Work-Life (What) Balance

As you may have noticed, in the fourth quarter of last year my posts on this blog were few and far between. I wish I had a good excuse, but I don’t. Life just got busy. I was often traveling for work (London, Indiana, Virginia and good old Minot, North Dakota) with much of my time spent on planes and in hotels. As a result, I was not able to line up “adventures” the way I have in the past. I felt really bad about that. Guilty even. I missed writing, and was worried you all were wondering where I was. Thanks for your concerned comments by the way, I am still alive.

These thoughts were marinating in my mind when I was asked to sit on an advertising industry panel of women talking about finding work-life balance. My first thought was, did they mean to call me? I don’t always feel I successfully find that balance. I was, however, extremely honored to be asked. So I enthusiastically agreed…despite the fact that I was supposed to be on a stay-caction that week. No, the irony is not lost on me.

The panel was moderated by the amazing Micho Spring, who I have admired for many years. She served as a role model from afar when I was navigating the move from journalism to PR and from New York to Boston. With a panel full of successful women (again, I was so honored to be among them), naturally, the conversation turned to how to balance work with the demands of a family. I was determined to validate that for those of us who do not yet have children, finding that precious work-life balance is no less important. While I do not yet have to care for children, I do have to care for myself…my mental health, my emotional health and my physical health. We all do, no matter if we are single, married, mothers or grandmothers.

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Now, women finding balance is talked and written about extensively, I mean a lot. I’m not so naïve to think I’m going unearth the solution in this post, nor am I delusional to think my thoughts on the topic are ground-breaking. But what’s a blog for if not one’s ruminations on topics of the day. So here I go.

Finding a balanced life, and the desire to “have it all” is not just an issue for certain women. I would argue it’s an issue for all women.

How do we—regardless of our marital or parental status, and regardless of whether the important work we do is inside or outside the home—find the semblance of balance when it seems almost in our nature to compromise ourselves and to tear each other down? How and when do we wave a white flag and take care of ourselves with a myriad of obligations pulling us in what can seem to be a thousand different directions? And if you are like me, you wrestle with the fear of letting others down, even if it means sacrificing yourself. I don’t think my experience is unique to any one demographic of women, I think most women grapple with the same concerns, and we seem to have little empathy for each other.

I wonder if we, as women, were a little easier on ourselves…and each other (I have seen those mommy pages on Facebook, we are hyper-critical, and at times, downright mean)…if that would make attaining a balance, or at least more accepting of trying to find a balance, easier.

I felt true camaraderie on that panel. Here was a collection of women from different walks of life (two single ladies, a single mother, a married mother, a married stepmother and a grandmother) exploring and discussing how to find that elusive work-life balance in whatever form it takes for each of us. I wonder if women could be more supportive of each other, less mean-girlish, if that would help us all get closer to finding that balance and be more accepting of our—and each other’s—attempts to get there?

If we stopped judging ourselves so harshly, and didn’t feel so judged by others…would it feel more attainable to have it all, or to admit that it may not be possible for us to have it all, at least not all the time. What if it didn’t feel as if there was a “right” way to live, work, mother, fill in the blank…and instead there were just different ways to do all of the above…and more…all at the same time…while still looking great? Would we feel better about ourselves and each other?

You may still be wondering, like I was, why I was asked to be on the panel? Well, when the colleague who asked me explained why she thought of me, it was partially because of this blog; the fact that I carve out time (of varying amounts) to devote to this venture that is wholly unrelated to work and wholly about me. That, in some ways, represents a balance I strike in my life. It’s a priority. It’s certainly not as demanding as a child, but it is something I devote time and energy to. So I guess each post I write, no matter if I miss a week or two, represents a commitment…to myself and to finding that elusive balance.

I hope my thoughts above can spark a constructive conversation, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

A Different Sort of Resolution: The Boston Marathon

Happy New Year friends!

How many of you made a resolution when the clock struck midnight? According to the US Government (I must have missed this questions on the last census) the top New Years resolutions are to lose weight, volunteer more and to quit smoking. While all of these are very worthy goals…and 40% of us do indeed make these sorts of resolutions (only 8% of us keep them)…I’m making a different sort of resolution for 2015, or at least first four and a half months of it: I’m running the 2015 Boston Marathon.

This will not be my first marathon, but it will still be a serious challenge (duh!). I love to run, so motivation will not be my big obstacle. While I was training for my previous marathon (or as my mother describes it “practicing” for the marathon…although a dress rehearsal is not a bad idea) I was working in TV and I didn’t have to be at work until 2:00 in the afternoon. I had all morning to diligently train (arguably I over-trained judging by the IT band injury I sustained) in the best season (August through November). This time around I work normal people hours, so training will have to be squeezed into those dark hours before the sun comes up over frosty New England. Plus I absolutely hate treadmills, so if you follow me on Instagram (and I hope you do) I’m warning you now you’re in for dozens of frozen Charles River sunrise shots between now and April 20th.

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Another challenge, although I really do see it as an honor, is the fact that as I train I will also be raising money for a worthy cause. The Children’s Advocacy Center of Suffolk County may just be one of the most important Boston organizations you have never heard of.

I’ll start at the beginning: a very good friend of mine is an assistant District Attorney in Boston. She prosecutes individuals who have been accused of sexually abusing children. I frequently think about her when I’m having a bad day at work. I get stressed about the logistics of an event, or the phrasing of a press release. She is putting sickos behind bars. She is keeping children safe. That’ll certainly give you some perspective on your “work emergency.”

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I learned about The Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) through her. When a child is abused and comes forward, although heartbreakingly, many do not come forward, there are multiple parties and moving pieces involved in prosecuting such a case (police, prosecutors, doctors, etc.).  A coordinated response from experts in their respective fields is required to reduce stress on the victim throughout the investigation and intervention process. CAC believes that helping abused children and their families requires an approach that addresses the physical, emotional and legal dimensions of abuse. It is terrible that so many children are the victims of this god-awful kind of abuse, and they deserve to be protected, to get justice, to be safe and to heal. This is a cause I can get behind that…and I am…for 26.2 miles. Will you join me?

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I’m going to be bringing you all along for both facets of my marathon challenge. I will be updating you on how my training is going, with words and images. I will also be telling the story of The Children’s Advocacy Center through the dedicated folks who help these victims, from DAs, to Victims Advocates, maybe even a police officer if I’m lucky. It won’t be my typical adventure, but I hope by spending time with these dedicated professionals and shining a light on all the hard work they do every day, it will help us all gain a some much-needed perspective and will inspire us all to help those in need, whomever they may be.

If you are feeling generous and would like to contribute something (doesn’t have to be a lot) to my marathon effort to help CAC you can do so by clicking here. Thank you in advance!

Let the training begin!

An Old Fashioned Path to Love?

There are many of us out there looking for love. We try bars, we accept any and all fix-ups, some of us dabble in online dating, and some try apps (don’t try to deny it, I know you swipe). But in this day and (technological) age, does there come a point when we should leave all those modern devices behind and attempt to find someone special in a more traditional way? For my friend, who I will call “Suzy” for the purposes of this post, putting her romantic fate in the hands of her parents and a matchmaker reminds us all it’s never as easy as it looks.

(note: while I did change Suzy’s name this story is true one)

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Let me set the stage, Suzy and I were having a drink, we had traded texts and emails over the preceding months, but it was probably six months since our last face-to-face catch up. “What’s been going on?” I asked, not realizing how substantial her update would be. “Well, I was recently engaged for three months,” Suzy replied nonchalantly. When last we saw each other she did not have a steady boyfriend (although what is that these days?) so I was understandably shocked. I mean my chin hit the floor and I let out a prolonged and painful sounding “WHAT?” Then Suzy launched into her story which made me laugh hysterically, then think deeply about cultural nuances, and the criteria that we all use to judge who would make a good life partner for ourselves and those we love.

Suzy took a sip of her martini and began by explaining how her mother (who, along with her father, split time between New York and Taiwan) had grown frustrated by Suzy’s inability to find a suitable husband. At 35, Suzy’s mom thought she was old and on her way to being a spinster. Her mother decided to take matters into her own hands and work with (i.e. pay thousands of dollars to) a matchmaker to find Suzy a nice, successful, Chinese husband.

The parents of her soon-to-be finance, a 40-something New York City dentist, must have felt the same way. They paid the same matchmaker a lot of money, hoping (I can only assume) that it would bring their child happiness…and them piece of mind.

I’m not sure if I was more surprised by the fact that Suzy’s mom thought she was in such a tough spot, (it had not occurred to me) or the fact that this was the prescribed remedy. Matchmaking with the expectation of a date is not uncommon, I even wrote a post about a high-priced matchmaker. But matchmaking with the expectation of marriage is a practice that I had assumed had gone out of style, at least in America, a hundred years ago.

Disclosure: based on Suzy’s description and my own research, it is much more common in Chinese culture for parents and matchmakers to be involved in helping singles find spouses. This type of matchmaking happens informally (and not always with an exchange of money) in many other cultures as well, even in 2014. So despite my initial disbelief that this was Suzy’s real life and not a sitcom, this is not be quite as crazy as you may think. But Mom and Dad don’t get any ideas!

When Suzy’s mother told her about the matchmaker, instead of being offended and outraged (which is what I would have done), a very practical Suzy said why not. If she was not having luck finding her soul mate on her own, maybe it was worth a shot to see what an expert could come up with.

And with that, a first date was set…with both sets of parents, in from China, in tow. I asked Suzy what one wears to a blind date/betrothal dinner in 2014. “Well, I went with business casual,” she stated matter-of-factly. Who was I to disagree?

Suzy got a ring and a succession of dates with her new fiancé. She described him as “fine” and “nice.” But after three months, and a few make-out sessions, she realized this was not a love connection. Despite the fact that they had many cultural and intellectual similarities, he was not the one for her. She said that when she explained this to him, he didn’t put up much of a fight; he seemed to know it too. Despite their seeming compatibility, there was just something missing…shall I be cliché and say…chemistry?

Suzy’s mom was furious. She spent a lot of money to find her this perfect man, and I can only assume she thought Suzy didn’t truly appreciate the opportunity. I’m going out on a limb here, but maybe Suzy did appreciate the opportunity, but realized she wasn’t right for her.

Where am I going with this? Well, I’m glad you asked.

Dating stinks, it really does. I think anyone who says that it’s fun is lying (or just on Tinder). You spend a great deal of time and energy on a stranger just to realize you don’t really like his jokes (or more importantly he doesn’t get yours), or he can’t carry on an intelligent conversation on mid-term elections, or he gets so drunk you wonder if he has a problem. After so many lousy dates, I can see how having someone perfect for you (in theory) dropped in your lap would be appealing.

But if we didn’t have to weed through all those bad dates, those painful conversations and those head-scratching moments (Didn’t he say he was 5’10” in his profile?) would we really appreciate when we find a good one who laughs at our jokes, and teaches us something about the new Majority Leader, and is 5’7” and we don’t care?

Well, I’m not really sure, I’m single, but I will let you know when I find out.

 

Thanks to my dear friend Suzy who let me write about her life. And a shout out to my creative partner in crime Bill Knight for creating the visual for this post. It’s good to have friends in high places.

Around the World and Back Again

I’m in the travel state of mind. It’s not only because I have been traveling a lot as of late, London two weeks ago, currently in North Dakota (yes, North Dakota). I’ve also been pretty inspired by a pretty impressive lady who did what many of us would love to do…we dream of doing…but never do. Joslin Higgins picked up, quit her job and traveled around the world. In fact, she left just about a year ago.

Let’s take a moment to talk about the amount of guts it takes to travel abroad alone. A lot. Then there’s the reality of leaving a good job (one that she is really good at, by the way). In this day and age when we seem so focused on getting ahead professionally, that takes a tremendous amount of bravery as well.

I felt so much better when Joslin admitted what I had been thinking since she set out on this trip, which is the definition of the word “adventure.” “It’s easy to say you’re going to do something. It’s another to actually pull it off,” she told me. But pull it off she did. She saved and planned and made her dream a reality.

For a planner like me, that phase of the adventure would be crucial. For Joslin, the serious planning began when someone told her about the around the world airline ticket, there’s a bunch of them out there, but she quickly realized that she did not want to be constrained to travel solely in one direction (i.e. east or west). What’s the fun in a straight line when you can zigzag I say. So Joslin decided to plot her own points. And here is how it came to life:

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“When I decided to quit and travel, people asked me why I was doing this. Eventually the only answer I could think of that was honest and encapsulated how I felt was, ‘why not?’ Joslin told me. That became her approach to everything on the trip—why not skydive? Why not go spearfishing? Why not swim with dolphins? Why not eat crickets, frogs and duck bones?  This became her mindset for everything on the trip.

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She set some things up in advance (teaching English in Thailand for two months) and she was just winging it for others (as she traveled through Europe she visited friends she had met on the first part of her journey), “No one has everything figured out, it doesn’t have to be the perfect thing,” she told me about her trip. Regardless of where she was or what she was doing she says she was present, and really living, each and every moment. She told me that she cried every time she left a country

The children Joslin taught in Thailand

The children Joslin taught in Thailand

It’s a huge understatement to say that Joslin learned an immense amount on her adventure, but two things really still sand out to her today. One is “how truly warm people are across cultures,” she told me. She only visited four English-speaking countries. In each of the other countries she had, at times, to rely on strangers for assistance. She said she was always met with a warm smile and generosity by people who had very little in common with her, the biggest difference being language.

Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

After speaking with Joslin and looking through tons of her pictures, one thing struck me about the overall benefit of international travel no matter how long or short your journey is: how much understanding it provides. Things that are foreign to us, cease to be “weird” and just become different, as Joslin aptly put it. When we travel to other countries and meet new people, we gain an understanding of other cultures we do not get from sitting on our couches. Our world view changes and broadens, and we can better understand and sympathize with the world and our fellow inhabitants. How many conflicts could be avoided if we took a little bit more time to understand the others’ point of view, background or beliefs?

Joslin doing yoga in Thailand.

Joslin doing yoga in Thailand.

After 22 countries, four continents and nine passport pages worth of stamps, Joslin is back in the States now, but only temporarily. Having traveled around the world, she realized she wants to live abroad. So now she is back at the planning/saving stage, plotter her next point and planning her next adventure.

“It doesn’t have to be perfect to be pretty amazing,” she said. Truer words were never spoken. You could be talking about an around the world adventure, a vacation, your life, or one day in that life. What’s your dream? Is it a trip around the world? Starting your own business? Writing a book (guilty)? What’s holding you back?

That’s right. Nothing. Let’s get to it.

 Many thanks to Joslin for sharing her stories and pictures with me.

Adventures on the Other Side of the Pond

I am very lucky that I really like my job. Of course, I have moments when I get frustrated who doesn’t? But I don’t dread going into the office every day and I actually enjoy what I do and whom I do it with. One of the biggest benefits of my job is that I get to travel across this great country of ours. I have visited places I never thought I would (Cheyenne, Wyoming) and spots I never knew existed (Salina, pronounced seh-LINE-a, Kansas).

Last week I was lucky enough to be working in the UK. I have been to London several times, a dear friends lives there with her adorable family, and it is one of my favorite cities on earth (I have a few more to cross off my travel bucket list before I declare an absolute winner), so that was a treat. But I also got to explore the English countryside, appropriately armed in my Barbour jacket and Hunter boots. My London-based friend gave me the tip that “Hunters are only for the country.” Thankfully the country is where we were headed.

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Bury St. Edmund Cathedral

We spent an afternoon and evening in to Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk, which is about two hours north of London. This village (technically it’s a town, but for an American audience it is best described as a village) is known for its abbey in the center of town. The town is named after King Edmund who was buried at the abbey after being killed in 869. No, I did not leave out a digit…869. That is the aspect that I get most excited about when traveling through Europe; everything is so old you start to appreciate how young our nation is. Comparatively speaking, we are a tween with an attitude. Not to get political, but many people talk about “American Exceptionalism,” but have we really been around long enough to be deemed truly exceptional? Maybe we are just having a 200-year hot streak before we burn out. Too much, too soon…or something like that. I digress.

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Ely Cathedral on a typical English (i.e. cloudy) day

We also went to the town of Ely (pronounced E-lee) in Cambridgeshire. Like many other older societies, towns here cropped up surrounding abbeys, and were–and still are–if not the center of activity in a town, at least the literal center of town. Ely is no different. The Ely Cathedral’s scale is so large I couldn’t capture it in one frame. It was built in 1083.

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When we ventured away from both Cathedrals narrow, cobblestone, often winding streets allowed us to imagine what it may have been like to live there hundreds of years before because at times it doesn’t seem as if much had changed. And just to remind me we were in the country we ran into these fellas.

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Another part of this adventure was the experience of driving on the other side (not the wrong side) of the road. I had not driven in a car in the U.K. since college, and the perspective of being in the passenger’s seat on the left side was unnerving. I kept trying to use the mirrors that were not meant for me to use. Although I had total confidence in the skills of my trusty driver, I was still gripping surfaces, gasping and letting out periodic “oh my goodess-es.” It nearly blew my mind when I realized there was a glove box at my knees (I have no idea why) and when we saw a child, likely 12, pull up beside us we all gasped…we all had a momentary lapse and thought he was behind the wheel. Nope, he was just fine. We were the crazy ones.

I’m so thankful that we did have that car and drove through countless towns and villages on this adventure. The U.K. is not known for its sunsets, but we were caught quite a few amazing ones.

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When we arrived back in London, I was excited when people I spoke with had never heard of these tiny villages, and some and never even been to Suffolk or Cambridgeshire. Maybe even a day at the office can be an adventure…it just depends on your outlook.

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It’s the Thought that Counts

I love meeting people who have a passion for what they do. Don’t we all? Their stories of finding said passion and following it—sometimes with reckless abandon—are always inspiring. I can always find a tiny element of their story in my own, and that motivates me even more to be bolder in the pursuit of my goals.

I recently spent an evening with not one, but five individuals who have found their passions in some unlikely places including chocolate, Kenya and the South End of Boston.

Sofi  photo courtesy of Olive and Grace

Sofi,
Photo courtesy of Olive and Grace

Sofi Madison is the proprietor of Olive and Grace, the place to find the most perfect hostess gift, yummy treats for your best four-legged friend, and yourself. Sofi hand picks the products featured in her shop. And that selection process is not solely based upon taste or packaging (although they absolutely have to be quality products). She selects items made by emerging artists, gift producers, and small batch food makers and takes their story and sustainability practices into account as well. She knows these products so well she can rattle off the history of every product and artisan featured in her shop, and if she isn’t able to tell you directly, she leaves you cute clues.

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“Their back story has to match the quality of the product,” Sofi told me.

The artisans’ back story serves as pieces of supporting evidence in the trial of whether or not they’ll be featured in Olive and Grace. Sofi wants folks to walk into her shop and see products they have never seen before. Sofi has a passion for selecting amazing products crafted with care and produced by passionate people. I had the privlege of meeting four of those passionate people at Olive and Grace.

Rebecca Ferrel started her cold-pressed juice company, The Ripe Stuff, after moving to Boston and being unable to find the type of fresh juices she loved. Rebecca learned about the power of juice after a stomach illness. Her company now delivers juices A la carte and as part of juice cleans programs (she has a registered dietitian on staff) in a 20 mile radius of Boston. I am not much of a juice person, but I was pleasantly surprised by how tasty Rebecca’s juices were, even the green one!

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After graduation from Bowdoin (we won’t hold that against her) Sara Holby spent time in Kenya and after a visit from her mom, together they launched Ajiri tea to help provide work for the women there. The company’s tea is produced in Kenya and now employees 63 women who make the labels. Their commitment to the community doesn’t stop there, their profits go help send 29 Kenyan children to school. And as if all that doing-good was not enough to impress you, the tea is great as well.

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Russ and Shari are a husband-wife chocolate making machine. They started out as a graphic designer and sculpture, respectively, but wanted to live a slower, cleaner life. That’s when Russ started experimenting, trying to make a healthy treat for his chocolate-loving wife…and Apotheker’s was born. They have since quite those day jobs, but still use those skills. For example Shari designed the honey comb pattern found on their chocolate. The three of us spoke at length about honey and bees, and my stint as a bee keeper. They are great! Their products, like a dairy-free dark chocolate are an all-natural indulgence that you don’t have to feel too guilty about. I am allergic to chocolate, but if I weren’t, I am sure I would be gushing about how tasty their treats are.

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Meeting all of these talented and passionate individuals, and hearing their story, really made me think about what I buy and put in my mouth. The Jolly Green Giant doesn’t exactly take the time to explain to me how he hand-selects the broccoli sitting on my plate. So instead of my favorite food of all time, Skippy Super Crunchy Peanut Butter, I picked up some all natural butter; half peanut, half almond, from a North Carolina-based company. I not only learned that the owner (a fellow peanut butter nut since childhood) started making nut butter while in the Peace Corps in Zimbabwe, but also that he named his company after his father’s nickname “Big Spoon.” That made it taste ever sweeter.

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I was not compensated in any way for this post.

Tough Love

Do you ever have one of those experiences that suddenly casts everything in your life into doubt? Good, I hope you never do. I don’t wish it on anyone…or then again, maybe I do.

I recently had one of these experiences, it was a conversation over lunch that sent me reeling and had made me rethinking my life and my choices. If you read this blog regularly you know I do have moments of self-doubt (don’t we all?), but usually these periods of self-pity self-analysis are passing and I’m able to find the silver lining in any situation pretty quickly. This one was tough to shake off.

On a recent trip back to my former city, NYC, I visited my first professional stomping ground: the CBS Radio network newsroom on 57th Street. This newsroom contains a lot of history, both for the profession of journalism (it’s where Walter Cronkite delivered his nightly newscasts) and for me personally. I was actually supposed to go in to CBS on September 11th 2001, but after smoke started rising from lower Manhattan (visible both on TV and out my window), I walked downstairs to use a pay phone (remember those?) on 78th Street I left a message for the woman who would hire me a few days later. The message went something like this:

“Hi Linda. This is Emily Mahlman. Obviously I know you are really busy this morning. I’m not sure if you still want me to come in. I don’t think the subways are running, but I can walk. And even if you don’t have time for the interview, but if you need any help in the newsroom, I’d be happy to come down, even if it’s just to help you answer the phones. Thank you!”

I started the next week, at a distinct moment in history, working long hours, nights, weekends, and loving every minute of it (although on the day of my visit, Linda said she remembered me crying a lot, which I have absolutely no memory of. I’m such a drama queen). I learned so much from the amazing journalists in that newsroom. I also made some great friends. One of them is named Ingrid. She still lovingly (I hope) refers to me as a pilgrim (my going away cake referred to me as “Mayflower Madam”), I hypothesize because I was (and still am) so pale and have the lexicon of an octogenarian.

That day, after a decade away, I managed to find my way to the newsroom (the hallways of the CBS Broadcast center, which used to be a dairy, are so narrow, long and uniform that it really was a miracle) and was hit with a wave of nostalgia. Familiar sounds, smells, and smiles. After delivering hugs and updates to my former colleagues in the newsroom, Ingrid and I crossed 11th Avenue to have lunch.

Photo Courtesy of Charlie Kaye

Photo Courtesy of Charlie Kaye

Ingrid is also a writer, a very talented one at that, so as we caught up on life, talk naturally turned to writing. Ingird doesn’t sugarcoat things; it’s one of the things that makes her such a valued friend. As our meals arrived, she asked me if I regret leaving New York. She recited all the reasons I had given her, over another meal five years prior, for why I was moving to Boston (wanting to slow down the breaking news pace of my life, wanting to have more time to write what I want to write, wanting to make more time for a personal life) and asked me if I was happy with my progress. She basically called me out on my shit. I didn’t know what to say, and she was waiting for an answer. I did a quick survey: at times I am just as tightly wound as I was when I was a journalist, I still haven’t written the book I’ve talked about for years and I’m not married.

As she waited for me to answer, my voice started to quiver and my eyes filled with tears. “Are you disappointed in me?” is all I could croak. I was being confronted with the reality of a huge life choice, one I can honestly say I never regretted before that moment, and suddenly I was worried I had made a terrible mistake.

She insisted that she was not disappointed in me. She is a devoted follower of this blog, and acknowledged that it would not exist if I had stayed in The City. But that did little too quite the suddenly excruciatingly loud voices in my head.

“Are you crying?” Ingrid asked, as if she could not believe I was reacting this way. I tried not to blink. I didn’t want the moisture welled in my eyes to be forced down my cheeks.

Weeks after this conversation–weeks of inactivity on this blog—Ingrid again doled out a dose of tough love in the form of a Facebook post.

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Her message was loud and clear: even if I had made a mistake (still deciding, may be deciding the rest of my life), and even if I was lacking the free time and inspiration to keep this blog up the way I like to, I just have to suck it up and keep going. I may not have accomplished everything I set out to when I got behind the wheel made my brother get behind the wheel of that U-Haul headed to Boston. And every post on this blog may not be a work of art in prose, but that’s ok. I’ll just keep moving forward, and eventually I will get there, wherever there is. And if I don’t, because circumstances or priorities change, that’s ok too. I’d rather my life be a zigzag than a straight line.

Thank goodness I have friends to give me a swift kick in the butt when I need it. Thanks Ingrid!

 

 

Type-A(rtist)

If you are frequent reader of this blog, you know that I love art, and have a soft spot for artists. My brother is an artists and I have friends and family members who are artists. I secretly wish I could sit in front of a canvas and easel and paint a landscape. It seems like a very pleasant way to relax. But I don’t possess one once of technical creative skill. But you would never know it by looking at a recent wee painting I completed under the tutelage of up-and-coming Boston-based artist, Patrick Shea.

Patrick at work

Patrick at work

Patrick is a graduate of the fine art program at Cornell, and while his studio is in the Back Bay, he spends a lot of time traveling, capturing dynamic photographs that sometimes find their way on to his canvases. Patrick focuses on photography, painting and etching using copper molds. During my afternoon exploring his studio, and hearing about his work, I was stuck by how technical his approach is to his paintings, which can best be described as industrial.

Courtesy of Patrick Shea

Crane Oil on Canvas, Courtesy of Patrick Shea

 

Very detailed work

Very detailed work

One of Patrick's sketches

One of Patrick’s sketches

We focused our discussion on painting, seeing that is what Patrick helped me accomplish. Patrick’s process begins with very detailed sketches, not exclusively of what he wants to paint, but also of the dimensions of the canvas and the scale of what will be on that canvas. Patrick makes his own canvases, because these days most wood comes from China, and is prone to warping especially in New England where the temperature varies so much from season to season. He uses a certain type of wood and reinforces the back so that its shape will never be compromised. Each canvas is constructed to accommodate a specific piece of art he is planning to paint on it. Frequently Patrick’s painting are based on a photograph he has taken on his travels. He uses that as a guide before studies because, “a photograph never lies,” he told me.

Courtesy of Patrick Shea

Photo Courtesy of Patrick Shea

In complete opposition to the way I image people painting (“happy little tree” style), Patrick’s work is very studied, with sketches and meticulous planning. It reminds me of one of my favorite artists (and one of Patrick’s as well, no wonder), Edward Hopper. Hopper created dozens of “studies,” or sketches, of different parts of a painting (a couple sitting at a lunch counter, the glow of the street light outside the diner) before he painted the finished piece. I saw an exhibit of Hopper’s studies years ago at the Whitney, and it made quite an impression. Like Hopper, Patrick’s work is detailed, in its preparation and execution. Why does he go to these lengths? “I have to get it right,” he explained to me. Sound familiar? I may have found the most Type A artists out there. How appropriate for me and this blog.

Corita Kent’s “Rainbow Swash” is a Boston institution. What you’ve never heard of it? What if I call it “The gas tank?” Ahhh, now you know what I’m talking about. This is what I set out to paint. Patrick’s preparations for this lesson illustrates his attention to detail even before his brush touches the canvas. Patrick studied the gas tank, figured out what angle he wanted and the ideal weather conditions to have as a background. He waited for that perfect weather day and then he may or may not have waded into Boston Harbor to take this image below.

Courtesy of Patrick Shea

Courtesy of Patrick Shea

I used his photograph as the basis for my painting. Patrick encouraged me to use tape to make sure the lines that would create the sides of my gas tank were completely straight, very much his style, which includes measuring and tracing on the canvas before ever picking up a brush. Once I got my soupy grey background done, and the solid white of the gas tank, it was time to get to the color. That’s when my lack of artistic skill gave way to the strategizer inside me. My painting was not going to turn out well at all if I relied solely on my non-existent skill. So when Patrick offered some heavy gel to thicken the paint, I had a light bulb moment. If I glopped the paint on my canvas, it may look like the large strokes of Corita Kent’s gas tank, without me trying to duplicate the exact strokes.

As I spread the thickened pain on my tiny canvas with a palette knife I realized my plan was working, and I think Patrick thought so as well. While this was certainly not as exacting as his style, he seemed to appreciate my approach, which meant a great deal to me. Best of all for me, I was having fun and not getting too caught up with getting it right. And my water tank turned out very nicely, not to be immodest. I was really proud of myself.

My finished product

My finished product

The best part of the whole experience was getting a window into the mind and detailed work of a very talented artist who taught me that maybe being a little Type A isn’t so bad after all.

I’d like to thank Patrick Shea for taking the time to show me his work and talk art with me. New England art lovers, track this guy down! I was not compensated in any way for this post.

 

Flying through the Flywheel Challenge

The six weeks of the Flywheel Boston Summer Challenge flew by. Not only was it great to get to know the Flywheel philosophy, but each week I received encouragement and tips (what food is best to refuel after class, how much water do we really need) to help me achieve optimal results.

Just to recap: the challenge was to attend four Flywheel classes each week for six weeks. I manages to get to four classes three of the six weeks. I blame a few summer weekends away and a work trip for missing the mark those other three weeks. But even missing a few classes, I could see and feel the progress I was making, and I ended the challenge with one of my best performances ever.

As some of you may have read, my first class left me humbled and exhausted. Not only was the class really difficult—challenging me in a way running does not—but with all of Flywheel’s technology I could see exactly how I stacked up against the rest of the class…and I didn’t do as well as I assumed I would. But over the six-week challenge I could see my improvement both in terms of how I felt at the end of the class (more energized than totally exhausted) and my placement in class (read about my rise up the torq board here).

flywheel

What I also noticed was the sense of community that exists when you become a flywheel regular. Going several times a week I started to see the same friendly faces, bumped into friends I had not seen in a while and started to make new ones.

The Summer Challenge certainly earned its name, but with the accompanying support and with Flywheel being as awesome as it is, it was a challenge I was happy to take up.

If you are looking for a physical challenge, even if you are an indoor cycling veteran, I highlight recommend you give Flywheel a try and stay tuned for their next challenge.

While I receive a complementary membership to Flywheel for the Summer Challenge, the opinions expressed above are, as always, my own.

Eye of the Tiger

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I took up Flywheel Boston’s “Summer Challenge,” and a challenge it has been.

In my new-found experience, the thing that sets Flywheel apart from other indoor cycling classes is the technology. Those of you who have taken indoor cycling classes know it’s an imprecise science. You base your effort on perceived exertion, and we all likely lie to ourselves at some point when it comes to exertion. Upping resistance is left to the individual turning a knob to the right, however much they want. RPMs can only be calculated by counting how many rotations your leg makes in ten seconds and then multiplying by six. Seriously. Math while pedaling.

flywheel

With Flywheel all of this is quantified for you. Your resistance, or torq, is clearly displayed on your bike, your RPMs are also displayed, no need for arithmetic. While this is a godsend for those of us who want to get the very most out of our workout (and proof of it), it can also fuel real competition when your ratio of torq to RPMs gets tabulated into a “Power” number that then ranks you on a large screen for everyone to see.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, I covet a spot on the torq board. I usually make a brief appearance at the bottom of the top ten in the opening moment of class, but then I am banished to abyss of 11 and greater none of whom are displayed. But that doesn’t stop me from working my butt off to earn a spot on that darn board.

I’m a competitive person, but if you’re not, maybe you wouldn’t feel this need to push yourself to the point of utter exhaustion to achieve the elusive goal of having your Flywheel user name (while mine is a simple derivative of my name, there are a tons that leverage “sweat,” “fly,” or “Boston”) flash on a flat screen. But if you’re not a competitive person, you likely will not end up a Flywheel devotee.

So what’s up with the torq board? I had a lively discussion about this with friends over dinner. Would I work has hard, pedal as fast, climb the hills as aggressively, if I opted out of the torq board (which you can do when you check in for each class)? The answer is simple: no. It’s human nature to push a little more, run a little faster or pick up the pace if we’re trying to catch someone, or if we feel someone on our heels. If during most group exercise classes you are competing against yourself, at Flywheel you are competing against the person on the bike next to you, or across the room from you.

So each class I work my butt off to try to remain on the torq board throughout the class. Last week I identified my problem: Sprinting. I’m a great climber. Hills are easy for me, I can take on a lot of resistance without much of a problem. Sprinting is another story; I just can’t spin my legs fast enough to get to 100 RPMs. But I’ve been making progress over the course of the Summer Challenge, and this morning I had a break-through! While it was not really a physical breakthrough (it was a strategic one) it yielded the results I had been hoping for.

Today I added more resistance than my teacher suggested; I was playing to my strength. My RPMs were not as high as she suggested, but I knew from experience I was never going to get there anyway. With the added resistances my power number skyrocketed. During the last sprint of the class my eyes were locked on the troq board, stalking the 10th spot, hoping my name would flash up there. It took me a while to realize that my name was already on the screen…in the fourth spot! I was number four, but it may as well have been number one. I finished the class with an overall ranking of ninth in the class. Now full disclosure, the 6:30 a.m. class was not full, but there were at least two dozen people there, 15 of whom I beat (It’s my blog, I don’t have to feign modesty here). And it was a victory of the sweetest–and sweatist–kind.

And the Torq board is not Flywheel’s only technological innovation. Each person in class can also access a report featuring the stats of their rides, so you know exactly what you accomplished and approximately how many calories your burned. So even if you don’t make it onto the torq board, at least you can feel better about those fries you just ate.

Torq Board 2

While I receive a complementary membership to Flywheel for the Summer Challenge, the opinions expressed above are, as always, my own.