Failing? Fabulously!

Selling Your Soul – that entrepreneurial shindig in NY this month whose scholarship I was anglin‘ for? I didn’t get it, but I’m not letting it stop me from building on my dream!  In fact, the 10 winners (The Hula Hooper is my fav!) were so inspiring that it’s sending me right back to my fire-starting desk to get even clearer on what I want and why I want it.  I must give thanks to Danielle Laporte and Marie Forleo for igniting my drive to create when I was merely smoldering – sometimes it’s not the ‘thing’ we’re pursuing that we really want, it’s the lessons we gather along the way.  I haven’t failed; I’m refining my focus and discovering my resilience.

Speaking of giving thanks, that oh-so-powerful fireball of gratitude is shooting through my hemisphere and I want to share some of my recent good fortune.  The more I dare, the more I am rewarded – it’s as simple as that.  Throw in some appreciation, and I’m unstoppable.  These past few weeks have seen my cuppeth overflow.

La Prairie Spa At The Ritz

Right before I left for NYC a few weeks ago, I found a gift certificate for La Prairie spa in the Ritz-Carlton given to me by a woman I helped a few years ago when I was working in the restaurant at the Museum of Modern Art.  Yay for me!  I look at the date: expired.  Boo for me.  I decide to call anyway, and ask if they’d accept it. (I still have a gift certificate for the Russian & Turkish Baths on 10th Street from ’96.  Note to friends – I promise to start using these more timely – hint, hint.)  Long story short, after explaining my situation to Linzee at La Prairie, she said they’d be happy to honor it – for ANY spa service I wished!  So I scheduled an hour and a half massage for the following week and tried not to feel like I was cheating on my regular massage therapist (who’s on break, pregnant with twins). I walk into the Ritz-Carlton, never touching a door (love those white gloved doormen!), and the next three hours are indulgent bliss:  Would you like a glass of Champagne?  Here’s your plush robe and slippers.  Strong hands, aromatic oils, custom music chosen from a 2-page menu, then a steam with cucumber slices for my eyes and a plethora of pampering to doll me up for the rest of the afternoon.  Ahhhhhh.  As I head back to reception to settle the gratuity, Linzee informs me that I’m “all taken care of,” that even the tip for my masseuse is included.  Nothing is more gratifying than being on the receiving end of such gracious and generous hospitality.  After years of working for Danny Meyer, I appreciate anew what he meant when he taught us – If you’re going to give, give graciously.  Everyone should have such good fortune to give this way, and to receive so, as well.

Another wonderful day I spent was with a dear friend who lives on the most glorious block in the city, 10th street between 5th & 6th, in a light-drenched apartment that’s beautifully and lovingly appointed.  She prepared a delicious vegetarian lunch for us that tasted of Italy and as we feasted, we caught each other up on our futures that are moving ever-so-gratefully towards us.  It fills me with happiness to see people I love turn towards their power, their voice, their truth.  As we emerge into our own best visions of ourselves, and leave behind the agendas of others, our unique beauty is unleashed.  To be witness to another’s hatching is wondrous and humbling.  (And I got some good puppy-lovin‘ in there, too.) There’s not much sweeter than a curled up animal on your lap to coax forth our gentleness, nor an environment of friendship and safety to acknowledge those softer, more vulnerable sides we keep hidden.  So much gratitude…

It’s where those soft places meet the fiery ones, where success meets failure, when we allow our strengths and weaknesses to inform each other and collaborate, that wholeness begins.  Sometimes I need that push to define my desires more clearly, that poke to unearth my shy tenderness…and sometimes I need to be reminded to both give and receive fully.  For all the clarity I pray for, I’m thankful each time it materializes.  That it appears in the form of failure is a surprise, but I’m embracing it.  Besides, some of the greats, like Einstein, Edison, and Churchill were both successes AND failures.  Not such bad company…

Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm. ~ W. Churchill

Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up. ~ T.A. Edison

My $250/Month East Village Apartment, Ingenue-Style

We always romanticize our first time, holding it up high in our hands, turning it this way and that, allowing the stories we eventually tell about it to filter through the prism of all that followed.  Three times I’ve moved to New York City, but it was the first when unbridled exuberance met myth and monster.  I secured a one-third share in a one bedroom railroad apartment in the East Village back in the early nineties, claiming the weekdays, while my upstate roommates alternated weekends. The New School of Social Research offered their full curriculum for non-matriculated students, and here is where I pushed against the borders of my known world.

Four days out of seven, I’d bounce into morning in the dingy, dark room on east 10th street like it was a palatial pre-war on the upper east side.  I never saw its structural or aesthetic flaws, but that probably was more attributed to its soot-blackened windows than any lack of observation.  It didn’t matter anyway – I was living in NYC in my early twenties!  What did I expect for only $250 a month?  Before I’d head into the fray and wail three floors down, I’d put the dented teapot on the sole electric burner, turn the greasy knob to the left, and plumb the dorm-sized fridge below for leftovers.  Usually there’d be pork lo mein or maybe some pad Thai in one of those ubiquitous Chinese to-go boxes and the room would stink like charred pig and soy sauce as I ate standing up, plastic fork scraping my unbrushed teeth.  I hadn’t yet developed coffee addiction; no caffeine was necessary as adrenaline anchored me to the rooftops as I swung through those early days of kick and bliss.  I was free!  I could do anything I wanted.

I’d hop into the yellow- and black-tiled tub, turn on the sputtering shower head and surrender to the warm wash of the chlorine-scented cascade, rinsing last night’s revelry down the drain.  I unsuccessfully tried to ignore the mildew on the shower curtain, as my nose scrunched at its musty intrusion.  I’d just swing by a bodega on my way home and buy a new one;  house cleaning was certainly not going to encroach on my weekday jaunts around the Village.  By the time the jasmine tea was brewed, I was slipping off my damp towel and into the softened leather of my black cowboy boots.  I donned the rest of my city uniform, inhaling the lingering lavender of my white tee as I pulled it over my head and secured the cool, metal buttons of my Levi’s.  I squatted a few times to stretch out the stiff, rough denim, giving me some wiggle room.  I’d check my backside in the full-length mirror on the inside hall closet door and smile.  I looked good.  I felt good.  I was ready for anything.

Down The Road A Piece

On my drive back from metropolitan madness last week, I notice almost all the trees are bare here in tranquil, small town Maine.  My eye immediately goes to the few with their golden and siena leaves still intact.  There’s more trees here than people and more people in the big, bad city than here and this makes me wonder if I turned the world upside down and inside out if it would all balance in the end, like some topographical quadratic equation.  Yeesh, all those malls and Applebees I passed must have addled my brain.

These musings suddenly disappear as I am accosted by the loud grating sound of metal on asphalt.  I pull over to the side of the road and jump out, trying to ascertain if my trunk has just fallen off or if I ran over some kid’s bicycle and I’m dragging it down the street.  What could have made such a ruckus?  I look at the rear end of my car.  Oh.  My muffler.  Greaaaaaat.  I just left my mechanic in the rearview 400 miles ago and now I break down?  I want my money back!  And perhaps some big burly guy to come rescue me, too.

Even though it seems I live up here now, don’t be fooled – I’m not fully committed. It takes me a long time to say ‘I do’ to a place and I’ve never uttered those words under oath, either.  I have yet to hang curtains anywhere I have ever lived and I still have those Empire State plates marking me as an outsider.  My accountant, dentist and mechanic are all back in New York and Connecticut;  I don’t take lightly who gets to look in my mouth, under my hood and through my bank statements, you know?  So when I visit the old hometown, I schedule back to back appointments, looking to pick up that 7/10 split.  Therefore, my car had just been checked out, winterized and given the stamp of approval.  But I guess anyone could have missed that rusty muffler clamp.  Right?

As my luck would have it, and thankfully it usually does, I am parked only a mile from home.  Maybe I’ll walk there, grab a hanger and improvise.  I look up at the house in front of me.  Or maybe, just maybe, the big burly guy lives there.  I bop up on the porch and knock on the door.

A pretty woman about my age answers, peers over my shoulder, and sees my dilemma.  She welcomes me in and we introduce ourselves.  Not the knight in shining armor I was hoping for, but I’m happy there was someone home.  I still have my Maslowian priorities in order.  As she searches for a hanger, I scan the rooms:  there are strewn toys (young kids), a craft-covered table (the creative type), and bold-colored wall paint (confidence).  She returns without one, and I realize that most metal hangers originate at the dry cleaners and this isn’t exactly the cashmere and 3-piece suit kind of town.  However, it turns out she’s a jewelry maker and goes one better when she hands me some wire and a pair of pliers. MacGyver never had it so good.  A few moments later, my car is jury-rigged in designer style, but now my white jeans have the dark grey imprint of the road on the butt.  Ah well…

As I return her tools, she invites me in again, and hands me her card with a local mechanic’s information handwritten on the back.

“Ask for John,” she says, “He’s good.  We’ve been going to him for years.”

“Thanks,” I reply, thrilled to have a local’s recommendation.  Maybe I will settle in here.  Even more so, though, I feel that this woman could be a friend.  Her home is comfortable, and she’s clearly personable and helpful.  I make a mental note of returning her kindly gesture with some homemade carrot cake.  I hope she’s not gluten-free.  Or on a diet.

“So, where do you live?” she asks.

“Just up the road, fourth house on the right, after the mill road turnoff.  White farmhouse with the red barn,”  I say.  Not that this is distinguishing enough in rural America.  Every fifth house fits that description.  But it’s a small enough town that she nods in agreement, and probably knows exactly where I’m talking about.  Everyone knows where everyone else lives it seems, whether they know you or not.  One of the most common exchanges I’ve had around here is people explaining where they live.  I met a bird hunter and his dog a few weeks ago and after chatting for only 15 minutes he, unsolicited, described how to get to his place.

“My wife and I are retired now and usually home.  Stop by any time – if the red pickup’s in the driveway, go ahead and knock,” he says, good-naturedly.

And the other week I was taking care of some bank business and the manager helping me detailed the route from my house to his, after we realized we lived off the same road.  We’re practically neighbors.  This information comes after an hour of chit-chat:  my life as a writer, his life raising four young boys, discovering we both know Brooklyn.  But an hour!  Can you imagine?  I’ve never spent that much time before in a bank, even when I applied for my mortgage.  I guess the recession has upped the hospitality quotient a bit.  Or maybe it was our shared pizza reverie.

All these intersections with all these people:  are they random?  Is it coincidence that I broke down in front of someone’s house with whom I could likely develop a friendship?  You may say there’s no such thing, but I love finding relation in a seemingly chance event. It could have been any other spot on my eight-hour route.  That I drove almost all the way home and broke down right in front of her house, well, there’s a lot of trees in the forest.  But the trees with the leaves still on it, they’re the ones that catch my eye, and the ones I end up sitting under.  I look for serendipity and therefore, I find it.  Or maybe the people around here just look out for each other, making connections because we are few and far between.  I don’t know.  But I think I might go check out some curtains tomorrow.

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