Paper Dolls

Upon sharing information with others that Jane has moved to New York City, people have responded with variations of, “Doesn’t get more real world than that.” But Jane would beg to differ.

Living in New York has felt like the equivalent to playing with paper dolls and decorating a dollhouse. It seems to Jane that whatever reality she imagines, New York has an app for that.

Not only is the city brimming with Barbies and Kens (when someone said that New York houses the most beautiful women in the world, they weren’t kidding), but whatever whims or desires an inhabitant of the city has, its almost as if a pop-up store is erected in direct response.

So with that, Jane begins to challenge the idea of ‘real’. In definition, is this chosen word the act of little yellow cabs driving all over every little street and alley, looking to take Jane wherever she wants to go? Or perhaps this simple word means the crossing of paths and rubbing of elbows with major celebrities who are in town for the week, enjoying time at their bi-coastal residence?

Is ‘real’ delicious little café and bread shops that are only a five-minute walk from Jane’s apartment in a quaint Brooklyn neighborhood lined with old-New York cobble streets? Or maybe ‘reality’ is defined by the simple little bodegas that sell the best selection of organic fruits and natural soaps and hand creams. Perhaps that also means that a ‘real world’ mentality goes hand-in-hand with some of the most fascinating outfits and accessories that pass by Jane like a slideshow.

In middle school, Jane would rip out magazine ads and fashion editorials and tape them all over her bedroom walls. Its now as if those walls have come to life and Jane’s reality is one of which she manufactured years ago.

But Jane understands that any reality can be dressed up and the bare bones can be beefed up with fabulous heels and delicious dinners. The reality here for Jane is that fancy wallpaper can adorn any wall and paper dolls dressed in Chanel can occupy any dollhouse – but it’s the beams beneath the structure that deem it real or make-believe.

Every corner Jane turns down, every movie set-esque street and every new dinner spot she enters, she and everyone else who has taken the same steps is looking for an experience – one that cannot be forged without the details and the trimmings.

Just like a city that never stops evolving, New Yorkers create and develop in a synchronized manner. Bringing Jane back to the days when magazine images served as building blocks that erected her teenage years, Jane immerses herself within this always new, yet forever anchored city and wonders, “Which came first: the paper doll or the dollhouse?”

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Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum – La La La, Ho Hum.

Jane recently had a guest visit New York and they got to talking about the sort of topic that seems to always come up when visitors visit New York: success. And within the discussion seemed to emerge the eradication of success through a 12-step program, as alongside the discussion of success, visitors seem to also want to explore the idea of its nemesis: failure.

This 20-something guest to the city of one-night stands, the city that houses short-stints, quick jaunts and even quicker thoughts of permanence began to think of her foundation through exerted effort to gain her balance along the swaying floor of the subway train.

She, quite literally, enumerated the steps that she has not yet taken, which also seems possible to be the very same as counting the steps she has not yet retracted – along the lines of, “I am not married, I don’t have a family, I have never held a corporate job,” as well as, “I rent – I don’t own.”

But hasn’t the point of Jane’s fabricated existence been to enact within our own meager realities the ill necessity of etching our footprints into cemented sidewalk? Isn’t her entire point in praise of not committing the permanent, regrettable mistake?

And within the same breath – continuing on as any cold-blooded, more than half-witted out-of-line twenty-something would – Jane’s guest listed the things that friends of hers have in fact accomplished (if accomplished be the choice word here), and even in fact listed one man’s stints the same way in which a grim reaper would recite one’s life laundry list during a eulogy.

So, in going along with a bucket list of a life half-lived, this said friend of hers has, in fact, already been married, nearly owned a home, and gotten promoted within a job he has held for longer than a year. And on the same token (because we’re not losing our life savings on this reflection here), she explained, “And he has gotten a divorce, withdrawn his signature from a closing contract (as nearly isn’t secured, after all), lost a job and suffered a drug addiction to boot.”

Now, Jane must ask the thing we all must be wondering: with that list – doesn’t that make this friend a success? According to one interpretation, it leads us to wonder, what does in fact define success? Is it the list of things checked off, no matter if after gained, they are then lost?

Or does this bring us back to the failure surrounding the gold medal that allows us to appreciate its gleam, even polishing it during our darkest hour?

And so, Jane leaves her guest with this: Where have you gone and what’s your journey been? Is it along the yellow brick road, or among the stepping-stones, or rather, milestones of accomplishment? Thus, the question must also be asked: without failure, can we even define success?

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The Committed Yogi

(June 3, 2011) Jane attended her second hot yoga session, but she would be lying if she said that she made it through the 30-day commitment. After her fifth consecutive day, she missed three consecutive hot yoga sessions. This, of course, means a few things, but most importantly it proves what avid readers of Jane may whisper about: that Jane is terrible with commitment.

In skipping her hot yoga sessions, and instead working in a few Yoga podcasts in her studio apartment, shows that Jane will find a way to do whatever it is she wants. Additionally, Jane’s sense of mental exhaustion from not doing hot yoga leads Jane to believe that when given the time to think about what one is (or is not) doing leaves way too much room for the said activity to take precedence, even when one does not go through with it.

Which takes her back to the first thing: commitment. And with that, Jane headed back to some more hot yoga classes. When she came to understand that the class she would be taking incorporated martial arts into the vinyasa sequence, she immediately thought, “I am going to hate this.” The simple words, “martial arts” made Jane think that the instructor would be boisterous and full of ego. But more than thoughts about the instructor, Jane worried that she wouldn’t be able to engage and that she would be inadequate.

Now isn’t that the problem with commitment? Don’t people walk away from things that challenge how well (or not) they will perform? How obvious and how unfair — it seemed that any limitation Jane felt she might experience was being projected onto the instructor.

Upon that judgment, Jane began chatting with a girl whose piercings, tattoos and colored hair piqued her interest. She told Jane that she sometimes teaches this exact class at the studio, but today she was participating as a student.

And so it was explained, the sometimeinstructor slash oftentimes-student said something that stuck with Jane — she loved beginners. Apparently, this tri-colored, multi-tatted yogi actually wished that she could be a beginner again. So, it seems, to be the master of one’s craft may actually leave one with the desire to be back at the drawing board. Does this mean, Jane wondered, that the final destination isn’t as enticing as square one?

Maybe this is how couples in long-term relationships feel when they find themselves wishing for the newness of their bond, a nervous excitement that comes with unfamiliar territory. Or maybe this is how mothers and fathers feel from the pang of want that they experience when seeing a newborn after spending a lifetime raising their own child?

To be in it and to not be in it at all — to love the hot yoga class, while also hating it. Perhaps this is something like the constant moment of “now” being experienced by each and every individual, in as many different ways as the mind can fathom — all at the very same time.

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Yoga in the City

(May 27, 2011) Yesterday was Jane’s first day of a 30-day journey into the realm of hot yoga. When she registered for her first class, she was sure she’d get a good workout and would have something to show for it at the end of the 30 days. But little did she know that she just might come to find more than a smaller pant size.

Upon entering the class, Jane was met with an instructor whose energy complemented the energy of every individual’s in the room. And the first thing she thought as she introduced herself to the new encounter was, “I am going to pass out.” The instructor began class with the Jay-Z song, “New York.” “In light of recent events,” the instructor explained, “today we celebrate New York.”

As Jane moved through the initial vinyasa sequence, the instructor punctuated each pose with one word that defined “Why We Love New York.” Down dog — energy. Plank – noise. Chaturanga – culture. Up Dog – food. Warrior one – opportunity. Warrior two – dirt. And as she moved within her flow, Jane noticed that she wasn’t keeping up with the others in the room. Then she noticed that no one was keeping up with anyone, each person was set to his or her own pace — performing his or her own vinyasa flow set to the same time.

At times, she would lock into a position with someone diagonal to her, or in front of her. And after quickly locking in together, the two would just as rapidly unfold into another pose and become once again out of synch. The instructor would blurt statements like “Just do it, or don’t do it. You have a choice to make. What’s your experience today going to be?”

In being connected through disconnection, the continuum of energy became rhythmic in only the way a yoga class can make sense of it. As the instructor led the class into an inversion, uncontrollable streams of sweat shot up Jane’s nose like a bad swimmer making her way into the deep end.

“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” With Jane being temporarily blinded by the sweat pouring into her eyes, she figured she’d just take her instructor’s word for it. “You think you’re suffering?” the instructor continued, “I’ve been chewing the same piece of gum since 3 p.m.” As Jane’s body shook while she counted down the seconds of holding the half moon pose, she listened as the instructor prodded, “Do it. Because your body can.”

The class ended with all of the students lying in corpse pose while sirens squealing and horns honking behaved as the seam that wove together the city’s makeup outside the studio walls. As Jane lie there, she realized that all those in the room with her loved the same things that she loved about New York. The “New Yorker,” a prototype of an individual that existed upon the platform of a conviction rather than on the wing of an idea, actually relegated New York for the same reasons as Jane: for the 24- hour food delivery and the noise.

Tears began to stream down Jane’s sweaty face as she lie there, feeling something click within her. The instructor beckoned the class to let go of whatever it was that they were holding onto. She told them that if they left the class with the same thing they came in with, well, then she felt bad for them.

Before the class was dismissed, everyone joined in unity as they exerted a final, lengthy OM — an OM that Jane was too bashful to let out in its entirety. She slightly let it out of her mouth as she participated in listening to the others rather than let her own innards go. The thing is, in New York, everyone hears you and isn’t listening at the very same time.

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Umbrellas in the Sand

(April 22, 2011) It’s no secret that Jane is the type who leaves things — with an enhanced capability of cutting all ties, of wiping the slate clean. In columns past, Jane wrote of the osprey bird, free and wild, visiting Ocean City on a migratory basis, seemingly passing through based merely upon instinct or habit. Jane wrote of the difficulty that came with growing roots in a foundation made of sand.

And if instinct be that draw, well Jane must digress. The fact that the osprey comes back at all should shed light on something. This bird, known for its survival tactics, knows where it must go to get what it needs. Unlike a social vampire who takes without giving, the osprey instead revisits Ocean City, always circling back to replenish what it has taken.

When Jane moved to Ocean City, she was leaving a place. And in turn, Jane has left Ocean City for a new and very different place. Although Jane felt she was becoming complacent, she still knew that staying would be harder than leaving.

So many days Jane spent staring at the water that lined the back of the restaurant, looking up at the sky, and standing in the service station with her fellow server girl friends, talking about everything and anything in an attempt to pass the time. Minutes, even seconds, would seem to drone on and on. And it’s in those minutes, in those tiny milliseconds, that one comes to terms with the person he or she is.

It was during those moments that Jane conjured friendships between those girls. Loyalties that she knows will transcend time, place, tiffs and standard life changes. It’s as if they all had a home in that service station, spending New Year’s Eve celebrations, Easter Sunday’s, Mother’s Days and sometimes the day after Christmas mornings together.

The managers and bartenders served as their role models and caretakers — some even took on a parental role, no matter if they’d like to accept it or not. Maybe waitressing and bartending aren’t that big of a deal to some, and maybe some others won’t ever understand. There is a bond of loyalty that was formed, a loyalty adorned with random bouts of stress, irritation and doubt. But the foundation that Jane and those girls stood on, likened to umbrellas standing upright in sand, remains the groundwork for the brick and mortar that essentially had no walls, knew no boundaries.

Those walls that housed Jane for three years, those walls that encompassed her comfort and her angst, those walls — she will never want to paint over the memories emblazoned upon those walls. And Jane will always think of the way she felt when she first arrived back at the restaurant where she worked in college and she will align that person with who she is now. The image reflected is not herself, yet it is the ghost of those entangled in her life during those three years in Ocean City.

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Pro, Con, Pro

(March 25, 2011) After living in the city for about a month and a half now, Jane has bouts of actually feeling as if she has somewhat gained her bearings. And then something happens, something that must be normal to everyone else around her, but something that makes her think, “Where AM I?”

Now Jane’s grandmother used to tell her that her natural palate for finer things might somehow pose a conflict for her later in life. And we’re not just talking about how any other metal besides those deemed precious give her a rash (as her affinity for costume jewelry is oftentimes worth the itch).

As the finer things in life somehow always come down to one’s specific taste, in this particular case it apparently comes down to paper or plastic. Trader Joe’s — ah, upon realizing the coveted grocery store was only a block from her apartment, Jane became filled with excitement. But whoever thought it would be a grocery store that disoriented and overwhelmed our lady heroine?

Yet, as she saunters in on this particular Saturday night, she almost trips over the double-sided line of customers waiting in line to pay. And now when it comes to something as mundane as a grocery store, Jane has to ask herself if maybe this chaotic feeling comes from not being part of society, by its traditional definition, for nearly three years.

And meditating on such a thought leads Jane to the conclusion that she was actually more than not in society; Jane was actually within the antithesis of society. “Crowded” to Jane in the month of March had to do with the number of seagulls perched along the empty benches lining the desolate Boardwalk. It certainly had nothing to do with waiting in a line that wrapped all the way around the grocery store isles for a few cups of lentil soup and some coffee grinds.

And this little hot spot of discussion, Trader Joe’s, houses hundreds of people at a time, with items literally flying off the shelves and being urgently restocked by staffers in Hawaiian-style floral shirts. But alas, her pesto and veggies burgers were sold out for the night.

Just as Jane begins to settle into line, the front of a stranger’s cart knocks into her from behind. Glancing around, Jane sees that the owner of the cart may not even realize that she has hit someone in front of her. And when Jane is bumped a second time, she resigns herself to the fact that maybe this is what she gets for going to the grocery store on a Saturday night. Apparently on a Saturday night in New York, everything is a hot spot.

Now if sorority life taught her anything (wait for it — it did), it taught her diplomacy. And in the tried and true traditional fashion of “pro, con, pro,” Jane can mull through her mind all of the things that are unsettling to her, all of the things that have miffed her, yet somehow always end on a pro – like, by the time she works her way through the grocery line, at least the veggie burgers will be restocked.

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Put Forever in a Tea Cup

(March 11, 2011) Jane didn’t realize how utterly short a minute actually was until she encountered one from New York. Now, there’s a lot of talk that has been going on for quite some time about a New York minute, whether it’s being heralded in a Hollywood movie or being ridiculed in an unrequited love song.

But for Jane, the New York minute she has recently been introduced to told a different story. Within the timeframe that Jane has grabbed her keys and jaunted down the three flights of stairs of her apartment building, she has already received a once-over by more than one person. And now add 15 seconds for digestion. Jane isn’t used to such an obvious onslaught or outward admiration of her attire.

Based on her monthlong immersion in such a city, Jane feels that people in New York can be robust, dismissing or all encompassing. And all in just one New York minute. Jane has yet to understand how the girl walking alongside her on the sidewalk doesn’t even notice she is next to her. And in an instant (or was it?) they’ve gone separate ways.

And Jane is not sure if she will ever figure out how the same man who is camped out every morning on the corner of Smith & Bergen goes unnoticed by everyone else. In this instance, New York minutes don’t seem to exist — his presence seems so permanent. And since Jane added in her head that if she gives him a dollar each day, he will have $365 of her salary, the sum of those parts still won’t help him. Apparently, New York minutes aren’t free, either.

But that alone doesn’t compare to the feeling of being knocked down a peg by the girl holding a fabulous vintage handbag, which perfectly complements her incredible shoe choice consisting of black suede booties peppered with blue rhinestones. This all might sound very intense, but in a New York minute, it’s brilliant.

And amongst this brilliance, Jane comes to find that work is an up and down journey, too; similar to a skilled martial artist, it builds her up and swiftly breaks her down. It’s a bad relationship she already knows she’ll forgive in the morning.

And then there’s the experience of the subway being held for what seems to be an eternity, especially if Jane has timed her morning commute to the last second, but alas, it’s simply a New York minute. After standing in the middle of the subway car, in an immobile train, after exchanging quizzical looks with fellow passengers who also wonder, “Are we there yet?” Jane checks the time on the digital clock that displays each street stop as they arrive.

And so it seems, the clock reveals that it’s only been one full minute. Jane guesses that when one has somewhere to be, a minute can seem like a purgatory sentence. And then Jane must wonder, what does time feel like when one has nowhere to be?

Everything runs through Jane’s mind that she could have accomplished during this standstill period of time, as time was frozen within the frame of one minute. And then Jane understands — she has not even one New York minute to spare.

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