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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21st Century Woman

Watermelon and Ryan

I was at the grocery store on Saturday and looked hard at the watermelons that seemed so out of place on an otherwise fall evening. Still—the melons were the right color and the thunk was proper, so I grabbed one and put it in my cart anyway.

Later that night, I opened Facebook just as messages started to appear saying that a high school classmate of mine had passed away suddenly. It caught my breath. Not because it was a death, but because it was his death. He was bright and funny and kind and lovely. I didn’t even know him that well, but I knew all of those things to be true.

The next day, I found myself alone in the kitchen, quietly cutting up the watermelon. I would methodically make a slice, then will the melon to release from the rind. Meanwhile, I thought of Ryan.

There is only one vivid memory of the few I have of him: We were sitting on a stage, waiting for rehearsal to begin, and as I turned in his direction, I caught him looking longingly at a classmate. He caught me catch him. We paused, and then we laughed and looked away, embarrased.

I finished cutting the melon and put the pieces into containers in the fridge to cool. I took the rinds, now empty and somehow sacred, and placed them carefully in a bag. They were strangely beautiful even when they had been cleared of their color. Later that night I took the watermelon out of the fridge and I ate the cold pieces one by one over the sink, thinking of him.

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21st Century Woman

This is 33.

I’ve had a lot of great birthdays, but this was not one of them. A few weeks into 32, I could feel a drip, drip of dread for 33. I’ve taken birthdays as they’ve come, never giving in too much to the weight carried by certain ages and milestones, yet, somehow, the idea of 33 felt uncomfortable to me.

I remember 23 so starkly because it felt like the beginning of everything. I had just finished graduate school and had moved to the city that would become my home for the next decade. That birthday would relaunch the friendship that would eventually become a marriage. I lived in the same neighborhood as my best friend, and I started a job that made me realize it was possible to be a do-gooder and get paid for it.

In those 10 years, I’ve done a lot of things I’m proud of, and experienced more adventures than I ever thought possible. I’ve gotten to watch my friends grow and change, and pursue their dreams, and have families, and find confidence in their contributions. And best of all, I wake up every day beside the smartest person I know.

Which makes it hard to pinpoint exactly why 33 is so unsettling.

This weekend we had planned to getaway to Asheville and I hoped it would be a welcome distraction from my discomfort. Instead, Hurricane Harvey happened, and David volunteered to go assist. The weekend was cut short, and I suddenly found myself with a 10-hour drive back home, alone with my thoughts.

I filled the first few hours with podcasts and music (the rental car radio seemed to only broadcast Christian evangelists) and a steady meditation of the changing landscape, but deep into my trip I started to lose focus. About 2 hours from home—a part of the trip I know well—I found that I was more than 30 miles past a critical turn. I suddenly felt disoriented, and realized I had been traveling in a fog for the past hour. How had I missed this turn? Where was I now?

With full darkness upon me, and nary a cellphone signal in my now rural surroundings, I tried to quell the rising panic. I turned off the radio and I focused on the road ahead, searching for a literal sign. In the quiet, I could no longer ignore my internal unease.

What’s next? What’s next? What’s next? I pondered.

I had spent my whole life working towards a future I had already achieved, then I had gone on autopilot. I had stopped learning new things. I had stopped thinking ten steps ahead. I yearned for nothing because my yearning had been fulfilled. It suddenly felt as if my dreams had been too small.

I started thinking about all the things that lived far beyond the life I had imagined for myself (things too big and audacious to name) and wondered if it would be possible to reset the finish line. What would that look like? Was I ready for the inevitable steps backwards and sideways? The hurt of rejection? The hours and sweat it would require?

I wondered.

A few minutes later, I regained the scantest signal and a text message from my friend arrived eager to know if I had found my way back to the main road yet. A sign for my missed turn came into view, and I made a left towards home.

This morning I woke up to feelings that are still complicated, but somehow also attached to purpose.

So, what happens next?

To be honest, I’m not sure. And for that, I’m glad.

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