2016 Intentions

Thursday, December 31, 2015

I try not to make resolutions anymore. I always fail at resolutions. Doesn't everyone, mostly? Otherwise I'm battin' zero over here alone, which is a pretty depressing though.

What I've started doing instead is setting intentions, something I try to do every day but take the opportunity to formalize at the start of the new year (if you count "writing it down on paper in an actual bulleted list" as formalization).

I recently purchased a copy of Moorea Seal's 52 Lists Project, a journal of weekly list-writing prompts for a full year. Of course, I first wrote my list in my personal journal before remembering that I'd just gotten the beautiful 52 Lists book in the mail yesterday, so the image you see below is my first take at 2016 intentions. I did a better, fancier, more drawn-out job in my official list-making journal, which comes complete with beautiful illustrations that make the lists feel every more official.

I am very organized, or something. (That's always one of my intentions, too. See how well I start out?)

Whatever 2016 brings - for you, for me, for all of us - I hope it's great. Let a new year of adventures begin.

Bold Statement: I Think 2015 Was My Best Year Yet

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

At the end of 2014, I welcomed 2015 to top it. Despite a bit of a rocky start, I had a damn good 2014, & I just didn't think 2015 could be any better - but it was. It is. It has been. And frankly, that makes me nervous for whatever 2016 has in store, because surely my luck can't be everlasting, right?

OK, OK, I can't think about that right now. Instead, I'm looking back on a truly incredible year & looking forward to what I hope will be much of the same.

Racial Injustice is Worth Your Attention, Empathy, & Action

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

I wasn't planning to write this post. I wasn't planning to talk about Tamir Rice. I wasn't planning to use my blog as a platform to speak my thoughts on racial justice. But I am tired of other people's ignorance & lack of compassion, & I'm tired of being quiet for the sake of not ruffling feathers among those I love & otherwise respect.

My friend Marchae, a fellow Clevelander, wrote a powerful, painful, personal essay today called "The PTSD of My Blackness." In my Facebook post sharing it with friends & family, I urged: "Please read. Please try to understand. Please try to make change. Please try to be better - for her, for Tamir, for Trayvon, for Eric, for Sandra, for Michael. For humanity."

A high school friend (one who has, in the past, accused me of hating cops, which is bananas as a general statement) was the only one to comment. He asked, "No offense, but a grand jury decided that the officers involved did no wrong doing, what else do you want?"

And he's missing the point entirely.

Here's what I want.

I want innocent Americans to stop being killed, degraded, & disrespected for absolutely no reason other than the color of their skin. 

I want Black Americans to feel safe in the country they call home, to feel protected by our police force instead of terrorized by them. 

I want Marchae & every single person with skin the color of hers to be able to live life the way I know I am privileged to live mine, without ever stopping to think about whether the cop sitting next to her in a coffee shop is likely to harass her - or worse - at random.

Above all, I want white Americans like my high school friend to really listen to what they're saying & believing & taking at face value. I want them to understand that these are not one-off incidents, that they are representative of a larger societal oppression of & prejudice toward Black Americans as a whole - one that white Americans perpetuate by refusing to acknowledge these truths, by continuing to see each incident, small or large, as individual & unrelated. 

Grand jury or not, there is no justice in systematic racism.

Treat Yo'Self: 10 Things I Bought for Myself This Holiday Season

Monday, December 28, 2015

Yeah, yeah, so the holidays are all about giving to others. I love that part, & I have a tendency to go all-out buying gifts for friends & family, but I also can't resist buying a few gifts for myself along the way!

This year, I got all my shopping-for-others done early - like, by Thanksgiving - which meant my wallet was full come December... which meant that I treated myself to a little bit more than I should have. Even though I just told you about all the ways I'm trying to save money in the new year, I first had to blow a bunch of it on gifts to myself before 2015 comes to a close. Oops.
  1. Black Vanilla and Cinnamon Tea

    I ordered this Trader Joe's tea off Amazon after reading about it on San's blog, & while I now know that I paid 300% markup, I personally feel that, at only $7.35 a box, it was a worthwhile caffeine investment.
  2. Eucalyptus Spa Candles

    Funny story: I attended my boyfriend's Friendsgiving party & was smitten with the scent of the candle his roommate lit in the bathroom. While intoxicated, I searched for it online, bought two, & was surprised when they arrived at my door a few days later because I'd completely forgotten about buying them. They smell incredible.

  3. Robyn Rhodes Agate Spear Cuff

    I'm still a big fan of jewelry subscription service Rocksbox, & every month, they send me jewelry that tempts my wallet in the worst & most beautiful ways. I couldn't resist this gold & agate bracelet, which I snapped up almost as soon as it arrived in my mailbox. If you want to try Rockbox, you can still use my code heyescapistxoxo for a free month!
  4. Oversized Flannel Scarf

    Old Navy had a sale of, like, 70% off, so I scored a great cream & black scarf for $7 just before Thanksgiving. It's hardly left my fashion (uh, "fashion") rotation since.
  5. Glossybox Subscription

    We all know I love subscription boxes, & after I canceled my favorite one, I wanted to find another to fill the void. Enter Glossybox, which I got way back when it began in 2012. My first two boxes of 2015 were a little feh, so I again canceled the subscription, but it was fun while it lasted. Lots of new hand cream, I guess?
  6. Soma System Foam Roller

    I have a perpetually bum back, so the idea of a foam roller has always appealed to me as a way to get some pain relief without having to pay big bucks for a chiropractor (who probably wouldn't see me, anyway). I look like a crazy human worm, flailing & squirming around atop this thing, but it makes me whole body crack, so... worth it.
  7. 52 Lists

    I'm a longtime fan of creative entrepreneur Moorea Seal, who once redesigned this very blog & who now owns a successful online store as well as an adorable brick & mortar shop in Seattle. This beautifully illustrated journal, one of her most popular items, includes weekly list prompts designed to "help nurture self-expression & self-development."
  8. INC Ponte Pants

    This was less of a treat & more of a necessity, considering that these, from Macy's, are my all-time favorite pants & that both of the pairs I own have developed holes in the, erm, crotchal region. Still, it's a treat to get new clothes, period, & I look forward to the arrival of two comfy new pairs of pants that won't risk showing off my ladybits.
  9. 14k Gold Nose Ring

    I took my hoop out for a work event in November & then promptly lost it. While looking through pictures as I prepare for my year-in-review blog post, I realized just how much I miss it! This week, I took to Etsy to order a new one, hopefully of higher quality than the last (which quickly turned to silver). Am I getting too old for a facial piercing? If so, don't tell me.
  10. Tickets to Matilda and If/Then

    Did you know that Cleveland has the second largest theater district in the country, behind only New York City? Playhouse Square offers $10 "Smart Seats" for most of its shows, so on Christmas Eve, I impulsively snagged tickets to these two big-name productions. I'm taking my boyfriend to one & my best friend to the other... & I'm on the lookout for one to take my mom to!
What did you snag for yourself this holiday season? What's on your personal wishlist to buy soon? 

Leg Lamps of Cleveland: A Photo Essay for Christmas

Friday, December 25, 2015

As an American Jew, I am well acquainted with the classic holiday film A Christmas Story, which plays all day long, on repeat, on Christmas Day. Let's just say I've seen it more than a few times.

Did you know that A Christmas Story was filmed right here in Cleveland? Even cooler, it was filmed in my neighborhood! When you drive into Tremont, there's a sign pointing you toward various parts of town - including the Christmas Story House, now a museum that offers tours, an annual 5k, & a gift shop full of "Major Award" leg lamps.

Despite the fact that the Christmas Story House is a mere .8 miles away from my own home, I am ashamed to say that I've not yet been. I meant to go this holiday season, I did! But as so often happens, life got away from me & I never made it over there.

Luckily, Cleveland's Christmas Story pride is strong, & the city - especially my neighborhood - is chock full of leg lamps come Christmastime. They're everywhere, you guys. Everywhere. They're in the windows of homes & bars & office buildings. They come in the form of nightlights & keychains & coffee mugs. They're on T-shirts & on bags (I want all of these) & even tattooed upon flesh

I, unsurprisingly, find this endlessly quirky & charming, & once I started to realize how many of them are on display across town, I started documenting them to share with the world. Here, I've gathered for you photos of every leg lamp I could photograph, though there are many, many more that I was unable to capture. There's a house near the highway that has three of them in the front windows - & these things sell for $170 a pop!

Merry Christmas, Cleveland. Don't stick your tongue to frozen flagpoles (though it wouldn't matter, in this weather) & please, please: Don't shoot your eye out.
This purdy leg lamp sits atop the bar at Ty Fun restaurant in Tremont.

This one's all lit up at Deagan's Kitchen in Lakewood.

Git yerself a tiny version of the Major Award at Banyan Tree in Tremont!

They're keeping the (leg) light on for you at The Treehouse in Tremont.

Leg lamps aren't just for bars! This one lights up a neighbor's window.

This leg lamp, in the window of a Tremont real estate business, can be seen only in daylight.

This one passed us on a float in the Light Up Lakewood parade earlier this month.

No room for a lamp? You can still show your love with a bottle opener.

My friend Lindsey sent me this pic of a glass leg lamp candle holder. Fancy!

These tiny leg lamp replicas line the bar inside Deagan's.

Banyan Tree sells tiny versions but keeps the big one on full display for Christmas ambiance.

A Great Lake sign & a leg lamp: What could be more Cleveland than these scene at Press Wine Bar?

This one's on display in the window of an old church converted into an office building in Tremont.

This one's in the window of the fanciest loft apartment in Tremont, of which I'm forever jealous.

Waiting for a cab outside my favorite coffee shop, Tremont's Civilization, & its leg lamp

(PS: This is just a Cleveland thing, right? Your city isn't full of leg lamps come Christmas...? OK, that's what I thought. Just checking.)

How I Accidentally Already Ruined Christmas

Thursday, December 24, 2015

I did something I never, ever do yesterday: I  clicked "decline" on an incoming phone call from my mom & texted, "Don't want to talk right now." Thankfully, she was understanding, as she always is, & I retreated back into a hole of sadness & moping.


Because I ruined Christmas, & Christmas hasn't even come yet.

Wait, let me back up. Mike left for D.C. yesterday with his parents & sister, where they're visiting aunts, uncles, & his grandmother. He'll of course be gone, then, on Christmas Day, so we decided we'd just do our own little version of Christmas upon his return - recreate the Christmas we would've spent together, really do it up.

He won't be back until late night, so we figured that would be our "Christmas Eve" - we'll open one gift apiece & we'll put together the gingerbread house from the kit my mom gifted us for Hanukkah (#interfaithlife); the next day was to be "Christmas Day," complete with wearing new flannel PJs & making brunch together & maybe going to the movies & just... doing everything we would do on Christmas, except a day later.

But yesterday, a couple of hours after Mike hit the road, I realized with a terrible start: I think we got the dates wrong. 

I thought he was coming home Saturday night & that we'd do a Saturday/Sunday Christmas. In actuality, it turns out, Mike gets home Sunday night & had been planning for a Sunday/Monday Christmas. But I don't have Monday off of work. We just got our wires completely crossed, & the result is that we have no time for our own Christmas.

This is such a thing that I would do.

And it means that when he gets home late on Sunday night, we have to squish everything into an hour or two - the gifts, at least, though we probably won't have time for the rest. Maybe we'll watch his favorite Christmas movie, Die Hard, on Netflix or something, but we certainly won't have time to see a movie in the theater. And why bother with a gingerbread house?

When I realized this, I basically lost my shit, to use official terminology.

I was furious with myself for getting this wrong, & I was devastated to realize we wouldn't get to have our first a Christmas together, even a fake one. I cried hard. I sent a bunch of mopey text messages. I took a nap & woke up groggy & angry. I returned our holiday pajamas to Target. I would've thrown away the gingerbread house kit, too, but I was too sad & lazy & tired to go down to the Dumpster by the time I remembered that I wanted to do it. And then I hunkered down in a book for hours, blocking out the world.

Today, I woke up less angry but still really, really disappointed. I'm still excited to give Mike the gifts I bought him, but this... doesn't count as a Christmas, not really. And look, I still feel fortunate & blessed & all of that, so don't give me grief about gratefulness; I know I have a great life & an incredible love & not a damn thing to complain about, & for all that, I am immensely thankful. But I still can't help but be really bummed about the sudden lack of celebration, especially after we'd gotten so excited about our plans together.

Perhaps this is a reminder that Jews shouldn't celebrate Christmas, or at least a lesson to me to start paying closer attention to our joint Google Calendar. In the meantime, merry Christmas. I'll be watching Top Chef reruns & reading every book & eating my body weight in cookies. Gotta celebrate somehow, right?

The Year I Started Reading: My 15 Favorite Books of 2015

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

I used to love to read. I was one of those kids who stayed up late, hidden under the covers with a flashlight in hand, reading until I couldn't keep my eyes open anymore.

A few of my fellow bloggers (lookin' at you, Nora & Stephany) read, like, 75 books a year. I am not that kind of reader, not anymore, because, as much as it embarrasses me to admit it, I am so tethered to social media that I often choose it over book-reading without even really meaning to. I just get sucked in, you know?

But this bothers me, so at the start of 2015, I committed to reading a memoir a month. I know that's, like, nothing by most standards, but for someone who was reading approximately no books a month, it was a start. I opted for memoirs because I love them & would like to write one, but eventually, I transitioned to other books, too, especially my other favorite genre: YA novels.

In all, I read 23 books this year, & I expect to finish another two by the end of 2015 because I'll have some free time on my hands. I'm proud of myself & hope to do even better in the year to come. For now, though, here's a quick look, in no particular order, of the best books I finished this year:
  1. Redefining Realness by Janet Mock

    Hands down the best book I read all year. Mock's memoir tells the story of her childhood in Honolulu, son of a broken family who grew up to be a beautiful, strong woman - a journalist, an activist, an overall role model. She is a powerful writer & a fascinating person, & I might've fan-girled out when she responded to me on Twitter
  2. Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

    I know Dunham is a controversial character. Folks either love her or hate her, & I, for one, fall into the former camp. Reading her first memoir - an amalgamation of personal essays about family, love, fame, & feminism - made me feel like I could write a book, too, in part because her voice just feels so familiar & cozy to me, like it's coming from myself. I eagerly await her next go-round at publishing.
  3. Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

    I loved, loved, loved this book, which I have described as "the book version of a soap opera." Is it particularly believable? No. Will it keep you guessing? Absolutely. I've been thinking about it ever since I finished it. Where can I find another book like this? Please tell me.
  4. Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

    After falling in love with the show, I was curious to read the real Piper's stories, & this book didn't disappoint. I'm not sure I would've liked it as much had I not already been a fan of the TV version, but I found this to be a really interesting & well-written take on a life far removed from mine (though I disliked the real-life Piper even more than the Netflix version).
  5. The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

    I reread this whole series before the final film came out, just because my memory is crap & I enjoyed the books the first time around & wanted a reminder of what to expect of the last movie. I had almost forgotten how much I loved the books, actually, & reading them a second time gave me deeper insight & a more nuanced look at the world of Panem.
  6. Beyond Belief by Jenna Miscavige Hill

    I've always been fascinated by Scientology, in a sort of "Isn't this so quirky & bizarre?!" kind of way - until I read this book. Miscavige Hill is the niece of the head of Scientology, the controversial & secretive David Miscavige. Reading the true stories & perspectives of someone who grew up in this cult-like church was, frankly, horrifying.
  7. Saving Ruth by Zoe Fishman

    This is a YA novel about a Jewish girl living in the Deep South, home from college after her freshman year & suffering from anorexia while trying to keep it a secret. When a young black girl nearly drowns on her watch at the local pool, it sets into motion an unavoidable series of conversations & events about race, family, & survival.
  8. Ghost Boy by Martin Pistorius

    I first heard of this fascinating & terrifying story on the podcast Invisibilia. After suffering a childhood illness, Pistorius went into a coma, & though he eventually emerged from it, he was presumed to be brain-dead - when, in fact, he was fully conscious & just trapped inside his body for more than a decade.
  9. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

    I heard mixed reviews of this book, but I liked it - didn't love it, but certainly found it to be compelling & unique. I wouldn't go so far as to make all the Gone Girl comparisons it's been getting, but it's a strange & suspenseful page-turner, to be sure.
  10. Paper Towns by John Green

    I read this book because I wanted to watch the movie; I'd never read a John Green book before. Though I enjoyed this one, I found it to be a tad bit too contrived, such that I was rolling my eyes a lot. Still, though I haven't seen the movie yet, the book was worth reading.
  11. Nevada by Imogen Binnie

    I read this one after a glowing recommendation from my friend Robyn, who swore up & down that it was the best thing ever. It's about a transgender girl from NYC who basically walks away from her life & ends up out west, trying to mentor a guy she believes to be trans. My friend was right: It was a great read, despite the high emo factor.
  12. Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland by Amanda Berry & Gina DeJesus

    I am perhaps weirdly obsessed with the Cleveland kidnappings, not least of all because I now live about a mile from where they took place. This memoir was a fascinating, horrifying insight into the lives of two of the three kidnapped girls & the monster who took them.
  13. Signs of Life by Natalie Taylor

    This is the memoir of a twentysomething woman who is suddenly widowed while pregnant with her first child, written from journals she kept during that terrible time. The reviews on Goodreads are terrible, calling her self-centered & worse, but I wholly disagree. I thought it was a powerful & honest look at a life nobody ever imagines themselves living, & Taylor handled it with grace.
  14. I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

    If I'm being honest, this book took me a long time to finish. I'm not much for international politics, & this was a pretty heavy read - to be expected of a girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban for supporting education for girls. I'm glad I got through it, though, as I think hers is an important story with an even more important mission, & I'll be paying closer attention to her from now on.
  15. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

    I thought this book was going to be way more depressing than it is. Just read the title! But the author is a compelling storyteller who writes in an impressively authentic-feeling teenage voice, reminding you what it was like to be young.
So tell me: What are you reading? What should I add to my list in 2016? And are we connected on Goodreads?

Please note that my book review posts include Amazon affiliate links to the titles I discuss. If you buy a book using one of these links, I will receive a small percentage of commission. Please don't feel any obligation to use these links, but please also don't judge me too harshly for including them. 

Emo Kids Forever

Friday, December 18, 2015

A friend send me the link to "This is What Early 2000s Emo Kids Look Like Today," & I obsessed over it for a little bit. The nostalgia was strong with this one. It's like Dashboard Confessional started playing a soundtrack to my college years as I read.

It took me back to the first day I decided I had a crush on Dave, who would become my boyfriend in the fall of my senior year of high school. He was in my Spanish class & one day wore a shirt to school that read, in big block letters, "EMO IS AWESOME" - but no one else knew was emo was yet, so Señora Olivera asked him to explain it to the class. When words failed, he brought a Jimmy Eat World album with him the next day for our whole class to listen to.

6 Things I'm Done Spending My Money On

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Look, I'll say it: I'm not great at financial stuff. I'm just... not. I don't know where to begin, I'm paying off a bunch of credit card debt, & I have a soft spot for shopping on bad days. I'm trying to get better about it because the idea of being a full-fledged adult with so ncushion is terrifying, but it continues to be a struggle for me.

In an effort to save some dollah bills in the year to come, here are a few items I've decided to stop paying for. Most of these were easy decisions, & I don't think I'll miss having these things in my life. In fact, writing them down like this, I'm excited to kick them to the curb & pocket the money I'd usually be spending on them to save for something else - like, you know, the future. Or a trip to Thailand.

I told you I'm not good at this, OK?
  1. Spotify Premium 

    I haaaate listening to music with commercials, so paying $10 a month for Spotify Premium seemed like an easy solution to avoiding one of my biggest pet peeves. But that was when I lived in D.C. & took public transportation everywhere - & it was also before I discovered podcasts. These days, I listen to the radio or The Shepod when I drive, & I find myself listening to Spotify very rarely. When I do, I can suck up the stray commercial or two if it means saving $120 a year.
  2. Weekday booze 

    This is a good one to cut down on both for my wallet and my waistline. Mike & I do all kinds of fun things around Cleveland, but going out often means going all out, ordering an appetizer & a craft beer along with our meals. I'm committing to not buying alcohol at restaurants anymore, & if I do, it will be just one (like when I'm at a happy hour or trivia night). I'm not sure how much this will save me, but surely it's a good call, right?
  3. Books 

    My librarian mom & bibliophile boyfriend are probably gasping in horror right now, but fret not, dear ones! I'm just not buying anymore books - because it is so easy to get them for free & on the cheap elsewhere. I've started taking advantage of Amazon's Kindle First program, which gives me one free new book a month, & I have four library cards, which makes it easy to check out tangible books & borrow Kindle books through OverDrive, which curbs my occasional late-night, "I want to read thus-&-such book right now" syndrome. Not sure how much it'll save me, but I have a feeling I'm about to do more reading! (That reminds me: Are we friends on GoodReads?)
  4. POPSUGAR MustHave Box 

    You already know about this because I wrote a no-holds-barred rant last month about my waning love for this company. December was my first month in two years without a MustHave Box, & while I thought I'd miss it, I really didn't - & I missed it even less when Stephanie sent me angry tweets & photos about how crappy this month's box was. A quick scroll through the company's social media accounts tells me we're not the only ones unhappy with their customer service, & while I miss the way the boxes used to be, I'm happy to have another $40 in my pocket each month.
  5. A top-tier health insurance plan 

    For the last whole-knows-how-many years, I've been paying for my organization's Tier III health insurance plan, which is the "best" & therefore the most expensive. The reason for this? I am a hypochondriac with significant back problems & some low-grade mental health needs. But also, I'm lazy, & figuring out the differences between everything seems time-consuming & difficult. I'd rather just pay more for the convenience of, well, the convenience. But this year, our insurance options changed, & the middle-tier option sounds just fine. I'm switching down & will save more than $200 a month!
  6. Feedly Pro 

    My reasons for cutting this service are similar to my reasons for cutting Spotify premium: I thought I'd "need" it more than I do. I let my account for Feedly Pro, an RSS reader, lapse this month, & though they're still running a holiday special that would allow me to renew for $45 instead of $65, I just don't find myself using the added features enough to justify the cost for another year. The free version is treating me just fine so far.
What about you? How do you save money & what else should I cut?!

My First Time Visiting the Factory of Sadness (a.k.a. Attending a Browns Game)

Monday, December 14, 2015

Cleveland sports fans are used to losses, but this year, the headlines are more depressing than ever. The Cleveland Plain Dealer has recently proclaimed, "Cleveland Browns are in a regression, leading to severe fan depression," and "Rock bottom? The Cleveland Browns should be so lucky with four games remaining."

Even Browns fans, it seems, are tired of the Browns.

But long, long ago, before our dear, terrible team had solidified themselves as being even more terrible than usual, I emailed a bunch of Mike's friends (I think I'm allowed to call them my friends now?) to ask if anyone would be interested in going to the Browns v. Ravens game the Monday after Thanksgiving. A Monday night game! The Browns versus the old Browns! Friends & tailgating!

And so six of us signed on to attend, paying $47 apiece for tickets that, the day of the game, were selling for about $12. Hindsight is painful.

I hadn't been to a Browns game since I was a little kid - back when my dad was still alive, I think, but maybe that was an Indians game & I'd never actually seen the Browns play? Beats me. What I'm  saying is that I was pretty excited, despite the Browns utter lack of respectability.

We met up beforehand at a hole-in-the-wall, cash-only bar that serves Genessee & claims to have the best corned beef sandwiches in town. Everyone but me was decked out in Browns gear; our friend Erin knitted her own scarf bearing the name of every Browns starting quarterback. We forgot to eat dinner & got a little tipsy, following the pack of rabid Browns fan on the walk across the bridge & into the stadium, where I immediately consumed a hot dog & purchased a Browns hat for a whopping $28 because I wanted to show my Cleveland pride.

This game was a disappointment of epic proportions, even for the Browns, who lost in the last few seconds. But because Cleveland is accustomed to loss, nobody even seemed to yell or moan in horror when it happened - we all just sort of, like, nodded & meandered away, sad & defeated. And then "Float On" by Modest Mouse rang out through the stadium,  song about being so close but still falling short.

In all, the game was depressing as hell - & I still had a great time. Would it be preferable to have a team who isn't a perpetual disappointment? Yeah, for sure. But Cleveland's got grit, & Cleveland's got the Browns, & win or lose, I was honored to wear the brown & orange & watch my first in-person Cleveland loss. It felt like a rite of passage.

And we'll all float on, OK? We'll all float on anyway.

A Lesson in Figuring Out Which Stories I'm Not Comfortable Sharing with the Internet

Friday, December 11, 2015

I made a mistake, & it's stressing me right the hell out.

As you may have seen, I've had a couple essays published as of late on some big-name sites, which is really exciting for me. I confess, however, that for the most part, I'm not going through the whole standard pitching process. I applied for & was accepted into a network of online contributors for a large publishing company.

Each day, they send writing prompts, & if any of them appeal to me, I write up a quick essay of 600-800 words & submit it via an online portal. If a magazine wants to run it, I get an alert saying it's been picked up... & then my name shows up in a byline on Country Living or Woman's Day or somewhere else excitingly recognizably. So far, I've had two pieces accepted & two pieces decline (though one of my declined pieces later ran on xoJane). The pay is low, but for someone with a full-time job who just writes on the side for enjoyment & exposure, it's a cool opportunity.

Yesterday, I responded to the prompt "I Have an Embarrassing Condition" by writing about a minor-but-embarrassing medical malady that I usually try to keep under wraps. It was an easy piece that took me all of 20 minutes to write, & it turned out pretty well - funny, relatable, exactly what a magazine essay ought to be. I quickly submitted it for consideration, knowing that it typically takes the network editors a couple days to consider submissions

A couple hours later, though, I started to regret it. Did I really want the Internet to know about my bodily issues? Sure, it was funny & relatable, but it was also embarrassingly personal, & while I feel completely comfortable writing about personal health topics like mental illness, this one just didn't sit as well with me. When I imagined everyone I know reading it, my horror led to the decision to retract the submission, which can be easily done with the press of a button, except...

When I returned to my computer, I found that it had already been picked up - by Cosmopolitan, no less.

At first, I was thrilled at the idea of a Cosmo byline... until I remembered that to tell anyone about it, they'd have to read the actual essay & know some very intimate things about my body. And then I started to panic - hard. I literally laid awake last night hyperventilating, chastising myself for selling out by writing very personal clickbait for $50. That's not what I do; that's not why I write.

And so I did the unthinkable: I emailed the editor & explained my impending humiliation, basically begging him to pull the piece. Though I felt like the world's least professional person, I finally slept easy knowing that I'd followed my intuition, even if that intuition came a bit too late.

I woke up to an email from the editor saying that my request was "highly unprofessional" but that he could kill the piece if I insisted upon it. Still, he encouraged me to allow it to run, saying it would help other women (though frankly, I doubt many readers head to Cosmo to learn about medical conditions...) I responded politely to say that I wanted to go ahead with the kill, & he in turn canceled its publication - though his follow-up email reminded me that this was a one-time courtesy that would not be repeated.

I suppose I would rather upset one editor this one time than have a humiliatingly personal essay live online forever, so I feel confident in my decision to pull the piece. Still, "highly unprofessional" is certainly one of those labels I try like hell to avoid, & the whole situation has left me feeling terrible. What if this editor won't work with me anymore? What if I am a shitty writer with bad judgment? What if I never get published anywhere ever again? I fought the urge to take a Xanax this morning & go back to bed, & it set the tone for a pretty crummy Friday.

Above all else, I'm disappointed in myself for getting so wrapped up in the excitement of a noteworthy byline that I allowed myself to write something I should've realized I wasn't comfortable sharing with the world. I've been blogging for a long time, & I know by now where my comfort level is - & it's certainly not at personal essays about my body. I actually like that essay - but it's not one I should've submitted for publication, at least not right now, & I should have known better.

I know, at least, that next time, I'll think twice - & then may three or four times - to be sure that I am completely OK with the implications & possible repercussions of sharing any particular story. Stressful though it was (is), this incident served me an important lesson about who I am, who I am not, & what I am comfortable sharing with the Internet. As it turns out, I am not a personal-humiliation-for-clickbait kind of person - & if I had to be a little bit unprofessional this one time in order to figure it out, I'm probably OK with that.

What I'm Eating in Cleveland: A Guide to My Favorites Right Now

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Finally, the world is paying some positive attention to Cleveland! This summer, it made it into national rankings as one of the best cities in the country for food, & the LA Times even saw fit to name it a "hot new dining city." Cleveland may be an unassuming Rustbelt city with an abysmal football record, but it is indeed also bursting at the seams with incredible restaurants & local brands that make it a delicious joy for locals & the occasional tourist like (yeah, we do get them sometimes - see you soon, RNC!)

This list isn't exactly the crème de la crème of fancy local hotspots, but it's my top-rated list, at least for right now. These are the CLE meals & snacks that I keep going back for.

* * *
  1. BBQ Beef Jerky
    Sebastian's Meats, West Side Market (Ohio City)
    There's a sign at another kiosk at the West Side Market that advertises the fact that Michael Symon once called their jerky "the best thing I ever ate" on the TV show of the same name; they even have a video clip playing at the counter. I'm curious, but their jerky just looks too, well... meaty for me. Instead, I like to give my hard-earned dollars to Sebastian's, whose long, thin strips of jerky are everything I believe jerky ought to be: flat, smooth, tender, juicy, & impossible to stop eating. 
  2. The Curd Ferguson
    Barrio (Tremont, Lakewood, & Downtown)
    If I ordered this taco any more often, the folks at Barrio might start to know me by name. I'm a sucker for anything made with Thai chili sauce, & this vegetarian taco concoction is one of the most innovative uses of it I've yet tried: both a soft flour tortilla & hard corn shell, filled with Thai chili tofu, slaw, queso fresco, pineapple salsa, & salsa roja. It's only $4, & unfortunately, the Tremont location is all of two blocks from my apartment, so... 
  3. Sea Salt Bagels
    CLE Bagel Co. (no location)
    It's probably a good thing these bagels are so damn difficult to track down because if I had easy access to them, I'd surely be eating at least one a day. As it stands, I've only eaten them at the Cleveland Flea, but now that winter has arrived, I've got to find my fix someplace else (though maybe it's better if I don't). CLE Bagel Co. also makes incredible flavors of schmear (that's cream cheese, for all you unfamiliar with Yiddish!). Brie, honey, & toasted walnut, anyone?
  4. Wake-Up Call Empanadas
    Prosperity Social Club (Tremont)
    This wonderful, not-nearly-as-fancy-as-it-sounds bar is just steps away from my apartment, which means I'm forever trying to convince folks that we should meet there for happy hour or weekend drinks or, my favorite, brunch. I suppose I wouldn't expect such a pierogi-heavy spot to also excel at empanadas, but theirs are the best damn breakfast food in town - stuffed with andouille sausage, pepper medley, onions, cheddar and egg, topped with jalapeño-smoked cheddar sauce and tequila-lime salsa. Is it Sunday yet?!
  5. The Local and Fresh Plate
    Great Lakes Brewing Co. (Ohio City)
    Who says a meat & cheese tray isn't a complete meal? We're adults, man. GLBC's is the ultimate charcuterie plate, loaded with locally sourced meat, cheese, & produce (gimme all yer pickled onions!), plus seasonal jams & bread from a nearby bakery. The first time I had it was on a sunny summer day, & it was perfectly light fare for patio-sitting; last time I had it was indoors on a cold, rainy night, & it somehow seemed perfectly cozy. Basically: You cannot go wrong with meats & cheeses, ever.
  6. Sassy Pineapple Salsa
    Blaze Gourmet (no location)
    The bad news is that this salsa is maybe making me sick because  think I have some sort of intolerance to raw tomatoes? But the good news is that if raw tomatoes are OK by your digestive system, this salsa is basically the most delicious salsa to ever exist. It's sold at a few local grocery stores & at farmers' markets, where Cowboy George, the salsa-maker extraordinaire himself, will chat you up about where you're from & what kind of salsa you're looking for.
  7. Butternut Squash and Sage Ravioli
    Ohio City Pasta, West Side Market (Ohio City)
    You think you've had pasta. I thought I'd had pasta. I mean, I've eaten a lot of pasta in my life... & then I had Ohio City Pasta. Homemade & fresh in a bazillion different flavor combinations, their pasta is restaurant-level delicious... made in my own kitchen on a whim for lunch. Mike & I have been eating this particular variety with pesto, walnuts, & parmesan cheese. I never want to be without a package of Ohio City Pasta in my freezer to make sure that even my "there's no food in the house" meals taste gourmet. 
 * * * 

If you're a Clevelander, tell me: What should I be sure to try next?

I'm Published in Woman's Day Magazine!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Ornament from Fusioned Family on Etsy

When I was 11, my dream job was to write for Woman's Day magazine. Maybe that's a strange career aspiration for a tween, but I've long loved print magazines - the way they feel in my hands, the way they help me escape from reality, the ideas they give me & the products they introduce... hey, that's probably why I majored in magazine journalism in college.

I'm probably past the days of believing that I'll ever work for a magazine, particularly as I no longer have any desire to live in new York City, where most of them are headquartered. One big difference between age 11 & age 31? Somewhere along the way, someone invented the Internet, which means I can submit my writing for publication from all the way over here in Cleveland. Sure, it may not end up in the glossy, shiny print edition - but seeing my own name in a byline still gives me (& 11-year-old me) a pretty big rush.

All this to say that on Friday afternoon, I was published on Woman's Day's website, writing about my longstanding love of Christmas & my first interfaith holiday celebration with my lapsed-Catholic boyfriend. I hope you'll check it out!

* * * 

PS: While we're on the topic of December holidays, I was also published today on the United Church of Christ's New Sacred Blog, talking about the times when "Merry Christmas" does & doesn't offend me. Thanks to their editor, my friend Marchae, for helping me work a Facebook rant into a coherent personal essay!

On #GivingTuesday, Find Your Cause & Go Change the World

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Today is #GivingTuesday, a global day of giving back. The day began in 2011 at New York City's 92nd Street Y & has since taken hold in the nonprofit world as a day to remind Americans to take a step back from rampant consumerism & instead, well, give back.

Because I work for a nonprofit, I've been mired in #GivingTuesday planning for a couple weeks now - but just yesterday, talking to friends who work in the corporate world, I learned that plenty of folks don't even know this day exists. I think it's catching on (it's all over social media today), but in case #GivingTuesday is new to you, I wanted to do my small part - give back, if you will - to bring attention to this day.

I also want to share with you a few of my favorite nonprofits, the places I'm most likely to donate my hard-earned pennies. I do my best to be charitable, but I could certainly be better about it - which is, in fact, one of my 2016 goals... starting today! My list could use a refresher, as these orgs mostly represent my old standbys. I'm curious: Which charities top your list?

The American Cancer Society 

After my dad died of lung cancer when I was 10, I wrote letters to all my friends & family asking them to donate to the American Cancer Society in his memory - to help ensure a future where other kids wouldn't have to lose their parents to cancer. Watching those checks roll in was the first time I understood the power of fundraising & of committing to a cause. Today, I continue to donate to the ACS & their work to fund cancer research, provide support to cancer patients, educate & inform the general public, & eradicate cancer once & for all. www.cancer.org/give  

Planned Parenthood

I've been a fan of Planned Parenthood for as long as I can remember, & in times of less-than-stellar health care coverage, I've relied on their services for my own basic reproductive health. I'm appalled by the recent spate of vitriol against Planned Parenthood, a vital organization committed to keeping women (& men!) healthy, educated, & informed - & yes, that includes performing abortions, a procedure that is both legal & moral. In light of the recent shooting in Colorado, I want to support PP more than ever. www.plannedparenthood.org/donate

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism  

I used to work here, & despite their evangelical-sounding name, the RAC does great work lobbying on Capitol Hill on behalf of the liberal Jewish community. They also bring hundreds of Jewish teens to Washington, D.C., each year to teach them about critical social justice issues & how to raise their voices in the halls of government. www.rac.org/donate


Run by my friend Tahir, ReThink aims to stop sexual assault before with starts. They're putting  organizers on the ground to spread the message of healthy masculinity, consent, & empathy to adolescent boys, aiming to raise a generation of boys who are partners & leaders in the fight against sexual violence. They're the only organization taking a face-to-face, mass-based approach to changing rape culture, doing real work to make the "1 in 5" rape statistic a thing of the past. www.we-rethink.org/giving-tuesday

The St. Baldrick's  Foundation

In the U.S., more kids die of cancer than of any other disease - but less than 4% of the National Cancer Institute's budget goes toward research related to childhood cancers. St. Baldrick's works with leading pediatric oncologists to prioritize research & funding to save kids' lives. They fund more grants than any organization aside from the U.S. government! www.stbaldricks.org/donate

charity: water

More than 660 million people worldwide live without access to clean water, & diseases found in dirty drinking water kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. charity: water is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing clean, safe drinking water to people in developing nations by funding freshwater wells, rainwater catchments, & sand filters more. With every water point they fund, they coordinate sanitation & hygiene training & establish a local Water Committee to help keep water flowing for years to come. www.charitywater.org/donate

To Write Love On Her Arms

TWLOHA is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope & finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, & suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire, & invest directly in treatment & recovery. In the lead-up to my 30th birthday, I told a very scary, vulnerable story about my own experiences with depression & suicide; then, in celebration of my own survival, it was my honor to raise $1,500, with your help, to donate to this organization - & now I donate to them at least once a year. www.twloha.com/donate

But #GivingTuesday is about more than just money. It's also about giving time, resources, & helping raise awareness. Whether you volunteer with a local soup kitchen, serve as a big brother or big sister to a local child, write to Congress about issues that matter to you, donate your old clothing to a shelter, or hand a warm sandwich to the homeless guy on the street outside your office building, you're giving back - & while #GivingTuesday is only one day a year, I hope it serves as a reminder to give all year round, however & whenever you can.

So tell me: How are you giving back on #GivingTuesday?

Happy Ohio-versary to Me!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Today marks exactly 365 days since I loaded up a UHaul with a studio apartment's worth of belongings & headed back to the Buckeye State for good.

I always suspected I might end up back here, but at some point, in my seven years away, I began to wonder if it would ever really happen. When I visited home last October, I just felt it in my bones - that the time had come. I put in my 30 days' notice as soon as I got back, & in just over a month, I was living with my mom again.

I wasn't always sure it was the right decision. In the beginning, my mom & I did our fair share of arguing, & I couldn't help but second-guess my choice to move home. I knew it was a short-term stay, but it was tough to lose my space & my sense of independence after so many years of living alone. (I just wrote about this for xoJane, if you're interested.)

On top of all of that, I briefly questioned where I even liked Cleveland at all. What if I'd moved back for a city I hated?!

But from that very first day, 365 ago, I knew that coming back to Ohio itself was the right move. I missed my friends back on the East Coast, sure; I miss D.C. as a city, yes. But I don't miss living there. I don't miss the astronomical rent or the tiny apartment or the high cost of living or the unreliable buses or the sweltering summers. I loved living there, but I am a Midwesterner at heart.

As it turns out, this last year in Ohio has been one of the best of my life.

I grew closer to my mom. I got some quiet time in the suburbs. I reconnected with old friends. I started to get my finances in order. I met the love of my life (yep, I said it). I moved into an incredible apartment in Cleveland. I adopted the cutest cat in the world. I solidified my love for this city. I got a handle on my anxiety & became uncharacteristically zen & found more happiness than I have seen in a long, long time.

I loved being an East Coast girl, & I feel fortunate to have spent seven years growing, learning, experiencing all that D.C. & New Hampshire & New Jersey had to offer me. I wouldn't trade that time away for anything.

But my heart has always been in Ohio - & it's so damn good to be home.

When Your Favorite Company Falls Out of Your Favor, Or Why I'm Done with the POPSUGAR MustHave Box

Saturday, November 21, 2015

I've been singing the gospel of the POPSUGAR MustHave Box since 2012, when I discovered it on my friend Suki's blog & decided that it was, well, a must-have. Every month, they send me a box of goodies, from snacks to home decor to fashion to entertainment. I look forward to my monthly box of surprises, an ongoing treat to myself.

In fact, when I moved over the summer, I realized just how many of the items I own came from  MustHave boxes: my Spongelle loofah with the built-in soap, the Judy Blume book I was reading, my favorite coffee mug, my everyday wallet, my Too Faced eyebrow kit, a decent percentage of my scarf & stationery collections... POPSUGAR has turned me on to all kinds of products & brands that I've grown to love, & because of that, I've long been brand-loyal to the box itself.

It's been a fun ride, but I think that love & loyalty has come to an end.

As much as I hate to admit it, the company has been falling out of my good graces for awhile now. Though I still enjoy receiving a monthly box of surprises, I've started to dislike the actual company so much that it doesn't feel worth it anymore. Why?
  • Customer service: Their customer service - only available online - is notoriously slow & frustratingly robotic, the kind of responses that give you the impression that nobody is taking the time to read the words you send them. I've repeatedly had to resend my requests to note that they haven't actually answered my questions. To top it off, they are frequently short, snippy, & bordering on snarky. Not appreciated.
  • Spoilers: They recently started posting spoilers for upcoming boxes on social media - like, multiple spoilers. If you like them on Facebook or Instagram, there's no way to avoid these posts - & even after I unfollowed them, I'd get spoilers in the ads they targeted at me on both platforms! I don't want your effing spoilers. I order a box of surprises for a reason - to be surprised. They could easily make the spoilers opt-in click-throughs, yet they choose to ruin the experience for a large swath of their customers just for the sake of, I assume, good-looking online engagement numbers.
  • Content: Their products used to be the best, all kinds of stuff I'd never find on my own. But lately I feel like they just grab whatever overflow junk they can find & try to pass it off as worthwhile. Example? This month's box included a goddamn bingo set 
  • Price: When I first became a subscriber, this box cost $35 flat. My last box, after shipping & whatever else they've added on, was $43.1. To ship me, in part, a goddamn bingo set.
  • Issue resolution: Countless comments on social media show that items in other boxes have arrived damaged or haven't arrived at all, & the company responds online to encourage customers to contact them by email. That didn't prove helpful to me when, a few months ago, my box was missing one of the main items, a voucher for three months of a free online yoga program. When I contacted the company, they eventually apologized & told me they'd put a replacement in the mail. It never arrived.
And finally, my biggest issue: POPSUGAR MustHave recently changed their referrals program to that, in my view, borders on being hostile to their longtime loyal customers. Upon their site relaunch, they reset all past referrals to zero, nullifying my ongoing efforts to achieve the holy grail of referrals: a few months of free boxes. I was just a couple referrals away &, but now, all my existing referrals have been nullified - they don't count for anything, I get nothing for them, & it's like they never happened at all. What a nice thank-you for telling all my friends!

Their new referral program is whatever - one free box after three referrals (starting from zero, of course), followed by $10 off per next box for every referral thereafter. Yeah, not quite as compelling as multiple free boxes, but I would've been fine with it had they not made all my past referrals disappear.

Today, I cancelled my subscription & sent POPSUGAR an email telling them I'm done with them. I love the boxes themselves, & I know I'll miss receiving them, so maybe I'll be back eventually. For now, though, I need to acknowledge my ongoing frustration with this company & stop giving them my money, my loyalty, & my referrals.

That means I'm on the lookout for a fun new subscription box, preferably one managed by a company that gives a damn about its customers. Any recommendations?

Secret Service Escorted Me to the Bathroom & Then I Took a Selfie with the Veep

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Titles are supposed to be a teaser of the content within, & I know, the title of this post really gives it all away. But come on, did it not catch your attention? Did you not read it & think, "God, Kate has all the weirdest stories"?

That's what I thought.

Let me back up. I have basically been too busy to breathe lately, & when I'm not busy, I'm relaxing as much as humanly possible, because I seem to be very all-or-nothing these days. I worked 18-hour days at my organization's major biennial convention (this was my fifth one with them!), & when I got home, I slept for 18 hours. That basically sums it all up.

But while in Orlando for that very-busy convention, I still had the opportunity to squeeze in a couple little adventures.

My job at this event, as is my job in everyday life, was to maintain our organizational social media presence - tweeting, posting to Facebook, blogging, etc. On-site social media is a lot of fun to do, & I love the fast pace of it. I confess that I also love sitting backstage at our big plenary sessions, watching what goes on behind the scenes & seeing all the VIPs walk by, practicing their speeches.

One of our plenary speakers with New York Times columnist Nick Kristof, an incredible advocate for global human rights, including women's rights & health issues. Winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, he's renowned for writing that gets people to pay attention to & take action on global crises. 

I bought Kristof's book after the session & stood at the end of the autograph line. With no one behind me, I shamelessly asked him for a quick selfie. He was kind enough to oblige, & it was only mildly awkward.

I figured he'd be my only brush with celebrity during the week, as I rarely get to meet them while sitting backstage in the dark - but just being there, live-tweeting, is enough of a rush.

Our final speaker was a heavyweight keynote - Vice President Joe Biden! Late Sn Saturday night, I settled in for the long haul backstage with a trenta latte & a bottle of water.

But there was a problem. I have a pea-sized bladder, & I soon discovered that my reliable backstage bathroom was closed - because, you know, the veep rolls deep with a squad of Secret Service folks. Long before Biden's address even began, I found myself nearing uncomfortable liquid levels.

I contemplated my options: Run to the far-away hallway bathrooms, missing live-tweeting opportunities? Or... ask the nearby Secret Service dudes for help? I chose the latter, timidly approaching the three burly, suited men who guarded the room where the VP awaited his stage debut. 

"Hi, uhhhh," I started brilliantly. "I really have to use the bathroom, but just realized I can't get to the one backstage..." Nothing like rambling to make your point.

They looked at one another as if to say "NOT IT" until one guy somewhat begrudgingly asked the other, "Want me to take her?" And off I went with my very own Secret Service bathroom escort, through the heavily guarded back doors & into the behind-backstage area, which is a weird kitchen hallway...

...filled with massive, shiny, black presidential vehicles being hand-polished by more men in suits. Indoors. It was like some scene out of a movie.

I tried not to make eye contact with anyone, lest I get kicked out before I could empty myself out (sorry). My Secret Service pal made awkward small talk, finally posting up outside the bathroom door while I willed myself to be the world's fastest pee-er. I was so fast, in fact, that when I exited, he asked, "Did you even have time to wash your hands?!" (I did, I swear.)

The vice president's address began as soon as I got back to my seat - whew it! I settled in & took to social media to live-tweet his speech & interact with audience members who were doing the same.

As Biden spoke, my boss approached me in the dark. "Would you like to meet the vice president?" he whispered. I wanted to keep my cool & be a professional, but instead I just smiled like a dope & uttered, "Yes!"

When the VP exited the stage, he & his entourage made their way toward the backstage doors - but not before my boss diverted him toward where I stood with a few coworkers, watching expectantly. "Is this your staff?" Biden asked, walking toward us. He started with others, asking their names & hometowns, bantering about sports & kissing one of my coworkers on the head. He was in a hurry by the time he got to me, shaking my hand & starting to move along, when I basically sort of blacked out & acted on an idea.

"Mr. Vice President," I piped up, his staff & my coworkers all turning toward me in surprise, "I run our social media feeds. I wondered if I might get a selfie with you for the big screens?" 

That's when Joe Biden, vice president of the United States of America, gave me a good-natured laugh & flung his arm around me, smiling for a series of three dark, grainy selfies as a dozen expectant staffers looked on. And then he gave the rest of us a wave & swept away, headed off to be... you know, the vice president of the United States of America. 

And that, my friends, is the story of the time the Secret Service escorted me to the bathroom & then I took a selfie with the veep. Did the title blow the story? I hope not. Because it's one of my new favorites.

A Byline Worth Humblebragging About

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

As always, I have plenty of things to say, but for once, I am too tired to put together any words. My big work conference ended on Sunday, & I slept for 18 hours when I got home - & counting! I'll be back soon with a pretty cool update (you might've already seen it on social media, but I want to write about it, too), but in the meantime, I wanted to share another cool little update.

If you're one of the folks who's been following along with this blog since way back when: A) thank you, & B) you might remember my semi-regular posts about "grandmaisms," documentation of some of the many ridiculous things my beloved grandmother said during our times together. When my grandma died in 2012, a few readers told me that they grieved for her because they felt like they'd come to know her through my blog posts.

Today, I'm honoring my grandma's memory & part of the legacy of gratitude that she passed down to me in an essay for Country Living magazine titled "Why I'll Never Let Emails and Texts Replace Thank You Notes."

I'd love for you to check it out - &, as always, thank you for your support & love & readership. (If you want that handwritten, I'm happy to oblige!)

Curmudgeons & Pigeons: My Friend is Making a 3D Animated Short Film!

Monday, November 2, 2015

I met Dmitry in 2011, when we were on the same trip to Israel through URJ Kesher & Birthright Israel, which organizes free trips for Jewish young adults. Honestly, it was not a trip I really wanted to go on - but it was free, & a friend was coming with me, & I had never been abroad before, so I agreed.

I was fortunate to find myself among a group of about 40 other Jewish young adults from all backgrounds - people I'm still in touch with, people who changed me, people who influenced my perspectives on life. One of them was Dmitry, a friendly, outgoing Russian-American film student with the kind of unexpected wisdom that sticks with you. On a hotel roof on our last night in Tel Aviv, Dmitry gave me a hug & whispered to me some quiet insight about loving myself & not letting myself be my own worst enemy; I haven't forgotten it.

The trip changed all of us in so many ways. For Dmitry, it was the inspiration behind Curpigeon, a 3D animated short film. Though I've never done an interview-style post on this blog before, I thought it would be a fun way to share a little bit about his project, which is running a support campaign, & for you to learn a little bit more about what goes into the making of the kind of quirky, adorable 3D shorts we all love. Bonus? This one has a socially conscious message designed to help kids cope with life's tough moments.

I present you: An interview with Dmitry Milkin, director of the upcoming Curpigeon!

Let's start with the basics: Tell us a little more about Curpigeon.
Curpigeon is a 3D animated short with some really unique and lovable characters. The story centers around a community of park pigeons & their old men pals, who help one of their own get through a great loss. It's really a film about community support. More specifically, it focuses on a window of grief that is one of the hardest to deal with - when everyone has moved on but you.

The goal is to really show kids a way to deal with a loss without falling into resentment or isolation, & instead reaching out to their community for help. I worked very hard to make sure that it is as hilarious as it is sweet & sincere. The short is packed with goofs & gags that will register with every age viewer - & really, that is the only way the message of the film will connect to the audience. I call it "hiding the peas in the mashed potatoes."

What inspired you to do a film about old men & pigeons, of all topics?
It's one of those relationships everyone is already familiar with. Everyone has seen old men feeding pigeons in the park. The image is iconic - not Superman-iconic, but iconic in a more intimate way.

For me this story was always a socially conscious mission. I'm horrified at how often & how randomly we've seen mass violence in the last few years. I can't get used to it, & no one should be used to it - doesn't matter what your politics are. After the shootings at Sandy Hook, I felt like it was impossible to shelter children from all of this, so I wanted to tell a children's story about dealing with death. It's a difficult task to even comprehend how to do, & I wanted to do it in a way that is much more natural & sentimental.

My girlfriend is a PhD candidate in clinical psychology, which came in very handy. I consulted with her & some of her colleagues & professors to make sure I was handling this subject matter responsibly & accurately. Each of the old men were designed to remind anyone of their grandpa. I think I spent way too much time coming up with different backstories & individual characteristics for these guys, who we never hear talk - but those are also the things that make them come to life. 

Curpigeon is basically the cutest name ever. How did you come up with that?
The title is a play on my favorite word, "curmudgeon," which means a cranky old man. I was so proud of myself when I came up with it. I mean, I'm doing a story about a cranky pigeon & old men, and it fit so perfectly! I patted myself on the back for that one - as my girlfriend rolled her eyes. I just like puns. It's a writer thing.

How did your - our! - trip to Israel impact your decision to make this film?
Oh, man, so much! I don't even know where to begin. Everyone loves their Birthright trip, so it may be a cliche to gush about mine (& clearly you're a bit biased, too, since you were on it) but ours may have been the best Kesher group of all time. Greg, one of our two group leaders, never led a group again because he felt nothing could top it!

Now, four years later, you're interviewing me, & another friend from the trip, Josh, brought it to his boss at Segars Media, which is now sponsoring the film. The sheer amount of support that I still receive from our 40-strong group is just incredible - so it's no wonder I came back from the trip & wrote a story about community support. That Israel trip made me feel connected to something bigger than myself, while instilling in me a deep sense of confidence & self-worth. That's really a priceless gift. I guess this film is my attempt at saying thank you.

What goes into the making of a 3D animated short film? What's the work process, how many people does it take, etc.? Walk us through it.
It takes not knowing what you are getting yourself into, even though everyone warned me that making a 3D animated short with 12 characters near 10 minutes long was an almost impossible task as an independent filmmaker. My background was in screenwriting, so I really had no idea what technical challenges I would face.

Now, I have so much respect for all the technical artists who are the behind-the-scenes wizards in all those large magnanimous feature fi;ms. It takes an army, & I encourage everyone to really watch the end credits to some of your favorite animated films from Dreamworks & such, just to really see how many people something like this takes. Last I counted, the Curpigeon team was 150+ strong - just the team of animators was 40 people over the course of a year and a half.

The support for this film has been really amazing from the start, & I think that's because people truly connect to the film's message. If I were to really explain everything that goes into the process, I would ramble on forever, but the main thing that has been essential is knowing why you're doing it, & holding on to that when big challenges get in the way. Putting four years of your life into a 10-minute experience is difficult to do. You need to know why it's worth it -& then never stop.

What's the next step for Curpigeon?
Festivals! Right now, we're raising money through our Rocket Hub Campaign, so we can do a final polish on the film & send Curpigeon to film/animation festivals around the world (including Israel). That way we can reach a global audience and promote Curpigeon as a brand of socially conscious storytelling. Then, who knows? Maybe Curpigeon the feature!

I'm Afraid to Grow Old, But 'm More Afraid to Die Young

Friday, October 30, 2015

A girl I graduated from high school with died yesterday.

I didn't know her at all, not really even a little bit. We were in homerooms together, & our lockers were next to one another because my last name starts with Bi & hers started with Ba, but that was about it. I don't think we ever even exchanged a single word, & I'm willing to bet that she probably never knew my name. She looked similar enough after all these years, though, that I recognized her the couple of times I saw her around town, including once this summer.

I didn't know her, so it's not fair to say that I'm grieving or mourning or experiencing any sort of pain related to my personal relationship with her, or anything like that. But still, I can't stop thinking about her.

We weren't even Facebook friends, so I don't know how she died, aside from what I've heard from mutual friends, but someone told me they think it might've been an aneurysm or something. It seems like it was sudden, the scary kind, the kind nobody sees coming.

And all I can think about is how afraid I am, sometimes, to grow old - but how much more afraid I am, I think, to consider that literally any day could be the last, for me & for anyone else I know.

There are so many days - more than I care to admit - when I panic about aging. I'm only 31, but I added the "only" on quite recently, to try to make myself feel better about the numbers. I remember when 31 sounded terribly old, when I'd read letters in Glamour magazine written by 31-year-olds - or, hell, from 25-year-olds - & think, "Hey, lady, shouldn't you be reading Redbook or something?"

Getting old seemed scary & sad & more than a little bit pathetic, which is the sort of privileged view of a youthful mind that believes age will never come to her.

In fact, I used to loathe the idea of aging so much that there was a time when I prayed to a God I didn't believe in that I would die before age 30. I didn't want to be old, didn't believe old age held anything worth sticking around to see. I literally prayed at night to be dead by 30.

But the older I got, the less old I felt. Today, truly, I'm enjoying my thirties - but when I think back on all the years that came before, they feel like so long ago, like someone else's life. The people I grew up with are parents now, homeowners now, successful business people now, milestones I've not yet reached & maybe don't even want to, but ones that make me take a good look around & realize all over again: We are adults now.

When did this happen? How did we get here? We knew better, perhaps, but we still believed it would never happen to us. We wouldn't be old.

I never wanted to have to grow up,but here I am, 31, too panicky to sleep at night because all I want to do is stay alive. But then, I think, still: What about getting old? Like, really old? Do I want that?

I think about my grandmother, who was the best kind of old. She was vivacious & active & traveled to Japan alone & then one day had a pain in her elbow that turned out to be a vicious, fast-spreading cancer. I made the 16-hour drive from New Hampshire to Ohio to visit her for what I knew would be our last time together, & despite her obviously deteriorating health, she was in so many ways the grandma I'd always known: talking about getting out, talking about buying an apartment, talking about what came next.

And then we went for a walk down the hallway of her care facility, & she started coughing & couldn't stop. As my then-boyfriend ran to get help, my grandmother looked up at me, angry & frustrated & weakened by illness, & said, "Look at me. Katy, I've become an old woman."

My heart has never broken the way it did at that moment, & it's a sentence that has long haunted me. For me, it was a reinforcement of what I'd always believed: that getting old is scary & awful.

My grandma would be horrified to hear that, though, because she wasn't the kind of person who believed in fear. She never cried. She didn't sit around freaking out, & she chastised me when I did. She did not have an ounce of anxiety, like I do. She just lived her damn life - painting, traveling, volunteering. And when she got old enough that most of her friends had died, she just made younger ones so that she could keep on living at the same level & speed she always had.

Even though I'm afraid of growing old, I want to live like my grandma lived - to be 82 years old & surrounded by my family, by love, by the knowledge that I have done as much as possible. 

But then, some girl from homeroom dies at 31 of a maybe-aneurysm & all I can think is, "There is no guarantee."

Old age may sound scary, but I think dying young is even scarier. There is no guarantee that you'll get to live out a full life & die at 82. There is no guarantee, even at 31, against aneurysms or cancer that starts as tennis elbow or being hit by a car or being one of those people whose freak death makes headlines for its sheer absurdity, despite the tragedy beneath it.

I have always been afraid of death, which is probably why I prayed to be dead by 30. It's why, prior to my current relationship, I've been an historically terrible girlfriend, disinclined to commit - because I don't want to be left behind, like my mom was, or to leave anyone behind, like my dad did. I know how death fucks up everyone in its wake, & I neither want to cause that pain nor suffer it. Both sides of death are terrible, aren't they?

But the only other option is to live - to just wake up every day & put on your pants & your game face & to do whatever you've been doing & hope you're doing a good enough job of it. You have to try to do it in such a way that if you die tomorrow, no one will feel regrets on your behalf, but that, if you live until you're 90, you won't look back on your many years with your own regrets.

You have to just do it & try not to think about whether you're next & what people will say at your funeral & how your death would affect the people who know you, even some random girl from high school whose name you never knew - all of which are the kind of macabre things that run through the mind of a person who is terrified of death.

You have to whisper the girl from homeroom's name under your breath & hope that she lived a life she loved.

And then you have to go do the same.
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