35 Before 35: A Check-In

Playing with Leaves. Photo by Scott Sawyer.

It is September 23rd. Yesterday was the first day of fall. One of my closest friends turns 35 today. I turn 35 in four months and two days, which means I have that long to finish knocking out my 35 Before 35. And, as is the case with daunting to-do lists, I have saved the hardest for last.

To sum it all up, between now and my 35th birthday I still have to: Get Out of Debt, Write a Play, Go To Brazil, Volunteer at an Animal Shelter, Run at Least 3 Miles Without Wanting to Die, Read Infinite Jest, Go Apple-Picking, Paint Something I Own a Great Color, Get Another Pet (Even a Goldfish), Make a Little Film, Make a Scrapbook of Our Trip to Italy, and Play a Sports Game That is Not Bowling.

You, dear reader, would not be pessimistic to right now be thinking—with appropriate sarcasm—”Good. Luck.” Which means you may have underestimated me; though in all fairness, I may have overestimated myself (t’would not have been the first time). Here’s where I am with all of these items:

  1. Get Out of Debt – I finally met with a financial pro about this. While my debt is still there and not tiny, I have made significant strides and the end is nigh. Totally still do-able.
  2. Write a Play – I wrote the first scene. I wrote out the plot. I’m not sure I like it so I may ditch it and start again with a new topic. But the point is, I started.
  3. Go To Brazil – This may end up getting revised to “Go Somewhere Foreign and Awesome.” BUT, the hubs and I have been actively looking into Brazil and if we can find a ticket that costs under $1,300 round trip, we may bite the bullet at holiday time, if it doesn’t render #1 impossible.
  4. Volunteer at an Animal Shelter – This one is in limbo. I say that not from lack of motivation or desire, but because I hear rigorous training is often involved. So if I can at least begin the process by 35, I will consider this a win.
  5. Run at Least 3 Miles Without Wanting to Die – Within sight. I can now do a mile without much issue. Serious runners might guffaw at that statement, but anyone who has gone from hating running and sucking at it to being addicted can remember what it felt like at the beginning. Once I can do three miles without passing out, I may switch to swimming. Less sweat, among other things.
  6. Read Infinite Jest – I am on page 94. Which is like saying I am at the base of Mount Everest looking up. This is a book for which there are blogs on how to read it. There are sites devoted to its character mapping. The footnotes alone are a couple hundred pages. This book, in short, is a bitch. (But apparently, a very rewarding one. I mean, how great does it feel once you’ve climbed the mountain?) This is what I get for spending a month of my life on the Twilight series.
  7. Go Apple-Picking – Plans are afoot. We have a car now, which makes me want to drive everywhere, all the time. Upstate orchards here I come.
  8. Paint Something I Own a Great Color – I have identified the item. I have cleared it with the hubs. I have researched. Now I just need to buy some paint and block off a Saturday.
  9. Get Another Pet (Even a Goldfish) – This will likely just happen one day. I’ll walk by a Petco and walk out with a fish. Or a turtle. I would kind of like a turtle. I would kill for a dog but that is just one too many commitments for this year.
  10. Make a Little Film – I have a great idea for this. Whether I can make it happen amidst the hubbub of the rest of this list remains to be seen.
  11. Make a Scrapbook of Our Trip to Italy – This is halfway done and sitting out to be finished. Like everything else. But again, it’s started. Half the battle.
  12. Play a Sports Game That is Not Bowling – We went out armed with tennis rackets to the neighborhood courts yesterday only to be told we need to buy a pass (elsewhere) at $15 to even get to sign up to maybe play one day, if there’s room. This was not appealing, so we may just take the aforementioned car to a town that is friendlier to non-athletes who just want to play a friggin’ sport for a day. Sheesh.

Now, it’s entirely possible that I will write a post around December throwing in the towel on some of these doozies, and if that time comes, I’m okay with that. I made the list, I set the deadline, I reserve the right to amend it at any time. None of this stuff is worth it if it ends up just feeling like homework. The point of it is to make sure I break my traffic pattern by doing things that I actually want to do. Because they’re good for me or because they’re fun, but preferably both. The minute this stops being fun, I will gladly cut my losses.

One last thought.

The other day I was staring at my 35 Before 35 list and it occurred to me that I surely am not the only person in the world doing this. So I explored. Wouldn’t you know it: I found a few other people’s 35 Before 35 lists. The fascinating thing about them? They are from all over and yet all have a bit in common with mine. Take Meg’s in northern Michigan, and her mentions of making a short film, writing more, reading more, running more and finishing projects. Or Jenny’s on Pinterest (love the idea of having a Pinterest version, mental note to copy that) and her travel plans and running goals. (What is it about running?)

But wait. Does this mean we are all unoriginal 30-somethings? Or that we adult people just want simple pleasure out of life? None of us had “get a promotion at work” or “eat more takeout” on our lists. We’re all yearning for the adventure that seemed so possible in our twenties, but not just that. Meg wants to learn to sew. Jenny wants to forgive someone. Maybe we’d all settle for the satisfaction of working with our hands and unburdening ourselves from all the weight we put on our own shoulders. Maybe we all live for the balance between little and big. Before 35 (or name-your-age), maybe some of us just want to better understand what it is that we love to do that, for whatever reason, we aren’t doing. And maybe some of us will find that some things we always thought we should love and want, we actually don’t. (Got my eye on you, #6.)

It’s that last part that’s hard for us Type As. For our first 34 years, we just wanted to do…well, everything. Mostly because for so much of that time, we thought we had all the time in the world.

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The Only Way We Can Live

I sit here, watching Barack Obama’s DNC speech via YouTube on my Apple TV. I listened to Bill Clinton’s the other day on my headphones at work. Lately, with the ignorance permeating the American climate, I have been feeling the stirring of old familiar convictions, and I’ve been drawn to these orators.

I remember when I was 14 years old, in November of 1992, I showed up to school wearing a Bill Clinton T-shirt and covered in Clinton-Gore buttons that I gave out to my classmates and teachers over the course of Election Day. (You have to admit, such a move is bold as a 14-year-old, considering the potential for ridicule is exponential. But no one teased me, they just took my buttons and gave me high-fives.) When I was in graduate school, in 2004, my mother took several weeks off work to move to New Hampshire and campaign for John Kerry, or rather against George W. Bush. I have voted in every presidential election since I’ve been able to vote. I am a middle class citizen who can afford such things as Apple TV, whose mother can afford to leave work to campaign for her beliefs, and who has not quite given up on her government—certainly not this administration—at least enough that I still want to hear what all these guys have to say for themselves. And every once in awhile I like what I hear.

I like what I’ve heard at the DNC. I like that Bill is the same old Bill, and told it like it is. (“Arithmetic.”) I like that Barack spoke of citizenship, and “the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations.” I like that the message of my party at this convention is that “we’re all in this together;” as idealized as that might be, it’s something to strive for, and not fight against. (What choice do we all have but to move forward, anyway?) I like that the women (Michelle, oh my!) and men of my party stand with their heads squarely on their shoulders, in front of a sea of different-colored faces, casually dismissing empty accusations, and moving people to tears instead of inciting people’s rage.

While the orators of my party didn’t leave much to be desired, there was a guy in 1966 who may have said some of this even better. Of course, this was back in a time when there was still something romantic to be found in the words of politicians. His speech came up at my office the other day, when we were discussing citizenship, and the divisive “us-them” mentality that seems so stark today. I’d heard of the speech, but never heard it, and a co-worker recited some lines that gave me the chills. I immediately looked it up: the Day of Affirmation speech that Bobby Kennedy gave in Cape Town, to a group of South African students. The speech that made “ripple of hope” a phrase always associated with RFK. My mother worked for his campaign too, and was there in the Ambassador Hotel the day he died, ten years before I was born. We had a picture of him hanging in our house as I was growing up.

I’ve found different versions of this speech online. You can find the extensive news-release version here, and the pieces that Ted Kennedy used to eulogize his brother here. Both are worth reading all the way through, but some of the best pieces from the eulogy (below) can’t be found in the published transcript, for reasons not worth wondering about. Both are awe-inspiring.

…Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change. And I believe that in this generation those with the courage to enter the moral conflict will find themselves with companions in every corner of the globe.

For the fortunate among us, there is the temptation to follow the easy and familiar paths of personal ambition and financial success so grandly spread before those who enjoy the privilege of education. But that is not the road history has marked out for us. Like it or not, we live in times of danger and uncertainty. But they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history. All of us will ultimately be judged and as the years pass we will surely judge ourselves, on the effort we have contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which our ideals and goals have shaped that effort.

The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of new ideas and bold projects. Rather it will belong to those who can blend vision, reason and courage in a personal commitment to the ideals and great enterprises of American Society.

Our future may lie beyond our vision, but it is not completely beyond our control. It is the shaping impulse of America that neither fate nor nature nor the irresistible tides of history, but the work of our own hands, matched to reason and principle, that will determine our destiny. There is pride in that, even arrogance, but there is also experience and truth. In any event, it is the only way we can live.

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Image Interlude: Amazing Things

Found a new favorite Facebook page, called Amazing Things in the World, featuring just that. There’s no rhyme or reason to it; it boasts images of manmade creations and natural beings, some images contain much more information than others (like the ones that just contain the caption “Awesome!”) and some are way more interesting than others.  Yes, there are a million websites like this, but this one is the chosen source for today’s Image Interlude: some of my favorite recent photos from the page, with their accompanying text. I’m a big believer in awe, wonderment and being humbled by one’s larger surroundings. I suppose this post is like the beginning of one big visual bucket list…maybe I’ll keep adding to it.

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American Humans

I write this one from Dallas-Fort Worth airport, where I am stuck after a four-day long business trip. After several delays my flight was cancelled and I was booked on another one leaving four hours later. Leaving me with nothing to do but gorge myself on Häagen-Dazs smoothies (didn’t even know they made those!), plug into the WiFi and catch up with myself. Truly, we live in a fantastic time. I was so not looking forward to killing half my waking day in the confines of a crowded airport, particularly one swarming with cooped-up toddlers, but my anxiety was swiftly quelled by spending a few bucks on a T-Mobile connection, et voila: Pandora saves me from the whiny little Texans surrounding me, I have a magazine stand at my fingertips, and I am not only not bored, I am productive.

Having this kind of mellow time at the end of a trip in a new town does give one a chance to reflect on her impression of the place. I had never been to any part of Texas before and Dallas was a nice intro. But it is fascinating to uncover any town’s personality, and if you come from New York, when you visit other cities you are inevitably reminded anew of how unique the place you live is. As for my time here in Dallas, I had great Mexican, great barbecue, great quail; I survived the heat; I toured the arts district and marveled at the architecture; I bore witness to the only freestanding theater that Frank Lloyd Wright ever designed; I rode a golf cart onto the lawn of the Cotton Bowl and I explored a butterfly house at Discovery Gardens in Fair Park. I Did Dallas. (No, not in a Debbie kind of way—shame on you.)

So I can confidently say that one of the weirdest things about Dallas in August is the utter lack of people. Wherever you go, nary a soul is to be found on the sidewalks. I found this disconcerting, coming from a place that has more people per square inch than most do per square mile. Sure, the heat is oppressive and the locals love their huge air-conditioned cars, but how do I get a flavor for this place without scoping out its inhabitants? What kinds of shoes do the women wear? Where are all the smokers?? I never thought I’d say this, but I miss all the people.

And so I have one of my rare moments of New York sentimentality. As I’ve explained, I am not a die-hard New Yorker. I enjoy getting out of the city with frequency. But if there is anything all New York dwellers can profess with great certainty and pride, it’s that people-watching is one of the best ways to pass time in our city. It’s almost impossible to be bored, and it has nothing to do with plugging into anything. What I am currently getting online in an airport, I can get off my city streets, any day, any month. New York is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to personality.

If you don’t live in New York, or if you do and you’re somewhere else and homesick, get a taste through this blog: Humans of New York, or its Facebook page. These are the kinds of things we get to see every day. This is our normal; our August, January and May. For all its faults, New York is still—for better or worse—downright inspirational. And for all my qualms with it, I will probably live there until I can say that about the next place I choose to live in. So far I haven’t found that place. At least, not on this side of the pond. Not yet.

Sorry, dear Dallas. I had a blast on the visit, and I forgive you for trying to beat me down with your subtropic temperatures. But I’m a New Yorker and therefore pretty tough to beat down, and my gritty, crowded streets with all their inspiring humans are beckoning me back home.

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Back in the Saddle: 35 Before 35

Friends, I’ve neglected my dear blog for about three solid weeks—a near record since starting it—but with a good reason, and its name is marriage.

My nuptials were about a week and a half ago today, and amazingly, it feels like it’s been a year. Weddings are such happy times, but what the cynics say is true, in a sense: it is only one day, and it goes by in a flash. As an event planner I’m familiar with how this works—the preparation for months toward a single moment in time, and the inevitable deflation after it flies by. And after one’s wedding, this melancholic cloud settles in with new intensity (more so, I think, when your wedding goes perfectly, like mine did). On our “mini-moon,” my fian—er, husband!—said he missed the brief time in which we were special. There’s a tangible glow that surrounds you when you are the bride or groom, and once our day passed, we were mere mortals again, having glimpsed that starry feeling for what seemed like a millisecond.

The weight on my shoulders has been slightly different; I simply don’t have a wedding to look forward to anymore. I realized that I’ve always felt like a young girl as long as those major life events were still ahead of me. Now, this big one is in the past, and—like I posted about months ago—there’s a feeling of sweet mourning that accompanies this departure from my old self. The mourning of a rite of passage that will never come again.

The good news is that I was able to enjoy it while it was here. I was truly in the moment, soaking it in. Many brides can’t say the same thing, and usually, I can’t either.

The other good news is that in the last three weeks I knocked out a good chunk (4!) out of my 35 Before 35 list! A quick recap:

#15: Take a flower design class. Several weeks ago, I purchased what seemed like a good deal on Living Social with a private teacher who had a decent online rep. I boldly scheduled the class for the weekend before the wedding, which turned out to only be a slight mistake—an emergency meeting with my own florist making me about 15 minutes late. I would have taken pains to avoid this had I realized that this class was only an hour, instead of two as I expected. Furthermore, I probably wouldn’t have paid to take a 60-minute class in the first place. We got to cut some flowers, clean them, stick them artfully in a mason jar, ask some questions, and be on our way. This counts enough for me to cross it off my list, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a bit gypped.

#16: Be the subject of a photo shoot that makes me feel beautiful. You might wonder why this was on the list. Suffice to say, I don’t consider myself to be the most photogenic of people, and as a former actress, this has been a source of true frustration for me. Headshot after headshot I dropped small fortunes on turned out only slightly more flattering than the last, and the more makeup and hairspray that was piled onto me, the less like me I looked. Well, like I said, a wedding makes you feel like a celebrity for a day. Now I understand how beautiful famous people get that way. Two words: teamwork and props. (Yes, money buys both, and you also need to have nothing else to do but get pretty for a few days.) And while I don’t have all the pictures back, I sure felt beautiful having them taken. Here’s a glimpse.

#24: Get a facial. Yet another deal purchased online, this one on DailyCandy, which is better at vetting its vendors than other sites devoted to only flash sales. I went to the posh Joanna Vargas salon, which normally I would never be able to afford, and it was blissful (sorry, Bliss). Seriously, I don’t know how I waited so long to let someone with little Tinkerbell fingers rub squishy stuff all over my face for an hour. And my face was, in fact, glowing the day after. Will I make facials a regular part of life? Uh. Maybe once my bank account recovers from recent previously mentioned events. Or I may just keep them tucked away in that luxury category, for when I need spoiling.

And the last one?  #26: Make a brand new friend.

As I was going through my list, I realized: I’ve done this several times over this year. Having a new job helps.

I’m just about 50% through my 35 Before 35 list now, folks. And July 25th was my half-birthday—you do the math. Got some whoppers to conquer in the coming months (Infinite Jest is proving to be the Kilimanjaro of novels), so wish me luck.

It’s good to be back.

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Summer Bloggin’: The Future Is Ours

I will let this video do all the work of this post. What is summer if not a time for lazy optimism?

The Future is Ours from Michael Marantz on Vimeo.

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Summer Bloggin’: Garden of Your Mind

This week is a summer blog series quickie.

A lot of us grew up with Mister Rogers. I can’t change from a blazer to a cardigan at work without thinking of him. For those of you who also spent your elementary years with PBS rather than DVR, did you see this lovely little tribute yet?

This may be the first example I’ve seen of Auto-Tune making something heartwarming.


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