Monday, April 21, 2014

How Las Vegas Became My Happy Place

"Visualize your happy place," my therapist tells me, but it's tough for me to do because I'm not the kind of person who responds well to terms like "happy place," or even "visualize."

I am the opposite of the word “crunchy.” I don't do yoga & I don’t ever want to do yoga, & I can't get down with meditating, despite a few attempts at a friend’s urging, using YouTube videos. I even have a hard time with regulated breathing because I find that the loudness of my beating heart overwhelms my mind, distracting me & making me more anxious - which of course only happens in the times when I need tips like regulated breathing the most.

But I'm trying to listen to her, my therapist, because I'm paying her to tell me these things & to help me figure out how to be a person whose heart doesn't feel like it's going to explode at all times. That's why I started therapy, to tackle the parts of my anxiety that were making life debilitating, & if that means I need to find a happy place, I'll give it a try.

I wasn't sure what to pick. "It doesn't have to be a real place," she told me, but I've never been a creative type, the kind who can conjure up fake scenery like that. Plus, what if I got so attached to my nonexistent happy place that every other (real) place felt like... a sad place? I'm trying to get out of my head, not further into it.

At first, my happy place was my family's cabin in Pennsylvania. We've been going there since I was a baby, spending long, quiet weekends in the woods where the only obligations include helping to clean up from a massive homemade dinner & staying up late enough to partake in conversations around a bonfire. My therapist told me to close my eyes, & she talked me through visualization exercises - what do you see, what do you hear, how do you feel? – to help make it more natural for me. We practiced it over & over again so that I could do it alone, without her there.

But I could never do it by myself. A few things tripped me up, not least of all the recent development of some complex feelings about my happy place that I won’t go into here. Suffice it to say that as much as I love the cabin, thinking of it now gives me anxiety, & when you’re trying to figure out a method for dealing with your anxiety, it’s best not to choose one that worsens it along the way.

Unsurprisingly, I haven’t been visualizing my happy place much these days.

Two weekends ago, though, I went to Las Vegas with a few friends. Given my last trip to Vegas & all the anxiety that accompanied it, I didn’t have high expectations for this trip. I was spending money I didn’t quite have, traveling with people I didn’t quite know, & in the days leading up to my flight, I just felt… apathetic. I don’t even like Vegas that much! But perhaps low standards are the key to extraordinary experiences, because this trip exceeded even the highest of my secretly harbored hopes.

I know, I know. Las Vegas isn’t a place that sounds particularly relaxing. It’s all bright lights & big city, glitz & glamour & shiny facades. It’s drinking & drugs & gambling & hookers & the sort of extravagant, encouraged hedonism that doesn’t exactly lend itself to calm collectedness. And yet somehow, this trip was the most relaxing vacation of my life.

Standing on the balcony of The Cosmopolitan, overlooking the neon lights of the Strip while drinking champagne & soaking up the sun & laughing with friends & being mesmerized by the famed Bellagio fountains below us, I was perfectly at peace. Serene, tranquil, unruffled, all those words that mean “All is right with the world” – I felt them all.

This week - God, has it only been a week since Vegas?! - I've tried the "visualize your happy place" exercise on my own more than once. I still have a long way to go because, man, that ish is so crunchy, but it turns out that after that four-day trip, I'm a lot closer than I was before. When I imagine that weekend in Las Vegas, I'm transported back to the way I felt when I was there - totally calm, worried about nothing, just glad to be in the moment. The way I want to be all the time. Happy.

The Time I Went to a Google Party & Felt Awesome

I had a really terrible day at work last Thursday, & I was going to cancel my evening plans. My friend Emily was ready to go, had even called to offer me a ride, but I told her, "I don't think I'm going to make it. I think I'm going to go home." Within seconds of hanging up the phone, though, I had a change of heart: What are you doing?! You moved back to this city to do things! To be with people! Get out there! I immediately called her back & asked her to pick me up.

We were headed to Google's Suddenly Spring Social, an event held at a local art gallery to celebrate the District’s launch of Google City Experts, a review program. The invitation told us to "embrace spring, Washingtonian style — with a picnic bursting with budding blossoms, delectable neighborhood specialties and local craft brews." Yeah, um, just a bit swankier than my usual picnic.

This was exactly the sort of event that I live in a city for. I was reminded of the time in 2008 when my coworkers & I attended an event-planning fair at the National Zoo - not that any of us has ever been an event planner. It's the kind of thing you can only do in a major metropolis, the kind of thing reserved solely for lucky city-dwellers. I made it onto the guest list only because Emily was invited by a friend who works for Google, & she was given a plus-one - plus-three, actually, so she brought a handful of equally excited friends. I didn't know the other two girls she brought or anyone else in attendance, but I found myself happily chatting with them & with total strangers, & even running into a fellow blogger by chance.

We ate so much free food, y'all. Like, so much free food. We ate BBQ pulled pork tacos & garlicky, fire-roasted corn from the BBQ Bus. We broke Passover (oops) for two different kinds of tiny, gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches from The Big Cheese. We ate chocolate-covered bacon & turtle sundaes from the dapper, bow-tied dude who runs Goodie's Frozen Custard & Treats (call me). We ate tiny bags of kettle corn & tiny cherry pies & drank not-tiny Cherry Bourbon Fizz cocktails that didn't actually have any cherries in them. And speaking of cherries, we were each given a bag of chocolate-covered cherries on our way out the door, a parting gift in homage to D.C.'s cherry blossom season. We left full & happy & still not totally sure how to take part in Google City Experts (but given my love of Yelp, I'll probably figure it out & give it a try anyway).

High on the list of things I love are food, kitsch, free things, friends, & the Internet, & this event combined them all. It was the perfect way to recover from a bad day at work, & the perfect reminder that this city is exactly where I'm supposed to be.


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