Friday, July 19, 2013

The Bean

I've been spending lots of time in the Union Square area lately. The beauty of being a freelance writer is that I can work from wherever there's an Internet connection, but I usually end up working from home because it's cheaper than buying food at a café just to sit there for a few hours. Plus, I'm always guaranteed a spot at my dining room table.

Well working alone in your apartment day after day can get pretty boring so this week I've been tagging along when A. commutes to work and writing from random coffee shops instead. I'll grab breakfast and finish my morning shift just in time to meet up with him for lunch. Then I'll shift gears and work on personal projects in the afternoon. (Notice the increase in blog posts lately?) I have a hard time concentrating in total silence so the coffee shop buzz is the perfect amount of ambient noise to keep me from zoning out. Distractions still happen, but getting through my work is much easier now because I'm not busy trying to find ways to fill the silence.

If you're looking for the perfect little coffee shop near Union Square, I can't recommend The Bean highly enough. I've met a friend for a quick meet-up at the 824 Broadway location before, but yesterday was the first time I worked from there. It was love as soon as I settled into a cushioned seat by the windows. The vibe is mad chill with that right amount of buzz where there's activity all day long without getting too noisy. The music is good, but easily fades into the background and can be tapped into when you feel like paying attention to it. The space is bright and sunny, the seating is really comfy with pillows spread along the window seats, and most importantly, there's WiFi. I spent a full 8-hour workday there yesterday and took advantage of their $5 lunch special (a sandwich, chips, and a bottle of water), which is not bad at all for the area. Another bonus is that they actually know how to properly butter and toast a bagel, a skill you'd think would be easy to master, but you'd be surprised. When you find a place that does it well, you latch on. I definitely intend to do so.

What are your favorite places to work from? Right now I'm spending the rest of the afternoon on the Union Square Park lawn where there's shade from the sun, a breeze in the trees, and free Internet connection in the air. And now that this post is done, I think I'll lay back on the grass and get started on my next read. Happy Friday, everyone!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Childhood Summers in the City

Every time summer comes around, pockets of makeshift water parks spring up throughout the far corners of the city. Illegally-opened fire hydrants spray their contents clear across the street, the children dodging traffic, squirting each other with water bottles, and pulling their shirts over the hydrant's mouth, squealing as the jet stream pounds against their chest. The cars roll up their windows and drive through slowly hoping that the water cools and cleans their vehicles. And sometimes, if you caught the light just right, you could see where rainbows begin.

Whenever I come up to a curb and see the river gurgling beyond my toes, I remember holding onto my dad's hand while my sister held onto his other, two little girls inching their jelly sandals close to the edge of the water before starting the countdown.


In we'd splash, shocked at how cold and good the water felt on our feet as if we hadn't done the very same two blocks before. For kids who never got to swim in a pool (we didn't even know how to) or lived near a playground with a sprinkler, this was a good as it got and we loved it. I couldn't imagine a childhood summer existing without our street river ritual.

Living in a walk-up apartment in the summer had its drawbacks. Going outside unsupervised wasn't an option because, you know, "drug dealers" and there weren't too many places to play anyway. We had no lawn to run through and the park was more of a concrete trap where the steel slide would lick at your thighs on hot summer days. There were no rubber foam landings or plastic play sets; you simply learned fast and accepted that bruises were just a part of it all.

But as kids you make the best of your circumstances because in truth you don't know that anything else could exist and imagination has no care for boundaries. A plastic bag tied to a long red yarn became a kite flown from our fifth floor kitchen window. Water balloons were filled in the bathroom sink and then dropped untied into the bathtub like a ticking time bomb before racing to the front door and back. I couldn't even tell you why we found that so amusing, but we did. The best were afternoons where Mom would turn on the shower (we were a family of bathers) to "cool down the house." It was the 80s and we had no concern for the environment. We'd plug up the tub and lean over the edge to catch the falling water with our hands, cupping them tightly to keep the droplets from slipping through our fingers and into the pool below. Overturned plastic Push Pop bottoms became little boats in our make believe sea.

I think about these things when the topic of where to raise my future children comes up. When I think on my own gritty childhood, I smile and then immediately wonder if I was deprived of some other way your youth is supposed to be lived with bike races down hills and laying on your back in the park pointing at shapes in the clouds. That would've been nice, I say, to grow up with my toes in the grass, but I treasure my moments just the same and made the most I could with the world I was given. And I know my kids will do the same whenever they arrive and wherever they call home.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Around the Corner

Sometimes I like to pretend that someone somewhere out in the universe is watching the story of my life play out, eagerly anticipating the next episodes because they know something wildly incredible is about to happen and I have no idea.

What would you want the next chapter in your story to say?


Monday, July 15, 2013

Do You Ever Feel Not Enough?

Yesterday I found myself fighting the little "I'm not enough" demons, which is insane really because I just spent an entire week working on an assignment and putting all my efforts into doing an outstanding job. Regardless of what may come of it, it felt good to submit a package of hard work that Friday morning. So why was I focusing on my shortcomings when the last month has been nothing but passion and drive?

Too often we focus on the other end of the line, creating an endless string of goals and living from one milestone to the next. It's always good to be ambitious and to work towards self-improvement, but sometimes I feel like I want to just be loved and wanted for who I am in between all those transformations. Yes, future me will be much more awesome than my current self, but that doesn't mean that I'm any less wonderful right here and now. The same goes for you. I forget that sometimes. I forget that while better would always be nicer, I can live with what I have and who I am now. If I decided to stop morphing today because in my heart I felt that I had become the person I'd envisioned for myself, the world would truly just carry on.

But I'm not quite there yet and beyond following the dots of goals leading me through the next decade, my life has also become a dance between striving for better and being gentle with the person who's taking me there: me. If I don't take care of her now and let her know how much she's appreciated, then where would that leave me in the future? Some people might respond to tough love, silently berating themselves to get them through that next mile, but why hate on the person who's out there sweating and putting in the effort? Don't they deserve some love, too?

Even if there's something more you're aiming for, I think it's okay to say that we're just doing the best we can with what we have and who we are. That's got to count for something.


Monday, July 1, 2013

Burning Man: Self-Reliance + Self-Expression

Every time Halloween comes around I always wish the day could last forever and find it funny that the process of dressing up in a different character gives me more liberty to be myself. Perhaps it's because under the guise of being something else, I give myself permission to act how I wish I normally could - silly, playful, joyous, loud - but with limited liability for embarrassment. Basically, I wish I could dress up like Strawberry Shortcake if I felt like it and not be met with odd looks on the street.

In August I'll be heading to the annual Burning Man festival in northwestern Nevada. For an entire week, I'll be camping in the temporary Black Rock City with tens of thousands in an expanse of desert and heat. It sounds intense, it sounds inconvenient, uncomfortable, and rather rough, but after A.'s initial trek there last year I knew I wanted to go and see what I could gain from the experience. In the beginning, it was just to add it to my list and check it off as an accomplishment (because no lie, I'd never even heard of this hippie fest until a couple years ago), but as the date creeps closer, I'm starting to really think about why am I investing into this.

To me it's a personal challenge. It's not just about whether I can live in a tent for seven days, battle the daytime blaze and the cold each night, whether I can handle the blinding dust storms, or if A. and I will emerge from the desert with our relationship still intact. It's more about if I can allow myself to be genuine, curious, and selfless without that fear of what others might think. It's about discovering something about myself that I can then carry back with me...even if it's just the permission to be happy and a realization that everyone's just trying to do the same for themselves and therefore are too busy to spend much time judging you.

I know these are things I can learn here and now without a 10-hour drive or eating PB&J's for a straight week, but I hope this wholly different environment will become my playground and spark something within me. I hope that being surrounded by others who allow themselves to be free and express their character in any myriad of creative ways will make me feel comfortable to explore my own inclinations. If I want to run through Black Rock City in a makeshift bee outfit, then you'd better believe I'm doing it. I'm going to Burning Man to see what comes out of Dorkys, see what transformations I can nudge out of her, and what bits can be left out to disintegrate under the Nevada sun. And I guess seeing some major art installations burn in to the ground in spectacular fashion would be pretty cool, too.

Here's a little taste from last year's Burning Man:

Image: Courtesy of Andrew Gonsalves