21st Century Woman

I’ve Got Mail

I usually like change. Change feels like progress, and progress feels like an adventure. But leaving New York was hard.
I won’t lie: It took me awhile to love New York in the first place—it’s smelly and crowded and expensive—but after awhile, you could see why the city has this…gravitational pull. No one on the subway looks like me and it opened my eyes to how vast and colorful America can be—not in the general sense, but in the sense that as soon as we stepped off the train, anything else we had in common might disappear. I loved that. And of course I loved the coffee shops and the theater and the long walks in city parks—all the other parts you already know about New York from the movies.
As we were contemplating this move, my adopted city was suffering. The streets looked apocalyptic. There was one day I stood in the middle of a usually busy street in Manhattan and couldn’t see a car for miles ahead or miles behind me. The planes that flew over our apartment every 6 minutes—gone. You could feel the city and its people aching, but still trying to do the most good by staying inside. By being there, by supporting local businesses, by nodding at my neighbors in solidarity, I was sharing the burden. So, like I said, leaving New York was hard.
It was especially hard to move during a pandemic. Our 15 ft Uhaul instantly became a 10 ft Uhaul because that was all that remained, and we ended up getting the very last hand truck in at least 3 boroughs. It was hot, and we were sweaty and wearing masks. And even though we moved back to a city I lived in for a decade, we were in a new neighborhood that had rapidly gentrified while we were gone and I felt disoriented.
On Monday, tired and still unpacking boxes, David suggested I go check the mail. I pulled out a handful of postcards that looked interesting, but that must surely be for the previous tenant. I turned over one and then another and then another to discover they all had my name on them.
Friends, I didn’t read them that night. I couldn’t. I was crying too hard, overwhelmed by the gesture.
They kept coming over the next few days, and finally, tonight, after my first full week back in DC, I sat down and read them all carefully. And then I cried some more. I love mail. I love postcards. I love the people who send them. And I love you all for taking the time to make me feel so welcome in my new/old home.
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21st Century Woman

Sunday in New York

The city is like poetry: it compresses all life, all races and breeds, into a small island and adds music and the accompaniment of internal engines. The island of Manhattan is without any doubt the greatest human concentrate on earth, the poem whose magic is comprehensible to millions of permanent residents but whose full meaning will always remain elusive.”
E.B. White, Here Is New York

If you ask me, the most spectacular view in all of New York can be seen from the Brooklyn Bridge. This is ironic, of course, given my extreme fear of heights and anything associated with heights (like bridges, or mountains, or Ferris wheels), but it’s true nonetheless. On a good day, the sky is blue and the water sparkles, and the skyline is so magnificent that it will make you believe in an America that doesn’t actually exist.

But that’s the god’s eye view of New York—the one that only exists for those who can’t see the city for what it really is, a complicated collection of streets and stories and histories and garbage…so much garbage. If you could levitate to the West side of Manhattan, you would see that everyone has spilled out into the parks to have their picnics, their family reunions, their daughter’s quinceanera. They have brought their grills and balloons and boomboxes, and the musical cacophony is so great as to be indistinguishable. They will carry on like this until the late hours of 11, midnight, even one am. And if it rains, they will huddle under trees and wait it out, knowing the sun will return and they will dry off. Their resiliency is admirable.

And if you were to pick up again and fly over to Brooklyn in the early hours of a Sunday morning, you would see the Hasdic men with their hats and payot and black coats. You could follow them for a long while and still never see them “arrive” anywhere. If you keep moving, you’ll find yourself in Prospect Park, which at this hour is just a haven for dogs and their people. Hundreds of dogs sprint on a wide open field, and they are the happiest they will ever be in their lives—at least until next weekend, anyway.

You could lift off again and travel just one block or a maybe a hundred, and you would find a scene that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. That’s Sunday in New York.

After today, there are just two Sundays left for us in New York, for now anyway. While my job remains remote through the end of the year, David’s job has called him back to DC to assist with planning for the next version of these life-altering events. The two-city life we’ve been living for the past few years doesn’t make sense under those circumstances, so we are packing up our things and returning to the District for awhile. We’ll be taking over a lease in NoMa from someone else who is coming to terms with their own version of “doesn’t make sense anymore.” It’s next to the NPR headquarters, which even for me is a bit too on the nose.

We both decided it made sense not to return to Adams Morgan, a place we loved and lived for so long. That was a different life, and to return would be pretending like New York never happened.

“…like New York never happened” is so uncomfortable to think about that I don’t think I will.

I didn’t write much here for the last few months, because what could I say? I couldn’t say that living in the epicenter of the coronavirus was so surreal that I’m not sure I’ve even processed it yet. I couldn’t say that we watched people take a shit behind a tree in the park because there were no public bathrooms left anymore. I couldn’t say that the drug dealers on our block became so bold that they cut a hole in the bumper of our car so they could stash their drugs there. I couldn’t say that we watched the park across the street become a sort of Hamsterdam, or that so many addicts lay motionless on the sidewalk in the mornings that you eventually just assumed at least one among them might be dead. I couldn’t tell you how much it hurt to see people with paper masks and holes in their gloves picking up groceries for people situated safely in their apartments. I couldn’t tell you how much I judged people for not accepting the risks themselves, and how one night I cried so hard over the inequality of it that I made myself sick. I couldn’t tell you that we watched the protests from one street over because our jobs wouldn’t allow us to join. I couldn’t say that walking through an empty Times Square is so strange that you will pinch yourself to make sure its real. And I couldn’t tell you how hard it was to stay in the same 600 square feet all the time, even with the person you love.

I couldn’t tell you about the good stuff either. Like how grateful I was to have a roof deck I could sit on alone for hours. That our neighbors looked out for us (as much as people can from behind their doors). That we could buy a car that would allow us to safely eject to the middle of the woods when one more minute inside would be the end of things. For Manhanttanville, which we visited almost every day for 4 months, and for The Grange, and Oso, and Frijolitos, and Harlem Public for figuring out how to safely stay open for the neighborhood. I couldn’t tell you that I’m grateful to live in a city that has invested in parks and green spaces that are available to every single damn person regardless of how much money they have. I couldn’t say that drinking iced coffee in the East Village after the peak of the first wave felt more exotic than traveling anywhere in the world. I couldn’t tell you that riding a bike along the Hudson on a Sunday in May was what heaven looks like, I’m sure of it. I couldn’t tell you about the inherent solidarity with those who stayed in New York—the unspoken sense of having survived something together. And I couldn’t tell you how often I would just look across the table at David and think, “We’re alive. We’re alive. We’re alive.”

A long time ago, long before I lived here myself, I remember telling a friend that it must be strange living anywhere else after living in New York—the world must feel smaller and less interesting. I still think it must.

See you soon, DC.

 

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21st Century Woman

Vignettes

I am convinced there is a psychopath in my neighborhood. About once a week, I stumble on the body of a bird or mouse, in the middle of the sidewalk in front of the same building.

This is not a bird that has flown into a window, or rat that has eaten poison, these are bodies left there, usually smashed.

And when it’s not a full bird, it’s the wings of a bird, its bony protrusions exposed.


I’ve started wearing earplugs on the train.

One of first things I noticed when I moved to New York was the almost unbearable cacophony of the subways. Prolonged exposure seemed impossible, and forget headphones—to hear anything over the sound of squeals and the stops and the breaks meant listening at full volume.

So, the earplugs.

Overtime, I’ve come to appreciate and even depend on the earplugs. If I happen to have a book or magazine to read, I find myself more deeply invested in the story when my earplugs are in. And overall, it decreases my interest in being on my phone—the rare chance to turn down both the physical and emotional noise. Kids are fascinated by them and often point them out to their parents.

Sometimes I miss the anonymous chatter of my fellow passengers, but mostly I don’t.


The other day I had my earplugs in and had zoned out in such a way as to have achieved a sort of commuter zen—not oblivious enough to miss your stop, but impervious to the usual indignities of the ride.

With a sort of semi-consciousness, I realized a woman, a panhandler begging for change, had gotten on my car. This is not unusual, especially during the morning commute, and I admit, a little callously, to often reviewing their appeals for rhetorical effect.

But today the earplugs were in and I could not hear her tale, so I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing.

A moment later, I began to feel the people on either side of me twitch. I opened my eyes to see them covering their noses, their faces green.

And that’s when it hit me—the potent smell of urine.

I looked toward the woman making her way down the train car. The seat of her pants were stained and wet—today’s situation was not a recent or first phenomenon.

The smell was overwhelming. I started to gag and tried to push against the reflex, which felt somehow disrespectful. I watched others trying to do the same—to discreetly cover their nose and their mouth. Others had fewer concerns about propriety and opened the door to the next train car to seek out fresher air.

But most of us just sat still, collectively begging for the next train station to appear so we could have options.

And then the train came to a stop. Held between stations. They would let us know when we had been given the signal to proceed.

And then the desire for propriety ended. Gag reflexes do not have manners.

People pushed to get away from the woman, who was still on the car, asking for spare change. And they breathed into shirts or hands or scarves—anything to filter the smell.

It seemed we were on the verge of panic when the train lurched forward again and people paused to decide whether they could hold out for the station.

Never has a train pulled in more slowly to its destination.

And how funny we must have looked spewing from the car, gasping for air.

I looked down the platform to see the woman moving to the next car, counting her change.


Walking down the streets on July 4th. Every 10-15 steps there is another family with another grill. Chairs. Bottles. Kids with sidewalk chalk. A worn set of dominoes. Uno cards.

And a boombox.

Every 10-15 steps, a new song. Always in Spanish. A strange, urban orchestra both at odds and completely in sync.


We go up to the roof hoping to catch the fireworks—the big ones, down by the Brooklyn Bridge. But even from our vantage point, on top of a building, on top of a hill, the fireworks sit too low, too close to the waterfront over 8 miles away.

Before we can turn away, other fireworks begin to spring up all around us. Over there in Inwood. And across the Hudson in Jersey too. And at 125th. And now two streets over at 134th. And is that Central Park?

There are so close they feel like stars are falling on us.

Pink and gold and green and blue.

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21st Century Woman

A Change of Location

Like many of you, I’m spending less time on Facebook these days. That means I’ll eventually stop sharing updates about about these posts on my Facebook page too. If you want to continue reading what I write here, you can sign up to receive the latest posts by email below, or add this blog to your favorite RSS reader.



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21st Century Woman

5 Ways to Drink More Water

I’ve written extensively about my challenges with drinking enough water, and the fact that, at times, my dehydration has been intense enough to land me in the hospital with an IV drip. This year I decided to get it under control.

For awhile, I used sparkling water as a crutch, but I noticed it made my teeth sensitive, and I wasn’t necessarily feeling more hydrated anyway. Same for flavor enhancers—the red dye in Crystal Light made my kidneys ache.

No, it was time to take the problem head-on. Here’s how I’ve made it work.

Chug it.

I might be drinking more water, but that doesn’t mean I like it. I treat it like medicine: unwelcome, but necessary. The first thing I do every morning is chug a glass of water. The last thing I do before bed, is chug a glass of water. Boom, two glasses out of the way.

Switch from plastic to glass.

By far the biggest change for me was realizing I enjoyed water more if it was in a glass container. I realized that drinking from plastic often meant drinking water that had assumed the tastes or smells of what was in the container before. Moving exclusively to glass containers helped make sure that the water itself is the only variable.

Find a container you enjoy.

I hated carrying around unwieldy plastic bottles or travel mugs that seemed designed to spill whatever was inside. At the intermission for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I overpaid for a bottle of sparkling water at intermission. What I found was that I really loved the lightweight and minimalist design of the bottle itself—especially how easily it slipped into any bag. I continued re-washing and re-using the bottle for months, and when I inevitably left it somewhere by accident, I just stopped by a CVS and picked up a new one for $3.

Make other drinks the reward.

I realized the thing that was standing between me and what I really wanted was my water consumption, so I turned other beverages into the reward. Want a coffee in the morning? Gotta drink a glass of water to get it. Dreaming about wine with dinner? Go chug some agua first.

Know that the type of water matters.

Not all water is created equal. For me, the water at our office tastes metallic; water stations at airports smell like toilet water; and all electron-infused waters fall flat in my mouth. Maybe you need triple filtered water to make it tolerable or maybe your local tap works. Try a lot of waters, find what works for you, and then build it into your routine.

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21st Century Woman

Tabula Rasa

2018 was a weird year, and really the only efficacious way to see it out the door was to start with a tabula rasa, or blank slate. I cleaned out all the tabs on my phone and on my computer and I present the best of them here for you.

Politics and Culture

Embrace the Christmas Miracle That Is Mannheim Steamroller (The New Yorker)

The Best Damn Stories About The South (The Bitter Southerner)

Snowing in Greenwich Village (The New Yorker)

A Tour of Lady Liberty’s Torch (New York Times)

Letter of Recommendation: Recently Returned Booked (New York Times)

The Lie of Little Women (The Atlantic)

Love City: 24 Hours of Romance, Lust and Heartache in New York (New York Times)

They’re just looking for a chance to live safely. (The Nib)

Self Improvement

On Taking a “Depth Year” (Raptitude)

Be Gracious. (Esquire)

15 Minute Bodyweight Workout (Outside)

My Church is Crossfit. (Vox)

The Science of Sleep (National Geographic)

The Best Glutes Exercises (Outside)

Life and Death

The First Time I Saw a Dead Body (The Nib)

Dear Baby Witch (R.KV.R.Y Quarterly)

Aging Ghosts in the Skincare Machine (Unruly Bodies, Medium)

The Woman Who Cared for Hundreds of Abandoned Gay Men Dying of AIDS (Arkansas Times)

I’ll Miss Coffee When I Die (Electric Lit)

Trigger Warning: This article looks closely at cadavers—specifically that of Susan Potter, who donated her body to a unique scientific project –> Visible Human: Susan Potter (National Geographic)

Green Burials: Thinking Outside the Coffin (New York Times)

Food

How Breadmaking Got Me Through My Divorce (Catapult)

19 Veg-Friendly Party Snacks (Naturally Ella)

Roasted Apple & Fennel Salad With Toasted Hazelnuts & Goat Cheese (Food 52)

Thomas Keller’s Bread Pudding (Food 52)

Roasted Delicata Squash with Honey Butter and Pistachios (Naturally Ella)

Charlie Bird’s Farro Salad (New York Times)

Extra Crispy Roasted Potatoes (Serious Eats)

Persian Jeweled Rice (New York Times)

30-Minute Aromatic Poached Cod (Cooking Light)

Peanut Butter Cheerio Bars (Half Baked Harvest)

6 ingredient vegan chocolate chia mousse (Half Baked Harvest)

Peanut Sesame Slaw with Soba Noodles (Cookie and Kate)

Green Bean Salad with Fried Almonds (Smitten Kitchen)

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21st Century Woman

This is 34.

I don’t know how to love things at a chill level and I have no interest in learning. Give me enthusiasm or give me death.

– Rosianna Rojos

One morning I sat on a crowded subway car next to a man who was sweating profusely. He looked around nervously and kept touching the handles of the bag between his feet.

I’ve lived in urban areas long enough not to panic, but to simply observe. I silently pondered whether this was something or nothing, and with it, the consequences of it being something or nothing.

If this is it, I thought, if this is the moment of truth, what would it mean to leave this all behind?

At 34, by all accounts, I am well-lived.

I have a loving family, a centered relationship, good friends.

I have traveled to far-off places. I have studied big ideas. I live in what many would call the greatest city, in the greatest country, in the world.

I am privileged beyond words.

If this were the end, no one could doubt I had a full life.

At 34, though, I feel undone, still unfinished in the ways that matter to me.

If this were the end, I would doubt I had led an effective life.

The train came to a stop. The man got off. The question remained.

At 34, I am trying to come to terms with those contradictions. To have ticked the boxes of our collective standards, but to feel so unaccomplished by my own.

I have no aspirations for fame or immortality. I only desire to approach the world with curiosity and reckless enthusiasm; to be firm in my resolve, and just in my action.

At 34, I am delirious with gratitude.

I eat peaches with abandon.

I am finally learning the capitals of all 195 countries.

I see movies that fill me with deep joy and read books that make me uncomfortable.

I marvel and groan at the way my aging body shape-shifts under me.

I cuddle babies and breathe in their pretty smells.

At 34, I constantly observe other people in the middle of their lives, and I find that I love them so much I think my heart will burst.

At 34, I find am still filled with self-doubt and anxious insecurities.

At 34, I still wear my heart on my sleeve. An unkind word is seared into my memory, sharp and unforgiving forever.

At 34, I am painfully shedding expectations—and people and plans—and holding the things left behind all the tighter.

At 34, I acknowledge the courageousness it took to make the choices—tough, sometimes unconventional choices—that led me here.

At 34, I fall more in love with my partner, with the perfect crinkles around his eyes, and the way he makes himself laugh.

At 34, I mourn the things lost by living so far away from the people I love—the Sunday dinners, the unplanned coffee, the catfish fries. I celebrate the independence and self-reliance it has given me instead.

At 34, I wake up and remind myself to try something new today—with curiosity and reckless enthusiasm.

This is 33.

This is 32.

This is 31.

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21st Century Woman

One Perfect Day

You open your eyes—but just barely.

After days and days of rain, there is a perfect sunrise outside your window, so you hit snooze and just bathe in it for awhile.

You get up and dress for how you feel, which is righteous and made of steel, and even though you have already walked out the front door, you double back and change shoes, because you don’t deserve to be anything but comfortable today.

On your way to the subway you realize the summertime-in-New-York-City garbage smell is there…but only faintly…and gosh, is this what regular air smells like?

Your train ride feels like it’s over in a moment because you’re deep in thought, and even though there is that guy acting suspicious (although what does suspicious even mean in New York anyway?) you decide to let it go, because if this is going to be the day you depart this Earth, it seems like a pretty good one.

The sunshine has sated your appetite and for the first time in your life you don’t start your morning with a carb or even a coffee–it begins with a glass of water. And the funny thing is, even though you’ve hated water your whole life, you don’t mind it today.

You open your inbox and it’s rainbows and good news.

That partner said yes.

The project is a go.

The script you co-wrote slayed.

You look up from your computer at your colleagues who are busy making beautiful, wonderful things, and you marvel at how fucking talented they are.

And then you email some other people expecting they will have forgotten about this thing that is due, but they haven’t, and here it is, and it’s so damn good.

It’s lunch time, so you walk around SoHo, beautiful, cinematic SoHo, and you decide to try a new place, but the salad is lackluster, and the soup is sour. Honestly though, it doesn’t even matter, because there is a pack of peanut M&M’s waiting at your desk anyway. You have another water.

Later, you go to that meeting with a lot of senior people, including those women you admire. At one point they turn to you to ask how the delivery of the project is going, and you realize you are the one with the answers, and though the imposter syndrome (#patriarchy) will never go away, for today, it has been vanquished.

Your phone blinks and it’s a friend sending you a poem that made her think of you, and how lucky are you to have friends who read poetry? And how lucky are you to be remembered?

Then, before you know it, it’s the end of the day and you’re shrugging off your introverted tendencies to meet a new person who might also become a future friend. Who knows?  Today anything is possible.

And then it’s getting late and even though you’re 57 blocks from home, you decide, fuck it, why waste this beautiful night underground? So you grab a bike and ride along Riverside Drive as the sun is setting and turning into twilight.

And your legs are pumping, working to shed their winter lethargy.

And the blinking light on your bike is keeping synced with your heartbeat.

And the motion of the waves is hypnotic.

And the light on the water is so perfect you think your heart will break into a thousand pieces.

And you pass the people who are out for a night stroll.

And you pass the people in love on their picnic blankets.

And you pass the people sitting so close to the water they seem to hope it will rise and just carry them away.

And then it’s dark and you haven’t seen anyone on the trail for a little while, which is a little scary, but also thrilling.

And then the wind catches your dress and it flies up around your waist, and you laugh, because, thankfully, no one is there to see your underwear selection.

Your neighborhood comes into view—it’s the one with blinking signs and unsightly billboards—but you don’t mind because it’s yours.

You park your bike, and you climb up the hill, and you smile at everyone, this lone white woman with wild and shining eyes.

You turn the corner onto your street and people have brought folding chairs out onto the sidewalk, and they have an old boombox playing music you can’t understand.

And you realize that this is a perfect day.

And you realize that this is the start of summer in New York.

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21st Century Woman

Six Years

I said:

I promise to dream big with you forever. (We have.)
I promise to initiate adventures. (I do, with proper planning of course.)
I promise to look more like Michele Obama instead of Laura Bush (Still working on that.)
I promise to always protect you from Muppets, particularly Kermit the Frog (Always.)

He said:

I promise you a life full of exploration. (Check.)
I promise you a life rich in experiences. (Gratitude.)
I promise that my love will always be unconditional. (Always.)
And I promise your cold toes will always have a place under my legs. (They do.)

6 years of everything and it’s just the start. Love you.

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21st Century Woman

A Change of Address

 

“One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.” – Tom Wolfe

On Christmas Day, David and I packed up a U-Haul and moved to New York.

There was little public fanfare around the decision or the act, partially because timing, and partially because I felt a little numb.

I had lived in Washington, DC for almost a decade and my geography had in many ways shaped my identity. As I walked along familiar streets in our neighborhood and indulged in “last times” at favorite spots, I still couldn’t fully imagine extracting myself from this place.

Yet, like it had for many people, the year had taken its toll on me. The fraught political climate had made me tense and angry. I was emotionally bankrupt from working at a job I despised. My best friend was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer.

Remember that scene in Neverending Story? Yeah, my year had been like that—dark as hell.

And so, we called it. We packed up our things, hugged our landlords/surrogate parents goodbye, and headed north.

Now, I find myself rediscovering what it means to be a local again.

We found an incredible apartment in Harlem; one entire side is made up of sunny windows that look down on a park. We marvel at the quantity of bodegas around us. We hunt for new coffeeshops. We sign up for library cards. We ponder how long it will take us to learn enough Spanish so that we can speak with our neighbors, or maybe not speak, but to at least listen, which seems like the more New Yorker thing to do anyway.

On New Years Eve, we stood on a frigid roof deck watching fireworks blossom around the Empire State Building some 5 miles away, and we fell a little in love.

I don’t ask the city to be a magical balm, but even in this season of intense cold, I feel a little bit of the numbness melting away. And for now, that will do.

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