What To Do With My Free Time: A Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma

I thought when I left my job more than six months ago, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. Um, not so much. As my friend, Linda B. said, “Looks like you’re having fun!”

Work is overrated. A regular paycheck definitely has its benefits, but there are way more valuable assets than money. One of which is time. I have had time, especially recently to visit with old friends.

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On one of these scorching hot days, we walked the High Line, the public park converted from railroad tracks. After walking this path from 30th street for a mile and a quarter down into NYC’s trendiest neighborhood, MeaPa, (the meat packing district), we stopped for brunch.
The flowers on the High Line are lovely.
The flowers on the High Line are lovely.

Besides time with friends, there’s something I’ve come to treasure lately: time alone — to read and paint.

Book club seems to be on a summer hiatus. I’m a huge Kindle fan, but I’ve rediscovered the joy of books: all kinds of books (don’t judge me): feminist, erotic, non-fiction, self help.

I started these three. And I started the Pulitzer Prize winner, Middlesex by Eugenides too.
These three books are on my bedside. And I started the Pulitzer Prize winner, Middlesex by Eugenides too. (Lest you think I’ve lost my literary bent.)

I love to make collage art and book journals.

I started taking class again at Art Students League. You receive very little instruction, but you get a ton of inspiration. Here’s a little project I worked on.

I collaged two small boxes to send to my darling girls at camp.
I collaged two small boxes to send to my darling girls at camp.

And then of course, I work on my biz, Boot Camp for Writers, teaching memoir writing workshops. I love teaching and writing. It’s really all I want to do. Well, that and walk the High Line, visit friends, make art, go to the theater, perform improv, make short films, and read books. That’s all.

Here’s the latest offering for the writing workshop biz: An afternoon memoir workshop and an evening salon in the Adirondacks – August 29, Thursday, 2-9, $25, dinner on your own.

This post was inspired by the daily post: a mystery

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The Pedestrian Bridge

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I’d seen the walkway across the Hudson at Poughkeepsie every time I took Amtrak upstate. I wanted to walk the longest pedestrian bridge at 1.25 miles, but never thought I’d make it to Poughkeepsie. But I did (the night before, I’d had dinner at the CIA).

On a Friday afternoon in August, I realized my dream: I strolled the promenade.

I always hope for a big epiphany when I walk. But from 300 feet above the Hudson, all I noticed was the beauty of the river that runs both ways. I noticed the fluffiness of the clouds. And I noticed that other people walk at their own pace. Maybe those are epiphanies.

Nice wide walkway. You can bike across too!
People of all ages walk across the bridge.

Running Without a Soundtrack

The silence running in the country was deafening.

I could not find my head phones. I usually run with ear buds listening to Pandora and the Omar Shariff sound-alike who calculates the distance of my run on my Cardio Trainer app.

I like running to Britney Spears songs like Piece of Me or Pat Benatar’s Hit Me with Your Best Shot. I think, “Yay, world, hit me. Try getting a piece of this.”

I know, I know. I am delirious after just five minutes of running, wondering, Is it time to take that well-deserved water break or walk yet? The music keeps me going.

So running without Britney, Pat or Omar, I felt a twinge of loneliness. The steadiest sound was the scraping labor of my own breath. Then the silence came alive.

running on a country road

There was a cawing of a crow, an old Buick rounding a corner, the wind swishing the hay in the field, and in the mix, my breath.

My breath was just a speck on the country road. Running helps you figure out where you fit in, a small piece in a big picture.

For this epiphany I rewarded myself by slowing down and walking.

What we talk about

I walked with the girls to the actors’ housing today (because our beloved Sarah Hankins had just moved in). We walked through our beloved neighbor’s property to get there.

The girls and I chatted, held hands, talked about them getting braces and going into Middle School. I love running with my son and my girlfriends, it’s true. And I love walking with my daughters too.

I love the ease of conversation when you run or walk. It’s very high quality sharing time with kids.

I don’t really know why. It’s not that what we share is so deep. I think it has something to do with not being interrupted by phone calls or responsibilities. When we talk at home, there’s always dinner to cook, homework to do, cleaning to be done.

The tasks when you are in your home are sisyphean. (I love using that word!) But the talking on a walk meanders.

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Last week I walked

When I was with all my siblings and their families for our family week in the Adirondacks, I walked miles every morning with my sister in laws, Heidi and Nicole.  Walking is better than running because you can really talk.

We talked about the contagion theory of exercise. I loved this article from the New York Times magazine a year ago…

Good behaviors — like quitting smoking or staying slender or being happy — pass from friend to friend almost as if they were contagious viruses. The Framingham participants, the data suggested, influenced one another’s health just by socializing. And the same was true of bad behaviors — clusters of friends appeared to “infect” each other with obesity, unhappiness and smoking. Staying healthy isn’t just a matter of your genes and your diet, it seems. Good health is also a product, in part, of your sheer proximity to other healthy people.

So, because I am altruistic (and not at all vain. No, not me), I am walking, running, swimming, doing Yoga and Pilates, for my friends, family, my wider circle. I am not working out for myself. I am doing it for all of you.

Okay, I feel good when I work out too. I’ll admit it — I do it for my own sanity. Last night for some reason, I was in a bit of a funk. I was missing my kids. I wanted to be where they were, but the city is a drag for kids in the summer. After work, I went to the JCC to swim. I told myself, You only have to do eight laps. I have no idea why I always tell myself,  Do eight laps. In any size pool, that’s my goal — eight. It’s manageable. But I did much more than eight. I walked in the pool too, punching the water in front of me, like a crazy aqua aerobics lady. I did 20 sit ups on the side of the pool.

I felt much better.

Exercise is better than anti-depressants. But it takes longer and you have to change clothes when you do it.

New Yorkers and the Rain

New York is for walking.  Yes, the buses and subways are fine. Yes, a bike sails through traffic. Yes, you can find parking if you drive. And yes, cabs are ubiquitous.

But New York City is scaled for the walker. When tourists visit New York, they’re always surprised by how much walking they do. A New Yorker wouldn’t mind walking 10 blocks. But you can tell the tourists — they’re the ones beginning to flag.

New Yorkers are more physically fit than people in other parts of the country. All the walking is good for kids. Within a few blocks, you’ll find our grammar school, our doctor, our grocery store, our church, our gym, and our park. What more could you ask for?

Okay, the downside of all of this walking? When it rains, which it’s been doing a lot lately, there’s no way to avoid the elements. Maybe in the suburbs, you can duck into your car right from your garage, but in New York, you can’t avoid the weather.

I hate umbrellas. They slow you down. And they take up too much public space — especially in the stairwells leading into the subway. Also, an umbrella takes up too much hand space. I suppose you could wear one of those umbrella hats, but they’ve never really caught on and I’m not going to be the first.

The best way to dress for NYC in the rain is to wear a baseball cap. Pull it low. You might want to keep on that silver sticker. You might want to keep the bill wide. (Although I still like to scrunch up the bill.)

Baseball season is only a couple of weeks away. So you can choose — a Mets or Yankees cap? So many places sell them. But beware — there’s a fashion trend in baseball caps that I’ve been noticing in NYC. The Chicago Cubs cap. How did that get here? New Yorkers are funny.

Walking in New Jersey with Babies

I know I should be running. There’s really nothing like running. The only thing remotely like running is walking.

Yesterday Barbara and I drove with my sleepy daughters to visit Mandy and her baby in Summit, New Jersey. We sat in the sunny suburbs. We  pored over the school auction catalog.  (Last night was the big fundraiser. Spent too much).

Then we walked in a public park. Morris County Park. Maybe it was half a mile there and back — past a stream, past dog walkers and curled-up caterpillars. We had to step off the path when little tyke bike riders rode by.  The girls bickered. Then held my hand. Mandy’s funny husband, KC, pushed the stroller. Baby Nathaniel wore a baseball cap.

It was absolutely idyllic. We stopped near a playground. We chatted at a picnic table.

The thing about walking that’s better than running is you can talk to several people at once. When you run, you can only talk to one person. But when you walk you can spread yourself around. Or you can talk to no one. You can stare at the teeny tiny shoots of green emerging from the dead leaves. And you can marvel at the miracle of it all.

The miracle of growth. Of that new baby growing into some big kid. Impossible to arrest the march of growth (in March!). My little kid was once that little baby in the stroller.

I miss the baby days. I love babies. Their silliness, chubbiness, simplicity. The way they have no subtext. They feel something, even gas, they express it. They do not censor themselves. I love my grown-up kids. Their witty remarks, their athleticism. But I miss their snuggly baby days. I try to hang on to them as long as possible. I still baby them.

I was a bit depressed  on Friday, having to write about Haiti —  the incredible sadness of losing my coworkers in Haiti. And then worries over Chris’s inevitable decline with Parkinson’s. But then, I see a baby, or feel the sun, or one of my kids hugs me tight, or I walk or ride my bike, or yes, I  run. Or like on Friday, I ducked into a NYC museum and see great art. And I feel better.

These fixes are non-pharmaceutical cures for whatever ails me. Take two walks in the park and call me in the morning. Tell me if you don’t feel the same way. Feel some inevitable March of growth.