Experiments in Happiness: Meditation, One Month

February: Meditation, One Month

Spoiler alert: I have not become a Zen master in one month. And yes, I know that enlightenment takes at least four months and you have to pay for the Monk Level on those meditation apps first.

But seriously, I am very, very much at the beginning of my meditation/mindfulness journey. The meditation I practiced was very basic, and always guided. Each session was about ten minutes long, with someone directing me to concentrate on different parts of my body or on my breath. No matter what free meditation app I used—and there were several—they all involved following the breath in and out and being aware of how different parts of my body felt (or didn’t feel).

Headspace, which I used first, delved into the most abstract exercises of the bunch, asking me to imagine being in the sky or a vast empty space and just watching my thoughts go by. That was definitely the most empowering for me. Usually I follow a thought about getting groceries down a rabbit hole and end up and hour later staring at the ceiling frantically trying to calculate hypothetical mortgage payments on hypothetical apartments, based solely on what I know from HGTV shows and my (poor) grasp of our banking system and math. Giving myself permission step back and observe the thought without chasing it down kept my head uncluttered.

I really only scratched the surface of meditation this month, but I know for sure that I will be continuing on with it, because it really did affect me in some very concrete ways. Here are the most tangible effects I noticed:

  1. Counting my breath makes me sleepy.
  2. Picturing my breath makes me sleepy.
  3. Listening to my breath makes me sleepy.
  4. Being aware of the feeling of my breath makes me sleepy.
  5. Breathing deeply for extended periods of time makes me sleepy.

So, yeah. It’s honestly been a great sleep aid for me, which is not something to discount.

On a slightly more morbid note, noticing my breath also makes me hyper aware that I’m just a meatbag of bones and water, fragile, frail, and temporary. The little lizard part of my brain starts bubbling up and I get this kind of excited panic like, “I could die tomorrow. I could die right now! I gotta get out there! I gotta go! Gotta do! Gotta live!”

I’m not sure if it’s healthy or not, but it sure does put me in the here and now.

So to recap, my 29-day experiment in meditation…


Energy: Seriously, sleep is amazing. Did you know that? Why didn’t anybody tell me that before? I really do feel like I ‘ve gotten better sleep this month than I have in a while, but that could also be a side effect of being able to drink wine again…


Stress: Much less stressed than last month, but as you know, last month needs to be thrown out of the data set.

Contentment: Again, see above. Better than last month, but that’s not hard to do.

Presence: I can honestly say I’ve noticed myself being able to squelch the urge to over-plan, overthink, and over-worry. Not saying that I don’t want to do these things, but I’ve been making a concerted effort to nip those Doom Spirals in the bud before I work myself into a dark place.


Production: I’m happy to say that my writing partner are still consistently releasing episodes of our podcast, Song Salad, and applying for more residencies and grants. I’m also inordinately proud of myself for posting these blogs (more or less) on time.

So now it’s March, and I’m (terrifyingly) saying goodbye to refined sugar for this month. And of course, I just got the Girl Scout Cookies I ordered from my coworkers daughter, so I’ll be freezing those for midnight on March 31st.

I’ll check in again soon after some time without sugar, but I’ll also be writing a little addendum about another experiment I’ve adopted for the long term: Bullet Journaling!

See you in two weeks!

Experiments in Happiness: Meditation, Two Weeks

Recap: My New Year’s resolution is to stop externalizing my happiness. This year, I’m focusing on my own behaviors and thought processes and experimenting with altering them—one per month—in order to become a more self-aware, self-assured person. You can also access my Huffington Post archive here for past installments.

February: Meditation, two weeks

Pro tip about meditation: It doesn’t magically fix everything that’s wrong with your head. Not that I really thought it would—I just really hoped it would.

In my quest to a) not spend money on these experiments and b) not stress myself out with extensive research trying to do them, I used a guided meditation app called Headspace for the first 10 days of the month. I used it for 10 days because that’s how many days are in their beginner program and it’s also how many days are free. Each session, guy named Andy—who sounds like Russell Brand without the obscenities—talks to you about breathing for about 10 minutes, and variously encourages you to both focus and not focus on things. I didn’t hate it.

I also feel like I didn’t really do it “right.” The app advises meditating first thing in the morning, and I did it every night before bed. This seemed like the most consistent time of my day that I could really carve out 10 minutes to be totally still without worrying about where I needed to be next. Also, I really didn’t want to have to get up earlier than I already do.

So far, I haven’t gotten past anything other than very rudimentary mindfulness—being aware of (and repeatedly reminded to be aware of) my body and my breathing and my thoughts without judgment. Maybe I’ll have some more substantial things to say at the end of the month, but so far, on my list of metrics, I’d say meditation affects the following categories in the following ways:


Energy: Maybe this won’t surprise you, but concerted relaxation right before sleepy time helps you fall asleep! I know that meditation isn’t supposed to (necessarily) be a sleep aid, but this stuff is pretty great at knocking me out. Rather than lie in bed with my wheels turning for an hour, more often than not this 10-minute exercise made it easier to drift off, which in turn meant I was more alert and energized the next day.



Stress: This category has been (thankfully) consistently improving over the course of the month, aided mostly by the fact that there is no longer a bedbug trash-prison in the living room. I can hang my clothes up again. I have socks that match again. I can pee in the middle of the night without falling over garbage bags again. Maybe my decrease in stress has to do with meditation, but it’s currently overshadowed by my return to living like a civilized human.

Contentment: Working on it. Really, really working on it. I feel so much more at peace than I did last month, but again, that’s probably due to outside circumstances. Same with…

Presence: Yeah. Trying. Really trying. Maybe that’s antithetical to being truly present, but I’m otherwise not sure how to go about it.



Production: Not really related to meditation, but my writing partner and I have been cranking out episodes of our podcast, Song Salad, and applying for residencies and grants. It definitely makes me feel like I’m accomplishing things in my creative life, which, as an achievement-whore, centers me. (It centers me in a way that I’m trying to get away from, but for now, I’ll take it.)


So what’s next for meditation? I’ve had friends suggest some resources so I’m going to give those a whirl. I’ll be sure to report back at the end of the month!



Experiments in Happiness: No Alcohol, One Month

Recap: My New Year’s resolution is to stop externalizing my happiness. This year, I’m focusing on my own behaviors and thought processes and experimenting with altering them—one per month—in order to become a more self-aware, self-assured person. You can also access my Huffington Post archive here for past installments.

January: No alcohol, one month.

When we woke up last Tuesday morning, my boyfriend confidently declared: “The tide is turning! The tide. Is. Turning.”

This has turned out to be mostly true since then, but even the weekend before that brought fresh joys indignities. (For a full summary of our week of indignities, which includes losing jobs, gaining medical bills, and getting bed bugs and food poisoning, read my last post.) During snow-diva Jonas, there was some kind of pipe issue in upper Manhattan that left a lot of Washington Heights (and us) with brown tap water all weekend. After I reported it, 311 told me it was “safe to drink,” which I declined to verify, because screw you, I’ve already been felled by foodborne illness this week and I know how irony works.

The final little blow came last Friday night when the boyf and I found ourselves on the floor—literally—after our air mattress deflated. The cause? What appeared to be (read: definitely were) claw-holes from our highly agitated cats who had chased down and dismembered a roach earlier, scrambling all over the furniture and, presumably, the mattress. We found half the roach under the deflated mattress, and we CSI’d our way to that sophisticated conclusion. Even on their best days, our cats are not so much like normal housecats but more like temperate weasels, so really, the fact that it took them a whole eight days to puncture our air mattress is somewhat of a miracle. That night, we slept in a nest of blankets and sadness on the floor, and the next day we abandoned our apartment to its hostile menagerie and stayed with friends for the next three days until Tuesday, when the exterminator finally came. This means that we’re officially sleeping in our bed again after nearly two weeks, but the ordeal is far from over.

Can I tell you guys a few things about having bed bugs? Everything that you own and everything around it has to be vacuumed every day. Everything that isn’t technically furniture has to be washed and dried on high heat, and everything that can only be washed or dried has to at least be one or the other and then sealed in a garbage bag. For everything that can’t go in a washer/dryer, you have to wipe it down, put it in a garbage bag that you then seal, and then put that bag on a rocket and shoot it into orbit while solving a riddle from a really pissy troll. And then you have to live exactly like that—with a mountain of anonymous, sealed black trash bags staring at you, judging your life—for three weeks while your apartment gets weekly chemical treatments.

For as common as bed bugs are in New York City, I found very few answers in online forums to the pressing questions I had about the process. Questions like: “How do I not be twenty-four-sev naked while all my clothes are in trash prison?” or “How do I rationally explain to below-average cats that they have to be packed up and taken to the basement three weeks in a row?” and “What kinds of creative genetic disorders will my children have after I roll around in pesticides for 21 days?”

Really, it’s all the fun of packing to move across the country and unpacking once you get there but with 100% more futility and bugs that eat your blood.

But all of that is completely beside the point, because I am happy to report that I have not had a single drop to drink! Seriously. I watched significant chunks of my life catch fire and burn around me, and I did not kick back and enjoy the flames with a glass of wine. And I feel like I should be proud of myself for saying that I wasn’t going to do something that I a) like doing and b) is highly integrated into my social life, and then actually managing not to do it. I should be proud of that. But mostly I’m just irritated that sometimes there was really tasty-looking beer around and I didn’t try it. Life’s short, and I love porters.

Honestly, this month’s experiment was contaminated by the rest of my life being decidedly not business-as-usual. So to assess how not drinking did or did not make me feel according to the metrics I laid out previously feels a little pointless; I couldn’t control the variables. I felt terrible for most of the month, and basically none of that had anything to do with my relationship to alcohol. So no, I did not cry about my problems over a beer with friends—I just cried. And it kinda would have been nice to have a beer.

So I’m scrapping the metrics for this post—my petri dish got mold in it. In lieu of the full rundown, here’s a quick portrait of my state of being:

I ate a bunch of consolation cookies the past two weeks and I haven’t been to the gym because my sports bras are MIA in the trash bag city and also I super duper majorly didn’t feel like it. I’m worried about a whole slew of things that have to do with careers and money and health, and I’m honestly scared of celebrating anything for my birthday next month because I’m convinced that something will go wrong.

But on Tuesday night, we got to sleep in our bed again. The tide is turning. The tide. Is. Turning.

So cheers, January. You sucked.

February’s experiment: Meditation.

See you soon.

Experiments in Happiness: No alcohol, week two

Recap: My New Year’s resolution is to stop externalizing my happiness. This year, I’m focusing on my own behaviors and thought processes and experimenting with altering them—one per month—in order to become a more self-aware, self-assured person. You can also access my Huffington Post archive here for past installments.

January: No alcohol, week two.

Guys, I need a drink. Like if there were ever a week when I just wanted to come home, crack open a beer and chill the eff out, it was this one.

Let me back up and say this: Not drinking for two weeks hasn’t been super hard. After week one, I was like, “I’m nailing this!”—as if not drinking was actually something to be proud of instead of just a thing that millions of people do every day.

One of the reasons I picked no alcohol to kick off my year of experiments was because I noticed drinking more in December than at any other point in my life. I couldn’t go more than a day or two at a time without some kind of holiday party, happy hour, show, or night out. Even when I was home for the holidays, I visited a new brewery with friends and my family even did a BYOB painting event. I wasn’t repeatedly drinking to excess, mind you, but having one or two drinks almost every day really adds up. I gained some weight in December and felt a little doughy and lethargic returning home to New York.

What I didn’t know is that “dry January” is actually somewhat of a thing, especially in the UK—it just seemed like a natural way to start out. And I didn’t find it that hard to say no to drinks, and explaining why was actually a good conversation starter.

But then this past Tuesday happened. And this past Tuesday, my boyfriend (whom I live with) got a call that his temp job, which was supposed to last another four months, was being cut short—like, tomorrow-is-your-last-day short. Then he opened the mail to find a $500 medical bill, which we thought really sucked until the very next day, when there was a second $500 medical bill and we reevaluated the meaning of the word. Which brings us to Thursday night, when the sporadic bug bites the boyf had been getting every few days were revealed to be caused by bed bugs. BED BUGS. I know—I just can’t even, too.

I’ve joked that I’m not a real New Yorker because I’ve never been mugged and I’ve never had bed bugs, and now having had them, I can say that was a stupid, irresponsible joke and I’m very, very sorry. The boyf and I stayed up until 2:30am vacuuming our mattress, bagging up our sheets and bed skirt, and disinfecting our entire bedframe, which appeared to be the bugs’ stronghold. We’ve been sleeping on our air mattress in the living room. On Friday, I went to work like a zombie and the boyf did about $30 of laundry, which will remain bagged up all over our small apartment until the exterminator comes, which is supposed to be soon, but given our landlord’s track record, who actually knows when? Until then, we’re camping in our living room with a majority of our cloth possessions wrapped in plastic.

(PSA: A significant percentage of the population doesn’t react when bitten by bed bugs. If only one person in your household is seeing bites, don’t assume it can’t be bed bugs until it is undeniably bed bugs. Don’t make our mistakes! Save yourselves!)

To cap off the long holiday weekend, I got food poisoning, confirming that the only place less comfortable to sleep than the air mattress is my bathroom floor.

So now I hope you can appreciate why the only thing I wanted to do this weekend was cry into a beer or four. Not saying I would have otherwise drank myself into oblivion, but I needed to do a fair bit of de-stressing and venting, and both of those things feel more cathartic with a beer in my hand—though not after the food poisoning. With our finances now devastated and our domestic life exploded for the near future, I feel pretty confident saying that things can only get better from here, and if they don’t then someone has died. (Probably me.)

As far as the actual effects of not drinking for two weeks, I’ll run through the relevant criteria I outlined in my last post. Like I said, not every category will apply.


Energy: I do feel like I’ve been sleeping through the night more consistently, perhaps owing to the “drunkard’s dawn” effect of drinking and not having to get up and go to the bathroom as my kidneys work overtime from two glasses of wine. Consequently, I’ve felt better rested this month than last. This could also be a result of having fewer evening/holiday engagements.

Weight: When I came home from the holidays, I weighted about 148 lbs—not terribly overweight for being just under 5’7″, but also about 8 lbs over what I’d ideally like to weigh from a “my clothes look good on me” standpoint. Since teetotaling, I’ve dropped about 2 lbs without changing really anything else about how I was eating or exercising.

Unfortunately, I do find that I’m eating more sweets and drinking more soda, neither of which makes me happy. Normally, meeting up with friends or at my office’s weekly Friday happy hour, I’ll drink. Now, because I can’t have a rum and Coke, I feel compelled to still have a Coke while I hang out. Out at bar with friends means that I’m ordering a dessert instead of beer so I’m not just sitting there guzzling free water and pissing off the bartender.


Stress: I’m going to go ahead and say that I can’t accurately assess whether my stress level has been affected by not drinking, given all the crap that’s been happening lately. In fact, I might even go as far as to say that if I could have decompressed with some drinks, I might feel a little better about the general downward chaos I’ve been in recently.

Savings: It’s pretty safe to say that dessert and soda cost less than alcohol, so in the money-saving department, I feel pretty good. I had a $7 chocolate cake the other night instead of one or two $8 beers. (If an $8 beer sounds outrageous to you, recall that I live in New York City.)

A lot of the alcohol that I encounter in my daily life is free, though—office happy hour, friends hosting a brunch party—so this has maybe less of an effect on my bottom line than it otherwise might.

Contentment: Yeah, no. (See everything above.)

Presence: Pretty much in a 24-7 worry spiral recently, so I’m not succeeding in the “being present” department. Another case where some alcohol might actually help, actually.


Production: I’m happy to report that I’ve been working as a dramaturg on a show that will be workshopped at the Cleveland Public in March, but that has nothing to do with alcohol. My writing partner and I have also been submitting for artist residencies and workshops, and the only difference there is that we’re not drinking beer while we type up our artist statements.

Motivation/Discipline: I’ve had rehearsals and deadlines recently, so it’s much easier to feel disciplined and motivated with hard stops looming. So though I’ve noticed an uptick of “doing things” it’s been more externally motivated than anything.


So that’s it for (a little over) two weeks down. I’ll check back at the end of the month to report any more “results” and to announce my February experiment!

Experiments in Happiness: The Setup

Recap: My New Year’s resolution is to stop externalizing my happiness. This year, I’m focusing on my own behaviors and thought processes and experimenting with altering them—one per month—in order to become a more self-aware, self-assured person. You can also access my Huffington Post archive here for past installments.

January: No alcohol.

Yes, yes—it’s been less than two weeks, but I’ve been thinking more about the parameters of my yearlong project and decided further explanation was in order before diving into any “results.”

I realize that I can’t really have an experiment without qualifying or quantifying certain factors—specifically, the factors I’m looking to strengthen or change. And while it’s hard to make definitive assessments of, say, self-esteem, there are some correlating, more easily evaluated indicators.

I anticipate that anything I’ll be attempting will affect one of three categories—Body, Mind, and Creative—and within those categories, the needle will move on certain benchmark factors. Some experiments won’t apply to some or even most of these criteria, but it’s a handy way to visualize and track progress—or regress.


The classic—and safe—New Year’s resolution category. The little black dress of self-improvement. Any changes I make to my body, diet, or exercise—including teetotaling for January—falls into this category. I predict experiments that affect this category will primarily make changes to my:

-Energy: Can I wake up in the mornings without punching someone? Can I stay awake without someone punching me? How many cups of free office coffee is too many cups of free office coffee?

-Activity: How often am I exercising? How does it make me feel? (Spoiler alert: The answers are “not enough” and “mad and sweaty.”)

-Health: How well am I staving off the fourteen kazillion germs I encounter every day on the New York City public transit system? Is the dry patch on my mouth that appears in the same spot every winter actually lip cancer like I’ve secretly suspected for years?

-Weight: Pretty sure I will regret tracking this. Look: This is not now and will not ever be a weight loss blog. I’m plagued by the same crippling body image issues that torture every healthy American woman who’s not in utero, but I’m not publishing my weight for the ever-compassionate citizens of the internet so that I can get snatched. I’m keeping track of it, and sharing it, because it’s a tangible way to measure changes in my body from month to month.



All the “self-”s: Self-esteem, self-worth, self-actualization, self-loathing, selfies. I’ll also lump all sorts of fears, anxieties, and resentments together here as well. Changes made in the Body category may very well also affect the factors below. Each month I’ll evaluate my:

-Stress: How anxious and afraid do I generally feel? How long does it take me to fall asleep at night because I didn’t start contributing to a 401(k) until 6 months ago and I’m pretty sure that means I’ll die penniless?

-Savings: How much money am I able to save each month? Ok, so I understand that money is not an imaginary concept in my head, though if you looked at my bank account, it might as well be! Har har har! (Shoot me.) I’m including saving money here in the “mind” category because how much money I make/save has the most direct effect on my mental state, which is to say, usually deleterious.

-Contentment: I feel evaluating my happiness on a monthly basis would lead to existential meltdown, so I’ve knocked it down to contentment. How satisfied/dissatisfied with my general situation do I feel? How much do I want to change something about my circumstances that I feel like I can’t?

-Presence: Hoo boy, do I struggle with this. I permanently live six months to a year in the future unless I forcibly restrain myself, and it contributes to a whole lot of frustration and anxiety in my life. A big motivation for me to do this project was the necessity of examining my “State of the Union” in the present rather than rabidly preparing for the future.


Anything that Oprah or bloggers with all-white living rooms would call “feeding your soul.” I’m a sucker for arts and crafts, and I can easily fall into a Pinterest black hole looking at DIY projects and never doing them. I also work on theater projects as a dramaturg and writer. So basically anything I end up making or writing affects the following:

-Fulfillment: How artistically fulfilled do I feel? A broad question, to be sure, but definitely something that fluctuates. How satisfied am I with what I’m creating and how much time I have available to create it?

-Production: Feelings are one thing, but what am I actually making or doing? Did I write a new song with my writing partner? Did I work on a show? Did I make a coat rack out of toilet paper tubes? Did I submit to a playwriting contest? Basically, what are the tangible fruits of my creativity?

-Doubt: If you don’t know the song “Die, Vampire, Die!” from the musical [title of show], go listen to it, and then you’ll understand exactly what this category is about.

-Motivation/Discipline: How regimented and self-motivated am I being each month, and what’s getting in my way? Also a big one for me. I have so many ideas and I’m so bad at getting them started. And I’m even worse at finishing them. I am a lazy, lazy artist.


So all in all, that’s 12 different “inputs” that I’ll look at each month to try to determine how a given experiment is affecting me—or not affecting me. And if there are other, more significant happenings that contribute, I’ll be sure to write about those as well.

Hopefully, this structure makes sense and will frame the rest of my posts, and if it doesn’t, well… At least we wasted this time together.

I’ll check in at the end of the week on my first two weeks of sobriety!

A Year of Experiments

I’ve realized recently that my happiness has come to depend too much on external validation. And I mean that in almost all aspects of my life—physically, romantically, professionally, and creatively. So my resolution for 2016 is to alleviate that by turning my focus inward and concentrating on how my own behaviors and thought processes affect my moods and feelings of self-worth.

So I’m going to do some experiments. On myself. And I’m going to write about it.

I’m not usually a devotee of self-help phenomena, partly because I’m a skeptical (and sometimes cynical) person, and partly because I lack the self-discipline to do most of these fads to any real effect. But I have always done well with meeting other people’s expectations of me (see my problem above) so why not exploit my flaw to actually make myself a healthier, happier person?

For 2016, I’m going to do 12 different self-experiments—one per month—to see what kind of changes, if any, I experience and to learn more about the things I need to do to make me my best self, both physically and emotionally.

I’m planning to experiment with both alterations to my physical self (diet and exercise regimens) and to my mental ecosystem (meditation, social changes). I won’t be following or paying for any specific diets, nutritional systems, fitness programs, or religious or para-religious experiences. These changes will all be things I can do for free and build into my current lifestyle—not looking to move to an ashram and become a yogi or run an Iron Man marathon or anything like that.

I’m hoping that at the end of 12 months, I have a greater awareness of how I live my life and what I do that makes me happy or unhappy. Some things will stick. Some most certainly will not. And hopefully some of this will be at least funny and at best interesting or useful.

So on January 1, 2016, I’ll be starting my first monthly experiment: No alcohol. (Sigh.)

I’ll check back in two weeks. Until then, have a happy new year!

‘Hello’ Isn’t Always ‘Hello’ in NYC

“Yes, some things are blatantly offensive,” my friend Jay typed over Gchat, referring to the recent street harassment video that went viral this past week. “But sometimes, the dudes just say hi,” he continued. “Unless I’m missing a nuance.”

“You are,” I said quickly. And then I stared at my computer, at a loss for how to explain to a male non-New Yorker exactly why ‘Hi!’ doesn’t mean ‘Hi!’ in certain situations to a female New Yorker.

I had run into a similar challenge a few days earlier when a Facebook friend of mine — again, male and not living in NYC — shared the same video and questioned why “courtesy comments” like ‘Have a nice evening!’ were included as offensive.

They both went on to express concern that deeming such “benign” comments as harassment would have a chilling effect on people being friendly in public and unfairly stigmatize men genuinely “approaching” women they are interested in. In fact, Jay met his now-fiancée after striking up a conversation with her while she was lost in an airport. Was this considered harassment? Was it disrespectful to approach her?

“That’s totally different!” I declared, while struggling to articulate exactly how.

These conversations helped me realize that many smart, earnest men — and women — lack the framework for situating street harassment in a larger social landscape and appreciating the implications of comments that seem benign, but only to those unfamiliar with the culture and rhythms of life in a city. Because in this case, context matters. Context is everything.

Welcome to New York City, home to 8 million people, all of whom seem to be walking somewhere or taking public transit at exactly the same time you are. Generally speaking, people don’t drive here. Driving is either an absolute necessity (“I have to get from Brooklyn to the Bronx in 40 minutes!”) or a luxury (“I pay $900 a month for private parking I can drive out to the Hamptons every weekend.”).

This is a pedestrian city. Every sidewalk has dozens if not hundreds of people marching up and down it, because they have to. In the suburbs, you choose to be on a public sidewalk for leisure; we here have to be for life. To get to work, to get to school, to get to the subway, to get to the grocery store, to get home… If you are walking on the street in the city, you are busy.

Our bodies are our vehicles in the city, and as such we respect the commutes and routes of other New Yorkers, because we all have shit to do. If we said hello to everyone we passed, we’d be hoarse by noon. You can’t be “friendly” to all 75 people on all 10 blocks between your apartment and the subway. You don’t talk to a stranger on the street unless you’re a) a lost tourist, b) a crazy person, or c) trying to sell someone crappy comedy tickets. New Yorkers don’t talk to strangers on the street, just like suburbanites don’t talk to other people in cars.

So then imagine, for a moment, driving down the street in your car on your way to work. There’s traffic. You’re late. You’re drinking coffee. You’re listening to the radio. And all of a sudden, a stranger in another car passing you or parked on the side of the street yells through your window, “Have a nice evening!”

That’d be weird, right? That’s not a typical way someone expresses friendliness in the suburbs, so it must mean something else. There are dozens of other cars around, but the drive-by greeter didn’t say anything to the car in front of you or the car behind you… Just you.

Now imagine that happens multiple times a day.

Now imagine the only drivers who call out to you are male.

Now imagine this only happens to you if you’re a woman.

Now imagine this only happens to a woman without a male passenger in her car.

Now imagine that in addition to these “courtesy comments,” the only other men who shout from their car to yours say things like “Hey, sexy.” and “Oooh, show me a smile to go with those pretty titties.”

You might start to think, and rightly so, that the men who are singling out your car, even to say “God bless you!” and not “Nice ass!” are not simply being courteous, because that’s not what’s courteous in New York — it’s atypical and conspicuous.

The men who call out to you know you’re not out driving around for no reason — you have somewhere to be and sometimes they do too, and you’re not going to stop and chat. So they’re not genuinely “interested” in you. They’re not trying to “approach” you and strike up conversation. And they’re not simply being “friendly,” because they don’t say it to all the other cars that are passing, and they don’t say it when you’re in the car with your boyfriend. Because they respect your commute when it’s also another man’s commute.

“Have a nice evening” is not the beginning of a conversation. It is not neighbors saying hi while they’re both out walking their dogs. It is not someone buying you a drink. It’s not someone striking up a conversation in a café. It is not someone tapping your shoulder at an airport and saying, “You look lost.”

“Have a nice evening” on the streets of New York is not an interaction — it’s a one-sided message from a man to a woman. And the message, loud and clear to the woman on the receiving end is: “I’m sexualizing you.”

This is street harassment…in New York. In the suburb of Pittsburgh where I grew up, if I pass a person walking on the street, a “courtesy comment” is customary. It’s just not that way here. The context informs the comment, and context matters.

(This post originally appeared on HuffPost Women)