Changing everything

a birthday blog

Today I’m 29, which I feel pretty ????? about, as I feel about a lot of things right now (namely trying to be normal about everything even though most of the country outside of where I am seems to be in a pretty bleak state). Some people do not want to celebrate their birthdays or even acknowledge them. That isn’t me. I love planning out my birthday and then celebrating it the way I want with the people I love. On Tuesday I was talking to my friend Katie, a fellow Birthday Celebrator, my friend from college who used to live in New York and now wisely lives in Atlanta. Every year on my birthday we would go to the Upper East Side and get frozen hot chocolates and then Katie would make the ultimate sacrifice of someone who lives in Hamilton Heights—taking the train for an hour to Brooklyn to come to my birthday party. “It’s wild to me that no one else plans a full luxe birthday day like we do for our birthdays,” she said after I explained my birthday plans for this year (like some nouveau-riche 90s fantasy, I’m driving to a Korean spa in New Jersey and eating a steak at Peter Luger, both things I couldn’t do last year and can do with some degree of safety in 2021). “Why don’t people treat themselves better?” 

This week I took more consecutive days off of work than I have for all of 2021 (...3. Three days) and relaxed and tried not to do anything I hadn’t already planned to do. It was honestly great—I got drinks with a few people I’d been meaning to hang out with but hadn’t for the past 18 months due to waves hands, went to the new ice cream place that just opened in Prospect Heights (which is interesting because I’m pretty sure these are its owners??), hung out with my cat, took several long walks, ate my favorite sandwich, read a book, reorganized my closet and dresser, and finally reflected on the past year or two. 

Like the majority of people, I’m not even close to processing what has happened on a macro level since March 2020. But when I think about what my personal life is like now, it’s entirely different than it looked a year and a half ago. In case it wasn’t obvious when you were reading this newsletter then, I was, uh, very depressed. In retrospect, it was a bad time to be looking for a job in journalism, and nevertheless, I had decided to throw myself headfirst into the fruitless pursuit of finding gainful employment on the career version of a sinking luxury cruise liner. The rest just kind of reads like a laundry list of unfortunate things that could happen to a person at one time: I had a not-insignificant amount of credit card debt, I was living in an apartment I hated that was constantly falling apart (and I didn’t even realize it was about to be the place where I’d have to spend 99% of my time for a while), I was being sued in a defamation lawsuit (already an intensely emotionally fraught, isolating and stressful experience, but made infinitely worse when you cannot afford a lawyer), I had to cut off a close friendship, I was still very much hung up on a particularly toxic old relationship. Things were bad! They did not seem like they would get better any time soon. I felt very stuck, frozen in the amber of helplessness.

Then the pandemic happened. Instead of just buckling under the weight of what felt like an insurmountable number of related things to overcome (which I really, really wanted to do) I went into fight or flight mode. I decided that the way things were going for me was untenable and I had to change them instead of waiting for another terrible thing to just, like, entropically happen. I felt very out of control of my own life and I knew I had to claw back some of that control to feel better. Without giving myself too much time to panic I set about trying to make some changes as quickly as I could in the moment. I talked to a bunch of people who had jobs outside of journalism and started planning a tactical exit from the only industry I’d ever worked in. I got a job and never properly acknowledged that transition, which was not easy to do, especially starting a new job remotely. Then a few months later, I paid off a bunch of debt. I saved a little bit of money, I moved, I found really great pro-bono lawyers (the case was eventually dropped). Little by little I etched out more changes. I found a good therapist. I began working out again in ways that felt good and not punishing. 

For a long time indecision made choices for me. I felt very helpless. If I didn’t decide what to do, the choice would eventually be made for me, and I accepted that this was better than the uncertainty of actively having to make a decision that might not work out. Last year it became clear that that wasn’t a sustainable way for me to live my life, so I did something about it. Some of my friends have left or are leaving New York, which always felt inevitable but was definitely accelerated by the past year. A lot of people have reprioritized what’s important to them, or are just trying to actively take charge of change in their own lives. 

Not all of the changes I’ve made have worked—at the end of our lease this year, we moved out of the apartment we moved into last year at what we thought was the height of the pandemic—and I’ve started feeling the weight of burnout, more or less pausing all of my freelance work this year in a concerted effort to intentionally do less. But I’m so grateful to 2020 me for making those changes at all. I’m so much happier now than I was.

Thanks for reading this gratuitous birthday brain dump! Now I’m going back to not writing xx 

declaring writing bankruptcy

or: i'm burned out!

This afternoon I took a “lunch break” from work, my allotted half-hour of outside time, during which I walked up the street to get coffee with my friend Kate and help her film an autobiographical TikTok. We were sitting outside Golda drinking iced mochas and I was attempting to explain to Kate why I no longer felt like writing anything and then I finally admitted it: “I’m burned out, I guess,” I said.

Why did it take me so long to arrive at this very obvious conclusion and name what’s wrong with me? If I had to guess I’d say it’s probably because I didn’t want to admit to myself that something so obvious could be my problem. But it turns out years of making writing your identity and your sole revenue stream isn’t, uh, sustainable. I wrote on staff for years. I blogged on weekends at my first job because nobody told me to take a break and I conflated working visibly all the time with a sense of self-worth and a career path forward (the guys who made more than I did out the gate after our internships ended did not do this, and probably still make more than me). I wrote my way through a targeted harassment campaign at my second job because I wasn’t given a choice not to. When I was thrust into the world of freelancing for the first time I wrote because it was the only thing I knew how to do. When I started my non-journalism full-time job last April I continued to freelance because a) I wasn’t used to having a stable job and kept thinking it would slip through my fingers so I had to keep writing (hello, financial insecurity-based trauma) and b) there was truly not much else to do with my spare time back then besides set a timer to open the windows and clap for frontline workers at 7 pm (I assume we have all continued to do this in our apartments in the intervening 15 months).

Now I have mostly divorced my identity from what I do for a living, which is healthy, but I still have a gnawing feeling when i’m not getting bylines—which is entirely of my own doing, I know if I were pitching I could and would be writing for the editors I love and respect at outlets I care about—that I’m doing something wrong. But every time I open a Google doc to start jotting down ideas, I freeze. My brain is worse than empty. It just feels like it’s full of cotton balls. I do my work during the day, but when it comes to anything involving freelance writing or journalism I’m running on fumes. I want to write—about how the internet has warped our identities and behaviors, about food and labor, about tech—but I don’t know what to say anymore. There’s always someone who has already done it better, anyway. I’m out of practice. The past 18 months (and the 6 or 7 years prior to that) have kinda ground me down. 

Really, the point of writing this is to let you know you probably won’t be hearing from me on any extracurricular written projects in the near future until I take some time to recharge. I’m declaring writing bankruptcy for now. In some ways it feels like a privilege to be able to just stop writing cold turkey, as much as the extra income would be helpful to have, but as someone who’s so used to constantly juggling creative projects it also just feels kind of bad and scary and akin to failure. I feel a bit silly writing this down, because part of me thinks it could hurt my “writing” “career” to admit weakness, and everyone else just seems to power through it, but I know I’ve hit a wall and I’ve always tried to be transparent here. Hopefully the next time I publish something on here it’s only after I’ve had some time to get offline, develop a new hobby (?), and stop looking at my phone right before bed. Kinda doubt the last one will happen, but you never know!

Ode to KALLAX

The piece of IKEA furniture that has seen it all

On Labor Day Weekend 2014 I had just moved into an apartment off of the Halsey J stop in Bushwick, Brooklyn, after spending the summer in a still-sort-of-wrecked-by-Hurricane-Sandy Rockaway Park, Queens, in my mom’s cousin Ed’s apartment a block from the ocean. I commuted every day that summer from the Rockaways to Union Square to my internship at a news website and I was relieved to cut my commute in half by moving to Brooklyn. The Bushwick apartment was on Bushwick Avenue. It was actually spacious, but it was kind of a disaster apartment in the sense that we did not take very good care of it, and that lack of care seemed to have preceded us. Yet for the first time in a couple years I had a bedroom to myself. Of course the room itself was the size of a shoebox, but it had a window and a closet (I did not yet understand that these were considered luxuries in some Brooklyn apartments) and most importantly, my rent was like $450, which was a godsend for all of us (One of my roommates worked at a boutique in Carroll Gardens and the other was an unpaid intern at a photobooth startup (again, it was 2014)). I moved with no furniture, so that weekend I moved in I completed a sort of pilgrimage I had never before experienced: A trip to the Red Hook IKEA. I bought a mattress, a box spring, a lamp, and crucially, a KALLAX shelving unit.

(Top half of my KALLAX, currently)

You are familiar with the KALLAX. It is a cube-y storage and shelving unit sold by IKEA, named, apparently, for a Swedish town that has 321 inhabitants. The KALLAX is simple, but it’s cheap, which is why I bought it. There are countless home improvement and DIY blogs that have dedicated space on Al Gore’s internet to tips, tricks, and hacks for making the most of your KALLAX. A ubiquitous piece of furniture in starter apartments, the KALLAX is commonly found discarded and well-worn on a curb, showing up abandoned outside of Stuytown and appearing on discarded NYC furniture Instagram aggregator @stoopingnyc with a comment like “Needs some love but a great piece! Think of the potential!” The KALLAX, according to IKEA’s own website, is “stylish and simple but it does many things.” Over the years my own two-unit-by-four-unit KALLAX has served different purposes: storage, dresser, bookcase. It can sit on its side, horizontally, or high up, vertically. If you had a bigger space or a studio you could use a larger KALLAX to strategically divide your living situation, creating an artificial wall. My KALLAX is white, ostensibly, though years of use have made it more of an offwhite situation. 

In my first apartment in Bushwick my KALLAX served as a sort of dresser, complete with those wicker baskets IKEA sells that fit perfectly into the KALLAX cells. I took the KALLAX with me the next year when I moved into an apartment in Ridgewood with my college boyfriend, and it sat against a wall in our bedroom. I don’t remember what it held but I do remember that in our subsequent breakup I took the KALLAX with me to an apartment in Astoria (but while I won the KALLAX in the breakup I lost my KitchenAid stand mixer, which I assume is still sitting somewhere in a storage unit in Maspeth, Queens). When we moved to our second Astoria apartment once again the KALLAX traveled with me. Its purpose has transformed over time: When I moved to Crown Heights, the KALLAX was relegated to the basement as a storage unit, but when I moved to Fort Greene it became a bookcase in my bedroom. I’m moving again next week and the KALLAX is coming with me: I think it will probably sit in my bedroom closet as storage, or in the living room as a bookcase. All told, the KALLAX has bore witness to about a half-dozen moves; a series of breakups and admissions of relationship transgressions; one bedbug infestation; three years of living with Larissa’s cat, Blu; five full-time jobs; and one incident in which a New Year’s Eve 2017 party attendee drunkenly sat on and nearly broke the KALLAX.

In recent years I’ve gradually upgraded my furniture. My IKEA mattress I bought in 2014 is long gone. I trawl Instagram midcentury modern and vintage furniture reseller accounts during the week, bidding on stuff I can mostly afford, replacing my nightstand, my bedframe, my dresser, my desk. But I can’t bring myself to part with the KALLAX. I don’t understand why: seven years and five apartment moves after I initially bought it, it’s pretty beat up; it’s not really the “vibe” or “aesthetic” I’m cultivating in my new space. Yet when I itemized my furniture for my movers I included “storage cube unit (IKEA KALLAX)” with a little hyperlink to the KALLAX page on the IKEA website without a second thought. Eventually the KALLAX will fall apart, or I’ll run out of room for it, or my friends will have an intervention and force me to drag the KALLAX out to the curb for someone else to pick up, but it’s cheap and it holds most of my books for now, so in a few days I will again clean it out and prepare it to be hauled down a flight of stairs and into another moving truck for another move.

Food, week of November 2

Another way to remember last week

When I think back on election week in November 2016, I remember very little about what I was consuming, or listening to, or watching. It’s not like I was in some fugue state; it’s just that besides the big bad election, it was a kind of unremarkable, banal week. I remember some things, like getting drinks at the Rusty Knot and bringing a six-pack of Miller High Life to a birthday party at a building in Gowanus the Friday afterwards, but there are a lot of holes otherwise. I have been horrible at maintaining a journal this year, and I thought it might be nice to remember something about a very strange and cathartic week in November 2020, so here I am, writing about what I ate last week.

On Sunday I woke up at 8:30 in the morning to a FaceTime from Emma. I was very hungover because we went out the night before and I drank, horrifyingly, at least five mulled ciders at an outdoor bar (it was like 40 degrees that night, so the warm drinks were necessary and justified), in addition to a slate of other adult beverages at Washington Commons. I picked up bagels at the bagel place on Fulton which were Just Fine and came with cold breakfast potatoes that did nothing to assuage my hangover. The bagel I got - plain, with veggie cream cheese - could only be the order of someone who had been drinking for 6 hours the night before and was afraid to introduce too many textures, flavors, and temperatures to their stomach at once. I then doused the potatoes in Tapatio I found in Chase’s fridge to try to improve them and we both just kind of sat on the couch groaning in discomfort while I did the Sunday crossword and eventually I went home to go sit on my own couch and groan in discomfort and watch Jennifer’s Body. This was not necessarily the auspicious beginning to the week that I wanted.

On Monday I went for a long walk that culminated at Mr. Mango and I got one of their premade salads. I will admit that I miss ordering a $10 salad (Chopt) and a $13 salad (Sweetgreen) because I no longer have any use for them in my life on a regular basis so this salad—a honking bowl of chopped romaine with a little plastic divider on top that holds premium toppings, all for the low low price of $7.99—is a good substitute. The one I ordered had tabbouleh and a tzatziki dill dressing. I buy a lot of my food from Mr. Mango (the superior “Mr. Produce” grocer of Fulton Street—it’s just better than Mr. Melon, which is both further from my apartment and laid out in a more confusing way) but will admit that I had overlooked their premade food section, which I will not make the mistake of doing anymore.

On Tuesday I had the day off from work to vote, which I did the weekend before thanks to New York’s early voting system. I made a loaf of lemon poppyseed pound cake that afternoon from this New York Times Cooking recipe, which I got from my friend Kate who also swears by it. I don’t actually like that many desserts, I mostly sort of orbit around the lemon and chocolate flavored things, and this does the job. I cut a third of it and then cut off another big slice and put all of that in a Tupperware while it was still warm and I left my apartment at 6:30 when it was already quite dark outside. I stopped at Hops Hill, which I never went to before I moved to Fort Greene and now patronize weekly, and grabbed some inscrutable IPAs and went to Chase’s apartment and we ate the edibles I brought (“Weedy,” was his note, which, yeah) and proceeded to order $70 of Italian food from some place on Dean Street. Together, we ordered and ate: an order of pasta all'amatriciana; an order of pappardelle with wild boar ragu; fried calamari, shrimp, and zucchini; and some pizza bianca. We ate this while watching the Finding Frances episode of Nathan for You while I avoided looking at my phone. We also ate a slice of the lemon poppyseed pound cake, which I was too stoned to properly enjoy but tasted good anyway. I appreciate that when Chase checked Twitter that night he mostly made neutral noises and did not tell me what was happening. I would find out the next day that literally nothing had happened anyway.

On Wednesday I got a drink with my friend Hannah after work (again, at Washington Commons) and I was very hungry when we left so I asked if we could go get food at that Mexican place on Washington and Hannah was like yes of course so we drank margaritas on a back patio we had all to ourselves. I ordered the veggie enchiladas mole because I am trying to eat less meat because my cardiologist scared me away from it when I went to see her recently by explaining what it does to your heart. The enchiladas were good, and it was nice to be completely away from other people in an outdoor dining scenario because that hasn’t really always been my experience this year. 

On Thursday I was thinking about the pasta I had for dinner on Tuesday and realized that what I wanted to eat, again, was pasta, so I made a bastardized sort of spicy vodka rigatoni. I also had acquired a new Dutch oven that day and was excited to have another distraction so I immediately put it to use. Here’s what you do: you put olive oil in a Dutch oven and add a diced onion and some pancetta, and also three cloves of finely minced garlic. At this point I usually add red pepper flakes but instead I added a tablespoon or two of gochujang and then a bunch of tomato paste and let it turn sort of brick-red while stirring it constantly. Then, vodka. Then, cream. Then, the rigatoni. Then, half a cup of grated parmesan. Then you eat it while you’re watching Real Housewives of Orange County in front of your tv. 

I firmly believed nothing was going to happen over the weekend in regard to learning any new information about the election so when I got a text on Saturday that was like “everyone’s banging pots and pans over here” I no longer assumed the cheering coming from the park across the street was for a children’s soccer game. I ran outside and everyone on my block was hooting and hollering and honking air horns and dinging their little bicycle bells. I went to Diner for brunch and the atmosphere in Williamsburg was just as insane as it was on Fulton Street in Fort Greene. We got the burger (good as always, but who needs that much pickled red onion) and the salad and the egg sandwich and I drank two of Diner’s “corner spritzes” which certainly did the job. Then I went home and napped and went out to meet up with a couple of other friends. I stopped at Bar Meridian and Emma was drinking an espresso martini she hated because she didn’t know what an espresso martini was and eating a bowl of spaghetti, which was so funny to me because my nice friend ordering a bowl of spaghetti as a light bar treat is very funny. We went to Grand Army Plaza and sat in the park with Demo and met up with my roommate and popped a bottle of Gruet a coworker gave me for my birthday and I drank some of that and a White Claw. Eventually it got dark and cold and I walked over to Vanderbilt where there was a truly chaotic dance pit situation happening at Branded, which had a DJ who kept playing the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of” song. I found Chase and his friends and we ordered from MeMe’s Diner for pickup — two patty melts, an order of the potatoes, the chicken tenders — and drank beers in the street, sitting in chairs. Some idiot was lighting off firecrackers on Bergen and Vanderbilt and one came loose and rolled over to the guy next to us and somehow went off directly under him and he was miraculously fine? He kept running his hands over his fire-retardant butt, presumably to make sure it was still there, which tbh, I would have done the same thing. Nobody even blinked. I feel like we all were numb to anything by then after a day of revelry that came primarily from a place of being relieved that Trump ate shit. Of course now it is six days later and case numbers are way up so I have done none of these things this week and I just found out MeMe’s is closing because our stupid governor has done fuck-all for small businesses and if my last nice memory of this fall and of eating from my favorite restaurant is with a handful of people spread out on lawn chairs on a closed off street, well, that’s okay with me.

doing some reflecting at the end of the world

Hi friends, it’s me again! How is your election day going? You getting anything done? Are you voting? Working at the polls? Are you drinking already?

Or are you thinking about where you were four years ago? That’s what I’m doing.

Four years ago I was 24. I was working at what I thought was a dream job at a legacy magazine. I had a little Hillary Clinton mug from Fishs Eddy on my desk at One World Trade Center, I had voted absentee for president in Pennsylvania, and on November 8, I showed up at work for my first election war room. I felt pretty confident that everything was unimpeachably good, or at least not regularly terrible.

Except there were red flags everywhere, and I had clearly just been too naive to see them. For one, when we convened for a little news meeting that afternoon, I learned that we had no plan in place for a Trump victory. Nobody, it seemed, was going to cover the Trump party in midtown. Everyone we had on assignment was heading to the Javits Center for what we all presumed would be a victory party well into the night. Surely Donald Trump wouldn’t win. I can’t speak for everyone else in the room, but it seemed like we all didn’t even consider the possibility. On a more macro level, the Clinton campaign hadn’t spent so much time in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, which were, yes, traditional Democratic strongholds, but as we know now, they ended up being carried by Trump. We were hurtling toward disaster and also trying to figure out which fast-casual spot in Brookfield Place we were going to order dinner from.

I feel like my story is not dissimilar from everyone else’s stories from newsrooms that evening, but it bears repeating because it feels like there’s a lesson in how utterly blindsided we were by the whole thing, and not to negate any responsibility I had as a junior reporter, but the fact that we whiffed it felt like it came from the top down. Like management maybe didn’t really see the election for what it was. Like it really was a game to some people. I guess it was foolish to have been expecting much more.

Anyway, I don’t remember much between the hours of 4 and 7 pm. I guess we ordered burgers from Umami Burger. Mine got cold before I could eat it and the NYTimes election needle was causing me to lose my appetite anyway. At several points I wondered, why am I here? I cover tech. Actually, why are any of us here? But I couldn’t really say that. So I waited until the digital director of our website did. Around 9 pm when it became clear things were really not gonna go in a direction that we’d planned for he gave us a speech about the new era we’d be reporting on, and what it was like covering the Iraq War at the nascent blog he wrote for in the early 2000s, and told us to go home. I left and got on the 6 and went uptown to hang out with a friend of a friend I’d met at my roommate’s birthday party a few weeks prior, who kept telling me I was overreacting and I couldn’t possibly know what would happen yet so there was no use worrying about it. I left at 3:30 am after watching the Trump victory speech and decided I probably didn’t need to see much more of him.

I went home and slept for a few hours and woke up to the sky spitting rain and texted Max, who had slept on a couch at his office, and I think I said something stupid like is anything going to be okay? And Max was like, no, obviously not. I remember getting on the N train and everyone was quiet. It was Bess’s first day at work. I don’t think I said a word to anyone all day. She came and sat at her desk next to me and probably thought I was the most miserable person in the world, which to be fair I definitely was that day. Those days I logged on early and logged off early but I left super super early that day, I think at like 3, and I went to a shitty dive bar downtown to drink with the guy I was dating who had overnight become a socialist and also wanted to go look at houses in Canada immediately. I just felt numb, I felt the same kind of catatonic numbness I feel this week. I couldn’t let my mind consider anything beyond maybe a few nanoseconds ahead of the present because if I had to imagine a future of any kind I’d lose my shit. I never went back to that dive bar. I think it’s maybe closed now.

When I think about four years ago, it’s why I can’t allow myself to be too excited today. I’m not holding my breath, but I’d welcome any degree of change at this point.

Today I talked to Kate (alongside Caroline Calloway—iconic!) about my election day plans online. I also wrote about why I can’t stand brands doing voter activism. Last week I wrote about Allie Rowbottom’s memoir about her family’s Jell-o fortune and my family’s Jell-o salad recipe. The week before I got mad about Zoom Dick. At some point I also interviewed Michael Imperioli about the Sopranos. There will be more writing in the future!

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