I Doodle Hearts

When I started this blog, I had the intention of posting photos of hearts I discovered in my path and creating a forum for strangers around the world to share their heart discoveries with me. However, the blog has long ago become a words-dominated forum. I, on the other hand, continue to find hearts – and they find me. Last year, even in the midst of an intense 365-day writing project, a random February walk through Times Square led me to this! Also, I doodle hearts compulsively, in every medium – but I especially enjoy watercolors. On the eve of Valentine’s Day, here are some heart doodles … because as long as I create them, I’m guaranteed to find them everywhere!

“I Don’t Selfie Stick” Club

Rushing through Times Square a few weeks ago, a promotional van for Zoolander 2 caught my eye. They were taking photos and printing them onto froth foam, creating headshot-worthy lattes and as if free java with your face on it isn’t enough, they gave me a bonus selfie stick! I have made fun of the ridiculous looking tool ever since they invaded my Wall Street neighborhood six years ago. Tourists and locals alike became all important documentarians and their sticks disrupted my view of everything.

I folded the metal extendable bar into my purse (it fit!) and focused on potential benefits of capturing my family of four in a shot without asking a stranger to snap a blurry one. I showed off my selfie-stick to my sister via FaceTime. She laughed heartily as I extended the metal rod to its full length and my whole apartment became visible behind me. Also, she noted, from such an angle and height, look at how tall and slim I look. (Kim K, I know your secrets.)

So what’s next? A lens attachment for my phone? Better yet, one of those lights which give you the perfect selfie blowout.

We had cameras, then we had digital cameras, and then we had phones with cameras on them and then we had phones with cameras so good we replaced our actual cameras. Only then we realized the phone cameras weren’t actually as good as the real camera so we now we add new things to our old things to make them function like the original thing we replaced.

Also, never before has a culture been so consumed with how we look in photos – because we know they are immortalized in digital pixels forever stored in a digital yearbook (and server in the Philippines).

I don’t think our vanity and self-documentation-love is the most negative aspect of our culture. I’m all in favor of “if you’re doing something, you might as well do it as best as you can” and that permeates my dinner making, writing articles, and taking a selfie where I minimize my forehead wrinkles and laugh lines around my eyes.

In February I stumbled upon an art exhibit in Times Square of larger-than-life-sized mirrored golden faceted hearts. They reflected the infamous Times Square signs and lights, adding our inverse image to the swirling symphony surrounding the heart circle. I am always fascinated by Hearts Everywhere so naturally I was drawn right to the center where I began taking a picture. My joy must have manifested itself physically, because before I knew it, there was a microphone and camera on my face.

I thought they would ask me about hearts, and their intense reflection on Times Square, how they multiplied the digital billboards infinitely, how this magical piece of art glistened in the midst of the busy hub.

Instead, they asked me what I thought about public displays of affection (all for it) and my opinion on how most spectators seemed to be consumed with taking photos only of themselves. As it turned out I had not yet found myself in the yellow mirrors. I had not seen them as selfie devices.

I’ve reflected on the moment, wishing I had a do-over. What I would have said is…I think the greatest aspect of taking photos of ourselves is not the lasting image, but the lasting memory. When we freeze life in an image, we forever can come back to it, remember who we were in the moment we paused life. When I take a picture I inadvertently think “This may not be the best you look but this is the youngest you’ll ever be.” So snap away, who cares if you have to buy an external brain to hold your memories eternally, they’ll be there when you forget how good your life looked.

“I Love Love” Club

IMG_3184I love the idea of love. I love being in love. I love writing and reading about love. Who doesn’t want to float on a cloud of oxytocin? Love is hip, decorated in heart emojis and rainbow flags, especially in light of a tragedy. Love heals, love distracts, love prevails, except for those who bury a piece of their heart 6 feet under with their loved ones.

Our lives are defined by who we loved and how we loved them and how they become part of our legacy. Our lives are a series of moments strung together like Christmas lights and love ignites them, allows them to burn, and gives them purpose.

Yet every real love story is ultimately a tragedy because one has to leave the other first. The only guarantee about a love story is that it will end – either through break up or through death. We love and we lose and we carry on, with gaps in our heart like swiss cheese, for all the love we lost. Even the quintessential fairytale phrase, “happily ever after” is an impossible contradiction. It’s impossible to predict the future and presumptuous to assume any couple will be perpetually happy.

Our happy ending is the one we are living TODAY. Every good day that ends without tragedy, pain, bad news, or conflict is equivalent to a silent ride into a vibrant sunset.

“I Doodle” Club

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I fidget – a lot! My husband doesn’t understand us fidgeters, even though he is his own breed of fidgeter. He gave his condition a clinical diagnosis: Shaking Leg Syndrome. I call it fidgeting. He just can’t keep his leg still any more than I can keep my fingers idle.

I’ve been doodling as therapy for as long as I can remember. I have never been a good illustrator but I love pens and filling up pages. I adore the feel of different inks on varying papers. I love roller pens, felt tip pens, Sharpies, fountain pens. I appreciate pencils in different degrees of darknesses and softness. I love writing on crumbled up paper bags and on napkins where I watch the ink seep into the porous surface. I doodle my name and the alphabet. I doodle hearts; one inside the other, inside the other. I’m obsessed with drawing concentric circles and swirls and interconnecting squares.

For new immigrants like us, magazine were luxuries we didn’t subscribe to, except for the coveted TV Guide, which we received regularly. I had long memorized when Dynasty and Love Boat aired; I didn’t care about the time listings or the articles about General Hospital. I coveted the TV Guide for another reason: the subscription cards.

That thick card stock was great for absorbing thick marker ink. I loved how the cards instructed me what to write so I didn’t have to use my brain much creatively. I knew the answers to the questions would be correct. Name, address, phone number, how many issues. I filled out every single one of those and any others I can get my hands on in a doctor’s waiting room.

Doodling helped keep my penmanship top notch. While the rest of the world becomes expert thumb texters and finger swipers, I doodle names of everyone in my family – and my cats. I imagine one day I will be like a fancy woman of the 1940s, where I will sit at my formal stationary desk, with my personalized monogrammed cards (very thick stock) and I will write long letters in script. What I write will be secondary to the physical act of writing letters. I draw letters perfectly and I write to do them incessantly. For a writer, there is no greater art than filling a page with letters.

In college, I was easily bored at lectures so I developed a good habit of taking transcription-worthy notes to keep myself engaged during the class. In the lulls of discussion or professor breaths, I would doodle all along the margins and in the middle of my notes. One day a friend grabbed my notebook and started flipping through the pages. She said she could sell it for money. She offered me $300 for it; I said no. Years later in a drastic move, I threw it out anyway.

So I doodle. It’s so much better than playing Candy Crush. At least when my mind rejoins society, I behold a lasting memory of when my restless fingers subconsciously confronted ink with paper.

“I Write About How Much I Love My Husband” Club

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I want to have an essay published in the New York Times Modern Love column by the end of this year. They get over 600 submissions and accept 4 a month. (With the addition of the new Modern Love Podcast, I’m betting the submissions have quadrupled.) For the girl behind HeartsEverywhere.com, The Modern Love column is my (first) Pulitzer. Originally I thought I’d try submitting once a month but three months have passed and while I’ve scoured articles on how to submit and read about 100 past essays, my Modern Love essay exists in broken puzzle pieces in my brain.

No other story leaves me as awestruck as our love story. How did I, a girl born in Kiev, meet a boy, born in Kansas City, in New York City, when I was 30 years old, with a 2-year old in tow? I was not in the market for a love story; I thought I already had my chance at love and failed. I didn’t believe in fairytales; I believed in pragmatic compatibility. I didn’t believe my body would physically tell me when I found a match. In fact, just like so many insecure women lugging duffles full of baggage, I didn’t think I would find someone who would truly love the “real” me.

Wives tales and best friends for generations have said, “You’ll know when you know” when you meet “the one.” These phrases, not to be uttered without finger air quotes, seemed 1980s romantic-comedy brainwashed. But in 2005 Brokeback Mountain gifted us the “I can’t quit you” line. While late-night talk show hosts made fun of the phrase in their evening monologs, I sobbed for four hours straight, in my then boyfriend’s childhood room in Kansas City. Never had my heart felt so trapped in a net of love. I previously thought “chemistry” meant he made me cum, but now I understand “chemistry” is finding the other half of your magnet. When we touched, it felt like a science experiment and it went beyond logical explanation. It is love; life’s miracle and its reason.

This was 2005 and I couldn’t quit him within year one. But how could this feeling last? Magic. We celebrated 11 years together last month and we marveled at how long it’s been; a quarter of my life! Yet, it feels so new, so fresh, so surreal. It felt like home the day I met him; like I recognized him but couldn’t place him, a long-lost family member I had been searching for all of my life.

Our physical connection was instant and intense – and I felt it the minute I took his hand for the first time. Our glowing energies match. This connection is addicting; a drug you need to sleep at night. As fiery individuals, we ignited a passion for everything we did, from photo shoots, to road trips, to bed.

I wish for every woman to have a man who looks at them the way my husband looks at me. He makes me feel wanted, he makes me feel like a goddess, and when he wraps his arms around me I don’t feel protected because he’s bigger than me, I feel safe because his entire soul has surrounded mine in a halo of his love.

Our love feels like spring time. It is a vibrant fuchsia magnolia tree tunnel hugging us as we walk on the greenest grass under the bluest sky and the fluffiest clouds form hearts and spell out our initials. I want to linger right in the sweet spot where the birds launch into symphonies which sound like love songs. Life is sweeter, more relevant, and a lot more fun when you’re madly in love.

It makes me so nervous to have this kind of love; what will life take away from me to balance it out? It’s such a Russian mentality – to be nervous when things are good. I never get a break; I’m worried when it’s bad and I’m worried even more when it’s good.

We made it official on our decade-anniversary, with our 5-year-old daughter as the flower girl and my 13-year-old son as his best man. While the documents call him husband, I hope he never stops being my boyfriend. That cool, sexy, kind, funniest guy in the room, who always knows how to handle a situation, and who always has a good comeback line and an even better tell-off email.

When we met, I thought I met a clown, and instead, I met my muse who took his hand, placed it gently on my chin and tilted it in the direction of finding hearts everywhere. Now, on the wave of his love-filled cheerleading, I write my way towards a dream, trying to sprinkle heart confetti through my stories.

So if it’s so easy for me to write about our cinematic love story, why three months with no Modern Love submission? Because every good story has conflict and our romance is no different. Jumping into that pool of memories, exploiting our chapter of movie-worthy drama scares me. I’m not ready to relive or write about that yet. It’s far easier to doodle hearts than scars.

“I Used to Live in the City” Club

X-NYCOneLove©When we moved to NJ from New York City (NYC) four years ago, we did so kicking and screaming (our rent increase of $1,200 forced us out). We thought this might be a “five-year plan,” which aligned perfectly with my personality as I’ve never lived anywhere for more than four years. We moved to the first building off the George Washington Bridge, which is as much NJ as we could tolerate (“just the tip”), but our license plate brands us wherever we go.

My husband and I strike up conversations wherever we go; Whole Foods, the DMV, doctor’s offices. Standard chatting; you know, revealing our life stories openly amidst curses and jokes to anyone who will listen. (Forgive us, we work from home and when we drop the kids off at school, occasionally we unleash ourselves onto the world.) Strangers tend to react positively to our “When Harry Met Sally” style of ping-pong / interrupting story-telling as we wait for our applause; even in the frozen food aisle.

After two recent conversations, people on the receiving end of our banter have said, “You guys don’t seem like you’re from around here. You seem like you belong in the city.” This is when we launch into our tirade about how we “used to live in the city.” Clearly. “And thank you for very much for noticing,” we say as two huge smiles form instantaneously on both our faces. We are flattered to be considered city folk.

NYC is where my husband and I met and engaged in a quintessential romantic comedy cinematic courtship. We fell in love and NYC happily served as the painstakingly perfect backdrop. The city’s appeal goes far beyond the abundant museum and theater culture; it transpasses the varied architecture or the remarkable skyline. NYC wears its heart on its sleeve ready to bleed for any lovers bold enough to jump. Generations of passion have seeped into the concrete here; it draws a certain type of lustful person.

Many people visit NYC and spew the typical cliche, “Great place to visit; I wouldn’t want to live there.” Living in NYC isn’t the easiest choice, nor is it rated “Best Place to Live” among any real life standards. Cost per square foot in real estate is too high and the price of milk and bread is double what it should be; sometimes the entire length of 34th Street smells like garbage in the summer. Housing projects exist next door to million-dollar high-rises and the unfairness of life with its blatant dichotomy of social classes slaps you in the face at every corner. Women in furs step over homeless men into their limousines, but it’s OK because they’re going to a fundraiser at the Waldorf to raise money for the less fortunate. Artists come in droves to NYC to suffer together and make their dreams come true; because NYC isn’t as much a destination, but a bucket list item.

You live in NYC for the intangibles; it becomes your eternal “I used to live in the city,” defining personality characteristic. It says something about the people who made it here; Frank Sinatra knew what he was saying (from Hoboken) as he said, “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” There is a magnetism emitting from the core of the earth here and it is made up of the collective souls of every artist who sat in a Village cafe and tried; of every immigrant who peddled at a pushcart; of every politician who energized a revolution; of every real life genius and superhero villain. NYC is where fantasy and reality meet and form a new life which reverberates on every NYC street. It is sexy and elitist and scary and exciting, and it is thoroughly romantic in every season.

This is why our favorite date nights are us wandering the streets, lost on purpose, basking in the free entertainment surrounding us. In the graffitied walls and in the colorful personas which confetti the streets; from mohawk-sporting, leather-clad punk rockers to Paris fashion runway glamor and everyone in between. It doesn’t get old or boring and there is gridlock traffic in the East Village after midnight and we linger at the red lights and kiss like we’re kids again. It’s the electric energy in the sidewalks which travels like shocks up our legs and into our hearts and we realize why nowhere else will make us feel this alive. The skyscrapers dotting the horizon, the bridges, the buildings, the voices, the smells – this geographic marvel – soothes my soul like no other.

The feeling of home isn’t necessarily where you are born, but where you land – and where you choose to stay. For those of us who [used to] live here, you understand the urge, the tug, the illogical rationale for why you’d chose a more expensive, less comfortable lifestyle. But for those who make it home, NYC is like no other. For those who leave, we gain membership in the lame “I Used to Live in the City Club,” and eternally use our membership card as gateway conversation starters to justify how we were once way cooler than we are now.

“Hearts Still Find Me” Club

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When I first created HeartsEverywhere.com, I wanted a catchy name for a blog I could use as a writing platform. The name came obviously and easily. Deep in love, I discovered hearts everywhere, which exploded all around me alongside Twitter and Facebook. Throughout the year, I sought out reinforcing signs from the universe yearning for the reasons and explanations. I was so uncertain of myself, I grasped for confetti hearts to convince me I was on the right path.

I concocted capitalist-based dreams for the site – everyone would submit heart pictures, I’d form a community of love lovers, everyone would buy a heart screen printed t-shirt, and we’d all celebrate living life out fucking loud. But knock, knock, who’s there? It’s life! While I collected heart-shaped rocks and click-clacked on my blog, life doled out challenges. I got fired; someone fell on me and broke my knee, I got pregnant with no job or health insurance. Fun cards from this deal left us with bed bugs and rats in one apartment; darkness and eviction in another, and a three-month stint with my family of four living in my dad’s one room basement in Staten Island. I didn’t cease being grateful or in love, but I stopped looking for hearts, continued to write in private, and abandoned HeartsEverywhere for five years.

It took half a decade, but I have finally forgiven myself for getting frustrated with my project and abandoning it. It also meant embracing the artist title. My husband encouraged me to own it and accept the obligatory dose of self-hatred.  Artists struggle, he explained. This was all part of “it.” Reading talented writers refer to their words as shit was equally reassuring.

But this isn’t about being an artist, or more specifically, a writer. This applies to anyone. At a pivotal moment, life will trump your dream and at this crossroads, you can either surrender or put up a fight. We are obligated to pursue our dreams because otherwise we feel shortchanged on this only go around the planet. Why not go for the dream? Because going for the dream is damn hard! Dreams are not dangling carrots or low-hanging fruit. Just because you want them so badly doesn’t ensure you won’t have to work your ass off to turn them into reality. I wish it was as easy as the American saying, “do what you love and the money will follow.” My Soviet immigrant parents never doled out such advice. In lieu of dreams, we discussed practical and lucrative professions. They wanted a life for me laden with fewer financial burdens and struggles.

This year I decided to imagine myself as a sail in the wind. I would dreamily type on my keys each day, liberating the words lying dormant and plaguing me altogether. I would devote my hours to my passion and the universe would kindly (and prolifically) reward me. But LIFE remains knocking every day to remind me anything worth pursuing doesn’t come easily. While greatness is born out of struggle, butterfly quotes flutter around me urging me to liberate myself, to live my dream. This is my one commitment this year. No matter what happens, my perfection paralysis will not win. At the end of the day, I have a deadline and words to publish. To quote Tina Fey, quoting Lorne Michaels, “You don’t go on when you’re ready. You go on at 11:30 pm.

Yesterday I found myself in Times Square, in the middle of NYC, accompanied by my Wicked Witch of Doubt. I channeled her as I ranted on how I was wasting my time and what is the point of all this and what a stupid project and I’ll never amount to anything. I was a spoiled teenager having a hissy fit.

As I meandered through the over-stimulating mecca of digital advertising, I noted a captivating new art installation*. This faceted ring of twelve golden, mirrored HEARTS, ten-feet-tall, was designed to reflect the pulsing activity in Times Square in a kaleidoscopic effect. Additionally, there were offshoots to each heart, “kissing booths,” where couples could see their actions repeated in all directions, akin to a hall of mirrors.

I stood mesmerized. I found myself encapsulated in a shining circle of hearts and I was reminded, life keeps sparkling. My inner American dreamer jumped for joy at this message from the universe cheering me on. Hearts ARE everywhere. Figuratively and literally, beating hearts and love pulses all around us; it’s our choice to see them or ignore them. We can spend our energy doubting and being angry, frustrated by competition or others’ successes, or we can refocus and find signs to remind us we’re exactly where we’re supposed to be.

*The installation, Heart of Hearts, designed by Collective-LOK, is the winner of this year’s annual Times Square Valentine Heart Design contest.

Vice happened to be there for the opening and chose moi for a little sound bite and smooches.

For all the Valentine’s Day Haters

Many of people hate Valentine’s Day – and I’m sure there are plenty of reasons.

Here are some you may have heard:

“It’s a Hallmark-created holiday to fuel the economy.”

“I don’t need a holiday to tell my honey how much I love him. I love him every day.”

“It’s a holiday to make us single people feel bad.”

“It’s too much pressure and it all falls on the guy – why isn’t there a reciprocated holiday for the guy where he gets steak and a blow job?”

And from the Jews in my life – I’ve even heard this one:

“I don’t celebrate because it’s a holiday based on SAINT Valentine.” (Yes this is usually the same group that doesn’t celebrate Halloween. Why? Because Halloween stems from All Hallows Eve, which is the evening before All Saints Day, a Christian Celebration.)

Here’s my take on it.

Our culture has created many Hallmark holidays. The same people who use that excuse for Valentine’s Day have no problem celebrating Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. You should be an equal opportunity Hallmark-holiday heater.

No, you don’t need a holiday to tell your darlings how much you love them. Of course you should tell them every day – or any moment you feel it. But I think the deeper meaning of the holiday (if you can use deeper and Valentine’s in the same sentence without a giggle) – is to take a time out to celebrate the love in your life. It’s just a cultural justification to do some PDA (Public Displays of Affection.) Why not use the excuse to make out in public, indulge in a great meal and remember to have sex (for those of you who need a reminder?!?!)

Appropriately Hallmark’s Valentine’s Day commercials hit it right on the head this year. “It’s not for saying I love you. It’s for saying I love us. I love who we are together.” Their tag line is “Life is a Special Occasion.”

And truly – it is. There is so much ugliness, war, sickness in the world – that if Hallmark wants to lead everyone in a love fest for a day – why not? What’s a little love spreading going to hurt?

It’s like New Year’s Eve – for couples. A reason to party legitimately. Or St. Patrick’s Day, for that matter – celebrated by Irish and non-Irish drunks alike. (Incidentally there are Thanksgiving haters too. Should you give thanks one day a year?)

But the argument that it’s a holiday designed to make singles feel bad is like saying that women who don’t have children (too young, too old, don’t want them, lost them…) should hate Mother’s Day.

The argument that it falls on the man is somewhat annoying. It’s true that society deems it slightly more of the male responsibility – but that is our society’s tribute to traditional courting – and it rarely shows its proud head anymore. It’s an ode to the way things used to be, perhaps cliché romance – but romance nonetheless. But a man doesn’t have to fall into the teddy bears, roses and chocolates trap just like he doesn’t have to buy into the tie cliché for Father’s Day.

In terms of a reciprocal holiday – there is Steak and BJ Day. I would wish for all the men out there that they find a lover that thinks a steak and a blow job is their idea of a good time too. (Well – maybe not the steak – there are way too many women vegetarians nowadays – but they still have to eat their man’s meat.)

But, I agree that it’s become too commercial. Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day – all of it. Is Hallmark setting your calendar for love declarations? Show your honey how much you love them in February, your mother in March, your father in June?

Am I celebrating? No, not really … but mostly because he thinks “it’s a Hallmark holiday – and he doesn’t need a holiday to tell me he loves me – he loves me everyday.”

(Yet every year – even though we don’t celebrate – he comes home with something.)

Happy Valentine’s Day – to the Lovers and the Haters.

To my lover, my partner, my best friend – I promise a life of nights filled with broken dishes. I love you every day.

AMENDMENT: He came home with flowers.

Heart Rocks

In August 2008 on our way home from our first trip to Maine, we stopped in Newport, Rhode Island. While stopping at a beach along the Cliff Walk, we ran into a woman looking for heart-shaped rocks along the predominantly-pebbled beach. It seemed like the perfect idea for someone who authors a blog called Hearts Everywhere. Thus the hobby was born. I’ve been collecting them through life and travels. I write the date and where I found it. They live in the bathroom that used to be just mine before it became just mine and the baby’s. The girls’ room.

The rock that started the collection.

Bringing Back the Hearts

The blog is called Hearts Everywhere but it had been a while since I had posted anything heart-related. I was having a crisis of blog identity; I wondered if my blog title no longer fit my blog. As a band-aid for my doubt/guilt, my boyfriend suggested I take one day a week and post something heart-related. (If you want to read why I started my heart obsession, read about it here.)

I love love. I love romance. I love happily ever after.

And Hearts … they kind of found me. Especially in a time when my life was a bit clouded, naturally-occuring hearts seemed seemed to light my path anywhere I looked.

These geometric symbols of love revealed themselves wherever I looked. They were life’s reminders of love and beauty. It kind of saw it like a Heart is to Love as a Cross is to Jesus. If you love being a good Christian, you wear a cross; if you love love, you doodle hearts. Or see them – Everywhere.

I sneered at the boyfriend’s suggestion. My blog had evolved as a forum for my rants and a digital scrapbook of my life. The hearts were good background but I wasn’t sure if they were strong enough to play a lead role. Had I become better than my hearts?

I thought I’d wait for a sign.

But I couldn’t just look for obvious hearts; this was early February and with Valentine’s Day hearts abound. I live next door to a Tiffany’s and this is their current campaign:

I pass this almost every day – but still, not a sign enough.

Then I got an email from someone asking me to review and write a post about this book. (They found me!)

In the trifecta of heart signs … earlier this evening the baby girl was finishing her mushy dinner and daddy invited me to come look at her shirt. A stain in the shape of a heart.

A sign that made me stop – take a photo – and blog about.

Today, take a moment to stop, look around, and the find the love (hearts) around you.