Oler

They say smell is the sense with the strongest ties to memory, and there’s nowhere I’ve been with more distinct smells than New York. People associate the city smells with the bad ones, a long line of smoke from one of the people ahead of you, trailing tobacco and marijuana, and the occasional pipe smoke too; the garbage that piles up in the summer has an acrid yellow tinge to the smells and the memory, a toxic haze to the long, hot days we dream about all winter long. There’s the unmistakeable smell of unwashed flesh that permeates an empty subway car and so many corners of the city, the smell you learn to run from, the memory tinged with compassion and pity for how many people have to watch others run from them because they don’t have a $1,500 a month closet to shower in. I have so many memories of this city in my approaching-six years here and I would be lying if many of them weren’t tinged with one of the smells above or the myriad other terrible ones I’ve encountered. It says a lot about a memory, when the best you can associate it with is a bad smell.

Sometimes when I look back on bad weeks, I remember a terrible smell from somewhere in that time, and then I wonder if it’s a smell from that time at all, or if the sensory overload we experience daily here just demands a smell attach itself to every memory made. I don’t even think they’re all my bad memories or bad smells really. Like the week a few months back where everyone else I knew was having a miserable go at life and all I could do was offer my near-limitless optimism; looking back on that week I can remember the ashy, cool smell of black snow leftover on the sidewalk, but it barely snowed this year after the big storm in January, and I don’t think the week I’m remembering was snowy at all. But the memory of everyone around me getting dealt blow after blow, and me fighting to find a little sunshine for them, that memory to me feels and smells like that: cool, ashy, dirty, leftover and waiting to melt away. And the week after that one, where my life started exploding, that week is connected with the smell of forgotten raw turkey burgers left on top of the fridge instead of inside it, a pleasant surprise to come home to after two days of work and one night in Queens; I don’t remember when I did that but I do remember almost crying when I came home to that smell after a long week, and then just before a tear fell I started to laugh hysterically, because in reality…. it was a pretty hilarious and stupid thing to do.

Yesterday I was walking to the subway the long way after work, taking a few extra minutes to go to Penn Station instead of 14th Street. It’s been a really odd week again, the high of watching a full studio of friends in savasana tinged with the grief of two people  I love experiencing unexpected and unimaginable losses. The past few days have also made something really, really apparent: I miss my best friend. People keep telling me it’ll get easier adjusting to life without M and N around the corner, and I suppose in some ways it has. But it will never be easier having my best friend in a different country. It’s just a new normal that I have to adjust to, and this new normal lately is tinged with that acrid yellow, that ashy cold gray like winter and the faint burning of someone else’s smoke, the smells of bad memories in NYC. Walking through midtown to Penn Station yesterday I felt sad somehow, dejected. Things are changing in ways I couldn’t plan for and sometimes I wonder if everything will be okay.

And then I passed one of those roasted nut vendors, the famous ones dotting the city with that intoxicating aroma of roasted sugar and cashews, and as I lifted my nose to inhale I found myself staring at the top of the Empire State Building. Little memories started popping back into my mind, the citrus and mint essential oil from the first vinyasa class I ever taught on my own, the charred, smoky smell from a perfect burger on a first date in December, and the way the city smells alive, constantly changing, constantly moving. Sometimes I wonder if I made the right choice, staying in this expensive, smelly, loud, exhausting city, especially when my best friend is gone. But part of me knows I would never really leave it all behind. The good and bad memories, the good and bad smells. This is my New York, and I love every piece of it, starting with every distinct smell.

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The Mean Reds

Currently: sitting at my desk at work. Sucking down coffee like it’s keeping me alive (which it may be) and taking deep breaths in a concerted effort not to throw my fucking phone across the office. Wearing jeans that are just a little bit too tight and pondering the implications of changing into yoga pants even though there are clients in the office today. Working as hard as possible not to start crying at my desk because truly I don’t even know what I’m upset about, just that I’m really fucking angry or sad or upset or maybe some combination of all three, and all I want to do is go home and sleep. Or the aforementioned throwing phone against wall.

I am having a WEEK, and yet if you asked me why I wouldn’t have an answer for you. Starting the week by leaving the Upper East Side has completely thrown off my normal routine and I’m still reeling slightly from that. It’s also the first week since mid-August where I’ve worked five full days, having had things broken up by weddings and spontaneous trips and birthdays. I keep making these plans to see people I love but all I really want to do is sleep. Or scream. Maybe both.

If you’ve ever seen or read Breakfast at Tiffany’s, you know the Mean Reds are… well let’s let Holly G explain: The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling? That’s a good overview of my current mood, except I think I know why I’m afraid. I’m afraid I can’t handle the next few months if they’re all going to be like this. Because it’s barely been a week and I’m ready to throw in the towel. And for all the professing I’ve done about all the wonderful things this fall (*and they are still wonderful and I’m quite looking forward to all of them), I’ve been avoiding or delaying dealing with what’s required in between those events: my undivided attention and time and energy. Something I’m finding this week is in very short supply.

Anyway. I’m not sure how to end this post, but I have to now. There are meetings and documents and plans later and then tomorrow I’m traveling where I have more plans and things to do before coming back to the city to prepare for more plans and meetings and documents and things to do. There are always meetings, documents, plans, and things to do, it seems. I suppose that’s being an adult.

Wring it Out

The past seven days have been trying, to say the very least. Between anticipated Whole30 crankiness, a family member in the hospital, then a nursing/rehab facility, plus the general drama that comes with extended time with my family, as well as a slowly-exploding workload, I haven’t had a ton of downtime for anything. Sunday was the first day I had a few hours to myself, waking up leisurely around 7:30, and spending the morning cleaning and warming up for a yoga class at noon. I knew the instructor, and knew to prepare because his classes are a little intense, but the one on Sunday was beyond what I was expecting – and not just from an asana perspective. Like, we started out by singing a mantra while he played along on a weird instrument? I’m sure it was supposed to be moving and spiritual and all that, and don’t get me wrong, I like some hippie granola with my yoga, but this was a little out there, even for me. My thoughts were racing through the whole song: this is dumb, my arms are sore (they were lifted the whole time), why won’t the hungover Australians behind me stop talking, until we started the actual sequences for the class, and all thoughts shut down so I could focus on breathing and praying I would make it through. The class was IN-TENSE – twists on twists on lunges, balancing one two limbs, one limb, planks to handstand prep to planks to backbends. When we made it to the final rest, I could feel my whole body sigh with relief at a few moments to reflect and steady my breath. As I lay there, listening to my slowing heartbeat and counting, four beats inhale, four beats exhale, I could feel all the negativity float out of my body back into the funny limbo where that energy stays,

Something people don’t think about in yoga is that the movements go way beyond… well, the movements. The poses, sequences, flows are all wonderful for toning the body and all, but each movement also has a very specific intention that helps you physically and mentally: negative emotions are stored in the hips, twists detoxify everything, standing postures keep you balanced, i could go on. I’d been focusing on more strength postures in daily practice the past week, still tirelessly working towards a free-standing forearm stand, but in that class on Sunday, my first one since before all the Easter mayhem, the instructor had us focusing on twists: seated, standing, balanced, on our backs, on our stomachs. We twisted in Chair Pose, we twisted in Cow Face, we twisted in headstands and everyone twisted in lunges, massaging the internal organs and sweating profusely as we worked through some emotional and physical build-up in the body. “Wring it out!” the instructor kept telling us, as we went left on the inhale, right on the exhale. “Wring out the negativity and the bad thoughts. Don’t focus on when this will be over. Focus on what’s happening to you right now – the burning, the twisting, the squeezing of toxins out of your body and mind.”

Yoga has this way of getting into my head and helping me realize other moments in life where I may be holding on to needless bad energy. The past week, it’s been difficult to focus on anything with everything happening around me, and it was enough just to try and keep all the Whole30 planning, family time, and work tasks straight. Everything combined meant I was holding on to a lot of crappy emotions, and it started coming out in nasty ways: snapping at my mother after a long day in the nursing center, yelling at the cat for trying to snuggle with me by kneading her claws into my neck, and finally beating myself up over not being “far enough along” in yoga practice, as though there’s a magical endpoint where I should be right now. Much as I can take deep breaths and apologize to the people on the receiving end of my snippy remarks, yoga isn’t so forgiving. If I’m angry, or annoyed, or frustrated, and I focus on that anger and frustration instead of the positive progress I’ve made, I won’t get into things that usually come easily to me, and I won’t move forward, a lesson I’ve carried into many aspects of my life.

I’ve been beating myself up quite a lot lately that I haven’t had as much time to write as I’d like. And even now, this post has taken me four days to put together, and I’m throwing the end of this together in a rare five minutes of peace before back-to-back meetings till five. I can also go into how I’ll probably beat myself up about taking the time to write this now, instead of handling one of the many, many outstanding tasks that need to get done this week, both professionally and personally. But I’m doing my best to stay on the positive side of things for now. I’ll get back to blogging like normal; I’ll get to the level I want to be in yoga. I’ll get to a place where it doesn’t feel like I’m drowning every time I open my eyes, and hey, there’s only two more weeks till I can drink wine again. Everything will happen, and things will feel better. And until that all comes into place, I’ll be twisting left and right and sideways, staying on the right side of a positive energy and wringing out what is keeping me back.

Quick Thoughts: I could.

There are a lot of benefits to living alone. You can order Seamless twice in a day without anyone judging, even if one of those orders is just mashed potatoes and cake. You can prance around in your new wedge boots while wearing sweatpants and a sports bra (and you make it look cute). You can drink wine from a coffee cup or even just a straw, wear the same pants multiple days in a row, put on music and sing along, a hairbrush as a microphone. And you can walk around naked because why not, there’s no one else there. I mean, I’m not saying that I do any of these things. But I’m just saying, if I wanted to, I could.

You can also go to bed before 9:30, because you’re already exhausted from the ups and downs of the week ahead, or light candles and breathe slowly while laying on the floor for as long as it takes to get back up. You can ugly cry while watching old Audrey Hepburn movies all weekend, and sing along to Moon River every time. You can snuggle up with a squirming cat and make her stay there till you fall asleep. And you can sit in the shower for just a minute when you need to, letting the sound of the water and the new blues on the stereo drown out a running mind, trying to figure out what’s wrong.

Like I said, I’m not saying that I do any of these things. But I am saying, if I wanted to, I could.

The bad days

Standing on the subway platform with three bags and sore feet, I leaned against the railing, closed my eyes and tried not to give into the frustrated tears that had been building for a few hours. I played the same mantra over and over: Deep breath, LB. You’re going to be okay. Everything is just fine. The more I said these things the less true they became, and at that moment, a fat tear dangled precariously at the tip of my left eyelid, not enough to spill over yet but already far too much. Deep breath, LB. Cycle through the things you can hold onto: you just had a great day at work. You’re about to see little miss for the first time in three days. And the subway finally arrived.

In spite of a day that started with a final snuggle from R’s pooch, a very welcome run-in with a blast from the past and a successful five hours in various meetings at my client’s office, I couldn’t shake the morose mood that had taken over. Sometimes it’s hard not to internalize a problem when it’s just stress, lack of sleep and a disrupted schedule messing with your state of mind. I’ve had to work hard in my adult life to fight back at the anxieties that rise like a tidal wave, looking so small from far away until “far away” has swept you away completely. The last few weeks I was able to push back, hold steady to the mantra that I’m in control, but as I stood on that platform watching time tick, tick by, waiting for the train for two, five, ten minutes, I gave in just a little, enough for that one tear to fall as I stepped onto the long ride home.

The problem with giving in to anxieties on days like this is they supersede rationality, making me forget that my head probably hurts because I haven’t eaten anything besides a few slices of cheese in nine hours and not, as I’ll convince myself, that I’m bad at my job. I’ll forget that my schedule has been keeping me from going to the gym as often as I’d like, and tell myself it’s my fault for being lazy, and that I’ll probably wipe out at the Spartan race this June. I’ll forget all of the positive things I’ve done for myself in the past few months, and listen to the nagging voice in my head that says it’s my fault that I’m single and will probably die alone with my cat

This is my spirit GIF

This is my spirit GIF

I finally stepped off the subway into the cool spring night, breathing in the familiar scent of Washington Heights welcoming me back, all Latin food, stale cigars and fresh fruit from the stands. As I walked home, I had this grand plan of putting Taylor Swift on the stereo, catching up on Vogue and crying about nothing and everything. I needed to let myself give in to the anxieties for just a moment, just a night, so I could work past them and move on. And yet, as I settled down with the Kimye cover, “Last Kiss” flooding the apartment like slow molasses, I found myself humming along and smiling, feeling memories and a soft nostalgia warm my angry, frustrated self. As the music picked up, so did my mood, and all of a sudden I was dancing with the cat alone in the apartment, singing into the remote without paying attention to the tune, throwing my hair Willow Smith style and feeling just a little better as the bars went on.

I danced like that for close to an hour, unwilling to end a night in with myself and little miss, grooving and singing and maybe even feeling okay. We all need to give into the bad days on occasion, and let ourselves cry it out. I have to say though, walking into the office today where I was greeted with free breakfast and smiles from my coworkers, dance parties with little miss do pretty alright too.