Weigh in, oh my!

For the first time in a LONG time I got a comeuppance. If you spend enough time in a pool of laziness and gluttony, it does catch up with you. Sort of like when you realize missing yoga every week and eating all that pizza actually hurts your middling--and then you weigh yourself and there's an extra 15lbs worth of it. I can feel it too, in the spaces I shouldn't, the places where extra padding makes everything too too. so new leaf, new healthy regime, starting with better eating habits, more exercise. Less gluttony, a much better me. And no regrets, but yes I do regret eating that extra large double chocolate chop brownie right now.  

The next day I nearly lost my stomach in a chaotic adventure -- the resolution being that if I never ride a g-force induced amusement again it will not be too soon. To think I was most worried about roller coasters, when in reality anything with any kind of plunging airborne flight from any height was uncontrollably uncomfortable and alas, a newfound trigger for my migraines. As if I needed another one; but at least this is an easily recognized and avoidable one.

This morning I had my BMI screening -- which of course I forgot about and didn't fast as I had intended. My weight is manageable for my height, proportioned. And I'm still 5'8", no shrinking yet. The nurse did warn me that in order to activate my good cholesterol I have to exercise more. An incoming message worth receiving for once. 


Phoenix Rising

Of all the mythological creatures out there the unicorn was always my favorite as a child. I'm sure it had a lot to do with Lisa Frank's colorful stickers--an obsession of mine back when I was 10.

As I've gotten older myths and legends have taken a backseat to the realities of being an adult. If I had to choose a mythical creature to call my own today, one that reflects all that I've learned with the coming of age and maturity, I would choose the Phoenix.

The origins of the Phoenix date back to the Egyptians, where its association with the rising sun god Ra is identified as a sacred symbol in the Book of Dead. Based on drawings and legends that span across many cultural mythologies, the Phoenix is recognized by its colorful plumage and would most likely be an ancestral relative to the modern day peacock. Legend records the Phoenix living to be as old as 500 to 1000 years, but it is its death ritual that most people are familiar. Contrary to JK Rowling's depiction in the Harry Potter series, the Phoenix does not burst into flames until it is near death at which time it builds its own funeral pyre of twigs, laced with frankincense. This death scene is believed to harness magical powers, as a new Phoenix is regenerated from the ashes.

Regeneration, renewal, rebirth. I love the idea of having an opportunity to reinvent myself and find ways to open doors that may otherwise appear hidden, closed. It's the path to those doors that is sometimes a bit tricky. Sometimes the road is filled with rough patches and roadblocks you might not foresee, and are challenged with overcoming. I've found that those paths hold the most truths about ourselves, and are the underlying reason why we are on this journey.

In the early days of the millennium's dotcom bubble, I took a job as an assistant at a fashion magazine.   The position, though way below my previous role in both pay and responsibilities, literally fell into my lap. I had been unemployed for a while, occasionally picking up freelance assignments and working as a temp. I'd been without benefits far longer than I wished and with no other immediate opportunity on the horizon, I didn't have much choice but to say yes. 

The women I worked for were tough, cutthroat sales executives, strategically hustling to book thousands of dollars worth of advertising into the pages of our glossy magazine. The parent company is one of the most prestigious in the publishing world, and though the day-to-day was exciting--great people (for the most part), fun perks ($1 beauty sales, gym membership stipends, a Michelin-rated commissary)--senior management often overlooked the less than fair treatment of its junior employees in favor of the amount of revenue the offenders brought in. 

My tour of duty, where some days were more combative than others, lasted four years. And if it weren't for the support of my Dad, and a few close friends, one of whom threatened to surface contacts in the Mafia to take out my boss, I think I would have had a nervous breakdown.  Years later when The Devil Wears Prada was released in theaters I found myself hyperventilating during some of the scenes as they were so similar to my own experience. 

Madame X would reveal a genteel persona on occasion; these episodes usually coincided with the cleaning out of her office 'wardrobe' (code for the gifts and near to cost-free purchases from the luxe brands she called on).  For a fashionista this would be nirvana but I've never been starry-eyed by brand names so I accepted the seconds (Jimmy Choo stilettos, a Gucci wallet, D&G sunglasses) without much fanfare. I think the lack of expected ass-kissing may have been a source of contention but oh well.  

One such cleansing resulted in my inheriting a Waterford glass sculpture. The sculpture wrapped in a polishing bag, with a wood pedestal was nestled in a felt-lined leather box. Beautifully detailed, the piece had gorgeous lines and curves. It was a crazy thing, this Phoenix sculpted in glass, each feather clearly discernible from the other. It was so ostentatious and cumbersome, and yet I couldn't imagine anyone else taking it. Something about its fluidity touched my soul. 

A few years back I was in the midst of a spring clean of my own and in my swirl decided to auction the Phoenix on eBay. I sent it to a consignment vendor and they found it's sell ability nil and void, and so the Phoenix returned to me. I guess you could say that over the years the Phoenix and I have developed a kinship, for even when I don't think I need it for inspiration, there it is.   It has served a great many purposes in my life, including impromptu conversation starter, at will weapon and muse.  



Body, mind and soul

Migraines are my Achilles heel, the type of torture I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. Each episode vanquishes my brainpower into some mysterious abyss and replaces it with chaos and madness, sometimes with a mass of anxiety and angst rolled in. It can affect my breathing, and in some cases my digestive system but ultimately it affects my mind the most; once it reaches my head that's when I am done for. My experience with migraines has been sporadic but it almost always lies in wait, approaching with a sneak attack:  

Imagine lying on your side, resting, listless, admittedly checked out. Your body retracts into fetal position and finds a comfortable spot, your eyes loll as you fall into a deep slumber. Bliss as you fall asleep on your way to la-la-land. And then there is a slight tremor, then a jolt and suddenly it shakes you awake with an unspeakable throbbing pain. Pain that feels as if a vice is covering your ears on either side, and an invisible demon is cranking tighter with the sole goal to crush the insides of your brain. It gets so bad that you can almost imagine the hangman nearby, looming over you waiting to apply the latest torture before preparing you for the guillotine.  


As early as the 17th century women were treated for maladies that spoke of headaches and fainting spells where the only remedies included smelling salts, lavender compress and rest, lots of rest.  In our modern world, the need for rest is considered a weakness and in any line of work, extended rest isn’t really an option. That is why despite the pain I felt I forced myself to charge through and activate beyond it; and as can be expected, the day progressed with my eyes seeing but not really seeing, my body wanting rest but typing and talking--thinking when sleep was in order.

At the end of the day rather than go home immediately, I had the bright idea that a little bit of yoga might save me. In my mind's eye I hoped for (wished and dreamed really) for an extended meditation in Savasana (corpse pose), but instead found myself in a rigorous hour of Chaturanga (sit ups), downward facing dog, inversions and of all things, shoulder stance--which I abstained from doing, lest I add even more pressure to my neck.

I knew I had pushed myself too far when on the train ride home I found myself shivering in a half wake half asleep fog flexing my body in an effort to keep warm. I could feel the invisible threads wrap their way from the outer edge of my shoulders and creep like vines around my neck. The pain scaling its way one vertebrae at a time, rooting itself onto the lower part of my cranium, unwieldy weeds at the base of a tree. Pausing for just a moment like a jellyfish hunting its prey waiting to release a trigger of poison; the pain that came next could have been filled with venom. It hit my body like a bullet, sending my thoughts off in a million different directions. Nausea was almost immediate and I was certain I would be ill on the train—one of my biggest fears. The struggle to keep my eyes open was tricky, and sleep, the Holy Grail for the evening, was all I wanted. Attaining it seemed insurmountable as the journey lengthened. 

And in the end it was the yoga that saved me: one of the last things I can remember clearly is activating the Ujjayi breath (ocean breath) to bring myself to a center of calm, just enough clarity to get me home all in one piece—body, mind and soul.  



Dare to draw: unleashing the artist within

A dozen students from across the 5 boroughs (with one visitor from DC) met at the wooden bridge just east of The Pool in Central Park for a day of art.  Rebecca Schweiger, founder of The Artist’s Studio NY led us in a 3-1/2 hour workshop called Dare to Draw 101

After we all introduced ourselves and explained our intent for the day, Rebecca, known as the New York Art Whisperer told us about how she discovered art after taking a drawing class in high school. An accomplished painter with pieces exhibited in museums and galleries, Rebecca shared her thoughts about “art as a form of self-expression” and how we each can bring the passion to life by “carving out 10 minutes a day into our planners." Rebecca believes that everyone has a talent to draw, and with practice and a willingness to embark on the journey can truly discover the artist within. 

Free spirit, gentle soul – Rebecca had but one rule for us before we began, and that was to vanquish any doubt or self-criticism for the duration of the course (and hopefully to change our behavior for good). She encouraged each of us to accept our art as an extension of ourselves, and allow it to flow unhindered by our inner critic. 

Let the drawing begin! 

The class gathered around Rebecca, sitting on blankets and benches, The Pool with its flock of ducks as our backdrop. We each selected a drawing board, 2-3 sheets of newsprint, 1-2 sheets of white craft paper and sample pieces of vine and compressed charcoal with an eraser.

Rebecca started us off with line experimentation. She would give us words and phrases and  ask us to visually depict the motion with charcoal, applying pressure to test out the capability of the materials. Something about charcoal on newsprint is liberating, I found myself sketching lots of circles and curves, abstract visualizations of loop de loops. We then moved to shading, where each of us created a gray scale box (copyright Tom M. Casey, for image below) much like the paint chip squares you might find at Home Depot.

Next up: gesture drawing. Rebecca instructed us to pick a scene or object and quickly sketch it for a specified interval of time, before moving onto another scene or image. It was sort of like a speed round of Pictionary--minus the opposing players and guessing. These warm-up exercises were meant for us to meditate on what we see, to make connections with lines and detail so that we could adequately prepare for our final assignment.

Sketch Composition

For our final assignment we were instructed to choose a specific subject that spoke to us. Once we selected our subject Rebecca suggested using our fingers as a viewfinder to help frame its composition. We were given an hour to study and then sketch the subject. Rebecca encouraged us to use the vine charcoal to lightly frame the image in a gesture drawing before using the other materials to fill in detail and lines. She would come around as we were sketching to offer feedback and direction, with tips on how to fill in and add dimension to the scene and/or subjects. 

Choosing a subject

I strolled down the path and eyed a tree close to the edge of the Pool. The trunk of the tree rather than grow straight as its neighbors, grew at a crooked angle and reminded me of Disney's depiction of the old witch in Hans Christian Anderson's Snow White. Located just west of a small inlet where ducks and turtles lazily floated by, it was slightly hidden a a lamppost. I liked how the tree seemed to stretch toward the sky as if trying to reach through the surrounding foliage for the sun. You can see the work in progress of my sketch below. Rebecca likened it to Vincent Van Gogh's Tree Series.



waking the baby cobra

Morning. I walk through a misty quiet neighborhood, an overcast sky above calling for rain. I left the house in the middle of it all to make an early yoga class. A storefront on the main avenue where I live, not a place you might imagine a peaceful Zen space to mindfully coexist with urban sounds. 

The pitter-patter of rain on the tar roof, the windows floor to ceiling crystal clear. A sisal carpet, the color of sand, flanked walls painted a dewy shade of dawn. There are two people when I arrive, a gentleman in his late 40s, a woman in her late 50s /early 60s if I had to guess.

I roll out my mat, the lotus pattern intact—and see skid marks and dirty fingertips from faraway. The clock strikes 7.45 and we begin. Sun salutations mountain pose, we work on tree and shoulder stands. I come away with an accomplished feeling, just what I needed the flow of yoga and its healing chakras.

The stroll home is in a state of bliss, and I walk mindfully between the raindrops, stopping just once for coffee. 

Baird Hersey's music accompanied today's practice. 
At home, I sit down to write and with fingers on the keyboard, feet flat on the floor, I type. Transcendent, in between spaces; I feel sleepy where the air is light, flowery. The cat hovers nearby eyeing the corn muffin in the paper bag. He can smell sugar a mile away. He climbs over the pillows and onto my lap, warming my forearm. We agree to share this space on the couch just him and I.

The coffee is like sweet water and does nothing to keep me in the moment. Instead, my eyes grow tired and listless, they begin to close of their own accord, rolling backwards as if my mind's eye has beckoned that they take another look inside. I think of no one, nothing.


The cicadas buzz outside the window. Two hours have slipped away. My back is glued to the cushion and miraculously my body though stiff, is not numb. My stomach grumbles. There is a radio murmuring in the distance, white noise of consonants and vowels strung together. The rain has stopped, and just beyond the curtains I can see strains of sun illuminating the garden path. The chimes rustle in the wind. 

Tigger has moved to the floor in a child’s pose at the center of the rug. He eyes me once before laying his head to rest. I can feel the film of exhaustion clogging my pores. My arms stretch, my back arches and the tender working of muscles is there, and there.



Cultural connections

A good friend of mine with a passion for the exotic makes her home in Morocco (Casablanca if you must know).  Her stories and observations about the varied cultures that cohabit the Northeast tip of Africa are fascinating--old world meets new through technology and socialization. Most households have access to Wi-Fi but not necessarily indoor plumbing, it's an anomaly that's hard to comprehend.  The country is very much set in its ways, and despite Niki's place as a progressive modern woman, she shared the all too familiar experiences that result from living in a society that oppresses 50% of the population.

Each vignette that unfurls from her subconscious, paints the most colorful and robust threads of memory--it is no wonder that so many travel books call Morocco the land of contrasts. For a brief moment one can conjure themselves into an ethereal instance that radiates the magic of the Arabic culture and the conundrum that is an Islamic state. All brought to you by the adventures of a single Western woman and the essence of her perspective as she experiences this ancient world.

Morocco is seven hours from JFK by plane, due south of Spain and Portugal, and approximately 4200 miles east of Miami.  I have not yet had the opportunity to visit Nikki in the land of the setting sun but after hearing tales of adventure and intrigue from my friends it is a place that holds a mysticism I am curious about. Reminiscing about my visit to Andalusia, where I traveled to Granada to see the palaces of Alhambra, and then to the sacred Cathedral-Mosque site in Ronda, makes me wistful for the simplicity of another life.

I recently read Cultural Connectives, a book on typography that explains the similarities and differences between Arabic and Latin lettering, presented by the author's Mirsaal typeface.  The book helped me to understand the simplicity of the design and its beauty to transform the language into a storytelling mechanism. I finished the book with a better understanding of the culture behind the script, one that so inspires Niki's calm and relaxed demeanor.



Tattoo dreams

Tattoo -- there's one in my future, once I decide on the final rendering. I'd prefer an original design that incorporates one of the words below. I've cited characters from Asian cultures, sanskrit/arabic lettering, and other images that speak to me. Nothing campy or too mainstream, something personal that is meaningful to me, my own personal mantra.  

Courage. Seven letters. One word.  

Greek: τολμάω

Fearless. Eight letters. One word. 

Greek: ατρόμητος, άφοβος (atromitos, afobos)

What's your tattoo story? 
                                                          What inspired you?

Serendipitously Moonlight Soiree

Last night was the 10th annual moonlight soiree, and I'm happy to report that the rain held. The evening sported a refreshingly cool breeze and amid the sparkling lights the garden was in full bloom. 

I host 1-2 events each year, one in the summer and the other alternating between spring and fall. I know for some of my friends, the city dwellers, it's  one of the few green spaces they experience (that's not public, i.e. Central Park) and I have to agree that it's a killer backyard with a good mix of concrete and grass. Over the years I've attempted to cultivate the greenery, and this year the yard was abloom with lavender and wild flowers, a bumpy grassy knoll, and a bursting berry tree  (which by the way attracts birds of every color in the early morning hours).  Even the walkway, as you can see at right, came to life with blooming black-eyed-susans and brought a ray of sunshine to the vintage slates. The front yard still needs work, a bit bare since the monstrous Grinch-tree was cut down but at least the wildflowers are thriving in its memory.

When I first hosted the moonlight soiree (c. 2002) my intentions were simple: throw a kick-ass summer celebration with friends. It has evolved over the years to include friends of friends, and strangers--namely the random people I've met the year before. That might seem a little crazy, inviting people I barely know to my home but I honestly believe that every genuine connection brings together people you were destined to meet. Serendipity, synchronicity, call it what you will but I've always believed that every person we meet, we meet for a reason. 

What should it matter how people meet? The soiree is my way of bringing all these people together in the hope that they too might make a connection. Connections fielded through lively conversations, where new friendships are forged, old ones rekindled and new lives intertwined.  Sometimes the most unconventional beginnings create the best stories -- and its by sharing those memorable moments with friends and strangers that breathes new life into each and every one of us.



Promise to self

If we cannot be true to ourselves, then how we can be true to others. 

Today I embrace who I am, and encourage you to do the same.

I promise to: 
be true to myself, living life consciously, practicing the Golden rule.
be less fearful and more courageous, to trust my own judgement.
believe in myself, my abilities and my craft.
not be afraid to stand by my thoughts, convictions, beliefs and actions.
put myself first and acknowledge openly when I, or another, have been wronged.
act with maturity and grace in times of confrontation and conflict in hopes that I can be a proper role model for those around me.

What I won't do is make any promises that I can't keep myself.

I ask that you:
refrain from judging me because we think differently.
refrain from criticizing me for not living up to your expectations.
understand when I choose to listen to my own voice and heart rather than take your advice.
show courtesy to the woman I have become by coming to me directly to voice a concern.

I have walked this earth listening to the beat of my own drummer. 

I am proud of who I am today, and look forward to the woman I have yet to become.
I only ask that you accept me for me.



Sea Glass Memories

The waves crescendo, deafens me 'til the end
And I don't know it but it's really my friend
And if I can hold on to this little piece of sand
I won't have to worry about someone holding my hand 
On this journey to find out who I am. 

A poem, a stanza really, from a song I wrote when I was fifteen. In my mind's eye I can see the blue ink, words written in cursive on blue-lined wide-ruled sheets. Not as sheer as vellum but not as thick as a crisp bond, paper I had yet to touch and feel. The subject matter, a theme, the ocean. Rolling waves, water sea green with a beach glass clarity, whitecaps frosty and dancing on the shoreline. The sea, the ocean, has been the one constant in my life representing all that I can be and all that I am not.  

Save for 3 months in the landlocked hills of Utah, I've always lived and worked with the sea in a commutable and attainable distance. My first memories are of sandcastles and jelly fish, of wearing a pink bikini, squealing with delight as chubby toes inch toward the water's edge. I remember a sailor hat with brightly colored flowers. Eating baloney sandwiches and homemade chocolate chip cookies, combing the sand for seashells. Learning to live through laughter, giggles and love. Lots of love.

Many of my childhood memories are blurry but I know they involve the sea. I can smell the saltiness in the air, co-mingled with the grittiness of sand in my hair and on my skin. The beach was my best friend back then and was the destination of choice among family and friends. We travelled all over Brooklyn and Queens to find the perfect spot, from Brighton to Manhattan Beach, to the private shore accessible to the students at Kingsborough Community College. Mom went back to school once I started and while she and a friend were at class, my friend and I would stay at the beach. Summer weekdays were special times, with many a mother daughter outing to Coney Island.

We were limited to beaches closer to home and local to the neighborhood, accessible by public transportation. Mom, in typical city fashion didn't drive (though I found out much later that she gave it up after my brother and I were born). In my mind's eye I can still see us riding the N train with its slate gray seats, graffiti on the inside and out,  the windows keyed. My head is resting on mom's lap, her fingers in my hair, the train is bumbling along, she is reading--calling me her sweet petunia. I can almost hear the echoing whisper of her voice in my ear. 

Ours was a semi-traditional family where Dad worked and Mom took care of the household until we were of age, and then she went to work in the public school system. My brother and I are 8 years apart, his presence during those summer days in my memory are blurry. I don't know where he was, but its possible that he was at hockey camp or working a summer job. It's a lost moment in time. 

Weekend jaunts were entirely a family affair, starting off early in the morning on a Saturday with us piling into the puke green Datsun with its black vinyl interior. My brother would stretch out in the backseat, while I sat upfront nestled between my parents--these were the days before bucket seats and baby carriers, where the seat belt was the only safety precaution. We would pack for the day: blankets, umbrella, chairs, a cooler packed with sandwiches and snacks, a change of clothes. Some weekends we would drive to Riis, park at Gateway and walk over to the private beaches of Neponsit; other times we would visit Aunt Gail and Uncle Dermot and their Irish brood of six: Maureen, Kristin, Kathy, Scott, Michael and Brian. They lived in Rockaway Beach, in a huge house with room enough for boarders. All the kids were closer to my brother in age; I reigned for years as the baby, the youngest of the cousins. 

Almost every flash of what I can remember as a child is tied to the ocean--summer reunions on the Jersey Shore, the last weeks of the summer spent out East in Montauk--much needed family time before the start of school. I remember one early September day, I think it may have been Labor Day, my parents and I were driven from the beach by the most ferocious of summer thunderstorms. I think it might have actually been a hurricane. The gale forces of the wind were so strong it pulled the beach chairs from our grasp and spiraled them into the air before crashing against the concrete. Dented and broken like abstract art sculptures. When I was 11 or 12, the women in our family made a pilgrimage to Siracusa, where our family originated. Mom and I continued our ritual of beach time amid the hustle and bustle of another city, another country, making our way to the Lido of Arenella where the sea sparkled like sapphires, and you could just make out the Tunisian coastline in the distance. The locals called us the crazy Americans, because while the rest of the province took an afternoon siesta we drank Orangina and swam in the crystalline water, eating fresh coconut bought from the dark-skinned African men and women selling their wares on the beach.  




i find it
mildly amusing,
this art of spatial relations.

people migrate 
to this big city 
from far off places
with wide open spaces.

to live here, not there:

in Missouri, the Dakotas,
Ohio, Arizona, Minnesota.

And yet when presented, 
with an option for open air 
amid the sea and sky, 

i can't help but wonder why 
they feel compelled 
in this sweltering 
98 degree heat

to sit one 
on top 
of the other
feet to feet.