Becoming A Morning Person

Good morning. Guess what? You can’t control most of the shit around you. Even if I’m not explicitly thinking that, the minute I wake up the sense of it comes forcefully to the front of my mind. I used to hate this feeling. I’ve spent years of my life trying to escape it. Some tactics have been healthier than others, but none of them have worked.

Most people, at that point, do one of two things: (1) hate life and people and even baby animals until coffee OR (2) decide they’re not a morning person and give up on it. I’m not so satisfied with status quo. What goes along with being a control freak is the deep desire to understand, tinker, and improve, even especially if it’s something about me.

Sure, I’m human. I’m going to fuck up. Havoc abounds. I’m not going to let that stop me. I’m not going to let me stop me. It’s scary to confront the chaos. It’s hard to make change. Even if you know it will be good for you. It feels easier to stay entrenched in a bad habit. It’s ass-backwards, but it’s true.

The willingness to change is brutally challenged by the fear of the unknown.

Mornings are a bitch. That doesn’t change. No amount of magic will move that fact. Some are better than others, but there’s always a regression to the mean. This is really good to remember when you’re having a particularly shit morning, and really hard to remember when you’re having a great one. The morning after our wedding, my husband and I woke up at 6AM without an alarm, full of positivity and vigor. Our love certainly hasn’t diminished in the months since then, but I can’t tell you we do that every day.

Another myth: there is no magic number to forming new habits. Trust me. I quit smoking cigarettes, and it took longer than 21 days to feel good about it. Tons of factors go into how long it will take you to make change. Most of the time you have no idea how long it takes, because it seems like you either do or you don’t. I’m not getting down on counting days. Making the daily habit of reflecting on your motivation to change continues to shape your meaning of success.

There’s a reason why mornings are tough. You’re vulnerable. Emotions pour in and you’re not in fighting stance. Remember that even the most organized and successful person in your life has that same fuzzy moment as they coax themselves to get up and face the day. The thing that sets them apart–makes them morning people–is how they work with it.

Primed with the knowledge that mornings are like constantly getting caught off-guard, I’ve choreographed a morning routine to combat the uncontrollable. It’s like a dance. I incorporate movement with mindfulness, ensuring redundancy because I know, no matter how hard I try, shit will shift at that moment when I’m not quite awake, and I might not be ready for it.

If this sounds rigid, you’ve got the wrong idea. There exists a space between “hyper-scheduled automaton” and “hot mess, fly by the seat of your pants,” both Jon Westenberg-isms. There’s a bunch to learn from his morning routine, and he’s always a good, quick read. He cooly slides into the space of the stumbled into success, “you do you,” and that works for him. But what about when “doing you” is chronically staying in bed too late and getting fired because you’re not on time for work?

I get that you have to do what works for you. I get up and immediately do sun salutations, but you might not like yoga. That’s cool, but don’t let that stop you from finding out what gets you going. Live life on your own terms, but know your blind spots. If you’re unclear where the boundaries of your better nature lie, don’t wait for it to fail you. Failure will happen, but if you make map what works and what doesn’t, you’ll never be completely lost.

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Classical Music and Mindfulness

I asked for a violin at age 3. By 5, I could identify different recordings of The Marriage of Figaro (my brother and I each had our own favorite). My grandfather played violin in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, my mother is a cellist, and some of my most cherished memories are of putting on small recitals with them when we all got together. During one of these performances, I made special note to the room of adults not to clap between movements. Even at that young age, I had enthusiastically soaked up on concert etiquette, and I felt it important enough to enforce.

Not just hobby, music is a major force in my life and has profoundly shaped my brain and character. As many families follow a religion, ours was music. The traditions of music from both sides of the stage are integral to who I am and the people and values I identify with. Call me a snob, but I don’t go to your place of worship and disrespect your customs.

applause1

 

There are some incredible moments that transcend this rule. Music is supposed to be emotional and exceptional talent should be recognized. Most musicians and maestros have a problem with applause out of false obligation. I’m not saying you need to be an expert in classical music, but I charge everyone to understand a few points that I think play into some greater issues that I find with the contemporary human condition.

Silence is important.

It’s becoming increasingly rare. Even as I sit here writing in my apartment building’s lounge alone, there is ambient background music. Text messages come in and my attention is diverted. Yes, I consider electronic messages to be a form of noise. There’s something physically uncomfortable about silence. If you’ve ever experienced a Joseph Beuys felt space or sculpture, you know what I’m talking about.

Silence is also difficult to tolerate emotionally. There is a strong pull to fill the space, especially when just moments before it was so full. This is the entryway to my issue with not only applause between movements, but what it represents. I see the silence as a container for the noise. Think about it from another angle. In writing, the form — including the white space — dictates so much of the meaning. I feel this way about music as well.

Also, the silence is an important place to reflect. Music can be an intense and multi-dimensional experience. It’s essential in order to process the emotions and form opinions. All too often, this part gets overlooked. This leads into my next topic.

Not everything is awesome. 

The thing about the silence is that you get to decide what you thought about the music you just heard and recharge for the music that you’re about to hear. Love it, hate it, or completely unsure about it, taking the moment to think and reflect will probably create a deeper and more lasting connection with the experience that will enhance your understanding of yourself, your tastes, and your future experiences. If you jump to applaud because you think you have to, you lose out on this process.

Music isn’t all cerebral. It’s also built to be visceral. If you’re not already clapping at the wrong time without caring whether or not anyone else is because you’re so moved, maybe it’s because it didn’t deserve it. Sit on that for a while. That doesn’t make it bad. There are those surprises that blow you away. There are those moments of climax where you can’t help but burst into applause. It’s also ok if it’s not one of those moments.

Be present.

Yes, it’s pretty cool that you went to a concert. Go ahead and post it on your social media. After that, turn off your phone (!!!!!!!!!!!) and settle into the present moment. I recently went to a concert where a number of phones rang audibly during the first half of the performance. A member of the audience got up during the break and reminded everyone to turn off their phones. That deserved and received a rowdy applause.

Another concert I recently went to included run times for each movement in the program. I prickled at this. Something I love about music is really getting lost in it, devoting my whole self for that span of time. How present are you in the moment when you’re fixating on the end? I consider being present during the noise is as important as reflection is during the silence.

Is it sometimes difficult to dig in and commit to the moment, but you’re already there. You carved out the time, now give it the space. This is a practice that drastically enhances the experience and has been proven to make you happier.


 

Oh, one more word of advice (I’m also a photographer): using flash photography is not only rude to the rest of the audience and disruptive to performers, it’s pointless for you. The flash on your point and shoot or even the one on your DSLR isn’t meant for long range (like, not more than a few feet in front of you). Your image isn’t enhanced and you’re just running down your own battery.

Getting Married Is An Accomplishment

I disagree with Natalie Brooke’s recent piece in the Huffington Post. Beyond the hallucious writing style, I think she embodies exactly what makes most women feel horrible about themselves vis-à-vis romantic relationships, whether they’re in one or not. Let me start from the beginning. Brooke recently got engaged, and it’s clear that her views on marriage and her upcoming wedding is quite conventional in that she states although she does not think getting married is an accomplishment, it “is absolutely a huge event, and it’s so very exciting to find your ‘other half'” (just add a PSL).

What’s more, Brooke gets on her soap box and says that now she’s got the ring — lest she be called embittered — she feels at liberty to speak the gospel that “getting married should never be put in a higher regard than the academic and professional successes that women work hard to attain.” 

I think that getting married is an accomplishment. 

You win the game of life. The way I see it, I was going to succeed on my own, even if I died alone. What marriage means to me is that I get to build the world the way I want it to be by furthering my genes, propagating my values, and propelling them into the future long after I’m gone. I think that’s a hugely important responsibility that one should be proud of and that others should revere.

More importantly for this argument, getting married doesn’t have to not be an accomplishment. Even in the face of any academic or professional triumphs. The fact of the matter is, I’d like to say that there’s a lot more to me than either a ring or a brain. I’ve got both. Deal with it. I’m proud of each and I’m not going to apologize for any of it. I’m certainly not going to put anyone down for it. 

This is where Brooke really gets me. She’s made it clear that she finally “has it all” and considers getting engaged as an anointing of power and insight to dole out advice. “The built-in vapidity, the vagueness with which ‘having it all’ specifies everything and therefore nothing,” (Szalai, 2015, The New York Times) leaves just enough room for everyone to hate themselves, no matter what they actually have or where they actually stand. 

To me, getting married is a serious project, not a piece of jewelry and bragging rights. I treated my engagement like I do when I consult for early-stage startups and our wedding as our launch party. I continue to run my household accordingly with budgets, goal setting, and follow-up discussions. This might sound joyless to someone who mindlessly goes into a marriage and blithely believes it’s what they deserve, but I think that’s the most dangerous place to be and the reason why there are so many divorces. The notion that we’re just supposed to be happy, that life is meant to be fun, can be very disappointing and at least, much less rewarding. 

Past Lives Abroad: An Expat in Paris (6eme)

Someone recently asked me, “Do you miss it, like, everyday?” My answer — to almost everyone’s surprise — is, “No.” I don’t even miss it most days. When I recollect the miracles from that chapter of my life, the memories are mostly spangled by my friendships or my own internal victories, and I get to keep those with me wherever I go.

People, especially Americans, have this overly romanticized idea of Paris. Yes, occasionally there are days spent kissing lovers along cherry blossomed side streets. Sometimes there are bicycle rides with a baguette in your basket, wheeling toward a picnic in the park.

These are not the things I miss about Paris.

I’m surprised by the associations that stir up my senses and point my attention à Paris. Sitting at my table in New York’s Upper East Side, staring out at a completely different cityscape than my view three years ago in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, it is the sound of the rain and the certain shade of grey cast over the city that takes me back in time.

For most of the time outside of tourist season, Paris is fairly wet and dark. And, if it’s not wet, that’s because it’s too cold to be. London always gets the bad weather rap, but Paris is much the same. I learned that the rain does not stop the people of Paris from getting out and staying chic. Here’s a list of my most favorite rainy day neighborhood spots:

1) Le Comptoir du Relais9, carrefour de l’Odéon, 75006. I have never seen this place empty. I usually try to squeeze in on a rainy day, and will even sit outside (perfect for people watching). They will give you a blanket for your lap if it’s cold, pictured below. For lunch service, Le Comptoir does traditional brasserie to a tee. I still have dreams of sipping savory beef broth with delicate tapioca pearls. Maybe it’s due to some divinity in the dining, but the neighbors I literally brushed shoulders with sitting at Le Comptoir, were friendly and forgiving, shattering the stereotype of the French.

lecomptoir

2) Coffee Parisiene4, rue Princesse, 75006. I hardly even eat burgers at home in the States, but I’d still get the occasional comfort food craving. It’s styled like a traditional American diner and features placemats picturing the presidents of the United States. Perhaps not the best place to go when you’ve only got a few, precious moments in Paris, but it’s a nice reminder of home for expats.

burger-coffeeparisien

3) Ralph’s173, Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006. There’s a restaurant in the Ralph Lauren Saint-Germain flagship store. It’s gorgeous. Housed in a 17th-century townhouse, it’s the ultimate canteen of comfort for the expat in Paris. I’ve been known to order one too many coffees just to stay seated in the garden patio.

ralphs paris 3

I enjoyed being an expat. The French are not what most people think, they just don’t sugar coat it for you. Fortunately, I was born under some audacious angel and will speak with almost anyone to learn the language. I found in my butcher an incredible teacher. He helped me out with a smile the first day, as I carefully read off my list. Each time I’d go to him, we’d go through out motions, but he’d throw in a conversational curve ball, pushing me to learn the language.

Even though I prefer New York, Paris changed me.


Wait! For obvious reasons, DO NOT leave Saint-Germain without eating at L’Atelier de Jöel Robuchon5, rue de Montalembert, 75007.

 

 

 

New Year’s Resolutions

Ok, it seems I’m a little late to start talking about New Year’s resolutions. But right now–the third week in January–is when people most likely fall off the wagon, especially for fitness goals. The resolutioners in my apartment building didn’t even make it this far. The gym downstairs has thinned out, thankfully, and my favorite treadmill is always free again.

I sound cynical. I really like the idea of New Year’s resolutions. Everyone, together, looks back and then reaches for better. It’s cool to put yourself out there, share an area of your life that you’d like to improve upon, and hopefully have your friends and family for accountability and support. This all sounds good and set up for success. Why does it fall apart for so many people? Or, better yet, how best can we keep going?

Last year, Mark Zuckerberg started a book club. I didn’t follow along, but it seemed to work out pretty well. I’m guessing that Mark already read a book per month, though I’m not trying to discredit the cause. For some, reading a book per month is a stretch and he created a community to support success for those who joined. The feeling of belonging and accountability to a community can be a solid foundation for making change.

I grant, there are also some goals on a more personal level that aren’t meant to be shared with other people, or that aren’t always practical to be done as a group. Beyond that, there is something potent to keeping a promise to yourself and developing your own process. An important lesson that I’ve learned is that success is not solely based on “strength.” The problem with this model is: most people make mistakes. If you didn’t make it through, does this mean you’re “weak”? In a black and white world, a fuck up can lead quickly to a free fall.

When I’m going it alone with a goal, I have found that it’s good to start small and attach an action to an already established ritual. As part of a larger lifestyle overhaul to be healthier, I started taking vitamins at the same time as I make my coffee in the morning. It’s kind of weird to have my vitamins in the cabinet next to my coffee, but I do it every day. Now that I’m comfortable and confident in that coupling, I am working on adding a sun salutation.

蝸牛そろそろ登れ富士の山


Check out the app, Tiny Habits, for some small change inspiration.

 

Past Lives Abroad: Milano

It’s been 7 years since I arrived in Milan. I had traveled on my own internationally, but this was the first time I was to live abroad. Even after planning and preparing, reality came up quick when I sat down on the plane. It was a potent mixture of intense anticipation of the unknown and pride of assuming responsibility for myself. Like most enriching adventures, I had no idea what I was in for, and I didn’t appreciate it all until it was over.

I’ve found that there is no better way to get to know myself than by trying something new, something that scares me. Knocking yourself a bit off balance and mastering where and how you land is an essential skill. These life experiences have helped me prepare to face other challenges–challenges that may not even seem directly related–with a confidence in myself and my instincts.


Milan is often called “the least Italian of Italian cities.” This is somewhat true. It’s dirty metropolitan. Hyper sophisticated with a keen culture, there’s a harshness to it that appeals to me, but is not typically what comes to mind when you think of Italy. However, the best way to get to know Milan is to live there. If you stay long enough to notice, you might share one of my favorite things about Milan–where the quaint comes in through the cracks–reminding you that it is still Italy, after all.

I lived in an apartment with four other American students from my program (oh hey, BBs!). Our apartment had high ceilings, a piano in the living room, a balcony looking into the courtyard, double glass doors, and so on. This was far more special than my college accommodations. Sometimes, we’d hear the retired opera singer practice from across the courtyard.

There is music everywhere in Italy, starting with the language. Everyone sounds like they are singing when they speak. The clean lines of the northern Italian dialect trills around the corners of the Cathedral, echoes through the open archways of the Centrale railroad station, and runs through Parco Sempione.

Everyday things were done differently in Milan. There wasn’t a Starbucks in the whole city, obviously. We’d run across the street from school to grab a €1 cappuccino and a “brioche,” the devious bastard brother of a croissant (brioche dough rolled into a crescent). Things, especially food, are good and cheap in Italy (although the dollar wasn’t doing well, so €1 wasn’t as thrifty as it felt). Food isn’t fast. Even at McDonald’s, nobody is seen with a to-go cup of coffee or a sandwich on the run. The very Italian traditions around and pride in food and family ran deep.

I found a special form of family in my apartmentmates. As we grew into our own adulthoods, we grew together. These girls with whom I cooked pasta, laughed uncontrollably, took the creepy overnight train to Rome, danced on tables, was vulnerable or sick in front of…they’re as important as the experience itself. That was the most unexpected and wonderful gifts I got from my time in Milan.

Other lessons I learned:

  1. While you are boiling the pasta for dinner, throw and egg in and hard boil it for tomorrow.
  2. Make friends with locals. This is the key to a unique and authentic experience getting to know a city.
  3. Do something completely on your own. Travel somewhere, sightsee, sunbathe. Take yourself out and get to know you.
  4. Don’t wear your earphones everywhere. Listening is a huge part of learning a language.
  5. Most people are cool and willing to help out if you’re respectful. 
  6. Read everything you can. Read the signs. You don’t have to understand everything. Read the back of your shampoo bottle in the shower for more exposure and to make the most of your day. Maximize.
  7. Talk to anyone who will engage (without being creepy). Free education! Learn how to fuck up and have someone correct you. Ask for directions instead of looking at your phone first.
  8. Hold onto your stuff and don’t be someone’s target. One lesson I’m proud to say I did not have to learn was how to get a new passport abroad once it had been stolen. I’m not saying it’s dangerous, but it’s not Disneyland.

Lonely Planet has a good list of popular things to do in Milan, which I will not try to reproduce here.

My recommendation: visit Fondazione Achille Castiglioni, the former studio of legendary Milanese furniture and industrial designer. You don’t have to be a design devotee like me to get a kick out of this trip. I had the privilege of visiting and photographing the studio with my professor Bob Tyson and sculptor Mauro Staccioli.

 

 

On Being a “Writer” (part 14: Fucking Up & Flying)

So…I’ve gotten out of the habit of writing daily. Actually, I’m going to put it this way: I’ve made the habit of doing other things instead of writing. As an artist, entrepreneur, or person on this planet (well, I recently read The Martian, so perhaps not only this planet), these occasional, intentional drifts are good–if not necessary–for your creative development. You need to have a life in order to appreciate your success as much as you need success to support your life.

At the beginning of this month my fiancé and I moved into a new apartment. We will be married in two short weeks. Amidst the miraculous madness, I have learned to drive stick shift and have begun to fly planes. This doesn’t sound like fucking up, to me. True, I haven’t been focused on writing, but the other parts of life have won my time and have been worthy of it.

I’ve learned an incredible amount of new things in a short amount of time. A major takeaway from this experience is: when the going gets tough, I continue to challenge myself. I can see how it’s difficult to imagine how that makes sense. It might feel more comfortable to take it easy when things seem stressful, but that’s a surefire way to shortchange yourself.

This is what I mean when I say some healthy distractions are important to success. Yes, it’s been tough for me to write lately. Instead of getting wound up about it and hiding under the bedcovers, I got up, switched gears, and put in a few hours learning to fly. If you go back to my original goal of writing every day, that seems like a major distraction, but the experience of tackling new skills and challenging myself in other, exhilarating ways brought me back to writing today.