Sunday, December 29, 2013

Maybe This Year Will Be Better Than the Last


This year...

I was published in the New York Times, even though I forgot to tell you about it here. I was honored to remember my grandmother in this way, both highly public & painfully personal.

I went to Israel for the third time, & it was just as incredible as ever.

I accidentally paid more than $200 for a haircut.

Like so many twentysomethings, I expressed the cliche but real fear that I'm not doing enough with my life.

On the eighth anniversary of my ex-boyfriend's death, I finally began to feel some distance & healing.

I took a trip to Ohio, where I saw my brother for the first time in more than a decade. It was just as wonderful as it sounds.

I attended SXSW Interactive for the first time, & although I again forgot to blog about it, it was a truly unforgettable experience. A party bus was involved.

My friends & I mourned the death of our dear friend Elissa - but more importantly than that, we celebrated her life.

The season finale of HBO's Girls spurred me into some real-talk about mental illness, including the main character's & my own.

Six months after Hurricane Sandy hit, I visited the storm-ravaged towns of Asbury Park & Seaside Heights. The haunting Ferris wheel you see in these photos was taken down that same week.

No blog post for this one, but I lost more than 20 lbs. with the help of Weight Watchers & a few sessions with a personal trainer.

After years of hoping & wishing, I finally attended Bloggers in Sin City, a Las Vegas gathering of the Internet's finest.

I visited my cousin in London! We went to the Harry Potter set & took a million photos, & I didn't want to leave.

Surprise spring fireworks led me to write this post on gratitude & acceptance & living in the moment.

I visited D.C. & wrote this piece about it that I really, really love.

I was honored to be a presenter at my friend Emily's 30th birthday conference. Yes, birthday conference.

There were at least 29 great things about my 29th birthday, which I celebrated with my boyfriend & my mom on a sunny summer day at the beach.

On a regular old workday at Starbucks, I met two totally unrelated celebrities in downtown Red Bank. Who says nothing exciting ever happens in suburbia?!

I ruminated on the emotional difficulty of living 14 months in New Jersey without any friends.

I launched a new blog, leaving SuburbanSweetheart.com behind after six years & welcoming GreatestEscapist.com. Here's how I chose the new name.

I was really rattled to realize that I'd stumbled upon the scene of a suicide attempt. (When I wrote this post, I wasn't sure if that was, indeed, what I was seeing, but a later newspaper article confirmed it.)

I kept a list of all the times I apologized in the span of one week & committed to not being so damn sorry all the time.

I moved back to D.C. & admitted that I'm having a really hard time.

It was a good year, a terrible year, a hard year, an emotional year - a year that taught me a lot about myself, in the most painful of ways. I don't know what 2014 brings, but I do know that "Long December" has been playing in my head for weeks now. May this new year bring some healing.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Under the Weight of Living

It’s been a long year.

Actually, it’s been a long few years.

I’m tired, & some days, I don’t recognize myself for the person I seem to have become. The anxiety, the fear, the dishonesty, the unsureness, the anxiety.

I was blissfully, unfathomably happy once, the happiest I’d ever been. It wasn’t that long ago, & yet it feels like ages – a different person in a different time. Somebody else’s life.

I used to think I was the sort of person for whom happiness would never be an option – that I just didn’t have it in me. I was growing to accept it, sort of, cultivating life hacks that created an illusion of contentedness that fooled even me.

But then I stumbled into it, the sort of life I never imagined I’d make for myself, & the healing process began without my even realizing it. It was alarmingly, unexpectedly easy; I almost didn’t even have to try. Life happened around me, & the end result was that I loved it & myself in equal measure.

So how did it comes to this, the place I find myself in now? Did I get sloppy, lose focus, become complacent? Having stumbled upon it the way I did, I suppose I hadn’t realized that my positive emotional state was so fragile that it would require my careful attention & maintenance.

How do we become versions of ourselves that we never wanted to be? It can’t be an overnight process. You don’t wake up one morning, new & different & worse. It’s a slow burn, a gradual forfeit of small pieces of yourself along the way. And then one day, when you wake up, you realize that in time, all your cells have regenerated, & none of the old pieces remain.

Some days – so many days – I worry that my cells haven’t regenerated but have warped, taken over by a lecherous sort of personality cancer. Those are the days I feel like I’m going crazy again, like I used to be in the days long before I figured out how to be happy. Those are the days I worry that the pieces of me I thought I’d left deep in the past have somehow reassembled themselves & returned stronger than before, to bully the healthy, happy bits out of the way.

I want to know her again, that person I thought I’d become. That good version of myself, the one I was finally so proud to know & to be? It’s been so long, & I’m afraid she’s left me.

Yes, I used to think I was the sort of person for whom happiness would never be an option – that I just didn’t have it in me – but then I learned differently, & I can’t go back to believing otherwise anymore.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Time I Was a Big Weirdo About Potatoes (& Also Met a Supreme Court Justice)


Way back in the winter of 2008, I attended my then-boss's Hanukkah party. He's fairly well-connected & has a lot of cool friends, both DC-famous & actual-famous (see: the Clintons), so it's always a topic of office conversation to wonder who will make an appearance at his annual soiree. That year, I was totally overwhelmed by the DC-ness of the whole event, & so I spent most of it talking to coworkers.

And eating latkes.

I don't consume latkes very often (uh, once a year), but I can definitively say that these latkes were the best that I had ever eaten ever. I think I ate seven. Seven latkes. That's, like, three whole potatoes. Starch par-tay!

I've basically been talking about these latkes ever since. I repeat: I've been talking about latkes since 2008. And I haven't been to that Hanukkah party since, so I haven't eaten those latkes except for that one time - but every holiday, I remember their glory & how other potato pancakes fail to stack up.

You know where this is going. This year, newly returned to the District, I was invited again. Circa 8pm on Wednesday, I decided I wasn't going to attend. Too much work to do! But at the last minute, I reassessed: "You've been talking about these latkes for half a decade." So I hopped a cab & headed deep into the abyss of Cleveland Park, hoping to catch the tail-end of the event.

It took so long to get there that by the time I arrived, everyone was on their way out, the party clearly winding down. My coworkers were still there, though, & so was a special guest: Supreme Court Justice Elana Kagan. As I stuffed my face with three of the World's Best Latkes™ , Justice Kagan introduced herself to a group of five recent college grads working in a fellowship position at my old office (the same one that brought me to DC back in 2007). As she made her way through them & turned to those of us standing nearby, I quickly wiped the grease off my grubby, latke-loving fingers so I could shake her hand. She was kind & funny & also a fan of the latkes.

As Justice Kagan held court with my colleagues, I approached my former boss's wife. My long-winded introductory monologue went something like this:
Hi! I'm Kate, & I used to work with David. I mean, I sort of still do. I was just wondering, do you make these latkes yourself? You do? Oh, man, well, I just wanted to let you know that I haven't been to your Christma- I mean, Hanukkah party since 2008, but I really loved them & have seriously been talking about them ever since because they are that good. Like, they're the best latkes I've ever had, & I thought for sure they were catered, so well done.
You should imagine me sounding very enthusiastic & rambly while saying this, & also being a little sweaty & out of breath, because I'd arrived, like, four minutes prior & was actually in a rush to eat every latke in sight. It was one of those things that could've gone OK if she'd just, like, laughed at me a little bit & seemed amused. Instead, she seemed horrified. Later, she whispered to her husband, "Yes, Kate really likes our latkes."

Yes, I spent $24 on a cab ride just so I could spend 20 minutes at a party where I ate nine latkes & made a total weirdo fool of myself to my boss's wife. And... yeah, nine latkes. I don't even want to know how many potatoes that is. I know that it added up to, like, a bazillion Weight Watchers points & that I can basically never eat food again - and still, I opted to have more of them for lunch the next day.

At work on Thursday, a coworker walked in on me loading a plate with a few of the leftovers.

"Oh!" he exclaimed. "Latkes made from a boxed mix! Your favorite!"


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Here's to Change: Win a Brand New HTC One Phone!


I've owned an iPhone for more than six years now. I remember swearing in 2007 to my now-BFF Sean, who was then my boss, that I'd never get one. I had a "fancy" flip phone at the time, the kind with a full keyboard & a nice-for-the-time camera &, obviously, no Internet access. Those were the days when I called friends for directions, texted my tweets to 40404, had to be at an actual computer to check my email - almost unfathomable to me now.

Yes, my iPhone revolutionized my life (albeit not always in a good way. Hello, texting thumb & relentless connectivity!) For the better part of a decade, I've been a dedicated user: I've owned four models, shattered three screens, had one phone lost or stolen (still not sure which), been gifted a replacement from a kind Internet stranger... Needless to say, my iPhones & I have been through a lot. But despite it all, I'm one of those people who consider my cell phone absolutely indispensable, & the iPhone in particular - using it is second nature, an extension of my arm, the easiest thing ever.

So when Laura, a representative from HTC, reached out to me to see if I'd be interested in testing out the new HTC One, I was initially wary. Me, willingly forfeit my iPhone?! It was almost unthinkable, especially considering that I'd purchased a new 5s on the day they were released, just a couple weeks prior. But HTC's newest campaign, Here's to Change, is all about embracing the unknown. (They've even done a bunch of fun commercials & videos with Robert Downey, Jr., about it.) Embracing adventure & stepping outside my technological comfort zone, I told Laura I'd love to take an HTC One for a spin.

I never thought I'd be pulled away from my beloved Apple products, but let me be the first to say that the HTC One gives iPhones some stiff competition. Here are some overly verbose thoughts about the difference between the two: what I liked, what I didn't, & how they stack up against one another.

Typing

Let's start with the negative: I had a really hard time getting used to typing on the HTC One. In my first three weeks with it, my friends made fun of me hard for the ridiculous typos & poor punctuation that is so uncharacteristic of my text messages to them. After about a month, I discovered the Swype function, which allows you to just drag your finger across the keyboard to the letters you want, without raising it - & then "connects the dots," if you will, to spell out your words. Once I got the hang of Swype, all my typing trepidation disappeared, & I was back on track with proper spelling & the use of commas. 
  • Winner: Initially, iPhone had a major edge for me in this category, but the discovery of Swype was a total game-changer. Someone with less-ingrained habits and/or more dextrous thumbs might catch on more quickly.

Texting

In all honesty, losing iMessage was, in my view, the single worst thing about switching away from an iPhone. I have an unlimited texting plan, but many of my friends don't, & with iMessage no longer an option, we've had to cut down on our communiques or switch to third-party apps like WhatsApp & Google Hangouts. Those are easy to use, but they're just not as easy as iMessage. 
  • Winner: iPhone. Although actual texting on the HTC One is fine, the lack of iMessage was a hard hit.

    Screen

    I thought the HTC One screen, at  4.9", would be too unwieldy compared to the 4" iPhone screen I was used to. The first time I put the HTC One in my pocket, I thought, "Or are you just happy to see me?!" With further use, though, I find that I actually prefer the HTC One's screen, as it gives me a little bit extra to hold onto (TWSS?) For someone who's dropped her iPhone(s) countless times, having enough to hold onto is the difference between a shattered or intact screen. It also makes for better-than-the-iPhone video viewing.

    • Winner: HTC One

    Coolness

    There's just something about being an iPhone owner, you know? I've always been a little bit pretentious about it, so going into my HTC One ownership, I was admittedly a little nervous about whether I was sacrificing my yuppie status. I needn't have worried. While owning an iPhone is certainly trendy, I find that it's a bit of a conversation piece to use a phone that's slightly outside the norm. I've gotten a lot of questions about the HTC One since I started using it, & it's sort of fun to be able to introduce people to a new phone that they might love. 
    • Winner: A tie, to my surprise!

    Photography

    While I really love the iOS7 function that allows me to take a square, Instagram-ready photo, I have to say that the HTC One's camera is awesome - like, just awesome. I'm not a pro photographer (as evidenced by the fact that I use my phone as my primary form of picture-taking), so I don't know all the technical terms, but I found this camera to be a lot more reliable in terms of focus, lighting, editability, etc. The HTC One's UltraPixel Camera features "HTC Zoe," which lets you create four-second moving images, sort of like in Harry Potter, & the ultra-wide front-facing camera lets you fit more people into the image than you can with an iPhone. 
    • Winner: HTC One

    Apps

    I thought I'd have a hard time getting used to Google Play, the Android's app store, but it was just as easy to use, & all of the basic apps that I use most often are available through it. I missed the A Beautiful Mess app, which isn't yet available through Android, but my life will not suffer greatly from an inability to prettify all of my Instagram photos. 
    • Winner: An easy tie

    Dropability

    Did I mention that I drop my phone a lot? I drop my phone a lot. I haven't had a case on the HTC One the whole time I've been using it - & because of its size, I haven't dropped it nearly as often as I typically drop iPhones, but when it has hit the floor, it's proven much sturdier than its Apple counterpart. Case in point: While using my iPhone 5s to take a picture at the beach, I dropped it, & it shattered. My brand new phone, totally devastated, its insides showing behind pieces of fallen-off glass! I wouldn't go throwing my HTC One against walls or anything, but with its aluminum body, it seems easily more hardy than any iPhone I've ever owned. 
    • Winner: HTC One, far & away
    Of course, there are plenty of other differences between the iPhone & the HTC One, which can be compared to the differences between using a Mac & a PC. In my experience, the HTC One feels more like a tiny computer; using it feels similar to working on my laptop (which is not a Mac). Increasingly, I've learned that my initial inclination toward the iPhone has been based only in comfort & familiarity: I know how to use it, so I think I prefer to use it. The reality, though, is that phones like the HTC One offer just as much (if not more) functionality.

    Here's to change, indeed.


    If you want to learn more about the HTC One, here's the full rundown. And if you like what you learn, you can join me in using the HTC One, because HTC is giving away a brand new HTC One to a lucky reader! This giveaway is open to readers worldwide; the HTC One is available on all four major US carriers & also in Europe & Asia. There are a few ways to enter over the next two weeks, & I'll announce a winner on Wednesday, Dec. 18th. All I'll need from you upon your win is your physical address (no P.O. boxes, sorry), phone number, email address, & the name of your cell phone carrier. HTC will ship your new phone by December 20th, & you will rock out.

    May the odds be ever in your favor!

    a Rafflecopter giveaway
    Disclaimer: HTC provided me with an HTC One to use & one to give away, but as always, all opinions are my own. Ain't nobody pullin' these puppet strings.
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