52 Weeks in the City
Two friends wrote a blog, then a book, vowing to do something new each week for a year
One night at Hi-Life Restaurant, Karen Amster-Young and Pam Godwin were, ironically, talking about the high and lows of their lives. Both happily married 40-somethings with children, they sometimes felt the need to stray from their routines and find inspiration. With this simple, yet seemingly unattainable goal in mind, they embarked on a yearlong journey of self-discovery. Their concept of trying a new thing each week resulted in a blog called 52 Weeks. As the blog gained momentum and popularity, readers suggested that they compile their experiences into a book, and in November, The 52 Weeks: Two Women and Their Quest to Get Unstuck was published. From museum visits to poker classes to cleaning up their local park, the women discovered themselves while exploring all New York City has to offer along the way.
Tell us how the blog and book came about.
Karen: We never wanted to be bloggers, but it was a way to stay on track. We did the blog to be accountable to each other, just like if you start a weight-loss program or start running, it's easier when you have someone to support as well as check in on you. Then, we realized we were motivating and inspiring other people. It was when we started getting some media interest and comments from family friends in the business that it should be a book, that we decided to do that.
At the beginning of the book, eating blueberries was a metaphor for the bigger goals you wanted to achieve. Karen, explain why that was the case.
It was very symbolic to me, and that's why I thought it was so important to kick off the book with that. So many people get paralyzed and have a hard time taking small steps, and I still do. The blueberries represented incorporating healthier choices into my diet. It wasn't so much about weight loss at that time; I was just getting frustrated with my food choices, patterns, and routines. I would buy these organic blueberries every week, and by the end of the week, they were shriveled up and I had to throw them out. So for my 52 Weeks project, I started putting the blueberries on a bagel with cream cheese, and by the end of the week, I was grabbing a handful and going out the door. Taking that first step and getting that confidence is so important.
The importance of play for people of all ages is something you write about. Pam, you joined a women's poker class at the 92Y.
Actually, the woman who taught the class, Ellen Leikind, wound up becoming an expert in our book. She's in marketing, and uses poker to teach empowerment skills to women in business and life. Initially, what I thought would be a very fun, lighthearted seven-week class, wound up being extremely challenging and intense. It was so interesting, because there was such a variety of women there from all facets of life.
You also speak about making time for relationships. Karen, you took dance lessons at Fred Astaire with your husband.
We have a whole relationship chapter in our book. I wanted to do new things with, in my case, my spouse, but I really believe in it for friendships and siblings as well. The dance lessons gave us a special date night. We had a lot of fun. There was so much anxiety in the sense that it was so out of my comfort zone. The last time we had taken a dance lesson was before our wedding, 20 years earlier.
Explain how your friendship evolved during the writing of the book.
Karen: Everyone's 52 List is different. From the beginning, we had very different things on our list. The original goal, which we didn't achieve as much as we wanted to, was to do some things together. Like any joint venture, it's challenging to be in business with someone. I think we both have a great sense of pride in starting something with a friend and finishing it, and we never thought it would take us here.
Pam: Our original project started a few years ago. That was meant for us to grow together and on our own, and have some fun and explore. But then, the pressure of the fact that we really were accountable to each other, and had to write about our experiences every week, set in. I didn't want to do that, so Karen yelled at me a lot. And in the end, I did like that because it pushed me out of my comfort zone more. Once we got the book deal, things shifted very quickly. The relationship had to change because we were working together. Being friends with someone is different than being their work partner.
Part of the journey involved revisiting things from your childhoods. Pam, you took piano lessons again.
I had taken them years ago, and my piano sits in the living room. By having a career, getting married, and starting a family, you put yourself aside for a long time. You forget all the things you had in your back pocket as an independent person. The piano was always in the back of my head and triggered memories for me. I took two lessons with my daughter's teacher, but I have to say in full disclosure, I have not continued on. I do feel more comfortable now, sitting down and actually tickling the keys.
During your quest to enjoy art, you discover a small art studio on the Upper East Side. Karen, you took a nude drawing class there.
Yes, at Fabrizio Art Studio, on 3rd Avenue, between 87th and 88th. This husband and wife team has this small studio with no desire to franchise. They have such a love and passion for what they do. You can go in a la carte, which is a very hard thing to find in New York. The class was really out of my comfort zone because I really don't know how to draw. It was calming for me, unlike yoga, which I had to struggle with to embrace the stillness. This was a different kind of stillness. You're being quiet, but you're still doing something with your hands.
Pam, you visited Ground Zero. What was that experience like for you?
The trigger was that we were moving out of the apartment that I was living in at the time of September 11th. Even though we lived uptown, I could see the smoke from my apartment for days. I had been at that apartment for 25 years, my kids were both born there, and I met my husband there. It was an emotional move for me. I went a year and a half ago, before the Freedom Tower was up and the memorial was finished. I decided I would go very early one morning before the tourists came. It was right before rush hour, and people were just hurrying by me on their way to work. That struck me, that we need to live and move on.
Pursuing spiritual paths is something you touch upon. Karen, you went to The Kabbalah Centre here in the city.
I thought there was going to be 10 people in the room, and there was standing room only. I had just lost my father-in-law, and didn't feel connected to my own religion. That led me to see if I could connect elsewhere. I really did enjoy Kabbalah and think it's something I'd really like to incorporate more in my life. I went back that particular year a couple of times. I loved the professor, besides talking about the history of Kabbalah, he took us through a series of exercises to show us how blocked we really are in how we look at the world.
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