Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Two Weeks Each Year

There are only two weeks each year that I can watch my favorite sport in New York. Tennis players work tirelessly across climates and continents, but even the most ardent fans spend most of their time anxiously following along on television. We spend January on the edge of our seats, wondering whether Australia will shake up the world rankings before the Spring in Europe. May is spent studying players in France to determine who will be the most fit in the UK. And July is spent watching players wearing white compete for tennis's oldest championship. Its not until August that the grand slam circuit finally culminates in New York.

I spend at least one day at the US Open at the end of every summer, and I spent several hours today blissfully admiring Federer, Wozniacki, Azarenka and Wawrinka during their first round matches. The 90 degree heat and intense humidity were oppressive. The music emanating from multiple courts at once was distracting. The movement of guests throughout the stadium hindered visibility. The bright summer sun cast a glare over nearly the entire court.

… and that's only a fan talking! I left the stadium exhausted and dehydrated from the heat, though I spent the better part of seven hours sitting in a chair and sipping water (among other things).

As I sat in awe at the excellence and talent on the courts, I realized that athleticism is less the product of physical ability and more the masterpiece resulting from determination and work ethic. An athlete spends countless hours honing his craft, much like a PhD student masters his field. He learns to conquer his own mind to prevent distraction and focus on his objective, in the same way a surgeon approaches each procedure. He takes a long term view and recognizes the importance of the small steps along the way, much like a financial advisor manages a portfolio.

Most of us make an effort to perform moderately well in several aspects of our lives. But world-class athletes are not moderate… it's this mental drive and focus that sets them apart. And that's why we watch them. We're in awe of their ability to sprint across the court and hit a drop shot down the line, but ultimately we're in awe of the work that went into mastering the shot.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Graduation Bliss

The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and I will never have to run a regression to determine the statistical probability of anything ever again. Things are looking up. 

That means more focus on sport, more time to read (just started 100 Years of Solitude), more energy to spend galavanting and, more generally... A happier me. Hats off to my fellow grads who have struggled to balance life and school for the past few years. You're certainly the reason the degree is worthwhile. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Emerging from Hibernation

I'm renewing my commitment to write more frequently. Writing used to be important to me and it becomes easier with practice, so I have moderately high hopes that I may write something mildly interesting if I keep trying for several years. And given my readership of approximately 5 (give or take 4), I'm sure when that moment of semi-brilliance strikes, the post will go viral.

New York is slowly thawing and moods are quickly lifting. The streets are filled with smiling kids on scooters and dogs who've suffered without long walks for too many months. As winter finally melts away, I'm reminded of the endless opportunity the city affords. Parks, theaters, arenas, restaurants, bars, museums, cafés, stores. Record shops, thrift shops, coffee shops, book shops. Clubs, meet ups, pick up games, sporting events, organizations, charities. And everything inbetween. I say this every year as I'm certain many New Yorkers have before me, but it still rings true - I don't take advantage of all the city has to offer. Movie nights in Tomkins, free concerts in Central Park and on Randall's island, kayaking in the Hudson, activities near Chelsea piers, Smorgesboard in Brooklyn, bier gartens in Queens, horseback riding in the Bronx. The list goes on and on. 

As I walked to Penn Station today past a long line of tourists eager to reach the top of the Empire State Building, I was reminded of how much I haven't seen and done in my own backyard. I've traveled thousands of miles away to explore foreign lands but I've never felt compelled to play the tourist in the remarkable city I call home. I don't have a favorite antique book shop and I haven't discovered all of the hidden back alleys and local secrets. I don't know the history of the beautiful architecture or where Melville and Salinger found inspiration. 

It's high time I begin to really appreciate this great city; time to open my eyes to the wonder and mystery of the place I call home. I pledge to actively participate in all that New York has to offer... to learn something from the city that has given me so much. 

... I guess I might as well start with a Yankee game :) 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The city is the art

The world works in mysterious and unpredictable ways. Fortunately there are a few constants that we can always rely on. Without fail, travel has the subtle yet powerful ability to highlight those timeless, uplifting, universal truths - tomorrow will always be a fresh start, someone somewhere in the world is inevitably facing struggles similar or greater to yours, and you are fully in control of your own life and how you spend your time. Travel is fatal to prejudice and narrow thinking of all kinds. It expands our world and opens our minds to ever greater possibilities. It encourages us to harken back to a different time, whenever that may be; our own version of history, infused with foreign and familiar impressions that give us courage and unleash our imaginations. An ever-present unifying force becomes more tangible when  we immerse ourselves in a new place, a new people, a new part of the world. We remember to appreciate our commonality  with one another, while celebrating difference. To me, the profound effect of travel can only be described as magical. 

I traveled to Paris for the first time this past weekend. It's a beautiful city filled with mesmerizing people. As we walked the cobblestone streets, popping into shops and pausing at cafés, I knew I was surrounded by an unparalleled aesthetic; one that only an entire culture of keen artistic eyes could cultivate, but one that is far superior in it's sincerity. Every Parisian falls into his or her place seamlessly, each flower and building and car plays its role in the work of art that is Paris; a city that is itself a masterpiece. 

This dramatic, wildly over the top description of Paris's beauty is seemingly an exaggeration. But it isn't to me. Because that is my Paris and it is unlike anyone else's Paris. It is based on my experiences, my history and my understanding and preferences and expectations. Perception is reality. And I choose to see the beauty. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Trip Photos

Photos are mine and Ashley's. Iceland and Stockholm uploaded. Helsinki and Tallin to come. Titles / captions at the bottom.



Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Best Exotic Brooklyn Borough

A thought for consideration (if only to prevent this blog from becoming even more stale than it is). Went on a brief staycation today in Brooklyn and am as convinced as ever that Brooklyn is not only a worthy component of New York City, but is, in itself, a city independent of the other boroughs. After a trip to the Botanical Gardens, lunch outside at a cafe, and an afternoon in Prospect Park, it occurred to me that Brooklyn doesn't need Manhattan to draw tourists in. Brooklyn is the destination.

Can other newly popular cities across the states — Boulder, Portland and Asheville to name a few — provide more entertainment for a long weekend than Brooklyn can? I personally doubt it. I'll happily vacation often in the exotic borough.

cherry blossoms

Monday, March 11, 2013

Roll Away Your Stone

Apparently women are accommodating, nurturing, modest, subtle and considerate. How awful. We're taught to value the happiness of loved ones over material things and we ensure everyone in a room has what he or she needs before taking care of ourselves. Really disgraceful. Thanks, 21st century philosophy, for opening my eyes to these atrocities and wagging a finger at me for lacking self-interest. From now on we will all be bossy and narcissistic to make the world a better place. No more "really, it was nothing…" and "I'm fine with whatever you want." The days of softening critical feedback by also highlighting a strength are in the past. From here on out, it's every [wo]man for himself as we step on one another in the race to the top.

March is Women's History Month. I've yet to hear anyone talk about the struggles that women have overcome in recent years (we American women only got the vote in 1920) or, perhaps more importantly, the struggles that women continue to face all over the world. Women were only granted the right to vote in Saudi Arabia in 2011 (it didn't make front page news). The next major election there is not until 2015. So in that very wealthy country with which the United States regularly conducts business, roughly half of the population has been disenfranchised until now. And even that is a success story compared with the horrors that women continue to face throughout the third world.

But by no means should we discount the tremendous strides women have taken toward gender equality in the past several centuries. In fact, given my own nationality and education, I'm more privileged than most in that regard and have only very rarely been made to feel inferior to a male counterpart because of my gender. But in this country, where we're much closer to equality than elsewhere, the dialogue has shifted so drastically that we may be missing the mark. Rather than continuing to pressure those in power (be it the government or men in our society generally) for suffrage or anti-discrimination laws, we've turned on ourselves. The laws no longer distinguish between men and women (for the most part), so we can't yell at the government. Starting salaries (note: starting) don't differ drastically between men and women, so we can't yell at our employers. But somehow men still seem to hold most of the powerful positions in society…

… so it must be our fault. For guys, the pressure is off. They no longer need to actively ensure everyone is being treated equally because the laws say we are. Doesn't matter that typically female qualities aren't valued in society and typically male qualities are. The 21st century solution to achieving equality for women is making women act like men.

Be assertive.  Be direct.  Look after yourself first.  Don't let emotions come into play.  Be overt about your accomplishments. Know that you deserve things (whether earned or not).

The list goes on and on. Obviously not all men reflect these qualities; I'm oversimplifying because we are taught that certain qualities typify either men or women, but not both. These commands are specific instructions that are repeatedly given to women. And there's merit in some of it.  If half of the population doesn't appreciate or even recognize subtlety, then one could justifiably argue that being more obvious and direct will clearly convey a message to a greater number of people. Sure. But rather than encouraging women to abandon our natural state, why not encourage men to embrace it? Has anyone yet launched a training course that praises a woman's ability to express her feelings? I've yet to hear anyone stand in front of a room and say, "To all you managers, here's the thing. Men are terrible at talking through how they feel. If only they'd just cry when they need to and tell us why they're upset, then you'd know where they stand. But since they won't, you're going to have to go to great lengths to gauge their emotional state while they're sulking or storming off, so here are a few tricks of the trade…" And while there are several best sellers about "nice girls" getting stepped on, no one has recommended a book to me with a name like "Reading Between the Lines: How Women Skillfully Say Things Without Saying Them."

These assets are overlooked and under-appreciated (whether possessed by a man or a woman). And until the dialogue shifts to the innate and distinct value that female qualities bring to the table, rather than the ways in which women can learn to exhibit typically male qualities, we will not live in a truly equal society.