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On Maturity, Merit Badges and Easy Bake Ovens

The Merits of Adulthood !!!!!
Illustration by yours truly, inspired by The Merits of Scouting.

Being a grown-up, when we were not yet grown, meant the ability to complete crossword puzzles and maneuver sharp objects, like adult-sized scissors. It meant haughty jokes ending in ‘don’t worry about it’ and keys dangling from nervous palms— “Sorry I’m late! There was so much traffic!”— and obsessing over dry, seemingly inane matters like personal safety or the stock market.

Being an adult did not imply much, actually, beyond the ability to unfasten jars and successfully interact with appliances that potentially cause fires— presumably stovetops that did not “heat up” in a spiral with the crank of a lever and ovens that did not “bake” from the warmth of a light bulb. (An aside: I sometimes think I could have been a crazy Martha Stewart-like baker had I ever owned an Easy Bake Oven and still wonder what could have been.)

It certainly didn’t involve 401(k)’s or cover letters or leases on first apartments or any of the accoutrements integral to organized adult life but otherwise so exceptionally boring to think about: Planners, filing cabinets, grocery lists, save the date cards and so on. Being an adult was a responsibility I accepted as a child, but not one I could conceptualize beyond lipstick-stained wine glasses and waking up before dark to start the coffee pot.

Perhaps John Mulaney, one of my favorite comedians, put it best: “[As a kid] I used to sit around and think about what to do about quicksand. I never thought about how to handle REAL problems. I was never like, ‘Oh, what’s it going to be like when relatives ask to borrow money?’”

If you had asked me ten years ago what images I associate with young adulthood, I guarantee you I wouldn’t have said ‘bad IKEA furniture.’ Nor could I have imagined that losing interest in the Disney Channel would in no way be a major benchmark of adulthood. (To me, it always seemed like that was the case. In reality, I have no idea when it happened, but as a reference point, Hannah Montana was not yet on the air.)

Instead, shades of maturity slowly blend in, and I’ve found that it, much like life itself, comes in a series of small triumphs and epiphanies. Sometimes you don’t notice them and other times you’re mildly amazed by events ranging from, ‘Wow, I’m paying my own electric bill!’ all the way up to ‘I can’t believe I actually own this home!’

It doesn’t normally feel all that weird. You and your friends have graduated, gotten jobs, go to happy hours after work in the same bad charcoal dress pants. You find acquaintances you knew in high school have gotten married, or engaged, or had children. You adjust just as you would the first day of school. Except there isn’t a syllabus and no one’s handing out prizes for scheduling your own dental appointments.

Even having been an adult in the legal sense for five years now, sometimes the concept of adulthood is as elusive to me now as when I was a teenager. Most of the time, however, I know exactly what I’m doing, even if I don’t always do it as “adult-ly” as I could.

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On Wild Things

wildthings

Never love a wild thing, Mr. Bell,’ Holly advised him. ‘That was Doc’s mistake. He was always lugging home wild things. A hawk with a hurt wing. One time it was a full-grown bobcat with a broken leg. But you can’t give your heart to a wild thing: the more you do, the stronger they get. Until they’re strong enough to run into the woods. Or fly into a tree. Then a taller tree. Then the sky. That’s how you’ll end up, Mr. Bell. If you let yourself love a wild thing. You’ll end up looking at the sky.”

“She’s drunk,” Joe Bell informed me.

“Moderately,” Holly confessed. Holly lifted her martini. “Let’s wish the Doc luck, too,” she said, touching her glass against mine. “Good luck: and believe me, dearest Doc— it’s better to look at the sky than live there. Such an empty place; so vague. Just a country where the thunder goes and things disappear.”

- Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s

One day you’re a normal citizen, paying your taxes and worrying about panty lines, and the next you’re barefoot and drunk, demanding chicken fingers in a Carl’s Jr.

Though that particular scenario hasn’t happened to me (yet), it isn’t as slippery a slope as one would think.

I’m not specifically talking about alcoholism (although it could also apply) but rather, the gradual process of letting yourself go. In any sense of the term. I’m talking about when you’ve been loosening up on the reigns and letting the best practice routines of your life slip just enough so you start to notice the larger signs. You skip the gym one day, then perhaps unintentionally, have managed to convince yourself not to go for a few weeks. Things snowball.

Some people are natural hurricane-grade messes, tearing through organized rooms and putting everything back where it doesn’t belong and eating all the frozen taquitos. I’m not saying that you’re that much of a mess, but even if you were, I don’t judge. Maybe you’re just a little bit of a mess, or maybe you’re not even the tiniest bit a mess at all, but have no idea of how you intend on maintaining it.

The point is, if you look around one day and found you’ve dig yourself a nice little hole, you can either sit yourself down in the dirt and grow old digging further down or you can throw down your shovel and figure out a way to tunnel the hell outta there.

In life, there are tunnels and there are ladders. If you find yourself in the former, by all means. TAKE THE LADDER.

If there’s something that you’ve identified as a real problem in your life, something that you see as a consistent pattern, immediately start taking the necessary steps fix it. Sometimes this means seeking professional help, sometimes it means simply sitting down and coming up with a solid game plan, but in either event, figure out the vehicle through which you can get out of your own disaster and reign it in. Don’t let it get more out of control. It’s much harder to find a ten foot ladder than it is a step stool.

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On The Great Chair Adventure (or, How to “Reupholster” a Set of Kitchen Chairs for Next to Nothing)

chairs100%withchloekentI would be the first to admit that I possess a shockingly cavalier attitude when it comes to starting DIY projects. ‘Maybe I’ll stain my kitchen table really quickly before I go to the gym’ was an actual thought that occurred to me this week. As was, ‘I think I’ll just paint a wall mural after I swing by the grocery store’ and ‘I should build and upholster my own bench out of pine wood.’ It should also be pointed out that never in my life have I once stained a wooden surface nor painted anything that required precise measurements. Nor do I have any particular carpentry experience unrelated to assembling IKEA furniture or hanging shelves.

My willingness to drop everything and DIY has predictably resulted in a lot of half-finished projects that fester in various corners and drawers of my house. Most of the time I’m able to consciously ignore them like a bad mariachi band on the subway, but letting an assortment of thrifted wooden chairs I’d amassed in my tiny Manhattan apartment wither away so it looks like I live in a serial killer’s lair? I knew I had to get that show on the road. Parkinson’s Law: Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. It was time to pull it together.

I’d gathered four chairs from a combination of thrift stores and Craigslist, and hopped all over this city and the next (by which I mean Brooklyn) to get them back to my apartment. Each chair was wooden and had an upholstered seat, but they were each slightly different, and I very much liked the idea of uniting them with just paint and fabric, like Elsie from one of my favorite blogs, A Beautiful Mess, did in her dining room. Waaaayyy better than an IKEA set, and for less, if you can believe that!

IMG_9905

I couldn’t decide on a fabric I liked, so I bought four yards of tightly-knit muslin from a very cute store in Brooklyn for about $35 and decorated with fabric markers. In typical fashion, I had no plan and just freehanded some test patterns with paint and fabric markers. I ultimately liked the simplest one I tried best, and all I did was use a metallic gold pen to dot the fabric as I caught up with the Real Housewives of New York. (Side note: Carole Radziwill is far and away the best part of that show.) Next I painted the chairs using a quart of Valspar Latex Enamel in Flat White (I specifically wanted a more rustic feel so I didn’t use a gloss finish) and I was told by my hardware store guys that I didn’t need to use primer, but that’s up to you. Next I unscrewed the seats from the base with a Phillips screwdriver. Here’s the where the best upholstery hack comes in: You don’t need to take out the staples, you just put your fabric over it! Seven hours and your manicure, saved.

After I cut my fabric to size I secured it to the seat with the staplegun I’ve been dreading purchasing out of fear for my own safety. I didn’t think I could handle it, but the whole ordeal went without incident. The chair color, though, was another season of Real Housewives and another six hours of my life down the tubes: I painted all of the chairs navy blue, decided I hated it, and re-painted everything white. And then I was done. Easy. Kind of.


So there you have it! If you have six or so hours and about $100 to spend, here’s how to DIY yourself some dope chairs:

  • Materials: One yard of fabric per chair, one quart of paint, scissors, a loaded staple gun, Phillips screwdriver (Optional: fabric markers)
  • Time: Six or so hours, depending on how fast you can paint and staple!
  • Cost: $35 for fabric + $15 for fabric pens (again, completely optional) + $10 or so for paint + $10 or so per thrifted chair
  1. Prep your chairs with a clean cloth so there’s no dust.
  2. Remove the seats by flipping the chairs over and detaching screws with a Phillips screwdriver.
  3. Paint the visible parts of the chairs (apply two coats if necessary) and let dry.
  4. Cut fabric to size and secure to the seat bottom with a staple gun, pulling the sides taut and folding the corners like a present.
  5. Put the screws back in.

IMG_9912What do you think of the mismatched look? Have you done any similar DIY’s at your place? Do you have any tips for me next time?

Filed under: DIY
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On Apartment Hunting

Real Estate Speak, Decoded:

  1. Charming = crumbling
  2. Historic = see ‘charming’
  3. Loft = studio
  4. Massive = enough room to pace on the phone
  5. ‘Prime location’ = close to a subway line
  6. ‘Up-and-coming area’ = dangerous neighborhood

I began apartment-hunting in the same manner as Marie Antoinette would organize an orgy— by which I mean frivolously employing the resources of as many able-bodied people as possible and eating a great deal of pastries while doing so.

I immediately began corresponding with several dozen brokers a day, the vast majority of which could not be bothered to spell my name correctly, much less find me a livable apartment in downtown Manhattan. I’m not complaining, though: Apartment-hunting in Manhattan really isn’t as awful as one could imagine. The only bad thing about apartment-hunting in New York City (discounting the astronomical prices and the crushing realization that your annual rent could purchase a large country home in most other parts of the world) is that no one will ever tell you what’s wrong with the places you’re viewing.

Oh, and the fact that there are a startlingly large number of city-dwellers live in what essentially amounts to a coffin above their kitchen.

Every broker can wax poetic about crown moldings, about “prime” locations, about how this is New York City and blah, blah, blah the rent, the space premium, the 99% occupancy rate. They’ll send over some pictures, professionally-shot pictures, taken from professionally-flattering angles.

But what these pictures will never convey is what’s just out of frame. First, second, third walls: fine. Fourth wall: dead bodies. Three corners of windows overlooking an airshaft. A sink that doubles as a shower. Perhaps there isn’t even a wall but just an empty space, exposed to the elements.

Surprise! It has no closets so get ready to haul your own on in! By the way, it’s in Brighton Beach so I hope you studied up on your Russian!

It’s the real estate equivalent of online dating. The good old-fashioned bait-and-switch.

So how can one ever commit to an apartment if everyone’s lying about their height in their profiles?

The answer is you can’t. You have to see lots and lots of places and not be perturbed by things like fifth-floor walk-ups. As the saying goes: ‘Price, location, size. Pick two.’

Broker language is also tricky. There’s so many little details to keep in mind. The differences between Mott Street/Mott Haven or Hudson Square/Hudson Heights, for instance, are colossal. The difference between a month’s broker fee or a percentage can be thousands of dollars.

Luckily, I after running around the city frantically looking at apartments, I found a good broker and a great apartment.

Here’s my number-one piece of advice for apartment-hunters: Keep in mind throughout the process exactly what it is you’re after. Pick ten things, and if you find eight of them, consider that an option. For instance, I knew I wanted to be in the West Village on a quiet block, I knew I wanted outdoor space, exposed brick, a fire place, a nice kitchen with a dishwasher, good light and big windows, in a unit that was a one-floor walk-up or less.

And I found it. And it’s beautiful. But like I said, you’re aiming for eight out of ten. While the apartment has a fireplace and exposed brick, the light isn’t that great and three of the windows overlook brick walls. But you know what? Despite those things, I feel really lucky to be living here, and I’ll take eight out of ten any day.

Tomorrow you can expect some DIY-focused content on taming your own wild apartment. Look out for it, and best of luck on your own apartment searches!

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On Fear

Five Ted Talks that address fear:

1. ‘Smash fear, learn anything‘ by productivity guru Tim Ferriss

2. ‘What fear can teach us‘ by novelist Karen Thompson Walker

3. ‘How to build your creative confidence‘ by designer David Kelley

4. ‘Why we do what we do‘ by life coach Tony Robbins

…and finally, my favorite Ted Talk of all time:

5. ‘The power of vulnerability‘ by researcher Brené Brown

“I’m sure you’ve heard that a writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people,” the woman says. She’s pretty, stupidly pretty, especially for a life coach (as I silently refer to her) or a “Helping Professional” (as she refers to herself), and I decide that in the movie of my life, the actress that plays her would probably not be able to do her justice.

Almost a year ago, because I was on a kick with this sort of thing, I decided it would be a good idea to seek alternative methods to help sort out my professional aims. I couldn’t justify the $95 an hour hole in my pocket accrued from my first crack at life coaching, so this became the simplest alternative. The woman was a graduate student I heard about through a friend, and at $15 a pop, I had nothing at all to lose.

“I have heard that,” I tell her. “And is a Helping Professional someone for whom helping is more difficult than for other people?”

She laughs politely, with an expression so perfectly contrived I could imagine she spent an entire semester crafting it.

“Well, as you know, writing is a craft…” she says, expertly deflecting. Apparently, a Helping Professional is someone for whom changing the topic comes easier than for others.

“…Right…” I say.

“…So it’s something you have to constantly work at, and as with any other job, it comes with its own sets of challenges that you have to face in order to complete a project.”

“You know, they say a writer never finishes a novel, they just give up on it.”

She allows a perfect gap of silence to permeate her tiny office. The silence, as we both know it will, propels me to elaborate. I sigh. She picks up her pen again.

“Most writing analogies from famous authors are pretty bleak. F. Scott Fitzgerald said all writing is like swimming underwater and holding your breath. Ernest Hemingway said writing is just letting yourself bleed. I think it’s more like that. And it’s terrifying.”

“You’re afraid of writing?” She asks, in a rehearsedly-even tone devoid of any prior convictions. I could picture “Neutrality 101” on her course requirements. “What are you afraid of exactly?”

“I’m not afraid of writing,” I say. “I’m afraid of writing something bad. Okay, so the difference between a normal person and me: A normal person writes a paragraph and it takes them a minute. I write a paragraph, and I could spend three weeks playing around with syntax and comma placement alone. And then in the end I have to just turn something in and I mostly feel indifferent about it.”

“What happens when you sit down to work?”

“Well… If there’s decent WiFi and I’m really in the gutter I normally try and distract myself from being fearful by Googling pictures of celebrities.”

“Googling pictures of celebrities, interesting,” she repeats, as if I’m a lab specimen and this isn’t the most boring thing I could’ve said. In truth, I probably was something of a lab rat in her mind, and yes, anything would be a more interesting distraction than mining the internet to see where the cast of Growing Pains or Troop Beverly Hills ended up.

“Why can’t you just delve into it on your own?” She asked.

“Because I’m afraid of it.”

And there it was. Circling back to the constant self-induced fear I felt in front of a computer screen, it became clear that all of this talk was just beating a dead horse, indulging my own neurotic tendencies to avoid confronting the real problem, which was that ultimately, I was fearful. At the end of the day, the ability to conquer whatever fear is ailing you is entirely a mental game. We’re all afraid of something. So how do we move forward from it? By the willingness to allow ourselves to address it.

That which resists, persists.

If we don’t confront our fears, they will continue to cloud our vision indefinitely. In delving into some of my own fears, I’ve admittedly watched a lot of Ted Talks and found them to be not only a comfort but also a help. The five resources I listed above have been extraordinarily helpful for me and I hope could be equally helpful for some of you. Let me know if anything particularly resonates!

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On Writing

On Writing

The aim is simple, really: write what you know. That’s it. That’s all there is to writing non-fiction. Fiction, even. Writing anything. Just write what you know. Four short words for what should be an impossibly easy task. Except it isn’t. It never is. Instead, I spend more time than I care to admit staring at my MacBook screen until my vision blurs and what few words I’ve written become jumbled and radiate light, the computer cursor still flickering persistently beside them.

It sounds strange, but in those moments I sometimes wish I worked at a typewriter, like the greats of long before my time. Like Hemingway standing before his Royal, positioned at eye-level on a tall bookshelf.  Like Burroughs at his “soft machine,” which he believed spoke for him. Like Anne Sexton, who typed dozens of pages before ever completing a single line of poetry; Like Jack Kerouac, who typed so quickly he could write a mile in thirty seconds flat.

I received an Olivetti as a 21st birthday present and while beautiful, it never gave me the inspiration I hoped it would.

I mostly longed for the life I imagined a writer would have, for afternoons spent lounging around a home office with mismatched leather furniture and old photographs in old frames and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves with sliding ladders. I’d collect and display romantic things no one uses anymore, like those leather monogrammed trunks from when people used to dress up to go to the airport or porcelain carnival glass from when people used to dress up to go to the movies. I’d wear beat-up leather oxfords, grey tweed men’s pants— creased down the middle, low on the waist, double-cuffed at the bottom— and drink Scotch in crystal highballs all day long while typing away at my trusted Olivetti, using a computer only for transcription.

No one mentioned that’s not what being a writer is like.

Being a writer is trying to ignore your cat’s threatening meows while sitting at your cold kitchen table attempting to think of something funny and witty to say that sharply and honestly comments on the futility of the human experience, possibly via some tired metaphor involving, I don’t know, your washer-dryer. Writing is sitting around picking your thoughts apart in your sweatpants while the elastic waistband frays from the brusqueness of your dryer— a token, you start to believe, of a life spent continually circling from one idea to the next, much like your Whirlpool set.

Being a writer is feeling badly for the baristas at the independent coffee houses where you often park your laptop, earnestly evaluating whether you’ve pushed the limits of your bottomless coffee order after the seventh cup. It’s stopping every once in a while to ask yourself “Where am I going with this, anyway?” and “What’s a better word for ‘warm’?” and “I wonder if my ex-boyfriend is dating that girl in his profile picture?” all the while ignoring the persistent voice in your head that’s telling you everything you’re writing is terrible and of zero consequence to anyone besides yourself and the handful of people who actually read your writing instead of skim it and make comments like, “But why a washer-dryer? Where do you even come up with this stuff?”

Yet despite all evidence to the contrary, you tell yourself, “That is of no consequence to me and I will accept none of it! I’m going to finish this and it’s going to be great,” and you forge ahead with your latest essay. Or novel. Or screenplay. Because you’re a writer. And that’s what you do.

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On Getting Your S%#t Together (Or, Where’s My Sword?)

60bf0b556fcc689e5979a5138e3c98f3_largeImage from Provencial Magazine’s Volume One Kickstarter campaign, which I love, and you can support here!

Life— yours, mine, ours, anyone’s, really— never seems to come together all at once. Nothing does. Not a settled life, not a satisfying career, not even a batch of chocolate chip cookies. It all takes time to cook.

Despite having been in the oven for 23 years now, I still feel the growing pains of reaching what I like to call “real personhood.” It comes and goes in waves, this feeling of trying to catch up and stopping every few feet short of breath; that nothing’s going to plan, that maybe there was never even a feasible plan to begin with. I feel self-assuredness and self-doubt in almost equal measure, and when I look around at my friends and peers, I can’t feel like a freak because all of them are in the same boat.

Sometimes it feels like everything will be okay and work itself out, sometimes it feels like everything in the future will go to shit, and sometimes, most of the time even, I’m just fine. I have recurring positive epiphanies I might’ve picked up at a yoga class somewhere and find to be momentarily reassuring: “Everything will be alright in the end,” “Everything happens for a reason,” “I am allowing my life to positively unfold,” “All good things take time,” “No one ever really had their shit together at 23, anyway.”

Yet I still am left with no concrete answer to the ultimate question of when a lasting semblance of real personhood will kick in.

I feel no more prepared for the world than I ever was. I feel no more responsible, no more learned, no less green. Sometimes I feel guilty. My parents have spent what amounts to several hundred thousand dollars on my education, and for what? So I can tell you the capital of Venezuela is Caracas or Michigan’s state bird is the robin? So I could recite various conjugations of irregular verbs in French if you asked?

Armed with a college degree, I sometimes feels like I’m wielding a pool noodle in a battlefield. Where’s my sword? Where are the tools that were supposed to have equipped me in the trenches of adulthood? Will I ever feel completely prepared to go into battle? Does anyone?

I guess the only reasonable conclusion I’ve arrived at is that in order to face a battle, you have to not only sharpen your sword but be ready for whatever’s thrown at you. Most of the time, it’s not as bad as you thought it would be. But in any event, you have to adapt to whatever’s happening in the present moment, and that’s something that can’t be prepared but acted on.

Besides, no one ever feels totally prepared for what comes next. You just have to keep mixing the batter.