Monthly Archives: April 2014

Day 119: Take another little piece of my heart (and all my other organs)

I might lack a lot of basic knowledge when it comes to the rules and expectations of various religions. This evening, for example, I found myself taking part in a conversation about organ donation and Jewish law, which lead me to some research.

First, there is apparently a lot of misperceptions about what Jewish law actually says about organ donation, specifically that it is entirely forbidden. I know, religious law causing confusion — shock of shocks.

From what I gather, donating material that can save one life without ending another — blood, bone marrow, a kidney — that’s all well and fine. However, according to this article from, one life cannot be ended to save another, even if the first life has no quality, i.e. brain death. If the heart is still beating, the person is still considered alive. Another source, however, suggests that brain death has become an acceptable form of death, for the most part.

There’s a theory that organ donation from the dead can be acceptable if the organs are designated to save a specific life, not for purposes of storage and research. Another theory states that people should be buried whole, but that there are exceptions, essentially, if the missing part is going to save a life.

Trust me, I have in no way become an instant expert on the topic. What this very brief research has done is raise a lot of questions, both factual and perhaps personal. As in, I’m going to ask all of you a personal question.

Where do you stand on organ donation, and does your religion play a part in your thought process? No right or wrong answer, no judgment. Unless you steal organs, bronze them, and sell them as paperweights on Etsy. Then, you know, judgment.




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Day 118: Free your mind…

I’ve never quite grasped the concept of meditation. Here is an excerpt, verbatim, from a conversation I once had with my boyfriend:

Me: I don’t understand what meditation means.

Him: It’s emptying your mind of all thought.

Me: I literally do understand what that means. 

So, yes, as we’ve established before — not a namaste girl here. But the goal here is to try new things, to learn, and maybe to give something of a fair shake to concepts I’ve outright rejected in the past. 

I’ve been to yoga classes, but anytime we got to the meditation part, I typically used the time to either nap, or think about what I needed to get done, or sometimes just to contemplate what happened on the most recent episode of “Mad Men.” When I’ve listened to meditation recordings, it’s been strictly with the goal of a soothing sound to put me to sleep. I’ve just never actually tried really following any sort of guided meditation.

That said, I’ve been feeling very stressed and anxious lately. I’m a person with a lot of anxiety, so I try to find ways to keep that at bay. Sometimes that means music, or a funny movie. Sometimes it’s sleeping. Sometimes it’s having a drink, or going for a walk. I know a number of people, however, who tout the value of meditation, so it seemed like a good time to take a real whack at it.

First things first. This photo is not representative of my experience:


I do not have a beautiful, grassy hill upon which to meditate in solitude at my disposal. Sure, there are plenty of lovely places in the park, but I’m not sure I’d be comfortable trying to close out the world around me in public in New York. We’re kind of taught awareness.

So, my bedroom it was. I had to start the recording over ten minutes into the process because it was hard to avoid concentrating on the back pain from trying to sit up extra straight. Fortunately, a prone position is acceptable (score). 

Here’s what I discovered: Meditating is really hard. For something that sounds very simple (clear your mind), it’s really freakin’ complicated. Trying to actually just follow the instructions of deep breathing, without letting a million thoughts and worries fly through the air, or trying to concentrate on what the lady on the recording is telling me that I’ll be “ready to face the world with (my) new positive and confident smile.” 

Dude, that’s a lot of pressure. And “no thoughts”? Who has no thoughts? When someone tells me to not have thoughts, I have more thoughts. But I swear, I was trying. I was trying really, really hard to just focus completely on my breathing, and on what the recording was saying to me. 

And then, just when I felt like I was at least doing okay at repeating what she was saying in my head, and not thinking about other things, she told me to imagine a beach. I get where she was coming from. Sand. Oasis. Ocean. Sunset. Maybe some seagulls. I think the image that came to my mind was the Hamptons in the summer. Crowds. Bikinis. Children. Umbrellas. 

That is not relaxing. It is not peaceful. It is why I do not like beaches in summer. It is definitely not freakin’ meditative. But I still tried. 

And then the god damn phone rang. Seriously?!

Okay, clearly I am not a peaceful, zen person by nature. I am, however, a stressbug nitwit, and would therefore appreciate having some more techniques of self-soothing at my disposal. So, for those who have found various sorts of mediation or reflective breathing, or whatnot helpful, perhaps you might share some tips or insights? 

For your own sake, I advise against using words like “goddess,” “chakra,” basically any word that indicates you are pretending to be an enlightened person, because I will be forced to mock you, and while that’s very fun for me, it’s not especially new. 



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Day 117: A picture is worth a thousand words

Or so that’s the goal. 


My lovely, lovely man gave me a new camera, so the new thing I’ll be learning tonight is how to use it. Like, actually use it, not just point and shoot. Granted, I’ve done okay with just pointing and shooting, but the goal is to learn how to take decent pictures, not just to have a record of memories for when I lose mine. Hell, I might even learn what aperture means. 

My photographer friends are vomiting in their mouths at that statement. 

And yes, I know this is not a big fancy camera, but I haven’t earned one of those yet. 


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Day 116: Kickin’, Hoopin’, Jumpin’ it Old School

Nothing like an afternoon of hula hoops and pogo sticks.

I spent the afternoon at Thomas Jefferson Park in East Harlem, observing/participating in Street Games, a festival of music and old school playground games from kickball and handball to double dutch and hippity hops. 

While the event was, of course, advertised as something for the whole family, a childless adult has to be careful about how much she actually participates, especially when it comes to the team sports. The goal is to avoid being perceived as a pervert.

The key is to find individual ventures where there are adults present and running the stations. With that in mind, I undertook three ventures: 

Hula Hoop — not new at all. I’m kind of awesome at hula hoop. I used to have a weighted one. 

Double Dutch — Hilariously bad. I think I jumped one full round and was beside myself. Oh well, first time. 

Pogo Stick — Okay, I haven’t pogoed in more than 25 years, and I definitely remember the sticks being a lot less powerful. Now, they work on air pressure instead of springs. I got in a few good jumps, but there were these kids who were ridiculous. They were jumping over fences, doing flips… I got to talk to one of the fathers who says he takes his kid to pogoing competitions, the way other parents take their kids to soccer games. 

This is a sport. A legitimate (at least quasi-legitimate) sport. Extreme Pogo, or as it’s called XPogo. Image

Photo courtesy of Sadly, my photos from today did not come out. Oh well. Win some, lose some. 






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Day 115: What ails you

I spent most of my day in bed feeling under the weather, so I wasn’t up for any kind of adventure today. 

Fortunately, for such days, the Internet exists to teach me new things I don’t know.

Case in point: This list of rare diseases. Back in the day, I used to play a game where I would try to name an illness for every letter of the alphabet (I might have been a strange child). 

My biggest takeaway from this list: “Oh, wow, that’s a real thing? I thought that was just something that was made up on Grey’s Anatomy.”

Can you guess to which ailment I’m referring?

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Day 114: Ice cream letdown

I don’t know why I thought a chocolate malted would be so significantly different than a garden variety chocolate shake. It just sounds different, you know? Kind of retro, like Norman Rockwell and Archie comics. 


So, based on some internet information, I went to the Lexington Avenue Candy Shoppe for what is allegedly the “best chocolate malted in Manhattan.” And you know what? It tastes like a freakin’ chocolate milkshake. I don’t know what I was expecting. Maybe I thought it would be like a frozen liquid version of a bunch of Whoppers or something?


Anyway, I thought this would be some sort of new culinary experience, a vintage adventure for the tastebuds, and you know, my mouth just wasn’t feeling the newness. 

So that’s a disappointment. 

Oh well. Tomorrow is another day. 

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Day 113: The Science of Happiness

My friend Chloe is a person who both actively pursues joy and finds it in everyday life. It’s a wonderful trait to have. So it made absolute sense today when she posted on Facebook that she’d signed up for a massive open online course (MOOC, which sounds like an insult but in this case it isn’t) from UC Berkeley, called The Science of Happiness.

Being both interested in the concept of “positive psychology” and being in need of a new thing for the day, I signed up as well. Hopefully this is a situation of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery.

I suppose I’ve attempted the pursuit of happiness in the past. I read The Happiness Project, and it has its value (and would probably have more if I actually applied the practices), but I think I will have a better appreciation for the tenets of positive psychology when they’re backed up by scientific explanations and Ph.D’s.

And, really, let’s not kid ourselves. I will henceforth refer to The Greater Good Science Center as “The Institute of Kumbaya,” but aside from that, it is very cool that there are people who are actually studying happiness in this manner. Maybe if we had a better understanding of it, there would be fewer assholes in the world. 

And really, that should be a universal goal. 


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Day 112: Conservatory Garden

This is an example of how plans don’t always work out, but sometimes you find something just as good, or even better. 

I’m sure there’s an expression for that, but I can’t recall what it is right now. 

I set out this afternoon to pay a visit to El Museo del Barrio. Unfortunately, I forgot to check the hours. Turns out, the museum is closed on Tuesdays. I’ll go there soon. Stay tuned (I know, you’re all on the edges of your respective seats). 

Nearly across the street, however, at 5th Ave. and 105th Street, I spotted this:


This is the entrance to Conservatory Garden, a lovely, manicured formal garden toward the northeast end of Central Park. I grew up in New York, not far from Central Park, and I spent some time there, but in a somewhat limited area (largely The Great Lawn and the Reservoir). Add in the fact that I lived in other places for 14 years, and the fact that it’s a big ass park, and you can understand how I not only had never been to Conservatory Garden, I’d never heard of it. 

Happening upon the garden though was a lovely surprise. I love spring. Actual spring. Those few, fleeting weeks when the post-winter thaw is over and when we’re not oppressed by the heat of summer yet. There are flowers and things are green. I daresay, friends, I think we are finally in the springtime. 





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Day 111: City Hall fought me

No, no, no, I’m not in any legal trouble. 

So, I’d read about how, if you take the 6 train to the last stop at Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall, and stay on, the train will loop around and you can see this:


So I went. I got on the 5, switched at Union Square, and took the 6 all the way down. And when the car emptied out, I stayed on. I stayed on, and I looked out the door, keeping my eyes peeled, waiting to see the tiled archways.

And do you know what I saw? 

Jack all. 

I saw the walls of the tunnel, that looked like any other subway tunnel walls. Maybe I had to be in the front car or something? Or the light wasn’t right, or there was too much reflection? I have no idea. But the point is, this is supposed to be some charming New York secret, and somehow, it eluded me. 

Technically, this experience is still “new,” because I’ve never actually stayed on the subway as it looped the track before, nor have I ever been the only person in a subway car, but this was not the new experience I was going for. So, that’s disappointing. But I think the effort has to count, don’t you?

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Day 110: Shalom Easter

Where, I wondered, would be a good place to avoid Easter crowds today? 

The answer? A Hasidic Jewish neighborhood.

So off I went, to Borough Park, Brooklyn, which allegedly has the highest concentration of Orthodox Jews outside of Israel, according to several Internet sources (I’m not testifying to this fact). 

The first sign of the devotion to Orthodox culture I saw was a school bus with Hebrew letters I spotted from the subway. Then, across the platform, a family — a couple probably not much older than me, and six girls. 

When I got off the train, I immediately noted that most of the stores had signs in either Hebrew lettering or Yiddish, often both. I’m not terribly well-versed in the Orthodox or Hasidic culture and practices, so I find the opportunity to observe a little more closely to be interesting. There’s plenty to be learned by reading, of course, but sometimes it’s nice to just see what you can see. 

One thing I do know is that Orthodox Jews have particular (and perhaps, to outsiders, peculiar) practices of dress. The women adhere to practices of tznius, or modesty, so I was sure to dress in a manner that was respectful (long skirt, shirt that didn’t show cleavage, trench coat over). Married women don’t show their natural hair outside the home, so most ladies had on wigs. 

The men are more recognizable, perhaps (payot, hats, black coats, often tallit), but I’m less familiar with the whys and wherefores of their practices. Frankly, I’m a little more interested in the roles of women, and the interactions between men and women. I noted, for example, in a music and movies store,  that a shelf of DVD’s was indicated as being intended only for females.


My first exposure to the Hasidic culture was around age 11. My parents were doing some business with a photographer, and he came to our apartment. In my attempt to be grown-up and polite, I extended my hand and said “nice to meet you.” He recoiled, or at least, that’s how I remember it. I didn’t know that Hasidic men do not touch women other than (as I understand it now) their wives, mothers, daughters and sisters. I was naive (and a child) and he was abrupt, so I was insulted. 

As I’ve learned a bit more over the years, however, the understanding I’ve come to, and this might be flawed, is that a lack of physical contact, sometimes even a lack of eye contact, is not meant to indicate that women are sub-par, but that it’s meant to preserve the specialness of contact between a husband and wife. The traditions are very different than what I (or most people I know) have grown up with, and from an outside point of view, it’s easy to look upon it as repressive and regressive. The only thing I know now is that I would have to conduct extensive research and interviews before even beginning to come to that, or any, conclusion. More research than can be done with a fast Google search.

I did notice one behavior that gave me pause, however. Several times this afternoon, I held doors for women with strollers, and not one said “thank you.” And several other times, men squeezed by me in store aisles, even bumping into me a couple of times, but none said “excuse me.” That made me curious. Was it because I was female? Because I am clearly an outsider? Or are they just being New Yorkers? For the record, plenty of us do have good manners. Or was there another reason? 

I like it when I walk away from a new experience with more questions than answers. I think figuring out the questions is just as important as knowing what the answers are. That said, if anyone would like to share any relevant knowledge or recommend resources for learning more, please do so. 





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