Friday, March 27, 2015

Another New Beginning

This photo is relevant, I swear.

Last week I interviewed for, and was offered, a full time job. After a week of weighing the pros and cons, doing more math in one day than in the last decade combined, and making many hard decisions, I decided to take the job. I started on Wednesday and any fears or reservations I had disappeared - this, I quickly realized, is where I'm supposed to be. Thus, it's official: I'm no longer a freelance writer. 

I realize this may come as a surprise to some of my readers. When I wrote about freelancing on the blog, I was usually upbeat, enthusiastic, and positive. This wasn't a lie, exactly. I loved nearly everything about freelancing. The variety of work, my wonderful clients, the freedom of making my own schedule, the joy of working from home, the pride of owning my own tiny business. I felt good about freelancing, even when I alluded to its ups and downs, irregular paychecks, and ridiculous tax burdens. So why am I giving it up? 

In the end, it came down to money. I simply wasn't making enough. I had some really good months, which buoyed me and gave me hope, but those months were few and far between. Most of the time, I made a pretty great part time salary. The only problem was, thanks to five years of graduate school, crushing student loan debt, and a tenacious credit card balance, part time wasn't cutting it. And so I started looking for full time work in my field, which, I'd decided, despite having no degrees or credentials, was content marketing. I recognize that my greatest strength is my writing, and content marketing is a way to use that skill and get paid pretty well for it. (Hardly anyone, it turns out, pays very well for fiction. C'est la vie.) Since I was still freelancing, I didn't rush my job search. I waited for the right position to come along. And then it did. 

My new title is "Content Marketing Specialist," and I'm working at a digital marketing agency in Wilmington, in an office full of smart, creative, and friendly people. While I'm giving up some of my freelancer freedoms (not wearing pants is the main one) I'm also gaining some pretty neat stuff, like a bigger paycheck, health benefits, and a team of talented folks that I'm excited to work alongside. I feel really lucky to have landed this job. As far as marketing goes, I'm self-taught and I know I have a ton to learn. I'm excited that my weird assortment of skills (writing, research, communication, and the Internet) have finally come together in a career that makes sense. And I can't wait to go to the dentist. Seriously. It's been over five years. 

The thing I was (and am) most worried about is acclimating to a 40 hour work week, and still having the time and energy to write. The last time I worked in an office I barely wrote, and quit to go get an MFA. Now, I am telling myself, things are different. I just spent three years in an MFA program. I've already finished writing one book. I've sunk a lot of time and energy into this writing thing, and I know how to prioritize it. Also, if I don't keep writing, I have a number of great friends and a supportive husband who will yell at me until I start again. And so I will start again, and again, and again. 

I spent ten months supporting myself as a freelance writer, editor, and teacher. Even though it wasn't a sustainable career, it was an amazing experience. I learned so much about myself, what I want to do, and how to work really, really hard. I chased down leads, got over my fear of talking on the phone, cold-called editors and businesses, never missed a deadline, put together an impressive portfolio, and paid my bills. All of those self-taught skills helped me land this job, and I'm excited to see how far I can take this career, especially now that I have the support and guidance of an actual agency.

Upward and onward!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Race Report: 2015 Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon

Yesterday I ran the Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon for the third year in a row. A local race that starts less than ten miles from my front door, it offers a full and a half option, but I've always opted for the half. (And will continue to do so, since the full course seems repetitive). The race begins at the beach, includes two bridges that you cross during sunrise, and ends along a busy road (cordoned off for the race, of course) lined with spectators, funny signs, and plenty of dogs. (Nathan counted 51 spectating dogs during the race; I lost count after the first eight because I was too busy trying to maintain my pace). 

As usual, our training for this race was sub-par. Every year I swear that I will run at least three times a week, do speedwork and tempo runs, and smash my PR. Every year I run maybe twice a week, do a little bit of speedwork, and cross my fingers. I used to race and run a lot more, in my mid-twenties. I'm not sure if my desire to do things other than run (such as a drink an afternoon beer, read a book on the back porch, and watch Netflix) is a sign that I am too busy for all that running, or just too lazy. Either way, the idea of running a marathon these days seems insane. You can phone in the training on 13.1, but 26.2 is not so forgiving. 

Though maybe it's me who needs to be more forgiving, because - spoiler alert - I managed to PR yesterday! I suspect this is because, even though I am not running as much as I did when I was 26, 27, or 28, I cross train pretty much all the time. Tons of yoga, lots of kettlebell, and at least ten miles of dog walking each week. It all adds up, as this race proves. 

As for the race itself, I ran it with Nathan and Katie. We'd trained together for the last few months, meeting every Sunday for a long run around Greenfield Lake. Last year, Katie and I ran the race side by side until mile 11, when I pulled ahead and finished a minute or so before her. This year, we split up at mile 3 because she was running a faster race than me and I knew I couldn't keep up. Nathan did the same, because he's always faster than me. So I made sure the two hour pace group was behind me (breaking two hours is always my secret goal) and settled in. 

At around mile 7, Nathan suddenly appeared beside me. He'd had some stomach issues and took a detour in a port-a-potty. We ran together for a few miles, then he pulled away. At around mile 10, I saw Katie up ahead, but she was holding steady and I decided not to try catching up. I was having a hard enough time holding on to my pace - I'd been averaging sub 9 minute miles the whole time, much to my own surprise, and knew that if I could just keep it going until the end, I would break my personal record. I ended up crossing the finish line 11 seconds after Katie, and two minutes after Nathan, for an official time of 1:56:28, an average pace of 8:54, and a new PR. Not bad for a Sunday morning. 

After the race we went home, showered, and then met up at the Dixie Grill for our traditional post-race breakfast. I always order the Dixie Benedict, which is a biscuit, topped with a fried green tomato, covered in scrambled eggs, and smothered in Vidalia gravy. I want another one right now just thinking about it. Later that day I took a nap, drank porch beers with friends, and went to bed early. In other words: a perfect day. 

Numbers, Numbers, Numbers

This part of the post is for running nerds who like stats. I set my previous half marathon record FIVE YEARS AGO, in 2010, at the Davy Crockett Beach Chase, with a 1:58:21. (Which is still one of my favorite races.) As for the Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon, last year I finished in 2:00:20, and the year before that in 1:59:31, so a 1:56 finish is a pretty big improvement! 

I wasn't sure I could maintain a sub 9 minute mile pace for so long. In training, I can usually bang out three miles at that pace, but it's never easy. I think the difference during a race is that I have an extra dose of adrenaline, I taper so my legs are well rested, and I take GUs, which I rarely use in training. The extra shot of energy (I took a GU at miles 5, 9, and 11) made a huge difference. In the end, I kept it steady around 8:50, and my pace was consistent throughout. Here's my mile-by-mile breakdown, according to my Garmin: 

Mile 1: 8:57 (crowded at the start, so we were slowed down) 
Mile 2: 8:37 (trying to keep up with Katie) 
Mile 3: 8:48 (came to my senses and settled in) 
Mile 4: 8:50 (goodbye, beach!) 
Mile 5: 8:47 (ogling many dogs) 
Mile 6: 8:59 (waiting for GU to kick in) 
Mile 7: 8:49 (miles 5-10 are through a fancy gated community, which is sort of dull) 
Mile 8: 8:47 (hi, Nathan!) 
Mile 9: 8:53 (bye, Nathan!) 
Mile 10: 8:56 (get me out of this rich neighborhood!) 
Mile 11: 8:58 (free at last!) 
Mile 12: 8:50 (so close...) 
Mile 13: 8:50 (so close...) 
Mile .1: 7:29 (sprint to the finish!) 

All in all, a fun and successful race. I'd love to hang up my medal and my running shoes and rest on my laurels, except we accidentally signed up for another half marathon, on April 18th. I don't know if I can PR twice in one season, but if this race has taught me anything, it's that you never know. Also that the post-race brunch is worth almost any distance. 

Until next race! 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Friday High Five

Every once in a while, I post a list of five things currently making me smile. This is the latest installment. For past High Fives, click here.

1. Revising like a motherfucker. It's a long story (pun intended) but I'm in the middle of revising my novel-forever-in-progress for the ninth time. I got new feedback from some brilliant people and finally saw the holes I knew lurked beneath the surface. I took the book apart and put it back together, moving scenes from the end to the beginning, adding some stuff in the middle, and I'm currently feeling really good about this draft. Yesterday was particularly productive, and not just because I wrote for three hours in a brewery while drinking delicious, local red ales. (Though that might have helped.) Someone once said being a writer means having homework for the rest of your life, and if there is one thing I believe to be true about the writing life, it is this. Good thing I like homework. 

2. Daylight Saving Time. I know all my parent-friends hate the changing of the clocks, but I am child-free for a reason. One of those reasons? So I can celebrate things like getting an extra hour of sunlight at the end of the day. Let the record show that I LOVE DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME. 

3. Spring Break! Since I am no longer a student and am only teaching one class, this has been an admittedly low-key Spring Break. ("Shouldn't you be in Cancun?" the guy at the coffee shop asked. "I graduated," I replied mournfully.) On the bright side, I didn't have to teach my class all week, caught on grading, enjoyed the lack of traffic in Wilmington, and soaked up plenty of warm, sunny weather right here in my backyard. Growing up isn't all bad. 

4. Toggl. For the last few weeks, I've been using Toggl to see how much time I spend on various tasks. It's been great for me because, like many freelancers, I have a bunch of different clients. Keeping track of minutes spent on each project helps me stay on task, but it also helps me make sure that I'm being paid adequately for the work I'm doing. If, for example, I realize that a project took me three times as long as I thought it would, I can use that information to negotiate a better price next time. (I have yet to do this, but it sounds good in theory.) It's also really easy to use, pretty, and free which is always a plus. Now if only the Internet would tell me where it's been hiding all those missing vowels... 

5. Filing my taxes. This might seem like an odd thing to be excited about, but allow me to explain: I knew my taxes would be a mess this year, so I hired someone to prepare them for me. I'd been dutifully saving 30% from every check I received, since I'd been working mostly as an independent contractor, and filing away a few receipts. With the help of my tax lady and a nice pile of deductions, I only had to pay half of what I'd saved. Which means I got to give myself a refund... which I immediately sent to my credit card. Still, it was very exciting and if you need a tax person in Wilmington, let me know! 

That's it for me. What are five good things happening in your world?  

Monday, March 09, 2015

February Reads

Here are the books I read in February, links to some great writing you can read right now, and my latest publication. (For longer reviews and to see what I'm currently reading at any given moment add me on Goodreads.) Reading is the best!

The Mermaid of Brooklyn, by Amy Shearn 

I've been a fan of Amy Shearn for years and had been meaning to read this book since it came out. I'm so glad I finally did! It's smart, funny, raw, and mystical, which is my favorite combination. When the book opens, Jenny Lipkin's husband, Harry, has disappeared/run off/abandoned the family, leaving Jenny alone in their Park Slope apartment with a toddler and a baby. As if this wasn't bad enough, Jenny also suffers from depression (postpartum and otherwise) and she is in the midst of hottest summer ever, which could drive anyone crazy. One day, when it's all too much, she accidentally jumps off the Brooklyn Bridge, but instead of meeting a watery death, she's rescued by a mermaid, who proceeds to take up residence inside her body. It's not clear if the mermaid is making Jenny do and say very un-Jenny-like things, or if Jenny has simply found an unconventional way to cope with her life. The particulars don't really matter, however. What matters is that Jenny copes (mostly), finding strength and purpose in Harry's absence, rediscovering the self she lost in marriage and motherhood, and eventually realizing that everyone she loves carries their own dark secrets. 

The Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill 

I picked this book up because so many people were recommending it on "best of 2014" lists, and I love a good "best of" list. It was not what I expected at all, but in a good way. I will admit - I took me about 40 pages to get into it. I actually started it three times, because I would begin it right before bed and lose the thread when I tried to pick it up again the next day. This is because in the beginning, the thread is not very clear. The structure is different, the story told in short paragraphs and chapters, with a lot of white space, a lot of jumping around. The beginning feels impressionistic, creating a sense of character and situation, more like poetry than a novel. The conflict is brewing, but doesn't crystallize until mid-way through, which I found a bit frustrating at first. (I'm more of a traditionalist than I like to admit.) 

However, the writing was beautiful and the observations were sharp and funny and sad, so I stuck with it, and I'm glad I did - the payoff was worth it, and by the end I couldn't stop reading. I love that the narrator was a writing professor (obviously) and I love books about marriages (especially ones that are in trouble). Half way through, the book shifts from first person to third, and that's where I became really immersed - I read the last 2/3 in one sitting. I'm so glad I stuck with it! 

On Immunity, by Eula Biss 

From reading this book, I learned so much about the history of vaccinations, how and why the anti-vaccine movement gained legs, and the history of health and wellness - not just in America, but globally. The most important thing I took from this book, however, is that the idea that, when it comes to vaccinations, there's a very small risk, yes. But it's a risk we should be willing to take, a sacrifice we should be willing to make, in exchange for the privilege of being a part of the human race. Biss shows over and over, through facts and metaphors, that we are all connected and no person - or body, or immune system - can ever be truly independent. 

And yet, even though she is clearly pro-vaccination, the idea for this book came to her in the wake of her son's birth, when she was a brand new mother who desperately wanted to do what was best for her son. Because of this perspective, she shies away from shaming people, understands their impulses, and sympathizes with the difficult decisions that parents face. Plus she's a brilliant writer, which also helps. That combination has resulted in such a unique point of view, and such an exquisite book. 

My Salinger Year, by Joanna Rakoff 

Two nonfiction books in one month?! Yes, it's true! I occasionally read something other than novels - and thank goodness, because this memoir was great. Joanna Rakoff is 23 years old when she's hired as a literary assistant in NYC. Her boss is a relic of the past, as is the Agency itself, and they're both struggling for footing in what is quickly becoming a strange new world of publishing. Rakoff, too, is at a crossroads in her personal life, which mirrors (perhaps too neatly) the struggles of the Agency. Who is she? What does she want in life? Who should she love? Will she ever be a writer herself? Why is everything around her changing? Why is growing up so hard? It's a coming of age story, a Bildungsroman, a memoir about beginning and endings, all of which I personally enjoy. I love that time period in a person's life, probably because I've been stuck in it for, oh, thirteen or so years. 

This type of memoir is fairly common, I think, but what sets My Salinger Year apart is the setting in which it unfolds. New York City, the late 90s, the publishing industry, the hallowed halls of a legendary literary agency. I was fascinated by this book for the glimpse it offers into that world. And Rakoff herself is so relatable - a word I hate, but I'm using it here anyway, because that's how much I mean it. Her love for books, the way she connects to the characters and stories around her, the motivation and solace she finds in the written page, her desire to be a part of the world of literature, was so familiar that I couldn't help but fall a little bit in love with her. 

Other things you should read online right now, written by some friends of mine: 

Blackbird, by Joe Worthen (via Bodega) 

I remember reading this in workshop a thousand years ago (or was it last spring? Same difference) and I love it, still. Joe's voice is so precise and funny - I'd recognize it anywhere. 

The Egg and I, by Katie O'Reilly (via The James Franco Review)

Katie is my running buddy and we spend a lot of time talking about works-in-progress while making slow loops around the lake. I can't wait to read her whole memoir about being an egg donor; this essay is sneak peek of what's to come. 

Copse, by Rachel Richardson (via Wyvern Lit)

Rachel read this at her thesis reading last year and it's haunted me since. So happy to see it in print, and relieve the horror whenever I want.

And finally: one of my short stories is in the latest issue of Heavy Feather Review

I submitted a short story to their Vacancies-themed issue last year, and it's finally available for purchase. Not only does it contain my weird story about a man who lives inside the walls of a woman's house, but it also contains work by two other people from my MFA cohort: poetry by Kathleen Jones, and nonfiction by Sally Johnson. What a deal! You should obviously rush out and buy a copy right now

In the meantime, tell me: what are you reading right now? 

Friday, March 06, 2015

Turning a Corner

Sometimes, when reviewing my own Instagram or Twitter feed (we all do this periodically, right? To relive last week and also ensure that we did not post anything too embarrassing while drinking wine and binge watching House of Cards?) I come to the realization that most of my photos and tweets are about eating and drinking. Coffee, beer, wine. Tempeh, mason jar salads, cake. In other words: thanks for following me, despite such shortcomings. 

That said, this past weekend - which seems like a thousand years ago, because somehow it is already Friday - was a great one. In fact, the whole week has been pretty great, which fills me with hope because it means we're turning a corner. As you all know by now, it's been a long, cold, and lonely winter, a fact I'm lamented again and again. During the last few months I've missed my MFA cohort, struggled to acclimate to the ups and downs of freelancing, stopped exercising because the YMCA burned down (no one was hurt, but it was still very upsetting), and stayed indoors because it was too cold to leave my house. Since I work from home, this was a very bad habit indeed. 

Then, this past weekend, life began to thaw. Part of it was the fact that the calendar turned to March and even though the weather is still miserable and manic (yesterday it was 77; today, 39) I can see the spring-like light at the end of the tunnel. I met a new friend and reconnected with some old ones. I made my peace with running and ran 12 non-miserable miles around Greenfield Lake, which means I probably won't die during the Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon. Another new brewery opened in Wilmington and I drank all their brown ales. Good news, all of it. 

I also fell in love with a new yoga teacher at the studio I've been attending for the last few months. She teaches Jivamukti Yoga, a style that balances a physical, spiritual, and ethical practice. There's chanting and singing and music, and a lot of talk in the beginning of the five tenets of Jivamukti, which I will get into some other time, as I'm still new to it all.  For now, I will say that even though I've been practicing yoga for over ten years, I approach it with complicated feelings. Is it a spiritual thing? Or just exercise? Am I co-opting a culture that isn't mine? Why do all yoga teachers use the same cliches and platitudes when they speak? Etc, etc. And so, when I went to this new instructor's class and found myself grinning through the whole thing even though it was very hard, feeling peaceful and full of love and deeply connected to the world in a rare and beautiful way, it was as if my yoga practice slid across some invisible threshold I didn't even know was there. I'm really excited to keep practicing with this instructor and to see how my practice evolves under her guidance. 

In other words, happiness is on the horizon. In many ways, it's been here the whole time, waiting to come in. I just needed to shake off winter's grip and open the door. 

(PS: Here's an old love letter I wrote to yoga, which remains relevant.) 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Celebrations & Happy News

First things first: I was named a 2015 Aspen Summer Words Fellow

What does this mean? That I get to attend the Aspen Words program for five days in Colorado this June, study with famous authors, soak in the brilliance of editors, and hang out with other writers. Excuse me, I mean NETWORK. (I'm pretty sure that's what adults call hanging out.) At any rate, I'm excited and grateful for this opportunity, and am already counting down the days. Such happy, welcome news in this writer's life. 

But enough about me - especially since last week was Nathan's birthday and the surprise I planned for him was a success! The day began with homemade chocolate cake and Shiner's Birthday Beer (their best one yet!). 

In the evening, we picked up our friends K and D and headed to the Top Secret location I'd warned Nathan about. He doesn't like surprises, but I got around that rule by telling him there would be a surprise so he could adequately prepare himself. Obviously he tried to figure out what the surprise was and came up with many creative possibilities - except for the one I'd planned. Defy Gravity, Wilmington's brand new trampoline park. SUCCESS. 

Once Nathan got over his shock and congratulated me on my successful surprise, we spent the rest of the night jumping, flipping, flopping, falling, and crashing into the 100 or so 10 year olds jumping around us. (Suffice to say we were the only ones there celebrating a 34th birthday party.) We signed up for an hour of jumping, without realizing quite how exhausting trampolining can be. Still, it was a great time and I'd like to go back, but maybe for Club Gravity, which is later in the evening and limited to people 15 and older. 

Thanks to Dory for this photo of Nathan mid flip!

Besides becoming a Fellow and celebrating Nathan's birth, things have been pretty quiet in our corner of the world. Wilmington received its annual ice storm and my class was canceled on Tuesday, so that was nice. It was the push I needed to dive into another revision of my book (what can I say? I love revising) and rearrange our house. We moved our bedroom into the smaller guest room, since all we do in there is sleep. This allowed us to turn our larger bedroom into the dual office/guest room/TV room, which is so far working our very nicely. I guess ice is good for something. 

I hope your corner of the world is quiet, warm, happy, and productive. Speaking of productive, I better get back to work. More soon!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Best Gifts

This past weekend, some good friends came to visit us in Wilmington. Well, they didn't come just to visit us. I sort of kidnapped them. You see, my friend Allie (who was a bridesmaid in our wedding and is pretty much my oldest friend of all time - we met when we were twelve!) was running her first half marathon in Myrtle Beach on Valentine's Day. She lives about 5 hours from Myrtle Beach; we live just 90 minutes away. Thus I invited her and her boyfriend (also a high school friend) to stay with us. In exchange, we promised to wake with her at the ungodly hour of 3:45AM, drive her to the race, and cheer her on. It all worked out perfectly and she finished her first 13.1 with a huge smile on her face.

In addition to the race, we were able to have a really fun weekend that included mini-golf, a backyard frittata, wild dog hijinks (they brought their two pups), and a Valentine's Day magic show with a scary good mentalist. All in all, a fun and social weekend. And then, seconds after our friends went home, Nathan and I immediately retreated to our separate offices to be alone with our laptops. Being social is thrilling but exhausting, said the work-from-home introvert. 

In other news, everything else is the pretty much the same, which is probably why I haven't been writing much here. It's been very cold, but I really shouldn't complain since it's been much colder in other places. For example, here is a snippet of this week's forecast. 

Yeah. I'm done complaining now. Also: is it Sunday yet? 

The other biggest thing that happened is an annual classroom occurrence that will never get old. (Pun intended - you'll see why in a second.) I'm teaching First Year Seminar this semester, and yesterday my class got into a discussion about online dating. (Don't ask...) I mentioned that I never had to think about online dating, since I met my husband before the Internet was really a thing. We're talking pre-Myspace here. My students started doing the math. 

"How old were you when you met your husband?" one student asked. 
"Twenty," I said. 
Another student appeared confused. "How old are you now?" she asked.
"Thirty-two," I said. 

At which point my students began howling with disbelief. It appears they thought I was 25, fresh out of grad school (which is true, but to be fair it was my second rodeo). One student even said he thought I was 22, at which point I gave him an A+ for the whole semester. Listen: I am proud of my age and all the years behind me. I'll tell anyone who asks how old I am. But when you discover that a group of 18 year olds you've known for two months assumed you were six to ten years younger than you actually are, it's kind of nice. It's especially nice when you have just recently begun noticing wiry gray hairs and researching the best under eye creams. 

Speaking of aging gracefully, today is my dear husband's 34th birthday. He hates his birthday (something about not wanting to be the center of attention - I wonder what that's like?) so it will be a low key day. (Thought I do have a small surprise planned for this weekend...) In the meantime: happy birthday Nathan! I'm so glad we're growing old together.

Friday, February 06, 2015

January Reads

One of my goals for 2015 is to read at least 35 books. Currently, I'm consuming books at a very fast rate (averaging a book a week!) and if I keep this up, smashing that goal will be easy. (What can I say? It is winter, I love books, and finally getting a library card was the best thing that ever happened to me.) Instead of reviewing books one by one, I thought it might be easier to round my reads up in a monthly post. (Longer reviews are posted on Goodreads, which I'm getting better at using - feel free to add me!)

Here's monthly reading recap number one, otherwise known as January.

Euphoria, by Lily King

I actually started this book on New Year's Eve and finished it on New Year's Day, but I'm still counting it for 2015, as it was the perfect way to kick off the year. The novel is a fictionalized account of Margaret Mead's life, of which I know very little, so that tidbit didn't mean much to me. My ignorance didn't affect my reading of the book, since I ended up loving it so much. It follows three anthropologists in the early 1930s who are studying tribes along a river in New Guinea. Of course there is a love triangle, but there's also a lot about human nature, desire, ego, the role of the anthropologist, etc. It's mostly told from the POV of Bankson, an anthropologist who has been living with a tribe for over a year and is on the brink of suicide, until Nell Stone and her husband Fen come along, looking for their own tribe to study. This sets the triangle - and all kinds of tragedy - in motion. According to my spreadsheet, I gave this book 4/5 stars. 

The Bees, by Laline Paul 

I heard about this book last year and couldn't wait to read it. It takes place IN A HIVE and the main character is a worker bee named Flora, who is different from her sisters in a world where differences are seen as mutations, anomalies, things that must be stamped out. While some of the plot points were predictable, the ending took me by surprise, in a good way. I loved seeing the world from Flora's point of view. Entering the hive and exploring the tunnels of comb, seeing how the author, Laline Paull, created a complex world and society that springs from the actual world of a hive, was fascinating and really, really fun. That said, as a beekeeper, some of the details were a little hard to swallow. Yet even in the moments where I paused in my reading and thought, "Wait a minute... That can't... But what about..." I still kept going, caught up in the story. At times it felt like one of those epic fantasy books, with battles and quests, which isn't entirely my cup of tea but was fun to read regardless. If you love bees, it's a must read. 3/5 stars. 

Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankin

Despite my best intentions, I don't read a lot of poetry. I was compelled to pick this up by two things: the current state of race relations in America, and my dear friend Erica's gorgeous review. I felt like it was my duty to read this book, and I'm glad I did. Meditative, difficult, sad, angry, and really, truly beautiful, it does an amazing job of illuminating the reality that minorities face in our country. From the everyday inconveniences to deadly repercussions, Rankin doesn't shy away from anything, and why should she? I didn't feel better after reading Citizen, but I did feel wiser. 4/5 stars. 

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr

There were many things to love about this book, but I'll start with the sentences. They were so perfect, so lovely, so rich and detailed, and managed to open the story wide in unexpected ways. There were certain paragraphs I read three times in a row, just because I'd never seen something so beautiful. This is important, because the actual story the sentences are telling - the lives of two characters, running parallel to one another in the years leading up to and through WW2 in France and Germany - is as dark and sad as you'd expect. Speaking of those characters, I loved Marie-Laure and Werner so much, but I also loved the secondary characters. They were all so rich and complicated, and so very human. I never thought I would feel tenderness for a Nazi, and yet I did. That's because Doerr is a great writer, able to make the reader see the struggles we each face, how we don't always get to choose the decisions we make or the life we lead. It took Doerr 10 years to write this book, and I'm not surprised. It's just about perfect. 4.5/5 stars. 

Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng 

I know it's only January, but I'm pretty sure this book will make my personal "best of" list for 2015. It opens with the death of 16-year-old Lydia Lee, and follows the effect her tragic death has on the rest of her family - mother, father, older brother, and younger sister. Neither her family (or the reader) knows if Lydia's death was an accident or a suicide, but as the book goes on, we get to piece her last weeks together, thanks to flashbacks that let us inside Lydia's mind. We also get to see the struggles faced by a multicultural family in 1970s Ohio (Lydia's father is Chinese, her mother white, and "mixed marriages" were very uncommon) and how being different affects each member of the family. This is one of those books where the shifting POV (close third on each family member, at different times) really, truly works. No one is perfect - in fact, everyone makes a ton of mistakes, and not small ones, either - but I was in love with each of them anyway. This was one of those reading experiences where I wished the book was three times longer - I couldn't put it down, and didn't want to. 4.5/5 stars. 

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

A Week in Illinois

Last week Nathan and I trekked to the midwest, to spend a week in southern Illinois with his family. His parents own a small, picturesque farm, the kind you picture when you think "small, picturesque farm." Not only does it include a lovely and comfortable house, but there is also a red barn, a herd of cows, a bunch of sheep, and an incredible vegetable garden. (Empty now, since it is winter, but we enjoyed its bounty thanks to a deep freezer and the miracle of canning.) 

Roo guards the sheep; the cows are pretty laid back. 

We were in Illinois for about six days, during which time many things happened. I drank roughly 100 cups of coffee, went thrift shopping, and played an epic, three hour game of Guesstures (I was surprisingly good at it, until I spilled a glass of wine on the carpet). We also toured the Budweiser brewery in St. Louis with Nathan's brother and his girlfriend (they live near the farm, just one town over) and that was fun. Even as a devoted craft beer snob, I was able to appreciate and admire just how massive the Budweiser empire is. While lagers are not my cup of tea (I tend to like really dark, flavorful beers, like porters, stouts, and anything that resembles coffee) I enjoyed everything I sampled and had a great time.

The highlight of the trip, however, was that while we were in town one of the sheep gave birth to twin lambs and I GOT TO BOTTLE FEED A LAMB IN FRONT OF THE FIRE WHILE IT WORE A DIAPER. No big deal. 

Just kidding. It was a huge deal. And not actually an ideal situation - it was a difficult birth (they boys were breached) and when they finally emerged, the second lamb (which I named Romeo) was small and weak. He wouldn't nurse and one of his back legs seemed to be dislocated or strained - he could barely stand on it. Nathan's mom decided to intervene and we spent a few hours bottle feeding him with some milk from his mama, and keeping him warm in the house. My job was Official Cuddle Buddy, which I'm pretty sure is my true calling. Romeo ended up recovering enough to rejoin his family in their pen (but not before putting on a wool sweater!) and he's been gaining strength steadily ever since. I was very relieved. While I know the realities of a farm can be harsh, I wasn't quite ready to say goodbye to Romeo. Honestly, can you blame me? 

Although we flew to Illinois, we drove back - it's a long story, but we're now a two car family, at least for a little while, and I am humbled by the generosity of our family, as usual. The drive takes about 15 hours and we decided to split it over two days. For once, we didn't have the dogs with us, and it just so happened that we'd be driving through Asheville around hour 10 anyway. We've been wanting to visit Asheville since we arrived in North Carolina, and this seemed as good an excuse as any. 

We were only in town for one night, but it was long enough to drink many beers at Wicked Weed Brewery, ogle the mountains, and promise one another that when we're finally able to buy a house, it will be in Asheville. All in all, a productive evening and a wonderful trip. 

While we were in Illinois, I did the math and realized I hadn't visited in over four years, which is just shameful - especially since I truly love my in-laws, and visiting the farm is such a treat. But now Nathan and I are both done with school, I work from home, and Nathan's schedule is pretty flexible. We finally have the time and resources to see the people that matter, and this makes me very happy. Especially since I have a little lamb named Romeo to keep tabs on. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Scenes from My Freelance Life

When I started freelancing full time, I had grand plans to document the whole process, including my income, because there's nothing I like more than over-sharing. But then I realized how much ghost-writing I was doing, which I can't exactly share. And money is strange and complicated and different for everyone, and my rates seem like an Ace best kept in the hole. 

I am, however, freelancing full time, paying my rent every month, and not starving, which sort of makes me feel like a rock star. (I'm also not paying off my debts in any noticeable way, but that piece will fall into place one day. I hope.) And I have to say: this is the best job I've ever had. I work a lot, but my hours are flexible, I'm almost always wearing slippers, and I can take breaks whenever I want to walk the dogs, make a snack, or go to yoga. The dream, my friends: I am living it. 

To show you just how dreamy things are, here are a  few scenes from my life as a freelance writer, editor, and teacher. 

My Giant Dry Erase Board

This was pretty much the only thing I wanted for Christmas, and Santa delivered. Because I have multiple clients with rotating deadlines, being able to see everything in one place has been a game changer. I list all my projects, put a line through them when they're in progress, and then erase them completely once they're submitted. It is seriously the greatest thing ever. 

My First Cover Story 

I started cold-calling the editors of all the local area magazines over the summer, and it's finally starting to pay off! I recently wrote a profile of a local business woman for one magazine, and scored my first cover story with another - see photo above! The print magazines pay slightly better than the online writing I've been doing, and I like that they're focused on local stuff, so I get to interview people in person, see free theater, and stay involved with Wilmington community. 

Divide and Conquer 

Photo Credit (and first Google image result for "empire.")

Remember that beer and wine tech startup I was blogging for? The app is doing well, but they're cutting the blog (for now? forever? who knows!) which was sad for two reasons. The first was that I enjoyed writing that blog, as it was fun and easy and all about booze. The second was that the gig provided roughly half my monthly income, so losing it was a substantial hit. I'm bouncing back already, but it was a good reminder to diversify. A proper freelance empire can't lean too heavily on one client, no matter how tempting that may be/how much free wine they give you. 

Freelance Teacher 

I started teaching again last week! Just like last semester, I'm teaching one section of First Year Seminar, AKA Welcome to College, AKA How to be a Person. The class is required for all students in their first semester at the university, which means nobody actually wants to be there. I, however, really enjoy teaching it and plan to win most of them over. (My evals from last semester were unanimous in that all my students loved me despite the fact that I was teaching a "boring, pointless, useless class," which I consider a major success.) Also, while I love working from home, it is good to go out into the world twice a week, to put on pants, and to interact with other humans. I am learning how to be a person, too. 

The Best Office Ever 

One of the greatest things about our new-to-us house is that I have my very own office. This makes working from home feasible, and - despite the very causal dress code - helps me feel like I am actually Going To Work. Speaking of which, it's Friday and I have miles to go before the weekend. Better get started!