How Las Vegas Became My Happy Place

Monday, April 21, 2014

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"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.

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The Time I Went to a Google Party & Felt Awesome

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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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What To Do When You Have 14 Hours to Spare in an Airport

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

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Today, I am Tom Hanks.

There are a lot of ways to be Tom Hanks, sure. There's the beloved Forrest Gump version of Tom Hanks, but my IQ is OK & I've never had leg braces or saved anyone's life in war, so that's out. There's the Captain Phillips version of Tom Hanks, but I've got a wicked fear of water & New England accents, to say nothing of pirates. There's the horrible, bearded, survivalist version of Tom Hanks whose best friend is a volleyball in a movie so abhorrent that I refuse to give it further thought (and plus, I don't really like the beach).

Today, though, I am Tom Hanks in The Terminal, that movie where he... resides in an airport? I don't actually know because I've never seen it, but I think I get the gist of it, & at least half a dozen people have made that reference to me today, so I must be Hanksing pretty hard.

My situation is this: I vacationed in Las Vegas this weekend, & I booked a stupid flight back, a red-eye to DCA by way of Boston. I'm scheduled to leave at 11:55pm, but all the friends I traveled with had flights earlier in the day, so I came to the airport with them to see if I could fly standby this afternoon. I could've gotten a noon flight to Boston, but I wouldn't have been able to fly standby on an earlier flight from Boston to DC - because my flight is technically tomorrow - so I would've been stuck at the Boston airport until 7:30am. I figured it was better to spend a day in the Vegas airport than a night in the Boston one, so here I am.


In my spare time, I compiled for you a list of things you can do should you find yourself in an airport for more than half a day.* Naturally, most of these things should be done while sitting cross-legged on the floor in some carpeted terminal corner, with electronics perpetually plugged in.
  • Get everything off to an optimistic start by watching the newest episode of Game of Thrones. It's important to do this before your iPad's reliably awful battery begins to dwindle.
  • Call your mother.
  • Read everything, including many round-ups of tweet responses to the US Airways toy plan/porn snafu & Jenny McCarthy's lying oped about how she's not actually an anti-vaxxer & a Jewish pop culture piece on the rise of the "BeyoncĂ©der"
  • Text everyone you know multiple times.
  • Shame-eat a Whopper because fast food calories count for less in airport.
  • Put all your vacation photos on Facebook Listen to a RENT song & accidentally begin crying in public because of Feelings.
  • Try to write a deep & powerful piece that draws on all your Feelings. Scrap every version, but keep trying over the course of all the hours.
  • Watch last week's episode of Grey's Anatomy.
  • Look through 48 hours' worth of other people's Instagram photos.
  • Consider purchasing an ugly souvenir hoodie for $40 to keep you warm in this cold airport because this is Las Vegas & you didn't pack anything long-sleeved.
  • Drink 2.5 soy lattes.
  • Photograph an epic '80s rock star mullet sitting in your terminal.
  • Wash your face, brush your teeth, reapply your makeup, & try to degreasify your hair despite the fact that you've run out of dry shampoo.
  • Watch the Oreo Cookie Balls video three times.
  • Take an online quiz telling you the color of your aura but immediately write it off as bunk when it tells you your aura is "temporarily black."
  • Forget to eat dinner.
  • By the time you remember to eat dinner, realize that all the restaurants in your terminal are closing. Find a sandwich shop that's still open. Remember that it's Passover & you can't eat sandwiches.
  • Shell out $7 for a small package of trail mix & a banana, the only items you can eat.
  • Text everyone you know multiple times again, but feel kind of bad about it this time because it's now approaching midnight on the East Coast
  • Read the newest issue of Glamour
  • Search Rent the Runway for a dress to wear to a "black tie optional" wedding in Chicago next month 
  • Brush your teeth again
  • Spend an hour formatting a blog post in the useless abomination that is the mobile version of Blogger 
Now here's the kicker, & you get bonus points if you can accomplish this one: Learn that you have a middle seat on a full flight across the country. Burst into tears mid-sentence as the gate agent informs you that no other seats are available. Enjoy your flight!

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18 Things I Couldn't Do While My Phone Was in a Box of Rice

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

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This afternoon at approximately 1:15pm, I dropped my cell phone into a toilet. The toilet was clean, as far as I know, though it was in a public place - a restaurant in Dupont Circle - so perhaps "clean" is debatable. The back pocket of my favorite black pants is just a bit too shallow, it seems, & when the phone hit the water, it made an unmistakable plunkkk sound that sent me into a frenzy of retrieving, drying, panicking, & running to the nearest CVS to purchase a box full of Minute rice.

Yes, there's something ironic about having to keep your phone in a box of Minute rice for 24 hours.

As someone who is perpetually tethered to my technology, going half a day without a phone was, well, different - sort of in a good way & sort of not at all. I'm thrilled to report that after only eight hours in Minute rice, my phone is working just fine (in fact, miraculously, it never actually stopped working), but those eight hours - combined with the fact that my phone died on a very long bus ride home yesterday - were enough of a flashback to 1998 to tide me over for awhile.

Here are 18 things I couldn't do while my phone was in a box of rice.
  1. Google what to do when you've dropped your phone into a toilet
  2. Check the time
  3. Tweet the photo of the guy I saw on the bus wearing jeans screen-printed with Tupac's face
  4. (Re)read Divergent on my Kindle app while riding the bus. Instead, I looked over the shoulder of the guy sitting in front of me, who was reading some ridiculous science fiction novel.
  5. Look up the weekend weather in Las Vegas so I can pack appropriately for my upcoming trip
  6. Excitedly text with travel buddies about our upcoming trip to Las Vegas
  7. Pay for a soy latte using my Starbucks card, which is app-based. I didn't bring my wallet (it's a block from my office, & I usually just bring my phone), so I had to ask my friend Sean to spot me a croissant.
  8. Check my work email, which meant I had to send an embarrassing email to coworkers admitting my phone-in-the-toilet fiasco
  9. Work! I usually check social media throughout the day, but I had to ask a coworker to do it while I was between computers.
  10. Read the news while in the bathroom (don't pretend like you don't do it)
  11. Participate in absolutely vital photo projects on Instagram (I kid, I kid, though there were certainly a few things I would've photographed.)
  12. Check on whether a transfer I made between bank accounts went through
  13. Figure out when the next bus is coming. Just gotta wait & see!
  14. Hail (& pay for) a ride home using the Uber app
  15. Jam out to Aloe Blacc's "The Man" on Spotify while walking home
  16. Kill time on Twitter while awkwardly waiting for my apatment complex's slow-to-arrive elevator with a stranger
  17. Call my mother 
  18. Set an alarm clock for tomorrow morning
Luckily for me (& thanks, in part, to my bulky protective Spigen case), my phone seems to be in fighting shape, & I'm thrilled to return to 2014. It made me think, though: Would it kill me to power down every now & then?

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