It has been only one week since I have arrived in New York City and started working with the legendary Dr. Judy Kuriansky, and I have already been swept full force into the wave of meetings, conferences, service work, events, and parties that make up Dr. Judy’s everyday life. I quickly fell into the rhythm of Dr. Judy’s fast-paced, energetic style and by the end of day two Dr. Judy and I were already reflecting on the huge amounts of work we had already gotten done. We could not get over the fact that it had only been two days! This summer is going to be fabulous and productive, I can feel it.
My summer with Dr. Judy officially began on Thursday, May 20th, on my second day in the city. I arrived at 10 AM at the United Nations, eager to meet Dr. Judy and see what the day had in store. Waiting in anticipation at the information booth, I scanned the influx of people. When a well-dressed woman with a fantastic head of red hair came through the doors I immediately knew that it was Dr. Judy! We set off on our day at the UN. I had the incredible opportunity of sitting in on and participating in numerous exciting meetings, from Dr. Judy’s NGO for the International Association for Applied Psychology to meeting Dr. Noel Brown, President of “Friends of the United Nations” and an important person for Dr. Judy to work with this summer. I was particularly excited that Dr. Brown shared my interest in theatre and immediately connected my casual mentioning of my theatre background to the “actors” that make up the UN (a typical UN phrase that refers to individuals and entities that cooperate on a project) and the performance that goes on in real life every day. Dr. Judy and Dr. Brown discussed putting together a performance project that would feature Haitian traditional performance art as part of the effort to revitalize the arts in Haiti.
Dr. Brown and Dr. Judy were very enthusiastic about working together and I think that they will make a wonderful team. Being at this meeting also made me understand so well how networks work, in that the meeting was set up by Dr. Judy’s friend from decades ago (their husbands were at Harvard Law School together). In her typical masterful style of bringing people together for major purposes, Dr. Judy then brought along other “actors” to the meeting, for example, Joy DeBenedetto, who worked at CNN for decades (how she knows Dr. Judy) and is now putting together a news website (HUMNews) that could serve Dr. Brown’s goals perfectly.
After a productive lunch at UNICEF with Dr. Judy and Dr. Mary Berry, colleague, friend, and fellow Lesotho, Africa project director with Dr. Judy, I accompanied Dr. Judy to a number of smaller meetings about various events and committees. At the next meeting, Dr. Judy and colleagues planned Psychology Day, an annual event at the UN. At the last, Dr. Judy, Dr. Berry, Natalie (a fellow intern), and I talked through a plan for organizing and coding the Lesotho data that was collected during Dr. Judy’s recent trip to Africa where she set up a hugely successful Girl’s Empowerment Camp, working with the First Lady of that African country and her staff. I am excited to see the final analysis of the data; from what I have heard so far, the camps were a huge success and the results will be very positive!
After a full, exciting day, Dr. Judy and I sped off to a glamorous event downtown – in the cool soho section of New York City – to celebrate Betty Dodson’s personal memoir (My Sexual Revolution) at a chic lingerie boutique called Kiki de Montparnasse.
Betty is a famous sexologist who has been working since the 60s on liberating female sexuality and helping women learn how to love their bodies, masturbate, and orgasm. For more about Betty and her business partner Carlin Ross, check out dodsonandross.com. Betty is now 83, which I was shocked to discover – you could never guess! At her event, the white-hair-tipped-with-black sexologist flitted from guest to guest like an excited teenager at a party. Her energy is very positive with a dash of knowing sarcasm that livens every conversation that she jumps into.
During the party, Dr. Judy and I had spent some time to exploring the lingerie shop and taking some photos. In the back of the glamorous shop we found a bed, complete with handcuffs and pillows with the words “sleep” and “fuck” written across them.
We had to get a photo! As we continued to explore and notice some of the hefty price tags on the little tiny underwear items (a thong for $100, a skimpy nightgown for $3000?!) — we could not help but notice the disparity between the work we did that day at the UN about poverty and sustainable development and the nighttime revelry and frivolous lingerie surrounding us that evening.
We reflected on how valuable the $3000 someone spent on a nightgown could be if it was used to provide aid to an underdeveloped country. Of course, the owners of the shop have to pay the outrageous rent for a store in downtown Manhattan, and thus have to maintain outrageous prices. Still, it is ridiculous that a tiny piece of sheer fabric is exchanged for the amount of money that could fund the entire Lesotho girl’s empowerment camp. Mind blowing!
Upstairs at the celebration, Dr. Judy was excited to catch up with Betty and other old friends from the sexology field – she seemed to know just about everyone.
The room upstairs displayed work from Betty’s entire career, including a poster from a conference that Betty helped organized in June 1973 called the Women’s Sexuality Conference. It was one of the first sex conferences of the National Organization of Women, and Dr. Judy had even been there, as a protégé pioneer of the field. The purpose of this conference was to “explore, define, and celebrate our own sexuality”.
Betty’s beautiful drawings showing sexuality decorated the room as well, along with the books she has published and a few films, called “Viva la Vulva”, “Self Loving” (for which she is well known), and “Celebrating Orgasm”. Towards the end of the evening, Betty gave a beautiful speech, speaking about how she came to use “the written word” to connect with people and explaining how her drawings and writing connected – she divulged that putting her drawings together with her words was the best idea she ever had. She also demanded from the crowd, “Why can’t we tell the truth about our sex lives?!” This question has driven Betty’s work, and she has definitely made important progress! Yet she thinks we have not come far enough.
Dr. Judy’s good friend Barbara Bartlik, a psychiatrist and sex therapist, was kind enough to give us a ride home at the end of the night, and the conversation in the car on the way home somehow (well, actually it’s not that surprising) turned to sex and smells. Barbara works on testing patient’s toxicity levels and doing appropriate supplemental magnesium treatments. Everyone in the car was curious to know how to balance your diet in order to smell better down there! Barbara confided the secret: pineapple is a secret scent enhancer, although you have to consume a LOT. Barbara also mentioned different dietary supplements that have been marketed to improve your smell. Barbara claimed that changing your diet can actually change your smell, and that if you make positive changes you can literally “SMELL the difference!” Dr. Judy jumped on this statement and encouraged Barbara to use the line as a marketing device!
On Monday, May 24, 2010, Dr. Judy’s class at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College had its first session from 4:40-8:40 pm. We spent a few hours preparing for the class, organizing everything and adding some “feng shui” to the huge classroom. The way we did this? We removed extra chairs, spread the desks out, and angled everything towards the center of the classroom. As the students filed in, Kristen (the TA for the class) and I welcomed them, giving them a name tag and a syllabus. Dr. Judy also kindly brought in tons of books for them to peruse and take home if they wished. The class began, and Dr. Judy’s positive energy and enthusiasm quickly captured the focus of all of the students.
The students participated from the start, which is rare for the first day of a new class! I sat and took notes, and I was amazed by the fact that my attention never wandered. It definitely did not feel like four hours had gone by when the clock hit 8:40 in the evening.
Towards the end of the class, Russell Daisey gave a touching presentation about his music project that he had worked on with Dr. Judy in response to 9/11 as part of his project when he was a music graduate student at TC and had taken Dr. Judy’s class after that tragedy. Russell Daisey is now a dear friend of Dr. Judy’s; he works closely with her on musical projects for global peace and harmony and also runs his own piano and voice studio. In our class he showed a video of “Towers of Life”, a song that Dr. Judy and Russell wrote together about healing from such trauma and that has been performed at various events. This particular video featured singer Juliana Olivieri, who performed before her first cancer treatment and has since tragically died of that disease. Seeing her perform for a room full of students so beautifully brought a few sighs and tears to the eyes of many, including Dr. Judy and Russell who had known her personally. At the end of class, we wrapped up by getting students excited about the many projects available for them to work on this semester and getting the ball rolling with their ideas.
Wow! That was only three days of work with Dr. Judy, and we accomplished about as much as the average person would accomplish in a week, even two weeks! The week continued with just as much energy, excitement, and hard work. On Tuesday, during the day we worked from Dr. Judy’s office on organizing the Columbia projects. That night, we went to a small party at the Consulate General of Ireland’s beautiful penthouse apartment.
The event was organized in honor of “Publishing Ireland”, to encourage connections between Irish and American publishers, authors, and buyers in anticipation of the Book Expo America, held annually in NYC. Dr. Judy, Russell, and I spoke to a number of interesting individuals, and Dr. Judy and Russell were able to make a wonderful connection with the Consulate’s wife Marie. Dr. Judy now has the perfect connection to get involved with the UN school and perhaps get those students connected with the Lesotho girls; maybe a big sister/little sister project is in store! With a big baby grand piano in the room, Russell spontaneously played piano at the event – a lovely rendition of “Oh Danny Boy”. The guests loved his playing and we were all so pleased with the Irish Consul’s willingness to allow Russell to play!
Russell’s card flew around the room as people asked him about his wonderful music, and Dr. Judy’s card of course made it’s rounds to everyone who was so interested in her UN work and her books! The phenomenon of swapping cards as a means of introduction, connection, or closure to a conversation is still new to me. Cards fly around these events like confetti.
Wednesday, May 26 marked the big day: Book Expo America! The big publishing event was held at the well-known Javits convention center on the west side of the city. Dr. Judy and I registered and received our passes (with a little maneuvering), and even ran into a 2006 smith alum who is now working as a producer with Italian TV, and who lived in my house, Gardiner house, while at Smith! What a small world. After getting past the check-in point we hurried over to Turner Publishing, the publishers of Dr. Judy’s latest book: 31 Things You Can Do to Raise a Child’s Self Esteem.
At two pm, Dr. Judy did a book signing. Right before the event Dr. Judy and I walked around a bit doing an activity that exemplifies trust, an important topic in the book, in which Dr. Judy led me around while I was blindfolded. Although I could see everything by looking down, I added drama to the activity and made a big deal about not knowing where I was going because we wanted people to notice! Unfortunately, no one really paid attention; it seemed that perhaps people thought I was really blind and averted their eyes so as to not seem rude! Who knows, but regardless this was one of the more hilarious moments of the day. People loved the book, and as Laura, one of the Turner exhibitors, remarked: “They went like hot cakes!” I filmed people giving their ideas about how to raise a child’s self-esteem, and some said they want to raise their own self-esteem. After her book signing, Dr. Judy did an interview with Sirius radio. Dr. Judy answered a number of questions about her book and spoke on the hot topic of children’s self esteem.
After our work at the Turner Publishing booth was done, we explored the expo. I was particularly excited to meet Bob Marley’s son, Ky-Mani Marley, and get a signed copy of his book and a photograph with him. I also got a photograph with Darth Vadar and some of the clone army from Star Wars! But the day was hardly done – more activities to come!
After the Book Expo, Dr. Judy, Russell, and I rushed cross-town to attend Rita Cosby’s book signing for her new book “Quiet Hero”. Rita is a journalist who has had hosted shows on MSNBC-TV and Fox-TV. The event was at an elaborate brownstone building devoted to Polish history. After signing copies of her book, Rita showed a beautiful video reviewing her research and her process of interviewing her Polish father (on whom the book was based) who had worked for the Polish resistance to the Nazis. A particularly moving story she told was about a tank explosion that occurred in Warsaw, Poland. Many of her fathers friends and his girlfriend had been on the tank when it exploded right before his eyes. This experience was devastating and life-changing for her father, who confided to Rita: “that was the day I lost all emotions”. When Rita and her father returned to Poland and revisited this site, her father wept. The process of writing this book was cathartic and healing not only for Rita but for her dear father as well.
My first week with Dr. Judy has been a whirlwind of important work and fabulous events! I am so ready and excited for this summer in NYC and the amazing work that we will get done.