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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.
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 York, New York; or, New York, New York?

New York, New York; or, New York, New York?

Today is Friday, August 4th, and later I will leave Manhattan to spend the weekend in Pawling, which requires a subway to Grand Central and then a ninety-five minute train ride on the Metro-North Railway. It sounds very typical for a New York City resident during the summer months working a Monday – Friday job in the financial sector.

But “typical” in this context is relative. For me, the word is as inaccurate a description of my experience over the past few days as I can think of. Five days ago I was leaving Germany. Four days ago I repacked my life and took my Yukon on what is possibly its final drive, from Westport to Pawling. Three days ago I began settling into my temporary residence with the Leopolds on East End Avenue in Manhattan. Two days ago I started my job at Landmark. Yesterday I went on my first ever run in Central Park. Today, I am finally feeling the weight of this crazy transitional moment of my life lifting, and so naturally, I am writing about it.

Since the inception of this blog, New York was the final destination – both as a physical landing place and as the conclusion of my figurative growth trajectory from college to the “real world.” The entire time that I have been writing, I have tried to be mindful of the notion that it is not the destination but the journey that matters most. My journey took me to Norway and California and Germany, saw the completion of two theses and the reception of a diploma, broadened my artistic skill sets with improvements to my photography and the introduction of woodworking, deepened my appreciation for the places that I am lucky to call home, and brought me closer the the people I love the most. It forced me to ask tough questions of myself, to seek answers, and to see “not knowing” as necessary to the harmonic balance I was striving to achieve in my life.

I speak about all of this in the past tense, but landing in New York does not simply mean that I can wrap the previous phase of my life into a neat bundle and store it away. Neither does it mean that my present is static or permanent. It is quite the opposite of all these things. The people, places, and experiences that construct my past will shape every decision I make going forward. Furthermore, the distinction that I have given New York as my final destination is utterly false. Sure, I may be moving to the big city and I may be contractually obligated to work at Landmark for two years, but this new phase is a journey in its own right. Perhaps it will be bigger and more eye-opening than I could ever expect.

After three days at my job, I can report that I love the office environment and the people with whom I will be working closely. The summer is slow in New York, especially in the financial world, which makes it a perfect time to begin. I will have some time to get up to speed, and it is amazing how quickly you can go from ignorant to knowledgeable about something by just committing to reading about it. I love to read, and I love to learn, so it does not feel like work to me. Still, it will be a long time until I feel confident with the material, which is all the more reason why I am thrilled about the mentors I have here.

I am also still in a transition phase in terms of my living situation. Returning from Germany and starting my job was plenty for August, so moving into an apartment right away was not an option. Fortunately, Maddie’s family has been incredibly gracious to me, and they made sure I had nothing to worry about as far as housing goes during this first month. My walk to work takes about twenty-five minutes, and though it can be warm, I would so much rather be walking than taking the subway. Maddie and I have things lined up for September, which will represent a more permanent ending for all of the moving around I have done over the past few months, and I cannot wait for our setup.

So, I still have a train to catch to Pawling, and I still have a weekend to be outdoors and grill and relax waiting for me at the end of the train line. “Everything has changed, though nothing has,” to quote my thesis adviser Jay Parini. I have a new journey in front of me, a lot to learn about living in New York and working at Landmark, and plenty of new opportunities. And yet, I see no reason to change who I am. I will always love seeing nature and cooking fresh food and writing and making adventures big and small out of every day. New York will certainly have its impact on me, and I welcome it, but I am not shy about bringing some of my crunchy-Vermonter self to life in the big city. And that gets me excited.

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