Out or In? Acknowledging What We Really Want

As he placed the bowl of strawberries and a plate of fresh mozzarella in front of me, I thought: we’re a total cliche.

The plan had been to meet at his place for a rooftop drink, then grab dinner and the new Woody Allen flick. 45 minutes to get all dressed up, and we didn’t even make it to the club… Instead of dinner and a movie, we were sitting in his kitchen snacking on bits of things he’d picked up earlier that day at the family-owned Italian market around the corner from his one bedroom flat on the top floor of a Brooklyn brownstone. I was in a gray undershirt he’d pulled from a pile of recently washed leisure cloths. He sported a pair of boxer briefs. It was the summer after all, and central air is a luxury not found in pre-war residences.

“You should come back next weekend,” he said. “During the daytime. We’ll shop the corridor of old family businesses my grandmother used to frequent, and then we’ll cook dinner.”

Nothing says happy couple like a date-night in, cooking together...
Nothing says happy couple like a date-night in, cooking together…

A week later, we did just that. Standing in his small kitchen, chopping tomatoes and swapping family sauce secrets, and pausing from the chore of cooking every so often to dance to the silence between tracks on the playlist, we were completely apart from the world. We were neatly  and romantically tucked away into a bubble of domestic bliss. As he cracked open a mediocre bottle of wine (a gift from his landlord) and as we shared the most tasteless bowl of rigatoni I’d ever concocted, I thought: we may not cook well together, but this feels good. This is what I want.

It turned out it was what he wanted too. As we put away the dishes, he told me he couldn’t see an ending for us. Perhaps, we’d found the one?

(Spoiler alert: we broke up 6 months later.)

These are the kind of tender moments from relationships past that I bury in the recesses of my memory as I move further away from them, both chronologically and emotionally.

Two years later, and a few hours after diner at a friend’s flat, these vignettes, and ones like them, resurfaced. Over a home-cooked meal of a different nature we had talked about what constituted a “grown-up” relationship, and what he wanted/was ready for now — he painted a rather domestic scene of shared nights in, conversation exchanged over a bottle of wine, etc.

This didn’t surprise me. In my experience, most of the men I dated moved from going out to staying in as soon as I gave his apartment a passing mark. For me, this turn inward was often a point of contention.

cold weather coupleI am almost stubbornly independent. Personal space and alone time are precious, not commodities, but necessities for me. In a similar vein, while I fully embody the home-maker sign of the zodiac, my romantic search has been motivated by finding an activity partner. I’m an adventurer, and when asked when I’m looking for, I usually choose “someone to go out with” rather than “someone to come home to.” Spending our nights together on the couch didn’t seem domestic, it seemed lazy. Expecting I would spend my weekends at his place, on his couch, didn’t seem domestic, it seemed invasive and possessive.

Opening up my mind’s vault to those scenes was revealing. That my most treasured memories from broken romances revolved around a pseudo home life was at first disturbing. I was forced to admit to myself that my favorite stage in a relationship is the part when we’re okay with looking inward, when we’re okay being more home-centric than out and about. I haven’t decided if I have any profound take away from this realization yet — perhaps I have a more focused idea of what I want for myself? Maybe. I know I want to strike a balance between being a nesting pair and a social duo. And what I also know is that I haven’t made finding Mr. Right any easier through this confession — it’s far easier to find someone you can run with than to find someone you want to sit still beside.

 

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What I really Learned in Grade School

As young ones, tots, and teenagers make their way through their first week of school, I wanted to take a moment to reassure them and their parents that their public grade-school education is worth every tax-payer dollar. The truth is, I learned more about life traveling through grades k-12 than in college, grad school, and “the real world” combined. Here are a few highlights of my suburban, middle-class primary education, wherein I learned…

fallout
Thanks to middle school, I learned where to go in the event of a nuclear attack — our choral room. #Glee

The choral room of my junior high school was in a subterranean, double concrete enforced room. At the entrance to the stairwell was not only a sign that said “Chorus,” but a yellow configuration of triangles signalling that the room was a remnant of the building’s Cold War construction.

2. Gym Class isn’t long enough and should be every day.

3. Nap time isn’t long enough and should be every day.

4. How to right a capsized canoe.

We had a pool. It was fancy and indoors and you could paddle around it in a canoe. During the swimming rotation of gym class, we had one day dedicated to water safety and water rescue. As a member of the swim team, I was made “captain” of a rescue team. 4 of us got in a canoe. Flipped it. Righted it. Then rescued the one idiot who got smacked in the head with the paddle when we capsized. This is a skill set that has come in handy more than once, I hate to admit.

5. Sumac that points down is poisonous. Sumac berry clusters that point up make great lemonade.

My 7th grade science teacher used to build bow & arrows and hunt deer with spears. He was the original Bear Grylls. As a result, our class curriculum was less NY State mandated and more wild-life survival.

6. Homemade cards for mom always trump something from Hallmark… even if they make absolutely no sense and look like something your dog painted.

westside-story
If I ever find myself in a rumble, I’ll be more than a little prepared.

I had an old school Bronx Italian English teacher for 2 back to back years. It was Romeo and Juliette year, so we watched West Side Story in class. He wanted to make sure we’d be prepared if we were ever in a rumble.

8. It’s not about what you’re selling. It’s all about how it’s marketed.

As part of a social studies project, I had to set up a company with a team of classmates. We made “organic, all-natural, handmade soap.” By handmade I meant we purchased bars of pre-made glycerin soap, melted it down and poured it into molds, with hand-selected trinkets scattered within the forms. Technically, we didn’t make the soap, but we did do 2/3 of the work by hand. Including the branded paper-bags I created by rolling brown lunch bags through my printer. We made a killing — at the end of the assignment, we had the highest profits. As CEO and Creative Director, I was pretty well convinced I’d end up with an MBA from Wharton before my 18th birthday.

9.  Frozen pizza on Fridays is delicious, if not horrendously lazy.

10. Nothing holds more potential than the first page of a new notebook (let’s just say, I consider this a metaphor for life in general)

Some Call it Art. Some Call it Just Another Day at the Office. I call it Training for the Amazing Race.

Without fail, every season on the Amazing Race, there’s a challenge in which teams have to carry heavy, awkward things over long distances. I’ve always wanted to be on the Amazing Race and so I watch each episode with half a mind focused on how to prepare for when it’s my turn. But carrying heavy awkward thing over long distances is not the kind of thing you can easily train for.

Living as an art handler is like training to be an elite athlete.

Unless of course you’re an art handler.

Standing in the storage area of my gallery Tuesday morning were two 6-foot canvases. They were awaiting transport to an off-site location where my team was installing an affiliated exhibition. Given that I have a compact SUV with moving blankets in the back, I was the designated transport.

“Are you going to bring your car around?” my assistant asked.

My car was parked half a mile away. Down a hill.

“No. I’ll just carry them to the car.”

I ignored her doubtful/cautionary expression as she handed me the white gloves.

Curating and art handling develop good forearms. Thanks in large part to a power drill.

I had only walked five feet from the gallery when a gust of wind and a traffic light made me realize that this might have been one of those lapse of judgement moments. The canvas under each arm had transformed me into an urban sailboat, with only forearms for rudders. My floaty skirt that was keen to pull a Marilyn Monroe over the subway at any moment had to be ignored.

The old man who sits with his walker on the street corner and calls me “Cupcake” was, thankfully, enjoying the early bird special at the Legion.

With each block the canvases grew heavier. The wind, wilder. And all I could think is: Why, oh why did I insist on the extra set of bicep curls!?! The half mile to my car was the longest half mile of my life.

waiting for my life line.

People paused to gawk. Others dove out of my way. A few got bashed with the frames of the canvases’ stretcher. A beautiful man in a Mercedes convertible pulled over to ask if I needed a ride. He was wearing a Rolex… and a wedding band. I artfully (haha!) declined.

When I finally arrived at my car, I folded the seats down. Laid out the moving blankets. And proceed to attempt to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Neither canvas fit.

I sat down on the parking lot asphalt. My arms were shaking — there was no way I was carrying these back to the gallery.

Eventually, thanks to a “phone a friend” lifeline, I found a solution. The paintings did not have to be abandoned in the parking lot — a threat I had thrown at them as they leaned against the side of my car, mocking me.

When I arrived at the satellite site, I expected to find a world map welcome mat and Phil Keoghan waiting for me. Instead, it was just a series of white walls and another Road Block — a very large picture puzzle.

I expected to find Phil and the map waiting for me at the off-site location. Instead, it was just another Road Block.

An Essayist Fails to Find a Moral: or The Boy Broke My Heart and Taught me Nothing about Life. What a Jerk.

An essayist breaks a cup. She writes an essay. She learns and shares a life lessonl. No pressure.

A personal essayist carries the weight of the world on her little writer’s shoulders.

She breaks a teacup.

She writes an essay about breaking the tea cup.

She turns introspective.

She employs wits.

She jerks at the heart’s strings.

She considers the social impact of breaking the teacup.

She turns a seemingly insignificant moment into a neatly resolved story with a moral and rounds it out with insightful commentary on the way we live now.

No pressure.

I like to think of myself an essayist, or perhaps an essayist in training. I’ve always believed that there is a story behind everything – and every story is interesting if you tell it right. There should never be a lack of inspiration, as long as you’re in the mood to be creative.

And there is certainly never a lack of inspiration when your favorite subject is the way we love now.

This is how I look when i'm trying to write an essay...

After several years in the trenches of Love’s War, I’ve decided every first date can provide preliminary material for a minimum of 3 essays. For each date thereafter, the number of possible papers increases exponentially.

As you stop counting singular dates and start measuring your relationship in real time frames (i.e., weeks, years), you can generate an endless number of moralizing assemblages of prose.

I’ve never had a problem finding a greater life lesson or an aha! moment of self-reflection in a first date… until Gary.

Gary came pre-approved with the Grimm’s Fairytale Stamp of Prince Charming Approval. He was everything I had ever designed for myself in the Simms World of dream mates. I was ready to fall in love with him. Fate dangled him in front of me just long enough for me to get my hopes up and then, it whoosed him away.

Sitting pen and paper in hand a few days later, I was at a loss. I find myself asking:

What was the fucking point of that one?

If I could have walked away having learned something worth sharing I would feel better about Gary’s intrusive foray into my dating life. Be a jerk, I say, but at least lead me to an “aha!” moment in the process!

Thus, instead of rising above the fray of emotion to bring this to a resolved closing remark, I end insight-less. Essayist major fail.

woof woof

Let’s Play “I’m Going on Vacation and I’m Bringing…”

Venturing to exotic locales with your friends is one of the given perks of traveling.

Escaping la vie quotidienne and venturing to new locales are the reasons why we travel. Self-education and the temptation of exotic shopping sprees are also known motivates. But traveling has many other frequently over-looked side benefits — you might call them collateral damage, or perhaps necessary evils.

Packing requires decision making.

For my summer 2011 vacation, my family and I are heading to the North West Coast. The weather is changeable, the scenery is transcendent, and the lodgings are frontier. This is not a bikini and a coverup kind of suitcase. This is a fully-loaded, be-prepared-for-all-seasons kind of packing job.

Several of the things in the pile above need to go into the empty suitcase below... laundry time!

I’ll need to decide on one of everything.

But before I can make decisions, I have to know what I’m making decisions among. Which often means doing a load or two of laundry and putting clothes away so I can remember what’s in my closet to begin with. Finally, I’ll be able to see my bedroom floor.

After you’ve made decisions, you need to go shopping.

Now that I know what I have to take with me, I can make of the list of what’s missing and mend the gaps. An all-terrain, itinerary-packed vacation is a “finally buy the things you need to buy but have put off buying” kind of vacation.

New running shoes. Check.

Hiking sock liners. Check.

Bug repellant. Check.

Field binoculars. Check.

Sleep romper. Check. (Not really on my “need-to-buy” list, but I figured since I’m traveling with people, my usual sheets-only sleep wear would be inappropriate.)

This is really not how you want to look in your vacation photos. Better make an appointment with your stylist

Vacations force you get cleaned up.

You never know who you’ll meet while traveling away from home. Likewise, the last thing you want are vacation photos where you look like the Bride of Frankenstein.

Extra innings at the gym. Haircut. Highlights. Manicure. Pedicure. Bikini wax. Restylane. Fresh bottle of foundation. New mascara: Whatever you need to look refreshed and fit when you get there.

You have to get your sh*t in order.

Wrapping up projects at work. Refilling prescriptions for your seasonal asthma medication. Paying down credit card bills so you can fill ’em back up again. Removing expired foodstuffs from your pantry. Mowing the lawn. Trimming the hedges. Updating your Final Will and Testament to include appropriate custodians for your pets.

While it would be nice to just say “tahellwithit!” and run away with life strew about, there’s nothing worse than coming home from vacation to a mess bigger than what you left behind.

Unwrapping Christmas Presents Past: an Inner-Child Grows-Up, but Only Just a Little

It was a snowy Christmas morning when I was 4 and found myself standing in front of a large, me-sized box wrapped calico-style and adorned with a shiny, red, stick-on bow. I had asked for an Easy Bake Oven and given its size, I was sure this box was not my easy Bake Oven. I was somewhere between being tickled pink with anticipation and overwrought with disappointment.

It wasn't my Easy-Bake Oven. It was a lavender bike with a wicker basket and streamers. And it was snowing outside.

As I tore away the paper, I quickly saw I was right: this was not my Easy-Bake Oven. Instead, Santa had given me a lavender bicycle with streamers and a white wicker basket. I looked at the picture on the box then turned to the window.  The snow on the lawn was blinding white and the ice clean-up trucks chugged noisily down my street spraying salt and sand as they went. I was doubtful that this present would produce any immediate gratification. But I had seen enough Christmas movies and heard enough stories from my friends to understand that a bike for Christmas was a big deal. So I followed convention and starting jumping with joy, encouraging Daddy to put it together ASAP so I could ride it around the living room.

“No. You can’t ride the bike in the house. We just refinished the floors.” My mother didn’t realize what lasting effects this command would have.

I didn’t learn how to ride a bike until I was 17 and I never mastered turning. Now, the only bike I ride is a stationary spin one. Meanwhile, despite never having got my Easy Bake Oven (I asked for it every Christmas up until I was 11), I’ve become a bake-o-holic. My parents claim that it’s because I never had an Easy Bake that I’ve become such an able-bodied, all-from-scratch cook — I had to learn how to use a real stove, not one powered by a light bulb. One can never argue with a parent’s logic.

So far, my dinner guests have gotten more use out of my guitar than I have. But it's not too late for me to become the next Jewel

Yet while I can now churn out cakes, cookies and pies like nobody’s business, I’ve never gotten over the Easy-Bake Oven. Determined to prevent Santa from once again confusing “bakeware” with “bicycle,” I started writing elaborate Christmas Wish lists, complete with figures, web links, and product numbers. Each list has reflected whatever stage of my life I had entered — from preteen to early adulthood. A remote controlled plane, Backstreet Boys concert tickets, a watercolor box set, a Play-Station 2 with Guitar Hero, a real guitar, books by my professors, Kate Spade flats — for sure, with each item comes a flood of memories from not only that Christmas, but from that year in my life.

But in 2010, I couldn’t be bothered writing a list. Surely, after 25 years my parents knew I was easy enough to please that as long as it wasn’t a bicycle, I would be happy. My mother cursed me as she roamed the mall and racked her brain.

“Look, why don’t you just get me a cookbook or something.”

“You don’t need another cookbook.”

It was nothing short of a miracle that, come Christmas morning, there were presents waiting for me under the tree. My mother handed me an armful of crudely wrapped items with a look of both pride and concern on her face. “I don’t know why I bought you these,” she said. “But I figured we’ll need them later.”

I felt like I was 4 again as I shook the boxes. The sound of liquid sloshing around had me stymied. As I ripped away the paper and bows I was surprised to see a set of martini glasses, a bottle of Tanqueray, a bottle of Rose’s Lime Juice, and a copy of “Vintage Cocktails,” a book featuring recipes from Pegu Club, my favorite cocktail lounge in New York.

“Now, just remember, when you make things out of this recipe book you’ll not only get fat, you’ll get drunk,” Mum said as she cracked open the gin.”Go easy.”

I guess that’s why she neglected to give me a drink shaker.

Unlike the lavender bike, it didn't take me long to put these Christmas presents to use... despite the missing cocktail shaker