Parting Words

Parting Words

This site was created to fill three desires: my insatiable yearning to write, my longing for a creative space of my own, and my aspiration to practice mindfulness as I navigated my final months as a college student and my transition into a working life in New York.

Unequivocally, the project allowed me to accomplish all three of these goals. It has, first and foremost, been a digital journal where I have dumped my words, thoughts, photographs, and memories. In filling the blog with content and making it my own, it became a space devoted to creativity and mindfulness, just as the idea of the blog became lodged in the back of my mind at all times, forcing me to be more intentional and thoughtful in my everyday interactions and long-range dreams.

Now it is time to let go. Whatever worries I might have had about losing parts of me that I cherished as I transitioned into a new phase of life are now gone. I explored myself, adventured in places that were in my backyard and those that required flights to reach, pushed my creative limits, and figured out ways to take all of that joy with me into a new home in New York. Throughout all of it, I strove to remain true to myself.

On October 5, 2016, I wrote the blueprint for this site in my journal. I then spent the next four days creating it, tapping into WordPress skills and picking up new tricks. Little did I know that exactly 365 days from those first notes in my journal I would be publishing my final blog post. I wrote fifty-two, plus a few preliminary trials, which is as good of a number as any.

For a while now, though, I have known how I wanted to close my final post. So with that, I say thank you. Here are the lyrics to my favorite hymn, “I Would Be True” – the inspiration for this blog and a set of guiding principles that I carry with me wherever I go.

I WOULD BE TRUE

I would be true, for there are those who trust me;
I would be pure, for there are those who care;
I would be strong, for there is much to suffer;
I would be brave, for there is much to dare.

I would be friend of all – the foe, the friendless;
I would be giving, and forget the gift;
I would be humble, for I know my weakness;
I would look up, and laugh, and love, and lift.

One Last Look at My Gallery

One Last Look at My Gallery

Call them photos, captures, a portfolio, a galley, or a year’s worth of adventures and memories, I am proud of the images that I have featured on this site. Full disclosure, not every single image was my own; as I have noted on the sidebar throughout, I utilized Unsplash.com – an opensource library of photos by some of the most talented and generous photographers out there – to supplement my own photography when I lacked the perfect image for a post or idea. As the project progressed, however, I did find myself relying less on external images and instead utilizing my improving photography skills more.

I wrote extensively on photography and the approach I tried to bring to my practice of it in my July post titled “Photography, As It Sits With Me Now”, so I feel no shame in sparing words in this post. I kept a gallery of my best photos going throughout the blog, titling the page “Captures.” I encourage everyone to visit / revisit that page, but for viewing simplicity (and a little guilty pleasure), I have compiled my favorite images in this post.

Like other elements of this project, I do not intent to stop practicing photography just because I am bringing this blog to a close. In fact, I am inspired to continue (and maybe even upgrade my equipment). But for now, these photos are my best work. Thirteen selected favorites from thirteen months of working on this project. They can stand alone or they can represent the stories, memories, and ideas that I have tried to capture on this site. Or both. With each selection, I have provided a brief synopsis of where I was and what I was doing when I took the photo. I enjoyed the process of remembering these locations and moments, and I am pleased to share them.

SELECTED FAVORITES

(Featured in chronological order)

©

Though I took this picture a few months before the idea for this site was conceived, I believe that it was the kernel of success that I needed to push my desire to practice photography from passive to active. The image is one of spontaneity. I arrived in Neil’s Harbor, one of the most northerly towns on Cape Breton Island, after exploring the island’s west side and its famed Skyline Trail, the crown jewel of the Highlands National Park. Caught off guard by the thirty degree temperature difference between the warm St. Lawrence Bay and the chilly Atlantic Coast, I nearly missed the dingy pulling out into the foggy harbor and out of sight. I appreciate the mystery in this image – a quality that I have tried to capture in my photos ever since.
Neil’s Harbor, Cape Breton Island, May 2016
Traveling to Norway in winter, Maddie and I found ourselves caught somewhere in between magical bliss and bitter-cold reality. It was our first big trip together, and with cold temperatures and a fresh dusting of snow every night, Nordic skiing was our priority, and photography was not. But, standing on a frozen lake somewhere in the hills north of Oslo, I did manage to capture this image, which I find appealing in its simplicity.
Oslo, Norway, February 2017
Ah, Craftsbury. Home to the best Nordic skiing in Vermont, and probably the Northeast. With newfound freedom in my class schedule during the Spring Semester of my senior year, I was able to make the trek to the Northeast Kingdom far more often than in previous years. After a fresh snow dump and my first foray on the Craftsbury Commons trail, I spent an hour puttering around the main trails and captured this barn image – so prototypically Vermont and perfect in every way.
Craftsbury, February 2017
My second barn photo came a few weeks later as I drove from Middlebury to Westport for what felt like the hundredth time. That number is not all that inaccurate. Counting summers, my back-and-forth between the Vermont and New York sides of Lake Champlain during my time at college easily reached triple digits, if I count each there-and-back as two drives. Everything about the drive and distance was ideal – not too short, not too long, never any traffic, and views the entire way. Plus, it connected two of my favorite places in the world.  This barn was always the prettiest thing I passed on the Vermont side, so I finally took the time to stop.
Bridport, March 2017
Speaking of favorite places, during a quiet springtime weekend I chose to do something a little different and spent a night camping out at North Point on Camp Dudley’s property. I have always slept in my hammock when I camp, and this time was no different, but with temps reaching a low in the thirties and a direct view of the sunrise over Lake Champlain and Vermont’s Green Mountains, I found myself stirring at 4:15 AM. I stoked up the previous night’s fire, set out to make some coffee, and played around with camera settings to dial in an ideal exposure for capturing the sunrise. This image frames the entire experience; spring buds, the sun directly over Camel’s Hump, a boat drifting down the lake, reflections off the water, and an ethereal glow.
Camp Dudley, May 2017
One of the greatest graduation gifts I received came as a complete surprise, when Hank Barrett asked me to be the fourth for a day of thirty-six holes at Shinnecock Hills and the National Golf Links of America, two of the country’s finest (and toughest to get on) golf courses. I have never had a better day of golf in my life, and never felt so lucky, especially when I closed out our final match of the day with a par-par-par-birdie stretch on the fifteenth through eighteenth holes at National. This is an image of National’s iconic windmill, and I love the late-afternoon lighting and the arrangement of highlights and shadows it created.
National Golf Links of America, June 2017
This image does not stand in for one particular moment for all of the memories I have from this location. Sunsets with my Dudley pals, games of CanJam and corn hole, rest stops on early morning training runs, walks up the hill from my grandparents’ house between dinner and dessert. I took it when I was relaxing in Westport, in limbo between graduation and launching for Germany. The school house might be the most iconic structure in my life, and I am glad I could finally capture it in its full glory.
Westport, June 2017
My crazy, awe-inspiring West Coast road trip with five of my high school buddies was the best way for us to celebrate graduating college and spend time together before we all started up jobs in various cities on the East Coast. Though my photos will never compare to the memories of that trip, I do particularly like this one from the top of Upper Yosemite Falls. We had risen before dawn in attempt to beat the crowds and heat in Yosemite Valley, and it paid off in unparalleled views and one of the best ten miles on trail of my life.
Yosemite National Park, June 2017
This is a more somber image, taken of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, Germany. My month in Germany featured stark contrasts, inner disparities, and a roller-coaster of emotions. Perhaps I am drawn to this photo out of all of those I took during the trip because of the profound balance depicted. On the surface, everything is aligned and appealing. And yet the experience of walking through the memorial is anything but calming. Walking between the rectangular concrete columns, the looming, maze-like construction of the site quickly reveals itself. It is claustrophobic and disorienting. In some ways, I felt the same during my month leading the exchange trip. On the surface, I was leading a group of awesome kids from the best camp in the country, I had just graduated, and I have a job lined up in New York upon my return. But internally, I felt the pressure of responsibility and the anxiety of transition, and those emotions made it harder for me to relax and enjoy myself.
Berlin, July 2017
New York, New York. I arrived to the city exhausted and full of questions, and it took me a few weeks to settle in. I am still settling in, and I do not know if I will ever be completely comfortable here. And yet, I have found solace in my daily routines and my opportunities to step outside of those routines, if only for a detour through Central Park. The calm in this photo masks the hectic nature of the city, but in seeking spaces that remind me that nature is still out there, I have found beauty and incredible juxtapositions. I love that the lady in the red dress made an appearance in the image (fitting Matrix reference).
Central Park (East), August 2017
Pawling has served as weekend escape, and I am so grateful that I can get out of the city, be with Maddie and her family, and maintain some of my favorite outdoorsy activities that are just not possible in Manhattan. This is another photo that captures mystery; the gate is both open and chained closed, and the grass (and trees) are certainly greener on the other side of the fence (stone wall). But ultimately, it is inviting, and that is the way I feel about New York: being in this new place is an invitation to try new things and expand my parameters for how I define “adventure.”
Pawling, August 2017
I kicked off September and autumn with a trip home to Williamstown with Maddie to celebrate birthdays, be with family, and find more adventures. No moment from the weekend was more striking than when the sun rose over Lake George at the start of Maddie’s triathlon. With the air temperature thirty degrees cooler than the water, the fog rising off the lake was mystical. I felt lucky to be present for that moment, and I always feel lucky that mountains and lakes have been such an integral part of my life.
Lake George, September 2017
The foliage has been more muted this autumn, and that is okay. There is still plenty of beauty in less vibrant tones. I love the layering of greens and browns in this image, and I was thrilled to capture it when the priority of this particular morning was running a trail race, and not going out on an adventure to take photos. There is nuance in this image, which makes it a fitting one on which to end. Who would have known that my year long quest to capture moments worth savoring would end with an image of an unnamed bog somewhere in northwestern Connecticut, but I like it that way. Beautiful yet unassuming, bright yet mysterious, an ending and a beginning.
Macricostas Preserve, September 2017
A New (Temporary & Permanent) Home

A New (Temporary & Permanent) Home

I went up to Vermont this past weekend. I was not in search of anything in particular, but I found the process of driving the familiar country roads and returning to Middlebury to be both nostalgic and uniquely eye-opening. My college-aged self, the one who conceived of this blog a year ago and graduated in May, is now fixed in history and memory. It is, and will be, impossible for me to return to that version of myself ever again. Change is unavoidable, and certainly not something I fear or reject. I have learned and grown in the months since leaving Middlebury, and upon my return, I learned that the college and town has been changing too. There is construction in the downtown, a few shops have moved or closed, the co-op has expanded, the dining halls now require a swipe system, and the soccer team looks different than the squad that wore those same jerseys a year ago.

Of course, I went to Vermont to enjoy some of the same activities I loved so much when I was living there. I shared a few Vermont craft beers with friends, made coffee, breathed the crisp autumn air, and went on an outstanding trail run early on Sunday morning. I loved seeing so many people whom I care about and having that feeling reciprocated.

Chandler Ridge, October 2017

The trip was just what I needed, but as I returned to the city on Sunday afternoon, I felt a peculiar sensation of heading home. Vermont is a state that I have loved and a place I could so easily see myself down the road, but it is not my home right now. My home is on the twenty-eighth floor of a large building on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. And while I do not think I will be calling myself a New Yorker any time soon, I am proud of the space that Maddie and I have created for ourselves.

It is reasonably sized with big windows to let in light and a kitchen that is ours to use as we wish. We have a new bed that came in a box and plenty of design touches that evoke the rural settings both of us have loved all our lives. I feel comforted knowing that I was able to take bits of my homes over the years – the Berkshires, the Adirondacks, Vermont – and bring them into a metropolis of steel and concrete. It works for me.

This home is far from permanent, but it is the most permanent place I have lived since I left home in 2012 to set off on my gap year adventures and then attend Middlebury. Each dorm room there was a nine-month lease, and though I moved only short distances around campus over the four years, it was something new each year. Now I am settled in a space that I can call my own. It is a reassuring feeling amidst plenty that is still unknown.

The city is cooling down, days are getting shorter, and the leaves are just beginning to turn. I hope that in two weeks, when I head back up to Middlebury to celebrate my soccer coach’s thirty-third and final season at the helm, my timing aligns with peak foliage. I have a home in New York, and with the relative permanence that brings, I am beginning to wind down this blogging project. It has served its purpose and remained by my side over the course of twelve incredible months. The time and emphasis I have placed on the blog has not been insignificant – fifty-plus posts, a gallery of photos, my selected writing from four years at Middlebury, a few adventure guides and favorite selections. Most of all, it has been a running dialogue with myself – a means of capturing the highs and lows, the moments of elation and uncertainty, the beautiful little details and life-altering choices. I am proud of what I have produced, even if no one has read my posts or reveled in my photographs as much as I have, because it has pushed me to seek balance and mindfulness in my thoughts, choices, and actions.

I have two more posts lined up and then I will conclude the project. I plan to savor those last words and images, for they have meant a lot to me.

An oak coat rack that started in the back yard of a retired truck driver, found its way into the Middlebury wood shop, sourced Vermont maple tree taps for the hooks, and settled in New York City.
A Fall Trail Race With Summer Temps

A Fall Trail Race With Summer Temps

There is always a week in September that feels like the middle of summer. After a relatively benign and at times even chilly end of summer and beginning of autumn (see my previous post about Labor Day weekend), the warmth and humidity struck down upon New York. Everything felt like summer except for the noticeably earlier sunsets and tints of orange and reds beginning to creep their way into the foliage.

Macricostas Preserve, September 2017

Amidst the heat, Maddie and I set out to check off an event that has been on our calendars for a while by now: the first leg of the Steep Rock Trail Series, a 10k trail race held at the Macricostas Preserve just over the Connecticut boarder from Pawling. The last race in which we both participated was the Middlebury Maple Run in the spring – a road race with over a thousand runners. The race on Sunday was the polar opposite. The field was no more than sixty people, the start of the race was in a large field a good ten-minute walk from the parking lot, and the course was about as technical as it gets. The brainchild of a local ultra-runner and running coach, the Steep Rock series has three legs spread throughout the fall, each at a different nature preserve near Washington, CT.

I cannot speak for the other two venues yet, but so far, “steep rock” is by no means an exaggeration. The trails at Macricostas turned up a mountain after the first mile, reached the pinnacle after 550 feet of elevation gain, and plummeted down the backside. Then we did it all in reverse, doubling back and looping around the ridgeline before one last rocky descent. When we emerged from the woods and into the open field for the last half-mile, the heat and humidity of the day hit like a wall even though it was only nine o’clock in the morning.

Maddie was the champion of the day, besting me by a minute or two and destroying the other female competitors. I came in fifth for men – a respectable place to finish for my first race in four months. But it was not the overall standings that made the day a success for me; rather, it was experiencing the unique feeling of focus that comes over me when I race on trails. Navigating something as technical as the 10k race course required internal and external awareness, command over my body and my mind, and a whole spectrum of creativity and athletic abilities.

Macricostas Preserve, September 2017

Trail running is so vastly different than road running, especially at venues as hilly and challenging as what I ran on Sunday. It is not a stretch to compare these activities to mountain biking versus road biking; one requires steady exertion and pacing, the other a broader athletic skillset. Trail running is better suited to my abilities and interests than road running, and that is why I jumped at the opportunity to race in the Steep Rock series.

I see the benefits and fun in both types of running. During the weeks, I have been participating in Central Park Track Club workouts, which have given me a chance to train with elite road runners. My endurance base is not quite where I want it to be, but I feel myself improving. Adding in longer runs as the weather cools down plus a more regular commitment to lifting and core will help prepare me for the half marathon at the end of the series. I have six weeks until that race, and I am sure, when I am knee deep in one of the three river crossings planned on that course, I will be wishing for the Indian Summer weather that we have now. Until then, and afterwards too of course, I will continue to seek out trails on the weekends, because nothing is better than a trail run on a crisp fall day with a blanket of colorful leaves cushioning every step.

Macricostas Preserve, September 2017
NYC Recommendations from an Unqualified Insider

NYC Recommendations from an Unqualified Insider

In June, I presented my mom and aunt with a “comprehensive” list of personal recommendations for sipping and eating your way around Burlington, VT. It took me two minutes to write (no Google searching necessary) and I did it on an index card.

That right there pretty much sums up my expertise on living in cities. I knew Burlington pretty well by the end of my summer 2016 living there, and to date, it was the largest city I had ever spent any considerable amount of time (just larger than Bad Homburg, Germany where I lived for half of 2012, if you count the immediate surrounding towns).

I am approaching seven full weeks in New York, not a far cry from the ten weeks I spent in Burlington, but the depth to my local knowledge is not only shallow, it is practically non-existent. So with that disclaimer out of the way, I present my NYC Recommendations.

(Disclaimer number two: I am drawn towards efficiency, value, the outdoors, and good coffee. My recommendations may or may not reflect those tendencies.  I have also been living on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, so I would be the last person to ask about trendy locations in Brooklyn, for example, or anything along those lines.)

EAT

Orwasher’s Bakery

Brunch is outrageously popular in New York, but with a busy schedule and a tendency to spend my weekends outdoors, I have yet to partake in the brunch scene. A good bakery is more up my alley if I want something special for my morning. Orwasher’s is traditional, and they do it right. Hearty breads including a quinoa spelt bread that I love, great bagels, and donuts that they fill for you by hand with any sweet concoction imaginable.

Dig Inn

Fast-casual dining is definitely a movement right now, and right up my alley is Dig Inn. They feature a simple but flexible build-your-own bowl menu with a variety of grains, veggies, protein, and fun add-ons to choose from. Any combination is good in my book because they keep it healthy and fresh. Locations throughout the city make it a great stop for any occasion.

Quality Eats

For a trendy downtown restaurant on the Upper East Side, Quality Eats is hard to beat. Maddie, her parents, and I went there for her birthday dinner, and I was impressed by their creative, carnivore-focused menu and outstanding atmosphere.

Levain’s

No NYC dining list would be complete without dessert, and no dessert is better than Levain’s. They serve up the best cookies in the world. That is a fact, not an opinion. Tucked in a tiny basement off a side-street on the Upper West Side, Levain’s always brings a crowd. Try one of each, but if you have to pick, I recommend the double chocolate and the walnut chocolate chip.

DRINK

Birch Coffee

I am not exactly “branching” out with this recommendation, but having tried Birch at multiple locations, I do not see any reason to look past what is one of the ubiquitous establishments in New York’s third-wave coffee scene. The woodworking craftsmanship on display, earthy vibes, and coffee any way you like it make it a standout. They really seem to care about the product from start to finish, and that is why it is a go to for me when I want to treat myself to a really good coffee.

Irving Farm 

Irving Farm was the first coffee shop I discovered when I started visiting New York to spend time with Maddie’s family, way before I knew I would be working here. Now, I have the option of walking past it every day on my way to work, and it is always tempting to stop. The coffee is great, and I have always enjoyed passing their roastery on Route 22 in Millerton, NY when driving between Pawling and Williamstown. But even cooler is the fact that they have huge spaces, perfect to sit and read or work on a laptop. They also have a hub in Grand Central if you are just passing through.

LIC Beer Project

A hidden gem that will probably explode in popularity in the beer world within the next couple years, the brewery produces fantastic hoppy libations and features some of the coolest can art I have ever seen. They have the industrial charm going on, and they are a quick trip across the east river from Midtown if you want to drink from the source or attend a weekend can release.

Five Boroughs Brewing

I have yet to try any of the Five Boroughs offerings, but a Dudley guy named Kevin O’Donnell is one of the co-founders of the recently-opened brewery in Brooklyn. It is a hike to get down to the tap room from the Upper East Side, so I am keeping my eyes out for drafts and cans in Manhattan.

EXPLORE

Central Park’s Great Hill

In the northwest corner of the park, a bit removed from the crowds that flock to the Bridal Path and Reservoir Track, the Great Hill is my favorite place to run. The steep elevation, views of the city, wooded dirt trails, and a serene grassy oval atop the hill where I tend to see dogs chasing after tennis balls make the skyscrapers and crowded blocks seem a little further away. It is ideal for sunrises, too.

Randal’s Island

Randal’s Island is off the beaten track for most New Yorkers, but from my apartment, the pedestrian bridge on 103rd Street that crosses the East River is easy to access. The island is packed with playing fields and views of the Manhattan skyline, and running there is a breath of fresh air from the crowds that flock to Central Park.

Long Island City

I have barely explore Long Island City, but something about it feels right. It is not stuffy or pretentious like parts of Manhattan, and I appreciate how truly outstanding establishments like the LIC Beer Project can reside right next to warehouses that service broken-down food trucks. I look forward to going back, if only to try as many possible items on the John Brown Smokehouse’s menu as possible, because all of it is barbecue done right.

The High Line and Chelsea Market

For many people, walking the High Line and going to Chelsea Market are chart toppers when it comes to a New York bucket list of fun things to do. And though I am trying not to act too touristy, now that I have lived here for a number of weeks, I still find these activities to be fun and exciting. It is a bit like walking down Church Street in Burlington – I have done it a hundred times, but it never really gets old. Plus, these activities are in fact active, and shopping in Chelsea is a good way to find unique, quality items and foods.

Labor Day, Home, Two Birthdays

Labor Day, Home, Two Birthdays

No transition from one month to another is as definitive as that of August to September. Besides the clarity of the summer-to-fall weather patterns in New England (whereas every other seasonal transition seems unpredictable), Labor Day always marks the end of summer and the time to head back to school. And, of course, the commencement of another soccer season.

But this year it is different. Granted, I do feel as if September is really the start for me here in New York. August was my warm up month to get comfortable in my new office, learn my way around the city, and enjoy typical summertime activities on the weekends. With the financial world ramping up after the slowest months of the year, this month has a different aura. Maddie and I are also moving into our apartment in the coming week, which, once we are settled, will feel like the real start of things. (More on the apartment to come).

Lake George, September 2017

Yet, despite these various instances of new momentum in my life, I missed the definitive end and beginning that Labor Day has always represented. I will openly admit that I feel those pangs of nostalgia as I see my friends heading back to Vermont for the start of the semester and a new soccer season. It is not immaturity or jealously, it is the simple fact that Vermont in autumn is one of the greatest things in the world.

So, Maddie and I did what felt most natural: we made the trip up to Williamstown for the long weekend and set out on adventures. By far the biggest was her final triathlon of the year in Lake George. We rose Saturday morning to temps in the thirties and wrapped ourselves in the blanket of stars above us as we made the drive north. It was awe-inspiring to step into the bustle and energy of the triathlon transition zone so early in the morning, especially with the sun beginning to rise and the steamy fog rising off the lake.

Maddie, barefooted in her wetsuit yet still wearing a puffy down jacket, prepared for her final tri of the season while I mapped out my spectating plans. I like getting out on the course, especially once the swim leg is over and the competitors go out for the bike. Being an Olympic distance race, I knew Maddie would be on her bike for over an hour, covering the 24.6 mile counterclockwise loop that rose into the Adirondack foothills surrounding Lake George before descending back down to the transition zone. So, after she finished a challenging swim due to the dense fog and glare, I made my way out. My first stop was a coffee shop where I fueled up and grabbed a maple bacon donut. Feeling content, I jogged over to a turn where I could watch bikers coming in and runners finishing their first lap. Maddie was racing on her new tri bike for the first time, and she whizzed by me a few minutes sooner than I expected. I then jogged the route for the run in reverse, catching Maddie at mile one and then again just before mile four. We both arrived at the finish around the same time, and she ended up fourth overall and the winner of the run by two minutes.

I love watching triathlons, especially when I get to do a little exploring of my own. By the end of the race, the day had warmed to seventy degrees – a perfect Saturday on the edge of summer and fall.

The tenor of the weekend shifted gears as we made the drive back to Williamstown on Saturday afternoon, from high intensity and detailed preparations to laid back time with the family. Maddie certainly deserved a rest after her efforts, and I was excited to be home for a few days. I played soccer with my brother, who just started his senior year soccer season at Mt. Greylock, and ran with Maddie and my dad, but it was the birthday celebration that topped everything else.

My family, along with both sets of grandparents and the Storey cousins from Westport, gathered to celebrate two birthdays: Maddie’s twenty-fourth and my dad’s forty-ninth. It was a blast to see everyone and to take an evening to appreciate those closest to me. We missed my sister, who was already up at Bowdoin for junior year, but the party was still a blast. I got to be the grill-master and cooked burgers over an open fire because the gas grill was not working. No complaints on my end; the little bit of extra effort made the meal all the more special.

Back in the city on Monday evening (Labor Day and Maddie’s actual birthday), we celebrated once again with a dinner at Quality Eats, a new Upper East Side favorite. I am beginning to understand how the current popularity of lower Manhattan dictates culture all over the city, and I have been pleased to find many trendy restaurants and coffee shops opening locations further uptown and closer to where I am living.

As I settle into September and prepare for the move to the new apartment, I welcome and embrace the fall vibes that are starting to creep into my life once again. It is a fantastic time of year anywhere, and though I am not in Vermont or starting up another school year, there is plenty to look forward to. This is where I will be, and this is what I will be doing. I feel as curious and excited as ever.

Pawling, August 2017
Design Thinking

Design Thinking

STARTING WITH SEEDS

At this time last year, I was relishing in my yearly three-week stretch of being a professional soccer player. That is, from the time my team gathered in late August to the first day of classes the second or third week of September, I devoted all of my time and energy to soccer. Preseason was always highly anticipated for so many reasons, and as a senior, I found myself relishing in my final opportunity.

And yet, with plenty of time to relax beyond the daily training sessions, I cherished the chance to reflect on the summer and mentally prepare for the school year. For my final year at Middlebury, I wanted to have clear goals in the back of my head that would remind me to take advantage of it all.

Peak autumn nearly a year ago in Middlebury

I did not know it at the time, but I was beginning to design my senior year. Goals, bucket lists, mindfulness, and clear intentions all contributed to the road map that I was laying out in front of me.

On the first day of classes, I stepped into my only course not required for my major and minor: Design Thinking. I expected it to be an easy class that I would prioritize last, but as I learned to understand the concept of design thinking and subsequently realize that I was already a design thinker, I found the coursework growing into something much larger than a series of assignments for the purpose of earning a grade – (this blog was a a product of that class, and here I am a year later, still pouring time and thought into it).

As I internalized the design thinking process, I found myself applying it to countless ideas and challenges. It factored into everything from my thesis projects to my job search to my woodworking, and especially here in this space. “I Would Be True” is a product of that Design Thinking course and the ideas we tossed around that classroom. The question: “What would you do with your own domain on the web?” I went through many iterations of designing this site and choosing what kinds of material I wanted to display, and even now, I am still tweaking it to suit my goals – always looking forward while continuously circling back to the original question.

Pawling, August 2017

I occupy a different space (physically and mentally) than I did when I conceived of this blog. This site has served its purpose for me, and though I am not putting the lid on it quite yet, I am thinking beyond this space. My job has provided me plenty to keep me busy, and New York offers endless possibilities for fun and adventure. But I also have new windows of time on my hands – during evenings and on the weekends. I have found myself considering new seeds of ideas, and as I begin to pursue other endeavors, I know that the design thinking process will help them grown. New York is a great place to start anew, and as I enter my first September that will not be dedicated to kicking off a soccer season and heading back to school, I want to keep my ideas flowing so that I remain enthusiastic and creative.

Design thinking, for me, is both a label that I can place on my desire to create and a process intended to steer my ideas into actions. I like knowing that I have it in my back pocket any time I get bored or stuck with something that is problematic. And I appreciate that every idea requires many iterations; I will not always get things right the first time, but I can find joy in the process of revision.

Fish Paintings

Fish Paintings

A LOOK INTO THE LANDMARK OFFICE

The first thing that struck me about Landmark when I interviewed last November was the overwhelming presence of fish artwork. Every room and hallway in the office, even the areas that no client or manager would ever step foot, featured images of fish or fishing-related scenes on the walls. There was little restraint on the part of the interior designers (or whoever elected to hang all of the paintings); instead of tastefully chosen images spaced sparingly throughout the office’s six floors, the goal seemed to be displaying as many paintings as the walls would allow.

Even stranger is the fact that no one in the office is particularly devoted to fishing. As the story goes, when the company acquired the townhouse-style building, one of the clients asked if the office needed artwork to decorate the walls. He then proceeded to dump his entire collection of fish paintings – all originals, mind you – to be displayed. To give a sense of the volume of paintings, there are twenty-three on the staircase from the first floor to the fifth, seven in the room where I sit (eight if you count the large one stashed behind the printer), and six in the small conference room where the investment team meets.

The funny thing is that I love to fish. I grew up with weekend outings at the Field Farm pond in Williamstown where we caught largemouth bass and then graduated to evenings rowing around the coves of Lake Champlain with my dad during the summers we spent in Westport. I picked up fly-fishing as a leader at Dudley, and Maddie taught me how to gut and clean trout that we have pulled out of Quaker Lake. If I have to be Landmark’s de facto fish guru, that is fine by me.

I have not yet devised a comparison between the office’s single most defining feature and the nature of the work. I need some more time to mull over all of the possible fish metaphors I could use to describe my office, and I will certainly have that, since I am less than a month into my two years here. I did, however, use this peculiar “museum” as the topic for my most poem. This one is fairly autobiographical, and I have attempted to strike a balance among ridiculous, inquisitive, and reverential sentiments.

Dinner last weekend, caught in Quaker Lake

FISH PAINTINGS

The walls of my office are covered in fish paintings.
Exclusively fish paintings.
And not just any old fish paintings
(although I’m sure some date back a century or more)
but original fish paintings.
Five floors of these things —
six if you could the attic,
where many more are stored,
or so I’ve heard —
and so many on each wall as to be claustrophobic.
There are too many to hang them all,
and it’s rumored that the founder once mulled the idea
of buying the building next door
and expanding the business
so as to have more bare walls at his disposal.
They choke and confuse the rooms,
not a regal marlin cresting an ocean wave
but a jumble of netted smelt gasping for air.

When I summon the courage to inquire
about the fish paintings —
“so, who’s the fisherman around here?” —
I am met only by mumbles and shrugs,
so I continue to ponder the fish paintings,
stopping often on my trek up to my fourth-floor desk
to inspect the details of a particular species
or speculate the geography of a scene.
There are watercolors where milky underbellies
of a salmon run flash across the falls and rivulets;
oil-drenched canvases with rippled streams
and textured bark framed in hardwoods;
graphite sketches forlorn and wistful,
the soul-searching eye of the fish
an even deeper shade of black.

Above my desk shaded dark amidst a muddled,
impressionistic slew of browns and greens —
perhaps an Adirondack scene after summer rain —
a lone fisherman wields a hickory swatch,
the line slack but illuminated by dappled sun.
He is steady, unencumbered by the current
or the swaying limbs overhead,
and yet his face is featureless,
a blank and empty space.
And as I project my thoughts across the spectrum
of distance and the years,
composing my own mental sketches
upon his stoic frame,
I wonder what this man did
to be immortalized in such a way,
how his grand deeds or expertise or stature
stacked up against the thousand other fishermen
the artist could have chosen,
and concurrently consider
what he did to deserve his final resting place
among the hundred other fish paintings
in a slow and lonely office
on the east side of Manhattan,
so far from the river he loves.

What is Work-Life Balance?

What is Work-Life Balance?

I have held many jobs in my past – mail deliverer, caddy, camp counselor, metal plating factory worker, to name a few – but nothing really compares to the journey I have recently embarked upon in New York. It is not because of the time commitment, or the increased pay, or the suit I wear Mondays through Thursdays, or the fancy office building and my own business cards. No, it is because all of my previous jobs were never my primary focus – (full disclosure: working at Camp Dudley has never really felt like a job to me, even though it certainly consumed almost all of my time for almost all of my summers) – whereas this one is. I spend the majority of my waking hours at my office, I expend the most mental energy trying to learn as much as I can to get up to speed, and I structure my days around my job.

And yet, even in a repetitive, Monday through Friday, 8:45 AM to 6:00-ish PM life, I feel a new kind of freedom. I may have fewer hours to spend under my own jurisdiction, but I also do not have the constant weight of homework or studying in the back of my mind at all times. I can tune out my job the minute I leave the office in the evening, and weekends feel like real breaks.

Granted, August in New York, especially in the financial world, is pretty slow. I am sure that there will be weeks this fall where work feels more consuming than just the hours I spend in the office. And life will get in the way sometimes, too. There will be weekends that feel more like catch up instead of relaxation, and perhaps I will choose to take on additional responsibilities that also fall under the blanket of “work.” But for now, I am enjoying the new prospect of structuring my non-working hours around activities that provide balance. Exercising, writing, blogging, spending time outdoors, and meeting up with friends have all served as a punctuation mark on a normal workday to elevate it from good to great. Even just researching the plethora of NYC food offerings or stopping at a fruit stand on the way home from work are exciting ways to spend my time.

As I think about the concept of work-life balance, I am first and foremost appreciative that I have a job that allows for freedom in the evenings and on the weekends. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a job that enables balance, and others make the choice to forego that balance for other reasons. However, I am hesitant to define “work” as what happens in my office and “life” as what happens outside of it. Putting boxes around those two spaces and separating them under an implied mental framework that one is has a negative effect on balance and the other a positive is inherently problematic; it can take any potential fun or joy out of work while putting pressure on what happens outside of work to always be fulfilling. I am not yet ready to define work-life balance for myself, nor do I want to be formulaic about how I set out to achieving it. But I do know that the process will take open-mindedness, a “yes-first” attitude, and continuous reflection.

I would now like to mention a concept that I have heard of in the past but never really considered closely, and that is “flow.” Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi pioneered the study of what he described as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

I have come across “flow” numerous times in books and academic discussions, but thinking deeper on the concept, it would seem that achieving flow each day is critical to overall happiness, wellness, and balance. I have known for a long time that physical activity is one of the easiest ways for me to slip into the state of flow, and that is why I take so much pleasure in waking up for 5:45 AM runs or going on long, hilly bike rides around Pawling on the weekends. It is why I have trail races lined up for this fall and hope to continue playing soccer, albeit at a less intense level than at Middlebury. Other activities that induce flow include writing, fishing, and putting a little extra effort into preparing a meal (especially when it is on the grill). I found this Spring that flow happened almost instantly when I spent time in the wood shop.

All of this is to say that I do not feel any issue finding flow outside of my job at the moment. Now, as I get more comfortable in my office and more accustomed to my responsibilities, I intend to be mindful of the tasks that induce flow and which ones seem to sap my energy or feel downright monotonous. Not every duty I perform at work will lead to flow, and I am perfectly fine knowing that. What is important is that I understand which tasks will help me find flow, because I think a little bit each day will go a long way towards enjoying my working experience. And, if I am truly happy at work most of the time, the line between work and play will not seem so rigid.

Blurring the work-life dichotomy seems to me the best way to achieve work-life balance. Perhaps that makes the big picture a little muddier or more complicated, but in a positive light, I can also view it as more nuanced. I am all for keeping things simple, but when I am using my brain as much as I will be, both at work and at play, I think that a little nuance is essential. This discussion is more circular than linear and will certainly lead to more questions than answers, but working towards contentedness in the present moment is the best way to be positive as I look towards the future, and that is why it is essential.

Central Park (East), August 2017
New Lenses and Language

New Lenses and Language

The first half of August is always slow. I remember a quote from the beginning of Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting:

The first week of August hangs at the very top of the summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color. Often at night there is lightning, but it quivers all alone. There is no thunder, no relieving rain. These are strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.

Granted, these sentiments do not perfectly correlate to my experience in New York over the past two weeks – today does mark two weeks on the job – but when a paragraph like this one sticks with you from the moment you read it, you know it is evoking something deeper, something powerful.

For me, early August always meant that the sun would begin to set noticeably earlier and a chill would overtake the early mornings on Lake Champlain. I would begin to realize the impending changes and do my best to savor every day. For late August would always take on an entirely different feel: a return to Williamstown, or later Middlebury, and the commencement of another season of soccer.

I reflect on these periods of my life because my seasonal rhythms have been thrown out the window this summer. I entered my new life in New York at a time where everyone else is leaving the city to take those last weeks of summer vacation. Things move slowly, and the expected bustle of the city is subdued by the summer humidity.

Still, as I move around, I am confronted on a second-to-second basis with new things to observe: views, aromas, unique atmospheres of each block, and, of course, people. One of my goals post-Middlebury has been to continue with my writing. This blog is a great reason for me to write, but with so many opportunities for inspiration around me, I have launched back into writing poems.

One of the best pieces of feedback that I received from my poetry thesis adviser and second reader was that I do a good job creating characters in my poems and speaking from disparate points-of-view. I appreciate the process of turning an observation into a story. Sometimes the result strays from where I intended or represents something so far removed from who I am that I have no idea how it came to be. But I always find that in creating a voice, one that is different than mine, I learn about myself. What follows is one of those poems.

TIGHT ROPE

We’ve seen each other more than once
across the empty space —
a drifting shadow on sunlit mornings,
a candlelit blur through evening’s blinds;
we hear the same cacophony
rising from the street below,
though whether you and I discern
the same melody from the madness
I cannot be sure.
To call it a street,
that strangled stretch of cobbled walk
and calloused hedges dividing our buildings
is to give more credit than it deserves —
and I say “our” buildings
because there is no better way to put it,
but we both know there’s no ownership
on this block —
nothing possessive,
no personal touch, no sense of pride
in the square footage that we are leasing
on annual contracts —
just an endless array
of 4’ x 4’ windows radiating outwards,
refracting around corners
and below the pavement,
but never really stopping.

I’m speaking for you, I realize,
but what choice do I have?
These aren’t the types of walls
that would talk, if they could.
I catch glimpses into your world,
one that could so easily be mine,
but at the closing down of each day
I find only my reflection
in your dark, despondent window.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who’s the loneliest of them all?

 I dream of crossing paths
somewhere far away from this place —
Greenpoint or Poughkeepsie or even Malibu —
a silent nod of recognition,
a smile —
a back and forth
that begins somewhere out there
and returns with us to our separate
but coalescing spaces —
blurry moments growing clearer
in the sunrise gleaming off your window
and into mine —
false pretenses stripped down,
no need for these questions
of proximity and perception.
I’ll throw a rope across the chasm
and be your modern-day Philippe Petit,
waltzing high above Manhattan
and over to you.

But today is choked and dense
and ungrateful, so inward I turn.
It is early and many hours lie waiting
before I dream again,
and imprisoned I’ll remain
by your shuttered window,
my fragmented illusion —
no portal into your life
but a mirror turned on mine.

css.php