Archive | June, 2009

Mission: Summer of Fun

30 Jun


 Summer summer summertime

Time to sit back and unwind

– Will Smith when he was still The Fresh Prince, “Summertime” lyrics

After my sophomore year of college I came home to Westchester and spent lots of time in the Greenburgh Public Library pouring over the O’Dwyers PR Guide, making lists of places to apply for a responsible summer internship.  I got an interview at a PR firm and I wore my new suit that I had bought at Ann Taylor or Lord & Taylor.  It was beige, and the top was cream, and I had matching beige pumps.  Sitting in the Manhattan office, my interviewer said, “Garden supplies.  You will spend your summer focused on garden supplies.”

I felt panicked and claustrophobic.  I could not see myself sitting in an office in my beige suit and matching heels doing garden supply PR, whatever that meant, day after day after day after day…

And then…my college roommate invited me to live in Cape Cod that summer with her and a few other girls, rent-free.  I did not spend time weighing my options or listing pros and cons.  I just said “No” to garden supplies and “YES!” to the Cape.

Soon after, I got in my Dad’s maroon 1972 BMW 2002, rolled down the windows (it didn’t have AC), turned up the radio (I spent my life savings at age 16 on a brand new car radio that even had a tape deck!) and DROVE! 

My college roommate’s family owned real estate in Cape Cod, so the first month we stayed at a gorgeous house on the Cape Cod Canal.  There were four of us and we each had our own room, and there was a porch out back and when you stepped off the porch you touched down to sand.  The second month we moved into a three story townhouse in a housing complex in the same town, and two more girls moved in and we paid close to nothing at a couple hundred dollars each in rent.  I drove around for the first few days I was there looking for a waitressing job and filling out applications and then I got TWO – one at a cafe where the owner didn’t have what you would call a business sense or a profit motive.  He was taking a break from his other career as a Deadhead to dabble in restaurant owning.  On one of my first shifts, he took the staff, which was comprised mostly of me and my roommates, to get restaurant supplies at The Christmas Tree Shops, where he proceeded to steal many salt & pepper shakers.  On another shift, we all went to a waiter’s house to hang out at his pool.  My other job was more stable, at an established waterfront restaurant that also catered weddings.

I worked hard, often double shifts and for large chunks of time without a day off, but I also PLAYED.  I remember driving around and exploring, running along the canal or through the streets at sunset, picking up fudge swirl ice cream on the way home from work for a late-night treat, buying a basketball and shooting hoops just because our housing complex had a basketball court, eating Burger King Italian Chicken Sandwiches dipped in ketchup and fries dipped in barbecue sauce multiple times a week, lying on the carpeted floor watching videos for TLC’s “Waterfalls” and Boyz II Men’s “Water Runs Dry,” having crushes on boys with Boston accents, eating lots of clam chowdah, going dancing at Landfall in Woods Hole, taking road trips to Boston and Winchester and Marblehead, walking around Cambridge in the rain, seeing a movie at the Brattle Theatre, eating burgers at The Tasty and burritos at Border Cafe in Harvard Square, trying to use my fake id – sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, kissing a cute boy in the parking lot of a bar, renting mopeds on Martha’s Vineyard, thinking I looked hot in my bikini, and feeling that way, too, taking late-night trips to IHOP, reading The Alienist, going to a beach party and an outdoor concert, blasting The Dave Matthews Band cds, leaving at midnight to drive from Cape Cod to New York, sitting on the back porch smoking Marlboro Lights with my feet up on the rail.  I learned how to open a bottle of wine.  I crashed my car at Logan Airport and the police officer that arrived on the scene looked like Mel Gibson.  I had my heart broken and cried on the couch and thought the heart-hurt would never stop.

In the summer of 1995, I did all the quintessential summer things and I had FUN. 

Fun used to be a lot easier to come by and I didn’t really have to think about it, it just happened.  Now my default mode is to work really hard with no room for fun.  When I get busy (which is most of the time), I feel something click.  I get really super-focused, and go into nose-to-the-grindstone mode.  There are things that need to be done.  Goals to reach.  Life changes to make.  Finances to worry about.  Chores to take care of.  The laundry has to get done, the bathroom needs to be cleaned, and I have to realize my life purpose.

I was face-to-grindstone a few weeks ago working hard at home alone on a Saturday afternoon when I heard a voice in my head say (whine), “I’M NOT HAVING ANY FUN!”  I went out that night which improved the situation, but it was a temporarily fix, like slapping a band-aid on my fun deprivation, when I needed a full-out fun-transfusion.

Being an adult with responsibilities, stresses, obligations, worries, and a bathtub that will not get cleaned if I don’t clean it, it is too easy to lose track of fun.  To de-prioritize it until I forget about it.  And fun doesn’t just fall into my lap like it used to.  No one is calling me these days offering me months of rent-free/low-cost housing in a summer vacation town.  Spontaneity no longer feels comfortable.  My immediate response to a fun invitation is, “I can’t afford that,” and then, “I don’t have time.”

And what was fun for me at 19 is not the same thing that will be fun for me now.  I wouldn’t find it enjoyable today to say, crash my car, fall in love with a jerk, and then smoke a pack of Marlboro Lights.  (It really wasn’t ever fun for me to crash my car, and it definitely wasn’t fun paying for the damages, but the Mel Gibson lookalike thing made it slightly less traumatizing.  And looking back, the jerk/bad boy/heartbreak thing is overrated, and smoking is bad for your health, I don’t do it anymore, and I definitely would NOT advocate it.  I just always seem to feel so nostalgic about my cigarette-smoking memories…).  But that makes it a project, and a fun one at that, to explore what is FUN for me today, what I would LOVE doing, what would light me up and make me giddy with excitement and anticipation just thinking about it.

Because fun doesn’t come so easily anymore, I have to be vigilant to make sure I get my required daily dose.  People are busier now than when I was 19, and their schedules are more packed, so fun takes a little advance planning.  And when I receive spontaneous or semi-spontaneous invitations, I can practice overriding Ican’taffordthatIdon’thavetime with a resounding YES!  I still feel the same buzz of excitement and adventure shooting through me when I say Yes to something wonderful at 33 as I did at 19.  Last summer I squeezed a little fun in but still felt deficient in that area and wished that I had had so much more, so this summer I am on a mission to have a Summer of Fun and I am proactively seeking it out. 


Is your summer set-up for fun maximization?  Take your fun pulse – scan your life to see if you are infusing enough fun into it.  Have you orchestrated moments in your days, weeks, and months purely dedicated to doing things you love and spending time with people you love in places you love?  Update your fun list – what would be purely, blissfully fun for you right now?  Then take a few things off your to do list and get to work checking things off on your fun list.  Summer is a time for slowing down and feeling good so let the season inspire you to do the same.  Even if fun takes a little more effort now than it used to, the payoff is exponential and well worth it.  And, in the words of Will Smith back in the day when he was still The Fresh Prince and fun was waiting around every corner, take the next few months stretching out before you to just sit back and unwind…

Wishing you a fun-filled summer!

Lots of love!

Jen xoxo

P.S.  I was planning to write this newsletter last Friday but I said YES to the beach!

Copyright © 2009 by Jennifer Garam

What Are Your Michael Jackson Memories?

28 Jun

Amidst the very unclear and devastating tragedy of Michael Jackson’s death, what is clear is how many people’s lives he touched through his music and performing and very being, in both obvious and more subtle ways.  The past few days as I walked down the streets of  Brooklyn, I’ve passed cars with his music blaring through their windows like a time capsule of the 70’s and 80’s.  I’ve been surprised when I’ve turned on the radio and his music was not playing, as since Thursday it feels like the whole world is united in listening to Michael Jackson together.

Among my friends and I’ve noticed memories surface, memories of listening to his music throughout our lives.  His songs were not just songs in a vacuum at a certain moment that then evaporated and disappeared; his music is tied to our memories, feelings, stories, and so much more.

I remember…

-Listening to the Thriller album on my plastic Fisher Price record player when I was 7 or 8 years old, sitting on the floor in my living room as the record spun, the album cover nearby, playing the record straight through, from first song to last.

-Being 8 years old, the summer before I turned 9, visiting my Aunt Pam and Uncle Mark in Cleveland, OH.  I was tan and my short feathered hair (before my hair turned curly), was parted in the middle and flopped open.  I think I was wearing a turquoise cotton sundress, and one large single cooking mitt to simulate Michael’s single sequined glove, and, performing for the audience of my family, I had just done a moonwalk and spun around and threw up my kitchen mitted-hand into the air when someone snapped a photo.

-When my parents got divorced, my Dad moved into a small apartment a few towns away that sat at the entrance of a dead-end alley.  My sister and I would go there every other weekend, and sometimes we would visit my Dad’s neighbor Nancy, who lived a big old run down house at the end of the alley.  She was in her early 40’s and the youngest grandmother I had ever met, we’d play Parcheesi and she had a huge record collection filled with albums like old classic Billy Joel, and The Jackson Five, and I associate her house and Parcheesi with the first time I ever heard “ABC.”

-Being planted in front of the television in my wood-paneled family room watching the video for “Say Say Say” on network television, back when they used to play videos on network TV, riveted by Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney driving away on the back of a truck, and Michael Jackson’s tearful clown make-up…

-My seventh grade class trip to Washington, D.C. I associate with the song “Man in the Mirror.”  I had the cassette tape of “Bad,” so maybe I listened to it on a walkman on the bus ride down.  I remember the first sense of freedom, four 7th grade girls staying in our very own hotel room, and there was even a telephone in the bathroom, and we went sightseeing, and to a mall, and on a boat cruise, and stayed up late talking to boys, one of us from the phone in the bedroom and someone else on the phone in the bathroom, and there was always the possibility that a cute 7th grade boy you had a crush on, or wanted to practice flirting with, would knock on your door to say hi.

-Junior year of high school, my friends and I going over to Chip’s house to watch the television premiere of the “Black or White” video.

-The summer after I graduated from high school, my best friend Zoe and I cocktail waitressed at The Chart House.  The restaurant played the same official restaurant soundtrack over and over again, and one of the songs on it was “Wanna Be Starting Something,” and I remember being giddy and delirious after a 10 or 12 hour shift of working outside on the patio in the blazing summer sun, cleaning up and stacking cocktail trays and packing table tents away in bus bins, when that song would come on and we would dance, standing up tall to “It’s too high to get over, Yeah, Yeah” and ducking down low for “Too low to get under, Yeah, Yeah.”

-Being in acting school after college, getting there early in the morning and bringing in cds and blasting them on the boom box in the classroom, some of us launching out of our chairs that were lined up in rows to have a dance party before our first class started, before 9am.  Dancing and moving to have fun, and release some anxiety before an angsty day of difficult classes, and somehow those early morning dance parties helped get me in a happier and lighter mood, where I could feel more in control, and maybe deal with the criticism that was to come a little better.  Dancing to The Jackson Five, “ABC,” or “I Want You Back,” and feeling that burst of energy and joy that music can bring.

Michael Jackson’s life ended too soon, and tragically, and seemed to be characterized by an unknowable…something… sadness or loneliness or trouble or torment…  But for everyone who has lived in the past 40 years, his life reached out and touched all of ours.  We all have our own different Michael Jackson memories but we are all connected in that we all have them – memories, feelings, and stories we associate with him and his music – and we were all affected at different times, at different ages, in different places, and at different moments, by his music, and his presence in this world.

So, in honor of Michael Jackson’s life, and the ways in which he was a part of our lives, for the inspiration he provided, for his music and dancing that brought people glimpses of joy and upliftment and connection, for his passion and drive and dedication and creativity, and for all that he created…

What feelings and stories do you remember?  What friends and family and people and places and times and ages do his songs make you think of?  What are your Michael Jackson memories, where are those pieces of your life when his music was playing along, creating the soundtrack of your stories?

“And my goal in life is to give the world what I was lucky to receive: the ecstasy of divine union through my music and dance.”  – Michael Jackson

Copyright © 2009 by Jennifer Garam