Thursday, September 2, 2010

At Last

At a moment when it really needed to happen, I finally got a job. It is a tremendous relief.

In reviewing all that has happened in the past year and a half it is difficult to distill and find one coherent lesson. It's difficult to make sense of something that occurred randomly and nearly blew my life apart.

As I sift through what happened and my reaction to it, it is my attitude rather than the circumstances that I could have changed. It was a time to concentrate on the light. If I stared into the dark I wouldn't be able to crawl out of bed every morning.

Ironically, at a time when prospects seemed most dim and I felt pressure to be particularly ascetic, disciplined, and diligent, the lesson I learned was that I also needed to savor life a bit. It was difficult to indulge in anything because I felt great economic stress. But I made an effort to enjoy some part of every day.

My budget made it impossible to indulge in much, so I had to seek the pleasures that are free. I loved the extra access to the outdoors. When I was employed full time, I would often resent toiling in a building that sealed out warm Sun and bright light. The opportunity to bask in warmth and light was a blessing.

Its strange because I don't consider myself much of an outdoors person. I tend to prefer traditional indoor activities to outdoor pursuits such as gardening, hiking, or sports. Bouts of skin cancer have also urged me avoid the Sun. But when I was sick it seemed ridiculous to worry about skin cancer anymore. The pleasure I get from the sensation of being warmed by the Sun far outweighs reasons for avoiding it.

As a more practical matter, the lack of work gave me the time to take classes and to figure out some things on my own. This blog was an effort to build my technology skills. I was very fortunate to have an Americorps grant to pay for courses. Otherwise, I might not have been able to enroll.

Looking for work has always been a challenge for me. While I have no difficulty advocating for ideas or other people, I feel uncomfortable promoting myself. In the new work environment where we are supposed to move around every two years, this is a real problem. I'm grateful that I learned how to network a little better. It is something I still have to develop, but I did improve. This led to some interesting freelance work and new business contacts. Now it is up to me to continue building on this foundation.

The lack of purpose and routine that accompanied job loss was eventually replaced with a recognition that my free schedule was an opportunity to invite more unexpected events into my life. This seems obvious in retrospect, but when one is concentrating on the lack of a job the opportunity to pursue the frivolous doesn't seem like the best choice.

The effort to enjoy a part of every day spurred me to grasp the chance to do something new and different. Since I was a child and saw images of ticker tape parades in old films and photographs I have wanted to participate in one of these parades. I had the chance when the Yankees won the World Series. I also accepted a spur of the moment invitation to the US Open on a week day.

Since I didn't have to worry about getting up early to go to work, I was free to take late evening classes to pursue things that interested me but that I wasn't passionate about. This led me to learn the Michael Jackson Thriller dance with a group of strangers. I also finally made the effort to participate in the Halloween and Macy's Thanksgiving parades -- two events I always meant to do but didn't because I would get caught up in work and not realize that the time for the event was approaching. I also scheduled touch tours for my blind friend at the Metropolitan Museum and MOMA, and was able to accompany him on both tours.

This lull was a chance to take advantage of some of the deals I would miss while chained to my desk in an office. On a couple of days I waited for 4-6 hours in a ridiculously long line for $20 opera tickets at the Met. My flexible schedule also enabled me to snag a free Remy eyebrow shaping, Fekkai shampoo, and Origins cleanser.

This odd expanse of unfettered time also revealed to me my strange relationship with time. I now realize the great extent to which my enjoyment of events is damped by anticipation of time constraints. It was wonderful to see friends on weekdays without concern for the clock. We were free to enjoy each others' company without the expectation of cutting the night short to get to bed early.

Similarly, I was able to enjoy reading several dense books while recuperating from illness.

Now I realize how much worrying about schedules and lists of things to do infringes on my enjoyment of my time when I am working. It is as if none of my time is really free. There is always a concern in the back of my mind that doesn't allow me to fully relax.

I also concentrated on the sense of compassion I felt from others. It pleasantly surprised me who offered help and how they offered it. High school classmates that friended me on Facebook gave me work leads although I hadn't seen them in 25 years. My doctors gave me drug samples so I could save money on prescriptions. My dance instructor insisted I continue taking her classes without paying. Friends took me out to lunch and picked up my drink tab.

On the one hand, I felt embarrassed to accept charity from my friends. On the other, I recognized that I would do (and have done) the same for them. In fact, it sometimes came to light that the "unlikely" people who helped me had received favors from me in the past and I had forgotten about it.

Experiencing this kindness had a profound effect on me. I'm sorry that it was necessary that I be in such a position to receive these blessings, but I am also relieved that the world is more benevolent than I expected it to be. Now I am consciously focusing on developing more compassion for others. I doubt any of my friends think I owe them something. Instead, I am very eager to pick up the tab for any friend who is looking for work.

I suppose the greatest lesson I learned is that I could survive. Unfortunately, I have lived through bad times before. I endured seven miserable years putting myself through college, weathered medical problems, and suffered a lay off and unemployment a decade ago. All of these are events I would rather forget, yet they taught me that I am resilient and can survive tough blows.

For all of these blessings, there are some regrets. My fear led me to cage and punished myself a bit. I was extremely austere. I walked everywhere to save subway fare and cut back on food. Although I had time to take art classes and could have benefited from distraction from stress, I didn't take them because it seemed like an indulgence. I felt guilty about making any art at all, and stopped making it.

As I pushed myself into these corners, it felt as if my personality had ceased to exist. It went underground and I walked around like a purposeless ghost. I played the role of someone I thought I should be and thus became invisible.

In retrospect this was a big mistake, and I'm glad my illness lessened the grip of this misguided notion. Jobs rob us of time and personal pursuits. Our personalities are suppressed each day we don a professional demeanor.

Near the end of my unemployment, I read an anecdote about American painter Charles Burchfield. While in ill health, he noticed a leaf that had landed upright in the neighbor's lawn and escaped fall raking. All through the winter, he monitored this leaf to see whether it had survived another day of gales and snowstorms.
"For me it has become a sort of symbol or example -- as it clings so stubbornly, so must I 'hang on' through this illness which has lasted so long. I have moments of utter despair, and then I look out and I see this little oak-leaf, my little friend. Each morning I look for it and it is always there." (letter 1957)
He made a painting of the courageous leaf. His wife later framed the leaf and hung it in his studio. When I read this story, I felt the presence of a kindered spirit.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Tweet Love

Every year thousands of people visit New York to attend the US Open. They see great tennis in a small patch of Queens.

I've lived in New York for over a decade and haven't yet visited the small patch of Queens that is the U.S. Open. Although I have played tennis and enjoyed it, it isn't something I have done recently. I was someone who would like to go to the US Open, but wasn't sufficiently motivated to spend the money on a ticket.

Then, Twitter changed its format and added a "suggested friend" window in the home page. The day this happened, I got a note that my friends were following the Beer Baron of Baltimore, and maybe I should too.

It was easy to click yes, and I did.

About two minutes later the Beer Baron of Baltimore sent me an invitation to the US Open. He had an extra all day pass and it was free.

The Beer Baron is a friend of a friend I have known since I was a teenager. We are not close, but each time I see him I like him a lot. He is a defense attorney with a great sense of humor who ran for Congress in Maryland. Now he is the liquor commissioner for the state. He dated my former best friend from high school for several years. Now he is married and has a two year old.

I hadn't seen him in about 10 years, so it could have been strange. Instead it was wonderful. We instantly bonded and had a great time. He is an enthusiast who had prepared an itinerary of all of the games he wanted to see. I had no agenda, and was eager to see what he thought would be good games. All day we manically bounced around from venue to venue in brutal 90 degree F heat to watch game after game.

It was fantastic! We caught up and shared stories. We laughed over the continual feed of liquor board emails he received from disgruntled constituents and bar owners. When they bought an apartment next to a bar did they think they had a right to close it down? Does a parent complaining about a bar sign with "ass" in it marvel about the propriety of taking their kid to a bar? What part of the liquor laws leads people to think they can expand their business to a public sidewalk after 2am?

The Beer Baron planned to go back to his hotel by 8pm, but we had so much fun we stayed through to the end.

Who knew a twitter following could go so right?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Sweet Things

There is a wonderful bakery around the corner from my apartment. It is well known in the city, and there usually is a line outside. Its reputation is deserved. They make the best banana cake!

This week I watched three young boys enter the bakery and press their faces against the glass cases. They appeared to be second graders. Instantly I could sense the joy, wonder, and anticipation they felt upon looking at all of the sweet delights. The smell in that room is intoxicating. The visuals can put one over the edge.

These boys looked like they might live in the housing project down the street. They composed the only people of color in the room. The leader inquired about the cost of a cupcake, and the reaction was disappointment. His two friends sat down with frowns. One seemed uncomfortable and eager to leave.

The leader continued to review the options and make inquires about prices. Could he buy a cupcake without frosting? Was it cheaper?

As he deliberated, one of his friends walked to the front door, opened it, stood on the threshold, spit his sunflower seeds out onto the sidewalk in a beautiful three-foot arc, and walked back to his seat.

I exchanged a look with the man enjoying a piece of cake at the adjoining table. Neither of us could suppress our laughter. This young fellow's innocent lack of propriety was positively refreshing.

Finally the leader returned to his friends. He had purchased two cupcakes. He ate one and let his two friends share the other one. All of them seemed satisfied.

I felt as if I had lived through a Norman Rockwell scene.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Event Without a Happening

This year I am grappling with a severe bleeding problem linked to uterine fibroid tumors. There is a whole cascade of events that led to this monthly hemorrhaging issue: oral contraceptives caused a blood clot that led to a pulmonary embolism that led to a year of blood thinning medication that made the bleeding worse.

I met with two surgeons in the past year in an attempt to address this problem. One lost my confidence when he failed to communicate with my hematologist, and I canceled surgery. The other suggested using a progesterone IUD until I was off of the blood thinner and able to have a safer surgery.

Fortunately, I saw my hematologist the day after a particularly bad bleeding episode which expelled the IUD. I was very weak and my INR had shot up due to the great blood loss. She insisted I have surgery as soon as possible to address this problem. For the first time that I can recall, a doctor related my inability to resolve blood disorders to this monthly bleeding problem.

The hematologist recommended a surgeon at her hospital. Everyone pushed their schedules so I could coordinate a surgery by late August. My COBRA insurance expires at the end of September.

I rushed to gather images, wean off of blood thinners, take additional blood tests, arrange to have someone pick me up the day of the procedure, notify the insurance company, and meet with the surgeon and hematologist to get clearance for surgery. I even learned how to self-inject Lovenox -- something I never thought I would be able to do. It was a lot of work.

Despite some minor drama with a persistently low iron level, anemia, and a positive D dimer test (an indicator of too much clotting material in the blood), my hematologist continued to advocate for the surgery and provided detailed instructions for addressing the clotting risk during and after the procedure.

Finally, I got clearance and went to the hospital anxious but glad that this problem would soon be resolved.

When I woke from anesthesia, I was a bit groggy and nauseous but delighted that my long odyssey was over. My dear friend showed up and we giggled as I drank ginger ale and read aloud post-op instructions to "not put things in the vagina for a week."

Then my surgeon entered the room and informed me that she had bad news. She was not able to remove the fibroid because it was too large. To get it out, a different type of surgery would have been required. There were options we needed to discuss at a later time, such as trying Lupron shots or a surgery involving an abdominal incision.

I was shocked and horrified. I would have to write a big check to pay for an unsuccessful surgery and self-inject Lovenox for the next month, yet the problem remained. Worse, I would lose my COBRA and have to resort to some crappy insurance that would probably cover a far smaller fraction of another surgery cost (if any).

Fortunately, I was too groggy to worry about these implications.

My dear friend took me home and fed me bread. I sat on the couch for an hour, and then felt like taking a walk. It was a beautiful day.

Since the operation didn't involve any cutting, I felt pretty normal. We went to the park and hit the Barney's Warehouse sale.

At least the recovery was better than expected.

Friday, August 13, 2010


My yogini friend is taking off for Mexico to teach yoga at a spa. I won't see her for a few months, so I wanted to get some time with her before she goes away. I made dinner for her in my apartment. We talked non-stop for about six hours.

The weather is pleasant, so we ventured out after eating to walk to a couple of parks in my neighborhood. To our delight, there was a fantastic salsa band playing on the High Line. A large crowd was dancing. We immediately joined them.

That's how it is with my yogini friend. Each knew the other would want to dance. We dove into the crowd without saying a word.

While dancing I noticed a very attractive man in the crowd. The music stopped and my friend asked that we hang out so she could say hello to someone she knew.

Lo and behold, it was the gorgeous man.

They exchanged greetings and talked about yoga class. He was annoyed that some of the instructors argue with their boyfriends on their cell phones before class, and then preach detachment.

At some point my friend asked him whether he was still modeling. He said he hadn't in the past year because there was a problem. Now he is just teaching yoga for a fraction of what he used to earn.

She asked what the problem was. He shook his head as if it was to complex to convey.

I touched his arm, looked in his eyes, and said "It's because you're ugly."

He's a model. He knew I was kidding, and all calmness and sincerely said, "No, its because of this problem."

He was doing a job in Columbia, and was detained by US immigration when he tried to return to the US. It took a year and a half to settle the issue. In the meantime, he couldn't get any work while in Columbia because "everyone looks like me."

I said, "Everyone looks like you in Columbia? I am moving there!"

He was slightly offended. "No! No! I am not from Columbia!" He pointed to the middle of his chest, "In Columbia, they are only this tall. I am from Argentina!"

Note to self: I must move to Argentina.

As we walked away the yogini told me he was straight. My jaw about hit the ground.

Friday, July 16, 2010

My Secret Garden

A while ago a friend told me about a private garden a block and a half from my home. One has to ask permission to visit, and somehow, this small barrier prevented me from going.

Until now.

I regret that I hesitated for so long.

Every day I look forward to packing my bag and walking to my oasis.

Beyond the heavy iron gate is a small park nestled within a city block cloister. There is a large lawn shaded by ancient trees.

A colorful border of shaggy roses, giant dahlias, butterfly bushes, crepe myrtles, heavy hydrangeas, salvia, cheery cone flowers, lavender, rose of sharon, and firework monarda surround the buildings and paths.

There are chairs on the lawn. Patio furniture is provided next to one of the buildings. Thankfully, this furniture is in the shade so it is perfect for working on my laptop.

I love flowers and trees, but I am not a gardener. The city is my favorite environment, yet I enjoy being outside. The sensation of being warmed by the Sun is something I really crave.

My apartment is hot, dark, and stuffy. Being able to work in this beautiful outdoor environment each day is a blessing. Usually there is a breeze, so it is about five degrees cooler than my home. The degree to which these visits lift my mood surprises me.

At first, I felt a bit like an intruder in the garden. There aren't many people around and those that are there tend to be quiet. But everyone I see is quite friendly and we are starting to recognize each other and nod hello.

It feels as if I finally have a bit of earth, and it was free. All I had to do was ask for permission.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


It has been a particularly brutal weather week. Every day the temperature has been in the 90s, so the air conditioning is on. But it makes little difference in a railroad apartment with little air circulation. All of the cool air sits in one room and is quickly overcome by the hot air rising from apartments three stories below.

My mermaid friend lives about 1,000 feet from the Ocean in Coney Island. She has a new boy friend in upstate New York, and travels to see him most weekends. Since she would be away a long time over the holiday weekend, she invited me to enjoy her home in her absence.

I love the fact that I can take the subway to the beach. The change in environment in such a short distance (as the crow flies) is remarkable. The air must be about 5-10 degrees cooler in Coney Island than it is in Manhattan.

At the mermaid's apartment by the water, it is even cooler. I had to wear a sweater at night.

I brought a stack of New Yorker magazines and a sack of groceries. It was great to relax and enjoy reading in the garden or on the sand.

And it was wonderful to be able to use the oven and stove to cook real food. There is a thermometer in my apartment kitchen, and it was hovering between 95-100 degrees. Even boiling water makes the kitchen intolerable. The nights at the beach were so cool I was able to roast corn in the oven!

Since I was in a place that was large enough for entertaining, I invited a few people to visit. My yogini friend was the first to accept my offer.

We met in India. She was my first room mate there, and I adore her thoroughly. She is also looking for work and having a very lean year. Lately, she has been too depressed to socialize. She almost didn't make it to the beach, but it was a blessing that she did. We had a wonderful visit.

A horrid break-up and a bad dye job had left her feeling wretched. We conversed in the garden, consulted the tarot, walked on the beach, and plotted for her to find a studio from which she could teach yoga classes.

It was as if our meeting nourished her in some way.

When we were in India, she cared for me while I was sick. Although she barely knew me, she sprang out of bed at 3am and routed through her medicine chest to find the right homeopathic remedies. I think she stayed up with me for the rest of the night. In the morning she consulted with our guide on my behalf. My choices were to stay alone in this isolated, tiny town a day's journey from a hospital or to take a grueling day-long bus ride over dirt roads to Pushkar. She got me through the bus trip.

I feel a strong bond with her.

At a time when I have little to offer, it felt marvelous to share my borrowed piece of paradise with her. She arrived agitated and sad, but she left feeling hopeful and refreshed. Her beautiful face was glowing again. She said the change in environment had a profound positive impact on her.

It really is far more satisfying to share good fortune than to hoard it. A friend helped me and I was able to help a friend. This truly makes me happy.