Stephanie Lechner: Nametags and Hairnets

Failing career assessments since the 8th grade

Counting to Two Hundred for Whoever Will Listen

If you want a good laugh, ask your family for stories of you as a child.

Or so I thought.

My family remembers shockingly little about me a kid. I called up my mom a few weeks ago, and I asked her for some funny stories. She told me about the time I refused to wear a dress to my eight-grade dance without shorts underneath it, but she was thrilled when she convinced me to not wear socks with my strappy sandals. We had a good laugh, but then I pressed a little harder.

“But mom, what about when I was younger than that. What was I like? My personality—can you think of a story that shows what I was like before I became an unfashionable teenager?”

“I don’t know, Steph. You always just kept to yourself. You didn’t give us any trouble. Shy, I guess that’s how I would describe you.”

I’m currently working on a memoir that covers my life from ages 18-30, but I wanted to inject a little more backstory into the beginning, and she was giving me nothing.

“Put Dad on the phone,” I barked.

I posed the same question to my dad.
“Well I remember you were four when we got Tigger. You must have been ten when we got Lady. Oh and Hannah, we got her on your eleventh birthday.”

“Dad, do you by any chance have any stories of my childhood that don’t include our family pets?”

“Well, kiddo, I find that those animals have always been good markers of time. What can I say, you never really gave us any trouble.”

Sheesh. I wonder if this is the difference between growing up before the dawn of social media. My friends that are parents showcase the hell out of their children’s personalities. Surely I must have done something that would elicit a colorful anecdote?

“Oh come on, Dad, give me something. Was I obnoxious? Was I fun to be around? What did I like to do or talk about?”

I know some of the answers to these questions from my own memory bank, but I was hoping for some outside perspective.

“Oh wait, I remember something. When your mother spent six weeks in the hospital in 1996, I remember driving you back and forth to the hospital to visit her every night. You’d play this memory game with me, where you’d ask me to quiz you on the street signs as you closed your eyes. You had memorized every street in order on the 30-minute drive to the hospital. That was a really rough time for me, not knowing if I’d ever get to take my wife home again, and you really helped distract me.”

“Wow, dad, that’s a really nice story. Anything else from that time that comes to mind?”

“Oh I remember when Hannah and Lady did the funniest things that summer.”

“Ok, I think that’s enough for today.”

It was a really nice memory in the middle of a difficult time for our family, but I still was hoping for something that would fit into the story I was writing. I called my sister because if there is anything she and I love to do, it’s make each other laugh until we cry.
“Hey, Jenn, do you have any funny stories about me when we were growing up, like when I was really little?”
“I remember when you were about three or four, you were so excited that you could count to two hundred on your own.”

“That’s right! I remember you teaching me!”

“Well, I didn’t really teach you as much as you just decided to do it. You’d stand up and announce that you were going to count, and we just let you go until you got tired.”
It’s in this moment that I start to think I was the Rain Man of our family. But then I wondered how much these two little stories actually reflect on my personality. Writers have sensitive egos coming out of our ears, and wouldn’t that just make sense? The quiet, shy kid so excited to have someone watch her perform a skill? A skill that’s really not even remarkable, like counting. Don’t we all sometimes do that? Aren’t we all sometimes, just people hoping to be acknowledged by others we love for doing something good or worthy of attention?

“Jenn, are you sure you didn’t just let me count to the highest number I could while you went off to listen to your Poison cassettes?”

“That’s quite possible.”

 

 

The Former Champion of Sleep

I was hoping I could cure insomnia on my own, but after exhausting all of my resources, my doctor prescribed me a nightly dose of 10 milligrams of Ambien. I couldn’t help but think I’d just become a New York City cliché—in the city that never sleeps, chemical sedation was now my only option.

“Are you suuuuuure I need this,” I whine. “I’m not going to do weird things like cook in my sleep, am I?”

“Of course not,” he reassured me. “I think you’ve been watching too much TV.”

Before I take it, I read the encyclopedia of side effects that come with the prescription:

“Some patients have reported sleepwalking and sexual activity with short term memory loss.”

Apparently I should have greater concerns than sleep-cooking. I have to worry about sleep-sex now?

I performed my nightly grooming routines, tossed back the pill and waited. An empty stomach embraced the medicine rapidly. The best way to describe what I felt next was that, in 5 minutes, I felt what five shots of Tequila feel like. Swirly. Yeah, everything felt really swirly. I fell asleep with the room spinning and stayed asleep for the next seven hours. The bed indentation and perfectly situated blankets led me to believe I didn’t move the entire night. I wake up with virtually no medicine hangover. I felt human. It was the start of a beautiful friendship.

It wasn’t always like this. I used to be the champion of sleep. I would grunt and moan if anyone tried to rip me away from slumber before I was ready to leave (which was usually sometime around noon). Every November, I’d wake up just in time to see Santa Clause cruise on by at the tail end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and I resented my mother for never being able to pry me out of bed in time for Saturday morning cartoons. It wasn’t just the length of my slumber that was impressive—it was also the depth. I have slept through several severe thunderstorms and at least one serious tornado in life. I guess most people don’t pride themselves on being good at sleep, but I believe one should never deny their true talents.

This life skill carried over from childhood well into my adolescence. Midnight was my independence hour. My creativity came alive when the moon rose, and I would toil in my room for hours after my parents went to sleep. Sometimes I’d sneak out into the living room and watch hours of VHS-recorded episodes of Saturday Night Live and take notes to put in my SNL Binder of Awesomeness (didn’t every teenager have one of those?). It didn’t matter if I went to bed at sunset or if I stayed awake until 3:00 am—mornings always felt equal parts misery and apathy. Things only got worse when I went to college and was no longer bound by the rigid structure of high school. I carefully orchestrated my class schedule to allow me enough time to make it to the university’s cafeteria minutes before shutting down breakfast. I measured my freedom in minutes of sleep.

After graduation, a corporate gig was harder to find than I had anticipated. I packed my bags and moved back home to sort out my life as a member of the boomerang generation, and that’s when everything went to shit.

After a month of unemployment and lazy days, I secured a high-profile position waiting tables at the local Olive Garden. Finally I’d found a career that enabled my night owl tendencies; maybe society had a place for me after all. I slept until at least 10:00 AM and often didn’t come home until well after midnight. If I could have made more than $70 in a single shift, I might have stayed there forever. However, the stress of my own quarter-life career failures and moving back in with my parents started to take its toll on my precious sleep. Before this, I could fall asleep minutes after my head crashed on my pillow, but I soon spent hours flopping around on my mattress searching for Mr. Sandman. It was not uncommon to find my bed inches away from my bedroom wall in the morning (a problem exacerbated by the fact my cheap bed frame was on wheels). Mostly, though, I just spent the time racking my brain on strategies that would get me back out into the real world on my own two feet again. Soup, salad and breadsticks could hardly fund a 401k. In addition to the delayed starts, I also discovered. I was waking up several times a night with a ravishing thirst. WebMD told me I had diabetes, but my doctor was unable to ascertain a diagnosis to explain my unquenchable nighttime thirst. Looking back now, it probably had something to do with my excessive Diet Coke habit.

Sleep troubles were an entirely new dilemma for me, so my mom gave me some Tylenol PM. I didn’t necessarily enjoy the grogginess of it, but it was a temporary solution. I went to work each day with a cloudy case of medicine-head. It was suddenly difficult to recall all the entrees served in the classic Tour of Italy—fettuccine alfredo, something with chicken and that pasta with the layers? After a month or so of consistent Tylenol dosing, I noticed the usual serving no longer worked. I tried increasing the dosage slightly, but my attempts to outsmart my biology were defeated. Now all I was left with was limited restless sleep AND morning grogginess. I went to the local natural food store seeking alternative methods and discovered an herbal blend of L-Tryptophan and Melatonin or a cocktail designed to trick your body into feeling like it just ate a bunch of turkey. I have no idea if there is any scientific backing to this herbal supplement, but they sweetened the deal by providing a free pair of neon yellow earplugs and a blindfold with each purchase, so I was in. The upside to this pill was that there was no residual sleepiness in the morning, and I was thrilled, until that stopped working also about two months later. After exhausting the buffet of over-the-counter drugs, a friend offered me some of her stash of Klonopin. It’s hard for me to describe my sleep during this time. Mostly because I don’t remember any of it. . In a last ditch effort; I made an appointment with an energy therapist. For 90 minutes, this woman waved her arms strategically over my fully clothed body in an effort to realign my chakras. I couldn’t fall asleep until 4:00 am that night. Sixty dollars wasted on a touch-less massage.

I really missed sleep. I mean good, dead-to-the-world, uninterrupted glorious sleep. I missed flying in my dreams. Life had inexplicably robbed me of a precious gift, and I was desperate to get it back. Instead I did the next best thing: I moved myself across the country to NYC, a city that romanticizes insomnia with its tagline. This is where I met Ambien.

The first few weeks on Ambien were perfectly delightful, but I started to notice a few nights where I stayed awake during the “drunken” phase. I also observed that the initial jolt to my system makes me a little anxious. I don’t necessarily love the drunk feeling, but I do adore the gentle sleepiness that occurs about a half-hour after the medicine kicks in. Also, that sleep-cooking thing? Totally real. Usually I stick to quick snack foods, but there has been the occasional bacon craving. Luckily, I’ve succeeded in not burning my apartment to the ground. In addition to monstrous cravings, I have also sent loopy messages to men on OkCupid (“Hey you, sir, in that blurry shirtless photo at the gym, how about this online dating thing, am I right?”), blogged incoherently (I shall title this post “53 Reasons Why I Love My Cat) and purchased several miscellaneous household products off of Amazon.com (one never knows when they might need a vegetable spiralizer). I remembered very little of this until I checked my email the next day, or until that box of weight-loss supplements arrived in the mail.

After a few too many online purchases outside of my budget (ahem, I’m looking at you, spare futon from Target), I decided to start quizzing myself each morning to ensure that I remember every waking moment of the previous evening. During one of my morning memory exercises, I found an ice cream cone wrapper and I managed to piece together the memories from the night before: around midnight, clad in my snowflake pajamas, I trekked down the street to the local 24-hour Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins and ordered a double scoop of Pistachio and Mint-Chocolate Chip. I might have also eaten a Boston Cream Pie donut. The details are fuzzy. Later I had to explain to my friends that I ate all of their pickles and croutons while house-sitting, but at least I was finally sleeping.

There are many days where I wish I could sleep well and unassisted, but as I mentioned in my last post, the fact I can now sleep in a bed again is a huge victory in itself. If I’m truly honest here, I think what really bothers me is that there is this silly little thing in my life I can’t seem to fix on my own, but that won’t keep me from trying. Currently, I’m working with a personal trainer to get my health in order and setting up appointments with sleep specialists. Maybe, though, this tiny little tablet serves as a reminder for me that I can’t do everything on my own, and that’s okay.

 

*I promise this blog is not sponsored by Pfizer

**Please resist the urge to offer up tips for better sleep. Trust me, I know them all. I’m just sharing stories here 🙂

 

That Time I Broke Up With My Couch

I woke up at 4:30 AM, curled tightly as an overgrown fetus, blankets tossed on the floor as Chaplin stood above my pillow, pawing at my face. I groaned, slowly started to unwind as I felt a throbbing pain pulse from my left hip out through the rest of my body. I placed both feet on the ground, and as I moved to stand up, I stayed slightly folded like some sort of discarded accordion as I flopped my way to the kitchen to bribe my cat with a can of Friskies.

I gotta stop sleeping on this couch.

I should explain. I had a bed. A perfect one in fact–a queen-sized, mattress-top Serta specifically chosen for a rigorous list of qualities that the computers at Sleepy’s in Hoboken, NJ determined would best hug the curves on my overweight body. I slept in it blissfully for months up until the summer of 2013, when I was a victim of assault. I can only assume those three men were only after my iPhone, but with it, they swiped my mental and emotional stability. In one word, that summer was R-O-U-G-H. My best friends those days were my cat, Chaplin, and my newly purchased micro-fiber couch. It kept me in place during all those panic-ridden nights of sleep where I would toss and turn relentlessly until Chaplin tapped me awake. It was perfectly situated in front of my television as I whittled away the hours with Friends reruns and Netflix binge-fests. It was plush, beautifully purple and large enough to sleep on. More importantly, it was inside the four walls of my apartment. My couch and me. The perfect relationship.

image1

Chaplin, my Couch and Me. BFF.

The summer ended and I moved from New York to Denver. My couch came with me. In fact, it was practically the only thing that did. The movers lost my bed and promptly wrote me a check for an exact replacement. I wasn’t put out—my bed was for guests. My couch was for me. This was an interesting thing to explain to a man I was dating who once offered like a gentleman to sleep on my couch after I invited him to stay for the night (to avoid a long drive home).

“No, it’s not that I’m offering you my bed as some sort of kind gesture. It’s just that you can’t have my couch.”

“You don’t think you’ll want to crawl in there with me if I take your bed?”

“Ummmm. No, I promise I prefer it on the couch.”

We broke up two weeks later.

My couch was always really good at cheering me up when I had a broken heart. So it should come as no surprise to you that I was eager to make this relationship work when I moved it with me to Portland. Perhaps, though, I just needed some space, a little less time with the couch because at this point, I could tell, I was wearing my poor old pal out. The hip pain was a subtle warning sign that maybe this couch couldn’t support me any longer.

I sought out the wisdom of a long-time friend in NYC who specializes in the art of Feng Shui. Alright—I know what you are thinking, but it’s not like that. He’s this hilariously quirky man who spent the last decade working as a corporate lawyer before he quit to pursue a career in life coaching and Feng Shui guidance (he was also an aspiring actor at one point, but who in New York wasn’t?). If I had to describe him, his approach is that of a Zen hybrid of Tony Robbins and Emeril Lagasse. He’s incredibly passionate about helping people be their best selves and he pulls in ancient Feng Shui wisdom and boisterous New York energy to get them there. I reached out to him to explain my dilemma–that I hadn’t been able to sleep consistently on a bed for three years. I was hoping he would enlighten me as to quick tips and tricks on bed placement, wall hangings and other possible furniture rearrangement that might put me in the right direction. I reached out to him via Facebook messenger to see if this would be something he could sort out via an official consultation.

He began the conversation by asking me a few simple questions. He asked me how long this had been a problem and if I had any other sleep issues. As we chatted, it came out that I started sleeping on the couch the summer I got mugged. Bryce honed in on it pretty quickly. When I told him it was the same couch, his response was immediate.

“Ok, so we’ll just do this now. Energetically, whether you believe this or not, an imprint occurs after a shocking event in your life. It stamps an anchor point in your home.”

Before he could even finish, as I sat in my work cubicle reading his messages, I knew where he was going. This wasn’t about how to sleep in my bed, but rather, what to do about my couch. MY beloved couch.

Tears started to well up in my eyes.

“Are you telling me I need to break up with my couch?” I sobbed silently so my coworkers wouldn’t hear the crazy woman three feet away crying over her sofa.

“We can look at the rest of your room later. This is too important. That energy is heavy, and I’ve seen it too many times to write it off. That couch nurtured you and held you in such a vulnerable sate. It’s funny, but this is the last little piece, the biggest roadblock to you moving past this trauma.”

I told him I would think about it, but it seemed drastic to toss a good piece of furniture when I had no means at the moment of getting a new one. I went home that night, sat down on my dear old friend, and everything felt wrong. The relationship had instantly changed. I cried again, this time angrily, as if this was the fight that needed to happen all this time. It occurred to me in that moment that I was just days away from the three-year anniversary of the mugging. I’d been through hell and back dealing with PTSD, on and off antidepressants, weight loss and even more weight gain, but one thing had stayed constant. I had made so much progress, was feeling infinitely stronger and healthier, but still, there was this one last ridiculous thing symbolizing the whole struggle.

I looked at it, my couch comrade, and I said, out loud “This sucks. But you gotta go.”

Before I had any time to doubt my decision, I was calling a junk removal service to have it hauled away. Slowly, I started to embrace the possibility that I was leaving behind a very shitty chapter in my life, and that by taking these steps, I was an jumping into a more hopeful one. By the time the truck arrived to take my pal away, I was enthusiastically taking pictures of the event and cheerily waving goodbye as the truck pulled away.

IMG_3690
It didn’t matter to me that I had a giant void in my living room and only a bed to sit on. I spent the next few weeks researching furniture options and blasting repeated questions to Bryce. If was going to do this, I needed to do it right. He gave me tips on tapping into my creativity and personality, and he encouraged me to make my apartment a true home for myself. Honestly, after moving a dozen times through five different states in ten years, I was only really good at making my apartment ready for a fast getaway. My last movers joked that I looked like I had a bachelor’s apartment, and I wasn’t even upset about it. But for this project, I had to pull in my friends to help me go shopping because what the hell do I know about paint swatches and picture frames?

It’s been about a month since I completely overhauled my home, and the experience has been nothing short of transformational. Before breaking up with my sofa, I could only sleep three of fours uninterrupted (and that was on a good night in either my bed or on my couch). I’m happy to report I am now sleeping on average of 7-8 hours of uninterrupted, delicious sleep. I’ve started eating healthy again. I’m working out. Enjoying the hell out of my new job and city. I’ve successfully tapered off medicines that were once necessary to keep me stable. Hell, Chaplin even sleeps through the night and doesn’t wake me for 4:00 AM feedings anymore.

It wasn’t the physical properties in that furniture that made any difference. I’m sure of it. This isn’t wizardry. It’s what that sofa symbolized for me, and I am forever grateful to Bryce Kennedy (Boom) for his amazing insight and encouragement (seriously, do yourselves a favor and click that link to check out his work). Sometimes you just need someone to say to you, “If there’s a chance something in your life might be holding you back, is it really worth keeping that thing around?” No, it’s definitely not.

My Before Shot

IMG_3673

I thought about cleaning before taking this shot but that would have made me a fraud. My apartment looked like this more than it didn’t. 

And now my after:

The Artful Dodger

Act I: The Initiation

I’m four Old-Fashions deep after a happy hour celebrating my last day of employment in NYC, sporting a fashionable blazer with adorable J. Crew suede loafers…and I’m sprinting down the street like a maniac. It’s nearly 10:00 PM, chilly October air whips my face as I manage to juggle all my belongings accumulated over four years at a desk. It’s only been four months since I was violently mugged on this street, and I find the daily terror lessens if I make a mad dash down the half-block from the bus stop to my front door. As I rapidly approach my apartment, I see three men sitting on my stoop. I relax slightly as I see Billy, my landlord’s 20-year-old son, is one of them and blurt out to the strangers in my tipsy excitement:

“Hi! Pay no attention to me! I got choked on this street a few months ago and now I prefer to run. How’s it going?”

Bourbon makes me so charming.

I attempt to catch my breath as I notice two distinct British accents. I learn Billy’s friends live just outside London and are here on holiday. They’re both handsome, as far as I can tell from the flickering porch light in the dark. One has a strong athletic build and a friendly smile; the other is lean and tall. I assume they are Billy’s age, and pay little attention beyond small talk. I tell them how much I love London and that I hope to go back one day. The tall one tells me to look them up if I’m ever back across the pond. It seems a bit too familiar considering we just met, but I’m never one to turn away international contacts. I say my goodbyes and bounce upstairs to sleep off the bourbon.

The next day, I go downstairs to borrow packaging tape from my landlord, Meredith. She tells me her houseguests mentioned our run-in the previous night and that I somehow managed to come off cute and charming. I told her that was sweet and asked how old they were and how they knew Billy.

“Oh, they aren’t Billy’s friends. One of them used to coach our youngest son’s soccer team. They got a terrible Airbnb deal and needed a place to crash. They’re 33 actually, and really great guys.” Soccer coach. I thought he looked athletic. I am intrigued.

“You mean to tell me you’ve been harboring smart, handsome thirty-something Englishmen down here all week and it didn’t occur to you to introduce me?”

She gave me their names and insisted in a strong maternal way that I look them up on Facebook. Over the course of the past year, Meredith had become a surrogate mother to me checking in on me frequently after the aforementioned mugging. I realize in this moment, I’ll miss her a lot when I move. She insists me they would be glad to hear from me.  The tall one, Thomas, lists himself as “In A Relationship” with an adorable blonde, so I sent David, the soccer player, a friendly message. By morning, both of them had accepted my Internet friendship.  With only one night remaining in NYC, I stop by to return the packaging tape and fill Meredith in on my moving details. I’m standing in the hallway, clad in sweatpants, my hair sloppily tossed in a ponytail and nary an ounce of makeup on my face, as Thomas comes up from the basement.

“Who’s that pretty girl?”

Puzzled by who he was talking to, I give him an awkward side hug and continue my conversation. Meredith invites me to join them for lunch, and I seat myself next to Thomas as David also joins us in the dining room.  I try to get a conversation going with David, but he appears to be too hung-over for chit-chat. Thomas starts asking questions about me and seems genuinely interested in my new career path, and laughs at my sarcastic remarks.

It’s amazing how quickly you start to notice someone when they start to notice you.

In addition to his charming accent, Thomas became increasingly more handsome and interesting. He told me about his job in some sort of risk assessment role in construction, and I gathered he was quite intelligent.  His deep-set eyes were wide and engaged, his hair neatly groomed with tiny patches of grey around his temples. After a late night exploring Manhattan, a five o’clock shadow had formed around his sharp facial features.

“Have you enjoyed your trip here so far?”
“Definitely. We managed to find ourselves in the tail end of the Halloween parade last night.”

He showed me pictures of himself dressed in a skin-tight Spiderman suit.

“Where did you keep your wallet?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” he cheekily replied.

“I would actually.” I really did wonder.

“Backpack.”
“Last I checked, Spiderman doesn’t wear a backpack.”

“So are you ready to move tomorrow and say goodbye to NYC?” he asks

“Yeah, it’s been a fun week. Everyone wants to buy you expensive cocktails when you move away. I should have announced my move years ago just for the free drinks.”
“Well, I don’t know what you have planned for your last night in town, but can I buy you an expensive cocktail?”

“Don’t worry, I like cheap ones too.”

I invited him and David to join my friends in the Village for dinner and drinks to send me off. While I was hoping to see them, I was distracted by saying goodbye to dear friends and preparing to move to Denver. I put them out of my mind and headed into the city from Brooklyn. Halfway through dinner, Thomas texts me to let me know they have decided to stay in Brooklyn for the evening, but he wishes me well. The next day, he messages me on Facebook to let me know he was really sorry he couldn’t make it out and that he hopes I have a safe flight. It is then I notice his relationship status had just changed to single. After touching down in Denver, I send him a picture of the Rocky Mountains. He responds in kind that he is preparing to fly back home the next day, and reminds me again to call upon him should I ever find myself back in the UK. I smile to myself, thinking that I had just crossed paths with an interesting person that I very likely would never hear from again, and I was content with that. Sometimes even the briefest encounters with strangers can be enriching.

            Act II: The Escalation

A few days later, my phone pings. It’s a message from Thomas. He sends me a picture of his neighborhood as he walks to work. I am excited to hear from him, and not knowing anyone in my new town, I welcome the human interaction. We chat about our week. I tell him about my posh temporary corporate apartment and how majestic the mountains look from my window. Small talk turns gradually into an almost daily occurrence, and I start to wonder if there is possibly any attraction involved in this connection, or if it’s just another friendly pen pal I have managed to pick up. So far it all reads very platonic, and I don’t detect much flirtation, but I’m undoubtedly curious. He starts every message with “Hey you” and ends every message with a single “X.” I google to find out if an “X” is a casual sign-off in the UK or if it indicates anything romantic (Does an X mean a hug or a kiss, I neurotically obsess to myself). Results are inconclusive. Because of our sprawling time zones, the only times I find myself talking with him are just before I close my eyes and fall asleep and immediately upon waking, usually one’s most private daily moments. This comes up suddenly in conversation one day. On a cold winter night for me and a chilly morning for him, he writes:

“Hey you. I write from my hot bed again. So when do you move to your permanent place. X”

“Glad we have isolated our correspondence to our bedrooms. I write from my warm bed as well”

I insert a winky face because I’m feeling saucy.

“I think it is the best place to chat!!! So tell me about the new place and its bedroom areas for chatting?” He winks back.

Flirting. In my limited experience, I can at least tell this is most definitely flirting. I am a big proponent of the “fake it ‘til you make it” approach to life, so I do my best to keep up with him, but flirting is most definitely not in my wheelhouse. Sometimes this is painfully apparent:

“The movers lost my bed,” I tell him as I get settled into my new place.

“It’s 21:40 and I’m in bed. And my bed is so big and cosy,” he responds.
In this moment, I sincerely believe he is merely gloating about the fact he is currently in possession of a bed and I am not.

“That is so mean,” I say.

“But……just find my bed.”

Gulp. The things that manage to go over my head sometimes amaze me.

It’s been a couple of weeks now, so I ask him if he’d be interested in taking the conversation to the land of Skype so we could chat face to face. He rarely uses Skype, but makes a point to say that he is ready to change that for me. We make plans to talk the next weekend. He messages me towards the end of the weekend to say that he was too busy to sync up, but that next week would be better. He flakes a few more times before I finally get the impression he is losing any interest he might have had.

I head to Las Vegas for my first sales meeting in my new job. It’s overwhelming and I don’t really know anyone yet. Thomas’s messages keep me company, and I decide to ignore his video chatting evasion. After a few exhausting days of presentations and work sanctioned gambling, I’m sitting in the Las Vegas Airport suffering through flight delays with a few of my new coworkers. My phone lights up. It’s after 8:00 PM in Vegas and I deduce it is a very late evening for Thomas. He tells me of his night out with friends in Norwich where he lives. I sigh and think about how much I loved the UK when I went over there last summer.

“You’d love Norwich so much. Come visit soon. XX”

“Maybe one day. I see I go two XX’s on that one.”
“Hey you, well you can XXX if you want…or maybe XXXX”

I freeze. I am unaccustomed to such blatant innuendo. I send a coy winky face because I am clearly out of my depth here. Also, it’s late and I’m calculating the odds that he will even remember this conversation in his next morning’s hangover.

“Goodnight and have a safe flight.”

He sends me a picture of Norwich and I sigh, wishing my plane was heading there instead of back to Denver. Just as I’m about to put my phone away and board the plane, he sends me a photo of himself, shirtless posing in front of a gym mirror, his abs and chest are perfectly sculpted. I had no idea that was hiding under the collared shirts and blazers.

I drop my phone as I panic to close the app before my coworkers glimpse the shirtless man on my phone or my face turning five shades of red. In most cases, late night shirtless photos would repulse me because they are usually coming from sleazy online strangers, but in this case I am both amused and very much attracted. I rarely hang out with men who have six-packs. Unfortunately, I must board my plane and have to cut the conversation short. Before I go he brings up our missed connections:

“Hey, have a good flight. We need to get this Skype thing going when you get back.”

In the instances I think he is slipping away, he comes back with enough to continue to stir the pot. I think of him the entire way home. I can’t wait to chat, to hear his accent, and see if sparks fly in a realm as close to “in person” as we can possibly get living so far apart.

He cancels again. And a few more times after. If I hadn’t met him in person once, I would swear I was being Catfished and that he actually was a 65-year old woman living a fake online life somewhere in Oklahoma. He comes up with an excuse every time, and I am puzzled as to why he is simultaneously avoiding Skype and engaging in playful banter almost every day.

At this point, most of my friends have heard about him because I often crowd-source my flirtatious responses to Thomas. I’m not beyond asking for help in such matters. I’m out celebrating my birthday with a good friend of mine, Erin, that I grew up with who happens to also live in Denver now. As we are sipping beers, I see the familiar notification that I have a new message:
“You need to be here now xx”

“I must practice patience. Mountains today. London eventually.”

“You have a way with words.”

“It’s part of my charm.”
“So it appears. Get on that flight to the UK. Wish you were here right now. I’d show you a great birthday. XX”

“I wish I could take you up on that. Rain check?”

“Tell me about it. Cute and sexy…you and me!”

I smile and Erin notices my distraction.

“I hate these time zones, gorgeous. Right now, I’m drunk and laying butt naked on the sofa. What a thought, eh? X”

I show her the messages and ask for a clever retort. I want to play ball, but I also sense I am two clicks away from a dick-pic ending this entire flirtationship. I quickly click on the giant thumbs up graphic that Facebook has enabled on their messaging, for situations like this I presume. When I confess my response, Erin laughs and then immediately scolds me:

“Stephanie. You are a grown woman. Today, you are thirty. When a man is interested in you this way, you cannot simply respond with a digital thumbs up!”

She’s absolutely right. I have never experienced mutual sexual attraction like this. My pattern has always been to chase the uninterested. For those of you unfamiliar, I got a very late start romantically. After a shy nerdy adolescence, I spent my college years in a religious cult that prohibited any normal dating behavior (a story for another day). It wasn’t until my late 20’s that I joined the dating pool, and even still it has been a very slow process for me. I usually connect with men on a more cerebral field, which I find very attractive, but often does little in the ways of turning on a man. This is not to say that Thomas isn’t a smart man, but for once, that is not the basis of the interaction. This is new. I am exhilarated. And completely terrified. I make up an excuse to end the conversation before he says something he’ll be embarrassed about the next day, and compartmentalize my feelings on this for a later day.

Act III: The Resolution

Every day, I find myself more and more fond of Thomas, but I do my best to keep a cool, casual demeanor (which is easier to do in print). I can tell he’s only interested in fun, flirtatious banter, and the moment I begin to inject anything more serious into the interaction, I am met with a cold shoulder. This troubles me at first, but then I realize that I too am enjoying the fun nature of our exchange. Maybe this is all it is ever going to be.

I’m in the process of planning a trip to visit friends in Munich in the spring, and I mention the thought that I was considering adding a few days in London when I come. He tells me that this is fantastic news and that he’d love if it I add him to my list of people to see when I go. Suddenly, this becomes very real to me. He can avoid Skype, but what will happen when we are once again in the same room together. Unfortunately for me, it is about this time that Thomas’s messages grow more infrequent. I try not to be bothered as he has told me that he is in the process of selling his house and starting a new career. The sudden removal of his affections though starts to drive me a little crazy. I start to overthink the whole situation. Every fear of rejection I carry around with me comes bubbling to the surface in the most unpleasant way. I convince myself that I did something to turn him away or that he has met someone who actually lives in his time zone. I don’t say any of these things to him, but I start to feel the correspondence become drastically imbalanced. I try my best to wait for any replies before sending him any messages, but sometimes my excitement over sharing things with him get the best of me. I usually prefer to think of things like this as a tennis match: you lob a ball over and then wait for the volley to start. You don’t just keep lobbing balls over the net unflinchingly. That’s not how the game works. I feel a few unreturned serves and grow disheartened.

Instead of daily messages now, they are consistently rolling in on a weekly basis. The salaciousness of the exchange has died down. He continues to ask about how my life is going, but there is even more distance between us than the Atlantic Ocean. I finally ask him why he is avoiding talking to me, especially over Skype, and he apologizes. He tells me that he’s a bit “useless” at the moment but that he’d sort it out ASAP. I have no objective reason to not believe him with only the words on the screen to guide me. Any other speculation as to his silence would not benefit me emotionally.

“You got any more selfies for me?” he asks.

“You got any for me?” I respond trying to keep things equal.

“Always.”

“Go on. In the area of narcissistic selfies, you are lagging behind, Mister.”

“I’m at work now, but I will send one later tonight.”

I send him my latest photo and wait. A week goes by before I hear from him again.

“Hey you. Crazy town here. Sorry I haven’t messaged. How are you? XX”

I catch him up on the week and tell him that I booked my plane ticket to London. Two weeks go by before he responds. I know that I shouldn’t engage any more, that this is drifting away and I need to let it go, but the fact that I don’t understand the cause for the shift plays with my thoughts. Finally, too curious to function, I ask:
“ Can I ask you if there was something I did to offend you? I was really enjoying talking to you and I just want to make sure everything is ok in your neck of the woods.”

I am hoping at this moment to get some answer, some nice closure as to what changed his mind. A new girl, a lack of interest in me, something solid so I could alleviate the wonder. Instead I get this:

“Hey so sorry. Just my world is very hectic right now with this new job. I’m sitting in Heathrow airport about to head to Dubai for work. Let’s catch up soon.”

So he really is sticking to the “I’m just busy” story? I tell him that I am trying to secure tickets to a football match in London when I’m over there. He graciously offers to keep me company, and I allow myself to hope there was a chance we would get our spark back. He sends me scenic pictures from Dubai, and seems to be messaging a little more frequently. Maybe his schedule is relaxing a little. I take a few days off because of my own work trip, and when I return I mention how soon it will be that I’ll be over there, and that I hope all is well in his world.

“Hey, sorry. I’ve been super busy. So how’s work? Mine’s crazy. Also, I’m off to Brazil in April with a new female friend of mine!”

A needle scratches over a record and I can hardly believe I’m reading the message correctly. In true overanalyzing form, I am not only disappointed in this news, I am upset at his delivery and that damned exclamation point at the end drives me over the edge. Was there not a better way to tell me this? If he is already planning trips with this new friend, perhaps he could have told me sooner?

I take a couple of days to process the entire situation. My initial instinct is to simply wish I had never met him. It seemed like such a wasted endeavor, and I don’t really understand why he kept the conversation going so long after he was interested. I felt used and rejected, and I would much rather feel none of those things. I have learned over the past year or so that when unpleasant emotions erupt, it is better to acknowledge them, explore them, and understand them. A lifetime of burying my emotions and getting heartbroken has left me bewildered, and I find lately that embracing one’s true emotions can only bring about healing and growth. It took me 30 years to learn this, and it will probably take me thirty more to master it. But then I star to think how some of these feelings are feelings that have haunted me for a long time. How perhaps, I am less upset about losing this particular individual as I am about losing the affection and positive attention he had been giving me, like someone had taken a drug from me and I needed it back immediately to function. Maybe in the end, I was using him in much the same way I was accusing him of using me. He had tapped into a more visceral, wild side of me that would never have emerged had we not met, and for that I should be grateful. He had added an aspect of a relationship into the fold that I had no clue I deeply desired. These are all valuable lessons to learn about myself, and bring with me as I move forward regardless of how little our words might have meant to him or his intentions of keeping me on the hook. This is not a story about a lost love–truth be told, I hardly know Thomas, but instead, this is just another chapter in my attempt to understand Pandora’s box of complex human emotions….that and when not to utilize a digital thumbs-up in romance.

The Duodenum of Life

I sit perched in my Ford Focus parked outside the Beijing House Chinese restaurant, barking orders at my car’s blue tooth to dial my friend, Serena.

“I just spent an hour blubbering to my therapist about my failed love life.”

“I haven’t had a bowel movement in over a week.”

“Ok you win.”

“I’ve made an appointment with a doctor. After consulting the Internet, I am thinking it could be a blockage or maybe a gut-nesting bacteria monster.”

“Have you taken anything?”

“Not yet. So, therapy?

 “Yeah. I’m back to old habits. I’m one facebook message away from being what Vince Vaughn calls a ‘Stage-5 clinger’. I’m also under strict instructions to stop referring to myself as a cyborg. She said I need to be more open and embrace my journey through womanhood, or whatever. “

“I love the word womanhood. I also love the word duodenum.“

“Seriously, you need to take something. Think of it this way, sitting inside your gut is a pile of waste your body has deemed completely useless. It’s too toxic to keep carrying that around. It’s time to get rid of that waste”

“I feel like my colon is an appropriate metaphor for your problems with men right now.”

I head home and devour my order of crab wontons while catching up on The Bachelor. Maybe she’s right. Maybe I need to just stop carrying around the parts of my life that are obviously useless.  It’s probably time to discard the waste.  I open up my fortune cookie to see the Chinese translation for the word beer, six lucky numbers and this:

 Image

I assume it’s referring to my journey through womanhood.

 

 

Sam and the Magic Pants

I like shopping for pants as much as I like first dates: there is the hope of something new and good, but I usually find myself knee-deep in self-pity seeking comfort in a box of Fig Newtons. Sizes are slippery fish in most stores, but to my chagrin, I’ve always sat comfortably in a size 16. Not that a size 16 is bad in and of itself–it just means that I’m on the cusp of being able to purchase clothes at major retail chains or having to shop in the plus-size section. I usually can ignore the extra poundage I drag around on a daily basis, but there is no way to sustain denial under the harsh fluorescent lighting of a GAP dressing room. On an impulse, I decide to deviate from my usual “Long and Lean” cut denim and grab a pair of straight-leg, ankle-cut corduroys in a bold shade of red. The straight-leg pants at this store never fit. I’m preparing myself for disappointment, but much to my surprise, I zip them up to perfection. I stand, fluorescent light be damned, as I celebrate a shopping victory. Thrilled to be able to wear a new style, I grab 5 pairs of other colors and pull them back to the fitting room. Despite them being labeled in precisely the same manner, only the red ones fit. I cut my losses and happily walk out with my purchase, my very own magical pants. I was wearing those red pants when I met Sam.

Sam and I had been emailing for three months. I broke my rule against befriending strangers on Facebook after multiple prompts of “Do you know Sam” in that little toolbar on the right-hand side of my screen. No, I don’t know Sam. Should I? I glanced at his profile to discover we know many of the same people. He was very handsome, perhaps a little more clean-cut than I was normally attracted to (short blond hair, suited wardrobe and no tattoos), but what drew me in was his “About Me” section, more specifically, that he took the time to write a five-paragraph Facebook auto-biography. I made mental notes of all the things that piqued my interest and sent a friendly message introducing myself. Introductory emails gave way to hours of clever banter revealing a quirky sense of humor that matches closely with my own. We joked about politics, and we swapped a lot of popular Internet memes. We were both big fans of Grumpy Cat.  Beyond that, we shared many of the same interests and philosophies on life, a rare occurrence for me. Sam worked long hours as a copywriter for a boutique advertising company, so the messages usually didn’t ramp up until after midnight. I noticed that I would stay up later and later each night looking forward to our next exchange. Because he lived in the suburbs of New Jersey and worked so much, it took three months of failed attempts before we made solid plans to meet in person, but finally, at Sam’s suggestion, we scheduled a Saturday night dinner.

Suddenly, I’m overwhelmed with the nervousness and anticipation of discovering whether or not the real Sam would match the version of him I conjured in my imagination. As worried as I am that he will not match my expectations, I am even more stressed that I will somehow disappoint the version of me he has envisioned. My anxiety peaks as I obsessively comb through our emails to look for clues as to whether this dinner was a friendly meal or a date.  There are no discernable signs to be found, so I decide to wear my magic pants and a full face of make-up to be on the safe side. As I’m mulling over the weekend’s possibilities, the ping of a new messages breaks my concentration:

“I am really craving Mexican . Let’s do Tortilla Flats in the Meatpacking district. I’ll pick you up at your place at 8.”

He’ll pick me up!?! At my place!?! This is unheard of behavior in New York. I am used to meeting men at bars and saying awkward goodbyes outside of subway stations, but this guy was going to pick me up?! A date, this is definitely a date. Saturday arrives, my doorbell buzzes, and my stomach flips. I open the door and am greeted with a warm “Hey you!” I walk towards him and we hug, not as strangers, but as people who’ve known each other forever. I sigh and am immediately at ease. At dinner, our banter is as rapid-fire and easy as it is in print, but there is so much more to explore when you add in facial expressions and body language. Sam’s eyes blink hyperactively as we frenetically switch from topic to topic. I am too charmed for my own good. Dinner ends, and he suggests a second location for drinks. So far, he has opened every single door and paid for everything. The scale is tipping heavily on the “date” end, but everything is riding on the goodbye. I stand on my stoop trying to telepathically convey the message of “kiss me, you fool!” but the night ends with a hug. I float up to my 4th floor walk-up, not letting the vague nature of the evening detract me from the joy of connecting with an interesting man. It’s not even a day later that I hear that familiar ping on my phone:

“I had such a great time last night. It was so nice to finally meet you. Let’s do it again soon.”

I take a page out of the movie Swingers’ playbook and determine that a 24-hour follow-up means he is interested (Vince Vaughn would suggest that waiting three days is “money, baby”). A quick post-mortem leads me to finally settle on the opinion that our night out had romantic undertones.

Our friendship continued over the course of a couple of months when I offer my photography assistance on a side web-project he’s developing. It is not a ploy to spend more time together, but inevitably that is what happens. Ok, it might have been a ploy. I realize as we’re working together that our once playful banter has transitioned into a less-flirtatious buddy rapport, and all we ever talk about anymore is this photography project. After a boost of self-confidence, and perhaps an Ambien, I compose an email to say what I’ve been too scared to say since we met: “I’m interested in you, Sam, and I want more than good friendship.” I ended the message with the latest YouTube clip of Randall, the Honey Badger. I wait 18 torturous hours for his reply, the lowlight of which was the following:

“I don’t even know what to say. I think we are on different pages. I’ve been approaching things                           from a ‘friendly’ perspective. I’m pretty picky when it comes to dating, and I’m not sure I’ll ever find what I’m looking for. But I’ve had a great time getting to know you, and if you are ok with this, I’d be happy to continue just being friends.”

He seals the message with the latest Chuck Norris meme. We are both desperately trying to diffuse the awkwardness of this conversation. In the list of possible scenarios I had imagined, all of them operated under the assumption that he had at least thought about me as a romantic prospect. I was prepared for “he’s just not into me,” but I was completely unprepared for “I was never worthy of being considered.” I’m embarrassed to say how deeply this hurt me, but I was crushed. Lucky for me, this was not an in-person conversation. Since he is not witnessing my devastation over the computer screen, I have options here: cut my losses and walk away, or take him up on his offer for friendship and hope my feelings subside. I foolishly chose the latter. In an effort to save face, I pack my feelings for him in a little box and hide it under my mattress. Compartmentalizing is easy for me as I’ve never been very good at handling my emotions. I find it’s always more comfortable to trust my cerebral instincts and completely ignore what my pesky heart might have to say about the matter.  I prefer a robot’s life.

Six months passed after that gut-wrenching rejection, and neither of us ever mentioned the conversation.  We carried on as old chums happy to be in a platonic relationship. I helped him with photography. He helped talk me off countless ledges after heated arguments with my mother. We gave each other encouraging career pep talks (neither of us was happy with the distance between our corporate jobs and our artistic dreams). He made me laugh all the time, and we messaged almost daily. I’d spent most of my life relying on self-sufficiency and independence, but for the first time, I needed someone, not in the sense that I was needy, but in the sense that my friendship with Sam was necessary. Most days, I convinced myself I was happy with the arrangement, that his friendship was worth the tiny twangs of discomfort I felt when I realized we both wanted different things. Those twangs often erupted from suspicions that he was interested in someone else, a girl who lives in his building. Jealousy is an evil gremlin that can seriously harsh your buzz. My robot wiring short-circuits when rogue emotions pop up, and I did my best to ignore the feelings that emerged every time I heard him mention her name, or worse, when he would pause mid-conversation to send her a text message. I tried to keep my feelings for him sealed in that hidden box separate from our actual friendship, but I was eventually faced with the reality that my emotions were spilling over. It was difficult to come to grips with the fact that our friendship might only be this special to me. By agreeing to be “just friends” with Sam, I wrote a check my heart could not cash, and our platonic relationship hurt more than I thought it would. It’s not that I thought his feelings would change; actually, on the contrary, I was so certain my feelings would. They never did.

Recently, I had an “a-ha” moment. Sometimes, my imagination gets the best of me, and I ponder a life where Sam does return my feelings. I was walking down Broadway after work with my IPod cranked full-blast on a list of 80’s power ballads, lost in a day-dream where I imagine that first night ending with a passionate kiss. My thoughts were quickly interrupted–

Zzttt. zzzzztttt. ZZZZTTTTT.

I literally blew my IPod speakers while listening to Peter Cetera’s “Glory of Love.”

“So this is what rock-bottom feels like,” I thought to myself. I looked down in my moment of self-pity, and I realized that I was wearing those same red corduroy pants, only they didn’t fit anymore. After a come-to-Jesus moment with poor-eating habits around Thanksgiving, I lost several pounds on a low-carb diet, and my once-magic pants now looked baggy and unflattering.  It’s funny, they had probably been that way for a while, but in my mind, they still looked as amazing as they did in that dressing room. I should probably have thrown them away, but I liked them too much. Too stubborn to embrace change, time went by and I was still using my broken headphones and wearing my baggy pants. A coworker compared my red corduroys to a pair of broken-in sweatpants, which prompted an emergency shopping trip. I walked right by the GAP and decided to instead try my hand at Urban Outfitters, a store I previously had not had the pleasure of perusing because they did not carry my size. I grabbed a pair of plain boot-cut jeans and head towards the dressing room. I nearly cried as I zipped up the smallest pair of pants I have worn in my entire adult life. These jeans are not magic, but they fit perfectly. I stared in the mirror long enough to annoy the sales associates who wanted to fill the dressing room with the next customer.

This is precisely what pants should feel like.

I’m noticing that Sam and I don’t email me as much as we used to. Maybe we’ve exhausted the pool of Internet memes, or maybe I’ve finally allowed the proper balance to be restored to the relationship. No matter what, I’ve slowly learned the risk you take by opening yourself up to another person is worth the potential rewards. Sometimes, you are met with the same emotions, and sometimes you are emotionally out on a limb, but it sure beats the lonely, isolated existence of a robot. I scroll through my Facebook feed to see a witty exchange between Sam and a new woman friend. I am relieved to discover that evil jealousy gremlin is nowhere to be found. I have a habit of waiting a long time to fix things that are broken. It’s taken me over a year, but I am finally beginning to reconcile my heart with reality, and yesterday, I finally tossed those headphones in the trash with my size-16, red corduroy pants.

The Wonka Method of dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress

“There is no life I know to compare with pure imagination.”

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a bizarre fascination with the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The film is full tilt whimsy, and for those of you who really know me, you know that whimsy is my single favorite word in the English dictionary.

“From Loompaland.”

Something about that film that completely mesmerized me, and every time, I was left longing to own my own chocolate factory. The only problem is I’ve always hated eating chocolate (that, and I have no idea how to go about hiring Oompa Loompas).Fruity, taffy, gummy candy? Yes, sir! Peanut butter perfection? Absolutely! But chocolate, particularly milk chocolate, does nothing to tickle my taste buds. One year, during a depressing period of my existence, my dad (under the advice of my mother) decided to forgo the customary bouquet of flowers he sends me on Valentine’s Day and opted instead to send a 5-tier tower of chocolate candy from Harry and David. I cried, then gave it all to my roommate. Did I mention this was a sad period of my existence?

 

The nagging feeling to make my own candy finally gave way after a viewing of Willy Wonka a few years ago. I found a recipe for dark chocolate truffles, and went to town. I whipped up a couple of batches, tasted one to make sure it wasn’t poison, then gave the rest away. That is when I discovered the following:

  1. Making your own candy takes a lot of time and patience.
  2. Melted chocolate is aesthetically beautiful. Seriously. I just like the way it looks melted.
  3. People like when you give them homemade chocolate. Instant joy!

At that moment, my Wonka itch had been scratched, but every now and again, I would look up a recipe and play with chocolate. It wasn’t until recently that I unearthed a new discovery about the art of making chocolate. I like to call it the Wonka Method to dealing with post-traumatic stress. You see, a weird thing happened to me a few weeks ago. I was walking down the street near my office, texting hilarious nonsense with a friend, when I suddenly felt a powerful force knock me to the ground from behind. When I say a powerful force, I’m talking an NFL tackle level of force, square on my upper back. It knocked the wind out of me, and as I caught my breath, I looked back to see a man darting away suspiciously. I can only guess it was him, and I can only guess that he was trying to steal my purse and/or Iphone. Little did he know that my biological response to being threatened is to clutch my material possessions instead of protecting my own person. I’m not kidding when I say that all of my weight fell on my right hand because my left hand refused to let go of an Iphone that should have most-definitely flew out of my hands as I crumpled to the ground. Priorities, people! Anyways, after a couple of people helped me up, and I processed what had just happened, I did what any normal person would do—I finished my text to my friend. Then, like a child who doesn’t cry until a full minute after getting an “owie”, the adrenaline wore off and I had an epic fit of hysterics. Not only could I not catch my breath, but also I was confused and literally could not stop sobbing. It wasn’t that I was emotionally upset, after all he didn’t succeed in stealing anything, but my body was having a reaction all on its own. My friend, confused by my string of texts that had clearly shifted in tone, called to help me calm down. I took a few minutes to compose myself, then I continued on towards the grocery store as if nothing weird had just happened to me.

photo-14

“A little nonsense now and then, is relished by the wisest men.”

But let’s get back to chocolate, shall we? Stress can do some interesting things to your body, and over the course of the following days, I noticed that despite me feeling completely over my brush with violence, I still had a lot of trouble breathing. My rib cage felt like it was too small for my lungs, like two pit-bulls that had outgrown their kennels. It seemed as though the most innocuous irritating thing would cause my entire chest to tighten up and restrict my breathing. So annoying. I tried stretching and breathing exercises. I tried anti-inflammatory medicines and muscle relaxers (which totally work but make me too sleepy to function). Even something like dancing, which usually calms me down, was making me so anxious and out of breath. The only thing that seemed to calm me down was to focus my energy on a task that required patience and stillness. In this case, that task was making chocolate. I was planning on making a batch for an upcoming party, but I noticed that the act of melting chocolate and caramelizing sugar had a noticeably Zen effect on me. When I was finished, my breath was controlled, I was relaxed and I was completely stoked with my culinary creations. I had found Nirvana and it was made up of Guittard dark-chocolate chips (63% cocoa, natch). I know it sounds ridiculous and nonsensical, but it completely de-stresses me to the point where I have been obsessively making dark chocolate truffles for the past two weeks. At this point, most of my anxiety seems to be gradually fading away, but what has been left in its wake is a new hobby, and what better hobby than one that results in my friends getting to eat free chocolate candy (while I’ve now developed a taste for dark chocolate, I still adhere to the rule of only trying one per batch to keep my weight-loss on track. It’s all about moderation!).

photo-17

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”

My roommate is a trained pastry chef, so she is enabling my recent addiction, loaning me culinary text books and baking supplies. So far, I’ve experimented with sea-salted caramel, Bailey’s Irish Cream, Kahlua and coffee, and my most exciting batch—cayenne pepper with chili powder. Yum! I’m not sharing this with you in the hopes that you too will discover the zen-like properties of making chocolate, but instead, I hope that it inspires you to find the thing that relaxes you and to embrace it. It is too easy these days to find ourselves rushing around trying to conquer life,that we don’t realize how beneficial it is to slow down and just be at peace in a single moment. Sometimes the only way to get over a stressful experience, is to slow down and allow your body to sync up with your mind. And if you can’t find that thing that gives you peace? Well, science shows that eating chocolate causes your brain to release that feel-good chemical, serotonin, and it just so happens I have a few truffles for you to try.

photo-16

“Come with me, and you’ll see a world of pure imagination.”

 

The Cyborg’s Guide to Human Dating

I used to say I was going to write a book on relationships titled The Cyborg’s Guide to Human Dating. There, I would finally share all of my dating tips, quips and rules of the road as I learned to navigate the world of human romantic relationships. You see, for the longest time I have felt like a robot when it comes to emotions, especially ones like looooove. Almost every personality test seems to confirm this. The Enneagram tells me that my key motivation is to “possess knowledge, to understand the environment, and to have everything figured out as a way of defending the self from threats from the environment.”  See? Robot.

I got a very late start to traditional dating. You know the story–too shy and awkward in high school, too hyper religious in college, blah blah blah. Before I knew it, I was in my mid-twenties with nary a relationship under my belt. I decided to approach this aspect of my life like I approach most things–read books, ask questions, and amass as much knowledge as possible until I was ready to jump in with both feet. I found a fella, asked him to a Yankees/Red Sox game and it was a disaster. I apparently skipped all the chapters that address how to deal with douchebags who threaten to leave you alone in the Bronx during a rain delay. I waited around for guys who never wanted anything but my good friendship. I dove into the murky waters of online dating, and you all know how that turned out (scroll through this site if you aren’t up to speed). This robot was frustrated.

For years I was accused of being too picky and having unrealistic expectations about love. I was advised that I needed to try to put myself “out there more” and “kiss a few frogs.” I was instructed to give men who were all wrong for me more chances in the name of good practice for the real thing. Someone actually advised that 3:00 am last calls were great target practice, and that I’d feel a little better if I just had some good old-fashioned casual sex with strangers. I simply drove myself nuts trying to heed some of their well-intentioned advice. That casual sex advice was never entertained, but there was something to be said about making myself available to what life had to offer instead of hiding behind my sarcastic and guarded persona that had grown so comfortable over the years. I learned a lot from this process, and I have no regrets. I can safely say now that dating no longer scares the bejeezus out of me which is a wonderful thing; however, about six months ago, I decided to stop “trying.”  Do not be confused, I have not given up, but I have stopped doing all these ridiculous things like online dating and figuring out the appropriate amount of hair tossing to attract a suitable mate. Occasionally, I get a little bored and still test that hair-tossing theory as was the case recently. What can I say? I’ve been having a good hair month.

Instead of beating myself up about how terrible I am at this basic human interaction, I have started to think long and hard about what I actually believe about romance and what I really desire in a future partner. I could wax on and on about what I’ve learned from this emotional journey and the sort of man I hope to find. Maybe one day I will, but for now, I’d like to share one of my favorite quotes on the matter that sums up a lot of my feelings here:

The first time you fall in love, it’s such a transcendental feeling, you know? It’s like eating pizza-flavored ice cream. Your brain can’t even process that level of joy. And love makes people do crazy things, like kill people, or shop at Crate & Barrel. It makes us all a little delusional. I think our whole lives, no matter how low our self-esteem gets, there’s some part of us that thinks, ‘I have a secret special skill that no one knows about, and if they knew, they’d be amazed.’ And eventually, we meet someone who’s like, ‘You have a secret special skill!’ And you’re like, ‘I know! So do you!’ And they’re like, ‘I know!’ And then you’re like, ‘We should eat pizza ice cream together.’ And that’s what love is. It’s this mountain of pizza ice cream and delusion.

-Mike Birbiglia, Sleepwalk With Me

Though I rely heavily on logic and reason, I am someone that has always made her best decisions when she abandons all of that and goes with her gut instincts. My gut tells me that I know what I am worth, and settling for less will never make me happy. My gut tells me that I am not picky, but rather that I possess enough self-awareness to know what works for me, and that pizza flavored ice cream is worth the wait.  This is ultimately why I know I am not a robot….robots don’t have stomachs.

.

The Whole30 Shebang

I’ve always fancied myself more of a cerebral individual. I say this not as an attempt at intellectual boasting as much as it is to say this: I’ve always thought of my body as a clunky, oversized carrying case for my brain.  I’ve spent the better part of my life treating my body and its physical needs secondary to the nourishment and attention I give my mind and my thoughts.  Secondary? That’s probably an understatement. I’d rank health and nutrition somewhere between household chores and doing my taxes—I do what I need to do to get by without any extra effort or consideration (sorry, IRS!). In this respect, I’ve reaped what I’ve sown, and as I approach 30 (!?!), I’ve reached my comeuppance. My 20’s have been a constant rotation of chronic insomnia, blood sugar mania, joint injuries, poor digestion, ER visits, pain-killers, Ambien and lots of extra pounds.  I’m hardly on my way to being 30, flirty and thriving (quick, name that movie!)

So what’s a girl to do? As I mentioned in a previous post, the start of 2013 meant resetting the way I look at nutrition, my relationship with food and the impact my diet has on the rest of my body’s operation. Thanks to the suggestion of a dear friend, I decided to not only give the Paleo lifestyle a try, but I decided to jump-start that transition with the #Whole30 challenge. For 30 days, I would strip my diet of all inflammatory foods: grains, sugar (real or otherwise), legumes, alcohol, and soy. What’s left is a steady diet of meat, seafood, fruits and veggies. I would take this time to allow my body to heal from the damage that occurs from a lifetime of eating toxic chemicals and an unspeakable amount of carbohydrates. I am nearing the end of my 30 days (with nary a cheat in sight), and the results have been nothing short of amazing. I am down twelve pounds, my skin is glowing, my sleep has improved, my blood sugar has stabilized, and more importantly, I better understand how and what kinds of food best fuel this clunky, oversized brain-carrier. Also, my cheekbones are back, so there’s that. Here are some random, interesting things I’ve learned throughout this process.

Image

  1. Betty Ford should open an institute to treat sugar addicts. The first seven days were straight up sugar rehab.I was climbing the walls craving everything from candy to donuts to my old friend Diet Coke (yep, even fake sugar got the axe). If you were unlucky enough to be around me during this first week, you witnessed manic mood swings and heightened irritability.  Also, I looked like an extra from Walking Dead.walking dead
  2. All my life, I was convinced that sweet potatoes needed brown sugar to be enjoyed. They don’t, and I was insane to think so. Sweet potatoes are my heavenly manna.
  3. If it’s not in my house, I can’t eat it.
  4. It is not really that hard to drink water while your friends sip mimosas and beer. If you get bored, you can always run down the street and order a veggie/fruit smoothie, and no one will judge you. That being said, I kinda miss whiskey.
  5. I ask myself all the time if it’s possible to eat too many apples. It probably is, but there are worse vices I could have.big mac
  6. Speaking of vices, it is safe to say that I will look back on this month as the time I truly fell in love with coffee. Removing cream and sugar has opened up my taste buds to a world full of rich, aromatic flavor. Also, coffee kept me alive and tolerable for those first seven days. Anyone who crossed my path during that week should thank his or her lucky stars for coffee.
  7. Servers at restaurants are more than happy to put up with your obnoxious ingredient questions if you smile (and tip them well).
  8. It took my deli guy close to two weeks to stop looking confused when I ordered my breakfast. “No double egg and cheese on a toasted English muffin?” Sorry, Marcos, sometimes things change.
  9. I do still know my way around the kitchen. After nearly 5 years of flexing my take-out muscles, I was actually worried this would not be true.
  10.  The coconut knows no bounds. Seriously, the Professor from Gilligan’s Island was totally on to something.Roy Hinkley

The trick behind #Whole30 (and it’s not actually a trick), is that after the 30 days, you don’t really want to go back to your old way of eating. The cravings are gone, and the pain and sickness is truly not worth that slice of pizza. I’ve turned a serious corner here, guys, and I am seriously jazzed about this new outlook on food. I have given some serious consideration as to what foods I will attempt to carefully incorporate back into my diet, and the list I’ve decided on is quite short—small amounts of dairy, most legumes, the occasional soy and of course, whiskey. I feel pretty good about my permanent exclusion list: sugar, grains, potatoes, corn, diet soda, beer, etc. I know I run the risk of becoming one of those uber-obnoxious, self-righteous health nuts, but this experience has been too good not to share. I don’t expect everyone to take such extreme measures with their eating habits, but I will be the first to join your cheer squad if you do.

Now, if only I could be this excited about doing my taxes.

Angry Sardines in a Can

Do you remember that episode of Seinfeld where Elaine gets stuck on a crowded subway car and begins a spiral descent towards insanity as she waits wedged between a bunch of smelly strangers? I would like to tell you that scenario doesn’t actually happen in New York, but it does, and more often than I’d like to admit. You stick a bunch of New Yorkers into a tiny metal box, and all sorts of ugly behavior can erupt.

A month or so ago, I was on just such a train. Hurricane Sandy had just came through, and service had just been restored on my line. In a word, this train was crowded.

rsz_just-about-ass-to-ankles-back-here-a-classic-arrested_a16bc3_3353339

It never fails, though, that there is always one person too many who squeezes in as the door closes, and everyone collectively groans. A tiny metal can full of angry, irritable sardines. A man, small in stature, jumps in, wedging himself right behind me and a young woman of a more intimidating stature. We all sighed uncomfortably and dredged forward. Suddenly this woman turns around and accuses the man of touching her.

“Get off me mother-f***er. If you touch me one more time, I will beat your a**”

We all sighed uncomfortably again as we now realize we are on a one-way trip to Crazy-town. Let me say this:  as tightly as we were packed in there, we all were being touched inappropriately, and I can assure you that none of it was intentional. The situation drastically escalated as this woman turned around and began drilling her pointed fingers into the guy’s forehead. The energy in the car immediately shifted, but we all stood there silent as this woman became increasingly more violent. The man, who spoke English, stood there frozen allowing this violent form of public humiliation (thank heavens he wasn’t the sort of man to fight a woman). Honestly, the closest person to the action was me, and I stood there paralyzed and conflicted—I knew this woman’s behavior was wrong, but I also knew that any interference might escalate this situation towards an even larger altercation (this woman had friends with her and most definitely could take me in a fight). Sometimes when a spark of hatred erupts, the only thing you can do is to contain the flame. The woman barged out of the subway at the next stop and we all sighed in relief. The man stood silent still.

Tonight I witnessed a similar encounter. A woman wheeled her small child on to a very crowded Q train, and we all groaned—she wasn’t one person too many, but that stroller was. I’ll admit that we all thought this woman was obnoxious for about thirty seconds. As she wheeled in, the foot strap on the stroller struck the heel of an old lady. The lady turned around and snapped at the woman “get your kid off of me.” A tiny spark of hatred had formed. The young mother tried to adjust the stroller but it kept sliding back towards the old woman. She snapped again and shouted “Take that kid out of the stroller and fold it up! Get him off of me!” At this point, I turned off my Ipod to pay attention because the tension was thick as that the tiny spark of hate burned a little hotter. The old woman turned around and began to kick the stroller with all her might, kicking so hard that she was practically kicking the child. We all stood frozen and silent. The mother shouted back at the old woman in Spanish as she moved the stroller back. Stubborn and unhinged, the woman stuck pressed her foot against the stroll pushing the child and mom back as far as she could. I felt helpless in that moment as I looked down and saw the look of pure terror on that precious boy’s face. I pushed back on the crowd to give the mom space to move the stroller towards me, and my heart broke as this woman silently wept into a Kleenex. I looked down at the boy who was now hiding half his face behind his tiny fingers, and did the only thing I could think to do—I smiled and made a silly face. The boy pulled his hands away and grunted with delight, and the whole crowd around us laughed. The bubble of tension burst in an instant.  Another sigh of relief.  That mean, old bitty got off at the next stop, and we all turned compassionately toward the mom. I told her not to let that miserable old corpse get her down, that she had a wonderful child and that is all that matters.

It never ceases to baffle me, how humans can treat other humans and think it’s acceptable.  They react with pushing, shouting, insults and violence. And why? Because they were slightly inconvenienced on their commute? Has our standard of human decency fallen so low? I watch the news for ten minutes, and often I think so. Watching that woman kick the stroller and that man get attacked earlier made my stomach turn, and I felt completely helpless to stop them from happening. In both cases, it bothered me that we, as a group of respectable citizens, did nothing to put out the flame. If I can be honest, I was terrified of what would happen if I tried to step in (and I so badly wanted to step in)– would that tiny flame of hate explode into a raging wildfire? It’s quite possible, as the crazy in this town is completely unpredictable. I know that everyone else there felt the same way, so there we stood, frozen, until the fire extinguished itself. I wish I could say that in either of these scenarios I was a hero, but that is most certainly not the case. I did what I usually do in tense awkward situations, and I tried to make somebody laugh (lucky for me, toddlers are a great audience). I reacted the best I could with kindness because sometimes all we can do when faced with terrible people is…smile and make a silly face.