Last Fall in NYC

I haven’t updated with anything meaningful in forever.

So I was going through some photos and decided to post some pics from my trip to NYC with my boss last October. She won a super cool “top women in media award” and invited some of us from the office to go with her to pick it up.

We went for a walk from Grand Central to Times Square.

Grand Central Station was right next to our hotel.
Grand Central Station was right next to our hotel.
Times Square
Times Square
Hedwig--Wish I'd had time to see it!
Hedwig–Wish I’d had time to see it!
Times Square
Times Square

Later, I dragged my co-worker Tracy to the Empire State Building after dinner on the night we were there and it was pretty gorgeous!

Times Square from the Empire State Building
Times Square from the Empire State Building
Chrysler Building from the Empire State Building
Chrysler Building from the Empire State Building

I had the next morning to myself and wanted to go for a long walk on the Upper East Side because everything I know about the world I learned from TV, and I figured if Gossip Girl taught me anything it was how to navigate the Upper East Side. So I left my hotel, hailed a cab to the Starbucks closest to Blair Waldorf’s house (he drove me through Central Park to get there) and walked all the way back to Grand Central Station.

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Blair Waldorf lives at the top.
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1136 5th Avenue, overlooking Central Park.

I got a coffee and a yogurt and went for a walk.

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I had a yogurt on the Met Steps, just like Blair Waldorf does every morning.
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The Met!
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The Guggenheim Museum
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Pretty!
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Walking on 5th Avenue along Central Park
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I left 5th Avenue and saw a bunch of high-end shops, like Kate Spade, etc.
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I even cruised past Serena VanDerWoodsen’s house because it was on the way to my hotel!
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And I ended my little Gossip Girl tour where the show started: Grand Central.

I’m a dork. And my trip amused me.

ASBPE Gold Award!

I forgot to post but a couple of months back I attended the American Society of Business Publication Editors’ ASBPE awards and won the Gold for Best Use of Social Media for Foodservice Equipment & Supplies!

It was pretty neat because I had already won the Gold when I was nominated for Best Use of Social Media in the Tabbie Awards. So I’ve won both of the highest honors for social media in business publishing!

Just hadn’t posted in awhile but felt like tooting my own horn!

I Grew Up In Flint — and I’m Glad I Left

There’s a post on PolicyMic making the rounds among my Facebook friends called “This is America’s Most Apocalyptic, Violent City — And You’ve Probably Never Heard Of It” and it’s about my hometown, Flint, Mich.

I read it and didn’t think much of it. I take issue with the very premise. Flint is kind of famous for its endless failures and always makes one of the top spots in every variation of the “America’s Most Dangerous Cities” lists that seem to come out several times a year from various news sources. We also have a fairly famous movie enshrining Flint’s endless failures–Roger & Me, of course.

I’ve rarely encountered people in the Midwest who’ve never heard of Flint, even if everything they’ve heard is bad (and it usually is).

The article I linked above made the rounds on Facebook as anything about Flint does among the locals and those of us who grew up there. And it sparked a lot of “but what about the resurgence” talk and a few people even made lists of their own, counting down their favorite things about the city.

I was struck by the simplicity of the lists, because they were the kinds of things anyone would say about a place they lived and liked and the lists basically boiled down to: I love some of the people here and I have a favorite restaurant and also there’s a lovely cultural scene (that is really a sub-culture as I know just as many people who don’t visit any of the city’s cultural amenities as I do those who do).

However, because we’re talking about Flint, there were a few things people liked about the city that sent a shiver up my spine and reminded me that I’m glad I left. Someone posted that they liked how “tough” Flint is, how it sharpens people because it’s a hard city to thrive in.

My husband and I have long-joked about the idea that Flint is “tough”, but it’s an aspect of life there that I don’t miss at all and, in fact, am very happy to not have to deal with anymore. Tough conditions harden people, make them distrustful, fearful, and angry. And the longer I’m away from the Flint the less hard I am, and the more grateful I am for the opportunities I have to be soft and vulnerable. Vulnerability is a skill I’m still learning to enjoy.

This is a very silly example but this past month my husband built a fun piece of “yard art”–a perfect replica of Snoopy’s Dog House from A Charlie Brown Christmas–and it includes items that could easily be stolen. And I wondered what, if anything, would be snatched from the dog house from our yard in suburban Chicago. So far, nothing has been stolen. Not even the silly First Prize ribbon we pinned to the side of it.

But when we went back to Flint for Christmas the topic of the dog house being stolen was brought up repeatedly. “You think it’ll be there when you get back?” “Anything missing from it yet?” Questions like that cropped up every time we talked about it with Flint-area friends and relatives.

When we got home? Everything was still there, even the First Prize pin. And I know it’s a small, silly thing–and much worse and more dangerous things are happening everywhere, all the time–but it’s the little things that remind me it’s a relief to not have to endlessly worry about battening down the hatches and securing what’s yours before somebody else takes it. The world doesn’t need to be as tough as it is in Flint and I’m glad that I don’t have to be anymore.

Shout-Out to Everybody Who Hates Christmas

This is a little bit different and totally depressing so I’d skip it if I were you:

I don’t hate Christmas. I just understand people who do. You see, I had a tiny pity party for myself in the Christmas wrapping paper aisle at Target earlier this month.

My parents and grandparents are dead, as are a few other key people from my childhood. I live in a different state than the one I grew up in and I don’t live within 30 minutes of dear friends let alone family. I have a stepbrother I never see (though I adore him) and I don’t have any kids of my own.

Mostly I’m fine with all of that (or at least at peace with it). I am very connected via technology and have lots of great friends that live all over the place that I regularly talk to. I’m not prone to pity parties, not really.

Generally speaking, I wouldn’t mention a tiny Target pity party from early in December. But sometimes I worry that I focus too much on the unpleasant memories of the people I’ve lost–it makes the grief easier to swallow. Mostly I try not to think too much about them because I fear the space where they used to be will become a sinkhole and I’ll lose myself in it.

But I know those are melodramatic thoughts, not true to life. In real life your father can die on the prettiest spring day you’ve ever seen and the birds will just keep on singing. Life goes on. And the people I’ve lost each left their mark on me, helped formed who I am. I carry them with me in my head even when I’m not conscious of it.

Still I lingered over the glittering Christmas ornaments and silly knickknacks at Target, not thinking of much beyond my own house until I turned down the wrapping paper aisle. I had to stop short and beat a hasty retreat as I was briefly overwhelmed by feelings of grief.

I loved to pick out presents, agonizing over just the right gift, hoping it was the right fit, the perfect color, the gift that would make the person receiving it feel like I understood their style, their sense of humor, had phoned Santa directly and picked an item off their secret wish list (yes, I am an egomaniac).

But that was just the start because there is really nothing better than a gorgeously wrapped present! My mother was an exceptional gift wrapper. Picking out our wrapping paper was an annual tradition–it all had to match or complement. She loved foil wrapping with big bows and ribbons. One year we did all red foil with gold ribbons and bows and Christmas morning felt like an episode of Dynasty it was all so glamorous! And that was before we’d even opened the presents.

So I was flooded with all of these happy Christmas memories sparked by the wrapping paper aisle. My mother’s love of decorations and wrapping paper. My maternal grandmother’s tendency to be silly and crack us up at the Christmas dinner table–she once made little edible people out of the relish tray and happily made dirty jokes about pickles to scandalize my father’s mother! My father’s unbridled enthusiasm for a good Christmas dinner–we often had Cornish game hens, which were more fun than tasty if memory serves. His mother’s amazing cookies and breads and the piles and piles of food she’d make for just our immediate family on Christmas Eve. My grandfather carefully assembling a Barbie Dream Swimming Pool like it was as important as any project in his wood shop. And those thoughts made me happy but also terribly sad.

Sometimes the hardest thing about the happy memories is that I’m the only person alive to remember them.

On Crippling Self-Doubt and Writing Fiction

Preambling Background Noise

So I’ve written two 50,000+ word manuscripts in the past year and I’m doing NaNoWriMo again in order to finish a third.

I took the first manuscript, a “new adult” angsty romance that I think mostly sucks, and set about editing it. I spent a month revising it, filling in missing pieces and making it into something that felt closer to a real book. I ended up with over 60,000 words and sent it to a friend for some feedback. Working in a vacuum sucks! So it will be good to get some feedback. Maybe it’s not as bad as I am convinced it is.

I started my second manuscript with a burst of creative energy after NaNoWriMo last year and then the world got in the way for a few months before I picked up it up again, determined to make fiction writing a habit. The second manuscript is maybe a little closer to my heart (the laws of the universe tell me this means that it’s either much better or much, much worse than the first one).

I’m working on five short romances built around a given place and theme for this year’s NaNoWriMo. It turns out I don’t like the pace of 1700-ish words a day. I am super happy with about 1,000. So I’m struggling with this fiction writing thing but not just with word count, which I’m sure I can meet so long as nothing majorly unexpected happens.

The Heart of the Matter

The simple fact of the matter is that I’ve been listening to podcasts, studying, immersing myself in the the world of self-publishing as an author because I was very fascinated by it and this all started as a lark and a strong desire to learn on my part, but now I’d like to actually do something with all these words I’ve written. I’ve dug into it and it just feels so tedious and overwhelming and a lot more like marketing than writing, so much so that I want to just go for a long walk and not write anything.

But, of course, these distractions are absurd. I’m writing because it’s pleasurable. I don’t think I’d take any pleasure in the marketing of it (at least not so far). And I don’t want to be stuck writing the same story over and over (it seems the most successful self-publishers are genre or style specific). But then I had to ask myself: What does success look like for me?

So I had to give myself a talking to and remind myself that I do have a job (that I actually like!). I am under no obligation to become a marketing professional. I make enough money to live comfortably. Ultimately, I have to focus on the craft (because I do want to write well and continue to improve and I’ve already given myself permission to suck in order to learn from it) and forget the rest.

I think the real problem is that I’ve been making the craft of writing itself secondary to the business of self-publishing. It seems lots of self-published writers are treating writing as a kind of sport–a race–that they are working on in order to improve their time and their bottom line and they assume that volume will eventually lead to quality.

So I’m stuffing all my self-doubts and going back to focusing on the quiet joys of story and structure.

I’m also giving myself permission to suck at marketing.

I Learned to Embed Pinterest Boards on WordPress

Had to edit code and everything!
Now I’m just showing off.

(If it doesn’t show up I’m totally embarrassed.)(and it doesn’t show up when you change your theme so there’s that–seriously, what is UP with Pinterest embedding!?)

It was kind of a bitch so I figured I’d sum it up:

  • Use the Pinterest widget builder.
  • Copy and past the widget code into the post or page you want it to appear on. I made a board filled with covers of books and magazines I’ve worked on and put it on this page.
  • Then, in your dashboard view on WordPress go to Appearance and then Editor. Click on the Footer (or footer.php) and scroll to the bottom to find the < / body > tag and copy and paste the javascript code the Pinterest widget builder provides just above that tag. Reload everything and that should be it!
  • ONE MORE THING: You must edit your page or post in the html/text view! If you use the WYSIWYG/Visual editor? Your special Pinterest code might disappear. Very tedious but true.

Novel Thoughts: The Terrifying Prospect of Self-Editing

Right after I finished NaNoWriMo last year I had a burst of creative energy that resulted in a slightly more personal work, a novel based on some geographical truths but features a fictional plot.

In the last two months I’ve dedicated myself to writing at least 1,000 words a day, and that’s really given me a source of pride and joy that I wasn’t expecting. I just wanted to see if I could do it, how I would feel about it, and what I’d end up with.

So my second 50,000-word manuscript is complete and this one I actually have some pride in. It’s a mess, to be sure. Lots of holes to be filled in, entire subplots added, scenes taken away. And I’m not even sure if this is my completed first draft, but it feels like a good place to take a break and get a little distance from it (though not a whole year as I did with my last effort).

I’ve been trying to decide what to do next and I’m thinking I should take on a different challenge for a little while. I am considering editing the manuscript I wrote for NaNoWriMo last year. It’s a weak effort, and I understand that it might not be worth finishing and polishing but working on it might actually teach me how to edit my work, how to revise and rewrite and rework with a set timeline in mind. It’s also slightly terrifying to contemplate. For some reason, I keep thinking of the process as a kind of self-editing and it wasn’t until I started to write this post that my thoughts solidified and I realized that my job is not to edit my work in the way I would someone else’s but to continue to flesh it out, strengthen my voice, tighten up everything and continue to enrich this little world I’m trying to create. And that process sounds so much more interesting than what I’d built it up to be in my head.

The most exciting part of this process thus far is just how often I surprise myself.