If you tried to text me me yesterday, you didn’t hear back. Did you email me? I’ll write you back today. Facebook message me? No luck. I’m out of the loop. Instagram update me? Nuh-uh. I’d moved the apps to the last page on my iPhone, at least four swipes in, which did a fine job of making sure I couldn’t get to them without being reminded that I really really didn’t want to go there. Not yesterday, at least. I’d made that promise to myself.
You see, yesterday, June 23, was my birthday and I wanted it to be different. I wanted it to be for me.
In today’s world, you know, the one where we live glued to our iPhone or Macbook Pro, or Air, iPad or whatever, days seem to merge into one another like one long disjointed (albeit often fun) Facebook timeline. I spend more time looking down than up. More time on email than on my bike. More time with virtual people than real people. More time planning ahead (thank you Google Calendar!) than planning to be present.
Let’s get something else straight: birthday’s are kind of like magical-miracle-crazy-cool-holy-crap-how-did-this-happen-zowie-amazing days for each of us. Before that specific day (however many years ago it happened for you) you/I/we did not EXIST. Like, we weren’t here. And other people were. Life was chugging along and the essence of us just was a non-entity. And nine months before then, a lot of us weren’t even a thought in someone’s mind (especially if nine months ago was New Year’s Eve). Do you need to be reminded about how cool this whole being-alive thing is? Sometimes I do (wait, I think I just got a Facebook message, hold on). And so what better day to reflect than on my birthday.
Thus, in my personal quest to alientate this one crazy-cool day from all the rest the only thing I’ve discovered that works is:
CHECKING OUT in order to CHECK IN.
I want to share this with you because I want you to do this to on your birthday. Because it works. Because it is the most fun thing ever. Because I want to see your photos when you you do it, too.
Here’s my fool-proof way to have the best birthday possible:
For the past few years, on June 23, I’ve packed a small back-pack, thrown it into my bike basket and moved into a sweet boutique hotel (which I find by doing a bike recon mission one week prior, popping into each hotel listed - by my good friend Google - in a certain neighborhood; managers will show you any room you want to see that is available) in a part of my city (which happens to new New York, but you can do this anywhere) that I have not really spent much time in.
Let’s be clear about something: I am not rolling in dough, and certainly not the kind of dough that allows for reoccurring hotel living. But I do believe in abundance - and I also believe that if you think your birthday is very very special so will everyone else.
At Hotel Wales, they were so delighted that I was taking a day off from the world and that I chose to spend it with them, that they upgraded me to a huge suite with a view of the city and had a complimentary bottle of wine delivered to my room, chilling in ice - which I drank on the rooftop at sunset (by the way, I am addicted to rooftops).
(Worth mentioning that right this MOMENT my phone at the NYLO just rang and the bell-hop downstairs said ‘I just heard it’s your birthday - so please whenever you come down, have a drink on me.’)
This year my hood of choice was the Upper West Side. I live in Brooklyn, and so to me the UWS is basically like traveling to West Africa (distance wise especially, but also maybe equally exotic and unfamiliar). When I went on my recon mission last weekend most of the hotels I saw had tiny walls, low availabilty, little roof access (did I mention I love roofs), and high prices? That was, however, until I walked into NYLO.
NYLO, I was concerned at first glance, might be too cool for me. Recently remodeled (it used to be The Avenue until September 2013) it’s front entrance is wide open - as in there are basically no doors - and the lobby lounge had people playing chess, looking super stylish, and reading important literature. When I told the man at the front desk about my birthday plans, he literally pressed his hand against the book shelf behind him and the wall moved to make way for the hotel manager, Mathew, to emerge from. I am serious.
The hotel was totally booked that recon day, save for one standard room which Mathew took me to. Having come to learn that ‘standard room’ tend to mean a lot of money for a small box where a bed must have had to be airlifted in from above while the hotel was being built in order to fit, I tried to temper my hopes.
Victory happened when Mathew unlocked the door to his most basic room and there it was: a king sized bed (yes I imagined bouncing on it like a little kid) with - omg - SPACE around it to move. That plus the very cool big bathroom that looked like had never been used (I don’t like sharing bathrooms, or knowing anyone else has ever used a bathroom I’m using, not once in the history of the world), was enough for me. I was in. But I kept it cool. ’THIS IS AWESOME!!’ I blurted to Mathew. Keep it cool, Danielle, keep it COOL.
Mathew liked the idea that I was on a mission to choose the hotel that was right for me and said he hoped I’d choose NYLO and that maybe he could give me an upgrade if a nicer room was available.
Remember that part about me not rolling in dough? Well, if you’re like me dough-wise, then words like ‘upgrade' sound like they are being sung directly to you in a concert for one by Sinead O'Connor, or Adele, but maybe not the gruffer singer from Indigo Girls (the other one, yes).
Sort of like OK Cupid dating, I shook hands with Mathew and said I’d be in touch - and then went and saw a bunch more hotels just to ‘make sure.’ Who was I kidding? I was in LOVE with NYLO! I wanted a second date!
A few days later I called Mathew and told him (super cooly, in a way I hoped would make think I was a stylish dresser) the good news (let’s be real, the good news was for ME) that I was spending my special birthday day with NYLO.
Yesterday morning I woke up into my birthday (23 is just for me!) at 8am and could already feel the peaceful silence knowing I was not going to check my email or phone all day. It was like waking up on a clear floaty thingy in the middle of the ocean (or middle enough where you could still see land and the waters only had dolphins in it and no sharks).
I did my ritual recording into my cell phone that went like this:
"Hi, you’ve reached Danielle. Today is my birthday and for it I am taking the day off my phone and email. But please leave a message and I will check it tomorrow - thanks for calling! And have a great day."
Voila! Expectations managed!
(Yes, I love my friends and family, but a day filled with saying thank you to these beloveds will make a day disappear. That’s what today gets to be fore - the day after a birthday seeing everyone’s HAPPY BIRTHDAY’s is pretty much the best thing ever, and the best way to extend my birthday (sneaky, huh?)).
My first birthday present (besides Google putting birthday cakes on it’s homepage for me, thank you!) was from my boyfriend, Andrew (this is the movie that Andrew made that made me fall in love with him before we met two years ago: Amar). His present was a playlist he’d made on our joint Spotify account (this is our first joint thing - don’t judge us!) called '23 is for Sweet Pea' and I knew he’d made it because he (and my mom) were the only people I was planning to speak with at all that day, and Andrew and I spoke when I woke).
My next gift wasn’t really a birthday gift, but I opened it on my birthday so that counts? I just finished making a movie with former super model turned empowerment activist Josie Maran, who makes the most yummy argan-oil infused cosmetics, and she’d sent me a box of goodies, along with some flowers from her and the good angels at the Empowerment Institute.
I threw some argan oil and other things into a backpack, put the back pack into my bike basket and biked from Prospect Height toward Manhattan. I had the instinct to bring some change with me and also a Sharpie.
I tied a ribbon around my hair, because I was the present I was giving to myself. Right? Cheezy? I don’t care!
First stop, the Brooklyn Bridge, where I met this couple who’d just come from City Hall:
Once over the bridge, I was biking toward the West Side Highway and met a homeless woman while I was illegally biking on the sidewalk. She had bright red lips and a huge smile and I stopped to check in with her. I asked her name and she said, “They call me Sissy,” she told me through that big grin. I gave her the change I’d brought with me, and also a five dollar bill. ”It’s too beautiful to spend!” she said and wished me a Happy Birthday.
I then found my way on the West Side Highway Green Path - which is a 5 mile long stretch of watery goodness. On that stretch there is a helicopter launching pad, and a father and daughter who compete for who is more excited to see a helicopter take off:
A bit further up things start to get crazyily artful. For example, I swung on an art piece and no one yelled at me (see, other people like it too):
This is someone I met named Rose. She was mildly interested in me. I was very interested in her. We’re not too far from the swing.
Rose and I are looking at this thing of beauty:
It reminded me of this image of Andrew and me someone took of us a few weeks ago:
Underneath the hugging sculpture there are many many rocks that people have written notes of love on. LUCKILY I brought my Sharpie! Can you find Sweet Pea’s note?
Grass in NYC = HOORAY!
This woman and her dog joined me and Rose (and Rose’s owner, whoever he is):
Rose’s new friend (AKA, my competition):
I found my way up some hills and roundabouts and got to Riverside Drive, and eventually to 77th and Broadway. Here’s my bike, my pink water bottle (someone told me I needed a cute water bottle to make me want to drink more water), and my home for the night - NYLO Hotel:
My room wasn’t ready yet, so I went in search of vegan food and found Peacefoods Cafe, a few blocks away, which had pretty art and delicious food.
I wrote in my journal. Because that’s what you do when you are by yourself at a restaurant:
Best word in the English language (only when you mean it!):
My waiter’s shoes made me very happy.
Back at NYLO, my room was ready. ”We’ve given you the penthouse loft for your birthday,” says the guy at the front desk who can make bookshelves move by touching them, “I think you’ll like it there.”
Okay, the WHAT??? If it’s one thing I love as much as rooftops it’s a loft! And now I had one that came with it’s own wrap around DECK. Keep it together, Birthday Girl.
My room was on the 14th floor. This guy got off (looking all cool) on floor 8.
Holy what??? Forget my GORGEOUS room for a second —- there were SURPRISES waiting for me!!
OK — gorgeous room break!
Back to presents!!! My friend, Elizabeth, had gotten me presents (from herself, below, and also from Andrew - two below). She had HAND delivered them — which means that SHE traveled all the way from Brooklyn to the Upper West Side (AKA, West Africa) TOO. Now THAT is friendship. I think it was at this point I might have started crying.
(This is the movie that made me admire Elizabeth so much as an artist and see her as the lover of life and mischief that she is. It’s called CRAZY GLUE, and you can watch it here).
The ovals were avocados! My favorite food!
Have you all read this GORGEOUS book??
Now I have TWO ribbons.
And a killer view with presents!
Bathrobes just do it for me.
Don’t judge me for thinking LUMOSITY brain strengthening is the coolest thing to do on my birthday!
Ahhh! My friends are so cool. Thank you Aimee for the gift of growth!
One of the presents my friend, Elizabeth, gave me was rainbow drawing paper - the kind you etch black away from to reveal a rainbow beneath. She suggested I draw out my visions for myself in this coming year.
I used up my last page of my journal (which is just a composition notebook) so need a new one. Thanks to Jennifer at STAPLES who knows where every single thing is in the whole store.
Another dog found at STAPLES!
Dinner time! Two vegan slice to go, please!
Route to dinner by bike…. Central Park.
On Central Park’s Sheep’s Meadow these three Spanish DREAMERS were taking a selfie until I offered to take a shot of the three of them.
I think my last soda was two years ago on my birthday. It’s like childhood in a recyclable can.
Then style walked right to me.
Back at NYLO — THIS is the view from my wrap around balcony.
Andrew’s sunflowers wanted to play too.
Some more journal writing…
I could get used to this…
Outside looking in… as seen by me, and all the other apartments nearby.
A reminder of compassion on my birthday by one incredible Joan Halifax. Watcher her brief but potent TED Talk here:
Never leave home without candles…
Good night, my dear Humans of New York (and everywhere else).
Where will YOU go for your birthday? Send me stories and photos to firstname.lastname@example.org
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO US!
This is Shane. He loves hats like these. Tomorrow is his 10th birthday, but because it’s supposed to snow his mom took him shopping for hats today, and he picked this one. And then they went for a birthday dinner to Red Lobster in Times Square, which is over an hour from his home in Brooklyn. I met him on my subway ride home tonight. #inspired #iloveny (at MTA Subway - Q Train)
Unicorn In Training: another in my enlarged iPhone photo series of wild horses of the New Forest in England. This one is now 40x40 in my apt entrance. I believe in unicorns. Do you? (at Brooklyn, NY)
Despite flood warnings in Connecticut, I’ve decided to throw myself cannonball style into a large thing of water. #lunchbreak #swim (at Connecticut)
Right around now the turkeys are especially walking all over me. #myquotes #dltoah #thethingsisaytoandrew @pilgrim_films
With the Mandela movie coming out, I got inspired to post a drawing I did of the great man for the West Australian newspaper in 1998. #tbt #throwbackthursday