Category Archives: life

staycation, all i ever wanted

This weekend, I found myself with an unexpected block of time on my hands. OMD closed on Friday for the day, giving me a four day weekend. Originally, I had planned to go to a BTC3 camp in Virginia, as a trainer, to assist there as needed. (“BTC3” aka “Brownsea Training Camp v3.0” is the B-PSA weekend experiential training for leaders). However, with 12 trainers and only 7 attendees, I wasn’t actually needed at the camp. Still, I wasn’t particularly needed at home, either: both Ben and Paul have gone to Pittsburgh for the weekend to visit Paul’s family. Without work, without my men, without even my friends (who all left town this weekend), I was suddenly left with four days of unscheduled time.

Fortunately, I have never had a problem filling time. I always have a zillion things I would like to be doing at any given moments, but due to the limitations of time and energy, I find all those things difficult to actually get to in the course of a day. So I promptly filled up the weekend with a whole list of things I wanted to do, and then got to about half of them, which is par for the course.

I started my weekend, however, in Pennsylvania, visiting my friends the Northeast Commissioners for B-PSA. Basically, it was Scout nerding out for sixteen hours. As the NYC Commissioner, I oversee the biggest concentration of Scouts in the Northeast, and working through how NYC as a District works and integrates the Northeast as a region has required some discussion. Also we all love talking about just general Scout stuff, like hikes, songs, skits, get togethers…and that’s just for the adult Scouts. Talking about shared visions for our particular organization is also one of my favorite things ever, and I loved being able to visit my fellow Commissioners and talk through all the things we want to do.

Also, we got to go to Longwood Gardens, which is seriously like an American Versailles, except it doesn’t have a chateau. But it does have both formal water gardens as well as meadows and treehouses. It reminded me of Versailles because it had both sides of the planned garden experience: the formal gardens, and the composed countryside, almost like Marie Antoinette’s hamlet

After walking the gardens though, it was time to say goodbye. My fellow Commissioners were packing up their Pathfinder and Timberwolf and heading to BTC3; I was heading home to NYC. Of course, despite the day off, I was still on a schedule: I had had to cancel my Thursday lunchtime session with my anxiety therapist due to a client call no one else had the knowledge base or authority to cover. I had rescheduled to Friday at 4:15 and, assuming that I might not have time to go to Brooklyn and park the car, I chose to pre-book parking as close as possible, near my office in Lower Manhattan. And the timing actually worked out perfectly: despite a slowdown in the Holland Tunnel that appeared during my half-hour snack-and-pee-break in New Jersey, I made it to my appointment at exactly 4:18pm.

After I finished at 5pm though, that was when my free time really started. I had the car parked until 10pm, was already wearing my workout clothes, and had taken advantage of a ClassPass “two weeks free” offer. It was time to go do some sort of trendy workout where I would be the oldest and heaviest person in the room! Enter FitHouse!

The studio is set up with Insta in mind, but the workouts are still real.

I then decided to get a CitiBike, which I almost never use because I prefer my own bike. CitiBikes are heavy, and it is almost impossible to feel like myself when riding one. I’m used to flying down a street, leaning over my handlebars, my center of gravity ready to swerve between cars, my hands and elbows loose to absorb shocks when I hit NYC potholes. CitiBikes force me to sit up straight in a way that makes it impossible to merge with the bike like it’s an extension of myself, like how I feel on my bike, plus I have to have my arms out with my elbows almost locked, which is much more jarring. However, needs must when in the city, and I just wanted to get from Tribeca to Bryant Park with a stop at Trader Joe’s for a picnic.

Why Bryant Park, you may ask? Bryant Park was where I was going to see the “picnic performance” of Othello, a Shakespeare play I had not seen before, but one where I was very curious to see. Why did Shakespeare choose to tell the story of a black man? How did this reflect the emerging globalization of the times? What cliches about racism remain consistent to this day about black men? Put into the modern American context, Othello raises a lot of questions – which may be why the play directors chose modern America military dress for the men, with white outfits of varying modesty for the women.

There is also something surreal about seeing plays with a city of glass in the background

After Othello, I was out of time on my parking, and so, I headed home: across the Brooklyn bridge, back to Prospect Heights. One thing I had not considered, however, was the impact of the West Indies Celebration on my neighborhood at the beginning of the weekend. I had expected more people coming in towards the end of the weekend, especially on Sunday night when the celebrations run all night long, and on Monday when the parade goes down Eastern Parkway two blocks away. I had not, however, considered that all my neighbors would have friends and family visiting, and my street would be so short on parking that cars would be double parked, possibly waiting hours for spots. I know in theory that two million people show up each year to celebrate West Indies culture, but I had neglected to consider that many of them would be arriving via car for the weekend. Cue twenty minutes of desperate circling, before eventually catching a car leaving a spot a quarter mile away.

And then, that was it: the end of Friday, of Day One. I always miss my men when I’m away from them, but it was so nice to be spending the day knowing that just because I was on my own, did not mean I was taking time away from Paul and Ben to do so. I see so little of my men on a day to day basis – between work and school, we’re almost like roommates during the week (and I have a whole comedic monologue about what a terrible roommate Ben is). I’m therefore reluctant to spend time on my own, away from them, when they’re available for me to spend time with. This weekend, however, there was no option for me to be with my family. There was only my time, and how I would spend it. And with Friday over, I was very content with the choices I had made for that time.

the non-milestone birthday, continued

I generally try to keep my birthdays somewhat low key these days. While they used to be long-weekend all-singing-and-dancing productions, these days, they are more like me trying to hide from what I think is unmerited attention

After all, shouldn’t my mother be getting the credit for my birthday? I mean, it’s HER birthday tomorrow, and she likes to say I was her early birthday present, but honestly, she did the work to build me and should therefore get the celebration. (Ditto my son. Why am I not the one being celebrated every June?)

I thought I was getting away with a quiet birthday this year, with the celebration focus on my mother. On Saturday we all celebrated Mom’s birthday at the Oak Bay Marina restaurant, aka The Place We Have Gone On Fancy Occasions Since 1982. The big difference now, however, is that the kids meals are composed plates representing miniature versions of the adult meals, and not the dry hamburger I was so excited to get as a kid.

Ben and my niece Tate with their “kids” meals. I did check to be sure that was a kid sized fish and chips Ben is stabbing.

At the end of this delightful meal, we sang happy birthday to Mom, with only my son and nieces chiming in “AND YOU”, meaning me, at the end of each line. The focus remained on my mother and her milestone birthday!

I was also very quiet in my birthday party this year: I invited less than ten friends to just come get a drink at Bearded Lady around the corner. We had a really lovely time too: the conversation flowed well and the cocktails were exceptionally well crafted to match. But in my haste to get out of the office in time for said happy hour, I mentioned to my two group directors (with whom I form a triumvirate) that I was leaving early for my birthday. They asked why I didn’t say anything, and I grinned, and just explained that every year on a new job, I always manage to fly under the radar for my birthday. It was on Monday, but I thought I was safe!

Then today, I was dragged into what I thought was a Client Innovation Day planning meeting, only to be joyfully surprised by MY ENTIRE TEAM singing Happy Birthday…complete with Melissa’s Gluten Free Cupcakes and a birthday card and drawing:

I am sorry to say I was so surprised that I did tell the guys they were the worst for tattling on me, but I said it smiling. I really need to be more gracious when people throw me a surprise party. I did let them know I was teasing and then sent a separate thank you email telling them how grateful I was not only for today, but for every day. I do actually really love this team a lot – it’s a HUGE operation with no end of craziness but it’s really become a work family over the last few months.

So while I am no longer throwing crazy house parties, or taking a whole crew of people to Bats Day, I am still #blessed enough to have people who want to celebrate me even as I try to hide.

EDIT: I would have had this up half an hour ago, but I got distracted looking for Bats Day photos and ended up organizing Google photos instead for ten minutes, and then I clicked over to Facebook and ended up reading THAT aimlessly for twenty minutes. ALL THESE SITES ARE BAD NEWS.

the scourge of rumination

I have always been prone to an unfortunate cycle: that of impulsive action, resulting in a negative response, followed by self-shaming and rumination.  In recent years, I’ve recognized this cycle, and begin the process of distancing impulsive and inappropriate behavior from my self-worth or my value as a person.  I Vaguebooked about one such incident and my mental process on Friday.

The problem is that I still have a lifelong habit of ruminating.  It’s a well-worn track in my brain, a habit that is hard to break.  It’s re-living and re-thinking through the Moment of Shame: the moment of realization I have where an external response causes me to re-contextualize my behavior as wrong and inappropriate.  I will then ruminate over the behavior and berate myself for it.  In my twenties, when these actions were bigger and clumsier, I could really self-shame myself. It’s why some of the emotion expressed on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend resonates so strongly with me:

Now, it’s both better and worse.  The problem is better because whatever I did, it’s usually a small faux-pas, as I’m obviously much older and wiser and have been working on my social skills for years.   However, the problem is worse because my rumination isn’t limited to my own brain.  It now spreads out and colors the lives of my husband and son, or my friends, or my family.  It’s hard to be an attentive and loving wife and mother when the inside of your brain is busy regurgitating shame and anxiety all over itself.

I’ve also realized lately that this kind of rumination triggers a second narrative, which is that of a greater sense of self-doubt and failure.  Once my mind starts telling itself this story, and my brain recognizes the emotions, it starts referencing other similar incidents to create an entire negative narrative.  Whatever the context of the original mistake, be it social or professional, family or friends, day job or volunteer work, my brain will use the latest incident as a trigger to reference past incidents.  These become citations and proof points that I will never function in society as a successful human because I am not trying hard enough to develop and display behavior that would garner mutual like and respect.

The whole process then expands from one small incident into an entire Flowchart of Negativity:

rumination spiral

I suspect that the original rumination process was a coping mechanism I developed in my late teens and early twenties, a way of trying to make myself better so I wouldn’t have to spend the rest of my life in the kind of social isolation I experienced growing up.  Originally, this was a way of trying to understand external response to my actions and correct the behavior so people would like me.  Over two decades though, it’s now expanded, like some kind of self-destructing grow in water toy.  There’s two additional boxes now on the original rumination track plus an entire new macro level track of negative thought that opens up from these kind of incidents.  Its a disproportionate response that in turn, can open up a depressive episode.

Lately though, I’ve started to realize that my response is not too far outside the spectrum of normalcy, which means there’s plenty of research and material available on this particular mental process.  I’ve read that this is especially common because of the way humans are programmed to need their tribes.  Without the tribe, one is vulnerable, and therefore we are overly worried about behavior that could cause one to be cast out of a tribe.  It turns out that I’m not special, I’m just human.  

Furthermore, rumination is a well-known negative mental process.  It is not something I need to further berate myself for.  I have made it a default behavior, which has made it stronger and harder to break from though.  Just as how I’ve developed the muscles for riding a bike (and killing it in spin class), I’ve also developed the mental muscles around negative thought.  Just like my quads though, these have grown stronger, and more developed, with time.  So just like how I can return to spin class and make progress quickly, it’s also entirely too easy for me to re-build the strength of these old mental patterns.

The strength & training metaphor also makes me realize that I also have control over the situation.  I used to say I wasn’t a runner, that I had developed my muscles for cycling, not running, and that I couldn’t run.  Years later, I run perfectly well – slowly, of course, but I am capable of running and getting faster over time.  I also used to think that the rumination and shame process was hardwired into my brain and that it was a function of my depression and anxiety.  What if it is actually just something that I need to re-train on, just like how I re-trained my quads to run?  MIND.  BLOWN.

That isn’t to say there isn’t a connection between self-shaming and depression – but the depression can be a function of rumination rather than the other way around.  That makes it more controllable.  I’ve observed and documented above how my self-shaming not only leads to rumination, but now opens up an entire additional track of negative thought.  That’s been studied and there are real, scientific brain connections between rumination and depressive episodes.  It’s still a bad thing that I have built connections in my brain between meaningless incidents and a conviction of failure, but it isn’t unique or extreme.  It’s a known quantity, and it’s possible to fix it.

Finally, knowing that this is a mental process happening to other people makes dealing with me so much easier.  It’s easier for me to feel compassion for people other than for myself, and I do not believe that anyone deserves to go through this kind of self-berating shame cycle.  Therefore, if I don’t believe that other people should do this to themselves, I should extend the same sort of compassion to me.  I need to let go of the “tough love” narrative I’ve used to justify berating myself over the years, telling myself that ruminating and the resulting suffering was necessary to make me a better person, one less likely to engage in the poor behavior in the future.  That rationale was a terrible story to tell myself, and one I would never encourage in others because it’s a needless source of torment.  I should therefore show myself the same compassion I would show any other human.

To that end, I’m looking into self-compassion solutions.  If I can stop the process at the original root – the Moment of Shame – I can keep it from branching out into a whole thing.  It turns out there is literally an entire center for this, and they have courses and books and all kinds of things I can use to upskill my brain.  I am a great believer in books, knowledge and training.  It’s also something a therapist is very likely to understand and support me with.

Figuring all this out is hard.  Admitting to it is harder – there’s also an element of lack of self-control here, a further berating for not getting over this years ago.  However, like most things, it is easier once I take it apart, break it down, build a flowchart and attack the problem at the root cause.

mama-ben adventure day!

Many years ago, I came up with the model for Mama-Ben adventure days.  These were days in which we would pick one or two activities to do together, usually in Manhattan, hence the “adventure” part because you never know what kind of adventure would await those who brave the weekend subway! With Ben’s sports schedule though, it’s been a while since we’ve been able to do a solid Saturday adventure together.  So yesterday, we decided that we would spend the day exploring and seeing things a little further from home, both in Manhattan and the Bronx.

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Ben is actually in the Bronx!

We started our day at the Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibit, at the New York Historical Society on the Upper West side.  This was a literal history of magic as seen through a Harry Potter lens: historical artifacts from magical practices over the last five centuries, intermixed with illustrations and notes from the books.  A friend and I bought tickets for this in April for our Pottermaniac children to see the exhibit together.

Harry Potter exhibit at British Library
This made the exhibit a smidge drier than expected, even for my self-identified Ravenclaw.  While he had mild curiosity around alchemy as the forerunner of chemistry, and enjoyed the interactive elements (projections of Tarot cards were an especial favorite), not even the Natalie Dormer narrated audio tour could make this magical enough.  Individuals more into the magical aspects of the Harry Potter series, as opposed to the action elements, will get more out of this exhibit.  The exhibit was beautifully done, of course, with each room carefully crafted and designed to reflect the studies covered within.  I wish photography had been allowed.
We moved on from there to an impromptu lunch at Shake Shack: having run into another friend at the end of the exhibit with her two sons (the younger of which is also buddies with Ben), we decided to all get lunch together.  Believe it or not this was our first trip to Shake Shack!  Ben declared it the best burger ever.  We plan to test drive the method at home ASAP.
We headed from the Upper West Side to Orchard Beach after lunch, a half-hour drive across the Bronx and through the also unvisited Pelham Bay Park.  For the seven years we’ve lived here, we’ve clearly not prioritized visiting all the parks as we should.  Pelham Bay was lovely and huge, with an extensive shoreline that was austerely beautiful in the winter cold and grey.
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This reminds me of beaches in Victoria: it looks cold even in the photo
We had traveled out for seal watching with the NYC Park Rangers.  I am so grateful for the park rangers in this city: every single one of them has been amazing in their kindness, knowledge and in the joy they take sharing their love of nature and their parks.  For the seal watching, they had set up two high powered telescopes so we could see the dozen or so harbour seals lounging on the rocks just off the beach
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Ben is very fond of harbour seals: he bonded with the ones that live off the Oak Bay marina when he was just a toddler:

It was therefore meaningful for us to visit those seals’ New York cousins, even though I’m pretty sure that these Bronx seals were all WHAT’RE YOU LOOKING AT, PUNK.  Ben still enjoyed seeing them, and I appreciated the opportunity to show him seals that are not dependent on humans for food.  Ben is very concerned about the Victoria seals since the “no feeding” rules were enforced; these seals proved that even metro area harbour seals can survive without handouts.

From the seals, we stayed in Pelham Bay Park and went to the Turtle Cove golf center for mini-golf.  I was underwhelmed by the mini-golf course, which I suppose could be described as “minimalist”.  I suspect the positive reviews of the location are for the driving range, which looked quite nice.  However, we were the only people playing mini golf and they had a heater in the women’s bathroom so the experience was redeemed.  Also, Ben’s attitude towards mini golf is what most people say about pizza: even when it’s bad, it’s still just fine.  It was hard for me to say no to a second round, even in the ocean-adjacent chill. Fortunately, that was when one of Ben’s buddies mom’s texted, asking if Ben could come see Ralph Breaks the Internet with her son, and I was able to leverage that as a reason to skip Round Two. Also, Ben only wanted a round two because I had beat him, 49 strokes to his 63, and he is very competitive about his mini-golf.

It was, chilliness aside, a lovely adventure day.  Ben is getting larger every day, and needs me less and less all the time.  I’m grateful when he genuinely wants to spend time with me, when in-city adventures with Mama are more important than playdates.  I’m even more grateful when I can find an activity that is special to both of us, like going out to see the seals.  I do not wish to appropriate the phrase “spirit animal”, but in my British Isles heritage, there is the myth of the selkie instead, which both Ben and I insist we are when there is a plate of raw fish involved.  However, we are coming up on teen years, and I’m running out of days when Ben will want to acknowledge the significance of marina mammals in our family narrative.  Some day, I will just get an eye roll and a muttered “seals are so lame, Mom.” from him.  Until that day comes, I need to better prioritize the time I do have him for adventures like this.

four days of unemployment flow state

I’m actually unemployed for the next four days.  I haven’t been out of work since moving to NYC so I’m kind of in shock at this.  This isn’t like taking a vacation because I literally cannot work.  Merkle has cut off my IT access so I can no longer work on anything for them.  I have not yet started at OMD.  There is literally nothing for me to do in terms of actual paying work.

I cannot work, so I have the extreme luxury of spending my week engaged in my own personal projects and self-development.  Which, today, means a Cave Day.  This is enforced focus time, in which phones are confiscated and participants are encouraged to work on singular projects to encourage “deep work”.  I chose instead to work on my backlog of email and Scout related tasks, which doesn’t quiet my monkey mind, but does make me feel like I’m making headway on my always overflowing inbox.  Despite not having sunk completely into the “flow state” that often soothes my brain,  I  was able to action, reply, and file over a hundred emails in a couple hours and identify new projects and opportunities to be of service to the community in the process.  Feeling like I am supporting my people, my community, is valuable, even if I’m doing it one small task at a time.

For this afternoon, I’ve chosen to write blog posts for the sheer experience of being back in a “flow state”.  This means that this isn’t going to be a terribly entertaining post.  (Although, really,  have my posts been that entertaining since I stopped chronicling the Adventures of Being In My Mid-20s In Los Angeles?  PROBABLY NOT.)  It is, however, a chance for me to get my own thoughts under control and to assess my priorities in a slightly more public forum.  When I’m not working an actual paying job, what is it that I choose to do and why?  And what long term effects do I hope to get from only four days of such chosen activities?

Let’s start with the challenge of being in a flow state.  This does require one to focus on a singular project or task.  No checking emails, no checking Facebook, no responding to notifications. However, there is a school of thought that believes that the state of flow is one of the most critical factors to happiness:

https://embed.ted.com/talks/lang/en/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow

The inverse of flow state is what I have most recently heard referred to as acedia, a state of despair resulting from apathy and a disregard for life.  This term was originally coined to refer to monks who did not pray sufficiently, a condition that later became a sub-category of sloth.  I tend to think of it as inertia, an inability to move forward or to regain the energy for life that keeps me in perpetual motion.  The cause, however, seems to be ultimately a lack of flow state activity.  A brain without flow state activity, be it a monk unable to focus on meditation or prayer, or a secular individual not engaging in deep work, seems to be a disconcerted and unbalanced brain.  Add to this our American Puritan notion of work & the value we place on ourselves as related to our accomplishments, and you have a tremendous recipe for mental illness from both shame and misery.

To combat some of this, I’m focusing more on activities that bring my brain into a flow state.  Blogging is one of those; I spend an average of an hour on a blog post, from concept to writing to editing.  I drop into a flow state sometimes when I’m sketching out concepts for work, drawing out slides for a presentation.  Give me headphones and Excel and I’ll drop into flow state while I tease out data for the story of a presentation. I can spend a half hour drifting along on the piano, noodling on scraps of pop songs.  And when I’m biking in traffic, with my whole brain occupied with movement and not dying, I’m really in a flow state.

Still, writing is the best and most reliable way to enter that brain state, so I am trying to change how I look at it.  Instead of writing for fun as being what I do when I have finished my other work, I am trying to look at it as what I do to train my brain back into being able to do deep work.  Ultimately, by doing so, I’ll also quell my monkey mind, capture a state of deep work and satisfaction, and make my brain a little calmer and happier.

I also want my brain to be practiced in how to do deep work as I transition to a new job.  The value of a knowledge worker like myself is in her ability to do work that no one else can do.  That is deep work, the work I pull out of myself, the observations I create and act on, the goals and vision I work towards.  I will be looked to for my ability to deliver unique work, and only by really focusing and delving deep into my brain will I be able to do so.  I have to practice putting my brain in that state so I can deliver on that promise to my new team, my new agency, my new clients.  Whether it is the distraction-free peer-pressure focus of a Cave Day, or an hour spent framing up a blog post, I must work my brain just like I work my quads and hamstrings in a spin class until I can beat my own time over the Brooklyn Bridge.

It is with the end in mind, or rather my mind in mind, that I therefore planned out my “week” of unemployment.  I could have spent a month doing this, easily, and I actually considered taking more time off to do so.  However, I also have to have healthcare benefits for my little family, so four days it is, and I’ll be grateful for the time I do have.  With that said, I’ve chosen to spend today trying more to monotask, at a morning Cave and then spending the afternoon in the same physical space, albeit without the facilitator (meaning I get to keep my phone).   After this, I’ll go to the gym, lift some weights, do a spin class to stay in my bike commute shape, and then go to a GTD meetup so I can revisit my productivity ninja skills before going to a new job.

The rest of the week, I’ve opted to alternate productivity practice with “staycation”.  I plan to spend Tuesday at the spa on 57th, getting a good old fashioned Korean skin scrub to fix my itchy, itchy winter skin and then I intend to loiter extensively in their hot tubs and saunas for the day before going to meet friends for drinks.  Wednesday, I have another morning Cave, followed by the (sigh) next stage of my right side dental implant and then I’ll be home to celebrate my husband’s birthday for the one hour between when he gets home and when he has a co-op shift.  Thursday, I have no agenda, and I may  choose to spend at least part of the day at one of the museums (the Morgan, the Met Bruer) that I really would have liked to have gone to by now .   I’ll also prioritize re-establishing some of the habits I fell out of while in my own state of acedia the last few months that benefit my mental health so much, such as my love of intense cardio (spin classes!), and my piano practice.

Four days isn’t anywhere near enough to engage in the kind of re-development, habit building and brain-training I’d like to be able to engage in but it is something.  It’s like four days of gifts in a row, the free time and ability to refocus my energy on something that isn’t agency work, a license to engage my brain on projects that are easier to launch myself into and stay engaged in.  Of course I will obsessively plan the time five times over and realized I still won’t have time for everything I wanted to do, but that’s also okay.  It’s four days of learning and focus.  It’s four days where my only job is to not have a job.

stranded in stamford

Thanks to tonight’s MEGA WINTER STORM (#avery #winterstormavery #whydowenamethestorms) I am stranded at a Sheraton in Stamford.  Because, obviously, when a storm hits, one wants to go for as much alliteration as possible when seeking shelter.

I had to go on my last ever trip to my Connecticut based bank client today.  This required driving, because I had to go to “Real America”, aka Not NYC.  And despite my best efforts to leave sooner, I found myself on I-95 right as the storm hit the area around 4pm.  I watched as my time to home on Google Maps went up…and then refused to go down again.  Despite two hours of driving, the time to home stubbornly stayed at over three hours, just with a continuously later arrival time.

Eventually traffic just…stopped.  I sat there watching the snow get heavier, and realized: I was equipped to drive in the worsening conditions in the SUV I was upgraded to this morning at the rental car location.   The other vehicles around me might not be as well equipped, and my SUV would not be immune to other cars or trucks sliding into it.   That was when I gave up, pulled off the highway, and sought a hotel.

It is not lost on me how fortunate I am to be able to do this.  First of all, I can likely expense this back to the client since I was asked drive to them on the day of a major storm.  Second of all, if the client is not amenable to the expense, I can afford a $200 hotel room.  My time getting home also isn’t critical: I have my husband to take care of our son so I’m not needed at home until I can get back tomorrow, and even if Paul also got stuck in the storm, Ben could go to any of a half-dozen neighbors or friends locally as part of our Brooklyn child raising village.  I have the sheer luxury of being able to put my own safety and wellbeing first and procure a hotel room instead of slugging through the storm.  I’m grateful that my path in life put me in a position to be able to make a night like this a little easier on myself.

Also: I left the house yesterday!  I did a bunch of things that reminded me of what it was like to have kinetic energy, instead of being dragged down by inertia working at home.  I even managed to socialize a bit, seeing a dear friend for a quick catch-up and then going to a Canadian college alumni event to say hi to the two or three people I knew from other Canadian gatherings,  and pick up the latest UBC Alumni swag:

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I’m not sure when my alma mater started handing out swag notebooks and pins for an alumni association, but I’m happy to have it as a conversation starter in work meetings.  Why yes, it’s a real school!  

Sadly when I go to a college alumni event, it’s difficult to share memories of university.  UBC is huge, and the experiences differ radically.  I have yet to meet anyone who has even a Venn diagram overlap with my memories: most of the alumni I meet at expat events are younger than I am, and many are Business school graduates, not Arts majors.  I  also graduated in 2003, and the defining event of my last two years was my participation in the Arts Undergrad Society and Arts County Fair.  With that major annual event having been defunct for (yikes) eleven years (shut down in 2007), I haven’t met a lot of fellow alumns who share memories of it.

However, there are still plenty of things I’m sure I could talk about with UBC alumni.  Memories of the old SUB, for example!  The many drinking establishments on campus!  The wide range of actual academics!  Vancouver in general!  I mean, how lucky were we to go to school in such a beautiful setting, attached to such an incredible city?  But last night I was just so tired after a day of being outside of the house, from having taken Ben on a school tour, gone to the office, gone to the dentist, met a friend for coffee, done a spin class and walked the ten blocks from the gym to the event…now that I think about it, no wonder I lacked enthusiasm for reminiscing about UBC.  I’ll have to try again at the next expat event on Monday.

Meanwhile, I’m rapidly running out of energy, here in my now cozy hotel room in Stamford.  Being warm.  Having unlimited access to heat.  Also something I’m thankful for.  May all people be so fortunate on a night like tonight.

we built this city on inside jokes

I was chatting on Google Hangouts a few  weeks ago with my two best friends and revisiting last month’s BBQ birthday party.  It’s not often I have people in the same space from all my  social worlds.  I have my “non-parent” friends, the friends that I made a decade and a half ago when I moved to L.A., and then I have my “parent friends”, the friends I’ve made since moving to Brooklyn.  Of those two sources, the latter are overwhelmingly “Scout people”: the community built through what was original “5th Brooklyn Scouts” and is now the “718 Rovers”.  My two besties, who pre-date all my parent status, therefore find some amusement in watching me interact with the other Rovers, because they knew me before this round of Scout nerdiness entered my life.

It was in recanting this Hangouts anecdote that I quoted the use of inside jokes as part of this new village we’ve built in Brooklyn.  There are a lot of inside jokes with the rest of the Rovers; you don’t work together for five years without building up a lot of shared references.  At my birthday event, I was describing my experience volunteering at the Bed-Stuy YMCA and how the most popular skit I taught was Invisible Bench, and everyone yelled “INVISIBLE BENCH!” and immediately attempted to call their kids over to demonstrate it even though we were laughing too hard to call effectively.  “Invisible Bench” is a running gag in our group, along with a couple other popular skits, just for being the skit that our kids irrationally love to perform every single camp.  It’s one of many inside jokes, but it was one of the strongest moments of nerdy hilarity I remember from the party.

Realizing that we have these kind of shared references, inside jokes and a common language of anecdote though made me suddenly see my Scout people community in a way I hadn’t before.  In college, I was part of the Arts Undergrad Society, the council of students that volunteered to run the Faculty of Arts.  It was where I made my friends.  It was where I spent my time.  It was how I identified myself, I am part of the AUS.  We ran not only the Faculty but also spent the year building up to Arts County Fair, the end of year charity one-day music festival, which, by the time I graduated, was a 16,000 attendee event with two stages, rock and dance.  Because we spent so much time working together on ACF, we all shared a set of inside jokes and references in addition to our common working goals and status as students at UBC.  (In fact, as I recall, we documented those inside jokes in a running list of quotes throughout the school year.)

It was the phrase “inside jokes” that made me suddenly see the parallels between my college community and my Brooklyn one.  In both cases, it is a community of overachievers who have wholeheartedly committed to a goal in a way that is very pure of heart.  In both cases, these are communities of people who simply wish to do good, while also prioritizing the building of friendships and a social experience in the process.  In both cases, there are a lot of liberal arts nerds involved.

Basically, I identify strongly with anything where a montage set to “We Built This City (On Rock And Roll)” can be created, whether that’s an ACF setup or the 2018 Moot.  If there’s several hours of literally building something with actual labour to be done, then it needs a montage like the Muppets:

I feel it’s important for me to realize this.  I gravitate to communities of nerdy overachievers!  These are my people!  This is also who I am!  I am an over-committed do-gooder at heart, but I am happiest to do so if I can throw in a certain amount of goofiness with my earnestness.  It is a very Muppet approach, but it also means I approach my work and my effort in Scouting with a certain amount of open-heartedness that keeps it joyful.