Bittersweetness: The Fear

Waaaay back in 2011, I received my master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern. The program itself was difficult and intense, and there were times when I hated it more than I’ve hated anything in my life. I’ve been a decent writer for as long as I can remember, and skated through high school and college with essays penned in the wee small hours of the morning before they were due. I can count on one hand the number of times I did not get an “A” on a paper in high school and college (because I collapsed into a puddle of tears each time).

So, studying something I felt skilled at in one of the best schools in America seemed like it would be a natural fit. Except no one tells you how daunting it can be to go from being the best writer in your class to a room full of people who were all the best writers in their respective classes. It’s humbling, in a good way. I got the famous Medill “F” on my very first day at Medill, and immediately after, made a tearful call to my mom, announcing I’d be home in a couple weeks because obviously I was going to flunk out. I didn’t. But I didn’t do much better. Most of my classmates readily accepted the challenge of becoming better writers and cub journalists, but I was paralyzed by fear of failure, or a fear that I wasn’t actually as good as I thought I was. No English teacher in my life had ever challenged me to become a better writer, and when faced with the chance to become better at it, I took any critique as a sign that I wasn’t any good at all. There were glimmers of hope, and occasionally, I would turn out articles that even surprised me for how good they were. But time and again, my instructors would take me aside and say the only thing keeping me back from not just being a good writer but a great writer was my self-confidence. Which, in and of itself, is something that doesn’t necessarily make you feel better and increase your confidence. For someone paralyzed by fear of failure, it only serves to highlight another something you’re failing at. But it’s something that has stayed with me.

When I set up this blog, I was filled with courage. Almost certainly it was liquid courage, but I felt like this was my chance to take up something that I loved to do and that made me extremely happy, even if I couldn’t make a living off of it. At points, I set up editorial calendars and came up with regular cadences for updates. I set up a Facebook page, I changed the name of my Twitter account, and one of my Medill classmates even approached me about writing posts on The Huffington Post’s blog. I recapped The Bachelor/Bachelorette. Occasionally, my work schedule or family commitments would get in the way, but the huge chunks of time between posts very often have little to do with my schedule, and everything to do with me being terrified. What should this blog be about? What’s my voice? What’s my brand? Is anyone reading? I came up with a million excuses for why I couldn’t do it, why it was pointless, and why I should abandon the blog entirely, or just pretend it didn’t exist. I don’t travel enough to make this a travel blog, and my life of 9-5 is nowhere near glamorous enough to warrant a lifestyle blog (Sample post: Secrets to my skin? Genetics). I read lots of blogs and feel twinges of jealousy—it’s not that I don’t have the skill to write, it’s that I haven’t decided that it’s something I need to do and committed myself to the hard work that needs to be done to become a better writer. None of the questions that have hobbled me and served as excuses for not writing actually matter—no one is going to read my blog if I haven’t written anything, and there’s no voice to worry about if there are no posts to read.

Time and white wine have made me understand that my relationship to writing is a metaphor for many facets of my life. Scared of not doing well makes me do nothing at all. One of my biggest regrets in life so far is that I didn’t take full advantage of my time at Medill because I was scared that I wouldn’t be great. I remember all the classes, the pro-tips from instructors, and the hours I spent in class studying the art of storytelling, and I’m hopeful that this blog will give me the opportunity to finally apply those lessons.

Long story short—I need to write and mom, please feel free to harass me if I haven’t written recently.

The Bachelor: “It’s Just So Much Smaller Than I Thought It Would Be”

IMG_3005I have to admit that I got super excited when I found out there would be three hours of Chris, the Hamster King of Iowa on Sunday night. After yet another Valentine’s Day alone, I was ready to revel in the glory of a troupe of women competing with each other for the attention of a man whose only real accomplishment seems to be falling asleep with his eyes open. But then I remembered that it was DOWNTON AND GRANTCHESTER NIGHT and I chose to give in to my inner Anglophile, and watched PBS instead. So, today’s post is a Bachelor omnibus. A hideous compilation of two nights of content, reduced to bullet form and pithy remarks. It is long. Really long.

Let’s dig in!

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The Bachelor: 50 Shades of Hay

IMG_2880We’re a little less than two weeks away from the world premiere of everyone’s favorite Twilight fan fic turned best-selling novel turned Valentine’s Day movie, 50 Shades of Grey, and the world has gone mad. While The Bachelor frequently traffics in the absurd—for example, the Bachelorette season when they did a tie-in for the movie “Brave” and had the men dress in kilts and engage in caber tossing…wait, actually, I really enjoyed that. But the show isn’t known for subtlety or shying away from a good double entendre, terrible sexual pun, or long, lingering shots of “swimming in the ocean.” Yet, in spite of all that, as I watched comma eyebrows straddle Chris’ lap, I could feel myself blushing. This came on at 8:19 in the evening! On ABC! In primetime! E.L. James, what have you done to us?

But before we dig in too deep with the “intimacy session,” let’s begin with Comma Eyebrows Cruise Ship Singer. I can’t stop looking at her eyebrows. They are horrific. While I admire her commitment to plucking, and the fact that she has eschewed false eyelashes in favor of approximately 6,000 coats of mascara, she does herself no favors. However, she’s incredibly excited to get her first one on one with Chris. We are treated to several shots of Chris, trying his level best to look pensive as he gazes off into the middle distance. More often than not, he looks mildly constipated and/or confused. I feel for the guy, because he has no business on this show. Despite all of my hamster brain comments, I do believe he might be a good guy, and every time they set up incredibly staged shots for him, he looks painfully out of place. So it’s genuinely refreshing to see him light up when he catches a glimpse of Comma Eyebrows Cruise Ship Singer decked out in a sweater plucked from one of Urban Outfitters’ more culturally sensitive Navajo-inspired collections.

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The Bachelor: Hello, Sister Wives

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Jimmy Kimmel gets some one on one time with The Bachelor.

Right before I sat down to write this post, I decided to take my dog for his pre-bedtime walk. I put on a coat I borrowed from Hagrid over my TV watching outfit (people who know me will assume I am perfectly put together always. This is not true.) of a WWE t-shirt and paisley pajama bottoms, paired with UGGs. It is a charming ensemble, meant only to be worn in the dark of night and seen by my color blind dog. My brain, fogged over with Prosecco and visions of Kmart Kardashian’s thick, false eyelashes peeling away from her eyelids, didn’t think to pick up my keys and I locked myself out of my building. So, I stood outside in a horrible outfit, repeatedly dialing my landlord, who put me in touch with the building manager WHO DID NOT ANSWER. I stared down at my dog, considered whether or not being small gave him feline reflexes and maybe he could scale the wall and…no. No. Too many bubbles floating into my mind grapes. All sorts of terrible eventualities popped into my head and I was mere seconds from ugly crying, when an elderly Russian woman carrying a snifter of Brandy shuffled towards the door. I shouted “I AM LOCKED OUT, WILL YOU LET ME IN?” at her.  She looked me up and down, and said “I save you” and then smiled and let me in.

As I walked up the steps to the 2nd floor and bathed in the warmth of my apartment that is almost never really that warm, I thought “you know what? The women who didn’t get roses tonight? They were saved, too.” From a life of being with someone so incredibly boring that he makes Jimmy Kimmel bearable.

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The Bachelor: “I was like, ‘this thing is really slow'”

IMG_2435A couple months ago, I went to an incredibly depressing Petco. It was in an otherwise bustling strip mall, but the Petco itself was empty. A grooming salon without dogs looks like a sex dungeon, and the straps swayed slightly in the air conditioned breeze. A handful of stray cats from a local rescue wandered an enclosure out front, pawing at a moth eaten fabric mouse. Behind a display of Princess Leia Slave dog costumes was an end cap of hamsters. There was one hamster in an exercise wheel, moving incredibly slowly. I watched it for a while, probably longer than I should have, when a Petco employee came over and asked if I wanted to see the hamster. I said “No, he just looks so sad.”

“No, he’s just always like that,” replied the teenaged boy matter of factly. “Just moves slowly.”

As I watch this season of The Bachelor, I am reminded of that hamster. I looked at Chris’ eyes as he contemplates which Palisades/Betty Ford Clinic escapee to keep around for another week, and I can almost see the tiny hamsters slowly walking on the exercise wheel that fires off synapses in his brain.

This week’s thoughts:

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The Bachelor: When You Cut Them, You Peel Them Back

1417726783_chris-bachelor-560I never, ever agree with the fan favorite contestant for the next bachelor/ette, but my faith in the collective ability of American women to successfully choose a man who would at some point say “I love you” to them has been restored with the selection of Farmer Chris as this season’s Bachelor. I must confess that I find Chris to be boring and maybe a little bit dim. I mean, he seems sweet, successful, close to his family, and likely charms little children and old ladies with a bashful flash of his pearly whites. Adorable bluebirds probably help him put on his Carharts every morning. But not a single one of those characteristics provides for good television, and it makes me wonder how someone like him could still be single. Though I’m all in for a wonderful fairy tale love story, complete with trips to far flung destinations and dates that seem like they are crafted by throwing romantic words against a whiteboard, I am not in for three months of schmoop fest.

Because Chris is aggressively boring, it is clear to me that the producers of the show will distract us with an army of women culled from psychiatric wards across the country, and we will watch as they guzzle wine and test the limits of their liver vs. the anti-psychotic meds they are obviously taking and/or in need of. Then, the producers will edit out the real connection between the genuinely good dude Chris and some super sweet girl (a la Sean Lowe and Catherine Giudici) until the very end.

In any case, let’s dig in!

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Hometown Glory: Best Place to Be Today

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The view from the Seattle to Bainbridge Island Ferry

I’ve never been the sort of person who welcomes fall—I don’t have a Pinterest board devoted to its charms, I’ve never used #sweaterweather on an Instagram post, and I am ambivalent about the return of Pumpkin Spice Lattes at Starbucks. So, you’d think that today, the first day of fall in the northern hemisphere, would be a particularly sad one for me. And you’d be partially right—I will miss cool, misty mornings that melt away into the languid heat of a Seattle afternoon, days where the sun sets well after 9 p.m., and the colorful array of sundresses that I’ll now shunt to the back of my closet. I love summer, and it will always be my favorite of the four seasons. But I’m beginning to understand the charms of fall, too, and that’s why Seattle is the best place to be today.

Sunday was a gorgeous day in Seattle—beautiful, sapphire blue skies, warm breezes, and temperatures that soared just past the comfort zone for most Seattleites. But by early evening on Monday, those skies had faded away, and were replaced with slate gray cloud cover that shrouds Seattle for most of the year, a fitting first day of fall. And rather than muting or dampening the landscape, the clouds provide a foil for emerald evergreens, the first leaves turning jewel toned hues, and the jagged peaks of the Olympics and Cascade mountain ranges boasting their first streaks of snow in several months.

The world seems more quiet, and still. Because the sun is so rare here, a warm summer day encourages a frenetic pace amongst the citizens of Seattle, people eager to soak up vitamin D and store it away for the months ahead. But now, we’ve all hunkered down, and life has returned to normal. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t rain all the time in Seattle—most natives will smugly tell you that it rains more annually in New York City than it does in the Emerald City—and the weather right now, crisp, early autumn with cool breezes, is perfect for long walks accompanied by the perfect playlist of mellow music, preferably penned by a Seattle musician. What I will lack in sidewalk café visits on long summer nights will be more than made up for in cozy coffee shops around the city, in restaurants with fireplaces, and the serenity of a long walk through the forest-like park near my house.

More than anything else, the return of fall makes me appreciate small pleasures that slip right past you in the heat and movement of summer—a Sunday afternoon spent wandering through Seattle’s main public library that also doubles as a beautiful work of art. A ferry ride to Bainbridge Island, emptied of tourists and filled only with commuters who still express awe over the view of the city from water. A chai latte, not iced, with maybe one pump of Pumpkin Spice. The heat from the cup reminding you of summer, but warming you for the cooler days to come.