“My Hypochondria is a Tick” Club

My hypochondria is a tick, like Tourette’s episode. My  conscious mind knows I’m probably overreacting to a sensation, but by this point, I’ve become hyper-aware and the army of fight or flight soldiers in my brain have been summoned and they can’t be recalled. It’s like an infection my brain creates and my body responds by sending the battalions of white blood cells. I ignite and put out fires in my head all day long.

My sunglasses feel tight on the sides of my head and this is all I can focus on. Is my head swollen? Is my brain swollen? Is there a tumor causing pressure? Is it an aneurysm seconds before it pops? It’s probably nothing. I can feel pain almost anywhere if I concentrate long and hard enough, focusing on a particular area of my body.

One of my frequent flyers: “Am I getting enough air?” I’m not sure why I would suddenly not have enough air. I have zero previous [real] symptoms or history of breathing problems nor do I have any physical problems which would cause a sudden constriction of air. No one is choking me. Or is my brain guilty of asphyxiation?

I can hypothesize dozens of reasons for any symptom. Lack of air? Lung cancer or a lung aneurysm are front runners. I recently watched a Dr. Oz episode where they tried to provide anxiety coping techniques. An expert said imagining worst case scenarios often causes anxiety (you think?). As a way to counter these thoughts, (freaking out over a worst case scenario) one should recognize what is happening and refocus the thinking to the polar opposite. The expert’s premise hopes to enlighten panic attack sufferers that the likelihood of something extremely bad happening is just as possible as something exceptionally good.

The problem with the expert’s suggestion is when in an anxious/panic state of mind, the bridge between rational and irrational thought is flooded with endorphins. For me, my hypochondria often leads to panic attacks. When I’m worried about dying, the opposite is “I’m alive and well” and I don’t alive and well during an attack. During a panic attack, my mind is bombarded with little H-bombs of “what if’s.”

Plagued by a perpetual fear of death, it’s no wonder I give myself panic attack symptoms to subconsciously prepare myself for what it feels like to die. Realizing I have no control over the serendipitous future makes me hold on tighter. I need to let go. I need to relax.

“These are your years to be healthy. Stop looking so much. You’re going to will it to come.” My husband has played both good cop and bad cop to my mental health challenges. He tries hard to bring me down (or up). He wants to put his arms around me and kiss my boo-boo like he does for my daughter, but so far his embrace has not shielded me from my downward spiral.

It surprises me how I can have strong will power towards something like dieting, or writing every day; I can yield power of mind over temptations and addiction tendencies and yet I am an apprentice in the mastery of my mind.

“I am a Hypochondriac” Club

I am in a perpetual abusive relationship with hypochondria; I desperately want to get away from it, but somehow it controls my brain.

I’ve had hypochondriac tendencies (more officially known as “illness anxiety disorder”) for as long as I can remember. I’m not sure who or what to blame and the source of the disorder is irrelevant; it’s the cure I’m after.

Hypothesis theories for my hypochondria:

  • Throughout my childhood, my mother perpetually complained of a bad heart and threatened to faint, falling back on her stash of smelling salts in her purse. 
  • The best birthday present I ever got was the Merck Medical Manual, which I read cover to cover like a gripping mystery novel.
  • The internet. Type in a symptom and it’ll provide evidence to substantiate any cancer diagnosis – or MS or blood clot or an aneurysm de jour.
  • The tragic stories which make you feel powerless and helpless. The healthy marathon runner who never smoked a day in his life with no family history and plagued with lung cancer.

Has your foot ever fallen asleep? How about just your pinky toe? How long will you let your pinky toe feel numb before googling it? Or will you even notice at all? I’m perpetually amazed at how we exist in a world where people could carry a pregnancy unknowingly alongside people like me who notice a pin-prick size bite or a new freckle emerge among millions. I swear to feel my egg drop each month and I promise I can feel it traveling down my fallopian tube. I’m not claiming it’s painful; I’m simply acknowledging I feel it and I am hyper aware of it. This hypersensitivity is called body vigilance. It means I feel any little thing even if it’s just my body being alive, and I take it to the extreme.

My brain engages in a civil war: the FEAR team versus the LOGIC team. Even though my LOGIC team is armed with more data than my FEAR team, the latter plays dirty by shooting out the deadly ‘what if’ arrows into the ring, completely leveling the field. For every logical comment, my brain uses to assuage the fear, the ‘what-if’s’ throw something in to make me doubt myself. What if JUST THIS TIME it is a heart attack? What if JUST THIS TIME it is a blood clot in my lungs? What if JUST THIS TIME that little lip twitch is an early indicator of Multiple Sclerosis? Or Muscular Dystrophy? (I always confused them, but am terrified of both equally.)

Keep in mind, I am a smart, educated person who understands, appreciates and is fascinated by biology (my favorite science). When my grandfather was diagnosed with throat cancer, I scoured the Internet for everything there was to know about the disease, the treatment, and the recovery. When my grandmother was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm, she asked how long it had been there and they told her they had no idea; probably years. She said, “If I’ve been walking around with it for years, I’ll continue to walk around with it.” I am not that person. I would think of nothing other than that growing blood clot pushing on my brain. I would not sleep because I would be sure it would pop in my sleep or when I coughed or screamed or yelled.

For years, I thought the momentary sharp pain I got “under my breast” was a heart attack warning. I thought back to my mother grabbing her chest and yelling out in Russian, “koleet,” which translates to “it’s piercing.” She’d gasp for breath and occasionally ask for the smelling salts but the pain was always gone soon after with no real repercussion or follow up. She never went to a cardiologist but told me the story about how she had scarlet fever as a child and it has lasting effects on her heart. She had us all convinced she had a bad heart, but now I realize she just had gas. She also spewed the rhetoric how her “B” blood type, was a lower caliber blood, secondary to “A” blood type. “I have the weaker blood type,” she would tell me, “not like your father. Thank goodness you have A positive like him.” Turns out we actually both have O positive. 

When I take things to the extreme, I know I’m trying to gain control because ultimately FEAR is controlling my hypochondriac symptoms. Somehow my brain believes if I discover it early enough; if I prepare well enough; if I get to the hospital fast enough, I’ll save myself. My preparedness is fruitless; I am a samurai meditating on my death.

The older I get, the worse it is. I’ve spent so many years worrying about these possible horrific diseases without getting them, I’m sure my time is coming. Why else has life been preparing me for all these diseases? I wait and wait, wasting all my time fearing when I could have been grateful for every day without pain. I could be appreciating every day that I am not aware of something secretly growing inside me. The fear can be paralyzing; it’s dangerous in the world with terrible texting drivers and drunk people at a concert who might trample me and ticking bombs in random dumpsters, but fear is just a self-induced terrorist which will imprison you with limitations.

A therapist tried to help me with my brain’s propensity to rapidly accelerate towards the worst case scenario regarding health issues but it’s a hard program to overwrite. She tried to teach me if I find a small lump on my arm, for instance, I shouldn’t instantly google “arm cancer,” and instead just be aware of it and monitor it for a few days to see if perhaps it was just a mosquito bite and will go away. Her goal was to modify my behavior to delay the panic release.

Over time, I’ve learned that I have to understand the difference between pain and sensation. Awareness does not necessarily indicate a symptom of something else, it is a reminder my heart is beating and I am breathing. I’m also not the type of hypochondriac who incessantly visits the doctor; I’m too afraid they will find something and also, I don’t trust them. Today’s doctors’ first order of business is a prescription for Klonopin to try to quiet my overactive mind. 

Therapists often get hung up on analysis to decipher the root of the disorder, but I’m often frustrated because I want a solution, or at least a better coping method than writing (192,733 words to date and still not cured).  

Did you hear that wheeze when I inhaled deeply? Or am I not inhaling deeply enough? Is my lung capacity giving me enough air? Can I make the wheeze happen again? Of course not! It’s like bringing the car to the mechanic and then it doesn’t make the noise. Don’t you hear that deep wheeze? Is that stage 4 lung cancer?

I feel like a floating molecule through space waiting to be struck by something. I walk through life avoiding the diseases like walking between the raindrops.

“I Use My Horn” Club

Having two children at two different schools in two different states means I’m doing a lot of driving. Living next to the busiest bridge in the country, my many hours in the car is often accompanied by intense traffic and angry, frustrated drivers.

I use my horn often, but not to be a bully, just to communicate. Often, though I’m misunderstood and occasionally even pursued by a vengeful middle finger wielding maniac coasting on road rage. My horn is a like baby’s cry; it’s not just to indicate sadness, it has a whole range of things it needs to be able to convey, but I’ve only got the one-beep!

I’d love a horn modification where there are various sounds available on my steering wheel.

The Hierarchy of Horns

  • The slight double beep (like a double click) to say, “the light has changed, please go because the green arrow only lasts 15 seconds and you can check your Facebook later.”
  • A longer, albeit still friendly, 5-second beeeeeeeeep when the initial, polite double-beep yields no response.
  • A double, 5-second beeeeeeeeep when the previous two notifications have been ignored. There is usually a phone involved which translates to distracted driving and this will often lead to the next honk. 
  • A 10-second angry beep is reserved when a driver is doing an illegal maneuver on the road, especially when you see different people replicating this erroneous scheme day after day. This is the “I’m the mayor of the road” attitude because this horn is to indicate, “Hey Shithead, I’m sick and tired of assholes cutting me off on the line every day.”
  • A 15-second alert horn when someone is about to plow into you. Also, can be used for anyone texting and driving.
  • An emergency signal, in a different decibel, reserved for when you see someone falling asleep on the road.

“Keep On Keeping On” Club

I spent all day painting (it was actually priming) my 1,500 square foot apartment. I have souvenir calluses on three fingers on one hand and my hands feel arthritic as if they’ve engaged in extensive bicep and forearm calisthenics. Tomorrow I have to do it again, this time, two coats of Benjamin Moore “Smoky Embers” will glaze the walls which were damaged in the flood a month ago. My shoulders are sore, my back hurts, but I feel good because at least I’m moving something forward. Working physically was helping me feel productive.I didn’t expect to find myself in a surprise renovation, yet here I am. 

Throughout my childhood, my mother used to repeat a Russian saying, “if you don’t know how to work with your brain, work with your hands.” I understood what she meant, but never understood why the two are mutually exclusive. I love using my brain; in fact, I use my brain too much and often I need to quiet it down. The way I get out of panic attacks is to clean my hardwood floors. Focusing on a task so detail oriented takes me outside my mind and painting 1,500 square feet of walls has a similar calming effect.

Except with each stroke of the brush or every up and down of the roller, I’m seething at the insurance company for the money I’m still owed. A month into the claim and every week I’m sending an invoice, he takes two days to review it, and then says he didn’t receive it, I resend it and he says he’ll look into it and gets back to me in a week. I’ve sent the same document three times now. Jeffrey at State Farm is this close to getting a voodoo doll made out of him.

At the end of the day, physically exhausted from painting and emotionally spent from dealing with Jeff in Texas and I remembered it’s time to write. My self-inflicted Life Course on Commitment 101: Vowing to write every single day this year NO MATTER WHAT and an unexpected flood is not an excuse, it’s just another life club to join

I’ve had a hard time with commitment most of my life. I’ve tried different exercising regimens about 45 different times and I always break. Somehow commitment doesn’t give me the comfort of routine and predictability and instead makes me feel trapped like a caged bird. (Even if I’m the one who put the bars and constraints on myself.) It’s easy to stick to something when things are good and easy like running during a quintessential fall day or your marriage during the honeymoon phase and writing when you have no deadline and plenty of inspiration.

However, in the course of the year, it is inevitable there will be complications, distractions, and difficulties which can tempt me into giving up. It is precisely during those transitional moments when I want to climb into bed instead of writing another blog post (after I’ve written 270 essays in a row!) in my self-inflicted free internship. Instead, I sit down at the keyboard and form thoughts into cohesive sentences. In those moments, I feel most proud; not on the days when I had five hours and I wrote a profound 2,000-word essay. Like those times when I spent all day in the hospital with my mother or with my son in the ER or after I spent four hours in traffic court or after I watched a funeral online live stream or after I had a panic attack – and I KEEP ON KEEPING ON! I could have let myself off with an excuse but I stuck to my commitment instead. I tend to think of this project as a tattoo; once you start, you can’t stop in the middle.

There is something more gratifying about the days where I have to jump over the hurdle to achieve the goal. Of course the day I find a big fat check in my mailbox and buy myself that Montblanc pen will be hard to top and the struggle that got me there will be miles behind.

“Who Cares How She Feeds Her Baby” Club

I don’t care how you breastfeed your baby or don’t breastfeed your baby, yet our whole country has been engaged in a dialog about if it’s OK to see photographs of women fulfilling biology’s mission. This is as mundane and obvious to me as people breathing; perhaps we should start showing pictures of humans inhaling and exhaling. In other countries around the world, how we feed our young is a non-issue because there isn’t an abundance of choices; just as a woman is the one biologically responsible for gestating a human (sorry males, not our faults), our bodies are magically designed to continue this rearing process by feeding our offspring via breast.

The fact that we entertain a choice as to how we feed our babies is by the grace of modern science and it’s not natural – but it is sufficient and it keeps children alive, just like dialysis is not natural but keeps people with kidney failure alive.

The abundance of people expressing unwarranted opinions about how others feed their babies – especially in an effort to shame them either for not breastfeeding (clearly you don’t love your baby enough) or for breastfeeding in public or too much (clearly you don’t love strangers enough to shield them from milk coming out of your breast).

How a mother chooses to feed her baby is as personal as how she chooses to conceive her. 

What I find most absurd is the dichotomy of how people have an uproar of judgments about how parents feed babies, yet by the time the children have reached three and the mothers are feeding their children processed chicken fingers at McDonald’s, no one is pointing fingers or sharing Instagram posts. What happened to the concern for the babies’ nutrition now?

Lindy West, in her book, Shrill, taught me a very important lesson: it’s not my business. It doesn’t concern me if people are fat according to my benchmarks. I don’t know anyone else’s situations or the roads they traveled to get to where they are. Mostly, no one asks people’s opinions but because we’ve become so conditioned to raise our hands or click “comment,” to vocalize our perspectives, we’ve forgotten that just because we have a voice doesn’t mean we’re entitled to use it to judge others – especially when 99% of the time, these outsiders we feel comfortable dissecting, have little impact or connection to our lives.

The oversharing culture has armed us all with virtual megaphones and soapboxes and just because a person chooses to share, doesn’t mean they’re asking for criticism. It’s a psychologically established fact that our criticism of others comes from our insecurities. We project on others to make ourselves feel better and it’s counterproductive because we still have to confront our innermost truths and anxieties at night when no one is in our heads with us.

For the last 14 years, I have been in the “Motherhood Club,” I’ve been amazed at how fellow moms have not been more inclusive or sympathetic. Raising children is one of nature’s most honorable responsibilities and one of its most difficult and instead of feeling supported, we’re often left feeling judged, reprimanded, and in constant competition with one another.

I’m not saying we all shut up and nod along; I suggest asking two extra questions before you attack, “How does it really affect you?” and “Is it really your business?”

“I Love Pens” Club

One of the first American phrases my barely English speaking grandmother taught me when I was five years old, a new immigrant from the Soviet Union, was, “In America, you get what you pay for.”

I’ve seen this come true many times in my three and a half decades in this country, from the smallest purchases to luxurious ones.

I love pens; my sister knows my obsession with them. I like fluid ink ones, which spread the ink effortlessly, like rollerball pens, gel ink pens, and even old-fashioned fountain pens. I love inks in every color (except black which bores me) but I don’t like a ball point.

A few months ago my sister surprised me with a card in the mail along with a “Seven Year Pen.” For just $8.95 (plus tax!), the pen was advertised as Eco-Friendly, Swiss-Made, 7-Year Ink Supply, Lots of Fun. The graphic was red-flagged hearts, arrow and bull’s eye on a white and red pen. I applaud the graphic design on all of their pens (mustache, fox, snail mail) I noted they sell replacement cartridges for only $1.99, which means I could extend this pen for another 7 years?! [By contrast, a typical gel pen, if used every day would only last about 5 weeks.] 

“How are you liking your pen?” she asked me after a few weeks has gone by.

“It was the only pen I brought with me on my vacation,” I say proudly and secretly remember how I wished for another pen, one which wasn’t a ball point pen. One which wasn’t a rough black, as I described it. It scratches the paper rather than slides on it. It’s like ice skating on a choppy rink which is in desperate need of a Zamboni.

“It’s OK,” I admit shyly. It’s cute looking on the outside and I appreciate the hearts detail (DUH) but it writes like a shitty overworked Bic ballpoint.

“Well I got one for myself too,” she admits, “And it sucks!”

I’m so glad she says this because I’ve been thinking it sucked the whole time. It was simply a plain ball point with nothing special about it other than the sentiment (which is huge and I’m not discounting it!). I wanted continuous velvety strokes on paper but instead, it felt ordinary; like a free bank pen.

A friend of mine recently lent me a pen and her instrument stopped me in my tracks. This was an admirable tool, something you could dissect into parts like the nib, the feed, the barrel and a cap made up of a finial, insert, center band, and lip! Its weight in my hand was palpable and the pen was cold like marble. The lacquered black exterior immediately told me this was a quality product and I instantly validated it by noting the famous white snowflake logo of a Mont Blanc.

I never geeked out on pens enough to understand the difference between a 5mm or a 7mm but I know a good pen when I feel one and even though I don’t draw well, I doodle compulsively and write a few words here and there.

To celebrate the end of the 365 project, and my first book deal (it will happen) I will buy myself a Mont Blanc (maybe).

“I Backpacked Through Europe Before the Internet” Club

letsgoeurope

Before TripAdvisor and Yelp, before cell phones and before 9/11, I had Let’s Go Europe, an oversized bright yellow softcover book which served as our travel bible.

In the summer of 1998, my boyfriend at the time and I backpacked through Europe. Completely contradictory to my naturally controlling and over-planning ways, we made a rough plan on which countries we planned on visiting, but no hotel reservations or actual dates. We bought a two-month Eurail pass and booked our first hotel so we’d have a place to stay. Ironically they didn’t have our reservation but kindly made another reservation for us at a sister hotel, to which we hiked with our backpacks, very jet lagged after we just arrived.

Twenty years is a lot of Etch-a-Sketch shaking off the memory so I can’t graphically recall all the details from my adventure, but random stories emerge anecdotally when discussing travel. My kids gasp at how I could have gone on a vacation without researching every possible hotel ad nauseam. To think I walked into restaurants without knowing if it would have received my minimum 4-star review on Yelp. 

Mostly I reflect nostalgically on my brave, adventurous spirit of my youth and how I lived my life unafraid, with abandon with no loud ticking of the perpetual clock in my head

Here was my itinerary:

  • Paris, France
  • Brussels, Belgium
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Berlin, Germany
  • Munich, German
  • Vienna, Austria
  • Salzburg, Austria
  • Venice, Italy
  • Verona, Italy
  • Florence, Italy
  • Rome, Italy
  • Vatican City, (it’s own country!)
  • Cinque Terre, Italy (more a region than a city)
  • Monaco, France
  • Cannes, France
  • Nice & Villefranche, France
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Madrid, Spain
  • Lisbon, Portugal,
  • San Sebastian, Spain
  • Paris, France

Here are some of the anecdotal highlights:

  • After we’d disembark from the train in any of the popular western European cities, we needed to secure a place to stay. Most of the “great but cheap” finds were taken by the first five people who bolted fast enough to the pay phones, so the Amazing Race caliber mad dash was crucial in securing plum accommodations. Clutching our Let’s Go Europe bibles, well worn and earmarked for the city de jour, my boyfriend and I took two phones and began the calls, asking in the appropriate foreign language of the city, if there was any availability. In Portugal, I called and asked in fluent Spanish if they had a vacancy, to which the hotel clerk replied in perfect English, “We speak Portuguese in Portugal, not Spanish.”
  • Amongst the craziest things we did, which is almost like a version of hitchhiking, was staying in people’s homes, who rented out rooms. This was considered totally normal and in several cities we would stay in an apartment where three other rooms would be rented out and we would all eat cold cuts and pastries for breakfast, wrapping up the extras neatly in paper towels, at the homeowner’s suggestion, for lunch later. In Cinque Terre, on the Italian riviera, we stayed with a couple in their 70s. There was no payphone at the train station so instead, groups of people come to recruit you to stay at their house. We spoke no Italian and the old man only spoke Italian (no French, Spanish,  or Russian; we tried) so we negotiated our nightly rate by writing a price on a napkin and passing it back and forth to one another. That evening, my boyfriend had a terrible cough and the old man’s wife knocked softly on our door and came in bearing Vick’s VapoRub, using international sign language to show us to smear it on his chest. Motherhood is universal.
  • We visited Vienna and Madrid during a heat wave and the blanket in the Viennese apartment we rented was wool. The sheets also felt like wool so my two nights there were spent tossing and turning in sweat and my days were spent grumpily looking for air conditioning. In Madrid, we took a rowboat in a park in the middle of the city and I took my sneakers off in the boat and that stench trumps all other memories in that city – except for the man we saw missing half his nose at the McDonald’s.
  • Occasionally we had to sleep on an overnight train but the stories I heard about nighttime train backpack scared the shit out of me. I was told to sleep with my arms around my backpack and I tried to do that, but instead I stared at the dark sky turn into a morning sky through the plastic window blinds.  Whether I had a regular seat, a deluxe seat or an actual sleeping bed, my ability to rest on a train was impossible. Also, before cell phones and electronic entertainment, all we had were books and stupidly because we were carrying everything on our backs, my boyfriend and I only bought one book between us and we took turns reading Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth.  
  • In Barcelona, we were confused by which stop was our correct one and by the time we discovered it, the train had started slowly moving and my boyfriend declared, “This is it, just jump,” and I did. I jumped off a [slowly] moving train without considering the repercussions, which was me landing like a turtle, flipped on my back, and my boyfriend parallel, another turtle on his back, ten feet away. The train screeched to a halt, with the conductor jumping out asking if we were OK and then cursing in Spanish when he saw us on our backs cracking up.
  • Portugal was an add-on to our trip because we learned the World Expo was happening and while I don’t have many regrets, I still think back to the two hours I’ll never get back when we waited in line for a [disappointing] virtual reality ride. This was also the first time I saw an Asian person speaking fluent Russian and it bugged me out.
  • Barcelona’s indescribable Gaudi architecture blew my mind, but overall, the small cities captured my heart. Those small towns on the Italian Riviera and French Riviera and San Sebastian in Northern Spain were outstanding nuggets of gold.
  • We also hadn’t planned on visiting Germany; I was still holding a grudge from World War II, but my boyfriend convinced me to visit Berlin and Munich. At the time Berlin had the most cranes in the world, so much so that most of the postcards of the skyline were more cranes than buildings. While there, we took a train ride two hours out of the city to visit Sachsenhausen concentration camp, because I felt this was the closest I would get to Auschwitz or to a cemetery to pay respects. The city was gray and my opinion of it matched. Munich was the direct opposite; full of bright colors, beer, and glockenspiels. We stayed with a lovely German couple who picked us up from the train in a VW bug and had the most comfortable down bedding of the trip.
  • We ended up in Verona, Italy because it was one of two cities we could go to during an Italian train strike. We went to the town square where there was a statue of Shakespeare’s Juliet and we promptly followed the other tourists in rubbing her well-worn away bronze boob for good luck. I’ve learned they have removed her due to too much feeling up of the boob
  • I spent the summer after my sophomore year in high school in a French language enrichment program in the south of France. I lived on a campus in Villefranche, right outside Nice, overlooking quintessential Mediterranian vistas. The World Cup was also going on at the time (in Paris) and crowds spilled outside of cafes and restaurants along the Cote d’Azur as the pulse of the whole country chanted, “it’s great to be alive and in France.” Going back to Nice was the most nostalgic I’ve felt for any place up until that point in my life; as if I was revisiting a sleepaway camp.
  • The only potential danger I encountered was at the Spanish steps in Rome. I was warned there would be gypsies sending their children as distractions to try and pickpocket us and I wore my anorak with a pocket in the front, which is where I stored my passport. At one point a group of women gypsies with their children surrounding them encircled my boyfriend and I and put a map out in front of us, shaking it and begging for money and in the seconds it took me to shoo them away, I noticed my zippered pocket was completely opened, but luckily nothing was taken.
  • Biggest regret: Not smoking weed in Amsterdam.

The Internet is a luxury and a crutch and its impact on how we travel has been profound. Today we’re armed with a device which translates languages, converts currencies, and books hotel and restaurant reservations from our fingertips. It’s ironic, though, how with the abundance of choices, booking travel has actually become harder and more time-consuming. While an entire vacation can be planned in a few clicks, I end up making seven billion clicks before I commit. We’ve become dependent on the opinions of strangers on the Web to help navigate our journeys whereas we used to rely on the recommendations of biased travel agents or subjective friends. Traveling can be dangerous and expensive and we seek the reassurance of others’ to help validate our choices. As I revisit this mental travel journal, I’m in awe of my spontaneity and my confidence to trust my intuition, which has always been my greatest guide.

“Navigating the Personalities of a Rock Concert” Club

My first concert was a rockin’ double feature of Chicago and The Beach Boys, which was completely contrary to my peers who were having New Kids on the Block, Back Street Boys or NSYNC as their inaugural concert experience. My musical taste has always been aligned with a middle-aged man. I blame the six years of adolescence I spent working at my family donut shop with the radio station permanently tuned to Classic Rock as the culprit. These tunes set the default soundtrack of my youth and the concerts which followed adhered to the classic rock theme: Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Simon and Garfunkel (last reunion concert), Elton John, The Police, Journey. The nostalgic sounds of the 1960s and 1970s will still comprise my desert-island tunes.

Those first few concerts were invigorating and electrifying, with louder than necessary performances sponsored by overpriced t-shirts and the sweet smell of weed wafting overhead and they set the gold standard for the quintessential “Rock n’ Roll Concert Experience,” where I left the show with real ticket stubs as opposed to a computer print out with a bar code. Those were the good ole days before electronics, to stand between me and my rock idol, where they performed and you watched mesmerized, there was RESPECT. In tribute, we busted out the lighter and swayed it until our thumbs got calloused or the wind killed the flame.

Recently I’ve gotten annoyed at how the entire concert-going experience has gotten corrupted by the over saturation of devices. As a basis of comparison, I’m using last month’s Paul McCartney concert, because I’ve seen him twenty years apart. 

Here’s what hasn’t changed:

  • Hippie dudes who came in their powder blue convertible and jeeps complete with pot air freshener tailgating in the parking lots.
  • Yuppies, who have progressed from hippies, who still like to pretend they are partying like they’re at Woodstock, only they have BMWs and use fancy Tommy Bahama folding chairs and tables and drink locally crafted brews and eat artisan cheese.
  • Guys selling unauthorized discounted concert t-shirts outside the stadium.
  • People who try to illegally get a better seat. There were three 60+ women who moved three times in the seats to the left of us, right of us and then in front of us. Finally, they lucked out and no one else came claiming they were in the wrong seats and asking them to leave.
  • The guy who riles people up by standing, arms outstretched Jesus style and raising them up repeatedly like he’s about to fly, yelling at people to “STAND THE FUCK UP!”

Here’s what’s different:

  • THE CELL PHONES, IPADS, and all other BIG FUCKING SCREENS blocking the experience.
  • Instead of the lighters, cell phone screens illuminate the stadium in an artificial LCD haze.
  • People videotape extraordinary amounts on their devices. One woman recorded the entire concert with her old digital camera. She never looked up from the back of the 2” little LCD screen.
  • Snapchatting during the concert. All around us, people were their own pop-up recording studios, broadcasting Sir Paul and the rest of us, focusing on sharing more than experiencing it themselves. In lieu of applause and dancing, people are busy with Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or whatever I’m not cool enough to use yet.
  • No one stands or dances for a whole song. It’s like they think they’re at home watching a DVD and get pissed if anyone around them obstructs their view.
  •  There is a marked disassociation among the fans; everyone is too busy engineering their own quintessential concert experience that they’ve completely disregarded any degree of social concert etiquette where we can all come together in music and artist appreciation. Instead, people have become more preoccupied with preserving the memory, than making it.

“Pondulating the Origins of Sex” Club

My husband and I recently got into a funny conversation the other day which keeps rearing its strange and perverted head. This discussion evolved from trying to decipher if sexual idiosyncrasies and preferences among men (or women) come instinctively or are learned from social cues, media or watching porn. For instance, where did men learn ejaculating all over a woman’s face is titillating and something for which to strive? 

Our discourse on dick-course continued and I wondered aloud if we (humans) would know how to have sex if we grew up on a desert island without any artistic or media influence or stimulation. How did Adam and Eve figure out how to populate the world if there were no romantic comedies, Playboy Magazine, or the Joy of Sex to tell them how to do it?

My husband is convinced we would have figured it out. He hypothesized an entire sequence of events. He would enter puberty, have a wet dream, and then slowly begin to explore his body and eventually this curiosity would lead him to put his penis in a vagina. I think this is preposterous and feel further validated by the same shocked reaction delivered by every child who first hears the birds and bees story.

Every species on earth instinctually figures out how to reproduce, through precise biologically-programmed designed to keep the species alive. (Except for the pandas, who need porn in captivity, which makes total sense because who wants to fuck while on public display in jail? ) Yet, throughout my life, sexual imagery and romantic behavior surrounds me. It’s virtually impossible in our society to form sexual thoughts independently, without the bias of veiled erotic suggestion in every direction we look. Even children-focused TV shows and animated movies have romantic plot lines. Many of the traditional fables revolve around the romance because the stories were handed down as folklore until the Brothers Grimm got a hold of them (CinderellaSleeping Beauty, Rapunzel). The medium is irrelevant; nothing trumps an enchanting love story replete with a token happily ever after ending or alternatively a money shot.

“I Love Facts” Club

I was impressed early on with my young son’s insatiable curiosity for facts. He was interested in learning about anything anyone would tell him: magnets, fishing, guitars, but he never cared much about hearing about people’s lives, which is a complete disparity to me, who is fascinated by humanity and its drama.

When this school year began, I asked my newly freshman son about some of his peripheral friends, inquiring about their summers. “I dunno,” was all I got as an answer.

“Didn’t you talk to anyone?” I asked, imagining him buried in a device in the corner somewhere.

“Of course I did,” he said rattling off a list of names and telling me about some game they were playing online, while together. [Fuck you, technology, for digitizing socialization.]

Now that he’s ventured into the theater world, I wonder if his inquisitiveness will be piqued. With his study of characters, together with the scrutiny of intentions and motivations behind the words and actions, I question whether he’ll develop more interest in the life clubs fellow humans have entered before his interaction with them.

I, on the other hand, don’t give a shit about a fake world, or any shooting, fighting, or dungeons and dragons type games. I’m captivated by narratives. I am the precise target market for The Instagram account, Humans of NY.

This morning I was drawn to an article on Mental Floss about how Sweden is giving a tax break for repairing goods rather than tossing them. While there, I “cracked out” (as the millennials say)  on the “Amazing Fact Generator,” which tempted me with the “HIT ME AGAIN!” button more times than I care to admit, but I learned crucial facts (I may or may not ever need again).

  • “The poinsettia, the red-and-green flower commonly seen in Christmas arrangements, isn’t snow-friendly; it’s native to sunny Mexico.”
  • “Al Capone’s brother was a cop.”
  • “George de Mestral, the inventor of Velcro, also received a patent for a toy plane at age 12.”
  • “Frank Sinatra was the producer’s first choice to play the role of Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry.”
  • “Symbols such as “!#@%” that are used to indicate swearing in comic strips are called grawlix.”
  • “In 1980, Detroit presented Saddam Hussein with a key to the city.”
  • “Cleopatra had a special lipstick made for her, consisting of crushed ants and deep red carmine beetles.
  • “Pandas are notoriously reluctant to mate in captivity. This has led breeders to create “panda porn”—videos of pandas copulating.”
  • Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell is also responsible for starting up the Chuck E. Cheese’s franchise.”

Interested in some good procrastination? Enjoy the Amazing Fact Generator!