Archive | May, 2008

The Secret To Mountain Climbing Is To Go At Your Own Pace & Other Life Lessons On The Path

31 May

Take a little time to enjoy the view

WRITEOUS CHICKS NEWSLETTER May 2008

Last weekend I went hiking with my Dad and my Stepmom.  I am a fan of indoor plumbing and not a particularly outdoorsy person, and the last time I went hiking with my father was 13 years ago.  We had gotten a late start, and as the sun was setting I recall clutching the side of a steep, rocky ledge, paralyzed by fear and crying as the coyotes howled in the (hopefully) distance (not totally sure about this coyote part by that’s how I remember it – intensely dramatic).  I also remember finding out the name of the trail we were climbing – Breakneck Ridge – while I was already enmeshed in it with No Turning Back, as I certainly would not have consented to going on the hike had I known that ahead of time.

 

My Dad grew up in Colorado and he and other members of our family have that outdoorsy gene that I lack.  However, 13 years had passed, and I felt ready to give it another try.  After all, I like to overcome challenges and do things I am afraid to do – to a point – and I even wrote my college essay about a hike I went on in the Colorado Rockies, on which there were several markers along the trail where you could turn back, and I kept thinking, “I’ll just go to one more, just one more,” and then I made it all the way to the end of the trail, and to the top, in that way.

 

Making the arrangements for our Memorial Day weekend hike, I was excited to spend the time with my family, and for the peace and perspective that being outside, in the woods, above everything, and away from the breakneck pace of city-living, gives me.  My Dad, being the one with the outdoorsy genes and the knowledge of mountains, is in charge of picking the trails we will take.  I said to him, now able to joke about it all these years later, “Member that hike we went on 13 years ago when I was clinging to the side of the mountain?” and my Dad, an adventurer enthusiastic about difficult hikes and obviously having a different recollection of said hike than I did, was like, “Yeah, let’s do that one again!” and I was like, “That’s the reason I haven’t hiked in 13 years!”

 

So after much emphasis on my part that I wanted a very gentle hike, my Dad picked a trail that wound up being perfect.  It was actually enough of a challenge that I felt like it was tough and I had to work hard and pay attention, and felt pushed to do more than I thought I could, but not so much of a challenge that I broke down into tears and dangled from a ledge.

 

As we set off on our hike, my stepmother told the story of a nun she knew named Cathleen, who, years ago, had hiked Mt. Sinai at 4am with a guide and a group when she was close to 60 years old.  The rest of the group was much younger and Cathleen was embarrassed that she had to stop to rest frequently.  But the guide stayed with her and said, “The secret to mountain climbing is to go at your own pace.  You will get there much more quickly if you stop to rest when you need to.”  Half-way through the hike, Cathleen and her guide passed the rest of the younger members in the group, who were already exhausted from pushing themselves too hard. 

 

My stepmother rested when she needed to rest along our hike, and every time she slowed down or stopped she would announce that she was taking a break, and it always reminded me to take a moment to pay attention to how I was feeling, and if I needed to rest.  All three of us made it to the top of the trail we were climbing, and her story also reminded me that there are a lot of life lessons to be learned from a hike:

 

1)  When you rest along the way, you get there faster

I am a relentless workaholic, and push myself to exhaustion with all my projects and my constant need to be doing something all the time.  What this results in is bursts of productivity followed by the need to drop it all and rest, and the inability to do anything.  I am getting better at identifying for myself those times along the way when I need to rest and take care of myself – book a massage, get a pedicure, take a walk in the park, carve out time to sit in a cushy chair in a coffee shop and read something just for fun, or declare a full day of doing no work and not even turning my computer on.  When I set time limits on how long I can work on something, and reward myself at the end of that time period with a fun, social, or restorative plan, I am much more efficient than when I allow my workload to stretch out endlessly before me.  I can get the same amount done and feel much more energized and focused while doing it when there is an end, and treats, and rest, in sight.

 

2)  When faced with what seems like an insurmountable challenge, just take it one step at a time and don’t look at the whole mountain

Parts of this hike were really, really steep, and I would catch myself looking ahead to take in the big picture and think to myself:  “No freaking’ way I’m going to make it up that!”  But then I would narrow my focus and only look directly in front of me, and just take one step and then the next, and I didn’t notice that the incline was so steep anymore.  When I was in 4th grade, I remember panicking to my mother about all the homework I had to do that night and how I was never going to finish it, and I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t do anything at all.  (In my defense, I had a very difficult 4th grade teacher who had us memorize the Declaration of Independence, all the presidents thus far, the Gettysburg Address, and Patrick Henry’s speech (“The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms!  Why stand we here idle?”…), and recite them in front of the class and a video camera and get critiqued on the playback).  My mother had to calm me down and break it all down for me so that I could forget about the full picture and put it into manageable chunks.  I still have to remind myself to chunk it down when I have a huge mountainous mound of work in front of me to conquer, and make it manageable by taking it step by step.

 

3)  The straightest path is not always the best route – sometimes it is better to go at a diagonal

Half my lifetime ago on a hike in Colorado, my Dad taught me that when the trail is really steep, both on the way up and on the way down, and you don’t think you can make it without falling, the best route is to take it at a diagonal.  On the way up, walking at a diagonal makes the incline less steep and easier to climb, and on the way down the diagonal will slow you down so you don’t slip and fall.  In my life, I often get frustrated that I am not farther along than I am, in my finances, relationships, career, and not more successful and together overall.  I want to take that straight, fast route to the top, and am irritated when I am slowed down by diagonals.  However, I believe that the Universe gives you what you can handle when you can handle it, and all life’s experiences are preparing you for what’s next.  A lot of the most important and richest lessons I’ve learned have been located in the nooks of those diagonals, and if I just skipped straight to the top, I wouldn’t have the appreciation, understanding, and compassion I’ve developed on the seemingly slower and more circuitous route.

 

4)  Be present and pay attention as you choose your footing or you will fall off a cliff

During the hike, there were big tree roots and loose rocks and jagged edges, and I had to be very present and pay close attention to where I was stepping.  If I had zoned out and daydreamed about how I want things to be, or worried about things I said or did in the past, I would have fallen many, many times, and if I checked out as we approached the top and gazed down below, I could have fallen off the side of a cliff.  It is easy to go on autopilot, space out, and abdicate responsibility for your life.  It is easy to daydream about how you wish things could be different or better now and in the future, and beat yourself up about the things you did wrong in the past.  But then, all of a sudden you will find yourself at the bottom of some ditch of despair, having no idea how you got there, and even less of an idea how to get out.  When you pay attention, you wake up to all the options and opportunities available to you, and it becomes clear exactly where you need to step next.

 

5)  Take time to enjoy the view & bask in the sun!

You did it!  You made it!  You accomplished your goal.  Now it’s time to slow down, kick back, and enjoy!  When we were almost at the top of the trail, a spectacular view of the Hudson River opened up, and I turned to look at it instead of rushing past without noticing, on my way to get somewhere else, somewhere better.  This sight was actually only visible on the way there, as the peak of the trail was surrounded by trees that obscured the expansive river view.  At the very top, I lied down on a rock, stretched out, and felt the sun on my face.  Life is not all about pushing yourself hard, and where to get to next; it is also about actively creating those moments where you very consciously appreciate all your hard work it took to get there, and enjoy being exactly where you are.  Check out the view.  Feel the sun on your face.  Really see and hear the people around you, your friends and family, and allow yourself to deeply experience how much you love them, and how much they love you.  Count your blessings.  Bask in joy.  Breathe deeply.  You deserve it.

 

 

Wishing you the energy, vitality, enthusiasm, and passion to reach the peak of all your destinations, and the mindfulness to enjoy every single step along the way!

 

Lots of love!

 

Jen xoxoxo

 

Copyright © 2008 by Jennifer Garam

I’m on WNBC.com!!!

17 May

I am very excited to share that I’m on WNBC.com!!!  I am featured in a video clip, talking about my blog (the Cat Party post to be specific!) at Brooklyn Blogfest which I attended last week. 

Check it out here, the video is on the right side of the article, after a brief car commerical…

http://www.wnbc.com/news/16212867/detail.html

YAY!

xoxo,

Jen

4 Minutes To Save The World

11 May

“The time is waiting/We only got 4 minutes to save the world/No hesitating”

4 Minutes, Madonna f. Justin Timberlake & Timbaland

I was listening to AT40 with Ryan Seacrest this morning while I was getting ready to go out for Mother’s Day brunch, and he was doing a phone interview with Madonna about her new album “Hard Candy,” among other things.  When I was brushing my teeth, Madonna started talking about what it was like to collaborate with Justin Timberlake, Timbaland, and/or Pharrell on songs like “Four Minutes (To Save The World)”.  Specifically, that the first thought that came into her head when she had an idea for a lyric or a melody was:  “I don’t wanna say it, I don’t wanna share it, ’cause they might think it’s stupid.”

I ran out of the bathroom with my toothbrush clamped between my right bicuspids to write this down on a post-it.  I’ve had this thought many times.  But, dude, she’s Madonna.  I love when famous people cop to having fear and insecurity.  Because it’s like:  it’s not easy.  Success is often propped up as this perfect, gleaming finished product and you don’t see all the hard work underneath it, which makes it look like some people are meant for success and others aren’t.  You either got it or you don’t, Baby.  But underneath all the shiny success is a big ol’ mess, made up of fear, insecurity, vulnerability, self-doubt, others-doubt, and most likely underneath every really big success story, is a really big mound of failure that was necessary to endure to get there.  The mistakes that had to happen to get it, finally, right.

How many times have you almost said something, almost wrote something, almost did something, but in a flash, worried what others would think of you?  Worried that they might think it/you were stupid, or worse, that it/you might actually be stupid.  And as a result, didn’t say/write/do anything at all…

If Madonna can feel vulnerable and be afraid that people will think her creative ideas are stupid, and still accomplish all she has, it shows that it’s possible to move through your fear and say it anyway.  Write it anyway.  Do it anyway.

I have so much to say.  And I’m tired of keeping it to myself. 

We all have so much to say, so much to contribute, and I’m guessing that every day there’s a million ways, big and small, that we hold ourselves back.  Bite our tongues.  Keep it inside.

So let it out.  The time is waiting.  Say it.  Write it.  Do it.  Someone might think it’s stupid.  A lot of people might think it’s stupid.  But then again, if enough people share what they really think, and who they really are, no hesitating, we just might save the world.

Open-Toe Season

10 May

Me, in No Shringking Violet

What marks the official beginning of spring for me is not the Vernal Equinox on March 20th/21st, but the first day I can wear open-toe shoes.  I am a free spirit who feels seriously restricted in closed-toe shoes, as if they represent all that is binding, constraining, and limiting about our society.  If I had my way (and it didn’t put me at risk for Tetanus), I would probably walk around barefoot all the time.  The second I get home, the shoes come off, and I feel free, liberated, and expansive once again.

I get really enthusiastic about opening the toe early on, often too early, which usually results in me being cold from early March until about June, when the warmth of summer evenings finally supports the bareness of my feet.  But this is a small price to pay for the freedom of running out to do a quick errand in a flip-flop, or the cuteness of perfectly manicured toes in a sassy open-toe pump.  Plus, I love my toes.  Some people have feet issues, and there is plenty that I am insecure about, but not my feet.  I pamper them year-round and keep them pretty and open-toe ready in colors like “Foot Loose,” “Fruit Sangria” and “Turning Heads Red.”  I am such an enthusiastic supporter of open-toe shoes that in some circles, I am even known for my trademark flippy-floppy sound as I walk/run (depending on the urgency of a given situation) down the halls at work, announcing my arrival. 

I pretty much thought that everyone was excited about the toe-opening that spring brings, but this season, I realized that there is an anti-open-toe faction, led by a male co-worker of mine, who I will hereafter refer to as MC for Male Co-Worker, and also because it has a rapper/dj vibe to it, and lastly to protect his identity in case he is not ready to go public with his strong anti-open-toe-footwear stance quite yet. 

One day, when I was feeling quite happy and satisfied with my footwear, MC remarked that he thinks open-toe shoes should not be allowed in New York City and that they are “disgusting.”  (I’ve since confronted him about this disgusting comment and he now claims to have said “disappointing,” but if something was only disappointing it barely seems worth mentioning and then bringing up many times subsequently, and is not nearly strong enough of a word to go with his strong feelings on the matter, and plus, I have a witness who can corroborate my story, and also heard him say “disgusting.”)

At which point a female co-worker (FC) countered, “I think they’re sexy, don’t you?” and then the crickets started to chirp and we all got back to work.

After further investigation into MC’s open-toe hatred, what it comes down to is not that he finds the sight of pedicured toes revolting per se, but that he doesn’t think open-toe shoes are the practical footware choice for the urban environment in which we live (his exact words: “Open-toe shoes are the scourge of our society,” which I wrote down immediately after he said it to avoid another You say disgusting/I say disappointing scenario), and that the more urban-appropriate, closed-toe shoe “protects (one) from the elements and the grime and plague that percolates from the streets of New York.”

I have to concede that I see his point, and when caught in an unexpected rainstorm while wearing flip-flops, I cringe if I accidentally step in a puddle pooling on a street corner, trying not to let my mind go to that place that wants to analyze the components of New York City street ickiness that could potentially be living in the run-off.  Just the other day, I was dashing across 49th Street in my delicate open-toe heels when I looked down to see a layer of dried sludge coating the pavement, and my right ring-finger toe dangling precariously off the sole of my shoe and grazing the muck. 

Behind the scenes, getting open-toe readyWhen I returned to work, I shared my experience with MC to let him know that I was open-minded enough to understand the reasoning behind his hatred/revulsion of my footwear, and he comforted me by suggesting that perhaps the dried sludge was “the Bubonic Plague.”

MC has said that if he had his own company, open-toe shoes would be forbidden, but “there would be other benefits of working at (his) company that would make up for this.”  Which would pretty much have to be an on-site spa and two-day workweek in my opinion, to even come close to making up for these restrictive footwear regulations.

I won’t be submitting my resume there anytime soon, and in the meantime, you can hear me coming, flipping and flopping from down halls and around corners, “Foot Loose” and fancy free.