The Street Where I Live

British by birth, New Yorker by nature.

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Thought Pharmacy- Hell is your 20s

Thought PharmacyAlexandra king4 Comments

Dear Thought Pharmacy,

I'm having an existential crisis of sorts. With my 27th birthday quickly approaching its dawned on me that I'm not satisfied with where I am at all. 

Right now I'm bar tending. I have a few fantasies about what I want to be though- 1: being a fashion stylists for movies because I would get to travel and meet a bunch of new interesting people all the time, and the whole idea of immersing myself into a different world to create a statement for each film is extremely appealing to me. 2: Doing stand up or writing comedy...I dunno. 3: creating and owning my own business. But what business?

I don't even know where I want to be, which in turn causes anxiety/fear/anger in my everyday life. I fear I won't make something out of myself using my special talents (whatever those may be). I fear my longest standing relationship will be with my cat. Why can't I just be happy with my current situation and be proud of where I am instead of being my own worst enemy? Won't that put better energy out in the world which in turn would give me better results? I recently came out of a big relationship too, so I think that losing that big love in my life  has helped influence these thoughts. Sometimes in this city city I feel like I'm drowning. 

 I've been having panic attacks that are crippling- I've become lethargic and not excited about the day or upcoming parties/outings/etc. It's all too much and I can't think straight. I can't stop thinking about my career dissatisfaction, relationship longings, fear of unhappiness later in life/ not fufilling certain "goals."
I feel like I let others take advantage of my spirit. The smallest things hurt me so much. For instance, a bitchy look from a co worker or a rude stranger on the streets of New York. 
The world seems like an impossible place. What will I be? What do I want to be? What do I want to do/be remembered for? How will I get there? Will everything really be OK? Why am I so scared? 

Being in your 20s sucks. Please help.

Scared 20-something

Dear Scared 20-something,

Remember that show, Gladiators? Where a team of steroid-pumped athletes would battle slightly-more-muscled-than-average people in physical challenges on live TV? Remember that climactic bit, towards the end of each show, when some poor bugger who was simply a fairly buff plumber by day would have to run the "gauntlet", a padded corridor flanked by behemoth body building champions, wearing only a flimsy leotard and bicycle helmet and being pelted with pugel sticks wielded by psychopathic former mercenaries with names like "Wolf" and "Hunter"? That is your 20s, my love, that is your 20s.

Dearest Scared, you've gone through so so much, and right now, what can I say other than you simply need some good old fashioned bed rest. You say that you feel that you're being your own worst enemy and I concur- you're stuck in that cycle of reflection-blame-reflection. You feel awful, wonder why you feel so awful, blame yourself for not being able to stop feeling awful, and there you are, right back at the start again. Go gently, Scared. Of course you're confused. Birthdays always make us reflective, often not very helpfully so. You're working brutally long and physically demanding hours as a bar tender and you're doing this under the seemingly opaque and endless curtain that is pure and simple old fashioned heartbreak. You need an immense dose of tender loving care, and in many ways the most crucial lesson one must learn in one's 20s is how to give that to one's self.

Firstly, stop thinking about what you might be 'remembered' for or what you want to 'be' or how impossible it all seems.  It's the malaise of the Millennial, and especially the New York City dweller, that there must be a solution or answer to every situation and that notoriety is something to be swiftly acquired rather than slowly and subtly and virtually imperceptibly earned. When you can have a dress dry cleaned in an hour, customise your morning latte to such an extent that the coffee shop names it after you and cheerfully order a slice of cheesecake to be delivered to your door at 4 in the morning it can really really feel that way, I know. But it's all an illusion, because all life really is is survival, and you, my belle, are knackered. You need to rest. Stretch. Breathe. Laugh. Think about our cave lady ancestors. This is how their day went: wake up as light hits cave, snack on wooly mammoth, allow self to be mounted by hirsute cave male, sweep cave, marvel dumbly at those sparkly orbs in the sky, feel a bit cold and wonder idly if there might be a solution for that, get a bit sleepy with all that thought, have a little nap. Repeat. Were they worried about being "happy" or how they would be "remembered"? No. They focused on surviving. They learned the skill of observation. They also had a great capacity for the quality that separates us god-forsaken homosapiens from the rest of the animal kingdom-a thing called wonder. You need to rediscover a little of that simplicity, and you will. But first you have to rest.

Do not lose your sense of indignation at other people's rudeness- the mean colleagues or inconsiderate subway riders on any given day. In fact, wear your upset with great and righteous pride, for as long as uncouth strangers are a shock to you it means that your gentle spirit is in tact and you remain a graceful and authentic soul. I really feel you here, I also HATE it when people are rude to me for no reason, it always upsets me terribly and takes me a long time to shake it off, even as I've learned to flip the finger and shout back. But brandish your sensitive heart and commitment to manners with great indignation and tremendous pride, my darling, because it is far more blessing that curse. Remember that in 99 per cent of cases when anyone aged 0-100 is mean, aggressive or unreasonable it is usually down to one or a combination of three simple things- they are tired, scared, or need a snack. Sometimes all three. Assess them accordingly. Don't take anything personally. Carry nuts. 

Above all, despite the undoubted anguish, remember that In ten years time all the statistics point to the fact that you'll have met or married or shacked up with someone you love or care for deeply, perhaps pushed a creature or two or three the weight of a good-sized sea bass out of your lady parts and in between leaky boobs and repeats of Dora the Explorer and the demands of a career and a thousand pounds of laundry you'll be reminiscing about the time you propped up the bar at Cafe Gitane, pretending to read Jean Paul Sartre while figuring out how to slip that hotty of a bar back your number via your citron presse. Yes, you'll actually feel nostalgic for the moments when you walked the streets of this amazing city, wondering who the hell you were and who the hell you might be. Because that's how all the best stories start.

I don't need to know exactly what's next to know already that your story's an absolute winner, Scared.  You have so much self awareness and sensitivity, and though the fact that you feel so much means life can be utterly miserable, and it is for you now, you poor thing, with that gigantic heart and expanse of thought and ambition of yours, you're a winner. By gosh will those qualities ever serve you well and guarantee you abundant joy so soon from now. The only thing you need to work on in the meantime is resting, mending your heart and quietening your mind. Work as mindfully and with as much focus on this as you have been doing on your worrying and you'll be good as new again, so soon. And the amazing thing? One day, once you've healed, you'll wake up and find that you suddenly know what you want. But you need to be well enough and calm enough to be spot the signs. Until then, my darling, know that my hands are concertina stacked upon your shoulder, willing you on. Happy birthday. Your prescription is below.

YOUR BOOK: Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell

You need a tough fucker of a girl heroine to be inspired by and hence I point you right in the direction of Winter's Bone, by sublime writer Daniel Woodrell, who is to the Ozarks what Dickens was to the East End (drawn to darkness, likes an underdog). The writing is sublime, and the protagonist, Ree Dolly (“Ree, brunette and sixteen, with milk skin and abrupt green eyes, stood bare-armed in a fluttering yellowed dress, face to the wind, her cheeks reddening as if smacked and smacked again.” That's how we FIRST meet her in the book) a fierce yet sensitive warrior, as all girls are born to be. Ree might me my favourite literary heroine of the last decade. Winters Bone is also a neat little 200 pager and therefore easily savoured in a day. It's such a tough, lyrical little beauty of a book, and I think it's just what you need.

YOUR SONG: The Swimming Song by Loudon Wainwright

Let me tell you a story, Scared. About three years ago, a visa mix up meant I had to swiftly leave New York for my home country of England. When I say swiftly, I mean a lawyer called me and told me to get on the next plane home in case I got deported and then banned from entering the USA for ten years and no it did not matter that my entire home was here and no I could not pick up my furniture and no America did not care about my cat or the fact that I had just met a man who I had fallen hard in love with at first sight. I had to go home and wait for my visa. No, they didn't know how long it would take. No, they couldn't ensure it would even be granted at all. Waiting for that visa, with no money and zero hope in between volcanic rows with my mother in the middle of nowhere countryside during England's wettest summer in recorded history was not my idea of fun, oh no no no. I cried an awful lot. I may have made occasional use of a friend's Xanax prescription and consumed far too much whisky. I may have run up a 600 pound (POUND) international phone bill, which was mainly acquired by me imploring my (saintly) neighbours to hold the receiver to my recalcitrant cat's head so that I could speak to him "in case he forgot the sound of my voice"  I digress. The point I'm trying to make is that it was the worst summer of my life, I thought I had lost everything and I went bat shit fucking mental. And towards the end of that summer, when, 5 weeks in, the visa was issued and the return ticket was booked and it had turned out, as my darling girl tribe had prophesied from the start, that everything had actually turned out just fine, I somehow discovered this song. It made me cry with relief and recognition. It still does, actually.

" Last summer I went swimming, last summer I might have drowned, but I held my head and i kicked my feet and I moved my arms around". 

What he's saying, sweet one, I second. You've got to just keep going. You said in your letter that you felt like you were drowning. But you're not. It's as simple as swimming. It doesn't need to be artful, it doesn't need to have an end in sight. Keep going. There's also a great and joyful instrumental section towards the end where you can have a little dance. That's an order, not a suggestion.

YOUR WORDS: Noel Gallagher's Desert Island Discs

I've talked on TSWIL before about Desert Island Discs being the cure for all of life's ills and I stand by that statement. When I saw Noel was the latest castaway I did a little woop normally reserved solely for when my husband texts to say he's got the ingredients for breakfast tacos. Naturally, Gallagher didn't disappoint, instantly making it into my top five (despite choosing a U2 song, something I could never normally forgive). But it's the way he talks about love, Scared, that I want you to pay attention to, while you deal with the aftermath of your breakup. Because it turns out that this rough old Northerner, famous for chucking TVs out of expensive hotel rooms and doing enough ecstasy to fell an African Elephant is a complete and utter romantic. I'm not going to quote the whole thing here because I want you to listen to it, but when asked his philosophy on love, he said simply that his wife of 15 years, Sara, is his favourite person to have a boozy lunch or go out clubbing with. That simple. That sweet.  He also talks about how his life essentially began after his 20s. In many ways I think you're going to be a lot like Noel at his age-a still cynical but romantic old soul who's lived an utterly fantastic life.

YOUR ACTIVITY: 30 Minute Restorative Yoga and Mediation, Yoga with Candace. 

Those panic attacks are no good at all, Scared. I want them to end. I want to share this restorative yoga and meditation session with you, because I find it works a treat on days where things are just overwhelming me. This is an easy 30 minute stretch and breathing session, and I do it whenever I'm feeling particularly strung out (read:often). It's not in any way physically taxing and the stretches will feel heavenly on that bar tender body. I want you to do it first thing in the morning for a week, and then as often as you'd like afterwards.

YOUR EXCURSION: The Ganesh Temple, Flushing, Queens.

ganesh temple TSWIL

 It's clear that you desperately need some peaceful time away from the city, and in an ideal world I'd instruct you to dash  straight to some lovely rambling old inn upstate with a terrific black-bottomed swimming pool and a well-stacked bar, like you were one of those women that Conde Nast Traveler apparently thinks is a real person, but this is New York, and we don't have that money. Instead I'm sending you to one of the most magical places I've ever been to and which costs the price of a subway ride, the Ganesh Temple in Queens. Imagine, for a second. Incense. Flowers. Cool stone floors. Hindu priests from India, wearing bright orange robes and smiling beatifically by garlanded shrines. It has to be seen to be believed and see it you must. It will remind you of the immense wonder that I talked about us harried citizens forgetting, that intrinsic belief that the world, or something in it, is much bigger and more profound than us. To the disbelieving denizen of New York City, I suppose that's called "perspective". To the smiling sages of the Ganesh Temple, it's called "God". It's a beautiful, humbling, remarkable place. Take your pilgrim soul there and prepare to be amazed.


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Pimp Your Commute

New York City, Careers and WorkingAlexandra king5 Comments

Commuting is like pooping. Everyone has to do it, apart from the Queen. No, wait, she does too.

I had never thought much about commuting, and even when the time came, it took me a while to realise what it really entailed.

 After moving to Brooklyn from the Lower East Side in November, at last escaping our much-loved but utterly decrepit Chinatown apartment, I did vaguely surmise that moving further away meant I would now have a proper hour-long commute rather than my 25 minute train hop to my work in Midtown. However, as with the realising of many a profound truth, it took me a while to acknowledge, and I swiftly wafted that unappetising prospect away in favour of rhapsodising about our beautiful new light-filled, bug-free, completely liveable new home.

 At first, I didn't really notice. The commute I mean, not the apartment. I really noticed the apartment. Especially when we'd come in at night and I would gleefully turn on the light to expose a spotless bug free surface- "LOOK ISAAC, NO ROACHES. NOT ONE". In my first month or so of Brooklyn life, I was too in love with the fresh air and fresh neighbourhood; staring dreamily out of the subway car at the sunny approach to Manhattan with its golden skyscrapers skewering the chubby marshmallow clouds; flirting happily with the owner of the bodega next to the subway station in exchange for a complimentary Lindor truffle (issued "on the house" with a wink as if it was a Negroni at Harry's Bar) and reading a solid book or two a week. “It's amazing, I'm getting so much reading done”, I said to all my friends, who merely peered cynically over their glasses of Sauvignon Blanc. “Perhaps I will re-read The Illiad and completely pay attention this time. I will get Rosetta Stone and learn conversational Finnish. I don't know what everyone complains about, truly.”

 Eight weeks in, the shift happened. I began to walk to the train with less of a spring in my step. More like chains, actually; big cold chains, soldered at random to my fellow train-slaves, edging their way collectively up seventh avenue in the ice, each joined and loping in grim intention like a mournful commuter chain gang. 

 Once on the train, I was getting distracted from my books. Instead, I began spending my time worrying about whether or not I would get a seat. And once I had one, I started thinking about the email I hadn't sent the previous day or whether or not the meeting was at ten or nine thirty oh christ was it at nine thirty. Out went the dreamy staring out the window- in came staring with righteous indignation at the inevitable seat-hoggers, man spreaders, and those charmless fuckwits who favour Nacho Cheese Doritos for breakfast. Worst of all, I learned which stations had Wi-Fi, or were open air enough to get a phone signal. The Iliad got replaced by Instagram. Finnish was discarded for Facebook. 

 In short, it becomes so easy to commute mindlessly. And that might be ok if we didn't do it quite so much. Studies show that the average commute for a New Yorker is 48 minutes. For the average Londoner it's 54 minutes

 So let’s do the maths (not my strong point but in this case essential).  Most of us are spending about two hours a day, 10 hours a week, 40 hours a month on public transport or in cars. Terrifyingly, that means that at the end of just one year, the average city dweller has spent roughly three weeks sitting on a train. Three weeks glaring ferociously at the Dorito munchers, three weeks with your eyes wondering over the page of your book while stressing about whether you can really make that deadline, three weeks refreshing your phone, once you get that slither of reception, wishing ardently that the photo of the kitten in a dinosaur suit on Instagram from 12 minutes ago could be replaced by something equally redundant and shallow (disclaimer: I love kittens, but urge you to love your brain more).

 Enough was enough. I had started to dread my commute. Feel profoundly oppressed by it, even. Something had to change. 

 That's why, over the past four weeks, I've been working hard to shift my perspective and view my daily commute as two hours of unadulterated me-time. I know this is something people usually say about yoga class and not about sharing a confined public space with an assortment of strangers, all with varyingly appalling levels of personal hygiene, but it is true. And, goddamit, I’ve seen the light.

 Dear readers, I came, I saw, I commuted, and this is what I have learned. Below, a five-part guide to pimping your commute.

 1) Completely ban email, texting, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, ANYTHING.  Embrace boredom.

 This is probably the most important. See your commute as an opportunity to train yourself to take an easy, well defined and scheduled break from your soul sucking telephonic device. Turn it off. Put it on airplane mode. Just take the luxury of an hour away from screens and enjoy the simple and inevitable fact that a train or bus journey demands nothing other than you being compelled to sit and wait. Breathe into the luxury of that a little, because it is rare, and fulfilling, and actually has the magical ability to coax out rather strange and fantastic thoughts. Once you've endured the initial agony of digital cold turkey for a few days, with your fingers fluttering reflexively for that iPhone, you'll be so pleased you did.

 2) Ditch the music, embrace the podcast.

 I've stopped listening to music on the subway completely. Firstly, it's no good at all when you are already being serenaded the entire way to Manhattan by a drunk pensioner singing the My Heart Will Go On while merrily quaffing a bottle of White Lightning (this actually happened to me last week). Also, I hate that cheap headphones mean everyone can hear what you're listening to, and I hate hearing other people's bad rap music. Or even their good rap music. This is when I turned to the podcast, discovering how remarkably soothing it is to start one's day with words. Podcasts are free, you can set them up to be downloaded automatically each morning, and it means you can get all the news without having to wield an ungainly newspaper.  Commuting with a couple of good podcasts in your travel arsenal means you can spend the day feeling as if you had taken a leisurely breakfast with your favourite and cleverest friends, and I am a true convert. My favourite podcasts, in no particular order; Desert Island Discs (forever and always) the Today Programme (you could not start your day more informed) and NPR's Fresh Air  (always interesting).

 3) Make yourself an amazing coffee/tea

 Embrace the literal daily grind and brew yourself a top-notch cup of joe to accompany your commute. Invest in a good thermos flask (FYI this is the one I use. I've had it for two years now. It's amazing and never leaks, ever) and make yourself a giant sexy coffee at home. Treat yourself to some fancy beans, sprinkle cinnamon and nutmeg into the grind, or if you’re not a coffee drinker, pop some mint leaves in your thermos and pour over hot water. It saves you wasting your hard-earned wine money on boring old Starbucks and allows you to caffeinate yourself smugly as those familiar stations roll by.

 4) Breathe, dummy.

 On the days when the train is jam packed, there's no air conditioning and the only space to stand is directly underneath someone's stinky armpit, practice mindful breathing. Position your head as far away as possible, close your eyes and repeat the following. Breathe in for four slow counts, hold for four and breathe out for four. This has the effect of literally slowing down your heart rate. It really works and has helped me through many a stressful moment. P.S. I'm also a big believer in this

 5) Read. With gusto. Everything.

 The frequently distracting and noisy nature of public transport means that your book choices need to be as engrossing as they come, and never dull. I find a variety of heavy and lightweight tomes, both new and revisited and selected entirely according to mood, make all the difference. In the past couple of months I have read, in no particular order, The Fault in Our Stars, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Gone Girl, All Quiet On The Western Front and The Birthday Letters. I've enjoyed them all, both high and low brow. Don't be snarky about you or anyone else indulging in all of Oprah's Book Club or getting hooked on Game of Thrones or ploughing your way through the Twilight series. You're riding the subway and not allowed to be a literary snob until you're getting chauffered to the office in a Bentley.

Followed strictly, I’ve found that these rules will help you to start and end your day on the side of the angels, with calm and openness and enthusiasm, rather than having your spirit and patience crushed by the MTA only a couple of hours in. Dare I say it, you may even find yourself looking forward to your commute.  Isn't the whole point of The Iliad that it's about the journey? Maybe I'll even get around to that conversational Finnish. Mind ovet.