Learning to Run

People often refer to me as “The Redhead,” but in pre-school, I was a blonde. The kind of golden-streaked blonde you’d associate with a child who spent her free afternoons outside frolicking in the sunshine. I wasn’t that kind of blonde.  No, my toddler-age blonde locks were either simply explained by “it’s her first head of hair,” or a recessive Aryan gene that wouldn’t show itself again until my teen years when I developed the kind of tree-trunk like legs I can only associate with those German Recklings  who, I’m sure, also had names like Heidi and Gertrude.

No one gave me this lesson
No one gave me this lesson

I was just never one of those kids who got a thrill out of running around outside.

The pre-school I attended had a playground nestled on the base of a huge, steep hill. Sitting in the sandbox, the grassy slope looked like it stretched straight up to the sky. When I go back now, I think I need a climbing harness to scale it. When my classmates and I were 4, all we needed was our lunchtime chocolate milk. We’d joyfully trek to the top, our teachers huffing and puffing behind. I realize now that they only allowed us to do this because recess was immediately followed by nap time and what better way to tire children out than let them climb up Mt. Everest, without oxygen. Once at the summit, we’d let loose and run, at full speed back to the bottom.

It only took one misplaced step and a badly grass-burned knee for me to realize this was a terrible way to have fun.

Long and short of it, running didn’t suit my build. I was bottom heavy and plump. Plus it caused injuries. But my tumble and the subsequent gauze bandage flicked on a light switch. Why run down the hill when you can roll down a hill?

As a rotund child, trying to power my legs in coordinated circular motions at high-speed seemed inefficient. Rolling, on the other hand, was just a simple case of transferring my weight from one side of my body to the other, in the same direction. Something I did on a regular basis, like when I was getting out of bed. Gravity would take care of the rest. All I had to do was steer away from the occasional rock and keep my eyes closed.

This must have been how the cavemen discovered the wheel: they pushed the fat kid down the hill and watched him roll.

The truth was I hated running. Relay races were the bane of my existence. The only reason I batted clean-up in Little League was that I had learned that if I hit a homerun, I wouldn’t need to outrun a throw to first. In fact, if I hit a homerun, I wouldn’t have to run the bases at all – I could quickly stroll around them. I hit a lot of homeruns. I also walked a lot. I guess you could say my distaste for running helped me develop a “good-eye.”

Running suicides really was suicide for me, and the Presidential Fitness Test’s Mile Run usually put me under for a week — even if I was relatively sporty.

But then came life as a Division 1 Collegiate Athlete.

In college, I seemed to find my legs as a runner. I’d wake up and hit Riverside Park before class. I wasn’t fast, but I had endurance. It was part of my cross-training between competitive seasons. And when I was having a rough stretch in class or in my social life, I’d hit the road and let my legs go until I thought they’d fall off. Running became a way to clear my head and heal emotional wounds. I became rather good at it.

I can’t run anymore. A sport-related accident makes running painful again and to my inner-4-year old’s surprise, I miss it.

On the up side, I can still roll down a hill, carelessly, and joyfully.

panda!

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Giving Up the Gun, Or What the Psychic Said

Once upon a time, I impulsively dropped $75 on tarot card readings.

That’s right, in an 18 hour period, 2 different psychics had their way with me and the entire contents of my wallet.  What, in God’s name, was I thinking?

At the time, I was broke, uninsured, verging on broken-hearted, and in serious need of a disinterested 3rd party’s reassurance that “Everything will be alright.”

I just didn’t plan to lose $75 for that reassurance. Luckily, neither psychic really told me what I wanted to hear.

The first reading happened at night, in the back of a French restaurant on red leather couches outside the restrooms. The psychic, (a man!), didn’t want to waste any time on assessing my career. After a flash reading, he determined there were no uncertainties there. I knew what I wanted, and it was only a matter of “when,” not if I ‘d get it. He looked at me sideways. “Tell me about the guy… he’s been around a while hasn’t he?”

Caught.

I quickly related the story of the guy I met as a freshman in college, became best friends with, and accidentally and mistakenly fell madly in love with. After 7 years and dozens of close encounters, we were toying with the idea of becoming something more.

My psychic dealt the cards and though he slowly deciphered their placement and relation, he quickly painted an accurate portrait of the relationship between me and HIM. The slow build up. The intellectual underpinnings. The unbalanced emotions (“he’s the one that has all the feeling”). The punchline? Drop him. “You’ll have a long and stable romance, but you’ll lose something of yourself,” the psychic said. “If you leave him behind, as in drop him entirely from your life, you’ll get everything you really want.”

While I was less than satisfied the less than specific assurance about my career, I was devastated by the suggestion to drop the love of my life (up until then.) So of course, I sought a second opinion…

The next day I met my girl AB for lunch at Crema, a nouveau Mexican place on 17th street in the heart of Chelsea. In those days, Chelsea was still the original Hell’s Kitchen, home to the most beautiful beef-cake gay men and flamboyant drag queens. Crossing the street was the equivalent of perusing a visual candy store… but it was not the place to pick-up straight men making it the perfect neighborhood for a girls-only girl date.

It only took one bite of our flautas and 2 margaritas for me to convince her that we needed to have our palms read across the street, under the neon glow of a giant sign that screamed PHSYSIC. That day Madame was offering a deal: free palm reading with tarot.

I honestly can’t remember what she told me — she may have promised I’d meet my soul mate before the end of the summer or that I’d have a job offer tomorrow — but I do remember AB and I sitting in City Bakery an hour later, sharing  chocolate chip cookie and wondering if we’d just been had.

We pooled our remaining cash (#brokegradstudents) and bought another cookie — for when in doubt of life’s next step, chocolate usually solves the problem more certainly than a foggy crystal ball.

Chocolate has all the answers. (Image from the City Sage)

 

Learning to Wear Eyeliner and Life’s Other Little Road Markers

There are some nights I'm pretty sure I've gone out looking like this...
There are some nights I’m pretty sure I’ve gone out looking like this…

I am notoriously dangerous with eye-liner. Don’t hand me anything in liquid form because I’m likely to end up with a comma shaped black blob that transverses an entire side of my face. Despite an otherwise steady hand, pencils have been known to temporarily blind me.  I’ll confess, thanks to a single brush and some guidance from the professionals at Laura Mercier, I’ve come a long way over the last two years. But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been nights were I everybody calls me “Left-Eye.”

“No, I didn’t get socked by an artist at a studio visit. I just had a fight with my eye-liner… it won.”

I started wearing makeup in the 8th grade. Like most adolescent females, hormones were kicking in and wreaking havoc with my complexion. Boys no longer had cooties. We had graduated out of training bras (this is where I’m clearly dating myself, because I’m pretty sure Pink makes padded bras for 10 year-olds nowadays).  We were finding our identities and expressing them in outlandish nail polish shades while learning the subtle benefits of foundation and mascara.

This a caboodle, the girl's equivalent of a tacklebox
This a caboodle, the girl’s equivalent of a tacklebox

It was the 90s, and the caboodle was the girl’s equivalent of a tackle box — a feminine-toned, and often glittered, plastic case with little trays that folded out and mirrors that popped up. We filled it with all the tools of our trade: foundation, loose powder, eyeliner in every shade under the rainbow, eye shadow tones that complimented or clashed with our eye color, Tinkerbell brand blush, and lip glosses that tasted like cotton candy. We’d tote the box to sleep overs. A mini version lived in our lockers.

A few make-up consultations later and armed with lessons gleamed from manuals by Bobbie Brown and Kevyn Aucoin, I reconsidered my approach to “putting on my face.”  I gave the caboodle the boot.

Here’s where I begin to make a leap into life’s more significant realizations…

There comes a point when you stop experimenting and settle on a signature style.
There comes a point when you stop experimenting and settle on a signature style. I’m a black eye line and bold lipstick kind of gal

If in our teen years, we’re finding ourselves, in part through colorful experimentation, then eventually, there comes a time when we stop experimenting. Like learning to edit down word counts for papers and grants, we learn what we really need to make an impression. We find our perfect shade, our go-to routine and that’s who we are.

Lessons I probably should have Learned in College but Didn’t Because I was Too Busy Doing Calculus Homework

Microwaves have been around for decades, and yet I've never been able to make one work.

Microwaves don’t work

In an attempt to be both healthful and economical, sometimes I bring leftover homemade soup to work. Like most offices, we have a kitchenette with a fridge, a dishwasher, and a microwave. The microwave has a variety of settings, none of which anyone in the office knows how to make work. I put my soup in the microwave and set the clock. 3 minutes later, I take my soup out and burn my hands. The bowl is untouchable, but the soup? Still refrigerated.  Expediency fail.

Fun tack doesn’t come off walls.

I’m not sure what it says about my youth, but I never hung a poster on my wall with that blue, sticky putty stuff called “fun tack.”Even my teenage pin-ups of JTT went in frames and were placed on my walls using picture hooks. The long term benefit of this? When it comes to installing an exhibition, I’m probably the fastest hammer in the tri-State. But for my last exhibition, I ran out of Velcro for my wall labels and had to resort to that blue, sticky putty. The blue, sticky putty is still stuck on my gallery walls. There’s nothing fun about Fun Tack.

I just don't have the stamina for all-nighter after all-nighter any more.

Sleep isn’t overrated and life begins before 10:15AM.

Between the ages of 18 and 23, I was built for pulling all-nighters. If I accumulated 12 hours of sleep over 3 days, I figured I was ahead of the game. Plus, if I was clever enough, I didn’t have to be in class before 10AM. And if I moved across campus quickly enough, I could easily grab an hour nap before my afternoon lecture. But in the real world, there’s no nap time to catch up on your zzzz’s. And what about pulling those all nighters? Well, I just don’t have the stamina anymore. Give me 8 hours or I’m a totally unproductive, man-eating zombie.

When a boy asks you to “hang-out,” he doesn’t mean “let’s make grilled cheese sandwiches and sit on the couch platonically to watch the Yankees game.”

In college, this sort of thing was platonic. But apparently, not so much in the real world.

In college, all my friends were guys. We’d play poker or guitar hero, order in BBQ or head out to the Gin Mill for beer and pool, talk politics or sling mud at Jane Austen heroes. In short, when a guy in college asked me to “hang-out” I always assumed it was in the platonic sense, because 9 times out of 10, it was. But as soon as I was outside the bubble of study groups and communal living, I realized “hanging out” is just another vague term for everything from “date” to “hook-up.”

hangovers hurt. I missed that memo.

Hangovers hurt.

I didn’t really drink in college — blame it on equal parts fear of getting caught,  fear of freshman 15, and fear of anything that wasn’t top-shelf. I’m not exactly making up for it now, but I do have a cocktail more frequently than I did in my student years. Sometimes, I have a cocktail too many and wake up with a headache to prove it.

 

Push-Up Bras are false advertising

…and can, therefore, be a real letdown when they come off.

Who am I and How did I Get Here?

It was my father’s proudest moment — the morning I called to say I needed to take the tool belt and hammer to work.

The hammer and nails I've learned a gallerist can never leave home without

Forget my two university graduations. Forget that NCAAs when I made All-American. Forget the afternoon I got the phone call offering me the job at the gallery. Forget the day when I tell him I’m engaged. No, my father is proudest when I’m fixing things.

When I was 5, my favorite toys were wooden blocks (read: cut-up wood scraps from my father’s basement tool shop), a small black hammer, and nails. There was not a Barbie to be found. Instead, I built things. Tables. Chairs. Houses. They were rudimentary, but they kept me occupied and were sturdy enough to survive Armageddon.

Eventually, I went on to junior high school and wood shop where I put my hammering skills to use making spice racks and stylized end tables and rocket-powered race cars. I was teacher’s pet — when the local newspaper came to highlight our school’s “technology” program, I was the chosen spokesperson. The front page of the paper was filled with a photograph of me in a Calvin Klein sweatshirt holding up a 3D room model I designed and constructed from foamboard.

Then I discovered Bergdorf Goodman. I retired my hammer in exchange for Marc Jacobs blouses and Stuart Weitzman shoes.

It's just like the Talking Heads said, "you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?"

Every once in a while, I find myself having an almost outer-body experience in which I’m staring down evaluating the person before me. I don’t recognize myself, and before I can ask, who is that, a flood of years past accumulate in front of my eyes — a rapid-fire timeline of  moments that lead me to that current instance and answer the question dangling in the air. Recently, it’s been happening often. I guess that’s the byproduct of finding myself in a new life phase.

This week’s exhibition installation — one where my childhood aptitude for driving nails into plywood proved particularly useful — inspired one of those outer-body experiences, an unexpected fit of nostalgia. Sometimes, I look at myself and say, gee, look how far I’ve come! Today, as I stood on the step ladder, employing the same hammer that was my favorite play thing as a kid, I was relieved that some things haven’t changed.

I guess I was also grateful my father thought it prudent to teach a 5-year old girl basic carpentry skills.

Boys Don’t Have Cooties

In kindergarten, I didn’t know what a cootie was, but I never thought boys had them. As far as I could tell, a cootie was just an excuse for girls to avoid boys on the playground. This made no sense to me. Boys played better games at recess – tag, dodge ball, hide and go seek. Girls played pat-a-cake. I was terrible at pat-a-cake, but I had a mean peg for dodge ball.

I always thought girls who said "boys have cooties" were ridiculous. Boys didn't have cooties. They had penises.

“Eeeeew, no! Go away!” Lauren squealed when Michael Cagliatella asked if he could push us on the tire swing. “Boys have cooooooooties.”

I shot her an evil eye. Michael Cagliatella didn’t pull my pigtails like the other boys in class and he once offered to share his chocolate milk with me at snack time. Michael Cagliatella was different and I was smitten. The way I saw it, Lauren and her cootie problem were getting in the way of my childhood romance.

“Boys don’t have cooties,” I replied indignantly as I watched my first love skulk off to jungle gym. “Boys have penises.”

Lauren’s ears perked up. “What’s a pensises?”

The truth was I didn’t really know what a penis was or what boys did with them, but I’d been such a know-it-all — I had better follow through.

“They’re kinda like toys and fun to play with. You’re no fun.” I got off the swing and joined Michael on the monkey bars.

I can only imagine the dinner table conversation at Lauren’s house that night: “Kathleen and I had a fight. She said I was boring and that she rather play with Michael’s penis.” Lauren wasn’t allowed to have playdates at my house any more. I could tell by the sideways stares that her mother and father had painted me as a five-year old harlot that their daughter was to have nothing to do with.

Michael liked it when I was the nurse to his doctor, but I made sure he agreed to change it up -- I mean, sometimes, I liked to be in charge.

The scarlet letter didn’t really bother me because Michael became my “boyfriend.” Our favorite games were doctor-nurse play-acting. Michael liked to dress-up as a doctor and I would be his nurse. He even gave me a white hat with a red cross to wear when I came over. Michael would call the shots as we performed emergency surgery on his favorite teddy bear with the arm that fell off at least once a week.

“What should I do, Doctor? I can’t stop the bleeding?”

“Pass me the masking tape! Stat!”

“Oh, Doctor! You’re so clever!”

“Now the paper towel and the string!”

“Doctor! You saved Mr. Fuzzywuzzy’s arm. My hero!”

Even though this was Michael’s favorite scenario, I made him agree to change things up every so often – I mean, sometimes, I liked to be in charge.

Our role play abruptly ended that summer when Michael’s parents moved the family to California.  I can’t say I was heartbroken. I acknowledged that I was only 5 and that there would be plenty more boys who’d want to play doctor to my nurse in the future.

Every so often, I think about Michael Cagliatella. Does he still have those trouble-maker’s eyes? Does he still wear those striped shirts and a middle part in his hair? What would happen if we had a playdate today? Would his parents finally let me sleep over? And if they did, would he still like to see me in my nurse’s hat?