Monday, January 01, 2007

Everyone Can Be a New Yorker in 2007!

Will the real New Yorker please stand up?

On the morning of New Years Eve as I was waiting in line at a Starbucks in midtown, I saw a fit, middle-aged woman with puffy red hair carefully unwrap her long coat to reveal an ensemble consisting of knee-length black boots, a brown long-sleeved top and pumpkin-colored walking shorts. And it looked good!

“Love the shorts,” I told her. “They work!”

“D’you think so?” she asked, in a friendly British accent. Her interracial family beamed in the background. “I just gawt them today. I felt that this is what New York City on New Year’s Eve is all about!”

“It is what New York is all about,” I concurred. “Sometimes the best New Yorkers are the ones from somewhere else!”

I, myself, am a born New Yorker, even though I didn’t get here until I was 31. You see, New York-ism is a state of mind that anyone can adopt. You just gotta have the attitude to make it all happen! If you live out in Kent, or Scottsdale, or Anaheim, or Charlotte or Skokie or Dallas or wherever, you might actually be in your core a glamorous New Yorker.

A core New Yorker skill: healthy skepticism

One New Yorker skill is having the attitude to make it all happen. Another is having just the right type of skepticism.

My partner, the famous professor Jason Mazzone, is a bit of a skeptic. Toss some interesting trivia his way, say about how South Bronx is the hot new property market or how you might have prostate cancer because you pee a lot, and you are likely to get a “hmmm,” kind of response. Prof. Mazzone doesn’t automatically believe everything he hears. Though from Tasmania, he is also a born New Yorker.

Unleashing your inner skeptic can be good for you. It's your best resource against the cavalcade of self-doubting, depressive, cranky, whiny thoughts that form much of our inner lives. Even here in glamorous New York.

A breakthrough at Bikram

Recently, I was taking a Bikram Yoga class, as part of a revisiting of various physical fitness regiments I’ve tried over the years. (Long-time Michael Melcher observers will recall that my Bikram period stretched from 2000 to approximately 2003.) Anyhow, I was in the hot Bikram class, wearing my bathing suit staring at myself in the mirror (in Bikram you are instructed to stare into the mirror for the entire class), and I thought, “Oh my God. Look at that bloated, pasty person . . . who happens to be ME.” My bathing suit looked not edgy, but dodgy. My bod looked not studly but stuffed-ly. My hair was a mess. The dark clouds of self-loathing gathered round me.

And then, for no particular reason, I heard myself say to myself, “No, that’s not true.” I listened, entranced, as the voice went on.

“You don’t look like shit," it said. "You look fine. And, hello? The whole reason you’re here is because you are acting in a proactive, positive way. If you did this every day of your life you’d be worthy of the cover of Men’s Health. Take some credit. So, Inner Critic, just shut up. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

My Inner Skeptic had emerged from unknown parts to take out my Inner Critic. And I felt great!

What your Inner Skeptic can do for you

Since that breakthrough moment, I’ve tried calling on my Inner Skeptic at frequent intervals. Whenever I feel kind of .... disturbed, I'll ask Inner Skeptic what he thinks.

Inner Skeptic favors phrases like, “that’s not really true.” And, “that sounds like a big generalization.” And, “that person is not really credible.” Inner Skeptic sounds very convincing when raising these quite reasonable objections.

It turns out that Inner Skeptic is useful not just for promoting positive body image, but also for dealing with the cranky pessimism that’s become our normal mode of discourse. You know, the kind of "the world is awful blah blah blah" that's not actually accompanied by any useful action. Inner Skeptic doesn't think that things are always peachy (he's a skeptic, after all)--but he's not impressed by ill-formed generalizations.

So when you feel down, or put-upon, or self-loathing, or when the conversation around you seems inordinately negative, invite your Inner Skeptic to intercede on your behalf. Be a New Yorker and love it!