9." (No, you're right, perhaps it was some spiteful imposter calling to try and sabotage my first day. And, if you please, thats Miss Harris to you, Hammerhead), "Yes, I am quite sure." He gives me a stern stare, which fails to have its full affect because he has a bit of a lazy eye, but I am thoroughly unnerved nonetheless. After I make it through security, I spend another 10 minutes finding the correct elevator dock (Apparently its a screening process. you must have a certain IQ to figure out how to use the elevators. And they've been designed to all look the same like some house of mirrors Magic Eye. 'Haha! Say the security gaurds, lets watch Alice and Wonderland meet the Space Age.')

Ah. My new office at last. And it is GORGEOUS. Even more gorgeous than I remember. Glass from ceiling to floor, papered with bluescreen views of Manhattan...oh wait. That IS Manhattan. All my calm has dissipated and now, faced by an office of new faces, I feel if I hadn't gained that extra 7 lbs from Crumbs cupcakes then I'd start involuntarily levitating. When the first employee notices (or at least I think thats what she's looking at) my accidental Ally McBeal-esque skirt hemline, I almost loose my breakfast.

Ok two hours later. My boss is awesome. My desk, cute. My coworkers, friendly, open, funny and whip smart. I smile, I stumble over words, I laugh at their web 2 dot O jokes even though I don't know what they mean to save my life. I can do this, no big deal. Lunch time and my stomach tells me its time to eat. First my stomach complains, then my mood protests and finally my brain cells start to demand calories. I check my calendar - back to back meetings all afternoon. Ive waited to see if anyone else will go to lunch but no one moves. Not one person moves toward the door, nor does anyone seem take note that it is lunchtime. No one is snacking, fidgeting or passing out from low blood sugar. My food window closes to 20 minutes before my first staff meeting and the hope of nutritional reprieve is quickly fleeting. Those of you who know me well know this is a dire situation, very dire indeed. I should have brought the sack lunch after all. Even with the risk of breaking the mold on my first day, Im on the brink of hypoglycemic shock and so I finally succumb to bodily demand and jet down 30 floors for the nearest deli. (Who are these people, robots?) On the way back in I realize Ive left my temporary security pass upstairs and turn reluctantly to face the security counter. Why hello, Hammerhead. Its me, Alice.

Ive wolfed half my sushi in the elevator by the time I return and make it back just in time for my 1:00 staff meeting. Thank GOD I ran out to get food, that was a close one. I decide to stand through the meeting so not to accentuate the length of my skirt by sitting. Its right around then that the boxes upon boxes of pizza arrives. OH. Pizza. Haha. Of course...

All in all, it was a fantastic first day. The environment is smart, quick, innovative, friendly and casual. I love the way these people think, the waves they are making in their industry, the way they talk to each other, even argue with each other, without hierarchy or formality. I couldn't have asked for a friendlier welcome. Nor could I be more nervous about how I'll measure up. In the hopes that my motor skills, self confidence and taste in hemlines somehow return to me as more days pass, I think I'll try going back tomorrow. :)

This is Alice, Signing off.
The entrance to my building--

Views from my office--

I love New York in summer!

Out on the town

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Forgetting Galileo: Me First and the Gimme Gimmes

If you are a New Yorker, the sun, stars and planets really do revolve around the earth. And for the inhabitants of this city, all of the earth, and thus the entire universe, revolves around Manhattan. Making you, a New Yorker in sheik bar in midtown drinking champagne at noon on a Sunday, the ONLY person on earth who matters.

Humans are naturally a bit self-focused. Its instinct. We are natural companions, pack animals, given that without others our own survivial would be comprimised and perhaps less fulfilling. But when it comes down to it, lets admit it - you want a bigger chunk of the buck's hind leg than your best friend. And you want it while its still warm. Even if he did help you take it down.

Manhattan is like all the world's hunting grounds condensed onto one island, with an abundance of fat, nice-looking deer but many, many more wolves. The result of which is that New Yorkers are totally, completely, inescapably, excessively, visibly and eternally self absorbed. To those of us who inhabit this city, everything and everyone we could ever want, desire, need and not need, is right here on our little island Manhattan. No matter where you are in New York City, the nearest deli, laundromat, bar, grocery store, gym, taco joint, sushi hot spot, clothing store, drugstore, Starbucks, loanshark, tailor, hitman, cupcake bakery...(I could of course go on) is no more than one mile away at any given moment. Gauranteed. My favorite sight in Manhattan is seeing all the people on the subway in the late afternoon on a Saturday, myself included, their hands stock full of bags -- lunch leftovers, shoes, groceries, Burberry's newest raincoat, toiletries, cupcakes, wine, chinese takeout, internationally acclaimed political novels, designer fragrance--looking at each other saying "WHAT a day that was! I do say, I'm exhausted!" And it IS exhausting, attempting to consume ALL that there is available to us at any given time, without leaving a single sock, blueberry muffin or lip plumper unconsumed, no designer sample sale or brunch place unexplored. And we are all, of course, on our way home to put away our things, digest for an hour, and then squeeze into those new shoes in order to fashionably inquire about the opposite sex over $25 martinis in a posh downtown bar. So much to be HAD, so little time. Any addiction you might have - drinking, eating, shopping, working, romancing, one night stands, fraternizing--whatever it may be, this city can give you your fix to the 9th degree and fast (Did you know that apparently there is a legitimate industry here called the "fetish industry"? Not stripper per say, not prostitute, just fetish worker. This kind of thing still blows my silly-little-Boulder-girl mind.) A friend of mine said the other day "If a girl can't find a man here, then you won't be able to find one anywhere. And here he is sure to be better dressed." How is that for a can't-sleep-at-night kind of thought? If romance is dead then I know who killed it. I'm not sure how, but I do know that Christian Dior and Manhattan were in on it together. Its as if we are all voluntarily stranded on a tropical island in paradise with absolutely everything (and everyone) at our disposal, left to either live in peace and slowly eat ourselves to death on coconuts and bootleg rum, or rapidly destroy ourselves a la Lord of the Flies.

Not only is there 24/7 access to our wildest and most whimsical desires, but we also feel we are the epicenter of all that is good, trendy, fun, important, impactful, exciting, meaningful, hip, and worthwhile. In New York City, it seems that all of the world's media, music, art, movies, shows, famous love stories, etc etc ...are made by us, for us and about us. If globalization is the future, then baby, we Manhattanites have already put first man on the moon - (and the reality show airs next fall). Apparently, we've got the whole world watching and talking about us - and its our job to keep doing things worth watching. So we will- and we will look good doing it. And can you blame us? We dont mean to be self-absorbed, its just easy to forget what life looks like if you ever get "off the island".

I realize how bad this sounds. After all, you are reading MY blog about MY experience in New York, MY perceptions of the New york that is just so good at being percieved. And for all of you fellow Boulderites who have ever lived in Manhattan, I KNOW you understand. ("Bubblehopping", verb--the act of hopping from one bubble to another, small to big, big to small.) But this is not the whole story. There is absolutely a choice involved. The pursuit of happiness in the land of plenty was never designed to be mindless, or easy for that matter. And evidence of this, of people making or not making the choice, is everywhere. Its not the choice to be happy, persay. Its the choice around what exactly you allow to make you happy. Tell me, New York, when is enough enough?

If New York were a person, it could be Paris Hilton and the Dalai Lama, all at once. More specifically it would be Paris Hilton leading a meditation retreat in the Himalayas (now that I think about it, this analogy would actually be a good PR stunt and a good excuse to film her in her underwear) AND the Dalai Lama promoting his new fragrance (I can see it now - it would be called "Silence" and the tagline would be "To reach Nirvana, you must smell like it"). My point, made in bad taste here, is that this bubble is a really big and alive one... and along with the senseless indulgences you have 24/7 access to, you also have access to many different very real experiences, very interesting people and very meaningful human work. There are so many remarkable people here, some of the most remarkable in the world - people who have larger views of the world than anyone anywhere. People who have titles, success, achievements and primetime slots on Oprah... and people who don't. People who make an impact on everyone they come accross. People who are the best educated and people who help educate others. People who are always looking to help those islanders who have been lost or misplaced in the mad rush for not only survival but prosperity. People who can walk in the park alone, take in a museum exhibit, buy something nice, drink an exceptionally good cappuccino or just share dinner with a good friend and say "This is enough. This is just enough for me." People who could have everything (money, beauty, love, sex, etc) but choose to have just enough instead and give the rest to someone else. The unfulfillment and haunting despair that comes with chronic overconsumption of things and people just can't take hold in the heart of one of these people, who not only ask for just enough, but also recognize something good when it arrives on their doorstop... That cupcake could have tasted a lot better if I wasn't already thinking about my next bigger, better but miraculously less fattening cupcake. With all the overindulgence here, there are also these other more humble qualities, mixed into a throng of loud and quiet, feux and genuine, seen and unseen.

One of the reasons I came here is because the city is screaming in your ear to succeed - with the resources, support and training that I have been lucky to have had so far, there is no excuse not to. But in the mad rush to get, have and do everything, I hadn't thought about what I would do once I did succeed or once I did actually buy, eat and ensnare everything available to me. I suppose I'm glad I have not succeeded at much at all since I got here, save finding a place to sleep, good food to eat and good friends to eat it with. But maybe that is success enough for the moment, depending on what my requirements are for success. Self-diagnosed with a raging case of the Gimme Gimme's, I'm now given pause to remember--its absolutely crucial that a brand new New Yorker never gets "ambitious" mixed up with "insatiable".