Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Blogging and Biking

From (my other blog) Blog-By-Bike:

Long before I began Blog-By-Bike ... or at least in the years prior (long is a relative term) ... I often lamented that some of my best writing is forever lost in the streets of New York City. I would be strolling in Manhattan or clinging to a pole in the subway and the perfect assortment and order of words would drift through my head. Despite silently repeating my self-acclaimed profound thoughts over and over, they were often lost before I could get pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard. I began carrying a miniature notebook in my purse just for that reason, and Helen now carries one on her bike. I will be, too, this summer in the hopes that less of my best writing will be forever lost with the ghost of my pedal strokes across North America.

In my first blog - dedicated to my journey of becoming a New Yorker - I wrote my opening post on July 1, 2006, when I was a month away from my big move to New York City. I had no apartment. No job. No corporate connections. I still felt like it was ok to order pizza from Dominos and had no knowledge of bodegas or that a hero is both Derek Jeter and a sandwich. No substantial comprehension of the subway. No Duane Reade card. I  All I had was the hope that comes with knowing what you want. While some wondered why, I instead wondered the scarier question of why not?

In a book I read recently, Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty True Things You Need to Know Now, there is an entire chapter dedicated to what Gordon Livingston, M.D. considers to be life's two most important questions: "Why?" and "Why not?"

"If people are reluctant to answer 'Why?' questions in their lives, they also tend to have trouble with 'Why not?' The latter implies risk," Livingston writes. "Steeped in habit and fearful of change, most of us are to some degree risk-averse. Particularly in activities that may involve rejection, we tend to act as if our sense of ourselves is fragile and must be protected. One would think that these fears would improve with age and experience; the opposite is usually the case."

Livingston goes on to say, "When presented with new things, the operative question may be 'Why not?' but people frequently defend themselves from disappointment by asking 'Why?' This can lead to the creative of endless excuses for not taking [chances]." Though he is specifically referring to intimate relationships in this chapter, one can apply this valuable insight to a variety of scenarios in life.

I'm a planner. I'm organized. I make lists. I use Microsoft Excel outside of the office to systematize an assortment of elements in my personal life. I did not go to a four-year university with the intention of becoming a "glorified secretary", but I think I'm now a pretty good corporate-NYC executive assistant because organization and planning come naturally to me. I enjoy paying my credit card bill in full each month. In fact, I kinda get off on not being in debt. I have a diversified portfolio of mutual funds (modest in value though it may be), I contribute the maximum for company-match to my 401(k), and I had an IRA before I graduated from college. I wear sunscreen daily from May to September. I have a vitamin regimen that involves supplement intake three times a day. I've never been bungee jumping, and I'm reserving sky diving for my 70th or 80th birthday - when I won't be quite as disappointed if my parachute fails to open.

On the surface, I do not live an incredibly risky life. But I've never let risk stand in the way of something I want. Maybe it's because I had incorporated Livingston's declaration of the final and controlling paradox even before I read his definition on page 54: Only by embracing our mortality can we be happy in the time we have. It closely resembles my own personal vendetta with "time" -- fueled by my secret fear that I won't get to do everything I hope to do before I die -- that we must be grateful to be given the years of which others are denied so that the few they might have been granted were not lived in vain.

While reading Livingston's chapter on why and why not, I wondered why we are often more protective of our sense of self than we are of the time we have. We treat our feelings as if they are more fragile - when in fact "time" - which is far more delicate than our ego - is finite and incredibly, relatively limited. Is science not indirectly teaching us that our lives are nothing more than a blink of the cosmic eye in the vast, immeasurable universe?

Just as I fended the "Why?" questions that proceeded my move to New York City in 2006 - often with a shrug and a smile - I have also faced the raised eyebrows and wide eyes that have followed my announcement to cycle across North America in 2010.

I'll continue to approach most things in life with a "Why not?" attitude, but this summer - in this blog - with each pedal stroke and each published post, I'll be specifically answering the "Why not?" question of cycling 3,629 miles in 50 days. I suspect that it will have many answers. Those answers may not convince anyone else otherwise, but it will be my own personal record for reflection. I'll stop as often as I can to jot my thoughts in my little notebook, and I hope most of them make it to publication on my blog. Even if some of my thoughts are forever lost in the space and time between Oregon and New Hampshire, I know that the basic message to myself will not be.

Monday, May 17, 2010

I Own This City

There are so many owners of New York City.

I am one.

Here is another.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Value of a MetroCard

When I'm not speeding through subway turnstiles at my "New Yorker hurry-up-and-wait" pace, I'm going to start picking up MetroCards.

Here's why.

... My new means of income hobby means that I should probably consider carrying hand sanitizer - even though I'm that person, who will hang onto a pole in the train, exit the subway, buy an apple from a fruit vendor on the street and start eating it immediately. I truly believe that my immune system is awesome because of this.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Letters to Our Younger Selves

From (my other blog) Blog-By-Bike:

Ellyn Spragins and I first connected when she commented on a blog post in which I had included a copy of a letter to my younger self that I had written in 2008. It was inspired by a contest in Marie Claire magazine that was based on Ellyn's books. I never actually entered the contest, but two years later, my letter led to a personal invitation from Ellyn to host one of the inaugural "Letters to My Younger Self" Parties. After I agreed, she sent the invitations, party kit, a free copy of her latest book to reference at the party, which had a personalized inscription from Ellyn to me, and swag for the gift bags (which included products from Neutrogena, Trish McEvoy and Suze Orman). Virtually all I had to do was be a host. And since I organized a potluck picnic, I spent less than $100 on pens, gift bags, champagne, orange juice and disposable cups, plates and eating utensils).

In a note to the party hosts on March 6, 2010, Ellyn mentioned that there would be nearly 50 LTMYS Parties taking place across the United States during the week of April 30-May 2 - an initiative that she is developing into a product associated with her books. Among us, she noted, were dear family members, treasured friends, neighbors, readers, attendees and organizers of her speeches and Letters to My Younger Self Seminars - women spanning age ranges from their twenties to their sixties.

And so it came to be that seven of my 20- and 30-something girlfriends gathered in Central Park on Sunday, May 2, for our own LTMYS Party - a picnic brunch with discreetly-contained mimosas (hey, Mayor Bloomberg said it was ok) and delicious snacks (most notably, lemon-artichoke pesto and sliced baguettes from Zabars). We shared our potluck snacks, drank premium orange juice spiked with cheap champagne (except me since my bicycle training rides are getting longer), enjoyed small talk and laughter, and then listened while three friends read aloud from Ellyn's book - letters by Diane Von Furstenberg, Bobbie Brown and Barbara Walters. Finally, under the cool shade of a large tree at the north end of Sheep Meadow, we began our own letters. Except me again. I just continued eating since I had already written a letter to my younger self and posted it on my blog ... hence the reason I am holding a laptop in our group photo.





And me ...
 Dear Younger Self,

You won’t have what you thought you'd have by your late-20s. But you’ll be happy. You’ll have a 350-square foot apartment in Manhattan. A MetroCard. A job as an executive assistant surrounded by amazing women. You’ll have great friends, New York, phone calls from mom, dirty martinis, Lox cream cheese and bagels.

You’ll realize something new about yourself often. You won't seek to constantly reinvent yourself, yet you might not ever really know everything about you because different parts of you will change – sometimes frequently. This should probably bother you, but it won’t.

You’ll wish you were wittier, and you’ll be a sucker for a sense of humor. You won’t fall in love easily, you won’t get attached easily, and you’ll have to be both of those things if you’re going to get jealous easily; you’ll be able to thank a military-brat upbringing for that. You will be nominated for the "Most Friendly" Senior Superlative at your second high school, and you’ll be a "relatively nice" New Yorker 10 years later. But you’ll have a dark side, and you generally won’t trust those who don't. You’ll like to step back and absorb certain moments so that you can remember the details; you’ll do that most often when your friends are laughing.

You’ll crave cliché “Sex and the City” moments because it’s how you once pictured your life – minus, of course, the Manolo Blahniks, Upper East Side brownstones, and voluminous consumption of Magnolia Bakery cupcakes without gaining a pound. Your narrative thoughts and meaningful conversations won’t be set to background music, but you’ll have the fantasy in syndication and the real thing right outside your window. You won’t worry that your life is becoming a cliché because there will be a reason that you are not the first to live life the way you’ll choose to live it. And you’ll want to be Melanie Griffith at the end of Working Girl when she calls her best friend and says, "Guess where I am right now."

Good and bad things will happen. And you'll have regrets. A few will stay with you always. So embrace varying levels of disappointment so that you’ll recognize rapturous joy. Floss your teeth regularly. Take chances. Don't settle for what’s easy; seek what’s worth it. Take random walks in this city. Look for sights you can't believe, listen for sounds that tug at your heart strings, savor the feelings that take your breath away. Eat more fruits and vegetables; drink more water. Allow yourself to be swept off your feet regularly. Save money and spend wisely. Live like Anthony Hopkins in Meet Joe Black so that you can wake up one morning and say, "I don't want anything more."

When you write this letter, you still won’t know who you are exactly, but you’ll realize it and be ok with it. And you’ll see that the only thing that matters for any of us in the end is that we once existed. So laugh more, love more, live more. Because you can.

Love Always,
Your 28-Year Old Self 

P.S. And when you're 30, you'll cycle across North America [2010 revision].


Thursday, April 15, 2010

One Difference Between the City & Everywhere Else

From CityWendy's "The Big Day":

"Hey, you know what the difference is between a 40th birthday party and a 30th birthday party? At the 40th, half your guests have to get home early to relieve the babysitter. That's ok; more Sangria for us!"

And that's because we live in New York City. Back in North Carolina, that's largely how the 25th birthday party works.

Monday, February 08, 2010

The Katie Project

From (my other blog) Blog-By-Bike:

My boyfriend thinks I'm just like Julie Powell. That's what I get for encouraging him to watch a romantic comedy.

Between basketball practice, team meetings and publicity events associated with the bj-league in Japan, he is fairly isolated during his downtime - namely because he doesn't speak fluent Japanese. Because of this general seclusion from direct American contact, he is easily swayed to consume any media that is produced in English.

"It was a good movie," Terrence said - something I'm sure he'd be less eager to confess if I had physically dragged him into a theater to see Julie & Julia myself.

"And Meryl Streep was adorable," he admitted - an opinion he was less reluctant to divulge since he has a widely-known affinity for cuteness (Side note: Julie never actually called Julia Child "adorable"). If you ever want to make a 6'9" heterosexual male melt, just send him a link to any "cute kitten" video on YouTube. He also thinks tall, awkward women are more appealing that short, cute women - which was another factor that made this movie an easy sell.

And then he added, "And you are just like Julie."

"What about me is just like Julie?" I asked. "Give me adjectives."

"Just like she is," he replied. "You saw the movie. I'm not going to go crazy typing it all out, but you act like she does." [I suppose I should also clarify that this entire conversation took place via AOL Instant Messenger.]

"Neurotic?" I probed.






I paused, realizing that I had not come up with one endearing adjective to describe Julie.

"Focused," he typed, "And female."

"Thanks for putting a positive spin on this," I typed back.

I'm not sure what kind of picture this paints for anyone who might be reading this blog without ever having met me - especially if one already has a mental perception of a 30-year old, half-Filipina, half-White woman, who is tall for anyone of Asian decent, with a long torso, short arms, long legs and small, exactly-the-same-size feet (an apparently abnormal trait), as determined by the pro bicycle fitter at R&A Cycles a few weeks ago. When I shared my measurements with a coworker at job #1, who is four inches shorter than me, we compared arms and mine were, indeed, even shorter than hers. I can't believe I never realized that I have short arms before, but my disproportioned measurements actually make sense. I am exactly what happens when you mix average-size White genes with much smaller Asian genes: long torso, long legs, short arms, small hands, small feet.

I suppose there are some similarities between us, which may be few to mention - since I don't know the actual Julie Powell anymore than anyone can claim by simply judging a Hollywood dramatization of someone else's life. However, we both live in New York City. We both consider moving from one New York borough to another (a span of mere miles) like changing planets - or, at a minimum, I totally related to the relocation scene at the opening of Julie & Julia.

We both like to eat (though I can name essentially everything that I know how to cook, which someone once told me - as I proudly listed them off - is not actually a good thing). We both work in cubicles - at least until her writing began to turn a profit. We both blog. Anyone, who regularly posts their thoughts on the Internet - with the hope and assumption that someone out there is going to care - is comprised of some level of narcissism. We both use hobbies as a channel for self-exploration; case in point: the blogging we both do ends up being more about ourselves than the hobbies. She has a "Donation" button on her blog The Julie/Julia Project, an avenue for others to make charitable donations to a non-charitable, self-absorbed cause.

We both enjoy writing and attempt - more often than socially accepted in literary academic circles - to make run-on sentences charming. I check my blog everyday for new comments, which - not unlike Julie in her early blogger years - also serves as a daily reminder that my mother is likely one of my only regular readers. And I relish any opinion that anyone might make an effort to share, openly accepting the occasional backlash it may incur, as I'm sure Julie has had to learn, since - through blogging - we indirectly welcome the equal advantage and risk of having people tell us what they really think. The aptitude to be simultaneously vulnerable and thick-skinned is also a characteristic that Julie and I certainly must share.

I suppose one of our likely-many differences (outside of stating my obvious lack of a dominant gene for red hair; then again, based on a few Google images, neither does she) is that she hates the subway more than I do (I still enjoy how my knowledge of it and familiarity with it make me feel like a New Yorker), and she drops the F-word in her previous and current blog more often than I would ever have the courage to use it to color my own writing - mostly because I know how much it will disappoint my parents, who will now be disappointed to learn how much I actually enjoy including it in my daily vernacular. The main advantage Julie has over me is that she began blogging random, inane thoughts before they became cliché.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

No Can Without Will

From (my other blog) Blog-By-Bike:

I am sitting on the toilet in our bathroom, the only place in the apartment where my roommate and I can consistently "borrow" wireless Internet from our neighbors. After nearly two days, wallowing in my self-pity party, pouting at both jobs, and soliciting money with shameless plugs on Twitter [DONATE HERE], I am deciding here and now to drag myself out of the financial funk that I've been in all weekend. So what if I underestimated my cycling attire needs by nearly two grand or if I was off by another thousand for bicycle equipment? I've come a long way - and with a lot of love and support from family and friends - and that's too much to be proud of to focus on what's still lacking.

I cried once back in 2006, after surviving my second weekend with a second job at a casino in western North Carolina. Much like now, I had created a goal that required more than my single income could provide. It was the cry of frustration that often ensues when a single person enters into the exhausting world of dual employment. Even those of the heartiest character can have moments of weakness. The determining factor is what results from these moments.

Four years later, I didn't waste energy on tears this time. If I have learned anything about time, I've learned that it passes. It passes whether you throw a tantrum, wallow in self-pity or whine and complain. It doesn't wait for you to realize that you're wasting it. It doesn't allow a replay if you regret not taking a second to just be in the moment. The only thing you can control is what you do as it passes. Much like in 2006 - if not exactly - the sun still rises and sets, the moon continues through its phases, the seasons change. Whether I work my ass off at job #2 all weekend or spend it relaxing, another Monday morning at job #1 still comes. And I'd rather be a little bit closer to my goal each time it does.

Not too long ago, I played devil's advocate with a friend regarding a debate over disabled parking privileges. Imagine if you needed to use that permit, I had said to her, what would you give to not need it? What would you give to be able to just walk on your own from the last space at the very end of the lot?

I decided to take my own advice and appreciate the fact that I can. I can pleasantly answer phones, reply to emails, schedule meetings and manage endless piles of receipts to expense at job #1. I can smile and serve overpriced cocktails at job #2. I can gratefully work two jobs in an economy where many people are imagining what they'd give for just one. I can appreciate that I am in a position to finance frivolous dreams when there are others who just want to survive. Whenever I'm having a rough time, I eventually remember to try to search for some perspective.

If gratitude for what I do have and "glass half full" analogies just aren't cutting it or whenever I have a classic case of the "mean reds", Stiles Farmer's Market on West 52nd Street is my own version of Breakfast at Tiffany's. Just the sight of all the fresh produce one can buy for a dollar can cheer most of my mild emotional ruts.

And in Bikram yoga, the instructor often talks about bringing yourself into the room, being in the moment, and moving onto the next pose, even if we are too tired, simply because we can.

And when I am too sore and exhausted to push my bicycle over another hill this summer, I will. Because I will know that I can.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Celebrating My 10,958th

From (my other blog) Blog-By-Bike:

I received the following email today from City Wendy:
Hi Katie, Happy, happy belated birthday! I saw on twitter that you're starting your third decade and I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you're actually in your fourth decade! But don't worry -- it only gets better!! Hope you're doing well, Wendy

"By golly, you're right," I replied - because that's the kind of corny lingo I like to throw into conversations with friends. And because I'm an obsessive-compulsive, semi-perfectionist, I'll be revising any erroneous "third decade" references in previous blog posts. Standby for said corrections.

I closed out my third decade with an intimate evening among girlfriends at Brasserie 8 1/2 on Sunday, January 17 - my last night in my 20s. I had received a 50/50 offer from the Patina Restaurant Group, which you can also (currently) obtain by clicking here or here. The birthday gift certificate entitles the bearer to spend $50 and get up to $50 (alcohol excluded, of course) at a variety of Patina Group restaurants (some location exclusions apply). One hundred dollars-worth of food for $50? Yes, please. I made reservations for a party of six in Brasserie 8 1/2's lounge area and we ordered $100-worth of table shares from their Bar & Lounge Menu. At $25 for any combination of three table share items, we enjoyed a pretty nice spread. The Mac & Cheese and Goat Cheese Croquettes were strong favorites.

On Monday, January 18 - the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Observance - more widely-known as my birthday, I treated myself to sleep-in until 11:30am, went to the gym with my roommate Bianca, and then dragged her to Brooklyn for my second trip to R&A Cycles, where - with the assistance of an Al - I may have narrowed down my bicycle selection for a final purchase! After leaving the bicycle shop, with much of my burden of indecision lifted, we hiked (literally) to Grimaldi's, where my pre-determined birthday eating route was foiled by the two-hour line outside of the famous pizzeria. We settled for Water Street Restaurant & Lounge and were pleased with the overall selection, though I did continue to pout through the appetizer course about not having my favorite pizza. The day was redeemed, however, when a stop next door at Jacques Torres and Bianca's birthday-date-drop to the sales clerk, resulted in five free chocolates.

Throughout the course of my day, I also vowed that I would celebrate my birthday in days, moving forward and moderately inspired by something a recently-partially-paralyzed Orson Hodge said on last Sunday's episode of Desperate Housewives:
"Please roll me over! Please help me off the toilet! Please! Please! Please! That's the life I'm facing now; having to ask people for help, for everything. Do you know how hard that is? Every morning I wake up at five; you get up at 6:30. For an hour and a half, I lie there, staring at the bedroom door, fantasizing about how lovely it would be - how excruciatingly lovely it would be - to get up and make myself a cup of tea one last time. No 'please'. Just hot water and tea."

Later, I learned that I am not the first to embrace this philosophy of formally celebrating my birth and my existence by the day. It made it a lot easier to wake up at 5:40am for my weekday six o'clock gym session this morning. To get up and yawn through the fatigue and get going ... because I can.

The highlight of my birthday - while I regret that the highlight had to be significantly monetary in nature - was several donations from family and a close family friend - the latter being one who is practically family. Given the rate that I have been burning my metaphoric candle (a.k.a. my body) at both ends, their financial contributions toward my cycling tour were received with immeasurable gratitude and immense relief. I spent three-and-a-half days out of the office last week [job #1], trying to recover from a severe cold. And - given the fact that I had grossly overestimated how much I would make cocktail serving in the poor state of the economy [job #2] - I've been stressing over my need to scale down my evenings at the lounge to one night per week. Between two jobs, I am considerably behind in finalizing my bicycle purchase and heavily committing to the physical training and conditioning for my transcontinental ride.

So the best birthday gifts of all came with zeros this year ... or rather, on my 10,958th day - but I also know that those zeros were motivated by love.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Forever Young

From (my other blog) Blog-By-Bike:

"... Without a wrinkle in today 'cause there is no tomorrow, just some picture perfect day that lasts a whole lifetime. And it never ends 'cause all we have to do is hit rewind. So let's just stay in the moment, smoke some weed, drink some wine, reminisce, talk some sh**, 'forever young' is in your mind. Leave a mark that can't erase neither space nor time. So when the director yells cut, I'll be fine ..."
- Jay-Z featuring Mr. Hudson, "Young Forever"

Last month, I was cat-sitting at my [job #1] boss's apartment in the East Village while she and her husband spent their holiday in Costa Rica. The first weekend of my two-week stint, a snow storm hit the entire east coast, from North Carolina to New England. It left behind the magical, white Manhattan wonderland that barely lasts a day before city traffic turns everything into murky slush. I was enjoying this wonderland, strolling along with Jay-Z's "Blueprint 3" album playing on my iPod. It's funny how random songs on your playlist sometimes create the perfect soundtrack to your day.

I walked through the quad of my boss's apartment complex and the opening bars of Jay-Z's "Young Forever" began to hum. As I approached the front door, two adorable, little Asian girls were cautiously descending from the stoop. At the bottom of the steps, the older of the two little girls raised her face to the sky and flung both arms into the air as she began to run.

As I turn 30 years old tomorrow, this is the random slice of time that I've chosen to define the start of my next decade.

"Snow! Snow!" the little girl squealed as her smaller sister, running behind her on the freshly shoveled walkway, copied her motions and repeated joyously, "Snow! Snow!"

"Forever young," Mr. Hudson sang to the private soundtrack in my ears, "Forever young ..."

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Over and Over Again

I had a dream that I had an opportunity to travel back in time. It's a recurring dream that I've had several times over the years. The scenarios and locations vary, but the scene is generally the same. They're nearly spot-on remakes of fights Rickey and I once had.

I "awake" suddenly in my 21-year old body, nearly ten years younger. I feel my legs storming away from where Rickey is standing about 30 yards behind me. It is dusk in Cullowhee. The street lamps are already on. I immediately remember this moment back in 2001. I know exactly where I am.

Rickey and I were arguing in the freshmen parking lot across the creek from the track at Western Carolina University. I was walking away, my arms swinging in anger. In actuality, I don't know how long he stood there, probably watching me walk away. Or maybe he had turned around and taken the long way back to Leatherwood Hall, as I had stomped to Helder.

This time, I am no longer upset. My 30-year old mind, grief-stricken from over six years of regret, slams my 21-year old legs to a halt. I spin my younger self to turn and face him. He is still standing there and initially appears shocked to see me stop. And then I run. I run and I run. I run like I have never run before. Tears streaming down my face, my hair whipping behind me. And I leap into his arms, nearly knocking him backward.

The dream is so real. I can feel the warmth of his body and the smoothness of his face as my cheek presses against his. I can smell him. A familiar mixture of cologne and laundry detergent. I can feel his arms wrap around me. His embrace is familiar, safe. I feel like I can't get close enough to him. I have longed for a moment like this for so long.

"Why didn't I do this before?" I sob.

"It's ok," he replies, in a calm tone. "You were angry."

I begin to shake uncontrollably as I cry. He hugs me tighter.

"It's ok," he says again. "I was angry, too."

"I'm so sorry," I cry. "I'm so, so sorry."

"We said a lot of things that we didn't mean," he says.

And then, the parking lot around us begins to fade, the street lamps become balls of fuzz. The world blackens around us.

As a dim light began to glow in the darkness, I awoke, blinking into the soft glimmer of a street lamp shinning through my bedroom window on West 51st Street. And behind it, I saw the twinkling lights of the Time Warner Center, towering silently in the night. A taxicab honked. A car door slammed. In the distance, someone shouted a quick farewell. And below my window, the sound of horse hooves clopped along the street as it pulled a carriage home from Central Park.