Reflections

On 2016

I moved to New York nearly three years ago. The wind was bitter that winter, and as I waited on the open platform of my Williamsburg subway stop, poorly equipped for the chill factor, I shook from head to toe. So after my first job interview (which was a total bust), I scooped up a necessary purchase: a heather-grey beanie from an American Apparel in midtown. It served as a cozy helmet, a piece of soft armor, a look. I loved that damn hat, and wore it daily through spring, winter, winter again. Taking it off felt like an unrobing from the New York self I was building, one cold day at a time.

Then this fall, in an unfortunate omen for the downward spiral of 2016, I left the hat behind in an UberPOOL. Ironic, I know.

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Some things are only meant to be part of one chapter, though. Loss—of a thing, or a feeling, or a person—is part of the game, odds stacked against us.

That’s a lesson I’m learning, slowly. It never gets easier (although I’ll be the first to admit I’ve so far been pretty lucky in terms of real grief, real stakes). But we grow up, and we grow on, and that is loss, too. Friends move away, move on, find other cities and passions and people. Brad and Angelina break up. Health becomes a thing; mortality stares us in the face. Kanye goes rogue. The world seems to shift on its axis, bringing with it a wave we may not have seen coming, crashing down to strip away our millennial innocence and taking youthful optimism in its wake. Carrie Fisher dies. So do Prince, Bowie, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Leonard Cohen. Romances we strike up—such nice distractions—flash and fizzle just as fast. A favorite hat or coat or lucky scarf is lost to fate.

As a wise friend recently told me, though, that is all OK. Let that chapter end. Maybe it was lovely to read, or maybe it was rough, but it’s over and preserved in memory and, in its own way, complete. Then turn the page. Just turn the page!

In 2015, I reflected on overcoming fear. In 2014, I wrote about home: the way it changes, and stays the same. In 2013, I quoted a book on technology and identity. All still relevant. But the pages keep turning, and the wind keeps blowing, and the answer, my friends, is probably just to stay warm.

Thankfully, my mom got me a new hat for Hanukkah. I’ll need it, as these cold winds are just beginning. Let’s make 2017 a cozy one.

Things I did in 2016: Landed an internship, and then a job; interviewed some pop stars and cool people; got published in print; launched a newsletter; made it out to Montauk; saw Lady Gaga perform live at a dive bar; joined Equinox; was ambivalent about the new Harry Potter script; became a regular at my local Sweetgreen; got Olympic fever, specifically for the Final Five and the antics of one Ryan Lochte; chatted with Michael Phelps; performed my civic duty as a juror; binged on (and then incessantly recommended) Peaky Blinders, Lovesick, and Mozart in the Jungle; got pretty bummed about politics; discovered some top-notch friends, coworkers, and writers, whom I treasure; drank tequila sodas and vodka martinis almost exclusively, save for the champagne; read a poem a day; consumed so much good new music.

Things I’m working on for 2017: That damn yoga handstand; earlier bedtimes and earlier mornings; cooking, at least sometimes; punctuality; giving back and not giving in; abs; reading more classic books; dining out solo; organizing my music more effectively; rekindling relationships I’ve let slide; keeping an eye on the prize; being an ally; ditching the screens every so often to find a fresh perspective.  

Thanks for reading—thanks for thinking—thanks for keeping your chin up. Onward, into the warmth of a bright new year!

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On 2015

On Saturday, a friend and I were paused on our skis at the top of a run on Bald Mountain in Sun Valley, Idaho. It was late in the afternoon on a bluebird day, temperatures hovering around zero. The snow was perfect, and at the end of this run we’d be drinking beer in the rowdy lodge below. We were on vacation in every way, giddy with it.

“Let’s race,” he challenged me.

I’d done NASTAR races growing up (and ranked nationally in middle school); I’d been on my college ski team; heck, when I was a baby I’d been stuck in my dad’s backpack while he, a former downhill racer, cruised down the slopes. I was confident that I was—am—a good skier. I feel comfortable on skis.

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But last week, at the top of that run, all I felt was fear. “I don’t know,” I said. “You’ll probably win.” He was bigger, faster, and more athletic. More importantly, he had taught himself to be fearless. He was afraid of heights, but had jumped out of planes dozens of times. He had left a good college to join the army. He was kind of a rebel, kind of a hero, didn’t care what anyone would think.

Not like me.

“We don’t have to if you don’t want to,” he said. But I shook my head. “No, let’s do it.” I didn’t want to be that girl who couldn’t live a little on the edge. I was trying to prove I was cool, after all. Trying to prove I could keep up. Plus, he was cute.

The scary thing about going fast is that you lose precision; you lose control; you lose the ability to stop. You just have to let go.

For some people, this comes easily. My mom likes to tell the story of how my older brother and I learned to walk. Well, my brother didn’t walk—he just ran from the start, and would fall and get banged up and keep going, so they stuck a helmet on his head to keep him safe. I, on the other hand, started small: just a few steps at a time, hand always outstretched to a couch or table, slow and dainty and poised. So, yeah, you could say I’ve never been good at letting go or going fast or taking risk or any of that. It’s just not me.

But sometimes, I do it anyway. I’ve ski-raced. I’ve hang-glided. I’ve jumped off cliffs into rivers twenty feet below. I love rollercoasters and pushing past 90 on an empty freeway. I’ve gone to places that aren’t strictly safe. I’ve chosen paths that aren’t strictly smart. I’ve insisted on truths that aren’t strictly popular. Fear checks me, but it also goads me.

We raced. He won—barely. To me, though, it was a kind of victory.

For me, 2015 has been a year of trying—and, often, failing—to overcome fear. Fear of stasis; fear of vulnerability; fear of making the wrong choices; fear of losing something, or losing out on something; fear of things beyond my control; fear of that tick-tock of time. Adulthood, I’ve learned, is in fact just a process of confronting and minimizing these fears, the Sunday scaries that haunt us daily.

As I look back on my 2013 and 2014 year-end posts, the ironic truth is that, in many ways, little has changed for me. While our country (and our world) hopscotches from crisis to crisis, uprooting lives and upending paradigms of power all over the globe, I’ve been cocooned in a personal bubble of safe, privileged sameness. Here I am once again in Santa Barbara, uncertain of what the future holds, angsty and cautious and eager. I went to yoga much more often in 2015, but I’m still crap at handstands. I watched “In the Heart of the Sea” (hello Chris Hemsworth!), but my copy of Moby Dick lies dusty and unfinished since I started it in 2013. I’ve been trying to get to sleep earlier, but my bedtimes still careen between a somewhat respectable midnight and a really nonsensical 3am. And the list of little failures goes on.

In other words: three years on, and I haven’t accomplished much of what I set out to do. Why not? I fume at myself. What have I been doing, if not the important work of progress? 

Then again. If, for me, 2013 and 2014 were about wild transition, then 2015 was about learning to stay put: one job, one apartment, two states, no big trips or big changes. In 2015, I overcame a fear of letting people down to overcome a different fear—that of missing out on pursuing the things I am compelled to pursue. In 2015, I overcame a fear of being overly opinionated by figuring out how to speak up more articulately. In 2015, I overcame (or started to overcome) a fear of being alone by doubling down on friendships and taking more chances with people. I may not be letting go. I may be clinging to control. I’m not my brother running before I can walk, or my friend in Idaho eager for a race. I can only look to their confidence to guide me, to give me something to compete with, to provoke me past my comfort zone.

Sometimes this year has felt like forward motion; other times, like when I decided to start again from square one in my career, it has felt like backtracking. (The job application process does nothing better than planting seeds of destructive self-doubt.) It’s hard to tell. Only time, as they say, has that kind of prescience.

And time is, thankfully, what’s on the calendar. So here’s to a New Year of health and joy, of teaching ourselves to turn fear into fuel. I’ll be trying!

Things I did in 2015: became friends with the guy at my local wash ‘n’ fold; put my dating apps to use; grew up; dealt with various household pests; devoured all four of Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels and all seven Harry Potters once more; shared my home with friends I’m lucky to have found; learned to love to sweat; discovered the pleasures of Spotify; drank martinis; became a Belieber (yeah, I said it).

Things I’m working on for 2016: finishing Moby Dick, once and for all; writing more (always); cooking more new recipes; arriving on time (work in progress, sorry guys); being there for my family in whatever ways I can be; saving up some money; not letting myself down.

Thank you for sticking around—and cheers! Pop your bottles, now.

 

On the fall blues

There’s a slice of time every year in adult life—after Labor Day and before Halloween, when that back-to-school spirit has waned and the reality of the continued grind digs deep under the skin—that you get the blues.

Yes, you shop for denim. (TIP: seventies-inspired lighter washes are in!)

But this time, I mean a deeper, darker wash. You feel it in the sigh that settles in, cozy as a scarf in the crisp fall, and then slowly, sweetly, starts to strangle while you sip your pumpkin spice whatever. It’s a sense of something ending, of bright summer nights all played out, of sameness making itself at home in your small apartment. I’m no stranger to these blues; they sneak up on me every season, like clockwork. I dread the coming hibernation of winter. In an attempt to recapture some magic, I re-read Harry Potter and buy books of poetry. I think maybe copious amounts of hot yoga and hot water with lemon will flush out the toxic feeling. (They don’t.)

Nothing seems all that fresh. Fall fashion is recycled, a simple repeat of suede and old silhouettes. The news is in turns tragicomic… and just tragic. Pop culture feels circular, self-indulgent and self-referential to a point of near-collapse (and the NYT agrees; say hello to the “year we obsessed over identity”). The passage of time hits hard, bringing with it the truths of the smallness of our trajectories, the limits of our personal legends.

statue of liberty in blue copy

Just me? I don’t think so. Maybe I’m more prone to the blues than most; maybe I’m more sensitive to these frustrations that bubble up each fall. But we all get hit with something, right about now. A twinge at the chill of twilight. A lump in the throat before bed. Where are we going? Why are we running so hard and so fast? And how did we get on this treadmill, anyway?

It’s a sharply Millennial thing, of course: from the unsettled feeling itself (so entitled!) to the fact that I’m indulging it in a blog post (so self-centered!). I know. I’m—we’re—not to be pitied. I’m—we’re—not supposed to be happy. We’re young, and if we aren’t hungry and scared then we’re wasting our youths binging at feasts we can’t really enjoy and don’t really deserve.

But I’m a Taurus, and I like the feast; call me a hedonist, sue me, it’s written in my stars. And my blues? My blues remind me that pumpkin juice and pork chops do not appear, magically, on a sparkling golden plate. That’s the work of house elves in Harry Potter, but I don’t have one in my fourth-floor walk-up. (Nor, I might add, would I collude in the practice of enslaving house elves, were I to live in our Hogwartsian parallel universe.) My blues nudge me to seek something that looks like purpose, to take a second look at the shape of my life and apply some tough-love corrections. The feast, I remind myself, will have to wait.

Soon I’ll snap out of it. Go apple-picking, be grateful, enjoy that PSL in all its basic, beautiful glory. But in this middle-time, just for a moment, I’ll recognize this feeling for what it is: an acknowledgement of time ticking, of growing and aching and letting go. There’s a pain in all that. The body—and the soul—have to be taught to stretch. They have to be taught to fit contentedly into the boxes we’ve built for ourselves—for now!—whether we meant to or not.

More yoga, I guess.

On the Law of Attraction

When I finished high school, my ballet teacher—and spiritual guide of sorts—gave me a graduation present: a deck of cards called the “Law of Attraction.” Each card, beautifully illustrated with abstract designs in bright colors, held a statement about positive visualization. The deck was one of the only sentimental items I brought with me across the country to college. Every Monday, I’d select a new card from the deck and pin it on my freshman-year bulletin board: a constant reminder to think boldly and optimistically. After all, a positive mantra never hurt anyone.

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But over time the tradition faded. And so, too, did the Law of Attraction in my life. It was enough to muddle through college in fits and starts, succeeding and failing in equal measure, learning strengths and flaws along the way. Who needed the Law of Attraction when opportunities seemed to fall comfortably into our laps, gilded with potential? And after college, things can snowball faster than you expect; one day you’re sitting at home, fixing up your resume; the next you’re sweating in your nicest blazer as you prepare for the pivotal interview handshake; and suddenly you find yourself adding another line to that old resume, and this time it doesn’t read “intern.”

There’s a fun saying that goes “We accept the love we think we deserve.” It’s the Law of Attraction in action: we receive what we expect, what we visualize, what we aspire for. We’re treated the way we think we should be treated; we control the persona we project and the expectations that are imbued in it. This is, of course, a wildly utopian concept. Dreams do not turn into realities just by willing them that way. We’re jaded enough to know that where there’s a will, there really isn’t always a way. One glance at the news will show just how deeply the structural challenges to change are carved.

But it’s a guiding tenet nonetheless, so bear with me as I carry out this thought.

As an exercise, we can expand the saying a bit, unpack it, and flip it around. Perhaps: we accept the self-worth we think we deserve. Or: we deserve the self-projection that we accept. Or: the self we project is the one others will accept as true.

A few months ago, I read Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, an NYT bestseller about a group of self-proclaimed “talented” kids who grow up in the New York of the 1980s and fall short, to different levels, of their outsized, youthful dreams. It’s a book that hits home in a lot of ways—if you’re at all like me, you see yourself easily (and uncomfortably) in these so-called gifted children, brimming with ideals—but it also left me bitter because of the smallness of the dreams; of the limitations that each character places on him/herself. Maybe I just don’t want to accept adult reality and its finiteness, its endless smallness. The book riled me up. I wanted to slap the main character into some semblance of self-confidence, or just self-projection of confidence. As I finished it, I itched to distance myself from her story arc. There was no drama, no cathartic ending. There was only the slow fade.

At 23—well, 24 on Sunday—I am allergic to the slow fade on what feels like a fundamental level. I can only believe in the cosmic rise. Which brings me back to the Law of Attraction. It’s easy—scarily easy—to let one thing become another. To allow our fates and our work and our paths to plod ceaselessly in the direction that we start out with, because inertia is as real a force in the psychological world as it is in the physical one. That’s why we live in this modern phenomenon of “extended adolescence” that the talking heads drone on about; that’s why we fall into ruts.

The conscious choices to project a self and project a future are not easy, and they’re not comfortable. Setting stakes in the ground—“I will be this person; I will not be that person” or “I will accomplish x by x age; I will discard that other dream forever”—all of these seem so final, like closing a door when you don’t have the key. But that’s the point, isn’t it? In order to visualize what we want, the image has to be specific, which by necessity excludes other outcomes; the would-you-rather is real. Mountains or beach? The only rule is you can’t pick both.

So what does that mean for us? For me, it means I have to buckle down and actively, finally define the big bad “goal.” And it also means I have to put in place a series of incremental visions to support the attempt; baby steps. “Adulthood” is a thing that happens when you act the part each day, every day, shaping yourself into the person you’d like to become. It is not some far-off tropical destination you lust over, lazily adding photos to a Pinterest board, yet never booking the ticket. It is the daily mundane decisions: the things you buy, the people you spend time with, the stories you read, the self you create. It’s hard, and I’m terrible at it, but it’s worth a shot.

I’ve always believed in image as a proxy for reality. We perform our own truths. It’s the Law.

Let’s abide by it.

On the secret of balance

Life’s all about balance, right?

Maria Tallchief was a celebrated ballerina and a muse of the famed choreographer George Balanchine. She passed away almost exactly two years ago; her obituary in the NYT is a great overview of her fascinating life journey and accomplishments. But when I read it two Aprils back, what struck me most was one of the online comments from a reader:

…I taught dance for 30 years and would often tell my classes of her brilliance, and especially of her secret of balance. In various pas de deux she would hold a pose for what seemed an impossible time. Was she totally still en pointe? Not at all. Her standing ankle was constantly adjusting in small motions. This constant adjustment I have taken as a example for life.

Balance: it’s all in the ankles.

I’m into hot yoga lately, so yesterday morning I made an attempt to get to the early class before work. I hit traffic on the 101, realized I would be too late, and turned around and came home. I prepped for a hike instead—but free time before I needed to buckle down to the workday was fading fast, so at the last minute I decided to go on a short trail run. It’s always a series of small decisions, the ones we don’t think twice about, that hold the biggest punch.

The morning was hot and bright, and I was making great time on my run. Home was a quarter mile away. In the dusty green oak grove, I sprinted for a stretch, then jogged around a corner. A second later, I was on my hands and knees in the dirt: runner down. Ankle down. I blame the hidden tree root stretching across the path. I blame my blithe forward momentum. I blame an off-kilter balance.

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Eleven months ago, I sprained my ankle—the other ankle—while traipsing giddily down a sidewalk in Williamsburg, headed back to my first NYC apartment on a balmy spring evening. The ankle swelled to twice its size, turned black, blue, purple, and yellow, and generally sucked. I wore a walking boot for a month, falling asleep each night with an ice pack wrapped tightly around my foot. But I managed: I moved to a new apartment, figured out how to negotiate stairs, and developed an appreciation for the low-key comfort of summer sneakers.

And here I am again, ice pack strapped to my ankle, immobile on the couch. I had plans to go to LA this weekend, to fly back to NYC next week, to run errands and just plain run. Now: another challenge to work around. Another adjustment to make. Small motions, to find balance. Small decisions, to figure out the next step life will take.

Because stillness is never an option, and ankles are weak. Because setbacks happen. They sneak up on you when you’re relaxed and pummel you when you’re down. I’ve generally been a “roll with the punches” kind of girl, but lately that wisdom seems less applicable: standing tall might make you a target—but Maria Tallchief figured out a way to stay up en pointe. It is how we deal, the movements we make (defensive, offensive, emotional) that determine our ability to maintain the balance, to bring it back, to tap into a place where we look serene on the surface, even as we fight for composure beneath.

Or maybe the secret is that it’s never been about balance. The process is where we live; it’s where we might find something of truth. A pirouette can look like effortless spinning, but it’s work: you’re engaging your core, your back, your arms, your eyes, the standing leg and the one held in a triangle against your thigh. You’re not balancing on top of the cardboard box of a pointe shoe with ease: you’re reaching for a sweet spot that eludes you and fighting to get there and stay there. Or at least, that’s how it always was in ballet for me.

I cried twice yesterday—once out of pain, once out of frustration. I got two more pieces of unwelcome news, punched a pillow, banged some keys on the piano to let off steam. The setback is never fun. The adjustment is never easy.

But the ankle will heal. This morning is sunny. And I’ll make it to yoga, and I’ll try to balance on it, and with small motions I’ll—maybe—get close.

On 2014

In 2014, I lived in eight different homes.

I’m using the word “live” generously, but I’m quick to settle into a spot, so I think it fits. Three of the eight were apartments across New York City. Another three were short-term rentals in South Africa. The final two were with family. Throw in a cluster of hotel rooms, friends’ couches, and a floor or two – and it’s been a lot of roommates, a lot of addresses.

To match, it’s been a year of bits and pieces: a week here, three weeks there, three months over there. Each new address meant slipping on a new self, crafting an identity to match the neighborhood, navigating a new walk to work and a rapport with roommates and kitchen supplies and how communal wine purchases are consumed. 2014 was constant motion. Constant change. Constant self-reconsideration. Who were my friends? Where did I fit? How should I dress? (My Williamsburg, East Village, and West Village looks are all pretty different, naturally.)

The latest spot.

The latest neighborhood I get to call my own.

Despite my insistent wanderlust, I’m no nomad. I crave putting down roots; I’m an earth sign, after all. And it’s roots I return to, again and again. Which is why this year closes right back where it started: spending time with family in Idaho and California, places that I love but fight with because they don’t change with me. Instead, I revert back to them. Whether I’m 23 or 17 or 10, so many things are the same at home: mom’s fudge-frosted banana cake; uncertainty about the future; my dog Lincoln; a sense of not having accomplished enough; my favorite ratty sweatshirt; a desire to be and do more to fix the crises swirling outside our doors. Home brings up classic young adult angst, nothing special here.

But maybe it’s not wholly the same. Maybe this year’s angst is different, as this has been, objectively, the most different year of all (for me, at least). I mean: first interviews and first jobs, first times paying rent, first apartment-cooked meals, first jolts of the reality of our generation’s place in this country… I could go on.

Or maybe the world spins on its own crazy way, and each year is – in the grander scheme – a little smaller, a little more repetitive. Hard to say if our problems and pleasures are any truer and deeper as we age, or if they simply feel more pressingly present, and then by the time the next New Year’s Eve rolls around they’ve inevitably faded away to be replaced.

The least I can do is try to keep track. So, in keeping with last year’s New Year’s Eve post, a reckoning is in order. I didn’t always live up to the goals I set: My yoga handstands got worse, not better; my Portuguese is miserably rusty; I still have 50 pages left of Moby-Dick; and I’ve been a bad blogger. I did complete a few: I know how to use Pinterest, I figured out where I was living, and I found myself a job. So we’ll call it a wash, shall we?

Things I did in 2014: Moved into six apartments and out of five; met an eclectic group of people and made new friends; explored vineyards; designed a website; flossed more; started wearing red lipstick in the daytime; bought, consistently, only black clothes; became a coffee-drinker; learned a new language (well, the jargon of media work); drank a summer’s worth of rosé; figured out how to work a PC (and how to add things on Excel!); listened to great live music; bounced around various cities with good friends; developed a low-level SoulCycle addiction; spoke publicly in presentations; made small talk; had fun.

Things I’m working on for 2015: having longer conversations; planning a trip to somewhere new; finishing Moby-Dick; cleaning the bathroom regularly; productively running errands on the weekend; writing more; cooking vegetables; being there for friends who’ve been there for me; arriving on time; not being afraid of change. And maybe getting back to that Portuguese.

And so the cycle begins again. Happy New Year! Thanks for sticking around. Drink your champagne.

On fresh starts & fall holidays

I’ve always loved that the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and the following Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) fall, on the lunar calendar, right as autumn kicks into high gear. There’s a bite to the air that lazy September didn’t bother with, and there’s a feeling of time speeding up, coldness encroaching, skies darkening and leaves disappearing with a quickness that felt distant just a few short weeks ago.

Sun sets on another summer.
Sun sets on another summer.

Last year, in late August, I wrote a post about not going back to school for the first time. I said:

“It’s hard to remember that not going back to school doesn’t mean nothing has to change. It’s hard to feel the fizzy butterflies of a fresh start without everyone around me doing the same thing. On the flip side, though, there’s a dark glamour in now feeling personally responsible for any changes I might want to make to my life. If this is the empowerment of adulthood, it’s scary but encouraging.”

It still rings true. But for this, my second not-back-to-school, I ignored my own advice. I spent September largely as I had spent August: work, play, work, play. Yes, I moved into a new apartment in a new neighborhood with new roommates. Other than that, the continuity from summer was seamless. Work carried on. I didn’t buy fresh boots to kick off the season. My AC buzzed on in my window.

From the East River...
From the East River…
... to the Hudson.
… to the Hudson.

Making a radical shift is, it’s clear now, not easy. When we were still students and the school year started up, we could pull on our casual blazers and button up our blouses and present ourselves in class—then go right back to t-shirts in our downtime. There’s no obvious line like that, in this grown-up world: we are always in blazers and blouses. Every person we meet is a potential connection, and the lines between professional and personal lives blur ever closer, as work emails pile in on Sundays even as we’re sipping weak mimosas at boozy brunches with our coworkers.

So the timing for the Jewish New Year is, for me, a nice check-in; a reminder that we don’t have to let the fall (and the year) get away from us. We can take the time to celebrate, to reflect, to set new standards – or perhaps just remind ourselves of the standards we had hoped to live up to, which get ragged as we wear at them all year.

At the Yom Kippur services I attended this year, the rabbi spoke about our truths: the stories we tell about ourselves, and the stories other people remember. He said we should seek to be, as an old metaphor has it, like iron sticks: the friction of two different perspectives striking against each other sharpens us. In the indefinite space between the stories, between the sticks, might burn an objective truth. But it’s the lived experience — what we believe about ourselves — that shapes our reality. The challenge we must accept is incorporating the other stories, other perspectives, other pieces of truth. Then, we grow.

It’s a challenge that resonates. As the days grow cooler and my life here flattens into an unremarkable routine, I’ll make a New Years’ resolution of my own, no matter how cheesy: to seek out sparks of debate, to question what I know about myself and my world, to take criticism seriously, to embrace the different stories that will force me to sharpen my thoughts, that will help me see this city anew even as the streets become familiar things.

Always chase the golden hour.
Always chase the golden hour.

(I also resolve to drink more champagne. Rosé season may be over, but champagne is a timeless restorative for the tired soul.)

Here’s to 5775; may it be full of health.

On getting caught in the rain

This evening, as I walked home from work, I got caught in the rain.

It started to drizzle as I made my way east on Houston St. As I began to wish I had an umbrella, a friend I haven’t seen in years interrupted my steady march.

“Raisa? Is that you?”

It was me. Hair in a sloppy topknot, wearing my loosest, most-pajama-like pants, mascara already smudged off from the humidity. That’s me, this summer.

“Are you gonna be OK?” she asked as we split, glancing skyward.

“I mean,” I said, “I won’t melt.” And I went on with my walk. The irony here, of course, is that I did once melt—when I was the Wicked Witch of the West, in our seventh grade play. It was dramatic. And traumatic, but that’s a story for another day.

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Spotted on East Houston. Sometimes, the city speaks right to my soul.

I’m solid flesh now, no witchy stuff left except a penchant towards wearing black and a nose with a bit of a curve. So when it started to pour—buckets, that whole “shower” analogy, lightning flashing, girls in short dresses screaming distantly—what choice did I have? I laughed wryly at my luck, felt my pants grow soggy, let the rest of my makeup wash off, and walked on.

No one wants to relive Hilary Duff’s musical years, but there’s a reason that the old favorite “Coming Clean” was such a smash hit.

I wanna hear the thunder

I wanna scream

Let the rain fall down

I’m coming clean

Poetry? No. Adolescent angst? Absolutely. Young-semi-adult-living-in-NYC? Even better.

We all come to a point in our very-young very-restless lives where, no matter how happy, no matter how lucky, no matter how privileged, we get bored or we get frustrated or we get a little crazy. We think we deserve more. (We don’t.) We think we should be getting somewhere faster. (Nope, not at all.) We think we need a change. (No—actually, we need to get used to consistency and routine.)

Last week, I was also caught in the rain. This time it was on my way to dinner to meet my mom’s close friend. I was late; it had been a long, challenging day; and I felt out of sorts. As I rattled off complaints about my (realistically, quite charmed) life—things like I wasn’t sure enough of myself, I felt out of my element lately, I needed more experience to feel confident in my abilities—she quietly raised an eyebrow as she let me finish.

“Razi,” she said, calling me by my childhood nickname: “What is all that?”

I looked down at my pad thai. “Nothing,” I said, ashamed.

It was all an excuse. We go around telling ourselves excuses. We go around explaining away our faults, calling them intrinsic when they’re really just bad habits we should be fixing. We say “YOYO” (You’re Only Young Once, as one friend has coined it), excusing ourselves from making stupid decisions or choosing the easy route or feeling sorry for ourselves because hedonism is as good a guide as any, and anything that gets in the way of a fun time seems like it should be wrong by default.

That, in turn, is wrong. This is what adulthood is about. It’s work, and it’s being thoughtful and conscious of your choices, and there are no shortcuts.

Which brings me back to the rain, and to getting caught in it. There’s nothing glamorous about being drenched, or about having to dry out your new suede booties and hoping they don’t smell. There’s nothing chic about getting splashed by a dirty street puddle (even if Carrie Bradshaw makes it look cute). There’s only the truth: this is what it is. Next time, come prepared—or go ahead and revel in the glory of some summer thunder and the rain on your skin. (Today, that’s what I did.) Either way: own it, and take responsibility for yourself and for the aftermath.

You really won’t melt.

 

 

On hunger; or, an open letter to the Class of 2014

Dear Class of 2014,

Congrats! You’re a week out, and it probably feels pretty good. Now humor me: I want to tell you something, just like everyone else and their mother (and father, and brother, and cousin… We all just want to help!)

You’ve most likely already figured out your next step, but even so, here’s the deal: you have three choices about what you do post-grad. You can move to a place for a job. You can move to a place for the place itself. Or you can move to a place for the people, or to be near a person.

Choose wisely. Know yourself when you make the choice. Know what makes you tick. If you’re lucky, all three will come together, and it’ll be an obvious decision. If you’re not lucky, then it’s one of the first hard decisions you’ll have to make. Make it independently. Make a mistake, and a few months or a year or five from now, fix it.

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It was beautiful while it lasted, wasn’t it?

I don’t believe in a metric of “success” (it’s different for everyone, but the word has connotations that are a bit too cut-and-dried for me at the moment). I do believe in a metric of satisfaction. Your days are either full, or they are empty. It’s not about filling up your time, exactly; your time can be full, and your days can still be very, ruthlessly empty, as I’ve learned.

So choose to go to the place that will fill you up. God knows you’re hungry; we all are. Every day I’m hungry for more.

Then, use that hunger. Use it to learn more. Use it to work harder. Follow your taste buds, and follow your stomach. Let your hunger tell you how to balance work and play, and play more and harder (if that’s where your appetite leads you). Use it to recognize when you’re unhappy—and use it to revel in your happiest, most gluttonous moments. Use it to step out of your own expectations of yourself, and to disentangle from everyone else’s expectations. Don’t let others judge you for what you want to pile on your plate, and how you want to consume it. You are what you eat. Eat the good stuff. Do what’s delicious.

In college, we often complain of never having enough time. This is wrong, of course; we’ll never have more time. I let that fact bother me for a while after graduation. In my first year out, I wandered, trying to see what time would do with me when I didn’t have an agenda for it. The wandering bored me. That was the first lesson—for me. Find your own lesson.

As everyone else will also tell you, post-grad life is just… different. But the hunger is the same. On days I don’t satisfy my cravings—when I do less, when I am less, when I settle for less—I miss college in a way that almost hurts. I feel directionless; I feel lost; I feel alone. But on days when I expect more of myself, when I don’t let the mundane stuff—missing my subway, staying too late at work, cleaning the bathroom—get me down, when I find a great new song that makes me smile, when I let my curiosity drive the way I think: that’s when something clicks. I’m satisfied, if only for a moment.

As they say, happiness is fleeting. As they say, it’s worth chasing.

So 2014: chase it with me. It’s a marathon for sure, and it will last the rest of our lives, and I’m the last one to say I’m any closer to it than I was this time last year. But damn it if it isn’t an endlessly exciting game to play.

Love,

Raisa

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Come play with me.

On new jobs & killing the incompetence game

On Monday, I started an internship in an industry that is new to me. I was nervous, so I wore my favorite pants (you gotta take your confidence boost where you can get it).

On Tuesday, I submitted a completed Excel spreadsheet of social media marketing campaign analytics, listened in on a status call with a client, and formatted a slide pitch deck for a digital strategy plan. Sound a little too corporate to you? Don’t worry, my desk chair is an exercise ball and there’s beer on tap on Friday afternoons—not that it matters. Sometimes, a little bit of corporate, structured medicine (and an education in how to use a PC) is just what the doctor ordered.

Desk with a view.
Desk with a view.

At every job, internship, or activity I’ve participated in over the past five years, the constant has been a focus on writing, on understanding storytelling and news-gathering, and on building a better organization. But not now. Now I’m learning to tell the story of the numbers in a chart, to gather news about relative efficiency of dollars spent and keywords used, and to find where I fit in a large, well-functioning operation.

We forget how entrenched we’ve become in the ecosystems of the intellectual paths we choose early on. In liberal arts college, they call each major a “discipline” because you train your mind to think in certain ways—to approach problems with a particular toolkit, a template for coming to a conclusion. For me, the anthropological approach was a natural fit with the journalistic activities I pursued outside class. In brief, the process is (1) interrogate and investigate the accepted reality, (2) observe and collect in-depth information about the truth of the matter, and (3) present your findings with panache—and without judgment.

But in this industry I’m now exploring, the process—the one-two-three of approaching and attacking a problem—is new. The end goals are different. On an institutional level, the social structure of the place is complicated and foreign. The vocabulary that’s tossed around in the office leaves me slow on the uptake, too: what’s a project manager vs. a brand strategist vs. a media planner? What’s the difference in our partnerships between vendors, creative, and clients? And how is social different from digital different from mobile? I knew what ROI stood for, but CPC, CPE, CPV, DSP, KPI, RFP, and SOW are all brand-spanking-new. The two main things that remain the same across all my working experiences are snarky email exchanges and the expectation to stay late.

Here’s what happens when you step outside your comfort zone: you feel incompetent. You want to apologize for taking up people’s time by asking questions—but if you don’t ask the questions, then the work doesn’t get done (and you have to apologize for that, too). You sit at a meeting and frown, lost before it even started, trying to memorize faces and names. I haven’t felt so young and fish-out-of-water in years. Being a n00b happens to be pretty damn uncomfortable.

But I’m not going to apologize. I’m still convinced my youth is my best asset, and so is my inexperience. It’s early days for me yet, but I have a feeling—in fact, at the ripe old age of 22, I know—that my current (and hopefully just momentary) incompetence is actually a plus. I’m being forced to bend my ingrained ways of thinking into new paths.

So if you’re considering a career you know nothing about, here’s the takeaway: it never hurts to stretch.

It’s kind of like a yoga class. Worst case scenario, you enjoy some undisturbed meditation, take in the chill music vibes, and work on your flexibility. Best case, you kill at your headstand and warrior three and your crow—and you just fly outta that studio, dripping with sweat and ready to take on the world.