This is the 15th in a series of posts about New York – a re-post of an essay I wrote about four years ago. The original post is reprinted here with no editing.

When I used to live in Tribeca, non-New Yorkers would ask me “Oh, you run?  I bet you love running in Central Park!”  Back then it would irk me, even though their geographic ignorance was not their fault.

“No,” I’d say sweetly, “I prefer to run along the Hudson.”  Which was, and is still a fact, even now living only a few blocks off the Park and running it frequently; racing it most weekends.

New York, as you probably know or have surmised, is ferociously neighbourhoody, not merely in the borough-to-borough sense.  Each neighbourhood has a distinct personality, evolved and evolving over time.  Nothing is static: growth, rot, gentrification, construction — all constants.

One other thing that remains constant, and perhaps is a neighbourhood in and of itself is Central Park.

Central Park has not always existed.  It is, by historical standards, a relatively recent phenomenon.  New York traces its founding to 1624.  It wasn’t until 1844 that American poet William Cullen Bryant began to romanticise the need for a public park in New York City.  Perhaps Bryan’s words were not so much “publicity,” rather a reflection of public sentiment — by then New Yorkers had resorted to using cemeteries as public parks because there were so few green spaces left in the growing city.  In 1857, the City approved the development of a 700 acre public park, and in 1858, Frederic Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux were selected to design the space.

In 1873, Central Park (originally dubbed “the Greensward Project”) was completed.  For the first 60 years of the Park’s existence, largely due to the City’s demographics and politics, there was little interest in using the Park for its intended purpose.  But in 1934, newly-elected Republican Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia tasked Robert Moses with cleaning up the park — an effort that was, all things considered, a success.

Throughout the 20th century, the Park was not immune from the upheaval that City experienced.  The Park was opened to events in the 1960s — drawing crowds; protests; concerts — but the City lacked the expertise, budget, and general wearwithall to manage the impact.  Despite being named an historical landmark in 1963, the Park fell into serious disrepair once again, which continued throughout the late 1970s.

In 1980, the Park informally came into the managerial hands of the Central Park Conservancy — a public-private partnership that formalised their management agreement over the park in 1998 and manages the Park to this day.  (And does a fantastic job!).  The Central Park Conservancy began restoring the Park in the early 1980s, and today, the Park is the most visited urban park in the country.

Perhaps I am not alone in saying my feelings on the Park change with the seasons.

In the Winter, the Park is a tundra — the Reservoir frozen over; the surface crackled and full of mystery like an ancient skin.  The horse-drawn carriages ferry blanketed passengers like it’s something romantic, and I suppose it is in a way.  But the dirt and grime and smell of horse-shit and other people who have used those blankets make the idea very unromantic to me.

Spring has rolled directly into Summer in Manhattan the last few years but during the few Spring days, one can practically see the cartoon steam lines rising out of moist lawns.  The Spring growth brings itchy eyes and pollenshowers from every tree.  Then comes Summer with its lazy picnics and sunsoaked Saturdays with sangria secreted in under cover of Gatorade jugs.  We play games of catch until we’re too dizzy from the wine.  But beware the young couples necking; petting; going through the rituals of love behind boulders, trees.  Every Summer seems a Summer of Love — sweet, gentle love — but only until Dusk.  Because everyone knows that after dark, the Park is still the Park.

In the Fall, the Park is magical: the trees are a canopy of fire!  I used to — don’t laugh — have my hair done at the salon at Bergdorf’s and sometimes I felt like asking the stylist for silence so I could drink in the view.  (That salon was another life; is another post.)  Walking in the Park under the Autumn trees may be life’s greatest pleasure — the heady, sneezy smell of maples, elms; the peaty smell of dying grass.

November brings my favourite day of the year — Marathon Sunday.  There is no more welcome or glorious sight than Central Park on that day.  The air is crisp; the leaves are fireworks of celebration; my fellow New Yorkers are screaming my name and carrying me to the finish.  Even in the late afternoon shade, as the sun sinks into the Hudson on the other side of town, the Park glows golden that day.

Central Park, like all of New York, is glamourous, dangerous, ever changing.  It is a place where the robber barons and beggars mingle with ease.  It is perhaps not where all New Yorkers feel at home — even the most seasoned City-dwellers among us — but it is a place that is uniquely our own.

Sources: Central Park Conservancy; NYC.gov; Wikipedia: Central Park

I ran a half-marathon in Middletown, CT on Sunday.  It was crisp, and clear, and a mile or so into my race, a grizzled, Forrest Gump-like runner fell into step with me and ran with me for nine miles.  His name was Carl, and he had a profound beard, and was…nuts.

One thing I love about running is that wherever you go in the world, it’s a community.

I was using the race as the springboard for my Last Long Run before the Big Sur Marathon, so I ran a few miles before and a few miles afterward to reach the Magical 20.

I keep saying that Big Sur is likely to be my last marathon, and I’m not sure why.  Like Forrest Gump, there was a point in my life where I felt like I had to run, and now I’m reaching the point where I don’t have that feeling any more, and I feel like I should stop.  As to why Big Sur, well, I trained for my first marathon in that part of the country, and I tend to run to that part of the world to clear my head.  There’s something special and sacred about the craggy coast.

So I ran on Sunday in CT.

Then I drove back to Norwalk to spend some time with Katka and Matthew, before heading back into the City.  Made dinner plans on the Westside with Rebex.

photo 2

And I walked to dinner along Fifth Avenue, so grateful for the day, and the sunshine, and good friends, and the promise of spring.

I was running a few minutes late to dinner and so Rebex texted me and said, Do you want me to order you a drink?

Sure. What are you having?

Coconut margi, blended, no salt.

Perfect.

And I arrived in Midtown West as the sun was setting over the Hudson, to a coconut margarita and a good friend, and I thought: Does it get any better than this?

photo 1

finish cherry hill

There are things you think are never going to happen.

For instance:

I’m never going to run a Marathon.

My brother is never going to get better.

My life will never improve.

Things will never get better.

I’ll never find my way.

And then, because you believe — and you don’t have to believe as I believe, you just have to have something to believe in — things get better, they really do.

The thing about running marathons is…it’s hard.  It’s mentally and physically hard.  But, one step at a time; one foot in front of the other, you go from walking to running, to running for really long periods of time.

I have run a lot of marathons.  None have been so great as the 2013 ING New York City Marathon.  It wasn’t a personal best, and in fact, it was a rather painful day out on the course because I was running injured.  But it was one of the greatest days of my life, running with my brother; being paced by one of my best friends; meeting my brother and our parents, and Paul (who had met my parents for the first time that morning, and had obviously gotten on well with them, because they were all wearing matching fleeces by the time they got to Central Park) and Katka (whom my parents love more than words) at the finish line; coming home to a house full of the people I love most in this world shouting SURPRISE and handing us glasses of champagne.

So often, I forget to say thank you.  Sometimes, I forget to say, I love you.

This was one of those days where every moment was a chance to say thank you, I love you, thank you, I love you, thanks.

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Throughout the month of November, I will be posting stories of change, gratitude, forgiveness, and grace — both my own words, and the tales of carefully selected guest voices.

(From time to time, I’ve chronicled a week in my life, based on some internet project.  I find this whole idea kind-of interesting…and the next two weeks promise to provide a lot of fodder for writing.  Hence, Two Weeks in the Life.)

It is Sunday, and the dog seems to have learned that we sleep in on one weekend day, and we go to the park on one weekend day.  We slept in yesterday.

It is a crisp, spring morning, but the temperature gauge on my iPhone, at 7.45a reads only 3C.  This, in my view, is complete BS.

roo in the park

We gambol around the Conservatory Pond, and we bump into Rebecca and Henry, her Welsh springer spaniel. The boys play, and Rebex and I discuss, in no particular order, our upcoming travel, a pair of flats I recently purchased (Did you buy the leopard print ones or the jaguar ones?  I bought the jaguar ones.  I stop myself short of saying Of course I bought the jaguar ones!), and eee’s new place, which is in Gramercy, and where I had visited the night prior.

I wonder if this is anything like being a parent, where you run into other parents in the park, and the kids play while you talk about Stuff and Things.  But then off-leash hours end, and I go to spinning, but not first without misfiring a text message, in which I ask the wrong person: Have you seen my cycling shoes?

Not me.

I spin, and I work with the trainer, and then I shower, and change, and reply to emails, and do some work.  I negotiate with the doctor, who doesn’t want me to travel to Asia.  The trip has already been delayed by a day, for a variety of reasons, but only one of them medical.  The doctor does not want me to go to Asia because my lungs are still weak and I am susceptible to flu.

I think about the week prior, when I had asked Jade: Will it bother you if I give myself an injection in front of you?

I had not thought about that previously, having lived alone for so long.  I do not think about the fact that there is a sharps container on my windowsill, full of spent syringes.  I suppose I never really wonder if it bothers people when they place dishes in my sink.

sharps

I am aggressive about putting myself out into the world as a Non-Sick Person.  But in my home, there is the daily pill box, filled with the 10+ medications I take, and the B-vitamins that help with energy and (surprisingly) nausea.

And I don’t think about it.  Until I have to barter with the doctor to clear me to fly.

My initial negotiations are interrupted by Katka coming to collect the dog for his two-week stay in Connecticut.  I have taught him the word “Connecticut” and it makes him dance in circles awaiting Katka’s arrival.

They leave, with him happily prancing down the hallway.

I begin, half-heartedly, to pack.  Which, for some reason, I find depressing. Which I shouldn’t, because I’ve been flightless since February, and the whole of America is getting on my nerves, but the prospect of Hong Kong is upsetting me too.

So I leave to shop for odds and ends.  I try to make myself feel better by going to Diptyque to pick up a travel-sized Eau Rose, and the guy throws in four baby-sized ones.  And I go to the drug store to pick up a bottle of my beloved Mustela Hydrabebe very emolient face creme.  I have recently graduated from “zits and wrinkles” to “very occasional blemishes, wrinkles, and dandruffy-dry skin.”  I wonder, idly, if they offer certificates or medals for this.

This must be why A thinks I smell like talcum powder and roses…because I do.  It’s a nice way of saying I smell like the non-Diaper Genie parts of a nursery.

I head back home.

I could teach a course on Packing For International Travel at the 92nd St. Y.  Which is like the Learning Annex for the new millennium.  I rarely check bags — not because I’m morally opposed or because my bags have been lost, but because I find the waiting at my destination generally irritating.

packing guru

The trick is a lightweight suitcase with a frame that doesn’t take up much space inside the bag; shoe bags for shoes that match several different things; workable, versatile outfits.

Behold:

two weeks

(I think my briefcase is the size of my suitcase…)

I am worried; spent.  But I am ready, I suppose.  Always ready.

Someone recently asked me if I was “happy.”  People seem concerned with my “happiness.”

When I was a tweenager I wrote that I would be completely happy (emphasis in original) if/when I had long, blonde hair and when I lived in New York City.  I think, at the time, those two things seemed so ridiculously unattainable; so exotic and unachievable as to be Shangri-la.

(I should explain why playing the role of Christie Brinkley in a music video seemed such an Unattainable Thing.  See Exhibit A, below:)

As it turned out, though, by my thirties, I grew long, blonde hair and I now live in New York City.  And every couple of weeks, I meander over to the salon and someone paints highlights into my mane.  I look out over the Park as someone else rinses the bleach out, and I sip tea, and I pay hundreds of dollars for the privilege.

I’m happy.  It’s worth it to me.

This long hair tangles on the ends and it breaks, and it looks messy.  It doesn’t have “style” like it did when it was shorter and more manageable.  It doesn’t hold a hot curl; it doesn’t pin up as well.  When it air-dries, it cannot be tamed.

(See, e.g., this example from earlier this week)

But I’m happy.

When it fell out after methotrexate, I was scared that I’d have to cut it off again.  But I didn’t.  And maybe the ends don’t look great.  And maybe I’m getting too old to wear it long.  But when I think about things that are awesome; when I think about happiness and having things that I’ve always wanted…

I have long, blonde hair, and I live in New York City.

I suppose my past-self — my younger self — knew a lot more than I ever gave her credit for knowing.  Because when I am stripped to the studs; pared to essentials — these are the things I have always wanted: to possess a shaggy head of Do Not Care hair, and to call this sleepless city my home.

I make things so difficult for myself in so many ways; I paint myself as being so complex.  But there is something so simple and so satisfying about looking the way I always thought it would be nice to look, and living where I always wanted to live.

Am I happy?

In a word:  Yes.

“I use to worry that friendships could end at anytime with saying or doing something wrong.  Good friendships are not as precarious as you think.”  David’s words echoed in my head all day. 

On Saturday night, over drinks and dessert, my friend Alice and I had talked about the elastic nature of the human heart; the way friendships grow and shrink.  These few years had brought so much opportunity; transition.  Reflection.  Change.

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Nothing endures but change.
– Heraclitus

That time has arrived again. Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (it is worth it just to write or say the name) said, “The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.” It is words that have great power to move people and create the world around you. Every year around this same time New York City wears me down to the point where a change in scenery is necessary. The energy of the city changes and people are frantically trying to finish up goals that were set in the beginning of the year. But for me, personally and professionally, I have always been more of person to make changes gradually, seeking balance.

For the first time in a very long time, I have people putting up their safety nets around me as I set up deep foundations for my new life. At an early age, I was taught that you must rely on yourself because others will fall short around you. In adulthood, I have learned that this is not untrue, but skewed. Yes, people inevitably disappoint you and as adults we get accustomed to dealing with those emotions.  But then we learn as we get older to eliminate those people from our lives — or more importantly, we learn to let go of their rhetoric and negativity.

However, what is more difficult to process is the people who surprise you and tell you that you are important to them. They are a rare breed indeed. I have found them. They are surrounding me during this seasonal transition.  For the first time in my life, I am expressing my feelings more openly without the fear of reprimand and judgment. It’s frightening.

The image of the woman that I see beyond the looking glass has become clearer and clearer with each passing day, and she is a force to be reckoned with. She is formidable, kind, confident, sexy, attractive, and lights up a room when she walks in. She is me, sometimes.  And I keep looking.

I was on Facebook and wondered why a wedding photographer from Miami was so interested in being friends. He had taken photos of acquaintance of mine who had gotten engaged.  They had had a magical engagement photo session in Paris — it had really caught my eye and I had remarked upon it.  But the more of the body of work of his that I view, I realize that he sells that fantasy of what weddings bring and the vision of what his images capture from his imagination. He is a puppet master, an influencer. Later, I returned to the Facebook page to learn news of the same acquaintance’s brother’s passing. Death. Again. 

Swept away.  We all have those moments where we’re swept away, curious about others lives, our own lives, but what does it all mean? Even with the changing reflection, my eternal flame burns brightly, my heart beats soundly, stronger, and I breathe and remain grounded in that comfort.

What you have been up to and who is it that stares back at you in your looking glass? Who are you, dear reader?

Alice, a veteran of the consulting and financial services industries, is a mom, musician, and patron of the arts in New York City. Her adventures in life, love, and philanthropy take her all over NYC and the world. She and I have known each other through the years and life transitions, and she is one of the original Women of Winesday.

Before we get into the heart and bones of the heavy things I want to write about, I must say that I’m back running distance, and I’m doing the hard work of marathon training.

And that leaves me looking for inspiration.

I don’t know if I’m burned out on running, or I’m just in a weird place therefore I’m not finding the same kind of comfort in running that I used to find.  But the truth, too, is that things change.  I’m not where I was in 2009-11, when I had an axe to grind, and a point to prove, and running was my one constant.  It was what I had to do to survive.

Frankly, that’s a good thing.

Right now, I’m struggling to redefine a purpose in doing something I’ve always done.  This is a Transition Time.  A time when everyone’s having babies, and getting married, or remarried, and I am not.  Instead, I’m wondering how much money I need to make and save to pay off my law school loans and consider raising a child on my own if that’s ultimately what happens.  (Dramatic?  Maybe.  Remember…I’m a worst-case-scenario kind of gal.)

Anyway, running.  How to find joy again in the mundane; the extraordinary?

Then I recalled this:

I had told Strand late last year that all I wanted for my thirtysomethingth birthday was to see her cross the finish line at the Napa Valley Marathon, which we were running over my birthday weekend.  That moment above is eee and me watching Strand finish the Napa Valley Marathon (eee and I had, by stroke of fate, crossed the finish line together).  I don’t know how to describe the joy I felt watching Strand have that first marathon experience.  I always talk about the “finish line moments”  — those perfects moment of suspended animation, of being present, of simply being at the end of a race.  That was one such moment.

I’ve thought about those “finish line moments” quite a few times this summer.

One of the hardest things about working through not relapsing was the trouble of Being Present.  That meant spending a good deal of time alone, because I was dealing with Feelings in Real Time.  When you are fighting so hard against the temptation to subsist on nothing, there isn’t a lot of joy in it.  I knew that would happen; I hadn’t expected this to be particularly fun

Sometimes it was hard because friends made snide critiques about my work-life balance, or how I was communicating or coping, instead of offering any support.  Sometimes they’d say Suck it up!  Stop doing things the hard way, or at least, stop talking about the hard stuff and you’ll stop attracting it!  I don’t think they were being malicious.  I just don’t think they necessarily understood ways that were healthy for me to process difficult experiences. 

Which, often, is to talk about the difficult, pick it apart to its bones — even if that takes a long time.  Even if it seems complex.

In my view, to deny that hard things happen; to pretend that I don’t have to encounter them and wrestle with them would be to deny the presence of a loving God and a sore hip.  Or to deny a Higher Power; or a Flying Spaghetti Monster; or whatever you, personally, believe. 

I am the eternal optimist; I have an unshakeable faith that things will work out.  But sometimes, guys, things are shit.  I am okay with admitting that:  the Bluesdays; the existential ennui; the reluctance to change; the breathlessness of work; the underlying fight with every meal.  Those things don’t negate the bone rattling joy of living — but that doesn’t mean there is happiness inherent in surviving the hard stuff.

So it has been…a summer.  Of protection and care.  Of long conversations with friends in every timezone.  Of seeking inspiration and joy.  Of talking to hear myself talk.  Of cherishing the good stuff and being frustrated with the bad.  Of tolerating the triggery things.

When we ran in Napa, I learned that, while running is a solitary activity, in running I wasn’t alone.  That’s been a much, much harder thing to accept in the context of recovery.  But last night when I flipped through pictures, I remembered the finish line; the mountain top; the concerts; the confusing moments and heartbreakingly delicate conversations, and there was no question that I could go on.

The ultimate point here is that I saw the sweaty pictures of myself at my last marathon and I remembered, too, what a crap race I ran.  I remembered how good it felt to hit that finish.  And I knew, then, how healthy I had to be and how hard I had to work to get to where I wanted to be in Central Park come November.