Followup Thoughts on Meditation and Discipline

Fuck cigarettes.

Having been a smoker for nearly a decade, I’m deciding to cut it out. I’m setting a quit date. It’s going to be a week from today: April 7, 2015.

Both my parents are doctors, and they’ve been begging me to quit for years. Being the obstinate, oppositional person that I’ve already cited myself as, my parents’ wishes alone never stopped me. Truth is, I love smoking. Smoking has been my constant companion these past few years. Smoking has traveled with me to great places, it’s lived with me in Milan, London, Paris, and New York. Smoking has connected me with some of the greatest people I’ve met and has kept some of them close. Smoking has been with me through the best and the worst times of my life. It’s been with me when I’ve been bored, stressed, celebrating, and even sick.

Smoking has never really held me back, either. I can run 10 miles at a time. I still get asked out on dates by non-smokers. I always haughtily announced that I hoped by the time I was stricken down with cancer that modern medicine would have come up with a way to fix me. And I still hope it does, since most likely something else will go wrong with me.

However, it’s time to say goodbye, dear friend. It’s been real, but you’re killing me. This toxic relationship is not working out. It’s just simply not cute anymore. Smoking is a weakness, and I admit I am weak to it. I acknowledge that it has, in its way, become a meditation. But now, I am changing my intention. It is a public self-shaming. I’m telling everyone around me that I really don’t care about my life or, frankly, the environment. It’s frivolous and I preach discipline. It’s got to stop.

I’m not a bleeding heart liberal, however. I don’t really care so much about smoking bans and legislation. Don’t expect me to vote on this issue, for instance. You do what you want with your life, as long as it doesn’t endanger children.

Not that money is really the issue, but I will probably save a bunch since cigarette prices are what they are in NYC. At the end of this year if I’ve deemed this self-study successful, I’m going to buy myself a great pair of shoes and take those shoes with me on a vacation. Hope to see you there.

On Being a “Writer” (part 7: Meditation, Routine, and Discipline)

Meditation brings meaning and balance to my whole life, not only the creative side. Especially living in NYC, I am constantly striving to find grounding activities and rooted routines. As I had touched on previously in my review of Fifty Shades of Grey, limits can actually be liberating. It took me quite a while to come to this realization as applied to my own life, and meditation was one of the major elements that led me to this sweet water.

Meditation does not necessarily have to mean what you think it does. Yes, I’ve sat cross-legged and barefooted with my eyes closed in a dimly lit room with a gong and some candles and sage burning. That can be a very tangible and grounding practice. However, if you’re the kind of person who holds that scene in disdain, don’t worry, there’s a practice for you, too! (I do suggest that if you are this kind of person, give it a try. I don’t say this in a preachy way, but first, you can’t knock it until you’ve tried it, and second, I encourage for your creative soul that you do something new…especially if it scares you. I’ll surely expound this in another post).

Some synonyms of meditation, when Googled, mean much more than the above description. This list includes: contemplation, thought, musing, pondering, consideration, reflection, deliberation, concentration, etc. If you intend to and let them, small things in your life can become meditations. My morning routine, as an example, has become a form of meditation for me. I wake up nearly every morning at the same time. I stand in the same spot and recite the same prayer and then set my intentions for the day. I then get my coffee at the same place (they actually get worried for me if I have a morning breakfast meeting, for instance, and don’t make it in).

This translates to writing very well. Annie Dillard writes in The Writing Life (another must read for writers), “a schedule defends from chaos and whim. A net for catching days.” Most writers, if they have anything to say about it, will tell you that you have to commit to making an appointment with yourself to write. Again, be kind to yourself. Structure does not have to mean stringency. If you miss one of your writing sessions, don’t beat yourself up. Just wise up and ask, really ask, why. Then, you’ll know for next time.

There’s a lot of work that gets done before I even sit down to my computer. I have to hold myself accountable to my appointments and, rain or shine, get up and do it all over again the next day. If you’re thinking this sounds like an iteration of the movie Groundhog Day, you’re not really wrong. If you had asked me when I was 25, having just moved here, I would have told you this sounds like my personal hell; but that girl had no idea what discipline meant.

See, the more work I can do to discipline myself with the small things, the more I actually train myself to appreciate and live in the moment and tolerate change. I can, most times, modify my feelings and actions when the big things don’t go exactly as planned. Thus, the Groundhog Day reference is pretty right. If I start every day the same way, I can only hope to improve on the model. If I wake up to a completely new set of strides each day, how can I measure progress if there isn’t a level plane?

Also, in this #startuplife, every day is essentially different. I love it, and on a good day I am excited, high-energy, and engaged; but the dark side of the moon is that this scattered schedule is also sometimes destabilizing and destructive. When I was consulting in a more corporate environment, routine was built into almost every moment down to what I ate for lunch on any given weekday. There was some benefit to that. I really don’t like to waste time. One of my goals is to really know what I want and go do or get it. Not because I’m spoiled, not because I’m stringent, but because I don’t like to waste thought and energy on mostly meaningless things.

This is starting to make me sound like a robot. I’m not. If you know me, you know that I love spontaneity: I ride in on chance, careen through dark streets of the unknown, and eat risk for breakfast. But what allows me this is that I strive to command all that I can reasonably control. And the rest? The rest is the best.

Art Review: “Modern Photographs: The Thomas Walther Collection, 1909-1949,” MoMA

I spent yesterday with my father meandering about the MoMA and there are some incredible things showing right now. I used to hate the MoMA as a child. I know, I was superbly petulant. I still have a slight visceral reaction even upon entering the lobby. It’s crowded and loud and I didn’t always appreciate art. My family is very intimidating intellectual, and as a child I sometimes let my self-consciousness trump my curiosity. It wasn’t until I impulsively applied to the Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London (the impetus being a boy) and actually had to eat my actions and go, that I learned this love.

I went immediately to the Thomas Walther Photography Collection (“Modern Photographs: The Thomas Walther Collection, 1909-1949”), showing through April 19, 2015. Karen Rosenberg for the New York Times called this show “Black and White and Accessible All Over,” and I want to hate how that’s articulated, but I agree.

Photography is an interesting animal of the art world. “The question of whether photography ought to be considered fine art was hotly contested from its invention in 1839 into the twentieth century” (exhibition notes, MoMa). This debate still stands, and is sadly reflected in the average prices photographs can command at market. There are, I grant you, artists that transcend this standard and have pioneered in terms of prices. Andreas Gursky (b. 1955) holds the title for the most expensive photograph sold on the market with his Rhein II (1999). This was at Christie’s in November of 2011, and at USD $4,338,500, the price is still pretty paltry compared to other art forms.

To say I am passionate about photography is an understatement. Although only a hobbyist, myself, I am a dedicated collector and connoisseur. I trained in Paris alongside some intensely talented peers. However, my heart wasn’t in it. Let’s just say that I render the extent of my experience as having a good lens, but no focus.

But let’s get back to the art of the matter. The show was curated carefully (by Quentin Bajac and Sarah Hermanson Meister), and there is an extensive and impressive online catalog/map/comparison tool that is a wonderful resource. I am fascinated by the way cultural institutions have integrated into digital. It’s funny. Some of the works online are in higher resolution than the originals. I do still suggest that you get your ass to the exhibition, in person. Although this digital integration is necessary and beautiful, I believe in the power and purity of committing your person to the experience as a whole, and the meanings you can make from the moment.

One of the more powerful pieces was Joris Ivens’ short film entitled “Rain” (full video below). I wasn’t acquainted with his work, but I watched the whole way through. I asked my father, “What is it about this work that commands our attention so thoroughly?” I’ve contemplated the power of the moving image, or video, at length recently, but in a different context. These days, the saying “content is king” is something you hear a lot in marketing. I spend a lot of time considering this. Recently, it seems, there has been a distinct emphasis on video content. Facebook gives you visible view counts strictly on videos, Ted rewards social shares with influence analytics.

I believe this all ties back to the accessibility factor. There is something scary in the static. It is bold and beautiful, but it is something outside of our experience. We are never stopped in time. Video, even cut and spliced at an artist’s whim that might, stylistically, lie outside of your aesthetic experience, is fluid where photography is fossilized.

Movie Review: “Wild” Is My “Boyhood”

Wild sang me a song of myself. Where Boyhood missed, for me, Wild took me places. Before you jump to judge, I will preface by saying that there is nothing at face value about my childhood that directly aligns with that of Cheryl Strayed’s. But just because I had a privileged childhood sans an “abusive, alcoholic asshole” for a father does not mean for a second that I didn’t have my share of struggles and consequent sojourns.


Although there’s something very expected about the plot, the arc, and even the central characters, I didn’t much mind. At times, I found the dialogue contrived and the male supporting actors miserable. Thomas Sadoski brought little to the film. Not to hate, I think he was fabulous in Newsroom, but he requires ignition from excellent, dialogue-driven screenplays (don’t get me started on my adoration of Aaron Sorkin). This was not it. (But it wasn’t really about him, so it didn’t need to be).

Reese Withersppon was awesome. Although I don’t think her performance as a whole in Wild can eclipse her work in Walk the Line, she deserves a lot of credit for her commitment and courage. She possesses a great, wide range that sings on the trail and off. Never overreaching, she carries into each moment the whole life of the character with her, like the pack on her back. I imagine this is what they try to teach ballet dancers: extension.

Director, Jean-Marc Vallée is cited as the “unsung hero” of the film, and I think there’s certainly something to be said for his cuts and control. I could see how it might have spiraled out a bit without decisive direction, what with the fairly linear hike plot peppered with an inconstant quality to the flashback scenes. Wild gets right to it. It would have been easy to languish in some of the heavier moments, but it almost accelerates through them. So, when we come to a scene with Strayed and her younger brother praying in bed, the impact is palpable.

The little things really went the distance for me with Wild and especially with Witherspoon. She embodies in her acting the essence of one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my short life: obstacles are opportunities. Struggling over that first big obstacle, that hugeass rock, unsure of her footing and timidly testing her instincts, as opposed to her sure-fire, yet still fumbling, attempt to ford that river, breathes depth where dialogue dwindles.

This speaks to me in a way in which none of the characters actually uttered. I’ve learned that sometimes it’s not always about success by someone else’s standards. She almost gets swept away in the waters. It was graceless, yet calculated. Strayed had learned to trust herself that she would get to where she wanted to go, hindering hesitance.

Sometimes, also, those obstacles are yourself. At the top of my Google search for “Wild film” is Leah Finnegan’s (of Gawker) haterade unconsidered, click-bait meltdown. She claims that Witherspoon “couldn’t act like a sympathetic character if there was an Uzi to her back.” I actually kind of like this, Leah. This, to me, proves that Witherspoon got it just right. I don’t believe Cheryl Strayed is, or was, meant to be a sympathetic character. She struggles sympathizing with herself.

This is a flawed review, and I’m not simply saying so because I take a fundamental stance against the argument. Finnegan even, nay especially, cannot divide the character from actress. She goes on to write, “Witherspoon is a sniveling, Flickian, narcissistic bitch…” which should read, “Strayed is a sniveling, Flickian, narcissistic bitch.” Which, at times, she is. This is developed in the heart-wrenching scene with Strayed quips at her mother for not having been nearly as sophisticated as she is at her age. If she wasn’t so flawed, and I’m not talking just about the heroine use or the cheating, why would she be so preoccupied with redemption?

Other high points for me included:

– How clean Strayed nails were at the beginning of the film when she dials her ex-husband. This is a curious, clean canvas.

– The select times she regards herself in the mirror. These moments are literally reflective, but also serve as cinematic commas. It is beautiful to notice when she allows herself visual self-reference.

– The role of animals. The fox was a bit forced, but the rattlesnake and the llama were great as they both confronted her, challenging the wild inside. The horse? Well, the horse was heartbreaking.


I want to emphasize something that probably isn’t a common take-away from this film. Children, especially girls, need to be encouraged to explore. Believe it, or not, I was a tomboy until I “came of age” and got a party dress for my bat mitzvah. I did the outward bound summer outdoors, cargo shorts and all. This is something that I am so grateful for. I learned, from a very early age, that I can survive, I can surmount, and it’s ok to struggle. I don’t want my future daughter to have to find these things out after I have left her.

That’s not to say that I haven’t ever lost the plot. I have had considerable doubts in myself and have almost crumbled under some of the issues in my life. But, like riding a bicycle, I was able to bounce back faster than the textbooks tell. I owe a lot of that to my childhood spent barefoot in the woods.

On Being a “Writer” (part 6: “The Amateur” and Approval)

This is not my first foray into the blog world. I started a crusade blog last year and it nearly ate me alive. The blog lived a short life, and I extinguished it within the first two weeks. Today is a particularly important day for me because it marks two weeks together, and I feel very differently than I did last time.

I recently read, “The War of Art,” by Steven Pressfield. Without looking for it, this book became one of the first reasons I got back into all this. I suppose you could classify his short work as “self help.” I didn’t even know I needed it. Pressfield surprised me. I surprised myself. Not only did these words touch me, I willingly received them. For those who don’t know me well, I can be rather obstinate and oppositional.

Pressfield writes, “[an amateur] takes external criticism to heart, allowing it to trump his own belief and his work.” This is exactly where I went wrong. I couldn’t handle criticism…neither the negative nor the positive. I attribute this to a deep uncertainty in my own center. What was the root of this imbalance?

I wrote to impress, not to express.

It was true, I was struggling hard last year. I didn’t have a clue as to what to do with my career. Well, that’s not true. I knew, and therefore expected that others would simply be able to understand. However, I didn’t know how to command my actions and emotions, and I had no idea how to even begin. I lacked focus, structure, and certainly didn’t listen. I unraveled. I decided I would shove my “truth” down everyone’s throat. This is actually circling back to the age-old writing maxim, “show, don’t tell,” transformed to real-life realization.

Bottom line, I didn’t write from truth. I wrote for approval. I wanted my parents to be proud, for the man I adored to understand me, for my friends to know I was smart, for strangers’ adulation, and the list goes on. What was missing was my passion, my strength, my loyalty. I felt like I was screaming in a vacuum.

Zoolander_Mugatu

I can’t quite say exactly what I’m doing differently other than the fact that I am striving for self-study. So many of us are smart. I am very proud of who I am, what I am. This time, I am more excited about what’s to come. I want to continue to grow (acknowledging how much I have to learn). There will be always be critics. There will be completely crap times (like this unrelenting winter in NYC). This go around, I decided I will willingly turn my wheel into the skid when I hit those icy patches. Spring is coming, blossoms will bloom.

Neighborhood Review: Nolita, NYC

When I was a girl, and Sex and the City was all I had for an NYC cultural compass, I dreamed of living in a Carrie Bradshaw-esque apartment in the West Village (even though she was supposed to be in the Upper East Side…at least I knew where those brownstones really were).

A decade later and a decade wiser, I decided that I had the rest of my life to live in the West Village (as well as, regrettably, a bunch of money to make before I could afford the whole brownstone). I had just returned from living in Paris (#leftbankbitty!) in the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Thus, it made sense that I set my sights on SoHo.

I trudged all around town with my realtor. It was the winter and I was crestfallen at a) the prices, b) the prices, c) the space (or lack thereof), and d) the fact that nothing came with a terrace. I was just about to give up when I found a miracle: a penthouse (avec une terrasse!) on Elizabeth Street and East Houston. Not quite SoHo, but close enough. The catch: I didn’t have a job. Another catch: it was with a stranger. She turned out to be lovely, and in retrospect she got the short end of the stick getting matched with me, but I had arrived in Nolita.

View from the top!

View from the top!

Another catch was that it was a short term rental, and it was priced affordably because, since it was winter, the outside space was deemed “useless.” Fortunately for me, it was a very mild winter, and I was sunbathing by the turn of spring. My heart was broken when they presented me with the summer prices.

I bid that apartment a sweet goodbye. I wasn’t used to that. I realize now, two years later, that it is very common to live a quasi-nomadic life in NYC. Most people I know move every year, and some even more. However, I was hooked. I was bound and determined to stay in Nolita. And here I stayed.

There are numerous reasons why I love being a Nolita Queen. Here’s why (and here is where it becomes abundantly clear that I don’t do much besides eat):

1) Ceci-Cela. Two words: coffee and croissants. I owe a lot to this place and the wonderful people who make sure I am caffeinated and fed, each morning. The coffee is the best in the city and the croissants are the closest to the authentic, Parisian thing. I am going to stand atop hyperbole hill and venture to say that I couldn’t live without this place.

2) Cafe Gitane. Say what you want, NYMag, I am a sucker for avocado toast. Hey, if Olivia Wilde is doing it, it can’t be bad. I can sit here all alone and feel absolutely comfortable. This place has become like my living room (especially since my actual living room is minuscule, as to be expected). I’ll bring a book, sip on some mint tea, and sit and snarkily Tweet silly things I overhear across the small tables.

Olivia Wilde - Gitane Avocado Toast

3) Tacombi. #TacoThursays! I am unhealthily obsessed with this place. I gather that it might even range on annoying how enthusiastic I am about this place. I will not relent. Barbacoa, bitches. But, I’m not alone in this love affair. Corn esquites with a side of corn esquites, please! Oh, and don’t forget to chase some tequila down with the very best verde juice.

Tacombi

4) La Esquina. Skip the food, go downstairs to drink. Take a left at the kitchen and boom. Often playing random ’90s music (I shine here, because I have somehow retained every lyric to these songs), I actually really enjoy their Moscow Mule. However, as a wise friend once said, “Nobody regrets a pitcher of margaritas.”

Honorable mentions: Balaboosta, Ruby’s, Rubirosa.

My only real qualm with my neighborhood is: the San Gennaro Festival. It’s been going on for nearly 90 years and I really wish it would stop there. Leaving the house during this week is futile. Taking a shower is, too, because the minute you leave the house your hair instantly smells of street meat (très sexy). But you know what? I can tolerate it for the ten days.

#lovewhereyoulive!

Art Review: Paula Hayes “Gazing Globes,” Madison Square Park

One of the many reasons I love NYC is its potential for public art. This is exquisitely fulfilled by Paula Hayes‘ first outside exhibition in this city, Gazing GlobesOn view until April 19, 2015 in the “West Gravel” area of Madison Square Park, Hayes’ orbs stand on snow white pedestals like mutant techno-terrariums.

There is an element of found art that I really enjoy in this work. Noble & Webster come immediately to mind. These shadow sculptures epitomize found art, summed up by illuminated trash heaps to create the truly unexpected and incredible from the dingy and downright disgusting.

WASTED YOUTH, 2000  Trash, replica food, McDonalds packaging, wood

WASTED YOUTH, 2000
Trash, replica food, McDonalds packaging, wood (click through image to see more).

Hayes’ globes are divine rather than disgusting. The glass globes vary in size and are filled with an array of discarded technology such as “fairy dust” made of pulverized CDs. These crystal balls hold some magic, for me. They are simply mesmerizing and symbolize both a sense of whimsy and melancholy, simultaneously.

The truth of the matter is that there is trash everywhere and nobody recycles. There is nothing beautiful in that. Our poor planet is swathed in the refuse of generations of extravagance and irreverence for the environment.

Tirade aside, I highly suggest taking a walk over to the park and looking into these crystal balls. Perhaps you will learn something of your future, or elicit something from your past. And, if it is to snow tomorrow, I suspect it would be stunning to experience this art piece amidst a flurry.

© 2015 Claire King Photography

© 2015 Claire King Photography