First night in Greenpoint

This is just a quick one to say that I am really, really happy right now. Please remind me of this next time I forget.


I found an old journal that I kept from summer 2003-summer 2004 while packing. It's a great record of a trip to Ireland, a year in Clermont-Ferrand, and then three weeks on a farm in Italy. There are so many sections that I love re-reading, but here's one that I'd forgotten from June 11, 2003:

"This afternoon I understood why I had to come to Ennis [Ireland]. The man that I wrote about struck up a conversation with me- he's a monk, born in England... then came here, where he lives in a small village 30 miles north of here. His name is Patrick and whoah, he was interesting.

We talked for about an hour about how people understand each other, religion, etc. He said love is wanting someone else to be happy and I forget how he defined compassion, but he did. He also said that it's important to know emptiness, not in a bad way, but in a way like when you dream something and then wake up and it's not there. He said perspective is like 2 people on two ends of a candle; one argues that the flame bends to the right, another that the flame bends to the left."


[Insert life metaphor here]

I'm packing. Even when I'm at work, even when I'm on the subway, I'm packing. I'm making lists in my head, imagining which furniture should be moved in what order, debating which clothes I really need to keep. I'm packing; for this week, it's not an act, but a way of life.

Last night I attacked my desk and as I was sifting through the top drawer, I found an insane amount of useful items. Scotch tape! Sharpie markers! Gum! As I pulled apart the drawer, I remembered when I'd organized it a year ago, making sure to put everything in its place.

But you know what happens when you put everything in it's place? YOU DON'T USE IT. You forget you have it. The least organized parts of my desk were the parts that I use the most- checkbooks and airmail stamps and an envelope of upcoming concert tickets were thrown in haphazardly.

One small plastic box makes my point quite nicely. I stumbled across it, filled with the buttons and extra thread you get with sweaters these days, and literally gasped out loud. In all the packing, I'd set aside a couple of billion buttons that have been floating around the room aimlessly for the past year. "I should put these in an envelope or something," I thought to myself just the other night. Turns out, I'd already solved the problem months ago, but had since forgotten.

Let me say that again: I'd already solved the problem, but had since forgotten.

How often do we encounter problems and not recognize that we've already done the work to solve them? What prevents us from keeping those solutions close at hand and using them as tools, instead of marking them 'complete' and shoving them on a shelf to gather dust until we retrieve them?

I found a drawer full of solutions that were too organized to be accessible. I feel sure that part of the problem was that the sheer volume of crap in the drawers made me reluctant to even go through them and maybe that's a first step in being better about organization. When there's less noise, you can better see what you're looking for... and you don't have to strain your eyes to find it.

One more metaphorical vote for Hibernation '08, check.


Believers, or not.

"Excuse me... I see something in your aura."

I'd already stopped during the ellipses to help her, thinking she needed directions. When the second half of her sentence drops, I am still smiling my helpful smile, now unsure how to proceed.

"I see something in your aura," she repeats.

"Oh." What is the appropriate response to such a statement?

"Have you ever seen a psychic?"

"I... no."

"Please take this." She takes a small flyer out of her bag and hands it to me, then looks me in the eye. "Keep a smile on your face and your secrets to yourself. Call me when you need me." Then she walks away.

What a stunning sham! I am the perfect target, of course, all wide-eyed and orange-coated, wandering through Union Square on a Tuesday evening, visions of adopting kittens in my eyeballs. I'm also ever so slightly superstitious and I'll admit to you that the only reason I haven't ever gone to a psychic for fun is because I'm deathly afraid of the whole "self-fulfilling prophecy" thing.

Keep my secrets to myself! How very dramatic. What secrets? In typical fashion, the mind reels through the files, rifling through Middle School un-avowed crushes and online banking passwords. That's all there is to my secrets, a sad fact that begs a New Year's Resolution for 2009: Be more mysterious. Maybe also: Wear more heels.

I know this is what she says to everyone. I am insanely aware of the hook, the line, the fact that my aura (should it exist), doesn't have something "in it" just because she said so. But! What if! Does that mean that my aura should be cleansed? Or is it a positive thing to have something in your aura? Come to think of it, I was feeling a little stuffy this morning when I woke up...

In the end, THAT's really where Tiffany the psychic gets you- when you've gone so far down the aura discussion path that you aren't even debating its existence anymore. Instead, you're wondering what color it is. And how many Yoga hours you have to log before you can see it yourself.


Yesterday, en route to the Post Office

"How many passport photos do you need?"
"Two, please. Is that the camera you're going to use?"
"Yes, that's the one."
"Can you tell me where to look? Because last time I did this, the guy wasn't very specific, and I look pretty ridiculous in my passport, and you know, I'm just concerned because passports stay with you for ten years!"
"Really? Ten years?"
"Yep, last time I got a passport, I was 17."
"Ok miss, smile."
"Wait, where do I-"


Ten new years of travel with a side of awkward smiling, coming up. Sigh.



"Were you out running this morning?"
"Yeah, I'm training for that 10k..."
"How did it go?"
"Pretty good, actually... I think it helps that I went to bed at 9:30."

This evolution is strange. Yesterday, inspired by this 10k training program (I'd used the 5k to prepare for last Sunday's race), I poked around the sports shop near work and brought home two 5lb free weights and a green jump rope. $18.45 invested in preparation. The thought crossed my mind as I swiped my credit card: "I wonder at what point these will get donated to charity, donate-able from lack of use."

Then this morning I ran a loop, all the way down Court Street and back up Smith. Not much was open, though shopkeepers hurled up their heavy gates as I jogged into my second mile. The air was chilly and though it's polluted, it feels cleaner to breathe pre-8am.

"I can do this for 8 weeks," I thought. "It's almost nice to be awake so early, to see the city in its groggy state."

It's as if I still don't believe this running is my hobby, that I've borrowed it from someone else for a while, that I'll give it back as soon as they need it. I'm still on training schedules, still holding tightly to race deadlines for motivation. Running is not a pleasure yet; rather, it's an obligation.

We all have to eat our vegetables.

"Yeah, you didn't have to drag yourself out of bed."
"Exactly. And also, it was only 2.5 miles. It didn't seem like such a high number."
"Sounds pretty high to me!"
"Ha, well three months ago, it was high for me too."


Brooklyn Newsletter: Month Ten

Dear Brooklyn,

When I look back at this month, I want to remember one thing: this was the month of finally getting my shit together. A friend from work sent a few of us a video about doing what you're really passionate about, and as I watched it, I could feel myself getting really anxious. I was completely in agreement with the guy's energy and motivation, but I wasn't quite sure in which direction I should focus it. And then, as if by merely asking myself the question "What do you really want to do?" the answer came tumbling out, clear as day.

I want to write a book.

This is clearly the lamest thing to type of all time. Everybody and their mother want to write a book. Jessica Simpson wrote a book. It doesn't seem to require genius these days to get something published if you're a celebrity. I imagine the story is a bit different for those of us Joe Six-Packs. Writing a book and publishing a book are two different beasts, however, and while I'd like very much to publish a book, I think I should start with the writing of one. You know, the whole cart before the horse syndrome.

So I move to Greenpoint on November 1 and ever since I saw that video, I realized that this move is an opportunity for great change. It's an opportunity to shift gears, to refocus energies, to finally *do* what I've been talking about for years. And guys, I'm pretty freaking scared. I'm scared that I will wake up early the first day and sit in front of the blank computer screen in my bathrobe and nothing will come out. I'm scared that it will all sound like crap. I'm scared that I will lose motivation and start sleeping in and I'm terrified of NOT doing what I really want to do. Because I'm not sure what to do with broken dreams- that's not really my territory.

The past few weeks have been filled with two main themes: winding down my social life and getting it out of my system. I was in a wedding! I reunited with Muhlenberg '03 people at our 5-year reunion! I went to the NYer festival! I ran in my first 5k! I walked stray dogs again! But simultaneously, I've stopped agreeing to social plans past November 1. My calendar (except for that little trip to MOROCCO with la hermana) is wide open for the winter so far, a fact that is both comforting and terrifying all at once.

It's hard to stop being the social one, particularly when it defines who I am to so many of the people I know. But I'm pretty exhausted from 'putting myself out there,' and there's another part of myself that needs evolution- one that needs a bit of quiet to be coaxed out. Will winter hibernation be a massive failure and produce a soppy mess of a Jen? Or will it be just what the doctor ordered?

I guess we're going to freakin' find out. Life is like that.

xo Jen


Reaching out.

"So do you get back to Russia often?"
"Well, I've been here for 6 months and I've been back twice... I'm going again at the end of October."
"Wow! How long will you be going for?"
"Well, I usually try to take a Friday and a Monday."
"Wait. You go to Russia for the WEEKEND?"
Katerina (from Spanish class) laughs. "Yeah, I know. But I plan a lot for the time I'm there. Like, I get my haircut at my normal place and see the doctor or dentist if I need to."
"Holy crap- you go to Russia for a HAIRCUT!"
"Well, I went for my birthday because it was soon after I got here and I didn't know anybody... you know, it's not really how you want to spend your birthday."
"Do me a favor. Take my number. Call me if you need anything in this country; I completely understand."


Best foot forward.

This morning Zaki called me from the lobby of the building where I work. He had 25 minutes before he needed to get a train up to Yorktown; he leaves tomorrow for Africa, where he'll live for 6 weeks before he moves to an island in Indonesia for a year to help build a country's economy via microfinance. We'd seen each other early this summer, both with very different immediate lives imagined for ourselves, and now here we are, early October, him headed to Malawi and me to Greenpoint.
* * *

"You do such cool stuff," Dave said to me this weekend, as we talked about life the night before the race. We were talking about my upcoming trip to Morocco or my Spanish lessons, I forget. I thought a lot about what he said on my train ride back to the city.
Here's the truth: I do "cool stuff" because I'm lucky enough to know other ambitious people who do "cooler stuff" than me. Spending time with my friends who are dreamers, with Katie who might go work on a boat this winter, or with Erica who's running around the volcanoes in Clermont, or with my sister who takes vacations in the Ivory Coast.

The ambition rubs off. I'm serious.
* * *

"So this week, the question that we're all thinking about is 'when are we at our best?" Zaki explained a 30-week long reflective quest he and a few friends are involved in. "I do best in small groups, when I'm out there managing a project in another country," he continued.

It got me thinking about when I'm at my best. When do I feel most proud of myself or most energetic about what I'm doing? (Side note: listen to this song to capitalize on understanding the relationship between being "really fucking on" and "the lows [that] are so extreme").

The answer to this question isn't easy, but it gets at the heart of what I think people should think about more often. When are you truly at your best? And why aren't you doing more of it?

* * *

As I write this, I can hear Obama's voice coming from the TV in the living room. Tonight is the second presidential debate. The economy is falling apart (and causing other economies to follow suit); meanwhile, one of the VP candidates treats the scenario as if she's guest starring in an episode of Howdy Doody. Frankly, it's insulting.

Let's not put stupid people in positions to solve difficult problems. It seems as simple as that. Obama '08.


"Please cheer louder, I need to hear you."

So there was this moment today during the race, a little less than halfway through the course, when we were passing groups of spectators and they were all sort of standing around watching us run past. Every once in a while they would clap a few times and then stop. And I thought: "Please cheer louder, I need to hear you."

This became a mantra, something I repeated in my head for the next few minutes or so, and as the running got tougher, the more I craved someone cheering me on. For anyone who has ever been a spectator, know this: THE CHEERING HELPS. It is the only thing that helps. At the moment when you are pissed to know you're only halfway done and wishing you'd trained a bit more, the only thing that helps is having people yell the cheesiest shit in your direction.

Clearly there's no need to dot the i's and cross the t's on this metaphor; running and living are literary soulmates.

Long story short, I finished the race. I held it together (despite a last-minute panic over leaving my iPod at home and borrowing Dave's iPhone) and finished in 30 minutes, 24 seconds. And when I crossed the finish line and people handed me water and bananas and granola bars, I kind of fell apart for 2 minutes; it was a really overwhelming feeling to feel like you clawed your way through something you never thought you could.

Overwhelming and awesome.