Inevitably, life is not always peachy. I think the key is finding coping strategies that work for us. I’m not sure it’s something I ever learned in school.

I have a few go-tos, in no particular order:
– volunteering
– friends
– my gratitude journal
– nature

A story about volunteering: When I was in Paris, there was period where I hated my job. I wasn’t the only one—the company had such high turnover that after a year you could be the senior person in your department. We were understaffed and overworked with no overtime pay and underappreciated by management At the time, I volunteered at an outdoor soup kitchen one evening a week. At the end of the workday, I felt tired and just felt like going home, but one thing I am is consistent, so I would eat my packed dinner at my desk and take the metro to the soup kitchen without fail. Once there, I moved into fast-paced prepping and serving mode—there were a lot of people and they were hungry. Then, clean-up and shooting the breeze with some bénéficiares. I always felt energized from volunteering, plucked out of my own world of problems and placed in a totally different world, where a fight might break out (not that we wanted that) and where I honed an ability to scoop cooked fish out of a tray without splashing the sauce. Now, in the States, I still volunteer, and each time reminds me that there are tons of people around me living different realities from my own. It’s different knowing and seeing.

A story about friends: Often, I’ll talk with friends when I’m going through a tough time, but I remember one particular weekend almost a year ago that I simply lay on two friends’ couch for an afternoon while they went about doing their things in their apartment. Before that, we had sat around their kitchen table for what must have been a few hours chatting. I think I didn’t say that much, but they’re the types of friends that I feel comfortable not talking a lot if I don’t feel like it. I was so grateful to be in the company of people with whom I could just be.

Speaking of gratitude: It must have been at least five or so years ago that my friend and mentor Donna told me that she kept a gratitude journal. I noted it somewhere in my mind but didn’t have an impulse to start the practice. Two and a half years ago, my good college friend gave me a beautiful Petit Prince Moleskine planner for Christmas. While a planner is essential for me, my requirements are rather specific. This planner, medium-sized and hardback, was good quality but too heavy for me to carry around. I thought about what I could do with it—it couldn’t be used as a regular notebook, and it was so nice, and obviously my friend chose it specifically for me given its lovely quote in French on the cover. And that’s how I started writing in a gratitude journal.

About nature: I remember reading in Anne Frank’s diary years ago that she looked to nature to feel better. If she, who lived in such a difficult time, found solace in nature, then I thought it must be a good idea. Ten years ago, my family was going through a hard time, and I remember walking to the park and just lying on a bench or a swing and looking up at the sky. It didn’t erase the problems, but it helped me get through them.

This isn’t comprehensive, but knocking out a few more: There’s family, if you want to count them as a separate category from friends. And music: a few months ago during a highly stressful week, I was sick but dragged myself to a Jessie Ware concert in Brooklyn, where I was indeed transported to a wonderful place and danced and sang in liberation And exercise: I once dated someone who when not at his full-time job, ran like a fiend. In the park multiple times a week, marathons on weekends, alone, with groups. He had experienced a family tragedy not long before and gone through a low period himself. Running lifted him.

And oh, reading: a longtime love that I’m glad my parents nurtured. Reading stories of human experiences makes me realize that my experiences are exactly that. It’s amazing how novels across cultures and times resonate with my own thoughts, emotions, and situations.

Dealing with the dips: it’s a life skill in constant development.


Feed Me Lines

I love reading. With that comes a love of libraries and bookstores. I used to work in publishing, where there was always an abundance of books in the office. On a long walk in Manhattan this winter, I stopped in The Center for Fiction for the first time. The front exterior and interior are so aesthetically pleasing, all glass and mirrors and lines and pages.



Books make me happy.  Free books kick that happiness up a notch.

I’ve had a few experiences with free books.  My parents took my sister and me to the library from a young age.  We checked out and in dozens of books each time.  I remember that ‘thump’ sound when the librarian inserted a card in a metal device to stamp the due date on it (does anyone know what I’m talking about?).

I still go to the library, and whenever I browse the shelves, I always feel the possibility of coming upon a great book.  I’ve discovered some of my favorite books by skimming the spines and flaps of library books.

When I worked in publishing, twice a year my company held Free Book Day to clear the offices of excess copies.  All employees were invited to a book-filled room at the headquarters to take as many books as they could carry.

This past Saturday I partook in another kind of free book experience.  Circul’Livre is a program in Paris that has been around since 2004 and organizes free book events in eleven arrondissements once a month or more.  I headed over to the location near Canal de l’Ourcq in the 19th arrondissement.  A site closer to where I live would have been more convenient, but the great thing about the one in the 19th is that it takes place several times a month.


Upon entering the centre social et culturel, I was greeted by one of the two volunteers who were shelving books.  I had brought two books to donate, which she asked me to put on the front counter so they could affix a sticker with the program logo to their covers before adding them to the collection.  She encouraged me to take as many books as I wanted and said that I wasn’t constrained to choosing two books just because I had brought two.

Not all locations organize books by category, but this one was well-organized: the volunteer showed me that there were sections for fiction (which were alphabetized by author), detective novels, autobiography and biography, travel, foreign language books, pocket paperbacks, and children’s books.

8.circul'livre.2013c8.circul'livre.2013aOnce I had chosen my books, one of the volunteers simply wrote down my first name and how many books I had brought and taken.  The two women who were volunteering were really nice and welcoming.  The event time listed on the Circul’Livre web site was 10 to 1, but at 1:15 they were still shelving new books and showing no signs of rushing visitors out.

I’m pretty excited about my selection of books, which include Simone de Beauvoir, Françoise Sagan, and Muriel Barbary.  I hope the books I donated find a good home too.