The day before yesterday it felt like my left eye was dry or something. I took a look in the mirror and, ah, one half of the white of the eye was red. When I woke up the morning after it was even worse. I went to work and was told to go home and return once the pink eye had subsided. Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, I was told, is easily transmitted to others. So here I am at home, my eye a little red, but otherwise I am perfectly fine. I can’t believe this, what an unexpected break. Of all the reasons to be excused from work, this must be one of the most silly ones. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that conjunctivitis can probably be very serious and also that people don’t want to have this eye problem transmitted. But still. There is basically nothing wrong with me! I’m not working, instead merrily reading, chatting on the phone, playing with the dog or blogging and still getting paid. Hooray! Just saying.
I was raised in a house in a forest surrounded by fields. We weren’t farmers, but we, at one point or another, had sheep, a goat, geese and ducks. We always had a large dog and a cat. On our property, we had flowers, fruit trees, all kinds of berries, rhubarb and potatoes. My father chopped wood. In the summer, my mother made jam. My sister and I helped out. As an adult I always lived in cities and now I live in one of the biggest cities in the world. New York City. I have been here for many years. The modern architecture, the elegant townhouses and pre-war apartment buildings, the stores, the restaurants, the avenues and streets, the parks, the people, the energy; this is where home is. But intermittently I get this intense longing for the country. This is when I go online and browse real estate in upstate New York. I connect with real estate agents, inquiring about houses within an hour or two from the city. Right now I can feel one of those phases coming on again. My wanting-to-move-to-a-house-in-the-country phase. I dream of a house, not too large, old, freestanding, surrounded by large trees and fields. I imagine doing practical things, like mowing the lawn or picking berries or hanging laundry on a clothes line in the garden. I imagine running barefoot in high grass and getting my hands dirty in soil while planting flowers. I think this my country dream is related to a need to escape the city, clearly. I imagine I am also melancholy about the past, wanting what I had as a child. But in addition, and perhaps more significantly, I imagine it has to do with an innate need for basics, a desire to connect with what is practical and pure. Nature.
Photo above by backgroundpictures.net.
I am on a ten-day-long staycation. This is a time for me to rest and play, but also a time to catch up on stuff at home and continue to focus on physical training. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t mind just hanging out on a beach in the Caribbean, but I just didn’t plan things right. So here I am, on a vacation at home. Sam and I are taking long walks in Central Park in the mornings and lingering there a little longer than we usually do. Then I go home, eat something and take a nap. I have dinners, a movie and at least two beach visits in mind. I also got three books, which I am rapidly getting through; Crusoe’s Daughter, by Jane Gardam, The Lilac House, by Anita Nair and The Snowman, by Jo Nesbo. When I am not indulging in these activities, I am catching up on things like cleaning, getting my AC from the storage place, etc. I thought I would dislike doing these things, but no. It feels good to catch up. I go to the gym three days in a row and take one day off, the again three-day on and so forth. I’m hoping to maintain this exercise pattern once back to work. So it is all working out beautifully. But, let me tell you, on day three, unexpectedly, I felt at a complete loss. I was restless. I had nothing to do and I didn’t know what to do with myself! I laid down to take a nap, but I couldn’t stop thinking and I had to get up. Noooo, what was this? I spoke to a few friends who all seem to agree that this was a common phenomenon that they had all experienced themselves. We all lead such busy lives that relaxing simple does not come that easy, it takes a couple of days before we will feel completely at ease with the notion of not having to work. The following day I somehow miraculously overcame my restless phase and all is now good again in the Sitwell household.
Image above by spreadshirt.com.
Last year I came up with all kinds of excuses not to go running. I’m too tired. I’ll do it tomorrow. I just ate. I don’t have time. It’s too late and dark out, not safe to run in the park. Sad state of affairs, really, considering I am somebody who used to love to run and also an active member of the NYRR. It finally got to a point where I decided I needed to come up with a strategy. Then a friend of mine told me about about a friend of hers who had a treadmill in her apartment. My friend’s friend would wake up half an hour earlier in the morning and just hop on the treadmill before work! My mind was made up then and there. I was going to get a treadmill for my apartment too. I did some research and purchased a treadmill for $1,000.00 from Nordic Track, the kind that could be folded up after use. The treadmill arrived a few days later, it weighed several hundred pounds. I had no idea how to get it up the five flights of stairs or how to put it together. My superintendent said he would do it for $100.00. When I came home that same day the treadmill was put together and ready to be used. It was the size of a small, chubby boat and took up about a fifth of my bedroom. I sank in to my armchair and stared at it for a while. This was not good. Over the next several months, I used the treadmill two times and I hated it. A few weeks ago, I came to the conclusion I must sell it. I must. I checked out the Nordic Track website, the treadmill was now on sale for $700.00. I put an add on Craigs List, offering it for $500.00, but there were no responses. I went down to $400.oo, still, no takers. Finally, last weekend, a physical therapist kindly offered $300.oo for it. I almost burst into tears on the phone and thanked him profusely. No more treadmills for me!
I used to love to clean. I would scrub my floors, vacuum carpets and polish silver with great joy. I would wash and fold my laundry with pleasure; the fresh smell and the softness of the clothes made me smile. This all changed a few years ago, don’t ask me exactly when or why, perhaps the strain of graduate school finally got to me. Cleaning became a chore, I even contemplated getting someone to clean for me at some point then, but I couldn’t afford it. Soon thereafter, I figured out that dropping off laundry was just as expensive as doing it yourself at the laundromat. I have been giving away my laundry to the cleaners around the corner ever since. What is the story with these laundry stores anyway? They advertise same day cleaning, but if you drop off your clothes after 9 AM this advertisement apparently no longer pertains! And free delivery and pick up? What about the five dollar tip each way? That’s $10.00! Don’t get me wrong, I have a very good relationship with the people in my laundry store, but I wonder sometimes about this not completely truthful advertisement. But back to cleaning. This weekend I finally decided it was time for spring cleaning. With all my windows open, a gentle breeze through my rooms, I suddenly felt overcome by a desire to clean. As I turned on my new banana-yellow Miele vacuum cleaner I even caught myself singing! I cleaned the apartment in four hours and felt extraordinarily satisfied with myself. The thing is, if you no longer love cleaning, you just have to somehow bring yourself to do it. Don’t spend days, or even weeks, wasting time thinking about it. It’s like pulling off a bandaid; just pull it off already. Then it is over.
I now have a personal trainer. This did not use to be the case. Only a few years back, I would look forward to my five weekly Bikram Yoga classes or put in with enthusiasm 30 miles of running per week training for a half-marathon. But for the past year or so my discipline and motivation to exercise have dwindled, largely due to my challenging job. So I joined a gym and with it signed up for a trainer, let’s call him Mike. Mike is strict with me and I like it, there is not really any other way of putting it. He organizes my weekly exercise schedule and bosses me around in the gym. Surprisingly, there is a sense of relief in being able to give in to him being in charge for one hour per week. Honestly, I think I have a little crush on him. How could I not! There is something so intimate about the personal trainer/client relationship. We see each other regularly. Mike has seen me at my worst, sweating and exhausted, and he knows things about me that I would only tell a friend. Of course our relationship would never go any further than that. The mutual unspoken understanding that is implicit in a contract with a personal trainer is that one would never go beyond the gym setting. But, ultimately, I think the the forbidden quality of this contract becomes the source of all kinds of fantasies and desires. The fantasy of the personal trainer as a personal caretaker is part of what makes the client motivated to return.
This morning I hopped on the subway heading downtown. When I got off I walked crosstown to a well-known Manhattan meditation center where public meditation sittings are scheduled on Sundays from 9 AM to 12 Noon. I used to go to this institute often a few years ago, but I stopped, I really don’t know why. Meditating today was special to me for two reasons; one, the sitting was led by my best friend, who had continued meditating at the institute after I had stopped and reached very high levels in her training, and two, I had not meditated for a long time. I was looking forward to this. When I entered the space, people (perhaps ten or so) were walking quietly in a circle. I joined them, walking. Then we all sat down. At first, I didn’t remember that I needed to focus on my breathing, external sounds were distracting me. And, now and then, I peeked over at my friend sitting on a little raised area in front of us; I was so proud of her for doing this, it was an incredible achievement that had required a lot of discipline. Then I caught myself. I closed my eyes, focusing on breathing in and out, gently pushing intrusive thoughts away. I was with it; my mind was clear and my heart was open. We walked again in silence. And then we sat down. Breathing. There is something very fundamental about sitting in a room meditating with a group of other people that one does not know. They are strangers and one is aware of their presence and also not. We meet in this room, we spend time together and then we leave. Not a word is spoken. It is the essence of peacefulness.
I am someone who needs a routine. I need structure. I need to be able to have a set of guidelines to make my day more efficient; mostly it is a matter of time and money. My weekday routine looks something like this: coffee in front of laptop (perhaps write a blog post), walk dog for about an hour, get ready for work, commute to work, work 9 to 5 (eat breakfast and lunch at work), commute (or walk) home, feed and walk dog, feed self, gym, sleep. There are slight variations to this, sometimes I have dinner with people after work, or go to a movie. But basically, that is my weekday routine. I have phases when I get tired of sticking to the routine and skip it. Then I end up taking only short walks with the dog, spend money on taxis, am late for work and don’t go to the gym. I am left with a sense that I have broken the rules (my own, I know) and there is something strangely satisfying about that, but in the long run, costly and not good at all. Being naughty and not sticking to the routine does not pay off! I end up feeling guilty and I rush. So it is back to the routine, perhaps even fine-tuning it to make it more efficient. Come to think of it, that is the ultimate challenge, to better the routine! For instance, make lunch at home and take it to work and leave early for work to avoid rushing. But regardless, I know, we all know, that the temptation to break the routine will be there again. Routine can be so incredibly monotone and boring; it requires too much discipline and motivation. The greatest way to endure the necessary routine is to integrate here and there some form of creativity; writing, reading, painting, listening to music. And laughter too. Life can’t just be all work and no play.
Blogging has become one of my favorite things to do. There are several parts to what makes it intriguing; one, the blogging itself, two, the reading of others’ blogs and three, blog statistics. Let’s face it, I will probably never write a book, but I like writing and I want to write. Blogging fulfills my yearning for writing; it’s not a huge project, I write snippets here and there. Blogging is an outlet for my creativity. My space is personalized by me and there is no other blog like mine. Reading of others’ blogs is inspiring and can at times evoke envy. Honestly, my heart starts beating faster when I come a really well-crafted blog. For instance, look at The Middlest Sister and Angry Pear. I recently found these two blogs and while reading them I laughed so loud that I scared the dog (he left the room). Oh, how I admire people who can come up with something so clever! But after having read through these blogs in their entirety, which took an hour or so, I also felt strangely resentful and ready to give up on the blog business all together. Why couldn’t I come up with something like that?! Then, hesitantly, I looked at the statistics of these blogs; hundreds of followers, awards and comments. I swallowed hard. I told myself that I just started my blog and one day I would have numbers like that too. Or maybe I wouldn’t, but who cared, I was doing this for myself, not for anybody else. Or was I? I decided I would stop looking at statistics for a while. But then, out of nowhere, I noticed that the little Notifications box in the upper right corner of my screen had turned orange and it said 5! Eagerly I clicked it; two new Comments, two new Followers and one new Like. Hooray!
I have always lived in old apartments, meaning they were built some time around the 1900s, perhaps even earlier. The reason for this is at least two-fold; one, I love the detail of the older apartments and 2) it is all that I can afford. When I move, which I rarely do, I find an old apartment in dire condition, but usually a good deal financially, and I fix it up. I have lived in my current apartment for about 10 years now. It is a one bedroom on the fifth floor, there is no elevator. It is a corner apartment (very quiet) with high ceilings, a huge closet, six tall windows, facing west and north; I get fantastic sunlight in the afternoon. When I moved in, the state of the apartment was a disaster. After spending a week cleaning, I painted every surface. I stripped the floor and wallpapered the kitchen and the bedroom. I think I did a pretty good job, but there are still old nails partially sticking out here and there and some surfaces are crooked. I love my place, but I will not lie, sometimes I dream of a brand new place in an elevator building.
The coolest thing about a new apartment is that if you like it to it can come with a fantastic view. Kitchen and bath appliances are brand new and the place is easy to keep clean. There is probably an elevator! There is a doorman! There might be a gym! And a place to store your bike! Ugh, I could go on and on and on. But on the flip side, a contemporary apartment is costly. Who wants to spend an arm and a leg on monthly rent? The walls are thin, not substantial and solid like in an older place. They might not take dogs, which, of course, would be deal breaker for me. But ultimately, and I don’t say this because I am not in a position to pay high rent, I would prefer an older apartment, simply because of the fact of the beauty of it. Old apartments have history. But, having said that, would I love to live in an old apartment building with elevator and a view? I would, indeed I would.