The One With the Tourists

The New York City subway has a much different feel on the weekends than during standard commuting hours. Belligerent, jaded locals cede the trains to tourists, which is fun on several levels: A. Tourists are generally nicer. B. They try so hard to “blend in.” (Note to tourists: Wearing your backpack on your front is a dead giveaway.) C. They congregate in groups around subway maps trying to figure out how to go cross town. (Short answer: walk.)

It was on a 2 train through Midtown Manhattan one recent Saturday afternoon that we broke through the fourth wall. Most of the passengers were tourists, with a few locals like me sprinkled in for good measure. They were busy staring at me reading a book. I could almost hear one woman whisper. “Look, Harold, there’s one now. It’s rarely seen on the weekends. I think they call it Homo Brooklynius. Put your fanny pack away. You might scare it.”

NYC Subway

A man took the open seat next to me. He was a bit disheveled. There was a hole in his orange shirt and his basketball shorts were two sizes too big. He was rocking formerly white tube socks with sandals. In short, he was a few ticks beyond “eccentric,” but he seemed content, smiling at nothing in particular.

At the next stop a guitar player boarded the train. There is a direct relationship between the number of tourists on the subway and the number of buskers trying to get money entertain them. As soon as the doors closed, he turned up his amplifier to butcher sing a classic Temptations song. He smartly zeroed in on a young woman a few yards away.

“I got sunshine for the girl in the green shirt. When it’s cold outside, I got the girl in the green shirt.”

She looked around to make sure he was talking about her in the same way I would look around if someone pointed in my direction and said, “You’ve just won a million dollars.” Then, in a spirit of if-you-can’t-beat-em-join-em, she started clapping. Our busker kept singing to her. The eccentric guy next to me swayed in time to the music.

So she began dancing. Of course she did.

“What can make me feel this way? Everybody! The girl in the green shirt!”

“Today is my birthday!” she shouted. Of course it was.

Everyone starting clapping while the busker pulled the Beatles card. “Today is your birthday.”

“it is! It’s my birthday!”

The eccentric guy reached into the pocket of his oversized basketball shorts and pulled out a can of Budweiser. He held it high as if to toast the girl in the green shirt and the busker. Then he popped the top with a satisfying whhushhh and took a long swig.

Another woman across the train caught my eye, her mouth hanging open just a bit, and shook her head slowly. She knew it and I knew it. This would never happen during commuting hours.

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

HerStories: Voices

No, no, today is not Friday. (Sorry to disappoint!) It is in fact Tuesday. I’m posting on this off day because Jessica and Stephanie over at the HerStories Project published one of my essays in the HerVoices column. This essay, “Solidify,” came out of a small, but transforming experience when what started out as an everyday commute turned into an extraordinary moment. It’s about trusting your instincts, letting your guard down and harnessing the power of tenacity.

It isn’t often that I get a seat on the subway ride home from work. As luck would have it, today I am standing in front of someone who gets off at the Park Place stop in lower Manhattan. You can’t hesitate for a moment if you want to sit on a crowded train. Polite people stand a lot.

Thank you to Jessica and Stephanie for publishing “Solidify” as part of the HerVoices column. Please head over to the HerStories Project and share an extraordinary moment you had recently.

The One With Passion

A co-worker and I were chatting near the water cooler about what we’d done over the weekend.

Me: Then I looked out my apartment window and saw a kestrel perched on a building across the courtyard. Did you know these birds can hover over their prey in mid-air? (Visual: me making strange motions, using my arms as wings.) Amazing!

Co-worker: Cool. How did you know it was a…what kind of bird?

Me: A kestrel. I’ve been learning a lot about birds. I bought a bird field guide and I’ve signed up to volunteer at a wild bird refuge. So many fascinating species. Have you ever heard of a bower bird?

I was about to launch into a description of how a male bower bird attracts females by decorating his patch of land with objet d’art when my co-worker raised a hand.

Co-worker: Now it’s birds? Weren’t you just telling me about some constellations?

Me: Well, yes. There’s a night sky festival in September. But I’m not sure what that has to do with birds.

Co-worker: Exactly. And a while ago you were interested in painting?

Me, suddenly seeing where this conversation was headed: Painting is fun, but well…I’d still like to take a class someday.

Co-worker: And before that you were into…oh, what was it? Find something and stick with it. You know what they say: jack of all trades; master of none.

I slinked away from the conversation feeling like a huge flake. Here I thought I was being a “well-rounded person.”  If something catches my attention, I dive into it and see how deep the core of my attention goes.  Sometimes I find that I don’t enjoy an activity as much as I thought I would. And sometimes I do enjoy it, but the expense and/or difficulty in pursuing it pushes it beyond feasibility. (Tennis in NYC!) Besides, it seems like a good idea for a writer to have a wide variety of experiences and interests.

Or maybe these are excuses. Maybe this is just a way to avoid the commitment and dedication required to devote myself to one thing. Even this blog is representative of that—me flitting from idea to idea without a specific niche, which all the gurus tell you is a big no-no.

Speaking of gurus, it’s hard to open a web page or a magazine without being told to Follow Your Passion, a phrase my grandparents wouldn’t have uttered. I think that it’s important to do things that make you feel alive, things that captivate you. But how do you know what those things are unless you try different options? I guess some people are lucky: they know from a very early age that the horn or surfing or drawing is it for them. And some people seem to have no hobbies or interests, which, in my opinion, is the much scarier option. For the rest of us, I think all we can do is stoke our curiosity.

“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”   ~Joseph Campbell

What do you think? Is it better to stick with one or two interests? Or taste different interests like desserts? 

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

Friday Five (or More)

Citizen Science. I love this! National Geographic has links to dozens of opportunities for you (and your kids) to participate in projects that help scientists answer real-world questions and gather data. Take a butterfly census. Snap photos. Collect weather data. Here are two of National Geographic’s popular citizen science projects: the Great Nature Project and FieldScope.


This week’s Modern Love column in the New York Times was touching: A 12-year-old girl’s life and love are shattered by the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (including a short animation). “You are the bravest girl I know,” he whispered.

Have you ever found yourself in Funk Town (not Funky Town)? Leo from Zen Habits has some good tips to help.


Creative Nonfiction Magazine is seeking new essays about marriage (4,000 words maximum). Submit your work by August 31.


How is your summer reading going? I’m looking for a few good books.


A bit of self promotion: I’m teaching an online creative writing class called Back to Basics through The Loft Literary Center. This course will take you through each major element of creative writing to help you hone your skills. The course is eight weeks from Sept. 21 – Nov. 15. Registration is now open. (Enter early bird code EBFA15 by August 21, 2015 at checkout and receive $20 off the cost of the course.)

The Loft

Five-Star Soup Kitchen. Chef David Garcelon has prepared meals for heads of state, rock stars, and the Queen of England. He also cooks for New York’s homeless.


Have a great weekend, everyone! 

The One With the Simple Pleasures

After last week’s post, I realized the best way to end the cycle of complaining is to focus on small, everyday things that make me smile. Inspired by Caitlin Kelly’s list, here are a few things that I’m enjoying right now.


The smell of fresh toast. The nutty aroma always feels comforting.


Someone in the building across the courtyard plays the horn. He or she practices every evening at about 7 p.m. I don’t recognize the song (if it is indeed a song) because it’s so flat and disjointed. It could be simply a collection of notes. This horn player is no Kermit Ruffins. Despite the practice, there is never any improvement. Not even a little bit. Instead of being annoyed by this tuneless repetition, I admire the perseverance. It inspires me to be as dedicated to my pursuits.


Macarons from this place

Colorful macarons


Getting a seat on the subway during my commute


My favorite Saturday morning excursion is the farmers market. I live only a few blocks away, but the growers come from New Jersey, upstate New York, and the east end of Long Island. I can get the standard fruits and veggies of course, but I love to browse the stands of cut flowers and honey and mushrooms and breads. In autumn, there are bushels upon bushels of apples. Why go to the grocery store where they truck apples from Washington state (3,000 miles away) when I live in the Big Apple?


That reminds me: fresh blueberries


Being swept away by a wonderfully written novel is, for me, the simplest of simple pleasures. There’s nothing more enjoyable than landing on the perfect book at the perfect time. I just finished Everything I Never Told You, which was terrific. I’m still marveling at how Celeste Ng took a decidedly straight-forward plot and wove such an incredible tale. I’m  already looking forward to her next book. Here are the opening lines:

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything by this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast.



Walking Reggie early on a Sunday morning while most people are still asleep.

Sometimes Little Kitty joins us on our walk.

Sometimes Little Kitty joins us on our walk.


A perfectly made Pimm’s Cup. Even better if you can enjoy one at The Columns Hotel in New Orleans.


Following the Pluto flyby. How amazing!


One morning I spotted this little guy perched on my neighbor’s roof. It’s an American kestrel. I’d never seen one in person before. This bird has the unique ability to hover over its prey in mid-air, like a helicopter, without flapping its wings.

American Kestrel. Image via Wikipedia. I was too enamored to get a clear pic.

American Kestrel. Image via Wikipedia. I was too enamored to get a clear pic myself.


What are some of your simple pleasures? 

Have a great weekend, everyone!