Tuning Out to Tune In

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There is enough noise in the world already.

From 2003 to 2009, I lived in New York City with 8 million people. Lights, traffic, construction, music, strangers everywhere. All the time.

Surprisingly it was easy to get lost and become invisible in that environment. It was easy not to be seen. It was easy to turn the noise to static and drown out my surroundings. If I wanted to be seen or heard, I could emerge from the sensory sludge, reach out to friends, go see some live music and chat up a stranger, go to church and smile at familiar faces.

The beginning of my time in NYC social media had just started getting its footing. I’d started blogging there. I jumped on the Twitter and Facebook bandwagons. In addition to the maelstrom in the streets, I felt the outside world invading my home. It would be a sea we’d all be learning to navigate.

For some reason tuning out the internet influences wasn’t as easy. They were ever present; so easy just to wake up the computer and find myself staring at the screen hours later. Sometimes I was justifiably enthralled, but other times I truly wasted time cramming my noggin with nonsense and noise. It was easy to get lost, but sometimes more difficult to emerge from that dimension to interact with actual humans for quality time. Solid connections. Real relationships.

And now, when I’m in a much slower-paced part of the world, in a pretty chill area of Utah–we live next to horses and sheep, for crying out loud–the internet manages to pound on my brain. What news? What gossip? What music? What bad information? MUST CONSUME ALL OF IT.

Except I mustn’t do anything, but moderate and be conscious of which influences enter my home. Which is especially important to the very impressionable mind under the stewardship of me and Reilly. That little girl absorbs everything. And while she can’t convey all that she consumes, it’s there, just percolating, waiting to manifest in who knows what way.

How do I do this? And how do we do this as a family? A few actions that work for us:

  • I always manage to find some time during the day for absolute quiet, where I can have time to sort my thoughts. Or just take a few deep breaths. For Z, it’s nice to not have a lot of stimuli around for a few minutes and just let her talk. Sometimes the best we can do is the car ride home from daycare. I’ll turn down the radio and ask a few basic questions, and let her think without expecting an answer. What did you do at school? Did you play with the teacher?
  • A huge one for me lately has been physical activity. Exercise clears my mind, and those endorphins make me feel great. We try to encourage physical activity with Z as much as we can. When winter limits our options, we take her to different play areas at different malls, or even fast food places. Give that girl a slide and some space to run, and she’s happy as a clam.
  • Finally, there’s bedtime. This ritual usually ends with us snuggling, watching the night light, and Z talking to herself, and me singing a few nursery rhymes. Her voice is the furthest thing from noise to my soul (except at other times of the day when it’s screaming or whining, then I want to pull all of my hair out SERIOUSLY), and sometimes I’m lucky enough to listen to her happy jabbering fade into deep, sleepy breaths.

There are things that a lot of parents also do: enable actual internet filters, set timers on screen time, help count to 10 during a meltdown/tantrum. Those are definitely helpful, and kudos to all parents doing what works for them. I do other things on my own, as well: Find time to read, limit time on the internet; limit news consumption. It’s nice to find moments to breathe, to appreciate beauty in its many forms, to be able to separate the noise from the music. These moments help me to focus even more on what’s important, to tune in to clearer frequencies.

This Feels Good

Today after work, I did a favor for my friend Amy and let her give me a massage. She’s a licensed massage therapist, and she really knows what she’s doing.

Amy and I met in New York City, and she has to be one the smartest people I know. She learns quickly and thoroughly, and she often offers a different perspective if you go to her with a problem and ask for advice.

Massage is not her first discipline. She knows communications/marketing and web design/consulting. As a Renaissance woman, it only makes sense that she would study and practice massage.

She lives in Salt Lake City, mere blocks from where I work. This is the recommendation I wrote on her Facebook page. I’m not sure if I did all that alliteration on purpose:

Amy is a confident, competent, and conscientious massage therapist. Her sensitivity, strength, and savvy have ensured me as one of her many loyal customers. Her massages have relaxed and revived me more than many a night’s sleep. See for yourself what Amy can do!

Amy gave the hour her full attention. She asked how I liked the pressure, the stretches; she kept the room temperature just right. She warmed the massage table with a heated blanket and had soft music playing when I entered the room. The sheets and the face cradle cover were clean. She definitely took precautions to ensure this experience would never happen to her clients.

If you’re in the Salt Lake City area and would like an amazing massage, visit Amy. Go to her website, look around, and see what she has to offer. Take advantage of her various promotions. If you’ve had a massage from Amy and think that her expertise would make a great gift, give someone a gift certificate.

She thanked me for the chance to work on me, but she actually did me the favor. I’m more relaxed, my joints are less stiff, and I feel like a new person. I can’t wait for my next massage.

On Commuting

Dear Fellow Rider of the UTA Express Bus,

When the bus back to Orem is full and I end up standing in the aisle because it’s been one of those days and no one else wants to offer me a seat and stand for 40 minutes, and when your arm is hanging over the armrest into the aisle because the seats are too small and no one in Utah has the same concept of personal space/comfort zone as people do in New York City, and when the aisle is also too narrow because the bus itself has to be narrow enough to fit in a street lane, and when I have to stand for 40 minutes and shift my weight from one leg to the other, my butt will inevitably brush against your arm.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Yours truly,

May

I love public transportation. I appreciate paying less for gas/insurance/parking and getting to sleep and/or read on my way to work/home. Of course this way of commuting has its setbacks, but overall it’s great.

Here are a few comparison points of public transportation in New York City and Utah. These points are based on my experience. You may have a different background and observations.

Crowds
NYC: Reilly got to experience this when we visited in August. We went to a Yankees game and felt how tightly packed the subway can get. It’s the same during rush hour, except that people usually look really tired and cranky. Imagine when Yankees fans get to ride with the rush hour crowd.

Utah: I haven’t really experienced huge crowds on the bus or TRAX (the SLC public train thingy), since Salt Lake City and Provo/Orem are car towns and not pedestrian towns.  Also, I’ve ridden the bus on Jazz/Ute days, and because the bus I ride mostly serves people who work in SLC, I don’t have to deal with obnoxious fans.

Strikes
NYC: In December 2005, MTA decided to go on strike (even though many of us thought they were overpaid), and the subways didn’t run for a week. Because of good neighbors and home teachers with cars (friends from church who personally visit once a month), we developed a system of pick-up and drop-off spots at specific times, and I could get to and from work and home that week. When I first moved there in 2003, the monthly pass was $63. When I left in 2009, I paid $81. Now commuters pay $103.

Utah: I have so far only heard of all the money UTA gets, and that drivers/other UTA workers are overpaid, and people are angry because a lot of taxes or something goes to cushion the salaries of UTA workers? As a student, I started paying $50-75 for a semester, then $160 per semester (some contract with BYU had expired, and BYU encouraged driving to also pay to be frustrated with crowded and faraway lots). As a current rider of an express bus, the monthly fare is $189, which provides TRAX and local bus access.

Weather
NYC: Hurricane Sandy takes the cake. I’ve only experienced relatively minor tunnel flooding or little track fires that only delayed the train, or, at the very worst, these incidents caused me to walk to another station to take a different train. Once on an especially hot day I almost got into a fight with a guy because our hands kept touching while holding on to the same pole. We were both irritable.

Utah: I have yet to sit through a major snowstorm on the bus. The rain hasn’t been bad. Since I’m not the one driving, I get to nap or read.

Traffic
NYC: One great thing about the subway is not having to deal with street traffic. However, sometimes the bus was quicker than the subway. For example, church was only two stops away, but on Sunday, I would end up waiting for a subway longer that it would take to catch the bus. Also, when I lived closer to church, even walking was a much faster (and the only) option.

Utah: The bus is part of traffic, but there’s a lane just for buses, so often we clip along faster than the cars in adjoining lanes. Yet traffic sometimes comes to a complete stop, mostly because of accidents and rubberneckers and different bottleneck exits along the freeway. And Fridays, sometimes. Last Friday, it took an hour and 20 minutes to get home. It usually takes around 45 minutes.

Drunk/High People
NYC: These folks were sometimes scary. Sometimes entertaining. Mostly annoying. Once on a crowded subway (see above) I had to stand really close to a drunk guy. He breathed in my face, and I smelled his breath, and I probably would have failed a breathalyzer test from that.

Utah: Around the university, people act drunk or high a lot. But they’re just unbelievably happy BYU students. On the express bus to work, people are sober, mellow, sleeping, or reading.

Homeless People
NYC: All the time, everywhere.

Utah: On the Provo local bus, there would be occasional drifters that got on the bus. At the TRAX stations, I have walked by a few homeless people.

In NYC and SLC, I have walked the sidewalks and homeless people have asked me to give them money.

Lewd People
NYC: I’ve seen people making out, which isn’t that bad. The worst time was when I sat across from a man on the subway during my morning commute. His pants were undone, and he was stroking himself. I was reading the paper and he was in my periphery. Everyone else was reading sleeping. I quickly glanced at the guy’s face, and he seemed intent on my seeing him and getting a reaction from me. I raised the newspaper so I didn’t have to look at him. The next stop was mine, and I got off the train as fast as I could.

Utah: The worst instance I have witnessed was on a Provo local bus when some older, special needs guys sitting near the back were making loud fart sounds with their mouths and laughing. The bus driver told them to stop. Oh, also random anonymous people who leave random milkjugs of urine on the bus.

Panhandlers
NYC: Walking through the subway, asking for money: boys raising money for their “basketball team,” kids selling (stolen) candy, trying to stay off the street. People who say they have AIDS, armless people and war veterans, blind people, very sad people holding snotty-faced kids. Old ladies with cancer. People who just want something to eat. They always announce themselves with “Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen!” Sometimes I gave them change.

Utah: Outside of sidewalk encounters in SLC, none.

Entertainers
NYC: Different than panhandlers. Dancers (hip-hop), singers (all-types), mariachi bands, instrumentalists, magicians. All on the subway. All skill levels. Sometimes I put change in their hats as they walked by me.

Utah: On different corners on different days in SLC, the same cellist. On BYU campus, wandering weird students with ukuleles and unicycles. I don’t give them money. No one on the buses or TRAX yet.

Other People
NYC: Random people at bus stops who tell me their life stories. Clowns telling me their life stories. The guy on the train that tried to flirt with me when he told me the Stranger (the book I was reading) was a good book. The guy who thumbs-upped at me when he saw me reading the Book of Mormon. People that I actually know, so we chat instead of tuning out the rest of the world. Tourists that didn’t know better about talking to me. People that I accidentally fell asleep on.

Utah: Nice people who offer their seats to standers. The senior missionary who asked if I was a student then seemed surprised when I told him I worked. The woman I sat next to one morning who decided to take off her shoes and try to sleep in an actual reclining fetal position. Her feet smelled and part of her body was on my seat. The woman whose arm my butt brushed against when I was standing in the aisle, because I shifted my weight from one leg to the other, and her arm was hanging into the aisle. We were both reading and she seemed to pretend not to notice. Maybe she liked it as much as I did.

We Voted!

He’s wearing purple. I’m wearing red. We aim to confuse.

We didn’t wait longer than 10 minutes in line. We arrived at Orem Elementary School just before 5:30 this evening.

While we stood in line, we talked pretty loudly about some of the headlines we’d seen throughout the day.

We approached the table and our names were the only two Rs on the last page in the R section of the registered voter binder.

The poll worker gave me an electronic card. The machine I used is very different and so much more . . . modern than the machine I used when I voted in NYC. What was this fancy touchscreen? Why didn’t I have to walk into a booth and close a curtain and use all my brute strength to vote?

I spent maybe at least 5 minutes voting/playing with the fancy machine. I watched the ballot print through a little plastic window. I removed my electronic card in time for a poll worker to check a number on the machine I used. Apparently I was the 47th person today to use that machine.

Reilly waited for me just outside the gym/auditorium/second cafeteria where voted.

We ate. We came home. We took a picture.

We feel pretty good.

The Scary Storm

There’s a profound metaphor a-brewin’.

While scrolling through my Facebook feed and ignoring the happy, oblivious posts of those who aren’t being affected by Sandy, I came across this photo. Click on it and say some prayers.

Winds are howling, lights are flickering, transformers are exploding. Autobots wage their battle to destroy the evil forces of the Decepticons. There are reports of green electrical arcs in the sky, a scary form of the Aurora Borealis. I doubt New York has seen many hurricanes, and it probably hasn’t received the Noreasters that Boston has, but it seems that the Big Apple finally gets to enforce a lot of its emergency preparations. I know my friends are prepared.

The island would seem different than a mainland hit, because it’s an island. Two and a half miles wide by 12-13 miles long. The tunnels and bridges are closed.

Yet, no man is an island.

But I also don’t want to downplay the rest of the Northeastern shore. They also have floods and fallen trees and power outages. Leaky ceilings and floating cars.

Hang on to your hats.

My friends are prepared. I’ve seen their statuses of the provisions they’ve gathered. Lights, food, batteries, water, cheerful souls and prayerful hearts. When the winds stop whipping and the water subsides, they’ll use their optimism to clean up their towns and get back to their usual lives. Which happen to be extraordinary.

I believe John Donne.

Sandy Dunkin New York

Right now I imagine a former home of mine is receiving a lot of rain, lightning, and high winds. Many former homes have been part of those circumstances.

I was born during a typhoon in the Philippines. This may be why I don’t really freak out during big rains. My birth versus the storm: I won, but I’ve also always made sure never to get too cocky. Don’t stand in an open field under lightning clouds. Don’t play in puddles and get ringworm.

I lived in Guam. Seems if you live in the Pacific Ocean, you have to expect the whole range of tropical weather. Which would include earthquakes. And if volcanoes were nearby, those, too.

I lived in Key West. Consistently warm weather often compelled my brother and me to stay inside with the air conditioning. But I played a lot outside, too. But I mostly blame Key West for making me break my brother’s arm.

I lived in Jacksonville. Hurricanes mostly miss Jacksonville. The city often catches the fringes of the swirlstorms, and it receives a lot of rain, but Jax has had its share of lucky breaks when hurricanes decide to turn northward toward the Carolinas. And that’s not so lucky for the Carolinas.

I lived in New York City. That damn town greeted me with a blizzard, and it rained when I left it nearly 7 years later. That place brought out my allergies and gave me a true glimpse of depression. Rain, snow, strikes, sweltering and stifling heat. I miss that place.

I live in Utah. The sun is out, I can see the mountains that still hang on to the turned leaves. I walked two blocks through wet and heavy snow the other day, and I felt nostalgic. Today, nary a trace of that white stuff. But the mountains cling to that, too.

New York, I know you’re prepared. Candles, flashlights, water, food, batteries. Board games, radio. Dance parties. Storytime. Quality time. Run to the Hills. Or Washington Heights. I’ll be praying for you.

Into the Woods, It Wouldn’t Stop Raining

Even for Amy Adams and Glenn Close. OR Reilly’s birthday. But probably because it was a Sunday, and we had already ridden bikes down and up the Hudson River greenway and had lunch at Piper’s Kilt with my friend Adam. Which, Adam is close enough to Amy Adams, who is definitely a grand human talisman for good fortune. But at least we walked into the church after the bikeride, and we even had a good conversation with some friends in the foyer. The man I’ve known for four years now; his wife I met for the first time, which is different than the first time he met her, which was after he proposed to her. That’s a good story. Anyway, we should have known from the clouds it was going to rain. But it’s hard to know for sure what clouds mean anymore. I just knew the clouds kept our ride cool and shaded. No blinky brightness. Except that Reilly looks squinty in these pictures. Oh, well.

I mean, the air was humid that evening, and we were standing in line, waiting for the doors to open so that we could take our seats. It was already sprinkling once we sat down. I put a plastic bag over my head, and Reilly had his hat on. We eavesdropped on chatter about the forecast guessing that the rain would end by 8:30, which would only have delayed the show 30 minutes. We could wait that long. Plus, the nice people sitting behind us held their golf umbrella over us.

The stage lights shone on the set that looked like a giant tree house, but some of the set was on the ground and more spread out than Swiss Family Robinson, and still parts of it reached at least twenty feet into the air. The whole thing looked slippery. We talked about whether Amy Adams would risk slipping on an upper floor. We wondered about Glenn Close. We didn’t even know that she wasn’t really in the play, but her voice was featured as the Giant’s.

The stage lights shone through sloppy-yet-sleeting drops of rain, which wasn’t letting up. Sort of, but not. One of the ushers who said the time was 8:15 also said he would have already “called it.” This same usher saw a camera flash go off near and he bounded up the stairs to the source of the crime and asked the camera’s owner to delete any pictures that were taken because no photography whatsoever is not allowed in Delacorte Theater so he’ll have to check the camera to make sure the pictures were deleted, thanks kindly. Ushers wore ponchos. Some spectators wore ponchos, but some held umbrellas. We still hoped for a Sunday miracle, in that we weren’t at all prepared for rain, but it seemed we weren’t getting anything even close. Not even Glenn.

Finally at 8:30, they declared the show rained out. We walked westward in the 70s to Broadway and then south toward Columbus Circle. We thought about getting Reilly a McDonald’s ice cream cone or something similar for his birthday, but since Amy Adams the harbinger of good fortune did not appear, the McDonald’s ice cream machine was broken. Undeterred in our mission to find a dry place to have hot chocolate and some birthday dessert, we found a little cafe where we both had hot chocolate, I had a big chocolate chip cookie, and Reilly had a slice of of chocolate cake.

At least it was a summer rain, and by the time we left the cute little dessert place, it was only sprinkling, which we were grateful for. Mostly dry, and high on chocolate onReilly’s birthday, we walked the rest of the way to Columbus Circle.

We did get our tickets switched for Tuesday night, though. Which somehow meant clear skies and perfect weather. Even though the wolf/Cinderella’s prince is a total perv (as the original tale of Red Riding Hood suggests), Glenn Close meets her death as a vengeful giant and Amy Adams died leaving her baker husband alone, all the acting and singing was delightful, the props were clever and human, and that story actually sort of does end happily ever after.

And so does this one.