Goodbye to All of You (who want to go)

Sunset Park at winter twilight is a surreal and magical place

I composed this post while I was walking home through the silent, Brooklyn, evening during a mid-winter snowstorm. I love the times when NYC is quiet and feels like it’s taking a rare, much needed pause. I just had drinks at my favorite local bar with K., the kind of place that is dim and mellow, with chatty bar tenders and perfect Manhattans every night of the week except Friday and Saturday evenings, when it seems to be taken over by obnoxious hordes. We were talking about the difficulty and constant hustle of establishing ones self and building a satisfying professional life in New York City. Somedays it feels particularly out of reach. The economy is markedly improved in recent years, because of that, more and more people want to come to live here. I always maintained that creative, smart people had a better chance to find work here than elsewhere because there were simply more opportunities available. However, there’s also a lot more competition.

New York will always draw the young, the not-so-young, the creative and ambitious. That’s part of what makes it an exciting place to be. But now with the “brand” of Brooklyn being synonymous with global cool, silicon alley rivaling silicon valley for tech innovation, and shows like Girls broadcasting an unrealistic version of what it means to be a twenty-something in Brooklyn the NYC cool factor is having a real cultural moment. I feel like it’s really putting a lot of pressure, financial and otherwise, on opportunities like jobs, social events and housing for people in my age range.

... Except if they do

Moments like this never fail… by Dzine

Lately I found myself discouraging my peers who casts doubts on living in NYC from moving out. “I spent time in 24 different US cities last year!” I tell them, “I loved them all, they are all interesting places full of creative, smart people doing cool things, but I don’t want to live in any of them! I want to live here!” I say.

“Look at the access you have to culture, public transit, great food, innovative projects, and you don’t have to own a car!” I’ll argue.

“Feel the lack of social pressure!” I’ll implore, “You can be exactly who you want to be here!”

But tonight I had a change of heart. I realized I wasn’t so much trying to convince them to stay as to convince myself that I have made the right decision. It’s as if I’m worried I’ll be left clinging to a relationship that’s run its course out of nostalgia of how things used to be when the object of my affection, and all of my friends, have moved on. What I realized is that I need to feel confident enough about my decision to dig my heels in here and stay and let others go through their own discovery process with what they need in a place to live and what they need in life.

I wrote this past fall about the backlash many artists and writers have felt against the city because they moved here to pursue their artistic dreams and felt that the reality fell short of their romantic notions. I start to wonder why I stayed and stayed devoted to the the idea that one can build a creative life here or anywhere. And then I realized this:

My romantic notions of my New York City life lasted about 3 weeks. I moved here in late August of 2001 to start college. On September 11th, I realized with a sinking feeling how little I knew about world politics, NYC, or what my life would look for feel like after that day. I realized quickly that the city owed me nothing and any attempt I might have to control my experience here would be in vain. It was in that moment I knew I could throw in the towel and go back to the life I had in Portland, Oregon or Portland, Maine or stay and tough it out. I knew if I stayed I was making a long term commitment to the city. I decided to stay.

I’ve stayed in NYC through loneliness, depress, recession, my saturn returns (if you believe in that stuff), and long enough to build up a career and now, begin pursuing a different direction. I’ve earned two degrees, become fluent in a second language, started to learn to code, played in bands, written a book, become a confident NYC cyclist, planned and then abandoned plans to move to Paris or LA, and most of all, eeked out a somewhat stable life for myself working in the arts, culture and education field, while nurturing friendships, hopes, dreams and plans.

Our rock'n'roll lifestyle to do list

NYC rock’n’roll life style to do list at my band practice space

In high school a teacher told me, “You can live however you want in New York City,” when I confessed to her my dream to study and live here. Since then I’ve taken her advice to heart. But living how you want in NYC often means doing so on the city’s terms. And that can be a tough proposition. So, if you find you can’t live how you want here, there’s no harm and no foul. There’s a place out there for you. It’s waiting. Go. there are so many places to be be cultured, innovative and interesting. To launch new businesses and make new art. And no matter what, New York City’s frenetic rhythm continues, whether it’s the current barometer of cultural cool or not, and honestly, whether you or I are here at all.  But I plan to be here. You are always welcome to come back to visit.

Letting go of 2013

New badge, longtime life adage #diy

At the end of 2013 I set out to set my goals and intentions for the New Year. I’m not one for full on “resolutions” because the beginning of January rarely feels like a rebirth, but rather, simply the beginning of the long haul of the New York winter. I began 2013 with a lot of possibility and a lot of uncertainty and guess what… I’m starting 2014 the same way!
Getting ready for Grow's launch!

First of all, 2013 was a huge year for me personally. I put out my first book, Grow: How do take your do it yourself project and passion to the next level and quit your job!, and booked a national tour, visiting 24 different cities over the course of 3 months. It was really amazing to make so many new connections and get to spent so much time exploring parts of the country both new and already dear to me. Spending two weeks driving through the Midwest immensely grew my appreciation and understanding for the US as a whole. Though I’d taken my high school indie pop band on an East Coast tour and done several cross country road trips in my early 20s, to have the freedom and opportunity to explore with a focus of connecting and working with creative entrepreneurs was incredible. To connect with so many artists, handmade business owners, creatives and makers who are pursuing their dreams and figuring out how to fold them into their lives was awesome. Every day I was blown away by the honesty, focus and strength of the DIY community.

Work is love made visible. (Has there ever been a more Puritan statement?)

Coming back from all this traveling also made me realize that while the rest of the US is pretty awesome, I also love New York. I decided to shelve (for now) my plans to move to Los Angeles to focus on making my life what I want in the city where I’ve grown my deepest roots and community outside of my home state of Maine.

The air up there

I spent a huge portion of the year with views like this

As I reflected on what I really wanted, post-book and book tour, I decided to strike out on my own as a freelancer in order to be able to spend more time working on projects close to my heart, have more flexibility in my work schedule, and learn new skills so I can begin working for creative startups and consulting companies. Something that really surprised me is that one of the skills I started to develop out of sheer curiosity was learning to code. I entered into some weekend workshops at General Assembly thinking I would learn the basics of the web development process to help jumpstart my career shift. I wasn’t expecting to fall deeply in love with backend web development, specifically Ruby on Rails. I feel completely immersed, sometimes to the point of drowning, in this new world and I love every second of it so far. I’ve found the tech community in NYC to be welcoming, enthusiastic and supportive and have especially loved connecting with the New York Tech Women.

Well, this is the start of a new adventure

My love of code was a surprise to me

My newfound love of programming showed me, yet again, that you never know what you will discover about yourself, as trite and cheesy as that might sound. So where does this lead me for 2014?

My friend Tracy asked me three questions that I think sum up my year pretty well: what I learned, what I’m proud of, and what am I looking forward to next year.

In brief:

I learned how to think clearly. I’m better at assessing personal and professional situations clearly and setting realistic expectations. I learned that having goals is not as important as actualizing them or gaining momentum. Goals are key because they set you in motion and community is important because it provides the bridge for you to achieve those goals, but you still have to make your own opportunity.

Not Afraid Anymore I

My first tattoo

I’m proud of gaining the courage to take risks and to push myself emotionally, personally and professionally to move towards and deal with the things that scare me the most. I’ve also gained the courage to be humble and admit what I don’t know.
Who Dares Wins

I’m looking forward to establishing a routine that gives me a space to create and reflect through regular time to meditate, write, and continue to study Ruby and other languages.

2013 was a transformative year for me in that I went through a lot of very painful growth. It was not triumphant transformation, but some acute periods of loss and letting go.  Fortunately, with that release can come a new lightness and clarity which I hope will help me take a big leap forward in the new year. With that, what did you learn in 2013?  What was your proudest moment? And what are you looking forward to?

Don't I have the best cousins?

One of the best parts of the year was getting to reconnect with my cousins

Writerly love for New York City

New York you do not disappoint take 2

Every New York-based publication I’ve picked up lately has had an article about young people, mostly writers or artists or other privileged creative types, packing up their bags and saying “Good riddance” to New York City. Many of them are inspired by the new anthology edited by Sari Barton, Goodbye to All That: On Loving and Leaving New York. The publisher must have had some great PR work because big articles about this “trend” heavily reference the book and have appeared quite notably in New York Magazine and the New York Times. The articles all mention that Joan Didion’s iconic essay “Goodbye to All That” inspired much of the writing (as well as the title) and Didion’s essay is certainly among my favorites ever written about being young and creative in New York City. However, reading all of these articles I felt a kernel of annoyance welling up in me. Of course I don’t begrudge anyone’s decision to leave the city, but I realized that I’ve been through an opposite thought process this past year, and wanted to give the city a little writerly love.

This time last year I was convinced I needed to get out of New York City. I felt done with it and, further more, done with the high cost of living, terrible weather, and the fact that it smells like garbage most of the time. A year ago I was convinced that at present I would be packing my bags and my cat and heading out to sunny Los Angeles.

Before I tell you about my change of heart about New York, let’s review the facts: The New York City is expensive and only seems to be getting more so. Rents are insane, it’s difficult to find a decent place to live, and daily life often feels like one hassle after another. Everything feels intensely competitive, it really does smell like garbage most of the time, extreme injustice and inequality gets thrown in your face almost every second, and commuting on the over burdened subway system sucks.

When I moved here to go to college I told myself I would leave soon after. I kept giving myself “one more year in New York” until I decamped to Portland, Oregon or Paris. That “one more year” became “three more years” became “I’m not going to leave.” I realized that the community I’d cultivated here couldn’t be picked up and moved to another place and that New York offered the kind of opportunities I wanted to find.

This year I felt like I spent almost as much time out of New York as in it. I traveled all around the Midwest, Texas and the West and East Coasts. I made multiple trip to Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit and Portland, Oregon. I was charmed by places I’d never been to before, like Omaha, Cincinnati, and Tulsa. I found that with the growth in appreciation for things that are handmade and locally produced wherever I went to I was never too far from cold brew iced coffee, artisanal cocktails, and farm-to-table meals.  I met inspiring people who are pursuing creative and entrepreneurial projects and working to help others in their towns and cities do the same. I think on the Grow book tours alone I visited 24 different cities, and visited even more when I factor in other work and family travel. So I feel like I got a pretty good sense of the country in a pretty short period of time. And what all that travel showed me is that while I think it’s crucial to get out of the city and that so many places have wonderful things to offer, New York is the only place I want to come back to. It’s the place I want to call home.

New York you do not disappoint take 1

There’s a huge number of smart, talented, driven and creative people living here and those are the types of people who I want to be around. Those are the people I want to meet and learn from and have as my friends. As I work to transition my career from arts nonprofits to creative startups I realized that it’s much easier to do this in a city that is a center of both cultural organizations and a huge, quickly growing number of startup businesses. I also realized that, as much as I complain about it, New York has a great infrastructure in terms of public transportation and is getting progressively more and more bikeable.

Is it hard to “make it” as a writer and creative here? Sure it is, but where is it not? Does one need to live in NYC to write, play music, make art or launch the next cool start up? No, of course not, but I find that is I want to find people who are doing these things, there’s a great concentration of them in NYC. On a typical day here I can write in a bustling coffee shop, ride my bike across a bridge that is an architectural icon, visit a world class museum, browse a farmers market, learn to code, go to a punk rock exercise class, head to band practice and then a dance party that puts an emphasis on fake blood and homemade costumes. This is the way I want to live my life.

Beyond all of this is the feeling that I can be exactly who I am in New York City. The city is vast and diverse and as such, there’s far less pressure to cave into social norms, or to live life according on anyone’s schedule except my own.

I also know that New York City owes me nothing. What I’m able to do here is directly related to what I’m willing to put in. The city does not owe me a living and I fear that those who quit the city with a feeling of “Good riddance!” deep down felt like somehow they were owed something simply because they were young, smart, privileged and wanted to make their way here.

Working job #2. Sunset is a reward for the hustle.

Of course, leaving a city is a highly personal decision. I think New York has something for everyone if you are willing to look for it, but it won’t offer it up without a fight. Whether you stay somewhere depends on your personal goals. For example, I know a suburban or rural lifestyle with a car, dog, yard, house and children is absolutely not for me.

Of course, New York is changing and not always for the better. Is the city better off because of the plethora of glassy luxury condos and Duane Reades that have sprouted up over the past few years? I’d say not really, but I also think that New York has a grittiness that difficult to tame. Does the level of inequality here drive me crazy? Absolutely. But living in New York is messy, complicated, intense and frustrating. It’s also exhilarating, rewarding and completely absorbing. I’m a high energy intense person who loves a good challenge and need a city that matches these qualities in me. So hello to all of this. This is one writer who is happy she’s stayed.

#TeenagedSelfie

#TeenagedSelfie 8: I lay down in the grass and wonder why you brought me here

I lay down in the grass and wonder why you brought me here

In September I spent four days with my extended family traveling to Massachusetts and North Central New York State for a multi-day family gathering. These places played a key role in my childhood and the history of my family, but they also bring up strong associations of a being a young person shuffled through the world of adults without much say in what we were doing or where we were going. I remember as a child I felt that life could be a period of infernal waiting for adults to make a decision of where we would be going or what we would be doing next. I was nervous that this trip would bring those feelings crashing back. The ever creative Marissa Falco suggested that a document them through a series of iPhone self-portraits, which I dubbed #TeenagedSelfies.

#TeenagedSelfie 2: colonial living room waiting

Colonial living room waiting

#teenagedselfie 5: bored in the car stuck in traffic in the Mass Pike

Bored in the car stuck in traffic in the Mass Pike

#TeenagedSelfie 10: I jumped into the lake. Then snuck a beer out of the cooler.

I jumped into the lake. Then snuck a beer out of the cooler.

The ability to snap and share digital pictures instantly was a long way off when I was a teenager, but I used this series to reach back into the feelings of isolation, boredom, angst and possibility which defined so much of my teenaged years and also drove much of my creativity during that time. It’s also about how the ability to document and share your daily moments can provide a needed sense of escape and connection with a wider world when you feel cut off from it, a feeling I felt acutely as a teenager growing up in a rural area. It was this feeling that drove me to make and share zines and DIY music. You can see the whole series on Flickr.

#TeenagedSelfie 12: let's talk on the phone

Let’s talk on the phone!

#TeenagedSelfie 11: mirror in the bathroom, I just can't see, the door is locked just you and me

Mirror in the bathroom, I just can’t see, the door is locked just you and me

#TeenagedSelfie 15: I'm free to roam in NYC! And thus the series concludes.

I’m free to roam in NYC!

All Things Glorious and True

Lunchtime creative inspiration / life guidance from @katasharya

“At some point in life you make a decision to be a verb instead of an adjective, and you run with it – especially when you realize what it is you are running towards and not away from. It doesn’t mean you lose your poetic nature, your fanciful imagination or your freedom, but does mean you’re all systems go and anti-autopilot.” – From All Things Glorious and True by Kat Asharya

Back in January I wrote on this blog about aching to boldly “change my life” in 2013 and getting down to the brass tacks to be able to do so by breaking down what I wanted to achieve by setting S.M.A.R.T. goals.

While I was in Chicago as part of my book tour to promote my new book Grow my zine-pal turned writer-pal Kat Asharya handed me her new book, All Things Glorious and True. Sometimes you find the handbook to your life, or the life you are trying to create, when you least expect it. As I read it in sections, and sometimes from back to front, while I was on the road it became exactly that.  The writing is drawn from a now-defunct blog Kat kept for nearly a decade called NOGOODFORME that chronicled her fashion, pop culture, music, film and personal obsessions and transformations.  The book, however, is so much more than a series of selected and edited blog entries.

Reading All Things Glorious and True made me stop to think about this personal transformation I am pushing through my life right now. Every month I meet up with my friend T. and we talk about our goals for the yar and the progress we are making towards them. Every month I’ve found that my goals have shifted slightly, that I have reached a more nuanced understanding of where I am at and where I want to go, and steps I can take to get there.

Kat approached her life transformations in San Francisco, New York City and now in Illinois with panache, open hearted bravery, and the perfect jeans, boots, and leather jacket. Reading her book reminded me that I can and do find strength and guidance in film, the music I love and the clothes that I wear. More importantly, however, it reminded me that when you have a goal to “change your life” the best you can do is to open yourself up wider than you thought possible, to let in courage you didn’t know you had, and to let your heart above all things guide you.  This is extremely difficult for me who, as a Gemini, would rather think about it, write about it, talk about it, and implement it, than actually feel the emotions brought on by those changes (Kat also breaks down Gemini’s personalities very nicely in her Astro Cinema feature where she recommends perfect movies for different astrological signs).

Modeling my Dad's 1956 Langlitz Leathers motorcycle jacket... Now mine!

Modeling my Dad’s 1956 Langlitz Leathers motorcycle jacket… Now mine!

So where am I on my goals? So far 2013 has been a megapacked year. I’ve visited 22 states so far (and counting) to launch and promote Grow. I have gotten a handle on my personal finances – bye bye compulsive shopping and credit card debt! Hello savings account! – but I’m also seeing that changing my life isn’t just about setting goals and timelines. It’s about incremental change. Paying attention to a gut feeling. Having a conversation. Reflecting. And readjusting accordingly. Sometimes I want life to change as boldly and quickly as dying my hair red or taking a weekend trip to Los Angeles, picking out the perfect record, or donning a killer leather jacket (I inherited one this year from my Dad!) but I’m finding that for me, life transformation doesn’t work like that.

Because I’m looking at a total overhaul that prioritizes happiness, health, fulfillment and creativity, I’m finding I need to look intensely inward so I can really understand where I want those goals I set to lead me. Kat’s book shows that the objects, images, ideas, sounds and fashions we hold dear and the meanings we give them can act as powerful guideposts and reminders to support us and help us on our journeys.

Here’s to a transformative second half of 2013! I’ll let you know in December what became of my goals and where they have taken me.

S.M.A.R.T. Goals for 2013!

New Year Card 2013While New Years is not my favorite holiday, I love the opportunity for reflection and reinvention brought by the New Year itself. With the upcoming release of my first book in June I have high hopes for 2013. This is going to be a year of transition personally and professionally and I have decided to take this year to embrace change and become the person I really want to be at this point in my life.

To do so I made goals for what I wanted to achieve this year.  Unfortunately, they were really vague like, “Save money, get more freelance work, lose weight again, write more, change my life.” I started feeling daunted by how ambitious they were and I when I mocked myself for making them in a Facebook status and added I wanted to do all this without losing my mind on Facebook, my friend M. spoke up with a suggestion. She, like me, is a graduate of a management program, and encouraged me to make my goals S.M.A.R.T.

For those used to planning for a business or organization S.M.A.R.T. stands for “Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely” goals. When you break your goals down into these criteria they become more possible to achieve.

One night I sat down with my Moleskine journal and changed my vague hopes for 2013 into goals that I can conceivably follow, with action steps and benchmarks in place. For maximum accountability I wanted to share my goals with you here (minus a few too personal details). So let’s see what 2013 will bring!

1. Save Money

If I’m going to change my life I’m going to need a financial cushion. And you never know what can happen in this economy. So it’s time to get serious about savings:

Up the bi-monthly transfer to my savings account

Put money I earn from freelance work into savings

Define and stick to a very limited weekly spending amount that includes food and extras, like clothes (so this blog will soon become a blog about being fashionable with what’s already in your closet)

Track my expenses

Pay off my credit card debt

2. Get more project and freelance work

I like the chance that freelance work provides to get involved in different types of projects and creative people implementing a vision. It also helps me sharpen different sets of skills:

Follow up with current clients

When my Portfolio website launches (soon!) make it clear I’m available for grant writing, project management gigs

Continue to talk with other freelancers and self-employed people I respect about how they go their start

Meet up with other freelancers regularly for networking, events and work sessions

3. Lose Weight (again)

I managed to gain 10 pounds since the summer and it’s no secret how it happened – I ate a lot of bad-for-me-food (pizza! burritos stuffed with French Fries!) and pretended it wouldn’t matter. Time for some accountability! I’m hoping to lose those 10 pounds by the time June rolls around by:

Track my eating everyday

Exercise 4 times a week

Go to Weight Watchers meetings at least once a month

4. Write more creative non-fiction

Finish a new issue of my zine Indulgence with at least three substantial essays by the Brooklyn Zine Fest on April 21

Update this blog weekly

Reach out to other venues and publications that publish nonfiction and present essay-driven work

Stay inspired by reading more essays and creative nonfiction

5. “Change my life”

I’m contemplating taking a year sabbatical from New York City in 2014 and spending the winter and spring in Los Angeles and the summer in fall in Paris. I’m looking for sun (in California), adventure, and a change of pace! But there’s a lot of logistics that I have to take care of before that happens!

Break down logistics: Research apartment prices, getting a car (or not) in LA, pare down possessions, look into subletting my NYC apartment

Have honest conversations with the important people in my life about what I’m thinking and feeling and how it impacts them

Be proactive: if there’s something on my mind talk about it, even if it feels daunting to do so

Develop a clear vision for what I want in my life and what makes me happy through journaling and focused self-reflection. As my friend Iris in LA told, “Manifest what you want, be specific.”

What are the goals that you hope to achieve this year? How are you breaking them down to make them manageable?

As a post-script, I’ve also launched a year-long drawing project with my friend Michel in Paris. To practice our drawing skills we will each create a drawing on a similar theme every week and post them on our Tumblr “One Week, Two Hands, 4,000 Miles” or 1w2h4m. Follow along with us and see if we can do it!

Wyoming Range Life

The view towards the Big Horn mountains

The last time I was in Wyoming I arrived in the middle of the night, having driven straight from Portland, Oregon on a compressed, cross country trip. To get there we drove through the Beartooth Mountains of Montana in August darkness, watching meteors streak down through the clear western air. I’ve joke that I am the penultimate East Coaster – that I walk and talk too fast and am too attached to the ocean to live anywhere else. However, chunks of my childhood summers were spent on the range and in the mountains of Northeastern Wyoming, visiting my Aunt, Uncle and two cousins in near Sheridan. I’d like to think that somehow, in some small way, that experience stays with me.

As a child and early teenager going to Wyoming was a dream come true. It is awash in wide open spaces to explore on horseback and was of pre-dawn mornings helping (however ineffectively) my uncle and aunt with the cattle they raise. Wyoming was freight trains, rattle snakes, sage brush, wild landscapes, and hours with my cousins playing Legos and reading Calving and Hobbes comics.

County roads, Wyarno, Wyoming

My grandmother lives in Wyoming now and so last weekend I caught (just barely) an early flight to Denver and then a propeller plane to Sheridan to visit her and the rest of my family. While the endless barbed wire fences, train tracks, range and sparse population are the polar opposite of where I live now, I felt a rush of familiarity and welcome when I arrived Wyoming. I love that place. I am a total outsider, but I feel a sense of awe and respect for the country there and the people who call it their home.

Coal train headed towards West Dutch depot

Maybe because we’ve just had a huge national election and the idea of what is “America” and who is “American” has been debated and thrown about ad nauseum I couldn’t help but think, “This is what people are talking about when they talk about America.” Here are hard working people who make a living from the land and another job to make ends meet. They drive sturdy American made trucks and cultivate a sense of Western independence. Native American history and contemporary culture is woven into the fabric of this place. This is where stories about the American West were made. And, yet. Wyoming cannot be reduced to a caricature. It is not a rustic idyll or a rural backwater. It’s a place as complex as “America” itself.

Winter Wyoming sunset

Wyoming is where I can have long conversations about the dangers of fracking with my Uncle, who is one of the toughest cowboys I’ve ever met. I remember he told me about what a bad idea it was 10 years ago, before anyone on the East Coast had really begun to talk about it. I wish New York State would take a cue from the experience of people in the west and see the havoc it wreaked on the environment there and how little benefit local people actually derived from it. It’s where I have out and proud gay family members, even though gay rights still has a long way to go there (and everywhere!). It’s where I can go out to lunch with my cousin I haven’t seen in 10 years and we can chat like we just saw each other yesterday. It’s a place I’m proud to know a little bit and proud to hold as part of my past and, hopefully, part of my future.

Western twilight

Sunset behind the Big Horn mountains

Below is a little look into my Wyoming past: wearing shorts, riding bareback on my Aunt’s Welsh pony, with awkwardly cut curly hair and in 12-year-old heaven

Maybe So: life, lessons and a horse named Ben

Me and Ben in 1999

I was a moody, stubborn, impatient teenager. I had big visions and felt determined to accomplish something worthwhile in the world. I felt frustrated because I felt like I had not and that it was already too late. I was full of self-doubt and anger and all those other potent emotions that swirl around within us so intensely at that age. One of the biggest grounding factors in my life was, like so many girls, horses. I had taken riding lessons since I was eight and starting competing in horse shows when I was eleven. When I was fourteen I realized one of the biggest dreams of my life up to that point: to own my own horse.

Ben and I on the day I got him

Maybe So, aka “Ben” was an all-American mix, a Morgan Quarter Horse cross with a lazy walk and a white star on his forehead. He was as headstrong I was and so much of our relationship became a battle of wills: I wanted him to trot fast, he wanted to trot slow, I wanted him to jump over that log in the woods, he was sure it was going to eat him for lunch, I wanted him to walk calmly into the horse trailer and he was convinced that was the last place he ever wanted to go.

Season's Greetings

Our season’s greetings picture, 2010

I put all my free time into taking care of him, training him and riding him. I even read him beat poetry. We were not champions, though we did win a lot of ribbons at shows as we got to know each other better. More importantly, he taught me the kind of things that it’s impossible to teach teenagers except through experience. He helped take all those raw emotions and channel them into something productive and focused.

Show jumping at an event in Massachusetts

He threw me off onto the hard ground more times than I can remember and I knew that unless I faced my fear and anger and got back up the fear would win.

I learned that I couldn’t hide from the emotions I was feeling: he could feel if I was nervous, angry, impatient or excited.

He taught me that hard work can win you ribbons and respect, but life will always be unfair, and that’s okay. There will always be someone with the more expensive horse, the better trainer, more natural talent, and true validation of your hard work will only come from within.

He taught me that it wasn’t always about my agenda. I could arrive at the barn convinced today was the day we would master a certain technique and he would show me that it was really about convincing him not to be afraid of the puddle in the riding ring.

Okay, I'll be cute

He taught me patience and to look at the big picture. One show, one jump, one routine might have gone less than perfect, but if I looked at what we were working on over time I could see improvement. I learned very quickly I couldn’t blame him for my own mistakes, misunderstandings or shortcomings.

Even when I stopped riding and moved on to punk rock and New York City I would always feed him carrots and pet his velvet soft nose whenever I cam home. He always snapped to attention when I called out “Hi, Ben!” across the pasture and eyed me warily, worried I was going to make him work.

Me, Ben, Lynnli

Me, Ben and Lynnli, another young woman who loved him, in 2010

I had a premonition last Friday while I was walking home. I suddenly felt that he was gone. I knew it was time and he was too weak to make it through another Maine winter. Tears dripped down my cheeks as I walked through the early fall twilight. So when I got the call this week I wasn’t surprised. I understood it was the right moment and I’m glad he decided it was his time to go.

Ben was 31 years old, the same age as me. He was a part of my life for 17 years. 17 years later I’m still moody and headstrong and determined, but he played a big role in helping me grow up and move past my raw emotions. I feel lucky we got so much time together. RIP, my best friend.

Ben and Sonny in their pasture in Maine

The Same Blue Skies

Want for this city and for this world now what I wanted then: peace, justice & understanding

It’s the perfect blue skies that always remind me of that morning eleven years ago now. The skies and the air feel the same and that’s always what takes me back.

Last year was the big 10th anniversary of September 11th 2001 that also marked my ten years in New York that inspired more lengthy reflections. My feelings about the political and emotional circumstances around this day have not changed much since last year and the same feeling are echoed even further back. I’m tired of war and tired of patriotism and ready for real critical reflection, justice and peace. Searching in my old files, I found this piece I wrote about September 11 in 2003:

“On that morning language failed… In those moments of not knowing, not being able to articulate what was going on on a massive scale, I knew that never again could I believe in a narrow idea of “truth.”  No singular narrative could ever capture that, or any experience.  Of course, since then I’ve witnessed many attempts to manipulate these diverse and disparate narratives into one master narrative.  A narrative that believes in an idea of “America” as benevolent while at the same time baying for vengeance…

Remembering September 11th is a reminder to me of how the damage done by violence of any kind is permanent.  Whether that violence is an act of war, abuse, police brutality, or not having food, housing or medical care, or is emotional, physical, sexual, or psychological.  These types and acts of violence are not the same, but the systems that perpetuate them are similar and inter-related…  Because it continues to haunt me I know I need to oppose domination and oppression, and the acts of violence that feed them, everywhere.  I feel I must do this in order for healing to be possible.  Healing is possible, even though the effects of violence stay with us.  I believe this because I feel everyone’s life needs to be about more than just survival.”

Reading this now I still stand behind the politics and emotions expressed in that piece. However, I think, I have found a way to heal by slowly, deliberately and stubbornly building a life in this city. I have worked hard to find health and creativity and to inspire that in others. I still struggle with how best I can help contribute to a city that’s a just and beautiful place to live for all and how I can support and engage my own creativity, but I feel my small daily contributions and actions strive towards these ideals.

My life, and New York City, is obviously so different than it was eleven years ago. I had no idea how to picture myself at 31 at that time. Being an adult seemed impossibly far away with such a looming and intense event in the foreground. Looking back today I can say that the 20 year old me who witnessed those tragic events from my 6th floor dorm room in Union Square would be pleased with the 31 year old I have become looking at two towers of light rising into the sky in remembrance and tribute from Brooklyn.

The Summer So Far

Beach life, Fourth of July edition

Robert Moses State Park, July 4

It’s a cliche to say it, but can you believe how fast the summer goes? All around me I see announcements for “the last (your summertime activity here) of the season!” Already? I’m still sorting through my photos from France and there will be a myriad of posts coming soon, but in the meantime, here’s a little review of my summer activity so far. Enjoy and bon week-end!

Fireworks over manhattan (from Brooklyn)

Fireworks from a Greenpoint roof, July 4

Landing in Iceland with the midnight sun

11:30 pm “sunset” in Iceland, mid-July

Paris et ses nuages vue de haute

Rainy Paris, from le Ciel de Paris, Tour de Montparnasse

Prendre un apéro plus haute que la tour Eiffel... Check!

Cheers! With Byglam in Paris

Reportage direct de Paris: le temps de merde continue

Moody Paris skies, mid-July

Petit dej pour mon dej

Paris may have rain, but also, croissants!

Quiiiiick! Le soleil!!!!

And when Paris is sunny, there’s no where better!

Sète! Quelle belle ville! Merci @clumsy_maria pour la Tournée!

Escape to Sete and the sun in the south of France

Super déjeuner avec les fruits de mer et @clumsy_maria

Seafood feast in Sete with Clumsy Maria

A taste of the sweet life

Pool time in Provence

Beaux couleurs!

Exploring Provence by bike, mid-July

Merci mes amies pour le super soirée!

Back to Paris to wish our friends Au Revoir!

Made it to the farm in time for a beautiful ceremony!

…and directly to upstate New York for a beautiful farm wedding!

Mission of Burma hipster paradise

Mission of Burma, Ted Leo and Wild Flag for free in Prospect Park

It was a lovely beach day!

Back to Robert Moses State Park, early August

Chillin' with @easylovernyc

Corita played a show at Don Pedro’s with Easy Lover (above), Paper Fleet and Space Merchants

Now it's the ladies' turn! Let's go Brooklyn Bombshells!

Brooklyn Bombshells won a rollerderby match at Coney Island!

On a ferris wheel looking out on Coney Island...

… and after Corita rode the Wonder Wheel

Toasting a Brooklyn day well lived!

A toast to a summer well spent!