Friday, February 29, 2008

This lion is ready to roar.

Tomorrow is March which means I have been back in the States for nearly two and a half months. And all this time I have been saying how I need to adjust and settle into my new life, which now realizing the time frame seems ridiculous. I settled into my European lifestyle in a few weeks. Here, it's taking me months.

Let it be official: I am done settling. Sure, my new apartment has no pictures hanging on the wall yet and sure, I still have virtually no money in my bank account (ah, the joys of freelancing and getting a paycheck 30-60 days after the actual day of work). But come on, it's done. I'm settled. I'm bored.

So I have decided March--for me at least--will be 31 days of excellence. I am ready to start living the life that I said I was going to when I was in Europe. That means actually writing and working on my book, taking care of my body and well-being, and making time in my life to discover new things and connect with others. How hard can it be? I have no idea. But all I know is that since I have been back, I have not been writing, I have not been taking care of myself and I have been making more time with my television set and surfing online than with the inspiring world around me.

So "March Madness" will be all about discipline. Setting good habits for myself to take me through April and beyond.

It will include:
1. Writing three times a week. I have already jotted down those writing appointments in my calendar.
2. Exercising regularly, eating well and getting enough sleep--to ensure I am at peak mental and physical capabilities to do my work (and hopefully look skinny and hot while I am doing it)
3. Taking time each week to do something that inspires me--whether it's spending time with friends or seeing a art film or going to a museum. Life has to be more than catching up on Real World/Road Rules Challenge. (Can't it be both?)

You may wonder why this is only limited to one month. It's not. It's just all that I can stomach right now. If I can't do this for 31 days then that's lame. And I hope that in the end of the month, all of this will be ingrained in my routine that stopping would not look like a welcoming option.

I'm ready to be awesome. Wish me luck.

p.s. Happy Birthday to Kent--my brother-in-law who is a leap year baby. I think today he is officially 10.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Quote of the day.

My friend Megan sent me this quote, and it made me feel nice.

"Inspiration does not come like a bolt, nor is it kinetic, energetic striving, but it comes into us slowly and quietly and all the time, though we must regularly and every day give it a little chance to start flowing, prime it with a little solitude and idleness. I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten—happy, absorbed, and quietly putting one bead on after another."
-Brenda Ueland

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The day the music came back.

Somebody got a package!

Dan says that no one reads my blog anymore because I don't post pictures. I think that is just his excuse on why he's not keeping up.

I took some pictures today of Dan getting his new record player in the mail. If you haven't heard it from him already, his old player broke and it has been very quiet in the apartment in the last month besides Dan giving me very detailed daily analysis of every single record player available on eBay. I am very thankful that he finally picked one--not that I missed hearing records terribly--but to stop the analysis. He ended up buying a refurbished model from this record-player-making fanatic in Iowa, and the two of them sat on the phone for a while a few weeks ago discussing all the details and I was glad that it was the guy and not me having that conversation with Dan. But then Dan told me what they talked about, and then I heard Dan tell everyone else about it.

Well, I am happy when Dan is happy. And today it came, and finally, after weeks of silence, the music will come back again.

Let's see if anyone will read this post.

Dan with his new pleasure, still in bubble wrap.

Me, trying to get some copywriting work done in the midst of this chaos.

Monday, February 25, 2008

And the Oscar goes to...


I win again. Every year, Dan and I have an Oscar pool for the chance to win a DVD of choice and every year, Dan threatens that he will beat me and every year, I crush and destroy.

Seriously, I have never lost. (Last year, we tied, but that was as close to winning as Dan has ever--and will ever--get). My winning strategy is to see as many movies as I can (at the very least, the five best picture nominees), read up on critics that I trust, such as Roger Ebert, A.O. Scott, the team at Entertainment Weekly. And then--using that knowledge--go with pure gut instinct.

For example, all the critics had picked Julie Christie for best actress. But I just watched La Vie en Rose and thought Marion Cotillard was pretty good. But what really blew me away was seeing her picture in US Weekly and being flabbergasted that this lovely woman was the same person who I just saw in the movie. It was like they were two different people, and that's when I knew I had a winner.

No Country for Old Men was a no-brainer for best picture because while it wasn't necessarily the movie I enjoyed watching the most (that would have to go to Juno--which I found delightfully smart and funny and touching at the same time). No Country was the movie that kept you thinking. Every scene in that movie was so haunting, so stunning that I couldn't get them out of my head. Dan, who hated Juno and thought No Country was the best movie of his year, went against everything and voted for There Will Be Blood--a movie he hadn't seen. Bad mistake. If you love a movie so much, don't you think everyone else will? Why root against it? Five years of Oscar pools and still an amateur.

My favorite part of the Oscars was hearing the speech by Best Song of the Year winner Marketa Irglova. The song came from the movie "Once"--a sort of odd, but sort of charming (yet also--I have to admit--sort of boring) movie about two artists who meet on the street and for one weekend make music together. That is entirely what the plot is about. And the song that won is developed and created and sung throughout the movie.

Because The Best Song of the Year is not an important award, the music drowned out winner Marketa's chance to say a speech because her partner had used up the allotted 30 seconds. It was disheartening, but then host Jon Stewart made her go out again and say what she needed to say, and she said this (as quoted in the New York TImes):

"This is such a big deal, not only for us, but for all other independent musicians and artists that spend most of their time struggling, and this, the fact that we’re standing here tonight, the fact that we’re able to hold this, it’s just to prove no matter how far out your dreams are, it’s possible. And, you know, fair play to those who dare to dream and don’t give up. And this song was written from a perspective of hope, and hope at the end of the day connects us all, no matter how different we are."

Here, here.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Inspiration nation.

So my friend Brett is really inspired to make me inspired to start writing. He asks me about it all the time, and yesterday, he sent me an email asking me about my project and then gave me a few exercises to do to get me started.

And you know, it worked. I spent the entire afternoon jogging between a mind-numbing PowerPoint of "actual work" and an exciting Word document of my thoughts and ideas, and for the first time at this job, the time flew by.

(I must admit that I felt some guilt about doing some personal work on work-time, but then again, my old boss at my old job used to tell me to do this stuff all the time. "You know Augusten Burroughs wrote his book working as a copywriter at an ad agency, " he would remind me when I would complain that I didn't have time to write, hinting that I should use my downtime at work for such things. The problem is that I never had downtime at my old job. That was then, this is now.)

Writing down my thoughts for my project was thrilling because suddenly, for the first time ever--even though I can now see that I have a ton of work ahead of me--it felt like this project was actually do-able.

Besides the once-in-a-while downtime, the one thing I do like about my current job is this girl named Colleen. She is super nice and has cool clothes and if she doesn't like something, she says it. She is also not jaded yet and so she comes up with creative ideas in our brainstorming meetings and sells them with more passion and gusto and sincerity than the average overworked magazine marketer.

She has been on some intense diet and workout regimen for the last 15 weeks and I notice people coming up to her and telling her how great she looks. We go to the same gym, and we've swapped stories about the cute guy who works at the front desk who winks at us and tell us to "work hard." I thought he liked me, but she thought so, too. We realized that he must like all the girls.

I was listening to her talk about her program and I let her know that I admired her for being so hardcore.

"Well, if you want something bad enough," she replied. "You just go for it."

I couldn't stop thinking about those words for the rest of the day.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Something happened at work today.

After days and days of sitting in my cubicle at work, glumly alternating between watching the clock, checking my email and doing actual work, today out of nowhere, I opened up a Microsoft Word document and on that blank page began to write.

It was chicken scratch more than anything else--I am not even sure what it said. But I was so bored and I had to be doing something that excited me. I had no choice but to write.

It lasted all about five minutes. And then I resumed watching the clock, checking email and doing actual work.

I also daydreamed about throwing all my clothes away and starting my wardrobe over from scratch.

Monday, February 18, 2008

So about that whole writing thing...

So I have to come to realize that having a blog means suffering the consequences.

Like when you are at a family gathering (as I was this President's Day weekend), and your 15-year-old half-nephew who you speak to maybe once a year turns to you and says, "So what's your book about?"

You've never once uttered such words as "writing" or "my book" to this person in your life. And you never say those words to anyone in the present tense.

So I cleared my throat, and told my apparent Everyday Ham reader, "I am not writing a book--yet. But when I do, it will be about traveling and being Polish or something like that." As if I really know what I am talking about.

That's the problem with this blog thing. People hold you accountable for the stuff that you write. I have been saying I wanted to write a book for years but now that it's posted out there in cyberspace where everyone can see it, suddenly people are asking about it, expecting that I am actually doing it.

I spoke about going to Poland and taking my Euro-vacation for years before I summoned the guts to do it but no one ever asked me the status because it was something that came and went in conversations that were few and far in between. Eventually, when I finally did it, I have to say I was proud of my decision to go to Poland, and in making that decision, I decided that I was never going to live my life saying that I was going to do stuff and then not do them--like 80% of the rest of the world.

So people, I promise you, I will get there. I've already made that decision. But like most things in life, it's something I will have to figure out myself and do on my own and it will take some time. I am an amateur right now. I hope the time will come soon that I will be more kick-ass.

Dan and I go for sushi and a movie (MIchael Clayton with George Clooney) for a late Valentine's Day date. We took the bus (shown here).

Then we went to a diner for dessert and Dan accidentally stole the pencil from the table (shown here). He bought me a bouquet of yellow flowers (my favorite).

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Travel brain.

Lisa is a woman who decided to quit her job to travel the world. She comes from New Jersey, just like I do, and has her very own travel web site, like I do. When I was in Poland, I found her site and sent her an email to introduce myself. We emailed back and forth a few times, swapping stories, and then I never heard from her again.

Until this week. Lisa emailed me to tell me she was in New York and asked if I wanted to meet up with her.

My first reaction to her email was: that's weird, meeting a total stranger. And that is when it dawned on me: I am no longer in traveler mode. I used to meet up with strangers all of the time in Europe. I'm stuck once again with my old New York City mode. And that made me feel bad. And so I wrote her back and told her, of course, I would love to meet you. Suck it, New York City mode.

Since Dan had a work meeting on Valentine's Day and we decided to postpone our annual Vday dinner for the weekend, I suggested to Lisa we meet tonight at my favorite haunt in my old neighborhood, Divine Bar. We had a nice dinner together and talked about traveling and writing. While she is back in America, she is still traveling--lingering in New York for now, making a pit stop in her current hometown in Chicago before venturing off to Los Angeles. Her trip has no end in sight, and I can see she is fighting to keep it alive, reluctant to go back to her "normal" life. She told me that traveling felt "normal" to her now.

I am still struggling trying to adapt to "normal" life. I want the traveler's "normal" but I am going more mainstream: the nine-to-six working day, the commute, the cooking, the cleaning, the work-outs, the television. Concerns about money and health insurance have replaced concerns about what country I will be heading next week.

This morning, as I rode the subway the work, a young punky boy, with blue hair, a leather jacket, a black eye and scars all over his face hopped on the train.

"It's no joke," he called out in the library-quiet subway car. "I'm broke." In typical New York fashion, everyone ignored him and continued reading their newspapers.

He then knelt down and played a really good song on the guitar. I did not recognize it, but it really rocked and when he finished, someone even clapped. And for a moment, I envied him. Here's this guy just living his life on the edge and just going day by day and playing his guitar. And I loved the fact that this guy who probably was up all night getting into fights was playing on the subway at 8:45 am to a bunch of working farts like me. He walked passed me and looked straight at me and I saw he looked like a messed up kid--probably going to spend the money he got from some of the fellow passengers on booze or drugs or some other crap. I didn't really want to trade places with him. But I could tell he was a good person. He carried an essence about him that I recognized as pure and it reminded me of being a traveler and of being free to do what you want to do.

I need to find that piece of mind once again. Without being a beat up punky kid.

I made Dan homemade cupcakes for Valentine's Day. He didn't complain.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Give me liberty or give me cake!

The Chrysler Building.

Ever since I got back from my trip, Dan has been using the following phrase:

“In America, we don’t ______.”

This statement is usually in response to something I have done that he doesn’t like.

Like, “In America, we don’t yell in the house.” (Sometimes I yell in the house).

“In America, we don’t steal covers.” (Which, I totally don’t! Ever since I came back, Dan and I are having trouble sleeping together because he's always sleeping in the middle of the bed and then blames it on me with this stealing covers crap. How can I be stealing covers if he is half way on my side anyway?)

Yesterday, after a rather irritating day at work, I came home with two cupcakes from Buttercup Bake Shop. That's twice in one week.
Dan came home and look a look at the tell-tale paper bag and shook his head.

After we both ate our cupcakes, he turns to me and says,
“In America, we don’t eat cupcakes everyday.”

“What?” I moaned. “What about cookies?”

“No cookies either.”

I thought about asking about ice cream and regular cake but I didn’t like where this conversation was going.

“You said you were eating healthy now and on the first day, you had a bad day so you bought cupcakes,” Dan said.

“I did eat healthy today!” I said. I had a salad for lunch and chicken for dinner and no bad snacks.

“In America, we don’t eat cupcakes everyday.”

“Well, you know what then? I don’t want to live in America then!”

And then after all that, that rascal Dan ate some candy. I didn't. Because I'm healthy.

Here's my attempt to take a picture of myself in the snow.

Didn't work. So I took this picture to prove there was snow.

Major snow-related traffic outside my window.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Money, money, money, money. MON-EY!

My first paycheck as a freelancer.

My first paycheck in six months.


Friday, February 8, 2008

Happy Ending (to a long week)


Today at work, I was asked to make some copies.

I have to admit, it humbled me a little. I haven't made copies for someone in years. But then again, the woman who asked seems incredibly nice and incredibly busy, and I am moderately nice and was moderately busy, and so I just swallowed my pride and said, "Sure!" Of course, I wasted an entire tree doing it because first I made six copies of the wrong side of the five-page document, so only blank pages showed up. And then when I copied the right side, but the note she wrote was missing on the top, so I had to readjust and do it again. Like I said, it's been a long time since I have made copies.

At least they are paying me good money to make copies.

I guess what is weird is that I used to get a lot of my self-esteem from working hard and being recognized for my hard work, and I don't know if that is going to happen as a freelancer. I am a pretty quiet person and so my awesomeness tends to reveal itself quite slowly to people--which means I might be gone and working somewhere else before these people realize it. But maybe that is a good thing because a) my self-esteem SHOULDN'T come from a job and b) I will be motivated to improve my self-worth via my personal projects, which is what this freelance thing is all about.

Days two and three were definitely better than the first. I got some good work done. I had zero stress. I got home at a decent hour. I have even figured out the right place to stand on the subway platform in the mornings so I can get on the train despite the crowd. Given that my life has some structure, I have also started going to the gym regularly as well. (Unfortunately, my motivational running episode did not inspire me to run at all since then).

I usually work out in the mornings, but today, after waking up at 6 am two days in a row, I was beat, so I slept in and went to the gym after work. I went to the gym location in midtown east, which is in my old, old neighborhood (where Dan and I used to live before we moved in together) and I was surprised to see how much it has changed in the last three years. There are so many new restaurants, so I walked through the streets trying to remember the restaurants they replaced. I could barely remember any.

One oldie but goody that is still there is my old standby: Buttercup Bake Shop. I was going to the gym, yet I went in there to buy two cupcakes to share with Dan when I came home. Is it weird to go get cupcakes on the way to the gym? Do I have a problem?

If so, like a true addict, it's a problem I don't want fixed.

The purple guy got a little smushed in the gym locker.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

First day back.

So I have spent the last four weeks just dying, aching, waiting to work. Today I worked. And today I remembered. Work is not fun.

Aw, alright. It wasn't so bad.

Despite my horrible commute--which shouldn't be horrible because it is three stops on the 6 train--I had a good first day. (What is up with the 6 train? In both directions morning and evening, I had to wait for two packed trains to pass me by before I finally jostled my way into the third one).

I got this job through one of my former coworkers named Brooke, who I worked with back in the days when she and I were both assistants. She is also a freelancer, and so I had emailed her for advice and she told me that she was working at this magazine and they needed more people and that is how I came aboard. So it was nice that I knew someone there, but besides her, no one else spoke to me much.

I forgot: That is what happens on your first day. I haven't had a first day in years (I had been at my old job forever and knew everything and everyone). Now I am the new girl--and not just a new girl, but a new freelancer which means that people care less (I'll be gone before they realize someone new is in their midst)--so it was a fairly quiet day. Actually, the third freelancer who sits across from me talked to me because she probably knows the drill.

Typical first day, I have no idea what I am doing. They had me read a lot of stuff that mostly made sense to me (all marketing is the same, really) but after a while, also made my head spin. How was I going to remember all this? I worked on some projects that would have taken me two seconds at my old job that took me six years here because I don't know what I was talking about. Before, I was completely independent with my work and here I (understandably) have to cc everyone to make sure that everything I am doing is okay. Still, it makes me hyper aware of everything, which in itself, is tiring.

I really needed a mental break, but these people don't believe in taking a proper lunch, so there was none of that. Just a quick run to get a salad with Brooke and come back to my desk. Oh, work. Oh, work in New York. Oh, working in marketing in New York. How little you have changed.

I left the office building at 6ish, it was dark and I was exhausted. It's sad to see the entire day gone, but at this moment, I really can't complain. My bank account is dying, aching, waiting for money. I came home and plopped on my couch, feeling pooped but relieved the first day is over. First day is always the worst, and I am happy it is already hump day.

Monday, February 4, 2008

My choice.

Me, in between interviews.

Today's Tarot Card: Death

"This card is commonly misconstrued and does not specifically pertain to physical death. The Death card signifies change in your life brought about by the ending of a current situation and the beginning of a new one. While the card itself may be morbid, it actually represents exciting change in your life. Be prepared for new and exciting situations to develop."

Holy crap! New and exciting situations did develop.

First of all, the last two working days, I went on three interviews. Interviewing to me feels like going on a date. You have to dress up, you feel a little nervous, you want to make a good impression. I hardly slept both nights (yesterday, there were very exuberant Giant fans screaming and honking their horns outside my window. Go, Giants, by the way). And I have never been a serial dater, and so speaking about myself and making nice so many times in such a short time was somewhat overwhelming, tiring, exciting, scary, all of the above.

But I did well. The first interview on Friday was for a month-long freelance marketing gig, and I left the offices with a smile on my face, crossing my fingers, wishing and hoping. My interviewer told me she would get back to me by the end of the day, so as I baked cakes for Mom's party, I hovered over my cell phone (it got covered in flour) and carried it in my hand around with me everywhere I went. It never rang. I was a little crushed. I would have to wait all weekend to find out.

This morning, I got up early for an 8:30 interview at another magazine. This interview was for a permanent job. (I know, I know, I said I was not going to go there, but my friend hooked me up for the interview and frankly it's a good job for me: Better title, fun magazine, innovative marketing.) I think I could do well there. Apparently they thought the same thing, too, and within hours I got a voice mail for a second interview.

Third interview, my head is swirling. Freelance job or permanent job? I can barely concentrate. Where am I? What I am talking about? Luckily, it was with a human resources manager at a publishing company, more of an informational interview. After ten minutes, she looked up at me and said, "We'd love to have you permanently. Are you sure you want to go freelance?"

And there was the question of the day.

I felt so torn. All along I have been saying that I want to do freelance. I could work at different magazines and get different experiences, while getting paid well to do it. And most importantly, the whole reason for doing it, it would give me the flexibility to write.

If there was ever a time that I felt like there was an angel and a devil sitting on my shoulder, telling me what to do, this was it. And the devil, representing permanent work, was very convincing. Hello, great job, stability, benefits, health insurance, rewards! The devil played into all my fears, reassuring me that taking the permanent job was the right thing to do, the sensible choice for my career. I would be going back to doing what I know, and even though I might not be happy all the time, for sure, I can succeed in that environment.

The devil would have me convinced, and I would be excited about succeeding--this is so my pre-trip frame of mind!--when the freelance angel would pipe up, softly: What about writing? They mentioned in permanent job-land that they work
until 7. That means I would come home at 8, very tired for writing. The devil interrupts: Freelancing offers no stability, no benefits, no health insurance, it'll be hard to get recognition for the work I put in, that is if I get work. It will allow me to afford a writer's lifestyle, but I have no idea if I will like it, and there's no guarantee that I will be a success.

I spent the afternoon, in a zone, writing emails to people I trust for advice, popping Rocher chocolates like they're good for me, until I finally fell asleep where I dreamed that I was on a plane that was on the verge of crashing.
I woke up and checked my email. I got the freelance job. Starting Wednesday, five days a week for one month, 9-6, making good money. I imed Dan.

"I got the freelance position. I am leaning towards accepting it."

"I am leaning towards you accepting it, too," he replied.

I made my choice. What made me decide was this: Would I go to the grave regretting that I did not take this permanent job or that I didn't give myself the chance to try writing? It felt much easier making a decision after that consideration.

But then the hard part, both in interviewing and in dating. Letting the other guy down easy.

Superbowl Sunday: Football and Ikea furniture installation.

Are you watching what you are doing? Or are you watching the Giants slaughter the Patriots?

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Mom's Birthday.

On Groundhog Day, it was Mom's 61st birthday. To celebrate, her kids decided to cook her homemade dinner.

The problem is: Mom's not used to sitting around and not making dinner. We would find her setting the table and washing dishes when she wasn't supposed to.

My sister Annette made roasted potatoes and chicken franchase. I was impressed by her culinary skills (she's a professional, you know). The chicken was so good...

Okay, so the sauce wasn't exactly healthy.

Pete and Jen brought wine, salad, fresh bread and tapenade.

I made stuffed mushrooms and--what else--dessert. Angel food cake, brownies, fresh strawberries and whipped cream topped the meal off.

The Winterburn family came. My niece Tiffany and her husband Greg are expecting a baby girl in 47 days! Mom was born in the year '47. It was all CRAZY.

A caveman disguised as my brother came to dinner as well.

Jen and Annette talk books. Jen has gotten into amazing shape this past year. She credits a "striptease" workout DVD as part of her success. Go Jen! Bring it on! I am so proud of her.

Dillon helps open the presents. Mom got a beautiful candle set from Pete and Jen.

This candle smells pretty good.

Want to smell it?

The whole table played the candle smelling game for a good 15 minutes.

Great way to end the fun evening.