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Going Home

31 May

Train station

I went home to visit my parents in the small suburban town I grew up in this past weekend. On Sunday, my Mom and I planned to go out to lunch at a tiny cafe on one of the two streets that comprise the downtown area. She told me that the Memorial Day Parade was going to be going on, and I was annoyed.

“I don’t want to get trapped downtown,” I said, worrying that the parade and its blocked off roads would mean her car would get stuck in its parking spot. “Trapped” may have been extreme and “downtown” an exaggeration given that it was only a five-minute walk from her house, but I had an agenda and I didn’t want to waste time: it was lunch with my Mom, then a quick dash to a nearby town for a mandatory Starbucks run, and then dinner at my Dad and Stepmom’s. Also, I was taking advantage of the luxury of suburban home washer/dryers and wanted to squeeze in a couple loads of laundry in between Starbucks and dinner.

While we were eating lunch, the parade started to go by in front of the restaurant we were at, and I kind of half paid attention and half didn’t. Afterwards, as we walked outside and were heading to her car, a group of bagpipers and drummers marched by. Entranced by the music and the beat of the drums, I told my Mom to stop, and that I wanted to stay and watch the parade for a little while. It was mesmerizing, looking the musicians and then the people driving by in convertibles and fire engines, honking and waving, and I got caught up in it, cheering for the police and firemen. We saw the father of one of the kids from my toddler playgroup who I grew up with standing at the side of the road, and said hi.

“The parade used to be bigger,” my Mom remarked, “and there used to be more of a crowd.”

I glanced around at the sparse bystanders and remembered being a little kid, and the Memorial Day Parade being a huge deal. I remembered the year it was the biggest deal of all, when I was four-years-old and in the parade with two of my nursery school buddies, wearing a brown dress with flowers on it and a floppy matching bonnet, drifting down the street in a baby blue convertible with a Co-Op Nursery School sign hanging over the side, smiling and waving to the crowd.

And other years, watching the cheerleaders and dance team march by to the beat of the high school band, wearing the coolest short shorts ever with yellow jackets, the school mascot, embroidered on the butt. Dreaming of the day I’d be a cheerleader, or on the dance team, marching in the parade in my own yellow jacket short shorts.

“Jenny Garam!” someone yelled, and I snapped back into today to see one of the firemen in the parade waving at me. It was a guy I went to high school with who was a few years older than me, and I smiled and waved back. I felt at home, and comforted by being from a small town where even though I hadn’t lived here for almost 20 years, someone in the parade still knew who I was, shouted my name, and waved.

It reminded me that I’m more than who I think I am right now. I’m bigger and more expansive than my worries, disappointments, struggles, and fears–worries about being broke and what actions I should take, disappointments from all the personal and professional rejections and life not turning out how I’d hoped or planned or assumed it would for me, struggles to make ends meet, pursue a creative path, cope with my obsessive thoughts, grasp onto shreds of serenity, and fears about what’s going to happen (or go wrong) next. I have this whole history, and memories, and hopes and dreams from when I was a child and teenager that are still alive in me somewhere, as much as they get drowned out in my day-to-day, 36-year-old, Brooklyn life.

I have all these other experiences and stories that look very different from my life now. As the fireman walked by waving, memories of when I knew him 20 years ago flashed into my mind. How daring I used to be, the crazy parties I went to and all the drinking I did. These days my life is a lot tamer, and usually too tame–I rarely drink which isn’t a problem, but I barely go out, which is. And I’m never the last person at the bar with the craziest stories of all anymore; I’m the first person to go home who hears about the stories the next day.

Thinking back to who I used to be, I remembered hanging out in the firehouse late one night with a group of guys, some of whom were volunteer firefighters, when one of them accidentally set off the fire alarm. The big, loud one. I remembered a substitute teacher from my high school who lived next door rushing in, angry and appalled. I remembered how soon afterwards, I learned that my town’s Fire Chief called a fire department meeting to address “the underage girl drinking in the firehouse,” and how I was mostly mortified, but also a little bit proud of my infamy.

I have this storyline that I was unpopular in high school, cast out, rejected, and alone. That I was invisible and didn’t matter. This is part of a larger narrative that goes, I’m still invisible, I still don’t matter. Except it wasn’t true when I was growing up; for most of my life my inner reality has been very different from my outer reality, and I can’t seem to make them match up. The fireman I went to high school with, shouting my name from the ranks of the parade, reminded me that I wasn’t invisible then. And that reminded me that my overarching storyline isn’t true today either–I’m actually not invisible now, and I do matter.

After the parade, I went to Starbucks. On the drive home, I wound my way through the hilly streets, past the house I grew up in that my Mom moved out of 14 years ago, past my high school best friends’ houses, past my high school, the parks, and the homes I used to walk by every day. I skipped doing laundry and relaxed, opting for a Real Housewives marathon instead. I hopped off my speeding agenda, and slowed down. I can do this when I go home in ways that I can never even come close to in grown-up life, in Brooklyn.

Every time I go home, I feel like I’m on some kind of excavation mission, unearthing shiny parts of myself that got covered up and clouded over with rushing and stressing and loss. Going home, I feel, finally, separate from the things that weigh me down daily. I feel at home and, at last, like me.

Slowing Down & Letting Go

23 Aug
WRITEOUS CHICKS Newsletter – Summer 2008

“Sometimes I think there are only two instructions we need to follow to develop and deepen our spiritual life:  slow down and let go.”

   – Oriah, “The Dance:  Moving to the Deep Rhythms of Your Life”

 

Last week I went on vacation to Martha’s Vineyard, and I always learn something when I am away from my daily routine.  This time I learned that, Type A workaholic that I am, I really, REALLY, like doing…nothing.  This is what my days there looked like:  I’d wake up at around 8am, have breakfast on the porch of the B&B overlooking the water, walk into town to my favorite bakery where I’d sip an ice coffee and write in my journal, and then spend the rest of the day doing whatever I felt like at any given moment in a totally unplanned way – take a leisurely stroll, get an ice cream, lie out on the beach, check out the shops, read, eat, sleep.  This is what I did not do:  turn on a computer, check email, write items down on a To Do list and check them off, have racing thoughts, accomplish things.

 

The pace of New York City is way too fast for me (or maybe it’s just the pace of life today in general, but I feel like how fast people move in NYC exacerbates this).  I am always running to keep up and I often wake up in the morning already feeling behind.  But it’s exhausting and doesn’t leave me feeling any happier.  I loved not having to be any place or do anything by a certain time, and my happiest moments frequently appear on agenda-less days when I am lost in a book or taking a stroll to nowhere in particular.

 

It took me a little while to transition from harried workaholic New Yorker to relaxed vacationer, though.  My sister and I had a long bus ride from New York City to Cape Cod to catch a ferry to the Vineyard, and I started the day feeling rushed to get to Port Authority Bus Terminal in the morning, haunted by memories of my travels last year, when I missed the bus, and the next bus got to the dock after the last ferry to the town I was staying in had already departed, so I had to take a ferry to another town, and got in late at night thereby “losing” the day.  This year, I did not want to miss that bus and wanted to maximize Vacation Day #1.  We made our bus, but then there was an unexpected layover in Cape Cod and the bus we had to transfer to to take us to the ferry was late, so we stood in a parking lot waiting for an hour and a half and missed our intended ferry.  We arrived in Martha’s Vineyard after dark, tired and hungry, and I was annoyed that once again I missed the daylight hours of my first vacation day.

 

The next morning I woke up to rain, which irritated me because I had not been to the beach this summer yet and this trip was my only chance to maximize my tan.  So far this vacation was disappointing and not going according to my plan!  I only had very limited time to relax and I was determined to make the most of it, dammit!  Grumbling, I trudged off to my beloved bakery/coffee shop for my morning journaling, but since I had gotten a later start to my day than I had wanted to, the place was packed and loud and just another annoyance, rather than the peaceful sanctuary I craved.  Trying to talk myself down from my cranky ledge and focus on my writing, I heard a familiar whistling in the background, which turned out to be the intro to the Guns N’ Roses song “Patience” on the radio.  Snapped out of my irritation by Axl Rose, I made a note in my notebook to remind myself to let go and have patience, and stop trying to impose my will on my vacation and use my drive to accomplish the goal of relaxation.  I went for a walk in town, bought a new book, and by the time I finished lunch, the sun was out, and I slathered on the SPF 30 and plunked myself down on the beach for some prime sunning.

 

The message of letting go was further reinforced when I was sitting on the porch of the B&B talking to a couple from Virginia about white water rafting.  The husband explained that if you fell in the water you could get caught in a current that was like a washing machine, and it would just take you around and around and around.  The more you fought it, the more you would get pulled into it, and eventually drown.  One of the only ways to escape was to make your body totally limp, and then the current would spit you out to safety.

 

Letting go is one of the hardest lessons to learn and I come up against the obstacle of pushing too hard and struggling too much to make things happen all the time.  I see that living this way doesn’t work, let go for a little while, and then get antsy and agitated and sucked into the washing machine whirl of old patterns once again.  It is something I may have to practice 1,000,000 times before it becomes second nature, if it ever becomes second nature, but I think all that practice ingrains an awareness that enables me to catch myself earlier, and let go a little bit sooner each time.

 

The last day of my vacation my alarm went off at 5:40am so I could catch the 7am ferry, in order to get back home on time for a commitment I had that night.  Normally, the least favorite part of my day is when my alarm goes off and the rush-hour commute that follows shortly thereafter, but once I was at the dock, I saw that the Black Dog Bakery was right there, and treated myself to my morning coffee and bagel.  Sitting on the boat at 7am sipping my coffee, my vacation-self was in full effect and the Type A workaholic was nowhere to be found – I felt relaxed, peaceful, energized, and fully present as I watched the shore drift quietly away. 

 

I remained relaxed on the bus ride, until I felt some agitation surface when the bus pulled into New York City and got stuck in traffic.  When I emerged at Port Authority, the masses of people racing every which way assaulted my sense of calm, and after asking for directions to the ladies room multiple times from multiple people and walking around and around and around in what seemed like an endless loop still unable to find it, I felt all the remaining calm of my vacation-self get flushed down the toilet, and thought, “I just have to get out of here right now!” and headed home, hoping that my bladder would hold out for the subway ride back to Brooklyn.

 

The next few days I let myself ease back into life post-vacation by not doing anything that would be too jarring to my delicate, relaxed equilibrium, taking naps, and postponing tackling my To Do list until after the weekend.  As simple as it sounds, there is so much to be found in just slowing down and letting go, and I want to incorporate my lessons from vacation into my daily life.  But how do you slow down when the rest of the world is moving so fast?  How do you stay immune to people pushing and shoving in rush hour commute?  How do you let go of your agenda enough to be someone with nothing to do and nowhere to go, even if just for one afternoon?  And I mean, obviously, you do not get a paycheck for sleeping in, lounging around, and then taking a nap, but I am determined to maintain some sense of relaxation while I tend to my responsibilities and obligations and not let all my vacation-bliss go down the drain.

 

I don’t want to get absorbed in the rush to get somewhere else, to be someone else, to ever-strive to do more, more, more.  I don’t want to over-schedule my days and miss out on doing nothing.  I want to carve out time and space, whether I am on a quiet beach in Martha’s Vineyard or amidst the busyness of New York City, for slowing down, and letting go.  And if that means that other commuters are going to bump into me as I leisurely stroll on the subway platform in the morning on my way to work, so be it.  ‘Cause I’m taking my own sweet time.

 

Here’s to enjoying the rest of the summer at a slow, decadent pace, and welcoming the unfolding of new beginnings in the gorgeous fall! 

 

Stay tuned for updates on fall workshops!

 

Lots of love!

 

Jen xoxo

 

Copyright © 2008 by Jennifer Garam

My Trip to the Post Office

8 Nov

club-med-pool.jpg 

Club Med Sonora Bay

WRITEOUS CHICKS Newsletter – November 2007

 On Saturday afternoon, I sat down to pay a stack of November bills when I saw that my Con Ed bill was due on Monday, November 5th, which was in two days.  I thought that my Con Ed bill was always due on the 8th of the month, so this caught me by surprise, and I realized I had to get that sucker in the mail THAT DAY to even stand the slimmest of slim chances of it arriving on time.  I wasn’t sure what time the post office closed on Saturdays so I gave it a shot and headed to the closest post office 2 blocks away with my Con Ed bill in hand.  I had also mapped out the rest of my afternoon and all the errands I would do and in what order after I slid the bill into the mail slot. 

When I arrived at the post office is was 2:45, and the sign said it closed at 2:30.  There is another post office about 10 blocks away but this totally upset my map and threw off my whole afternoon of errand efficiency.  I read The Secret and I know all about creating your reality with your thoughts, and having a positive attitude of gratitude.  So I faked a mental monologue that went like this:  “Isn’t this GREAT?  It’s a gorgeous, sunny, crisp, cool fall day and I am just taking a leisurely stroll in my beautiful neighborhood.  Thank God the post office was closed, because it has given me this wonderful opportunity to slow down, give up my agenda, and just enjoy the day!  On my nice, long, leisurely walk, 10 blocks out of my way!”   

But my subconscious wasn’t buying it, and I’ll give you a glimpse into my REAL, deep down inner monologue, which went like this:  ” *@$^&%!!!!  @*^%*^%*^%*@!!!!!  I am going to f-ing walk 10 f-ing blocks out of my F-ING WAY, and when I get there, I am SURE that that motherf-ing post office is ALSO going to be closed, and it will be a complete waste of my time, I will have thrown my whole day off, I won’t be able to get any of my errands done, and my Con Ed bill won’t even get there on time so I will get a late fee tacked on on top of everything!!!!”

So you can imagine my surprise when I got to the second post office, and it was open, and everything was just…easy.  I plunked the bill in the mail, it would likely arrive at Con Ed on Monday, and I went on my merry way to Target.  Piece of cake. 

But this really alerted me to how I have come to anticipate struggle and expect disappointment.  In something so small and insignificant as a trip to the post office.  In day-to-day things like trying to catch (and missing) a subway, ordering meatloaf from my favorite neighborhood cafe on a cold rainy night only to learn that they just ran out, needing to print something out right now when the printer jams.  But also, I have grown to expect disappointment in the bigger things, from my relationships to my finances to my career to my life purpose.  I have grown to believe that I won’t get what I want and need when I want and need it, so why even bother?  

During spring break of my senior year in high school, my aunt and uncle took me, my sister, and my cousins to Club Med in Sonora Bay.  I had an amazing week dancing poolside (the Club Med Sun Dance!), water skiing, spending my nights at the discotheque grooving to “Informer” by Snow, and walking barefoot on the beach with super-cute guys, splashing in the waves (there was “Gabe the Babe” who was a real-live surfer from California, and another cutie from Chicago.  I can’t remember his name anymore which is strange because I loved him for a week in 1993).  I even performed in the show that the guests put on at the end of the week, in which I got to wear a sexy costume and strut my stuff onstage.  With a feather boa. 

I came back home burnt to a crisp as a result of a last ditch attempt to deepen my tan that involved Hawaiian Tropic, high noon, and a latitude close to the Equator, and also, radiating confidence.  I had made so many new friends instantly on this trip and it soothed my nerves about starting college in the fall.  I now knew I could make friends wherever I went and take risks and try new things and it would all be just…easy. 

I was in the National Honor Society at the time, and a week or two after returning from my trip it was my turn to put in my NHS tutoring hours at the high school library, where other students could stop by for homework help.  Still radiant, I was talking a million miles an hour to the NHS Faculty Advisor about my trip, and how it had opened my mind to all these new possibilities.  The university I was going to attend offered a semester abroad program in Aix-en-Provence, so I had decided that I wanted to major in French, study in Aix, and then take a year or two after college to work at different Club Meds around the world.  I thought it would be fun, and hey, why not?  I had no doubt that I could, and would, do this. 

Then the faculty advisor said, “That’s not going to happen.  Things never happen like you plan.”  But I was adamant and defended my plan with the full-out unrestrained passion of an optimistic 17-year-old. My plan totally never happened.  Nothing even close to it happened (I took one French class in my first semester of freshman year, and attended one poetry reading at the International House, and then ditched the idea).  Other stuff happened, which was fine stuff, but the point is, somewhere along the way, I stopped believing that it could happen.  Or that something equally fabulous and magnificent could happen.  I started internalizing the rejection and disappointment that the world threw my way, dropped a hope here, a dream there, and resigned myself to living a life that is not nearly as spectacular as the one I had once so easily imagined for myself.  And now I steel myself against disappointment daily and brace myself for struggle – the post office being closed when I need it to be open, the subway pulling out of the station when I need it to be pulling in, the relationship not working out, my writing being rejected, the list goes on… 

But this isn’t how I want to live my life.  And the unexpected surprise of the post office being open when I needed it to be, of things going smoothly, going my way, gave me a huge jolt. 

When I was in high school and college, I used to think that things would go my way just because I wanted them to, I was smart, I worked hard, and I deserved them.  That isn’t the way my thinking defaults anymore.  It’s easy to lose hold of this belief in ourselves as we get older and move through a world that is not always (and sometimes it can feel like never) accommodating to us and our desires.  So I write this story to hopefully jolt you, even if just for a moment, out of any conditioned thinking you may hold, an auto-pilot belief that whispers things will be difficult, and inconvenient, and disappointing, and won’t go your way. 

Try to remember a time in your life when you believed you could have it all, no matter how fanciful or outrageous, simply because you wanted it.  Remember a time in your life where you believed you deserved it.  And hold onto that thought, even when day-to-day disappointments peck at it and try to chip it away.  Write it down.  Write your story about a time you believed in yourself.  And remember remember remember.  Even when the subway door slams in your face and your computer crashes and the printer jams and you can’t find a decent slice of meatloaf to save your life and things are just not going your way.  And keep holding on.  No matter what.  ‘Cause maybe your present will loop back and touch your past at that very place, and you will believe in yourself, unconditionally, once again.  

Lots of love!


Jen xoxo 

Copyright © 2007 by Jennifer Garam

Workaholic Takes An (Email-Free) Vacation

11 Jul

coffeestill-life.jpg

Still Life With Coffee: A pen, a blank notebook page, an ice coffee…my idea of perfection!

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I am a self-proclaimed workaholic, and I come from a long line of workaholics – my sister is a workaholic, my father is a workaholic, and so are my mother and my stepmother. On an given night, one might find me sitting in front of my computer at 11pm, just coming to the realization that I haven’t eaten dinner yet, and I haven’t watched one reality TV show or Sex & The City rerun all week. I am very passionate about what I do and can get lost in my projects for hours, days, weeks at a time, which can be a very good thing, but can also throw my life out of balance if left unchecked. Every life needs a little Dancing With Stars or Carrie Bradshaw every now and then to maintain balance.

Last week, I did more than take a break from work to watch So You Think You Can Dance (yes, I am partial to the dance-based reality programming). I did something totally radical for me – I took a much-needed vacation! And not only that, I took an email-free vacation. I did not even bring my computer, which turned out to be the right choice as my quaint little inn had free wireless and I do not know if I am strong enough to resist free wireless. And the thing is: I did not even miss my email one bit. I was not even the least bit tempted to “casually” (i.e. frantically) stroll into an Internet cafe or library so that I could get my fix. And sometimes, I even left my cell phone on the bedside table of my quaint little room, and aimlessly strolled around, completely unreachable.

Instead of being enslaved to my email addiction, I spent my days reading and writing, going for walks, lounging on the beach, and essentially, listening to my inner self about what I wanted to do next, and then doing it. And in doing so, I reached a whole nother level of relaxation, rejuvenation, inspiration, freedom, possibility, and hopefulness that I have not experienced in what felt like years, perhaps since before the dot com boom.

When I got back home post-vacation, one of the first things I did was to check my email. And I noticed, instantly, that my energy diminished, and I felt bad. As I logged on, I felt my hopeful, rejuvenated relaxation just drain right out of me and pool up on the floor. I felt the disappointment of a few emails I had been eagerly anticipating not being returned and not waiting for me in my inbox, and I felt the stress of emails that I would have reply to, of obligations, and people needing things from me. I have been grappling with my email addiction for years but it was enlightening to me to actually feel the tangible energy drain that it creates.

Our culture is extremely techie-addicted and I am really coming to believe that this can be to our collective detriment. It is so hard to be present and simply be and allow yourself to soak up all the beauty and joy and friendship and love and peace that can be present in a moment when you are worrying about an email you are expecting, or texting someone else who may or may not meet you later, or intermittently taking phone calls that “have” to be dealt with “right now,” but are really very rarely of an actual urgent nature, it is just that everything seems urgent and requiring of instant attention these days.

I used to have a friend who, every time we went out for dinner or coffee, she would plunk her cell phone down in the middle of the table, and then take every call she got (there were many) and proceed to engage in lengthy conversations while I was faced with the choice of reading the menu again, checking my own voicemail under the pretense that there might be a new message for me to listen to, or staring at my elbow. It definitely sent the message to me loud and clear that I was of secondary importance to any and every one who was calling her. Interestingly enough, we have since drifted apart…

And then there is the etiquette involved. It has become so second-nature and accepted for everyone to be doing a million things all at once – taking a call, checking their BlackBerry, texting an acquaintance – and everyone does it, that it is difficult and uncomfortable to say: “I feel unimportant and ignored when you spend our entire lunch date on your cell phone (or immersed in your BlackBerry).”

On vacation, it was so liberating to be free of all these vices and their choke holds, and I felt noticeably calmer and everything felt measurably crisper, clearer, more intense – leisurely conversations with friends, cups of creamy fudgey fudge-swirl ice cream melting over onto my fingers, scallops drenched in lemon and butter, a fresh lobster roll on a buttered hot dog bun surprisingly crunchy and blackened in bites, pale pink dripping into fiery coral sunsets, the smell-almost-taste of ocean salt water, broken shells on the beach, sand between my toes, long walks with no where in particular to go…an empty notebook page, an intensely good book, a large delicious ice coffee with just a splash of milk…

It is always hard for me to reintegrate back into my regular life after a vacation. Seven years ago, when I got back to my office job from a weeklong vacation at the beach, I tacked up photos from my trip in front of me in my cubicle and for days after my return, I found myself getting lost in thought in the middle of some mundane task like entering repetitive information into a database, staring off at my ocean photos and dreaming of my beach-bound return, of a more relaxing and peaceful existence outside of New York City and its crazy hectic pace. (And that was even before email got so mainstream.)

This time, I wonder if I can bring some of that peace back to me and into my hectic agitated New York City existence. If I don’t have to travel 8 hours to remember who I am and what I want to do moment-to-moment, to remember the simple things that bring me immeasurable joy, like scallops and sunsets, like getting lost in a book without distraction, like walking down the street with eyes so wide they soak up every inch of detail as if I have never seen any of this before, rather than walking from my apartment to the subway without any recollection of actually seeing one building or person or tree on my way there, because I was too busy being wrapped up in my To Do list, or mentally drafting an email response to an urgent request. I wonder if I can have that kind of heightened awareness, that calmness that disconnection from technology brings, that degree of intense aliveness, in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon, in the middle of Brooklyn.

I am certainly going to give it a try…

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Two bookworms on a seaside vacation, happy as clams….

Copyright © 2007 by Jennifer Garam. All rights reserved.