Monday, January 26, 2015

Stranded in NYC: Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?

I love New York, & I have a lot to say about it. A post has been percolating for the last eight days, forming in my mind as I walk the streets of Brooklyn & Manhattan. I look forward to writing that piece soon, but today is not that day.

Today, I am stranded.

Let's be clear: There are much, much worse places to be stranded than in what is arguably the greatest city on earth. If you're gonna get stranded in someone else's city, it's best to find yourself in one full of people you know & love. After two canceled flights, I was fortunate to have been offered a place to stay by no fewer than four friends. Currently, I'm holed up on the Upper West Side with my mom's cousin, his wife, & their two adorable boys. We're eating homemade lasagna & spying on neighbors & planning to make snow ice cream, & it's pretty lovely.

Still, if one more person tells me how lucky I am to be stranded in New York City during the supposed storm of the century, I am probably going to cry. Again. I've already done it, like, three times, out of the sheer frustration of being stuck in a place that I'd planned to leave today. And, while I appreciate the positivity, I am really maxed out on other people's silver linings: "But you're with family!" "But it's New York!" "But just surrender to the weather gods & enjoy the extra time there!"

Look, I'm an adventurer. I don't mind being a bit of a vagabond, staying wherever & with whomever & living out of a suitcase for awhile. I'm about this hobo life sometimes, & it often feels strangely comfortable to me. But man, having to reschedule your flight for two days after you meant to leave - & still doubting you'll be able to leave then - is really just not ideal. It's exhausting not to have any idea when you'll get home.

I canceled a hair appointment. I have to take my therapy appointment by phone. I will work from not-my-home tomorrow with a 3-year-old & a 6-year-old in the background (& probably often in the foreground). And if I can't get back to Ohio in time to use the tickets I won to a Cleveland International Film Festival event on Thursday night, I am definitely going to cry again. While none of these things are terrible, individually or even in the aggregate, it would be extra great to be wearing sweatpants in my bedroom, you know? I've been relying on other people's hospitality for more than a week now, & I would rather like my life back.

Also, despite the fact that I own three pairs of snowboots, all said pairs of snowboots reside in Ohio. That's why today, I stopped into a ritzy sporting good store & dropped $140 on a new pair, just so I can function in a likely-to-be-snow-covered city. Unfortunately, due to increased demand by stranded tourists like me, the store only had one pair left in my size, so I ended up buying the most hideous snowboots known to man. Except now Weather.com reports that NYC is apparently only supposed to get 5-8", which hardly seems snowpocalyptic.

Thanks for a great week & for all your hospitality, NYC. I love you, but I'm feeling pretty ready to leave you.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Insecure Writer's Occasional & Vulnerable Lament

http://nikillustrazioni.blogspot.com/

I wrote a piece last January, my first on Medium, called "How to Not Be a Writer." At the time, I had just moved from New Jersey back to Washington, D.C., with the singular goal of doing more writing. I didn't really know where to begin, & it wasn't going well.

I made some strides in 2014 on the writing front, for sure. On the first day of the year, I learned that my first submission to Thought Catalog had been published. I started writing occasionally for Hello Giggles. I kept posting to Medium whenever I had something to say that didn't seem to fit on this blog; one of my favorite pieces there, "What We Never Talked About," was featured in a collection with 12k followers.

Then, my proudest moment of the year: In July, I sat down at one of my favorite coffee shops (BakeHouse on T St., highly recommended), where I banged out a really personal, somewhat painful piece & then, on a whim, decided to submit it to xoJane. An editor responded two days later to say they'd love to run it, & that was that. They even paid me, like a real writer! And then the next month, it happened again. I was on a roll.

And then everything slowed down. Majorly. I sent four more submissions to xoJane, all pieces I really loved; every single one of them was rejected by way of silence. I continued to submit my Medium posts to Human Parts, the collection that had accepted my first piece; I was rejected all four times there, too. My well of ideas for Hello Giggles dried up. My connection at Thought Catalog fell through.

And just like that, my few months of growth & success came to a grinding, ego-crushing halt.

Look, I'm gonna level with you: I'm having a pretty hard time with it. I feel terrible about my writing. I don't trust myself. I don't trust any outlets to give a shit about what I have to say or to like the way I've said it. I have been rejected so many times that I suddenly feel too scared to send anything else out into the world, like, at all. The other day I started writing eleven different pieces & quit all of them a few paragraphs in because all I could think was, "This is never going to see the light of day, anyway."

It probably doesn't help that I'm watching from the sidelines as my friends, who are fantastic, talented writers, see the kinds of successes I've been trying for. Every time someone I love is published on a major site, I click "like" on Facebook & genuinely mean it, because you'd better believe I'm proud as hell of all these wonderful, skilled people I know. But it adds to my insecurity, too, because all the comparisons build up in my head - & the more they succeed, the more my failures stand out. I'm usually pretty good about using jealousy as a tool for personal success - don't envy it, go get it for yourself - but these days, it just feels like an anchor, an anvil, an elbow to the nose.

The worst part, maybe, is that it makes me not want to write here, either. When I get really stuck in my other failures, I start to think about everything in terms of failure. I start to think about how I've been blogging here for seven & a half years, but I've never been discovered, gone viral, seen huge readership, or done much of anything else that would qualify as a major personal success. After all these years, is this space a waste of my time? If I'm not good enough for publication, I begin to think, then maybe I should just shut up altogether.

And look, I know that's not how it works, OK? You don't have to tell me that. I know. In so many ways, for starters, I don't have a blog for "success"; I have it as an outlet, as a guaranteed place to put my words, even if no one else will run them. And I know that writing is a difficult, soul-wrenching business. I know that sometimes it's up, & sometimes it's down, & just because my last billion pieces were rejected, it doesn't mean I'm the worst writer who ever lived. I know all of that, & yet, I am still a person with feelings. And as we all know, feelings - especially those of the insecure variety - are not exactly know for being rational.

The thing is, I couldn't stop if I wanted to, anyway. Writing is the thing I'm the best at, the thing I love most, & the only thing that makes me really, really happy. And really, really proud. But that's why this is such a struggle, right? Because all this rejection feels like a threat to my happiness, to my pride. If I don't have writing, what else do I have?

The answer, I guess, is hope. I've still got that, although it's sometimes a struggle to remind myself of it after I've spent a bunch of time wallowing. But I know this is a cycle, a test, a process. I know that one of these days I'll bubble over with some sort of word vomit that I'm brave enough to submit to another outlet, rejection be damned - & then it won't be rejected, after all.

In the meantime, I am reminded that Michael Jordan got cut from his high school basketball team, that it's always darkest before the dawn, & a million other cliche-but-true reminders that success is not immediate or obvious or easy. And until my luck starts to change, you can find me listening to a lot of Kelly Clarkson & Kanye, trying to convince myself that whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger a better writer.

Friday, January 9, 2015

How to Have a Sick Day

Seems like everyone I know got the flu over the holiday season. For my part, close calls abounded: I hung out with a friend who came down with it not 12 hours later; I went to a Christmas Eve dinner attended by my aunt & cousins while my uncle & his germs stayed at home. I felt absolutely sure I was going to get it, as is the way of the worrier.

I didn't.

And then, last night, I sneezed five times in a row, & when all the sneezing was done... I was sick. Just like that, like someone flipped a switch. Now, I don't think it's the flu - that's not how the flu works - but I do think my sinuses have finally, like, caved in on me.

I took a sick day today, which I haven't done for quite some time. Here's how it went.
  1. Slept for eight solid hours, thanks to the glory that is NyQuil gelcaps. Did not hear the dog leave my bed, the sounds of my mom getting ready for work, or any other signs of the outside world.
  1. "Woke up" circa 8am, eyelids heavier than cinderblocks, to shoot off an email written like a telegram: "Woke up really sick. [Stop] Going back to sleep. [Stop] Some social media already scheduled. [Stop]" Proceeded to fall back asleep for four & a half more hours, again dead to the world.
  1. Upon second awakening, sat up in bed to respond to exactly four work-related emails before becoming exhausted & giving up. All the while, mumbled grouchy sentiments such as, "I deserve a sick day when I'm sick!" To be clear, no one was saying any differently; I just felt that strange sense of guilt & obligation that comes with A) being sick, B) working from home, & C) being tethered to our work via technology at all times.
  1. Finally, hauled myself out of bed and trudged downstairs in grey sweatpants, a grey hoodie, & grey slippers, an outfit that closely resembled the sort I assume is assigned to patients at insane asylums. Watched half an episode of The Americans before retrieving my iPad, a book, & the latest issue of Glamour & retreating to bed.
  1. Laid in bed breathing heavily, but not in a sexy way, making stuffed-nose noises & acting truly, truly pitiful. Read a quarter of my friend's new book & wasted an hour or so on Instagram before falling back asleep.
  1. Talked to my mom on the phone; learned that on her lunch break, she bought me DayQuil - the liquid kind. Hung up the phone & launched into a full-blown solo temper tantrum about this terrible disaster because WHO TAKES LIQUID MEDICINE? I am a pill-swallowing adult who happens to hate liquid medicine more than just about anything, ever. Give me some gelcaps.  
  1. But no, seriously: had a full-blown temper tantrum about liquid DayQuil
  1. Sat on the stairs & sobbed loudly for at least 10 minutes, for no apparent reason other than the lack of DayQuil gelcaps & my inability to breathe through my nose. Added lots of other reasons to the mix, none of which were entirely relevant, but sometimes when you're mid-cry, you just really want to pile it on yourself, yanno?
  1. Braved the elements (-15°!) to travel two miles down the road to a CVS, where I purchased a small can of Pringles, two boxes of Cool Touch Kleenex (a sick-day necessity), &, of course, DayQuil gelcaps. Returned home feeling like I had just run my first marathon, minus the pride & exhilaration that I assume accompanies such an accomplishment.
  1. Returned to bed, where I continued to read, contemplated napping, & consumed two mugs full of Sleepytime Tea (another sick-day necessity) before my mom got home, took pity on me, & made me a bowl of tortellini for dinner. (Thanks, Mom.)
  1. Settled in on the couch, the hood of my hood pulled over my head, a laptop on my lap, & a miniature wheel of Brie at my side. Watched lots of embarrassingly bad TV with my mother, including Last Man Standing, Cristela, & Shark Tank, complaining all the while but sort of enjoying all three of them. 
  1. Made another mug of tea, but this time added honey, brown sugar, cinnamon... & 1.5 oz. of Jameson. Consumed entire mug of boozy brew in fewer than five minutes.
  1. Realized that, in my sickness-induced stupor, I bought myself the wrong kind of DayQuil. I didn't buy the liquid kind, obviously, but... turns out I didn't buy gelcaps, either. The irony of it all almost hurts. But not as much as my throat & my head & my pride.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

It's Never Been More Perfect Being Alive

Mae, "The Everglow" Tour, Jan. 2015
It was all so much more disorganized than we expected. "Arrive early for your VIP meet & greet," the pre-show email instructed, so we did, but we waited in line outside for more than half an hour; at one point, another line started, though no one standing in it seemed to know exactly what it was for. Finally, we were allowed into the venue (the creatively named NorVa in Norfolk, VA), where the lead singer of the band was checking people in, just chatting with fans as he tried to figure out who was supposed to get a T-shirt with entry.

We waited in line inside, too, until someone announced that the line was moving upstairs. So we waited in another line, until a guy made a megaphone out of his hands & asked us to move to the third floor. The line broke in the middle to form a new one, which is how my friends & I found ourselves at the front of another line, filing single-file into a dark room: a private acoustic show.

But we hadn't paid for it. When we bought our tickets all the way back in August, we hadn't opted for the acoustic show package, which cost $20 extra. None of us - a student, two teachers, a professor, a non-profit staffer - had extra cash to spare, so we chose the merch package instead, guaranteeing ourselves a meet-&-greet with the band, plus T-shirts & poster for all. And yet there we were, five months later, at the front of the room for an intimate acoustic show.

Anxiety-ridden as ever, I was sure we'd be caught & asked to leave, slapped on the wrist for trying to sneak into a show we weren't supposed to be at. But when the lead singer took the mic, he began, "I bet you're wondering why you're here at this acoustic show you haven't paid for..."

It was a gift from the band, it turned out, an apology for being, well, so disorganized. In a darkened room, mason jars full of LED twinkle lights dotting the perimeter, the members of Mae began a private show packed to the brim with eager fans. I sat in a leather chair, my friends on the floor - VIP status indeed - & when the notes of that first song filled the room, my mouth fell open. I couldn't see myself, of course, but I'm sure I looked like a little kid on Christmas.

I'm not a person to use words like "blessed." I don't quite believe in God, for starters, & that word is so loaded with religiosity that, when used in casual, everyday life, it makes me skin crawl a little bit. But sitting there in the dark, nine hours from home, surrounded by friends who feel more like family, sitting just feet away from a band whose lyrics wrote pieces of my past, I couldn't think of any better word. Words like "lucky" & "fortunate" just didn't seem to cover it. I cried a little, there in the dark where no one could see, & I mouthed the words "Thank you," though I'm not sure to whom. To the universe, I guess.

And when it was over, we still had a real, non-VIP, general admission show to attend, too, the 10-year anniversary concert of Mae's 2005 album "The Everglow." Two shows in one night, each one special & different & the best possible way to begin a new year? I think I like your style, 2015.

All smiles in Richmond, VA, where we stopped on our way to Norfolk

Top This, 2015: A Quick Look Back at 2014's Notable Moments


I know we're already a few days into 2015, but let's pause for a moment, shall we? I'd like to dedicate this post to our dearly departed friend, 2014, for a quick look back at a few of the most memorable happenings within its 365-day span. Here goes.

***

I rang in 2014 in Philadelphia with my then-boyfriend & his family, throwing a handful of confetti that a stranger gave us just after midnight, & later I returned to my new apartment, lonely but hopeful.

I broke up with said boyfriend of 3.5 years, something I neither announced on the blog nor elsewhere because it was painful & personal, & contrary to public belief, I do not actually share everything online.

I started therapy, making once-weekly visits to an incredible, patient psychologist who wrote me "prescriptions" for books about meditation & ultimately changed my life in a thousand lasting ways.

I attended a few VIP events hosted by Google, eating gourmet tacos & fancy macarons & having a haiku written for me on a typewriter by a professional haiku-writing trio, & other such frivolities that can only happen in a big city.


I traveled to Las Vegas with some of my favorite bloggers, where we did a personalized whiskey tasting & sipped champagne on the balcony in our underwear. I dubbed Vegas my happy place, despite spending 14 hours in an airport there.

I went to a wedding in Chicago with some of my favorite bloggers, dressed to the nines in a full-length gown & professionally done hair & makeup. I cried twice, but all the dancing & happiness outweighed it (& at the end I met Jess!)

I made multiple trips home, where I saw two of my best friends marry wonderful women, spent a great day exploring Cleveland & a great weekend exploring Columbus, & fell in love with the Buckeye State all over again, proclaiming my love for all to hear.

I reunited with my group of second-year-in-D.C. friends, now spread across the country, for a weekend in Manhattan, complete with a newborn baby, yoga in a park, & a vodka-laden dinner at a very weird Jewish steakhouse.


I hosted guests in D.C., like Dominique, who stayed for a week, & my family, who came for a long weekend where we explored as much of D.C. as humanly possible.

I shared a photo of myself in a bikini on the Internet for an Instagram campaign, & it received more than 400 overall likes & won me a $100 gift card (plus some bonus self-esteem).

I attempted to conquer my fear of open water by going sailing & stand-up paddle-boarding; it only sort of worked, but both activities were more fun than expected & accompanied by a hefty dose of pride.

I turned 30, which I celebrated at my favorite taco place surrounded by dozens of friends & exactly 30 cupcakes, feeling loved & overwhelmed & exhausted & old & vibrant & thankful as hell to have made it this far.


I continued the 30th celebration by visiting Hilton Head with my mom (who turned 60), my best friend (who also turned 30), & other loved ones, doing our best to spend maximum amounts of time relaxing on the beach & playing board games.

I went on a tour of the West Wing & later actually had a job interview with the White House. I I didn't tell the Internet about it, but I was fairly proud of it despite the fact that they ultimately decided "to go in a different direction" (i.e. that I wasn't their ideal candidate, womp).

I tried to figure out my personal style, wearing straw fedoras & floppy felt hats & brightly colored lipstick & designer boots that I bought from a weird vintage popup shop in a seemingly abandoned building in Southeast D.C.

I was published in xoJane telling a very personal story about my long struggle with mental illness, & with your help, I raised more than $1,500 for a non-profit that helps people facing depression, addiction, self-injury, & suicide.


I had a panic attack that sent me to the hospital, but I was grateful to learn that in hard times, support comes from both the unexpected (the strangers who called 911) & the beloved (three best friends who met me at the ER).

I saw my all-time favorite band play my all-time favorite album in its entirety, & I split fried green tomatoes with one of my longtime favorite musicians before watching him play an intimate show in D.C.

I decided it was time to return to Ohio, like, for real, & announced it by quoting another famous returnee (yeah, you know which one). I was appreciative for all the support & so surprisingly few "Oh my God, you've moved a million times" comments.

And then I moved in with my mom, something I never expected to do at age 30. I gave up my personal space & a lot of my independence & some of my pride, but I gained a new-old sense of comfort & a lot of extra money in my wallet.


There were some things about 2014 that didn't make it onto Instagram. I learned that the people you care about aren't always on your side. I was hurt by people who I called friends, accused of being someone I'm not, & targeted by some unfair gossip. I struggled at work, with writing, in therapy, in love, & on my own. And I spent about 12 full months recovering from a broken heart that was my own damn fault.

But it was a good year, too.

It was a year of healing & of bravery & of proving myself to myself. It was a year of learning not to care quite so much what other people think & of figuring out how to let it go (but don't you dare sing me the song). It was a year spent with people I love, as well as by myself; it was the year I trimmed the fat & finally said goodbye to unhealthy friendships & relationships. It was a year of listening to myself, of being myself, & of treating myself well.

I've seen a lot of folks complaining about 2014, but I don't have a bad word to say about it. I ate a lot of cupcakes & tacos & waffles & more tacos. I went to bottomless brunches & dinners with friends & parties on rooftops. I spent a considerable number of hours working from Starbucks & other cafes, paying for office space in daily lattes. I saw new places & did new things & worked hard & did a ton of writing & overall just felt really damn good about almost everything, even when I didn't.

In other words... hello, 2015. I welcome you to top all of this.
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