How I Lean Out: Jen Ray

January 17, 2022 Issue No. 34

7/12 2:20:33 UTC

Tell us about you! Where you live, what you do, etc.

I'm an artist living on the Upper East Side of New York City. Before that, I lived for nine years in Berlin and traveled a great deal. I'm also the proud mother of a 12-year-old boy named Wolfgang, and we practice Krav Maga together and bike around Central Park. 

My artwork is about powerful and mysterious women who create and inhabit new worlds. I paint large-scale watercolors of these worlds and produce performances about female power and unity using music, video, and dance. 

How do you lean out, stay active, get out and explore nature?

When I moved to New York, I started riding my bike all over the city thanks to a lot of new bike paths. We live near Central Park; cycling there can be easy or challenging, depending on what you want. Berlin was also great for cycling because there are so many bike lanes and you can load your bike onto the U-Bahn and take it out of town to lake areas. I also work out at home lifting weights, practice Krav Maga, and volunteer with the Guardian Angels, which requires tremendous amounts of walking. When we first moved to NYC, our family decided to see the city by taking an "urban hike" from 125th street in Harlem to Battery Park at the bottom of Manhattan. It's fun to see the city in a different way by walking, running, or biking.

What are your tools for leaning out?

I think I'm a special case because I moved from the U.S. to Berlin and Berliners maintain a work/life balance with an emphasis on life more than work. I learned how to lean out without panicking. My extreme advice would be to move to another country for a while to get another perspective and learn to live with less so that you can keep your sanity. And of course, go outside!

Tell us about your gear: What do you tend to bring and wear? 

I keep it simple because I'm more of a city adventurer these days. I'm likely to load up my bike — we keep three folding Citizen bikes under our apartment stairs — with a blanket and a wrinkled copy of the New Yorker. Apparel-wise, my son wears a lot of classic 80s-style Adidas and I've borrowed some of that. Uniqlo jackets and vests and their Heattech line always work, and I like windbreakers that can be rolled up and stashed away. I love my Stan Smith sneakers in the summer and Nike leather high-rise boots in the winter, always with extra insoles!

Do you have a bug out bag and if so, what’s in it?

I love gathering survival supplies and yes, I do have a bug-out bag — I'm a secret lefty prepper!  It's filled with water, cash, a knife, Zippo lighter, paracord, a multi-tool, a flashlight, some first aid supplies, a foil blanket, paper, and a Sharpie. I love figuring out different combinations of supplies and even reading about what other people put in theirs.

What are some of your favorite places to lean out? 

The two outdoor places that have affected me the most have been the Alps above Innsbruck, Austria, and in Hawaii at Ka Lae (South Point), on the Big Island. I love super-high mountains and giant waves. For a city adventure, one of my favorite places is the Parc des Buttes Chaumont in Paris. It's such a crazy, weird place to explore and you can always find something new and strange that you might have missed before.

What do you do to stay safe so you can really relax in nature?

Obviously, you should take the proper supplies with you to feel more confident. Maintaining a level of fitness makes sure you can handle a longer hike or a ride or a run. And put away your day-to-day thoughts and concentrate on the actual experience instead of being distracted by a million different thoughts crowding your brain. That's the hardest part!

From the archives: This piece originally appeared in the Early Majority Substack. Links and content may be outdated—become a member to access all new Tools for Leaning Out stories and content.