Thursday, December 1, 2016

Gone Girls


Tomorrow, I’ll be going in for a double mastectomy and hopefully get closer to putting this breast cancer chapter behind me. It took a month after my doctors asked me to consider the procedure to get a date for the surgery and in that time, I let myself drift into this space of false security where I knew that ordeal was hovering around somewhere out there, but nothing I needed to worry about for now. But then "somewhere out there" became “a week from now,” which turned into “this week,” “in a couple days,” and now, “tomorrow.” Tomorrow. Tomorrow. Tomorrow.

After weeks of holding it together pretty well, I finally broke down a few days ago when the terror hit me. I will never look this way again - ever. When I look at myself in the mirror, I will look completely different, for better or for worse, and I will never be the way I’ve come to know myself. To those who’ve joked and noted that “Dorkys, you hardly have anything there!” (myself included), the loss goes beyond that. I’m not only grieving over losing actual pieces of myself, but also how I’ve come to view myself. This image of what Dorkys looks like, what she’s always looked like, will be completely different starting tomorrow and that horrifies me because I don’t know what that new image is going to be. What will my relationship with her be like? It took me decades to become comfortable with this body, and now I have to start over?

Just typing this is difficult…because I don’t want to say goodbye to this me.

See, this me has been pretty good to me for the most part if you don’t count that whole getting cancer in the first place thing. Yeah, she always got me carded at the bar because I looked like a “Girl Scout” and made shopping for adult clothes a stressful experience, but that’s all been part of my identity for the past 34 years: petite, small-breasted, curly-haired, feisty, tiny, cute. How am I going to feel when I wake up from surgery and my chest is bandaged up, gauze and tape where my breasts used to be? How am I going to feel a week later when the bandages finally fall away? When I look down and see a blank slate where my dark nipples used to be? Birth marks and freckles all chased away by a deep scar racing across my chest.

I know I’ll still feel like this me inside and when I close my eyes, I’ll still see this me as she’s been my whole life. Maybe someday the me in my head will slowly morph into the actual me as time goes on. And while I hope that acceptance comes sooner than 34 years from now, I’m also expecting a profound sense of loss to wash over me when I wake up the following day and many days after that.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Best Winter Weekend Getaways from NYC for Families


Now that Thanksgiving is over (already??) wintertime will soon be here and if you're a parent, a student, or have the great fortune of working at a school like my sister does, then that also means that winter break is on the horizon. I've started working for Time Out New York Kids every week writing fun events listings for their website and for this month's winter issue, I've written a roundup of the best winter getaways the family can take once the snow sets in. I've only been skiing once when I was 11 years old, but it was such an awful, scary experience that I never tried it again. Think climbing up the mountain on a chair lift with no lesson as to how to get off or skiing down a bunny hill and continually smashing up against the side of a barn in order to finally come to halt.

Now after doing research for this piece, I think I'd love to give it another try. Snow tubing and sledding sounds amazing and I've never done either so those are also on my list. Ice skating might be the only snowy sporty activity that I really enjoy especially when its against a backdrop of New York City at Central Park. What are some of your favorite seasonal activities?

For a list of wintry sports spots and more laid-back destinations to visit with your family in the coming months, read Time Out New York Kids' feature on the best winter weekend getaways from NYC for families.

Image: timeout.com

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Stay Cozy


Happy Thanksgiving, all! Today, I am thankful for my amazing, supportive family and friends, the kind words I've received from you dear readers, the fact that I'm still alive to celebrate today, and the 10 hours of sleep I was finally able to get last night. I'm also grateful for this ginormous, cozy scarf that my friend taught me to knit last winter that has been keeping me warm these days. Big and little things!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Starting Breast Cancer Hormonal Therapy – Lupron: Month 1

A
fter being diagnosed with breast cancer this second time around, my doctors decided to up the ante to make sure that it wouldn’t come back again. I’d already had a lumpectomy in 2013, underwent radiation, and then started on a five-year-long plan of Tamoxifen pills. Because my cancer cells were estrogen receptor positive and fed off the estrogen hormone to grow, the pills were supposed to block that hormone from reaching the cancer cells and thus significantly lower my chances of recurrence. But turns out it wasn’t enough. I’m not even four years in and I’m battling this monster again.

Now not only did we remove cancer cells with a second lumpectomy, hopefully clearing out the area entirely with a bilateral mastectomy scheduled for December 2nd, possibly zapping the spot with a second round of radiation, and continuing a daily intake of Tamoxifen (for the time being), but I’ve also started monthly hormonal therapy injections of Lupron. The Tamoxifen might keep estrogen hormone from reaching the cancer cells’ receptors, but the Lupron will completely lower the amount of estrogen I have running through my body. In essence, I will be going into a fake menopause for the next year in the hopes that any traces of cancer still left in my body will be starved to death. Should be a fun ride.

As with most things prescribed to fix one medical issue, this one can mess you up in other ways. For example, a rare side effect of Tamoxifen is uterine or endometrial cancer. Meanwhile, Lupron can lead to a thinning of the bones and worsen depression, two side effects I’m highly wary about because of my petite frame and mental health history. Other common side effects include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood changes, decreased libido, and forgetfulness. And because this drug is typically prescribed to manage endometriosis, a disorder in which tissue that normally lines the uterus is found outside it, a woman’s period will be spotty or stop entirely for the duration of the treatment. Anyone’s who experienced menopause will probably tell you that it highly sucks and that’s basically what I’m expecting out of this journey. When I started on the Tamoxifen, the most common and hardest side effect to deal with was the hot flashes and it took at least two years before my body temperature was able to regain some stability.

The Lupron injection itself wasn’t totally painful, but I was incredibly anxious leading up to it because I hate needles. I went into it thinking it would be a shot on my arm, but they went with my tush instead. This was fine because I think the needle might have poked right out the other end of my tiny arms; I actually have some fat stored in my ass. Some soreness followed for the next couple of days, but Advil helped me handle that.

While my mood has been bouncing around the past month, it’s hard to tell what’s caused by the hormonal change and was is just natural considering this stressful situation.

I kept waiting for the hot flashes and mood swings to immediately take over, but nothing was really noticeable for the first two weeks. By the end of the third week though, I started to get hints of a hot flash when laying in bed. I like to sleep completely covered from head to toe and I’m sure that paired with the heat going in the apartment didn’t help. The first full-fledged hot flash happened towards end of week four. Alex and I were cuddling in bed under the covers. We were both fully clothed and I had on a sweater because his apartment is usually chilly. After a few minutes of nuzzling, I felt my body temperature start to shoot up and when I couldn’t handle it anymore, I sat up, threw the covers off of us, zipped my sweater off, flung the T-shirt up over my head, and sat there wiping my forehead waiting for my body to cool down. It just sneaks up on you so quickly.

“Wait, I have something for you,” Alex said from behind me. I thought he’d go grab me a cup of cold water, but instead I felt his icy hands up against my back.

“Yes,” I moaned before exposing the back of my neck to him so that he could warm his hands on my skin. I usually shriek in pain whenever cold hits me, but this time? It was such a relief.
 
Damn hot flashes, I thought. And so it begins.

Image: dailydropcap.com

Friday, November 11, 2016

The 2016 Presidential Election: Yeah, That Really Just Happened


It's been three days since Election Day and I still can't believe Donald Trump actually won the presidency. During the past year and a half of madness that was his campaign, I devoured any news covering him and the other candidates. I was fascinated, yes, but I just assumed that there'd be no way that such an ignorant loose cannon would get very far. But then the other candidates started falling off and a year after launching his campaign stating that Mexico was sending us its drugs, crime, and rapists, he received the Republican nomination. Surprised me for sure, but then I thought that after three dismal debates against Hillary Clinton, his bumbling idiocy would be so clear to anyone left doubting if he'd be a good president or not. "But look at him!" I'd tell my boyfriend, who was cringing too hard to look at the screen. "Everyone is going to see how terrible he is! This is perfect!"

But no, his supporters kept cheering on louder and no matter how many scandals came to light, pussy he'd grabbed, or derogatory comments he spewed, he found a following of "deplorables" eager to carry their savior straight to the White House. He'd been an entertaining hot mess to watch, but as election night wore on and all that red started covering the map, the dread and frightening realization finally set in: Donald Trump, a man who's taken to Twitter to insult everyone and your moms, was going to be the next president of the United States of America. Up until that final moment, I just could not, would not believe that such a hateful person could win out over all.

And yet he did and that fact hit me like a ton of bricks at 3:30am when the terror finally caught up with me and I started sobbing in bed. It makes me sad and terrified not just because of the direction this country will take under his leadership, but because of how many agreed with and voted for someone who's demonized entire ethnic groups with stereotypes and lies. His campaign has fanned the flames of fear in people and given them the permission to act on that ignorance. Since Trump was named as the president elect, news of confrontations, hate crimes, and bigotry against members of Black, Hispanic, and Muslim communities has been trickling in.

Like others in my social circles, I realize that I am so spoiled by living in such a culturally diverse, liberal bubble. The idea that a racist, sexist demagogue with no clue as to how to run an ethical business let alone America could ever hold the highest office in the country is just preposterous to us. But turns out there's a huge chunk of Americans, namely working-class white Americans from rural areas, who believe differently and who've grown resentful of how our government has neglected them. Trump's promise to "Make America Great Again" by deporting certain people, increasing racial profiling, building walls, bringing back their coal-mining jobs, and instituting discriminatory policies based on religious beliefs resounded with them. And that's the part that really scares me. Because while most of us are hoping that he'll only be able to do so much during his time in office, it's a fact that our neighbors around the country voted for him despite a platform built on hatred and ignorance. Their worries and racist inclinations might have been kept at bay before, but once Trump came in and laughed at the very idea of political correctness, they saw someone who was finally speaking their language. So what if the message was full of insensitivity and lies? Every other politician is full of broken promises anyway. At least here we had a government outsider ready to destroy the party with a sledgehammer, someone who understood them and wasn't afraid to speak his mind. To them, this was someone who could snatch America back from the evil clutches of liberals and minorities. As Van Jones said, "This was a whitelash." Never mind that Trump is just as elitist as those they feel have shunned them in the past.

When I attended Syracuse University in 2005, my friend and I attended an Ann Coulter event. She and I were curious as to what it'd be like because we knew her to be a conservative pundit with nothing but vitriol running through her veins. I couldn't tell you what on Earth she was there to talk about because all that's been cemented in my brain are a) the insults she hurled at a young woman who dared to challenge her prejudiced viewpoints during the Q&A portion of the evening and b) how scary it was to be surrounded by an audience that cheered her on and lavished her with praise. Who were these people and why were there so many of them? Who raised them? Why were they so mean?

And now, come January 20th, we're going to have a bonafide bully leading our country and representing us around the world. "Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division; have to get together," Trump said in his victory speech. "To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people." Oh, really? Now?! Now you want to "come together as one united people" after the divisive venom you spit in our faces? Please, Mr. Soon-to-Be President, how exactly do you propose we heal from the wounds you slashed into us? Because I think you'll soon find that while mere words can launch a crowd into action, it'll take more than just words to soothe the unrest it has caused.

Monday, November 7, 2016

More Decisions, More Surgery


Three weeks after September’s surgery, I was scheduled to have yet another lumpectomy. The pathology results had shown that the margins weren’t clear for one of the two tumors removed, meaning some cancerous cells might have been left behind. Two days before that surgery, my doctors called. They had presented my case at a weekly conference to the hospital’s surgeons, radiologists, and oncologists who collectively felt that I should consider a mastectomy because of the tumor’s weird behavior. They were concerned that it will spread or creep up again despite radiation and medication like it did this second time around. One minute, I’m feeling on top of the world, paying bills, pushing money into my savings account, on track with work, and texting my friends about my wonderful start to the day and the next I’m a sobbing mess. After receiving the day’s fun assignment from my Time Out New York Kids editor, I actually texted, “This is awesome!” Yeah, that kind of morning.

And then this call comes in and just devastates me. I tell the girls. “I’m about to burst,” I reply to their attempts to soothe me via Whatsapp. I run into the bathroom, close the door, and slump into the carpet. Muffled hysterics ensue.

A mastectomy. Everything gone. Mangled. Broken. Ugly. No longer sexy. Or pretty. I’ll look disgusting. No one will ever want me. The pain. It’ll hurt. What if it comes back anyway? F'ing surgery again? More intense. Will I feel an emptiness in my chest? The shock. Waking up and finding nothing there. Just gone.

The suggestion had come up in conversations before. My mom brought it up after I told my parents I’d have to have a third lumpectomy. “Mira a la Kardashian! Y Adamari López!” I corrected her that it wasn't Kim Kardashian but Angelina Jolie who'd had a mastectomy and then shut that suggestion down real quick. That’s way too drastic and never anything I would voluntarily sign up for, I told them. Even when I wrote about Jolie’s preventative double mastectomy in 2013, it still felt so distant from what I’d ever had to go through. My case didn’t feel that serious. It wasn’t even genetic!

And now, three years later, here I am. It feels so unfair to have to consider this decision. I still feel little.

I showed up at my surgeon’s office the following day and asked her a list of questions my therapist helped me write down. She put me in touch with a patient of her’s who was more than happy to chat on the phone with me for an hour, share her experience, and address any concerns I had. I researched and read about the procedure online. What to expect. The benefits and risks. I met my potential plastic surgeon and cried when he told me the process would take so much longer than I had anticipated. I thought I’d be OK by next summer, but no. A year, maybe more. I thought I could put most of this behind me in a matter of months, but because I’d already received radiation once and am supposed to go in for another round, he just didn’t want to risk complications by acting too quickly.

On one hand, this whole situation f’ing blows and quite simply, I don’t want it. Nope. I’ve only just started feeling back to normal after my last surgery and now I’ll have to go through the process all over again. The being physically helpless, the discomfort, the not being able to just do things like wash my hair and shave my arm pits or wear anything other than a button-down shirt. And don’t get me started on taking time off work. But this time around I have to accept that I’m going to need help and I simply cannot do all the things. The big-deal week-long Holiday Handmade Cavalcade I was helping organize for the fourth year in a row? I decided to back out of that along with two other markets coming up in the next month.

But here are the silver linings I’ve been clinging to since deciding that yes, I’m having a double mastectomy.

- If I do nothing, my chances of breast cancer recurrence is 30 percent. After a double mastectomy it would - supposedly - go down to 1 percent. I won’t have to look over my shoulder waiting for this to return (although I can’t front, I’m still scared something will show up somewhere else so I don’t know if that total ease will ever fully return.)

- I won’t need to go in for regular MRIs and mammograms twice a year anymore, which is great because a) those MRIs are so damn loud and obnoxious and b) fewer blasts of radiation, which just cannot be good for me.

- I can turn my lifelong insecurities about my small breasts and the turmoil this cancer has caused me into something better. After seeing the possibilities that breast reconstruction can offer and how some women have reclaimed their body by challenging society's perception of femininity by going flat, getting an amazing chest tattoo, and other feats of “I am still woman, hear me roar,” I’m hoping that I can come out of this journey appreciating my body more than I have before.

It’s been a week and a half since I made my decision and I’m still waiting for this surgery to be scheduled. This is a problem because I’ve slowly slipped into a mental space that feels like it’s not really going to happen. I’m finally feeling physically better from the last surgery. My left arm is no longer in chicken wing mode. I can wear my backpack, sleep comfortably, and be social again. I can relax because I'm good, right?

But I know as soon as I get that damn call that my surgery has been scheduled, it’s going to get way too real all over again.

Monday, October 17, 2016

A Chat With: William Álvarez

Sometimes a good way to get a little motivation to keep pursuing your goals is to talk to others who are paving a similar path for themselves. Over the next several weeks, I'll be chatting and posting about others who've marched off the norm in their careers or personal lives, have ditched their 9-to-5 jobs to pursue their true passion, embraced the freelance life, have made travel a priority, created their own business from the ground up, or are just kicking ass according to their own rules.


Name: William Álvarez
Location: New Jersey/New York

Describe your current work + life situation.

I'm based out of the NJ/NY area, and spend around 10 days every month traveling to anywhere in the world that I have friends to visit. Most of the times these are places near a beach. My travel plans include a now official (and almost obligated) quarterly trip to Colombia, which where I'm from originally.

I quit my corporate job a year ago and started consulting on search engine marketing on my own. I work remotely and deliver client work over emails and phone calls. This allows me to manage my own time and gives me the flexibility to do my job from anywhere in the world I want and can be. I'm a free agent and sell my time based on my immediate life plans.

What route did you have to take to get here?

After so many years thinking about jumping on this lifestyle, I hesitated so much because I was concerned about not having a steady income, so everything was about not making money. At the same time, I was quitting my job because money was not a motivation for me anymore. After becoming more experienced in my field and cultivating my professional network, I have found it pretty easy to get gigs consistently every month and money stopped being a concern. I set up my business myself, got help from a lawyer and a CPA, put up a basic but complete website and have my social profiles up to date with contact information and my full skills and services offered.

What are some of your biggest accomplishments so far?

My biggest accomplishments have to do more with nurturing my passions. Something I could not do with peace of mind while I had a 9-to-5 job. I have more time now to train in capoeira almost every day, and learn more from more people around the world that I really admire. I've become a better player and my game has improved a lot. I dedicate more time to physical activities and feel much better mentally too. I'm never worried about what I can do to keep my boss happy? Instead, I now focus on making myself happy. On the professional side, my clients are happy with what I do and have no problem with me traveling around the world.

What are some of the greatest things about living the life you do?

I don't have set schedules for anything. Well, work sometimes still requires that, but much less than when I was an employee. I can spend a whole week day watching Netflix and no one is going to tell me anything. I can meet a different friend for lunch every day and can keep up with their lives. Overall, I'm never rushed to finish anything or meet a deadline, or aspects of life that put people under pressure. I have a lot of tranquility today.

What are some of the obstacles you’ve had to face on your journey?

The biggest obstacles were the first months after I quit my job because of the uncertainty about what was going to happen. Had it been a good or a bad decision? Was I going to be able to pay my rent? How was I gonna fulfill my dream of traveling more? There's still a big dependency on work because money doesn't get deposited in my bank account out of thin air.


Your perfect day…what would that look like?

My perfect day is when I'm on the beach looking at the horizon and contemplating nature. I think this is true now and also in the future. I will always want to be by the ocean, on a boat, swimming freely. Soon, I want to start helping misrepresented communities in places that I enjoy, that probably have resources that they don't know how to explode.

What advice would you give your younger self?

To my younger self: be more adventurous and take more risks earlier in life. Don't wait too long.

And what advice would you give those who are scared of making that leap?

To others: be good at what you do, make sure that you're versatile enough to be able to take any or many possible roads in life. Believe in education, no one can take that away from you. Never be afraid of pursuing your dreams, try and if you failed, at least you will have lived that experience and learnt from it. But hopefully you won't fail and will find a more rewarding life.

Follow William on his website, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

Images: William Álvarez

Monday, October 10, 2016

And Then Life Kicks You Right in the Face Again


Since being diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2012, I’ve had to go in for regular check-ups with my lumpectomy surgeon and oncologists. In the span of nearly four years, I’ve had eight mammograms and ultrasounds, PET and CT scans, and five MRIs along with doctor’s appointments every three months until I finally graduated to every six in 2014. When I asked my surgeon how long I’d have to keep going in for check-ups, she said, “The rest of your life.”

Ha, ain’t no way I’m sticking around this city for that long, I thought. I still had dreams of living elsewhere and the idea that I’d have to keep seeing these people every few months year after year didn’t sit very well with me. The only comforting thing was that there were so many eyes on me, radiologists, physicians, gynecologist, and oncologists that should anything else pop up, you’d better believe someone would be on it immediately.

During a typical check-up with my surgeon two and a half weeks ago, she discovered a lump under my arm. It was one I’d felt before, but neglected because there was a similar lump of scar tissue, which was being monitored closely, where the previous tumor used to be. This new lump was right under the scarred spot where a lymph node was removed during that lumpectomy and even though all my previous imaging had come back clear, she wanted to have it biopsied then and there.

What is usually a quick appointment in which I get felt up for all of two minutes before being sent home to go on with the rest of my day, turned into an unexpected emotional blow. I have cancer again.

The tears had already began pouring out by the time the needle first pierced my side during the biopsy. Yes, it hurt enough for me to yell out, but I was also terrified. I’ve walked into every single test with my head in a cloud, telling myself it’s just this fact of my life, no grand deal, let’s just get this over with. But then after every test, when I’m still waiting in my oversized gown for the radiologist to give me the all clear, I cannot breathe and a tiny voice inside asks, "What if it’s back?"

Since my first diagnosis, I knew that I would get it again. No doubt in my mind that it would return perhaps as a way of preparing myself for the eventual fall. I was in my early 30s and in all the years I hopefully have left ahead of me, I imagined that something would happen again. I just didn’t expect it to be so soon. I still haven’t even finished my five-year-long run with medication and my radiation treatment should have lowered my risk of recurrence to less than 10 percent. What the hell did I do wrong? Did I think about it too much? Did I stand in front of the microwave too long? Was it something I ate? Did I spend a year breathing in carcinogens at my last place? Did I miss one too many medication doses? Was it all those mammograms? It didn’t make sense. What was it??

If I thought 2012’s situation was incredibly quick - a week between lump discovery and diagnosis - then this time was dizzying. I was undergoing surgery just five days after that appointment and while I’m grateful for my medical team’s quick response, it left very little time to process what the f was going on. So I turned to my usual coping mechanism: I cried and then I plowed on.

In the last couple of days I got a few more answers as to what was going on and what’s happening next:

1. Cancerous cells were found in this new lump as well as where the first lump used to be. So much for benign scar tissue.

2. It's recurrent breast cancer and both lumps were caught in early stages and with characteristics identical to the previous lump.

3. A swollen lymph node was removed, but no cancer was found there. Cancer in the lymph nodes = really bad.

4. Unfortunately, pathology results from the surgery showed that the margins for one lump was not clear, meaning that not all the cancerous cells were removed. Today, I find out if I'll need to have surgery again.

5. I’ll have to undergo radiation again and to reduce complications that could arise from going through radiation a second time around in the same area, I’ll either have to go in twice a day for 15 days or once a day for 25 days. Either way it’s going to suck.

6. My medication, Tamoxifen, is meant to keep estrogen from reaching the receptors of these cancer cells because it uses the hormone to grow and spread. Clearly that wasn’t enough in my case so beginning today I’ll also be receiving monthly hormonal therapy injections to suppress my estrogen levels. Basically, my body will be slipping into menopause for the next year. I’m more nervous about this than surgery or radiation. I’ve been through both, I know what to expect. This? God...

So with the exception of chemotherapy, we’re pretty much throwing everything we can at this. I’m just tired of having to deal with one blow after another and when I think I’m just starting to finish a plate full of crap, I get dished another. I won’t be able to live abroad for an extended period of time next year. Whatever money I was hoping to save up by giving up my apartment will now go towards paying for my treatments. It’s a chance to reassess, I’ve been told, go back to the drawing board, prioritize what matters. Thing is I thought I had, but it feels like life just served me one big Nope.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Summer Daze


Can you believe that today's the last day of summer already? I absolutely love autumn, but I'm also not thrilled that winter is around the corner. I think I squeezed in quite a bit this season...

1. Hikes and picnics at the park
2. Coffee dates, brunches, summer drinks, and sangria nights with friends
3. Moved out of my apartment
4. Performances by my musical friends
5. Bike rides along the Hudson River
6. A musical adaptation of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night
7. Marc Anthony concert for my mom's 65th birthday
8. Trips to the museum
9. The Dominican Film Festival
10. My little cousin's first trip to the Bronx Zoo
11. Baseball games
12. Rooftop parties
13. Movie screenings on the grass
14. Rock climbing and surfing

You know what I didn't do though? Swim! The only real swimming practice I've had in this year was during our trip to the Bahamas in April. There's always next summer I guess. As for autumn, I'm looking forward to:

1. Freshly picked apples
2. Pumpkin pie spice and cinnamon pancakes
3. Hot cider
4. Sweater weather
5. Changing leaves and fall colors
6. Settling into a new routine
7. More selling and donating things
8. Doing craft markets and shows for Porcupine Hugs
9. Picking up the knitting needles once again
10. Starting to write my memoir
11. Planning for a life abroad in 2017

What are you looking forward to in this next season?

Monday, September 19, 2016

A Chat With: Janet Brent

Sometimes a good way to get a little motivation to keep pursuing your goals is to talk to others who are paving a similar path for themselves. Over the next several weeks, I'll be chatting and posting about others who've marched off the norm in their careers or personal lives, have ditched their 9-to-5 jobs to pursue their true passion, embraced the freelance life, have made travel a priority, created their own business from the ground up, or are just kicking ass according to their own rules.


Name: Janet Brent
Location: Portland, OR

Describe your current work + life situation.

I can work from anywhere with an internet connection. But that usually just means I work at home. My business helps small businesses in personal development, spiritual growth, and health and wellness to grow their community and profits through brand storytelling, ebooks, and digital courses. My background is graphic/web design so I help with all the design and tech to make it happen. I have a roommate at an apartment and still hesitant to put down roots after being a digital nomad and living abroad for four years.

What route did you have to take to get here?

As I mentioned, I lived abroad for nearly four years. I also traveled around the world for a year while running my business. I took a super unconventional path that I wouldn't necessarily recommend. With no savings or cushion, I took a one-way ticket to live in Southeast Asia. I took a full year career sabbatical living without much money, which included being in a Buddhist monastery retreat and walking 400 miles in Palawan island with a local Filipino. I also lived in a poor slum community because I was so broke. I learned business and web design skills from scratch while starting freelancing on the side. It was kind of like being in the kiddie pool. A training phase. I've improved SO much, both in my skill levels with design and tech and how to build a business.

What are some of your biggest accomplishments so far?

My accomplishment is just not giving up. So many times I keep thinking I should just throw in the towel, but I feel compelled to keep going. It's been a long, slow road. It felt very much like a hobby business for the first few years, not getting much traction. Now I'm serious and motivated to grow beyond myself. The moment you decide to do something, it is done. Linear time just has to catch up. To make a full-time living doing what you love takes some level of success, but now I'm ready for my next phase of success: scaling my growth!


What are some of the greatest things about living the life you do?

I love the freedom my schedule allows. I could take a random road trip to Seattle to meet a client and eat my way around Pike Place Market, run a 10k in Portland, and focus on "client onboarding", which really just means relationship building, and then hand off tasks to delegate with another designer (I'm absolutely about to do all of those things). I love making business decisions and literally feel like the sky is the limit with how I want my business to look like in terms of creative offerings.

What are some of the obstacles you’ve had to face on your journey?

So many obstacles! As I mentioned, living in a slum. That meant battling my poverty mindset and stories around lack which has taken me a long time to overcome because I'm stubborn. It's still a process and a work in progress. So I've had to face battling a high amount of debt, living with my mom which made me feel like a loser (I'm moved out now), and other things. I'm still working on it.

Your perfect day…what would that look like?

Still somewhere exotic, and traveling. Or at least somewhere near the ocean! After living in Oregon most my life aside from the time in Southeast Asia, I've got my sights on California. Having some sort of movement practice like yoga in the morning, and exercising at least 30 minutes a day. Drinking a green smoothie for breakfast. Working on my mindset through meditation or mantras and affirmations, and gratitude practice. Basically being more intentional on my self-care to make sure I'm operating at an optimal level. Then meeting a new client on Skype, and doing three to four hours of client work a day, then one to two hours of marketing and working on my business. And, of course, being with my special someone and cooking something good for dinner together, which usually just means he takes over while I wash the dishes - I'm fine with it.

What’s your current mantra?

Dance to your own beat.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Dear Janet, Seriously, you're amazing. Just do you. The rest of it will work itself out.

And what advice would you give those who are scared of making that leap?

Baby steps will get you there. So think small. It sounds counterintuitive because you want to think big. But in order to get there, you have to take small incremental steps. Think small. Give yourself some cushion. It doesn't have to be money, necessarily, but even a community of people that has your back. So start networking. That's the smartest way to get a job or make a job these days. Also, I said I had no cushion when I traveled to Asia and that's partly true, because I had zero savings and less than $8,000, but I had my family, and then a Buddhist monastery - and that's a huge cushion! If you want to see how to live abundantly, live in a Buddhist temple.


What inspired you to light that fire under your ass?

It was a "nightmare client" that really humbled me to the leaky faucet in my business and motivated me to be better. It was the last straw that made me realize if I was going to take my business and myself seriously, I had to take an honest look at what wasn't working. And it wasn't just "bad clients". There's a lot of personal responsibility that could be improved upon to eliminate bad clients. That meant being a better communicator and better boss, even if that just means bossing myself. I've now hired a team member to fix the so-called leaky faucet in my systems and feel so much better about my process! Learn from bad experiences and it can only make your business better. The bad client was a blessing in disguise because it meant that I decided once and for all to quit my hobby business and start taking myself seriously. I'm always so much more motivated by what I don’t want (nightmare clients!) that it made me want to try harder, rather than give up and get a job.

What’s on the horizon for you?

I now have a full client docket so that means I need to raise my prices and start building my team of designers. I say that so nonchalantly, but it's scary raising your prices at first! But it makes my business better to do so, and it helps clients invest better, too. From there, I'd love to create some sort of digital course of my own, get on the webinar game, and just step up and play bigger, one small step at a time. Eventually, I'll be holding women's retreats around the world, and partnering with other amazing entrepreneurs to hold cruise ship retreats and a self-publishing company.

I also get a percentage of sales with a corset company so I'd like corsets and boudoir photography in the retreat experience. Something about self-love, creative flow, and transformation. I want to inspire women to craft their stories and go on their own adventures, their heroine's journey or Queen's Quest. I also have some erotica stories bursting to come out and am partnering with a friend around that. I'm mostly dreaming because I have a hard time planning things in terms of calculated decisions, but have a brain dump full of ideas that I'm sure will happen eventually. I'm much less linear left brain and more creative right brain. What if dreaming was synonymous with planning? Because I honestly think that's the only way I can get things done. I don't understand people who have their businesses planned out a year in advance or more. It amazes me. I wish I could do it, but I just have to do it my way, since I'm the boss, for better or worse!

Follow Janet on her website, Twitter, and Instagram.

Images: Janet Brent

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A Sunday Morning Trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art


I haven't posted in a few days so I wanted to check in with you guys. How has your week been going? It's already getting a bit chillier in New York City so I've been trying to squeeze in more strolls in the sunshine before my favorite season arrives in a week. Despite glorious weather we'd been having, I woke up in such a foul mood Saturday morning, which was made only worse when the MTA totally screwed my chances of getting to my hair appointment downtown on time. I was turned away and forced to have my hair cut another day. I added that to a pile of "woe is me" complaints that eventually subsided after a good night's rest, the first I'd had in days.

To cheer me up some more, Alex suggested we walk over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for some "fancy coffee" first thing Sunday morning. We walked through Pop Up New York's Upper East Side street fair, tasting popcorn samples, perusing through art, and watching the vendors finish setting up for the day's event. It's definitely several steps up from the typical tube socks and sausage festivals. On our walk back home, we discovered the adorable and hilarious artwork of Joey Allgood.

At the Met, we strolled through the maze of galleries, finding new pieces of interest on our quest for the "fancy coffee on the Met roof." My favorites are the marble statues and mythological characters (this one, of the goddess of the moon and hunt, makes me happy whenever I see her) and it seems that the room full of medieval armor and badass weaponry has a way of luring us into it without my realizing it.


At the Met roof, we were treated to a gorgeous view of the New York City skyline and artist Cornelia Parker's sculpture inspired by the artwork of Edward Hopper, the classic red barn, and the Bates family mansion from the movie Psycho, the last of which was inspired by Hopper's painting House by the Railroad.

Unfortunately, there was no hot coffee to be had at the rooftop café, so we meandered our way back through and down the museum floors to settle into another café. We went to the Met just so this man could get his morning cup of coffee, but when we realized that we only paid a few bucks for the donation-based entrance and get to enjoy a drink surrounded by tapestries and fine art, we agreed that it totally beats Starbucks any day.

I was starving by the time noon rolled around so we tried Candle 79, an organic and vegan restaurant just a few blocks from the museum. While my vegetarian boyfriend knew exactly the type of place he'd suggested, I didn't realize there would be no eggs and bacon on my plate until I browsed through the menu. It didn't matter though; the Benedict and Nuevos Rancheros that we shared tasted really good. I almost forgot that I was eating tofu instead of meat.



Since then it's been workity work to turn in three stories for the first half of this week and gearing up for new deadlines sure to come tomorrow followed by a packed weekend.

How about you? What have you been up to this week? Anything fun coming up?

Monday, September 5, 2016

Cuteness from Target's Cat & Jack Children's Collection


I recently paid a quick visit to Target to buy a bathing suit for that spontaneous surfing trip last month when the cutest backpack caught my eye from the children’s aisle. I’d been pretty meh about the Forever 21 backpack I’d been using for the past year because a) the zipper on the front pocket busted just a week or so after I bought it, b) it was larger than I need it for - toting around my 13-inch laptop and some papers, and c) because it was bulkier, it was sometimes hard to find things in the bag.

Herschel Supply Co. was an early contender when I wanted to move on from messenger bags, but my picks turned out to be way too small for my laptop. They were perfect for my petite frame, but completely useless for my actual needs and on the pricier side so when I found Forever 21’s larger Herschel knock-off, I bought it. It served its purpose for a year, but now it was time for a new one.

This summer, Target launched its children’s collection Cat & Jack using the design ideas from kids around the country and while I can’t say I paid any attention to the clothing, their accessories are the cutest things ever. When I saw the kitty print backpack hanging on that rack, I knew it had to be mine. I mean it had ears! I was fairly certain it’d be the perfect size for my laptop - it was - and still have just enough room for other items. And bonus: I’ve had this thing for a month and that front pocket zipper is still holding strong.

Cat & Jack might be created by and for children, but below are a few accessories that might be a fun addition to your collection.


1. Kitty Print with Ears Handbag | 2. White Bears Cross Body Bag | 3. Snap Closure Multicolored Backpack | 4. Mint Arrows Cross Body Bag | 5. Rose Gold Cat Pencil Case | 6. White Polka Dots Cross Body Bag | 7. Fox Pencil Case | 8. Multicolored Chevron Cross Body Bag | 9. Chevron Backpack

Images: target.com

Friday, September 2, 2016

Potential Energy


This week, I finally turned in the keys to my apartment and closed a chapter I’d been stressing over for the last few months. After a string of long days hauling things out of what used to be my home, waiting on Craigslist people who would sometimes just fail to show up entirely, and seeing my belongings get thrown out, donated, or placed in someone else’s hands, I crawled out on that final day emotionally spent. Even though that apartment stopped being home a good month before, it still sucked to see it devoid of the attention I’d put into it. A part of me didn’t care, I’d been wanting to move on for a while, but in the process I became, as a my best friend put it, an “accidental minimalist.”

Burning Man has been going on this week and for the second year in a row I’ll be missing the man going up in flames Saturday night. Even though I spent last fall and winter determined to return and make it my own, I slowly found that desire wavering as the new year went on. I do want to return and I do miss it, but other priorities took over. Plus, I want to go back when I no longer have something to prove to somebody else and right now that’s just not the case.

I was lying in bed the other night thinking about this and wondering what the hell will come next. I want to make whatever happens after this pretty damn amazing so that this was all worth it. It’s quite obvious though, I still have something to prove.

That said, I’ve already seen a few positives flow in over the last week:

- After discovering that I’d lost my health insurance coverage, I was able to purchase a new plan that is so much more affordable for me. I’d been dragging my feet on switching out for years and this unexpected mess forced me to finally make the leap.

- A new arrangement with therapy as well as no longer having a full rent to pay every month means that I can hack away at those nagging medical bills and save up for future plans.

- I’ve been considering joining a yoga gym in the neighborhood and exercising regularly again. I fell off last September when I realized how much weight I’d lost, but now that I’m back at a healthier weight, I’m excited to reintroduce it into my schedule next week.

- I’ve landed new freelance positions and can’t wait to share those stories with you once they’re published.

I keep being reminded that sometimes you have to take one step back to go two steps forward. I always saw that as a failure - letting up on any progress even if it’s to catch your breath, reevaluate, and then make the next move - because as I’m stepping back, no one can assure me that there’s a step forward coming up for sure. All I see is the increasing distance between my goals and me.

Dad, who feasts on analogies, likes to use another metaphor to describe this stage I’m currently in. When a baseball pitcher goes up to the mound, he said, he sees his target, looks behind, winds up, and in that pulling back he’s able to drive that pitch farther and faster.

I like this imagery better. For one, it sounds way more exciting and purposeful than taking a step forward and back here and there. It incorporates the need to take stock of where you are and what's around you, prepare yourself for the leap, and then throw all your efforts into the aim. Sometimes you hit the mark and when you don't, you dust yourself off, pick up the ball, and launch yourself over and over again improving your technique along the way. It's exhausting work.

Thankfully, along with providing me with a constant stream of wise words and dad jokes, my father taught me how to have a mean throw and I learned how to not be so afraid of the ball.

Monday, August 29, 2016

A Picnic in Central Park


This weekend I surprised the boyfriend with a picnic at Central Park. It's been a beautiful week and he's been working so hard that I wanted to treat him to a few hours of guilt-free relaxation. I have to admit I'd been feeling frustrated and neglected because in the beginning we used to spend a crazy amount of time together. Now? It's been work and life stuff taking over. It's all understandable, but I wanted some time to reconnect.

I asked him to meet me by the fountain at Bethesda Terrace (remember how much I love that plaza?) and then we went off to find a grassy secluded area under a tree. I went all out for this: vegetarian BLT sandwiches, heart-shaped carrot cake bits, avocado cucumber rolls, and other snackies. I even made root beer floats on the spot! Thank God the vanilla ice cream survived the journey on such a warm day.


We lounged around in the shade before packing up our picnic and walking through the park and the Upper East Side. He led me to the Metropolitan Museum, its path lit up as dusk set in, and we sat by the water fountains to watch the passersby. It's so easy to let the time pass by just focusing on to do lists, life goals, and projects day in and day out so this was just the kind of laid-back summery day I'd been craving all month.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Three Harlem Coffeeshops

We all know I love a good writing session at a coffeeshop and during my time living in Harlem (for a whole year!), I visited three that I really liked. Luckily, I’ll still be able to visit the first two on the list without it being a complete inconvenience from where I'll be living in Uptown Manhattan.


The Chipped Cup: I first visited The Chipped Cup several years ago during an apartment viewing, but never returned until just a month ago. For a stretch, it became my go-to suggested place to meet Uptown friends for a coffee date* that was walking distance from my place and easily accessible for those who lived in Washington Heights. It can get a bit packed inside and it’s not the most inspiring of interiors, but the backyard more than makes up for a little retreat from the Broadway traffic out front.

*Disclaimer: I don’t drink coffee so can’t comment on how tasty the java is at any of these places. I’ll stick to water or fruit smoothies if they serve it. One friend has completely brushed aside my opinions on whether a coffeeshop is good or not based solely on WiFi and seat availability, but I hope you’ll humor me.


Max Caffé: After inviting a friend for a coffee date at The Chipped Cup, she returned the favor by telling me about Max Caffé, and as soon as I walked into the place, I fell in love with the dark and cozy atmosphere. There’s outdoor seating, but I wanted to stay inside. Exposed brick, big comfy couches, spaces separated by curtains, paintings and mirrors on the walls, red and wood everywhere. I found a quiet corner for the afternoon and then waited for my friend to join me for what would be four hours of chatting and laughing. Next time I'm there, I’m totally devouring one of their Prosciutto di Parma sandwiches with fresh mozzarella and basil on pressed ciabatta bread.


Astor Row Café: I discovered this spot in early January and was so happy to have found a coffeeshop within walking distance from my house that had plenty of table space, free WiFI, played fun music, and served delicious smoothies and sandwiches (their mozzarella with tomatoes and avocado on ciabatta bread...so yummy and yes, I clearly have a sandwich type). I remember it was a Saturday night when I first walked in and spent hours getting a head start on my tax expenses. A part of me thought wow, this is what my life has become, but I didn’t seem to care much after that.

I also remember telling my friends that I was never bringing anyone into this coffeeshop after a friend broke up with me at another local place. Exactly two weeks later, I invited Alex to Astor Row Cafe to meet for the first time. I guess I'll never learn, but it probably won't matter as I doubt I'll ever return to this place after this month is through and I'm completely moved out of the apartment. Boo.

But onward and upward, literally. Soon, I'll be spending more time in Uptown spots in Washington Heights and Inwood and sharing new places I've fallen in love with or old ones I'd forgotten all about.

What local spots are you frequenting these days?

Monday, August 15, 2016

Hanging Ten


This weekend was so humid and hot in New York City that when Alex invited me to learn how to surf with him and his cousin, I was on that Long Island Railroad within the half hour. We spent our Sunday morning splashing around the cool water in Gilgo Beach and even though I still can't really swim, I decided to give surfing a go anyway. Wouldn't you know that I actually managed to hop on the surf board, hop on an incoming wave, jump onto my feet, and ride that wave for a few feet?! I wiped out so many times before and after that, but it was such a fun experience and one that I'd never even cared to try before this weekend. It feels awesome to see myself slowly shedding my fear of drowning at the beach and I can't wait to jump on a board again.

Now to squeeze in more pool time and swimming practice before the summer is over. I can't believe I haven't gone to a beach or a pool since our cruise trip back in April. I feel like I've been wasting the summer away, though with the way this humidity has been brutalizing us, I won't be sad to see autumn come earlier.

This little getaway was a needed one, too. A week ago, I started moving back in with my family and have been readjusting to living in my childhood home again. After struggling to hold it together in Harlem, I've decided to give up the apartment and spend time refocusing on some goals before jumping into a new lease. It's going to take a little getting used to, living with my mom and brother, but overall it hasn't been as bad as I feared. Of course, there are some major pros (way more family time, saving money, familiar and beloved neighborhood) and cons (goodbye privacy, sleeping on the couch, bickering family), but I think the act of leaving such a stressful situation and being around family as I figure out my next move will prove to be so much more valuable than the sacrifices I'll have to make over the next several months.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Three Simple + Yummy Vegetarian Dishes


I like to cook for others, it's how I show I care, but dating a vegetarian has come with its own set of challenges. Not only will he never get to taste my baked chicken or juicy ribs, but my expertise in the vegetable department is severely lacking. Growing up in a Dominican home, our dinners consisted of our three major food groups: rice, beans, and meat. Any small amounts of veggies were either mixed in with the rice or the salad so as to ensure that consumption went unnoticed by us picky eaters.

Last fall, my weight had dipped back down to 76 pounds and by the time the new year rolled around I was barely clocking in at 79 pounds. I haven't been my baseline weight of 86 pounds (and even that just barely gets me into "normal weight" territory) since 2008, but just a couple months into the new year, I gained five pounds. I'd met with a nutritionist and started making my daily smoothies again. I was feeling happier, eating more overall, and stocking up on two of my boyfriend's favorite foods: eggs and avocados. We'd start the day with a hearty breakfast often consisting of vegetable omelettes, banana pancakes, and a homemade smoothie. We'd snack on fruits throughout the day (mandarins were my obsession as I began weening off of juice) and then have a variety of pasta, salads, rice, beans, and veggies for dinner.

Below, three tasty dishes you can whip up for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.


Breakfast: Quinoa is a nutrient-rich food, high in protein, healthy fats, and antioxidants. And while I'd only ever had it once before this year, I've come to see it as a healthier alternative to white rice. Cook quinoa in a rice cooker or a saucepan according to instructions (typically one part quinoa and two parts water, bring to boil, reduce to simmer, and cover until liquid is absorbed). In a separate frying pan, sauté tomatoes and onions with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Add in an egg or two and continue cooking until eggs are done. Turn off heat and mix in quinoa. Top with avocado.


Lunch: I don't see myself ever being able to say goodbye to bread. I could attempt to curb my sugar consumption in all kinds of ways, but bread will always have space in my heart and in my tummy. For a filling sandwich, try using eggs, avocados, tomatoes, greens, and sprouts. I love sprouts so much when I order Asian food, but I don't know why I don't keep them in constant stock. They add a fun texture to my sandwiches.


Dinner: Pasta! And green stuff? Apparently cooking kale properly is tricky. Sauté a washed bunch in a large pan with olive oil, salt, and pepper and cover for 30 or 40 seconds until it turns a deep green color. Then turn over and remove from heat before it overcooks and turns bitter. In a separate skillet, sauté diced tomatoes with olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Mix in kale and tomatoes to pasta of your choice like gemelli shown here.

Do you try to limit your meat consumption? What are some of your favorite vegetarian dishes?

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Little Prince Debuts on Netflix

When Paramount suddenly dropped the animated adaptation of The Little Prince, Netflix swooped in to save the film and is finally debuting for streaming today. It’s been a good decade since I read the tale about a stranded pilot and the boy who would watch a string of 44 sunsets when he was sad, so I revisited it a couple nights ago before I fell asleep. It’s supposedly a children’s tale, but clearly meant for the adults who might read it to them and to the children those adults used to be. The story is somewhat inspired by the life of its author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a French writer and aviator who disappeared over the Mediterranean during a mission in 1944. This was just one year after he released a book that would go on to be translated into more 250 languages posthumously. I even have a second copy in French so that I could study the language as I read both versions side by side.

The stop-action film looks so dreamy, I can’t wait to see this beloved tale come to life on screen. On my agenda for this weekend: PJs + cereal + Netflix + chill.

P.S. Check out the other titles Netflix is releasing this month.


Monday, August 1, 2016

Toys from your Childhood


In cleaning out the junk in my house, I’ve been thinking about all the stuff that did manage to escape my clutches. Growing up, my siblings and I had so many playthings, more than we knew what to do with. We were very lucky in that sense. I spent most of my time playing pretend with upcycled junk or building tiny dollhouses out of toothpicks (for my teeny Poly Pocket doll), but we were also blessed with loads of toys that were all stuffed into a closet that needed to be opened carefully to avoid an avalanche of plastic.

When we moved from our first apartment to our next one, for some reason my parents felt the need to purge big time…and most of our toys never made it to our new home. I didn’t understand why we had to leave our books and dolls behind when we had so much more space in the new house. I’d go rummaging through our things only to realize that this thing or that thing I once treasured so much was now gone forever. I especially longed for a particular journal, one that was special because it was a gift from my favorite elementary school teacher, with a Renoir painting on the cover.

Eventually, I stopped missing some of those things so much, probably because they were later replaced by others I learned to love just as much, but every once in a while I’ll remember a beloved childhood toy or book and wish I’d held onto it just so that I’d have something to pass on to my own children or nieces and nephews. But knowing how kids roll, I could throw them a paper towel tube covered in aluminum foil, tell them it’s an ancient sword from the 1980s, and they’ll have a field day with it.

By the way, that’s Alex’s childhood bear in the photo. His name is Fred :)

Do you still have any of your childhood toys? Tell me about them. The best story gets Fred in the mail! (Kidding, kidding…)

Friday, July 29, 2016

Adrift


I wanted to write about creativity and such, but after a tough week - physically and then emotionally - I’ve had my mind on other things and it’s left me feeling rather torn. Torn because I keep coming up against measures of success that indicate, to me anyway, that I’m failing, but then there’s still an underlying current of fight inside. Even though I’ve been home with a stomach bug all week long, it wasn’t until I tried to tackle yet another batch of medical bills that I was so sick to my stomach I burst into tears. Money earned instantly disappears to get debts paid off. And they just keep coming in, every day, from all around. Cancer treatment. Imaging. Therapy. Psychiatrists. Just when I had finally paid off surgery and radiation from three years ago, I had to land in the hospital and start another trail of bills. This in addition to paying hundreds upon hundreds for health insurance “coverage” that doesn’t cover very much and charity care that clearly believes I have more money than I actually do.

After hanging up on the attorney now handling my medical case after throwing another $600 into the hole, I buried my face in my knees and lost hope. I work and work to create the kind of life I’d like for myself, but then I look around and wonder, what’s the point? I’m not rich enough for that luxury. I’m not even rich enough to get sick.

*****

This blog goes back so far that I’ve taken to clicking through the relevant stories at the bottom of these posts. It’s like a tiny time capsule for me because I’ve forgotten so much of what I’ve written over the past nine years. Some of those earlier thoughts feel so foreign and immature, but I have to remind myself that I was 25 when I started sharing my life online. “A quarter of a century,” I’d say as if that were anywhere near old enough to know anything.

Last night, I stumbled upon two things that are so close to how I’ve been feeling lately. First, the post “Up in the Air” from August 2011. My life was in flux at the time. I was just given notice that I would be losing my full-time job at the end of that month and wasn’t sure if I should continue with plans for a trip I’d dreamt about for so long. I was struggling with the shock that came with the news as well as disappointment and anger over being so dispensable (I’d also been laid off just two years prior). Did I want to keep hacking through the traditional route working for one company in an office or did I want to break away from that? Could I make it as a freelancer and write about the things I cared about rather doing whatever it took to earn a paycheck? Should I finally start that stationery company I’d been talking about for years?

It’s easier to do what is expected, the norm. Land a job with benefits, climb the ladder, and hope they don’t fire you. Rent an apartment, buy a home. Get married, have kids. Eat, sleep, work, repeat. It’s not because they’re inherently easier to achieve, no. They take a lot effort and motivation, but there are also countless roadmaps to follow and so many mile markers along the way if you want to see how you measure up against others. How long have you been at this job? Does your employer match your 401k? How many vacation days do you get? How big is your home? How long have you two been together? When do the kids graduate from school?

You know you will fit in because most people will have been where you are and they will be more than happy to share with you their similar story of struggle or triumph. To me, it’s felt slightly harder to do something different. Not only because it feels riskier and less stable, but because the urge to compare my trajectory to others' is still there.

I never did go back to an office job. Since that second lay-off in 2011, I’ve worked remotely taking on jobs, going full-time with contracts, then back to part-time, losing jobs, freelancing for others, launching a company, in and out of projects, working from home, abroad, the park, a coffeeshop. The constant churn of ideas is relentless as is this never-ending need to figure out, “What’s next?” What if I don’t know what my next should be?

After I finished my sobfest, I let myself get lost in Vimeo films where I found Adrift. It’s a time-lapse of fog rolling over the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s simple, with beautiful sweeping views of the landscape at dawn, and it stuck with me. Sometimes I feel like I’m not tethered to much of my own. Wayward, in transit, “still figuring it out.” Or rather hazy, and sometimes consumed by it.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Museum of Ice Cream?! Yes, Please!


I don’t know why somebody didn’t think of this before, but a Museum of Ice Cream is popping up in New York City through August. Located right by the Whitney Art Museum and the Gansevoort Street entrance to the High Line park, this ice cream playground will feature a pool of fake rainbow sprinkles to dive into, edible balloons, an ice scream scooper seesaw, ice cream sandwich swings, and other fun interactive art for visitors to experience. And with each ticket, attendees will be treated to a scoop of the week created by a selection of heavy hitters in the NYC ice cream world that includes Black Tap, OddFellows Ice Cream Co., and others.

Bad news: Tickets for the museum’s entire run is now sold out.

Good news: Complimentary admission and ice cream will be offered on opening day July 29 from 11am to 3pm. It’s first come, first served so get there early because it’s the only time you’ll get a taste of this cool treat if you haven’t snagged a ticket already.

Speaking of ice cream, this summer I’ve been indulging on a childhood favorite again: Häagen Dazs vanilla-milk chocolate-almond bars. It’s clearly a sign of the times that I’m now more than satisfied with the mini snack size of these bars (read: I’m getting old), but they still hit the spot during this wretched humidity NYC has been experiencing. I was, and still am, also a huge fan of Häagen Dazs’ mango sorbet, which was great because I grew up to prefer sorbets and didn’t feel too deprived when I developed lactose intolerance in my twenties. This love only grew stronger after traveling to Italy and experiencing legit passion fruit gelato. YUM.

I’m pretty discerning when it comes to what deserves a Lactaid pill and what gets a pass from me, but I’ve had my eye on Black Tap’s monstrous milkshake concoctions for a few months now and a trip to the SoHo burger and beer joint needs to happen ASAP. I mean check out the photos and tell me your mouth isn’t watering at the sight of those desert towers?! That Cookie Milkshake has my name all over it, and I don’t even like cookies. I shall report back once I’ve devoured one of those heavily creations. That is if I don't slip right into a diabetic coma when I'm done.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Why Is It So Hard to Part with Our Possessions?


For the past two weeks, I've been trying to declutter my house. Actually no, I'm trying to do something a bit more drastic than that. What I'm really aiming for is to completely minimize my life by unloading as much of my material possessions as possible so that it'll be easier for me to be more mobile. When I needed to find a new home last year, I almost chose a tiny studio apartment because the larger spaces I was viewing were out of my price range. While the idea of giving up hosting opportunities made me sad, a part of me was looking forward to getting rid of crap I'd accumulated over the years. I don't consider myself a hoarder, but I have my piles of things I've been too sentimental to part ways with. Things like old school papers, art projects, every letter my friends and I have sent to each other, craft supplies, all my childhood diaries, etc. Mind you, these are things I only look through once every couple of years, but every time I do, I'm so grateful I still have them.

When I eventually signed a lease for a one-bedroom apartment, everything came with me and here I am a year later, looking around wondering what's the point of all this stuff I've acquired. It feels more like a home when I fill a place with my things, but I know I don't need most of it. I know this because I can't remember the last time I ever touched that book I thought I'd be all the better for having read. Clothes in my closet still have tags, waiting for the day I can fill it out just right. Do I need 50 pairs of underwear? No. And what about all those tops when my actual rotation only consists of about 10 choices? I'll amass art supplies to nurture whatever hobby I've taken up for the season and then add them to the growing collection when I move on to something else. I've heard a tip that suggests if you haven't touched, used, or worn it in the past year, chuck it. Only when I tried to do that, it was much harder than I thought it would be. I went into the mission thinking it'll be a piece of cake. How much could it possibly mean to me if I've never cared to use it? I even had visions of being able to fit all the things most important to me in this world in one suitcase. I could up and leave whenever I pleased completely unburdened by my earthly possessions! Huzzah!

Yeah, okay, lady.

What really ended up happening was I started picking through my clothes and telling myself, "Oh! But so-and-so gave this to you and you tailored it and everything. Surely, this will be the summer you wear it?" Or "But if you throw this out, one day you'll end up wanting to wear something just like this and then look, you'll have to spend time and money to find it all over again. You don't want to be wasteful now do you? Do you??"

Argh.

Eventually I ended up hacking my clothes pile at least in half if not more, but I'm still not satisfied. I can do better. If I'm struggling with parting with an item, I'll ask myself, "What's more important to you? Keeping this in your life or living abroad?"

But then wanting to part ways with clothes, books, and furniture isn't even the biggest challenge. It's actually going through the task of getting them out of my house. So far, I've participated in a neighborhood flea market that was a total bust unless we go by the number of plastic hangers I managed to sell to one lady. I've started listing books on eBay just to learn how the site works and Craigslist is currently housing my ads for furniture and household items. I'll probably hate myself once I get rid of the storage before I've sold the things I stored inside them, but I just want to plow through. My goal is to spend the next couple of months unloading as much as possible...and then move on.

I've only been in this current apartment for a year, and while the beginning was a rough start that made me reconsider my decision every night for three months, eventually I settled into it and started feeling a bit more comfortable in this new space. Inside, I created a colorful little haven in the hopes of separating me from its crappy surroundings and management. I didn't have a housewarming party until six months into my lease, that's how long it took for me to want to invite friends over. Now, it's as if we're right back to June/July 2015 and I just can't handle the endless string of maintenance issues that go unfixed. This isn't home, this is Chateau Shithole. And while last year I was much too stubborn to call it quits so soon after moving in (and how badly I wanted to move on from my last situation), this time I'm throwing my hands up and saying you win, apartment 1J. It was fine attempt on my part., but now I want out.

Have you tried to minimize your life? How'd you go about getting rid of your things? Donate? Sell? I'll probably do a combo of those, but would love any suggestions you might have before I say screw it and leave it all in a pile on the street.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Animation Block Party Will Satisfy Your Cartoon Cravings


If you love animated films and live in or near New York City, you'll want to check out the 13th annual Animation Block Party. Discover new movies for the young and young-at-heart, creations both local and from abroad, student films, and experimental projects. Then reminisce about your childhood with a look into old animated ads (you know, back when they were almost as good as the shows we were watching) and beloved classics like the Pink Panther, Cowboy Bebop, and the Transformers. Screenings during the four-day event will mainly take place at BAMcinématek in Brooklyn, but there will also be a free outdoor screening at Brookfield Place in lower Manhattan to kick off this year's festival July 28. Cartoon lovers can then gather with other like-minded souls at after-parties taking place Friday and Saturday nights.

For more info, visit animationblock.com or grab this week's issue of Time Out New York with my article on this year's screenings.

Image: bam.org

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Koala Goes on a Cruise

A couple months ago, I mentioned that my friend had begun crocheting cute little animals as part of her daily project for the year. When I saw that she had put a Winnie-the-Pooh up in her Etsy shop, I immediately jumped on it. (Pooh Bear was my absolute favorite character growing up.) Then I saw her little koala and I adopted it for Alex due to an inside joke we developed early on after watching this YouTube video on our first date. She'd named him Toby, by the way.

When we planned for our cruise, Alex had a funny idea. Why don't we bring Toby along and take photos of him "having fun" on this trip? And so I present to you Toby's travel photo album...

Monday, July 18, 2016

A Cruise to the Bahamas + Miami Beach

I’ve never taken a cruise before so when my two friends asked if anyone would like to join them on their trip to the Bahamas, I strongly considered going with them. I asked my friends to see if anybody else wanted to come along, but no one seemed interested. I hesitated because I was also trying to save money, but eventually decided that it might be a good escape.

Alex and I were only a month or two into our relationship when I proposed the idea of him coming with me. It was crazy to go off on this romantic trip to the Bahamas with a man I’d just met, but our courtship up until then had been speedy and crazy already and it still felt good. As nervous as I was about committing to a trip months down the line - I had to take a few inhalations before we booked the cruise and flights - I really wanted to experience this adventure with him. Meanwhile, he didn’t hesitate to say yes when I asked. In fact, he suggested that we add a leg to the trip since we’re both freelancers who can work from anywhere. Didn’t have to ask me twice. We decided to stick around Florida for four more days after the three-night cruise returned to Port Canaveral in Orlando.


I always knew a cruise ship would be huge, but damn. Carnival Magic has fifteen floors of cabin rooms, restaurants, clubs, bars, a waterpark, ropes course, pools, spa and fitness areas..you know, in case you want to work off all that food you were eating. And there was so much to eat. You could nosh 24/7 if you wanted to - and there was a good chunk of the population that did - and the amount of choices were beyond comprehension. Breakfast was a variety of eggs, grilled deliciousness, pancakes, waffles, sausages, bacon, fruits and veggies, cereals, breads, potatoes, etc. and etc. When lunchtime came around, platters of sandwiches, salads, hamburgers, soups, sautéed veggies, pasta, desserts appeared. I mean I could go on and on. A self-serve soft-serve ice cream machine was always on hand. It was right next to a burrito bar and a Guy Fieri hamburger joint, which was pretty damn good, I have to say. I just wish they weren’t so damn stingy with the fries. Everything else they give you heaps of, but fries?!

Any who, the main dining area was buffet style: grab a plate and fill up as many times as you’d like. At the “fancier” sit-down restaurants on board, we were seated at a table and waited on by a server. Alex and I aren’t big eaters and seconds were needed at our dinner outings, but the waiters would let us know that the same gluttonous rules applied there. Once, we told our waiter that wouldn’t be having dessert because we didn’t want to be late meeting our friends for drinks afterwards. He looked flabbergasted. Another, told us to just order one of everything on the menu when we couldn’t decide on what treat to share. It’s been three months since we went on that trip and I still wonder why we didn’t feel like stuffing our faces more often. It was, after all, completely paid for by our booking. The whole situation just seemed so excessive.


The cruise made a day-long stop in Nassau on its second day and Alex and I disembarked early for our Bahamian adventure. We didn’t feel like shelling out even more money for this trips so when the masses lined up for their tours at the port or hopped on a taxi to head to the beach, he and I walked two miles along the island’s coast. Downtown Nassau, which contains the wharf where cruise ships dock, was gritty and quiet on that Thursday morning. It almost reminded me of the city center in the Dominican Republic if it were completely devoid of the maddening traffic and crowds. It was good to see this side of Nassau and notice how the landscape changed as we walked closer to the resorts.

With no real plans or route to get to a free public beach, Alex and I decided to crash Atlantis Paradise Island Resort. We could spot the sprawling high-rise hotel in the distance as we crossed over the Sir Sidney Poitier Bridge onto Paradise Island. And beyond that, turquoise sea.

The key was to act like we belonged there. Don’t look lost or confused. Hide your wrists so security can’t note that our guest bands are missing. Chat. Laugh!

That last part wasn’t too hard to manage considering how silly we felt creeping around this resort as if we were staying there. As much as I craved a dip in any of its swimming pools, we couldn’t risk getting found out. When Alex glimpsed a sign pointing towards an aquarium of some sort, we decided to check it out instead of the rope bridge and lazy river we were initially heading towards. We suddenly found ourselves inside a clear tunnel surrounded by marine life swimming around us and above our heads. It was all worth it if only for the fright on Alex’s face when he turned and found a giant sawfish swooping up over him.


We would’ve called that a win for the day, but we decided to push our luck even further and headed towards the resort’s beaches. Dodging security while walking along the shore was a breeze, but we probably needn’t have worried much because we kept spotting the blue towels from fellow cruise mates sunning on Paradise Beach. By this point, we’d already been walking for several hours without sitting down to rest. I really wanted to drop dead on the beach and relax, but Alex wanted to keep plowing through the sand to find a better spot. I was tired, but I’m so glad we continued our search because past that first beach and at the very end of Cove Beach, we found the white sand beach and beautiful waters we’d caught a glimpse of from the bridge earlier in the day. Best part: we practically had the whole stretch to ourselves. There was one other couple nearby, but the sea was all ours.

The water was so clear and calm, you could see schools of little fishes trying to nibble at our legs, which was freaky as f so ran the hell out of there. Eventually we ventured back into the shark-infested waters to splash around and show off my swimming skills. Guys, after three months of swimming lessons, all I can manage to do is swim backwards. What the hell?! I laughed so hard that day, diving under the water, trying to propel myself somehow, hearing Alex laughing up above, and then jumping up for air and launching myself at him for teasing me during such a vulnerable time. He was right though, I couldn’t swim to save my life, but at least he was determined to teach me how.


The whole time I kept thinking, Jesus, this is probably the most romantic trip I’ve ever taken. Waking up each morning to the sound of waves crashing up against the boat. Clinging to his neck and kissing him while we took a dip in the sea. Relaxing on the deck and watching the sunset in front of us as we left the Bahamas. Getting dressed up for dinner. Dancing. Late-night strolls around the ship when no one was around (all those people and it often felt like we were the only two on the boat). Leaning over the railings to the watch the ship’s wake and the moon lighting a path through the Atlantic Ocean. Hours after we first set foot on the ship, we attended a spa tour and entered for their raffle giveaways. Now guess who won their $200 grand prize? According to the others, my face went into shock when I heard them call out our cabin room number followed by my name. Alex had never had a spa treatment before so I instantly booked an hour-long couples massage for the following morning. That was so lovely…


I couldn’t pass by Orlando without visiting a dear cousin I don’t get to see nearly enough. The visit was much too short, but the three of us had a fun time goofing around, exploring downtown Orlando during an Earth Day festival and catching up while watching TV and discussing the merits and pitfalls of online dating.

Alex and I left for Miami Beach the following morning and aside from a stressful rental car experience, I have to say our first road trip was a success and we both walked away unscathed. I was really anxious leading up to it because of past history, but he was so calm and collected even when both our phones were glitching with directions, that it helped ease my worries that we’d find ourselves into a huge argument in the car.


The next three days were spent going to the beach day and night (our Airbnb apartment was right across the street). The ocean was much choppier here, but I was able to make some progress on my swimming technique, and a sandbar allowed us to trek far into the water without going in too deep.

We’d start our day with lunch at corner restaurant Sazón so I could get my fill of Cuban food and Alex could satisfy his coffee addiction with a café con leche so good he was sad to leave Miami and it behind. One night, he drove us into South Beach for dinner and our usual moonlit stroll to sit on the beach and chat. Sometimes we’d just sit there in silence, probably lost in our own thoughts, but happy to have each other’s quiet company.


You can learn a lot from traveling with a partner, including how they handle stressful situations, running around from one activity to another in a foreign setting, socializing with strangers, and, most importantly, seeing your face for days on end. Those cabins on the cruise ship were bigger than I expected, but still very cozy, and we didn’t get on each other’s nerves. We respected one another’s need to slow down for some “me” time during the trip and compromise came easily because we wanted to make sure we were both having a good trip. If someone felt off, feelings were quickly validated, a discussion ensued, and we were able to kiss and move on with the day. My anxieties over whether this adventure was “too much too soon” subsided and I tried to leave behind feelings about the past or concerns about the future by being mindful about where I was at the moment - having the time of my life and getting in so much sunshine and beach time. And it was a cherry on top to get to know my partner better during all of this and share a new experience with him.

How have your past trip with partners gone? And have you ever taken a cruise? This was my first and I think next time around I'd like to spend more time at a destination. This one was much too short!