Month: February 2016

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I Broke Up with Binge-Watching and I’ve Never Been Happier

My name is Brian, and I’m an episodic TV addict. I’ve been clean for over 100 days now. That’s right. Clean. No Piper and Alex. No Phillip and Elizabeth. No Starks. No Lannisters. No Netflix. No Amazon Prime Instant. No HBO GO on my friend’s account. By last fall, my “denial” cover story about my nasty habit was collapsing. I could no longer fool myself that I merely enjoyed the golden era of prestige TV in the age of genius showrunners like Gilligan, Simon and Chase My viewing habits had broken bad. Really, really bad. Paying full Prime retail for an all-night binge on USA’s mediocre law firm procedural Suits bad. Bad as in hearing not voices but rather an insane mash-up track, starting with the opening violin theme from The Americans, adding in The Sopranos bass line, layering over the House of Cards theme (because it’s the basically the same song ) and then topping it off with the Game of Thrones cello bad. Terrible. But things are better now. Much better. Subtracting episodic …

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28 Supremely Good TV Shows to Stream Right Now (You’re Welcome)

I live in New York and love going out here. But lately, my sofa beckons and my boots face stiff competition from my slippers as dozens of engaging TV shows become available through streaming. Here are some of my favorite reasons to stay home: 14 Comedies (most of these shows run 23 – 30 minutes) 1. Master of None (produced by and streaming on Netflix). The set up is familiar: The show’s creator  ̶ in this case, Aziz Ansari  ̶ plays  plays a comedic version of himself. But everything else about “Master of None” is fresh. Funny, sharp-edged stories take on modern issues of racism, sexism, relationships and adulting. The show is generous toward its characters, and the “Parents” episode is an instant classic. Cinematic filming, to boot. 2. Catastrophe (produced by UK Channel 4; season 1 streaming on Amazon, season 2 not yet available in the US). Boston businessman (Rob Delaney) and London schoolteacher (Sharon Horgan) have a two-night stand in London, and she gets pregnant. The characters are both about 40, so the sane …

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Face Off: Jessica Jones vs. The Man in the High Castle

Netflix is trying to kill me. Releasing an entire season of TV all at once sounds great on paper. You don’t have to wait week after week for the next episode. You can see it all in a row, as a long story, rather than be tortured by trying to figure out what’s going to happen next. Fact is, I’ve caught up on many shows doing the binge watch – Alias, Supernatural, Game of Thrones.  If you didn’t get on board in the first season, you can still catch up to everyone else and be part of the cultural conversation. I’ve also binge-watched some old favorites. I re-watched the entire Battlestar Galactica series one winter, staying up until the wee hours and getting annoyed at Netflix when it would ask me if I was still watching. “OF COURSE I’M STILL WATCHING; IT’S BATTLESTAR!” I’d exclaim at the TV. If TVs could be startled, mine would have been. It all came crumbling down around me on November 20th when Netflix dropped season one of Jessica Jones …

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Ovarian Rhapsody: Choosing Your Cancer Hero

“This chair pattern is driving me nuts,” says my husband. We are sitting in NYU’s waiting room, about to meet the first oncologist on my list. “And isn’t it funny how they have to put those dots across the glass so people don’t run into the pane?” My husband, the architect, is always analyzing how a room could be better or why certain design choices are made. I’m looking around too, making different kinds of notes. A hushed room, friendly staff Bundled up cancer patients — some with caps, some with wigs — reading “courtesy of NYU” People magazine A bit depressing, but of course it is Red couches accented by intertwining geometric shapes made to look cheery but not too fun You never know, some of this random detail might help me select my doctor and my choice of cancer care. No, really. After scores of friend-of-a-friend suggestions, scouring RateMds ratings, New York magazine best doctor lists and insurance coverage checks, I narrowed my list of possible oncologists down to two: one at NYU Langone …

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My Year of Streaming Dangerously

After years of pushing my night owl habit to unhealthy limits, I committed to sleeping a solid eight hours every night. It quickly turned into the most well-rested year of my adult life. Then I got a Roku. I wasn’t a binge-watcher at the time. All I wanted was the ability to keep up with the shows I heard my friends and the internet go on about. I didn’t feel like a pop culture writer who had never seen True Detective or Breaking Bad could call herself legit. I also wanted to revisit Friday Night Lights. Plus, House of Cards was about to begin, and I needed to watch Orange is the New Black. I did not want to watch any of this on my computer. I work on the Internet; I already spend many hours every day staring at a smallish screen, and I didn’t want to move my TV-watching habits there too. I wanted to watch actual shows on actual television from my actual couch. With one cable, the tiny Roku connected my …

How The Walking Dead Kind of Saved My Life

It’s sort of a funny story now, the way it all went down, when I look back on it alive and sober. Because clearly I wasn’t going to be for much longer, and while that may sound melodramatic, I promise you, it wasn’t. By about September of 2011, my life had basically turned into a long string of drunken, unhappy, hazy days. I woke up, drank, wrote, slept, ate, drank, passed out, wrote some more, drank, drank, maybe saw a movie or went somewhere in between, drank, went to bed, and did it all over again the next day. Occasionally, I managed to show up for a freelance gig at an office for a week or two. With the exception of a morning “eye-opener” at home, I didn’t drink during my working hours, based solely on principle (and fear of getting caught). But the minute 5pm hit, I was dying for a drink, so I’d hit a bar ASAP before heading home to continue. Where was my husband through all this? He was there, dealing …

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Come Wade In My Stream of Consciousness

I am forever aswim in my own stream of consciousness. Socrates and I would have been very close friends, I’m sure, as I have exactly zero capability not to consider and reconsider every thought I have or decision I make in order to better understand its origins. What is it that motivates me? (Curiosity.) Why I am threatened by not being understood? (Because I need to feel known and seen.) What is it, exactly, about okra that grosses me out? (Simple: the slime.) As Socrates put it, before being put to death, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” And my life, well, it’s very deeply examined by me̶  in a way that is exhausting. Frankly, it’s very tiring to be in a constant meta-conversation with myself. But there’s no stopping it. So to keep things lively, I made my streams of consciousness public. I wrote a book about a time in my life when my house and my marriage fell apart at the same time. And, in it, I laid it all bare: the …

Margit’s Note: How to Get Away With Bingeing

I’ve watched everything. All of the shows. Jessica Jones, Episodes, Billions, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (genius), House of Cards (finally)… you know what, I’m not even going to list them. You know what they are, and it’s all of them. As I’ve had up days and many more down days lately (due to this stuff), I’ve spent a lot of time streaming TV, movies, podcasts and anything else that is entertaining, distracting and pleasantly sedative. I’ll admit, it got kind of strange when I started DVRing The People’s Couch on Bravo, an actually hilarious show where you watch real families, best friends, sisters, etc. watch must-see or cringe-worthy TV like Scandal, Jane the Virgin, Grease Live or #HTGAWM (and if you don’t know what that is, well, maybe it’s time to close this issue.) Seriously. I’d never heard of the People’s Couch, but it’s been on for like four years, so clearly I’m not alone in being entertained. Although my fellow TV addict and our social media manager Karen Gerwin chides me, “I feel bad enough about …

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Bernie To Bed, Hillary To Wed

Picture this: Six friends having a mid-January, post-New-Year’s “how was your break” breakfast. We are a group of women ranging in age from mid-30s to early-50s, with jobs in advertising, media, law, medicine and publishing. We are all feminists, all mothers and, I was thrilled to discover as the conversation rolled around to the Presidential election, all firmly on Team Hillary. And yet… “She has a likability problem,” said one. “She doesn’t have the charisma that Bill or Barack have,” said another. “Her campaign messages just aren’t as exciting as #feelthebern is.” “If Bill’s Teflon, then she’s Velcro. Nothing sticks to him, and everything sticks to her.” Here we were, firmly in Hillary’s corner and yet worrying that she’s not likable enough? That she’s not charming enough. What could be more exciting than the prospect of electing the first female President of the United States? Were we being typical, apathetic Gen Xers? It felt like déjà vu, 2008 all over again — only worse this time. It’s been a pretty disheartening few weeks for those of …

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What a 60-Year-Old Politician Taught Me About Being Single

On July 15, 2015, a long-shot candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination was asked in a radio interview whether he could be taken seriously as a contender for the leader of the free world with his unorthodox lifestyle of…never having been married. His response, calmly, in a contemplative Southern drawl: “Married people have screwed up the world.” And, with those seven words, I was smitten. Sixty-year-old Lindsey Graham, the senior Republican Senator from South Carolina, was clearly winning at life (even if his pull numbers sucked), and he was my new hero. At the time, I was 30 and was going through the worst breakup of my life. It was a situation that I largely blamed on myself because I had kept the whole thing going out of the impulse that, well, someone in her thirties ought to be able to keep a relationship alive even through the rough spells. In fact, the whole thing was a thoroughly unhappy coupling of two incompatible people, and we’d been in denial over our incompatibility for some time. …

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Talking Politics Without Losing Friends

I used to manage political campaigns in Florida, a truly competitive state when it comes to the number of Democrats vs. Republicans. Dreaded was the moment when I would be asked what I do for a living because that was the point in the conversation where one of two things would happen: Either the person would “spot a friend across the room” or “suddenly have to use the restroom,” ending our conversation, or they would lean closer and say something to the effect of “I knew I liked you” or “fascinating, tell me more” and our relationship would be solidified. Fifty-fifty. That was the risk that my conversation and new friend would evaporate as soon as I revealed my political orientation. Over and over again, I saw how divisive politics were when, just by claiming my political party aloud, I would lose friends. How could I explain what I did for a living without alienating half of the people I met? I experimented with many different ways to say it. For the record, this was …

The Permanent Effect of George W. Bush

In the spring of 2001, I was summoned to our nation’s capital to meet with George Walker Bush, the 43rd president of the United States. I had written a cover story about the president’s tax plan for SmartMoney magazine, which is now, sadly, defunct. According to the White House press officer who set up the meeting, the president wanted to talk to me – and a select group of other personal finance journalists – about his blueprint to stimulate the American economy by lowering taxes. Based in New York, I got the necessary approval from my boss to make the trek to DC, contingent on one key detail: I needed to get George Bush’s autograph on the magazine cover. And not with a wussy ballpoint pen. My editor-in-chief wanted the John Hancock-ing done with the permanent ink of a black Sharpie. He was half-joking, naturally. But I did not want to mess around with this assignment. The morning of my big rendezvous with Bush, I found the drug store closest to the White House and …

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Why I Took a Trip to Greece to Help Syrian Refugees

Only once — when an overcrowded night ferry backed into Gate E7 at Athens’ Port of Piraeus — did my emotions consume me. My breath grew fast and shallow. I squinted through my tears and stammered, “There are so many of them. There are just so many.” There were more than 2,000 refugees on that ferry alone, 35 percent of them children. As a volunteer with the nonprofit Carry the Future, my job was to approach arriving families with babies and toddlers and offer them free baby carriers to ease their journey along the Balkan Route to Western Europe. The families I met were primarily Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans bound for Germany — as long as the borders stayed open. Over the course of their journey, they would cover 1,000 miles on buses, trains and foot. A structured backpack-style carrier or a cozy infant pouch would make an enormous difference to those toting children along with garbage bags and duffels of their belongings. There are just so many. “One baby at a time. That’s all …

Heels For A Higher Calling

Living in New York, working as a business reporter in the 1990s, and doing freelance lifestyle writing on the side, I got a kick out of all all the PR pitches, launches, and parties. Among them: renting out Ellis Island for a magazine party, Donald Trump’s 50th birthday, and, if memory serves, bringing elephants to midtown to help launch a perfume. So when my best friend Allison, the co-founder of a PR firm, asked me to volunteer to help out on an event where supermodels would be helping Doctors Without Borders, by decluttering their own closets, I couldn’t resist. I agreed to help check in guests and members of the press at the front desk of a high-end garage sale with items pulled from the closets (and storage units) of iconic ‘90s models Shalom Harlow and Kirsty Hume. The items would then be sold for between $10 and $100. It couldn’t have been more of the moment. There was even the requisite article in The NY Post about it by one of the lifestyle and fashion …

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Margit’s Note: Votes, Valentines and Vuitton

This week we’re going for a 3-for-1 theme: Politics, Love and Fashion. With the primaries in full swing, Fashion Week taking over NYC tomorrow and Valentine’s Day around the corner, they all kinda go together in some strange way, don’t they? Just ask Derek Zoolander and Hansel who explained this eloquently on Weekend Update (“Bernie’s a big fan of the 99%. 99% off at J.C. Penny.”). We love — or love to hate — our candidates, and we are so wrapped up in the way they present themselves. A comfy mauve pantsuit, a stacked high heel cowboy boot, a fluttering orange toupee. One minute a candidate is in vogue, the next she’s yesterday’s SNL skit. But we do our best to avoid the 24-hour Twitter-induced panic and remember who really deserves our vote. We travel to far-flung places to do the right thing, buck trends to stay true to the styles we love and share a stylish obsession with a candidate we’d never vote for. Hailing from a family of staunch Republicans, I left for …

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The Self-Medicated Woman

I’ve learned to love my Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I’ve also learned to accept and even love the legal drugs I use to manage it: caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. As many of you reading these words today amid your 500 other to-dos know, ADHD is blessing and a curse. My morning preamble to sitting down to this article was marked by a frenzied dance through a series of tasks I felt compelled to undertake no matter how inane, including chopping beeswax to make “cutting board butter” (thanks a lot, internet), muscling the sludge off of the side of a bottle of liquid soap (it builds up!), a step in the long process of making homemade apple jack (America’s first legal drug), repairing a broken window (it’s cold out there) and, oh yeah, getting my son out the door and to the bus on time. All before the sun had barely crested the treetops. At times, I feel ridiculous, but after a half-century of flitting from task to task, I’ve come to trust the process …

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The Drug Talk I Never Needed to Have

I’ve never had the drug talk with my twelve and fifteen year old daughters because I’ve never felt like I had to. So many people in our lives have died from alcohol and drug addiction that discussing the point seems moot. Death has been talking loud and clear. My daughters’ first life and death lesson with addiction came when they were eight and eleven. I was picking up the youngest, Dev, from an after school activity one early fall afternoon. A bunch of us parents were waiting in the school parking lot for the kids to be dismissed, when a young girl ran up to me. “Excuse me, Dezi’s mom,” she said, tears about to spill out of her eyes. “My dad drove me here to pick up my brother, but he was driving weird.” Her dad was drunk, she said, and she didn’t want her or her brother to have to get back in the car with him. Stacy was a sixth grader like my daughter, Dezi. Her brother and my youngest daughter were …

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The Waiting Room: Details of a Diagnosis

“Fakakta…shit.” “Fakakta…shit.” In a packed radiologist’s waiting room in midtown NYC, a 70-something woman sits next to me, scribbling in a stack of forms and muttering loudly in Yiddish-English. “Fakakta…shit.” The woman says this roughly every 10 minutes.  I want to whisper to her, “My feelings exactly.” I’m here to get a precautionary mammogram to rule out any additional cancer. Four days prior, I learned that I had — well, what looked like — ovarian cancer and, because my mother and grandmother had breast cancer, my gynecologist thought we should rule out B.C.  Hopefully, I wasn’t a cancer factory. This brown-carpeted clinic smells like sanitizer and sadness. I fumble with my keys in my jacket pocket. I’m still zipped up in my puffy orange coat, ready to get in and get out because this isn’t me. This isn’t me. Fakakta…shit. *** Allow me to back up and start from the beginning of this C craze. Back in September of 2015, I’d bled for five days. Hey, we ladies bleed; not weird, right? Well it was weird …

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8 Things You Know About Medication…That Are Totally Wrong

Drugs are everywhere. They’re taken in the bathroom stall next to us when we’ve gone out to a nightclub. They’re spread across the news and social media when one of our beloved artists meets an untimely demise due to an overdose. And they’re lining our cabinets and dressers when we reach for our birth control, aspirin and host of other pills. We’ve become desensitized to drugs and medications, whether experimenting during college or taking Vicodin after an intense surgery. And, of course, as with anything that is commonly used there comes a whole heap of misconceptions and myths that pervade the landscape without anyone ever making sense of them. So where does one go to find the truth in these ideas?  To dispel some common misconceptions and fallacies, I consulted three-time author Dr. Susan C. Vaughan, who is currently a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst on the faculty at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and author Dr. Frank Lipman, founder and director of Eleven-Eleven Wellness Center. Misconception: #1 Manufactured drugs have dangerous side effects, but …

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A Conversation with My Teenage Son About Drugs

When my 16-year-old son came into our family room to play a video game, I was delighted. I don’t get a chance to sit and talk with him often, so I quickly turned off the episode of Intervention I’d been watching. He sat down beside me. “What do you think makes a person try their very first drug?” I asked him. “Been watching drug addicts again?” he asked in return. I admitted I had. “After however many years of saying no, they one day say yes. What makes them do it?” “I have no idea, Mom,” he answered, taking off his sneakers. “Of course not,” I countered, “but try anyway.” Tactics I’ve used with middle school students in my classroom for 14 years work just as well on my son. First, acknowledge they may not have an answer, and then demand one nonetheless. I’ve learned you can’t assume to know what’s going on inside a teenage brain. “Okay,” he said. “I guess they want to escape and feel good.” He chewed at the edge of a fingernail. …

Day Job: I Was a Heroin Ethnographer

“C’mon!” my emaciated companion urged, grabbing my arm and speedwalking me towards a nondescript looking apartment building. We had been waiting across the street for the past 10 minutes, looking for some kind of a signal from the gentleman standing in front of the bodega on the corner. I had been trying to decide whether I was more afraid of the police or an angry drug dealer, but I guess while I was busy being paranoid we had been given the all-clear. “Be cool,” Janet hissed as she hurried me on. At one point Janet had been a successful corporate lawyer, but that was many years and countless bags of dope ago. Today, she was a 45-year-old junkie who lived off the largesse of her wealthy Upper West Side family, in a parentally financed apartment a few blocks from where she grew up. We were about to purchase heroin together because I was working as an ethnographer on a government-funded anthropological study of heroin use in New York City. Most drug research takes place in …

Margit’s Note: Altered States

As someone who is going through a crazy mixed-up illness, drugs have become my lifeline and a new curiosity. The last time I smoked pot in earnest (am I sure I’m not running for president ever? No? Oh, it doesn’t matter anymore? Ok, continue…) was several lifetimes ago, but with New York now making medicinal marijuana legal, my interest is piqued. Also, because a friend told me her chemo treatment was saved by smoking pot, that the opiates her docs prescribed made her ill. While legal for medicinal reasons, it’s still not easy to access — there’s only one dispensary and there are convoluted protocols and an online course you have to take before your doctor can write that particular prescription. Not easy. In lieu of that, friends have offered to hook me up. One pal texted me that she’d happily drop off some “special legal chocolate… if I like that sort of thing. I was like, “sure, I looove chocolate. But um, isn’t it always legal?” not getting her gist for the first five …