Interview with Monica Youn on Blackacre

This interview for the National Book Critics Circle awards originally appeared here.

K I’d like to discuss the first poem, "Palinode." While palinodes are usually a response to a previous poem, we're presented with this one straightaway. I thought initially of Socrates' famous palinode where he first rejects and then praises "mania" and its place in relationships. But then I learned that a palinode is also a term in Scots Law. Can you speak to your decision in opening the book with this device?

M I wanted to position the poem and the book with respect to my life as I had previously understood it, and also with respect to my previous books. My previous books had been preoccupied with desire, romantic and sexual obsession, and much of my life had been spent finding a life partner with whom to settle down and start a family. But I wanted to start this book from a position of failure and reassessment. It’s a statement of self-doubt, and remorse, with regard to a self that I had previously thought of as constituted by desire. How can you disentangle yourself from the desires that have shaped you? And what remains of the self after that?

K  The book handles very difficult themes, particularly shame and judgment in the Hanged Man/Hanged Woman section. What was the role of the “audience” here?

M A lot of the Hanged Man / Hanged Woman poems, especially the portraits, were written with specific people in mind. For example, the hanged woman portraits are about my mother, to the extent that they’re about a single figure. At the time I wrote them, I had reached sort of a point of crisis with my life and the lives of people around me. A lot of things seemed to come to a head around the winter of 2010, spring of 2011, which was when I started the sequence. I had been recently married and received a diagnosis of infertility, which launched us on a multiyear struggle of various treatments until we finally gave up. The initial diagnosis, and the continuing failures, were devastating, both personally and as they affected my marriage. At the same time, my father had left my mother after a marriage of 40 years and she was facing old age without him. She kept telling me she wanted to kill herself. During that time, my father-in-law died and his wife was left a widow. I was also leaving a 15-year legal career and trying to figure out what my life had been about, what I had worked so hard for all those years.

And in the midst of all of these crises, these seismic shifts, I went to Mexico to get away and had my tarot read and the card that came up at the top of the reading was the Hanged Man. And the Hanged Man stood for an inverted perspective – for suspension away from the ordinary events of one’s life and, in some sense, for rebirth; the Hanged Man is not a negative or dark card. And that, of course, layered onto my reading of Francois Villon’s “Ballad of the Hanged Men,” which I had learned in school. Also I’ve always been a mythology buff, so I was also recalling the Norse god Odin, who hung for 9 days on the tree Yggdrasil, and at the end of that ordeal received the gift of the runes, of language.

K Suspension is an interesting point as lot of these poems seem to give perspective on one’s life as being suspended above of it – gaining perspective – and being suspended within it – feeling stuck. Not to tangent too far, but if you had read Gurlesque, it reminded me of that. If these poems existed when that was being published, I feel like the portrait of the Hanged Woman, and many others, could have been front and center.

M It’s funny, to follow that tangent a little… Gurlesque, and a lot of the authors in it, were important to me in trying to figure out tonally what I wanted to do with the book. Especially in the longer-line and prose poems. My default mode is this very clean, minimalist diction, but that wasn’t going to be appropriate for everything I wanted to do. Particularly, I was reading Ariana Reines and Claudia Rankine and Maggie Nelson and Rusty Morrison – although not all of those are Gurlesque writers – but the linguistic texture of those writers was important to me.

K  There seems to be a distance to many poems, but a tender one. How important was tenderness to the book?

M Do you have a particular poem in mind?

K How about Hangman’s Tree? (Yggdrasil)

M Yeah, that is a tender poem because, when writing it, I was thinking about my advice to my mother. I was trying to talk her out of killing herself  – which she did not do – I’m not sure how serious that threat ever was.  But she certainly felt that if the central fact of her life – her marriage – was taken away, she couldn’t figure out how to constitute a self out of what remained. Thankfully, my father eventually came back to her, which was an enormous relief. But trying to render an appropriate tone – as my relationship with my mother has always been difficult – and the tenderness I felt when she finally admitted that she needed help, and singled me out as the only person in whom she confided. There was a new intimacy that had never before existed in our relationship. I felt like we were in a shared situation considering my infertility and marital issues at the time –so much of my life had been spent in the expectation of eventual motherhood, and in my legal career, that the loss of those two assumptions was deeply destabilizing. In giving advice to my mother at this time, I felt like someone who had a slightly better handhold slightly higher up a cliff, talking to someone further down the cliff telling her not to let go.

K Every poem is written with such precision, and yet the sharpness often acts to open the poem further and give way to a variety of interpretations. The acre poems can be read as spaces for the physical and the figurative. Having a legal backdrop & lexicon, do you feel that knowledge allows you to create this nuanced world in these poems?

M I think when you’re writing as a lawyer, you’re always thinking about what lawyers and philosophers call the Kantian Imperative, or what others refer to as the golden rule: if you set a rule for a particular situation, how would it be applicable to all situations that might follow? That’s what it is to construct a legal rule, a law or contract or precedent. Lawyers are always thinking of ways in which phrases will be used in different contexts – a good lawyer has to have that imaginative capacity with regard to language. For example, if you’re drafting contract terms, you think about the way a particular contractual clause will work in the best and worst case scenarios – and it has to function for both or it’s not good legal language. I think that lawyers partake of that hyper-awareness of the infinitely expansive, collaborative nature of language. And I like to think that in poems, I write something and think of the medium not just as the page or language, but also the reader’s mind. What is the reader’s mind making of this? What possibilities are opening up there?

And when I came up with the various acres, I was thinking of that relationship between a given text and its proliferating possibilities. If you start with a given – an artwork, a racial identity, a memory, a particular body with its features and failures – to what extent can your imagination range freely before it is brought up short by the leash that tethers it to the actual, the immutable fact.

And part of my investigation was also excavating those factual frameworks, understanding how deeply rooted they are, how immovable. Particularly with the Blackacre sequence, the framework I was tugging at, digging around wasn’t just the medical fact of infertility, but the legal, economic and social structures that value and control women as reproductive commodities. The shame that surrounds the topic. The stigmatization of the aging, the infertile, the unfaithful female body. The stories we tell our little girls about what women are, what they are valued for.

K Given your legal training, it must be part of your everyday life to just take in information and split it into every angle?

M  The stereotype of lawyers is that they’re risk-averse and a little paranoid because they’re trained to think that way. If you write a contract and you haven’t taken a scenario into account and then it happens to your client, well then, you’ve been a bad lawyer. You’ve gotten your client into a mess that your rule can’t address.

Or when Barack Obama said he was looking for “empathy” as his primary criterion for a Supreme Court justice, the right pilloried him for being a bleeding-heart liberal, but he was talking about something like what I’ve just been talking about. If you’re a justice and you’re deciding a case that will set a precedent – a legal rule – you have to be able to put yourself in a variety of situations, to see how that rule will play out in differently circumstanced lives. For example in the Crawford decision, which upheld the constitutionality of Indiana’s voter-identification law, Justice Stevens, who’s often thought of as a liberal lion of the court, failed in empathy. He simply couldn’t sufficiently imagine a position that was alien to him – the position of being of the many groups of voters who lack certain forms of government-issued identification. That failure of legal reasoning was, at root, a failure of empathy, and a failure of imagination.

K Right, and then translating that mindset to poetry, seeing every angle is so important.

M Yeah, I’m not very interested in language that only works at one level. If you’re going to write that kind of language, why write a poem? Why not write an essay or an op-ed? I’m not often that gripped by poems that merely put forth well-phrased or beautiful statements that the reader is expected to agree with. I feel like poems can do so much more than that.

K So, now I want to move to what I call my Teen Vogue questions. It isn’t as simple as sit-down-and-write for most people. Certain things generally have to coalesce for a poem to happen. Do you have any writing habits you find useful?

M I’m a very infrequent writer. When I do sit down, I think of myself as someone who works in watercolor rather than someone who works in oil. An oil painter will put something down and if it doesn’t work, she’ll scrape off the canvas or start again. And I’m more the type who feels that what I initially write down is indelible and it’s very hard for me to erase the first take of a poem. And so if I don’t get that right, then I’ve ruined the poem. That’s not always true, though. I think I rewrote the Twinkie poem six times from scratch. But I have to start absolutely from scratch in order to revise anything at all. I think that trying to revise a poem by tinkering around with slight alterations and existing phrasing is often a waste of time – you can only achieve marginal improvements that way. If you don’t get it right the first time, you have to start completely over, from as blank a slate as you can manage – otherwise all this redundant scaffolding gets in the way.

K  So do you find yourself thinking through a poem mostly before you get it down?

M Yeah, I usually have a lot of things I’ve collected that I think ought to be in the poem. I’ll create notes and rearrange elements, stare at them for a long time before I really “start.” I talk about it sometimes as super-saturating a solution, but then once the poem precipitates out, then the shape is there, you can’t change that fundamental shape. And I’m very interested in each poem having its own shape. I don’t really understand writers who are content to treat every subject from a particular tone or from the perspective of a particular persona or with a particular formal strategy. I admire a lot of those writers, but I couldn’t do it myself, I’m too self-doubting.

K  That’s interesting because it seems to me that to write such a variety of poems takes confidence and versatility

M Oh no, I think it’s much more about self-doubt. I write something and I think, “I hate myself and the way I write,” and then I write something completely different. It isn’t until they’re all corralled in one manuscript that I start to worry that, “tonally, this is all over the place,” but it probably needs to be all over the place. I don’t think you can get any sharpness of angle if you’re confining yourself to a single perspective, because a single perspective has to be authoritative and multiple perspectives have a lot more freedom. This is probably again where my legal training comes in – that sense of the possibilities tethered to a single word or phrase.

K  What are you working on or writing now, if anything?

M Oh, I can’t write anything now; I never try to write anything very soon after a book comes out. I give myself a year to just read without an agenda. But after that, I’ve been thinking about the topic of deracination – about a truly immigrant identity that isn’t premised on an assumption of an “authentic” relationship to a “home” culture or heritage. Part of that has to do with having a baby son who is half Korean – we were able to find a Korean-American egg donor. How can I pass down to him a sense of a heritage of which I’m largely ignorant? I’ve been talking to a number of younger Asian-American poets lately about a common problem – how we feel the need to “research” our own culture in order to “perform” authenticity. And the question for whom that performance is intended remains open. I’m also thinking about the extent to which that “research” is undertaken through a set of borrowed lenses, various Westernized takes on Asian culture, Ezra Pound, etc.

K How did you writing change after becoming a mother?

M Well, I’ve had to change my writing habits. I’ve always been a residency writer and obviously I can’t do that anymore. The Blackacre sequence I wrote over a series of weekends at a cottage. I couldn’t do that once the baby was born. So, I had to think “I have three hours to write this poem today before my babysitter leaves.” I think 4-5 poems in the book were probably written under those circumstances and I found it worked better than I thought it would.

K What texts have played an important role in your life as a writer?

M When I’m writing I’m in a pretty constant process of digestion and regurgitation. Just call me Lowly Worm. For Blackacre, of course I did some research into Milton, Calvinism, blindness, the valuation and devaluation of woman’s reproductive capabilities. Mythological reading – the Edda, the Georgics, the Aeneid, the Metamorphoses – a slew of Latin classics. The Purgatorio. Children’s books. Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. And a slew of my contemporaries who are far too numerous to start to name here.

 

 

 

New Yorker to know: Wine Sommelier Morgan Harris

For more: www.morganwharris.com Twitter/Insta: @morganwharris

Back in early April, and thanks to a very generous employer, I found myself at a 7-course wine pairing dinner in a private dining room at Charlie Palmer's Aureole in Midtown. Talk about being a GD diva, right? Sometimes I'm not sure how I get this lucky, either.

As you may have inferred by now, I'm really into food, and even more into wine; and I must say, I am naturally spectacular at consuming both. However, my food & wine escapades generally don't point me in the fine-dining direction - in fact, most often they point me in the direction of Riverside Park with a brown-bagged bottle of St. Nicholas alongside a hunk of cheese and a french baguette.

But I digress. My point is: Aureole was fantastic. And alongside the mouth-watering foie gras, poached lobster, black cod and wagyu beef, I had the chance to meet wine sommelier, or rather, taste-artist, Morgan Harris. Amidst a loud and bustling room, Morgan careened about the table and thoughtfully presented the evening's various wine and food pairings. I was enthralled by the detailed description he provided for each wine and the ease in which he answered any and all of the table's questions.  Afterward, he was kind enough to do a little Q&A with me, which you can now all use as back-pocket knowledge for your next cocktail party ;-). 

So, for beginners, what are the pillars of wine pairing? I always thought steak = red and chicken/fish = white. True?

Pairing is funny, people want it to work like arithmetic, e.g. "this plus this equals that," but it's really more of a "guiding principles" situation. In pairing any dish, there's no real "capital A" answer, and since our sense of taste is at least partially acculturated, everyone's going to have a slightly difference bias towards flavor combinations. 

That being said, there are some general principles to look at: 

A. Join or Contrast: Most pairing function on the dynamic of contrasting elements of the dish or harmonizing with them. 

If you have a salad with a tart acidic dressing, you need to have a wine equally as acidic to keep up with or the wine won't taste like much. The acid in the dressing will overwhelm the wine. 

Likewise, if you're dealing with fois gras or a rich, fatty pork belly, contrasting their salty-fatty-unctuous quality with something sweet-and-sour like harmoniously sweet german riesling can be really pleasant. 

B. Ignore the protein (outside of it's fat content), focus on the saucing and sides: 

I tend to think of proteins in terms of "volume" and attempt to correspond that to the intensity of whatever wine I'm pairing, but I don't really think of their flavor, unless it's really particular (mackerel, lamb, game meat). 32-day dry-aged porter house? That's kind of a 9. Salmon filet. A 6 or so, but following that, the most important part is the sauce and it's flavors. Do they seem white or red? 

If the steak is in a cream "au poive" sauce with cheddar pomme dauphine, I might consider a really fat, rich white like Chateauneuf Blanc or a well-made California Viognier. Likewise, if the salmon has beet purée, hen of the woods mushrooms, and roasted fennel, I'm definitely thinking red Burgundy or Oregon Pinot Noir.

C. When in doubt, richer fuller whites without oak, or lighter, fresher reds, well-made rosé or bubbles. 

If you don't know what everyone's eating, go with wines that play well with others. You might like the rich oak-and-black fruit power of Argentine Malbec, but it's a little inflexible at the table. None of the above wines are going to win a superlative, but they're most of what's in my personal cellar for every-day drinking

I kind of genuinely think there's a white and a red pairing for every dish, and don't forget about other beverages like bubbles, sherry, beer, and saké. But really in the end, just drink what you like and eat what you like, there aren't any "answers" and the only way to make a personal discovery is to take a risk. 

How long can you really keep wine after it's been opened and what are the rules?

To best preserve wine, put everything in the fridge, red or white. Basically, oxygen is what's spoiling your wine when it's open for too long, kind of like browning an apple on the counter. All chemical reactions happen slower at lower temperatures. If you buy one of those vacuum hand-pumps, you can probably get about a week out of a bottle in your fridge. That being said, it's also depending bottling-to-bottling. The 1975 Margaux is going to spoil a lot quicker than the current-vintage New Zealand sauvignon blanc, just due to the delicate, mature nature of the former, and the robust youthful quality of the later. 

But, to be honest, the four glasses in a bottle never last long enough between me and my sommelier roommate to keep anything around for long...

As for the industry, can you give us a quick synopsis of your background and how you came to a career as a sommelier? For many, it sounds like a dream job!

My undergraduate degree is from Emerson College in Theatre and Marketing; I studied the business side of things because I always knew I would need a way support myself while pursuing art. I've also always taken pride in whatever work I was doing, so even through restaurants weren't what I initially "wanted" to do, I wasn't going to suck at something I spent 30-40 hours a week on. 

That lead to learning more about wine and starting to self-educate, which is great in New York because you have over 400 distributors who are all very interested in making sure you understand their product, not to mention the dozens of country advocacy organizations. The dynamic community at the Guild of Sommeliers (guildsomm.com) is a great resource for anyone looking to move into the beverage world. It's the best $100 you could spend on wine and beverage education. Almost all of my knowledge comes from self-educating within this framework, as well as the community around the exams for the Court of Master Sommeliers.

In 2011, I decided to move into wine full-time and managed a wine bar called Corkbuzz in Union Square for two years, and switched to fine dining in early 2014, where I currently work as Senior Sommelier at Aureole restaurant in midtown Manhattan. 

Sounds like you really took advantage of your resources and studied hard to get where you are. But it's not all fun and games, is it?

I do believe the wine business is one of the most dynamic, fun industries on the planet, however, it's not all puppies and roses (or rosés?). Restaurant work is very demanding physically, to say nothing of the hours. Your typical New York sommelier works about 50 hours a week standard, with restaurant fine dining sommeliers regularly pushing over 65 hours a week . 

I have friends who work in 3-star Michelin properties who have tables sit down for a 4+ hour meal at 10:00 PM, and their days start at 10:30 AM sometimes. This obviously has a big impact on your personal life. Try dating anyone in the 9-5/10-6 world when a short day for you is 3PM-1:30AM, and you always work weekends. 

Starting sommeliers only make between $40,000 and $60,000 for at least the first 3-5 years, and if you stay in restaurants, very few jobs pay over $120K or so. Add to this zero paid vacation, spotty employer insurance, and a nearly complete lack of retirement benefits. 

That being said, if you want to taste some of the greatest wine on the planet, meet incredible winemakers, travel lots, and have a strong understanding of the world's most magical agricultural product, then the wine business might be for you!

Okay more on wine... I have this $26 single glass aerator from Williams Sonoma that I'm obsessed with. Should I really be using it on every red? Also, how come I never see somm's aerate/decant wine at the table?

Aeration is one of those mystical wine tropes that you can't draw any hard-and-fast rules for. Almost no youthful wine will be harmed by decanting, but not all of them need it. You can certainly request your sommelier to decant anything (red or white) if you feel you like it. That's part of our service. Besides powerful reds, I'll often offer to decant rich, full whites to raise the temperature a little. 

If I feel a wine is a little ungiving and mute, that's most often when I'll decant. For older, thick-skinned reds (Bordeaux, California Cabernet) decanting is a must since they'll always throw sediment, but delicate, perfumed fully-mature Burgundy from the 1970s or 80s will be "pop and pour" because I'd be kind of worried to lose the wine in the decanter before it's in anyone's glass. Delicate reds from that age bracket often smell amazing for about 15-30 minutes and then fall off a cliff. 

I will always ask a guest before I decant something, since it's more of a gentle suggestion rather than a requirement, but I'll generally only offer for wines that I think are a) going to throw sediment, b) were really tight when I sounded the wine, c) need a temperature adjustment. 

What's the rule about pairing cheese and wine?

You can't call anything in wine a hard-and-fast rule, but cheeses are definitely better (generally) with fruit-driven wines. Think about how jam or honey is often offered side-by-side with cheese. For me, great cheese whites are: dry or slightly off-dry German Riesling, anything from Alsace, Loire Chenin Blanc, lush-and-full styles of domestic Sauvignon Blanc (especially with goat cheese). In reds, definitely avoid anything too oaky or black: Beaujolais, Loire Valley Cabernet Franc, Cotes du Rhone, Montepulciano, and domestic Zinfandel are kind of all quintessential cheese reds for me. Another cheese "hack" is to look at where the cheese comes from and see if they make any wine there. "Grows together goes together" is one of the great hidden rules of pairing. 

And now, for some rapid-fire pairing, selfishly based off my rotating diet.

  • Traditional mac n' cheese: Fatty Cotes du Rhone Blanc
  • Mozzarella & broccoli rabe on a baguette: Austrian Grüner Veltliner
  • Guacamole: Modelo Especial, but well-made California Sauvignon Blanc if we have to do wine
  • Lox & CC on a bagel: Blanc des Noirs Champagne
  • Pepperoni pizza: Chianti
  • Seared scallops and lemon risotto: Any fancy white Burgundy, but Puligny-Montrachet has my heart. 
  • Truffle fries: Blanc des Blancs Champagne (Fried stuff and Champagne, yo)
  • Spicy mapotofu: Harmoniously sweet german riesling (You've got to put that fire out!)
  • Coconut shrimp: Oaked White Rioja 
  • Traditional cannoli: Moscato d'Asti (there's a reason it's one of the most-sold wines in America; it's just yummy!) 
Source: http://media.salon.com/2013/12/wine_clash....

The Nation's Ari Berman on Voting Rights & Why You Should Care

This interview originally appeared on The New School for Writing's website

Kirsten ChenGive Us the Ballot was tremendously rich in history and detailed facts. How did you manage the volume of research needed to complete this?

Ari Berman: Considering the history of voting rights, I had a sprawling amount of time to cover. So, I tried to focus the narrative prior to starting the research. This meant figuring out major themes and “connective tissue”—e.g. characters that could be pulled through the entire narrative, or characters that fully embodied the story we wanted to tell.

And really, I was telling two intertwining narratives: the narrative of revolution and all the good things that have happened since the VRA, and the resulting counterrevolution to that progress. So I focused on finding the through-points that propelled both sides.

I always outline—that’s how I work. As I did the research, the outline would adjust, but I always knew where I was headed.

KC: Did you conduct many interviews? Who was the most interesting to learn more about?

AB: I did conduct a lot of interviews, partly because I’m a journalist so that’s just how I’m used to reporting, but also because there were a lot of things that took place before I was born or before there were good records. While there may have been a newspaper article or some old archives for something that had happened, say, in the sixties in Mississippi, there wasn’t likely to be much TV footage. So, I relied on people’s memory to make me feel like I was there and help bring the story to life. I would look into a case and ask myself: where is the human story behind this? Then I’d talk with whomever I could find: the lawyers involved, the plaintiffs, or family members of them if the plaintiff was deceased.

One of the highlights for me was just being able to spend time with Congressman John Lewis. He’s such a well-known historical figure, but usually everyone asks him the same questions—about Selma, the Bloody Sunday march in ‘65. And I talked about that with him, too, but then I talked with him about everything that happened after. I felt like he really opened up with me then. I was also with him on civil rights pilgrimages in 2013 and 2015 so I had an up-close look traveling with him, too. It was a surreal experience; he’s a legitimate American icon. There were a lot of interesting interviews, but he was kind of the one that had the most moral force.

KC: In Give Us the Ballot, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) is positioned as not only a foundational element to the Civil Rights movement, but the absolute key to enforcing the Civil Rights Act. This was also portrayed in the film Selma and more recently on John Oliver, which is when you know something is starting to gain attention. As a political writer and commentator whose finger is on the metaphorical pulse of American society, how much do you feel this “connection” is wholly understood by most citizens and lawmakers?

AB: I don’t think most people know this history. I think they know there was a VRA, but I don’t think they know what it did or what came after its passage. One thing that struck me about the movie Selma was how many people I knew that weren’t aware of the history of Bloody Sunday. That’s really why I wanted to write this book. I pitched the book right after the Supreme Court had heard the Shelby County case challenging the VRA but hadn’t yet come to a decision. But I kind of saw what was coming and knew voting rights would be a big topic. Ultimately, I felt like people didn’t truly know or understand this history, and not only Selma but the 50 years since. So it was really, really important to show that the fight didn’t end in 1965.

KC: The book delves into the many forms of voter oppression – most recently: the myth of voter fraud and the subsequently-produced voter ID laws.  Are these measurements any less blatantly discriminatory now than they were 60 years ago during Jim Crow?

AB: They’re more subtle, but Voter ID laws are just another iteration of poll taxes and literacy tests because they’re an attempt to determine who can and cannot participate in the political process. Technically a voter ID card needs to be made free, but the underlying documents that you need to get the card are not free and not required to be free (e.g. birth certificate). Not only that, but there are people who were born at home in the segregated south who don’t have a birth certificate—and obtaining one can be an expensive and time-consuming process. One woman in the book even had to obtain a lawyer to track down her birth certificate in Louisiana.

KC: Related, you discuss how legislators “fail to protect voting rights by invoking state’s rights.” How much do you think well-crafted vernacular and ideology like “states’ rights” and “voter fraud” plays a part in baiting otherwise-innocent citizens to the wrong side of history?

AB: If you say “voter fraud” enough times, people will just start to believe it. That’s what has happened recently. People see the headline but not the fine print and so the facts (that voter fraud is very rare) are lost. Similarly, in the 1960s “states’ rights” became a big buzzword because who wouldn’t want to be for the right of their states? People started wisening up and realizing they couldn’t use blatantly racist rhetoric anymore, so they started using codewords and it’s been very effective. Plus, when the code words are exposed, they just come up with new code words.

Click here to read the entire interview.

Let's talk about microaggressions

So, what’s a microaggression anyway?

In the event you’ve been living under a rock, have no fear, it happens to the best of us and it’s always better to learn late than never at all. According to Psychology Today, microaggressions are the everyday verbal and nonverbal slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile or derogatory comments to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership (i.e. ethnicity, religion, sex).

Can we get some examples?

A familiar example to point out is when people ask the question “What are you?” in relation to one’s heritage rather than their actual birth place. For instance, I have repeatedly been asked, “Where are you from?” to which I’m all Jersey baby, fuck yeah. But then, after my amorous show of affection for the great state of NJ, I am often rebutted with “No, where are you really from¸ though?” as if I’m lying and actually arrived via shipping container from somewhere in southeast China. Pretty much anyone who isn’t obviously white has been asked this question before.

Other examples of microaggressions include but are not limited to: asking a lesbian if she’s ever had “real sex,” assuming a black man is dangerous, telling a black or hispanic person that they’re “like, unusually articulate and well-spoken,” calling a Jewish person “cheap,” etc. And microaggressions aren’t just verbal, either. My best friend sent me this awesome article that discusses how Asians are often confused with one another by fellow coworkers. This has happened to me at literally every job I have ever had and it is absolutely a type of microaggression.

Do only white people commit microaggressions?

In a word: NO. I have a point of contention with some of the current discussion around this topic because it seems that many articles are primarily (or solely) calling attention to white people.

While white men take the metaphorical cake in greeting me with “Konnichiwa” or assuming I can’t speak English, they’re far from being the only race guilty of doing so. I’m just saying, if we are going to have this talk, let’s be real about it. “Microagressors” are pervasive and everyone should become more aware of how they treat others.

How do people feel about microaggressions?

First off, microaggressions are real. They hurt and suppress people in ways that words have always hurt and suppressed people. That said, the prefix “micro” is in there for a reason. The same people who question where I’m “really” from are rarely the same people who call me a chink or go about committing violent hate crimes. Racism, as with all forms of prejudice, has a spectrum. For me, microaggressions fall on the less-serious end of that spectrum.

How do we deal with microaggressions?

Personally, my response to microaggressors varies: sometimes I’ll gently (or not-so-gently) call people out. Other times, I let it go if I don’t have the energy for it. Either way, I don’t feel bad regardless of which route I take. Of course, other people feel and react differently, and who am I to judge? If someone is devastated by a continuous stream of microaggressions (as many are), they have a right to those feelings and to speaking out about it. Regardless of your stance, though, I would encourage you to keep the following points in mind:

1.     People who commit microaggressions are intellectually inferior. It’s the truth. I grew up with the mentality that people who asked me questions like “can you see a full picture with such small eyes?” were either 1. innocent children or two, 2. stupid.

2.     I believe that a good deal of microaggressors are not malicious. Does it mean they get a free pass? Of course not. Let’s not confuse this with sympathizing with aggressors and blaming victims. I simply mention this because some aggressions and aggressors may warrant different responses than others, and that’s perfectly okay. The point is to be open to teaching and open to learning.

What now? You tell me. Leave your comments or questions below.

Here's to making progress, together!

Photo credit: http://www.nparcseattle.org/uploads/1/0/8/3/10830917/9460351_orig.jpg

 

New Year on Tangent Pursuit! 5 things I've been loving lately

It's been a while since I posted. Far too long, in fact. As it happens, I had a whirlwind of a fall with my first semester at The New School and my first busy season at work, so some hobbies were temporarily placed on the back burner, including Tangent Pursuit. And you know how it goes sometimes... a week goes by, two weeks, a month, and then it's "Oh, why even bother now?" Having originally posted 2-3 times a week for a year, it felt daunting to get back into the swing of things after such a hiatus, but in the spirit of a New Year and resolutions, I've decided to commit to posting interesting content... at least once a month. Yes, once a month. Not twelve times, just once.

Back in November, I read an anecdote on Ramit Sethi's blog (which covers an array of topics, including self-improvement) about a woman who wrote in to discuss a goal of hers: she wanted to run 3 times a week, every week, and she just could not seem to stick to it. Ramit responded to her, "why not just aim for once a week?" to which she replied "well once a week just doesn't seem worth it." It's a ridiculous and silly notion, really, to think and live our lives in such a way, and yet with our human egos and anxieties and our busy lives, we are all liable to fall for it. So, here's to blogging once a month this year - you can hold me to it! 

I wanted to kick off the new year with a few backlogged NYC gems I've been dying to share. Here they are:

1. Barley and grain

For good whiskey. I went to UMD, worked at a dive bar and am half Irish. Ipso facto, I enjoy whiskey, specifically bourbon. So it was quite a treat to step into Barley and Grain this fall for the first time. It's a small, rustic whiskey joint located on 81st and Amsterdam with some of the best craft-cocktails around. And with $5 happy hour specials running from 5-7:30 Mon-Sat, I've already made myself a regular. Shoot me a text and I will join you for happy hour any day.

2. Say Yes! Artist Collective

For beautiful performance art. Besides showcasing some of the most talented and entertaining poets, musicians, dancers and comedians NYC has to offer Say Yes! is also simply an intriguing, down-to-earth group of people to share an evening with. They've held events on Brooklyn rooftops, around backyard fire-pits, and most recently, at the Bowery Poetry Club. Follow them on Facebook here for upcoming events and news.

3. Saigon Shack

For the best Vietnamese in Manhattan. Hands down, this place is the tits. Not only is the pho rich and the banh-mi both crisp and succulent, but the price is on point (~$10 for a pho or bahn-mi) AND it's on Macdougal street. Come on. Doesn't get better than that. The ambiance is perfect for a first date, tenth date, or friend date. Just bring cash and be prepared to wait a little. Considering it's location, you shouldn't have trouble grabbing a drink in the meantime.

4. Bloomingdales' Outlet on West 72nd

For the best new deals. I know, we're all broke from Christmas so why would I promote such a thing, right? I'm also supposed to be following a self-imposed spending-freeze on unnecessary shit until, like, March. But once I start buying fairly useless materialistic garments again, you better believe it'll be here. The deals are real, with a tad bit of hunting required. Sign up for the emails and you'll be notified of even bigger in-store sale days. Or, simply ask me since I'm a subscription whore and get 50 emails a day from every website ever invented, including, as they say, bLoOMies!

5. Psychedelic Education

For one of the cooler social experiences you'll have. Coming off the heels of recommending frivolous shopping at Bloomingdales, I may not seem like the most... spiritual person, but just follow me, here.  In early December, I had the chance to attend a Psychedelic Education program at The New School. While I did not trip balls (and nor did anyone else - it's an educational experience, not a rave. (not that there's anything wrong with raves. at all.)) I found the pure conversation and information sharing to be extremely intellectually stimulating. It's a safe space for people to discuss their experiences (or lack thereof), ask questions, and learn from some of the greatest researchers and humans our generation has produced. If you're feeling intrigued, I promise you won't be let down. Check it out here

#TBT: A chat with NYPD's Hostage Negotiator and Instructor James Shanahan

NOTE: This was written in the fall of 2012 when I first moved to the city (It originally appeared here). I met Jim at the Jersey Shore where he frequents the same beach club that my parents and I do. He has since become a friend, mentor and sort of "Uncle" to my brother and I. I wanted to post this today around the holiday season as a reminder to us all on how important it is to keep a truly open mind and a truly progressive perspective as we move into 2016 and collectively fight for a better future.

Written by: Kirsten Chen | Edited by: Michael Goodwin

I spot James Shanahan from afar, which is not a particularly trying task, as he’s a smiling 6’ 3” Irish man with a distinct New York accent and presence. I am already acquainted with Jim, and upon seeing me, he simultaneously salutes and waves my direction, and we soon sit down to chat. There is an effervescent quality about him; he is both approachable and playful, generally not the first two characteristics one might attribute to someone in the police force. Nonetheless, it would come as no surprise to anyone that he is, in fact, a long-standing (30+ years), reputable member of the NYPD. Maybe it’s the Irish thing.

Born in Brooklyn and having lived in Manhattan, Jim grew up traversing the general area, and proclaims himself a true “5-borough guy”. It is clear that his upbringing and city surroundings have had a profound impact on his path in life. Many of the men in his family were policemen, and from a young age, his family instilled in him a respect for the job. He even tells me that one of his first memories in life involves the police. In the very brief moments before he divulges why, my mind conjures up an elaborate series of dramatic possibilities. Could it be a valiant story involving some profound historical event? Or perhaps, an unfortunate, personal tragedy? But, alas, Jim goes on to reminisce a simple memory, which, so often, is the most insightful kind, about being a little kid and watching the single, flashing police light on the top of a squad car come down the street, and then seeing an officer step out, clad in blue uniform with the old-school brass buttons on either side. As Jim recalls this story, he says he remembers feeling safe. Clearly, Jim revered the police force and was set in the direction of the law early on. So, it would seem natural for the rest of this conversation to tumble only into the heroic, traditional and goodside of the job. After all, Jim is certainly a “good cop”, if we’re going to play that game. But he is also, as his work further explores and charges, a very in-touch human being.

“In my family, I was taught that ‘Whenever you ever need help, you go to a cop,’“ says Jim. “But, see, I also grew up in New York City and I grew up during the counter-culture, too.  So, I was never blind to the inherent love/hate relationship people have for cops. I understood they were capable of good and bad.” At this, I bring up Jim’s compassion, mentioning that due to the nature of the job, it must be difficult at times to observe the world in a shade other than black or white – to see people and their actions as multifaceted, and in turn, have those people see you, a police officer, as multifaceted. Jim nods and discusses both the necessity and confinement of such strict ways of thinking and acting. He is talking about straddling the line between his identity as a police officer and his identity as an emotionally and mentally complex human. He puts it perfectly when he says, “No matter your job, when you lose your empathy, you lose your humanity. And I firmly believe in keeping a foot in both hemispheres, otherwise, what do you become?”

And so the story continues. In 1978, CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice opened its doors to an eager and prepared JimShanahan. Then, four years later, after a successful college career, Jim was accepted into the NY Housing Authority.

He spent most of the ‘80s  both “walking the beat” and patrolling in squad cars through some of the most “vulnerable, depressed conditions imaginable.” During this time, a lot of things came to light for Jim, including the aforementioned difficulties of dealing with the limited ways citizens saw the police and the limited ways police saw citizens. There was a lack of understanding on both sides –  there were sides to begin with. And in a tale as old as time, the most important fundamental component missing between citizens and the police, who Jim has noted are “the most conspicuous and accessible form of government,” was communication.

 “During that time a few things happened. [Personally] I tread through some very dark moments and dealt with some difficult internal issues,“ Jim says, grazing upon the taxing nature of the job. "Then, [Interacting with the housing population] I was made crucially aware of how important community initiatives and progressive forms of the police system are. Take the Eleanor Bumpurs tragedy. That was a big eye-opener.” Jim is talking about the 1984 Bronx case where Eleanor Bumpurs, a 66-year-old emotionally disturbed woman, was ordered to be evicted from her apartment by the Housing Authority. In an unfortunate turn of events, an NYPD officer ended up shooting Eleanor dead with two bullets from a 12-gauge shotgun.

Jim had been an active member on the executive board of the former Housing Police Benevolent Association. However, this incident, amongst other environmental and personal factors, motivated him to further impact the community.  Jim says, “Everything that was happening to me or around me during those early years was grist for the mill. I didn’t want to become complacent. I was ready for something more.” I insinuate, to his progressive nature, that Jim wanted to effect change, to which he responds, “Yes, but I also wanted to be affected by change.”

By now, I am so impressed by Jim’s eloquent delivery and his rare ability to story-tell that I’m seriously contemplating whether I should have just recorded this conversation and posted it in its entirety, rather than tried to capture it in highlights. The whole conversation is a highlight! Regardless, it is clear after our exchange of his upbringing and early years in the force that a spark for change was lit up inside Jim at this time. 

And, now for a brief interjection, it might be a good time to introduce Jim’s other hobby/talent/whatever you want to call it - acting. Yes, Jim Shanahan, 30-plus years in the police force is also an … actor? It may seem disconnected with the needs of law enforcement, but Jim’s theatre background has actually been an essential element in his career growth, and in turn, every officer in NYPD’s growth. Logically, this makes perfect sense. Acting is chock-full of that disparity between the police and the people that we’ve already mentioned: communication. 

So, after a few more years of character-building time on the streets, Jim altered his scenery in the early 90s to allow himself a more objective type of learning. He took some time to gain perspective, think creatively and decide on his next move. While on the desk, he also studied ways in which the police force could be improved.  True to his progressive nature, Jim examined prisoners and the ways in which they were developing and growing, rather than just looking at police training. He visited correctional facilities and state penitentiaries and delved deeper into the behaviors and motives that drive people. His forward-thinking research combined with the current events of the time proved to Jim that “there needed to be an alternative to the criminalization of the mentally ill and the demonization of the police in the process.”

Shortly thereafter, being “In the right place at the right time with the right skills,” Jim tells me how a door soon opened for him as a Senior Instructor for Police Academy Special Projects in NYPD’s training academy. Jim went on to teach Tactical Communications (or, Verbal Judo) in collaboration with Verbal Judo creator, Dr. George Thomas, and, really, the rest is all history.

Tactical Communications is based on conflict resolution in human relations, hostage negotiation and critical incident and disaster management. Since its inception in 1996, Jim has taught the course to over 80,000 new and current officers. In 1999, Jim also took a position at his former alma mater for “Adjunct lecturer-Senior Police Instructer” in the program for “Police Handling of Emotionally Disturbed Persons.” With both his communication-based classes and his combination of martial arts training, experience on the job, and acting background, Jim helped transform the way police are trained to communicate and act tremendously. He admits to having made mistakes in the early years, which are, as we know, par for the course, and notes that the classes morphed and matured over time. The main purpose, however, has stuck.

“We wanted to put a face on policemen for the public, but also show these officers how to obtain compliance from citizens in a less stressful or physical manner – it goes both ways,” Jim says. And it certainly has. For such a large organization that is continually in the spotlight and under scrutiny, the NYPD works arduously and openly toward maintaining mutual respect in its city. I feel it pertinent to note that the courtesy and respect shown by and to the NYPD must undoubtedly be culled directly from this program.

Jim continues to explain the need for this training, saying, “How you talk to people has a great impact. The difference between ‘Hey, you need to calm down,’ and ‘It’s going to be alright, help is on the way,’ is enormous.” Reflecting back on my own emotionally outstanding moments, I fully agree that the difference in those two statements is evident. One, I might be slightly soothed into complying and taking deep breaths. The other, I might lunge at someone’s throat and consequently get arrested. So, fine, maybe emotional stability isn’t my greatest strength, but is it most people’s greatest strength when dealing with the law? If a person is dealing with the police, chances are they are at a more fragile state to begin with.

“Police meet people at their absolute worst: the scene of an accident, the victim of an assault, broken at rock bottom.” Then, noting a most recent tragedy, Jim adds, “Walking in front of the Empire State building.”

By now, it is clear that people skills aren’t in higher need in any other profession. It is also clear that Jim believes in what he preaches and that he is very good at it, indeed. Jim has passion. He has passion for progress and unity, both internally and environmentally. He has “the gift of desperation” – the need to soak in all the information he can, make sense of it, and pass it on to as many people as possible, all for the betterment of society. It is altruistic people like Jim, who have the gift of desperation and the skill to pass it forward, that make the world a magnificent and hopeful place.

As we wrap up our discussion, I summarize his work as best as I can and remark that he has helped the NYPD make exceptional strides during his career. Though he certainly has earned bragging rights, Jim remains humble and states, “We just work toward change and hope. That in the future, police will be talking more and doing less.“ Thanks to Jim, it certainly seems that way.

The Weekend Getaway: Newport, RI & Portland, ME

Every now and then, I feel as if life decides to throw me a little surprise party for no reason at all. And that's exactly how I felt this past weekend.

See, it's been a while since I've done a *weekend getaway* and this latest one couldn't have come at a better time. After seven straight weeks of grinding out school and work in the hectic grid that is NYC, I was ready for a mini-escape that felt special but also didn't totally drain my bank account. 

After all, I started these mini, 3-5 day adventures a few years ago in response to the busy, tight-walleted nature of being in ones' twenties. Back in college, I had the luxury of studying abroad in Thailand and Vietnam, spending a summer in China and indulging in the quintessential European tour after graduating. I had lucked out with a mix of scholarships and just plain ol' cheap destinations or deals. Of course, I also had all the time in the world to globe trot. 

Once I graduated, though, it became a bit more difficult to find the time and money to get away. So, instead of planning costly, grand adventures, I decided to make more of an effort to see the good ol' U.S of A. In the past three years since, I've visited New Orleans during Mardi Gras, Niagara Falls in the summer,  Vegas, Montauk, The Catskills, Saratoga Springs, Cambridge & Boston, San Francisco and San Diego. Now, I can add Newport, Rhode Island and Portland, Maine to that list, too!

We spent a total of $338 on lodging and $400 on food over the course of 3 days/nights. Keep in mind, though, we're huge foodies, so you could easily halve this cost. Furthermore, the food budget spanned ELEVEN different restaurants (listed at the bottom) and ALL of our cocktails. So, IMHO, we still made out like bandits!

First stop: Newport, RI

One of our friends, Mike, lives in Newport, Rhode Island, so we decided to break up the drive north with an overnight at his place, and boy, was that the right choice! I never knew how downright beautiful Newport was.

Upon arriving, we hit up Castle Hill Inn, a gorgeous property on the cape. While we could have spent around $500 a night to stay at the Inn, we instead simply indulged in our first bowl of clam chowder and enjoyed a cocktail on the front lawn. It served as a nice dollop of luxury without the terrifying price tag.

We then meandered about the stunning cliff walk before meeting up with Mike. We had a delicious tapas-style dinner at Midtown and got to bed. The next morning, we hit up corner café for a hearty breakfast before getting on the road.

Next stops: Portland, ME with trips to Freeport and Cape Elizabeth


This should go without saying, but the drive up was half the fun. I just don’t think fall foliage ever gets old. Each time the season turns and the leaves begin to change, I wonder how anyone could choose to live anywhere else in the world other than the Northeast. 


We arrived at our Airbnb and were thrilled with the space. If you’re a music or lit junkie or simply like going off the beaten path, I strongly encourage staying at Mac’s. We had full run of this 3rd floor studio in a walk-up brownstone. Instead of paying the exorbitant prices to stay at a chain in downtown Portland in a cramped hotel room (a 2-night stay can run you around $650 at the least in peak season, depending on where you stay), we spent a grand total of $338, taxes and fees included, to basically have our own “suite” at Mac’s.  We felt we had a more authentic experience AND we had a little leftover cash to hit up the Freeport Outlets one afternoon. 


We then spent the following 48 hours eating. The over/under on clam chowder and lobster rolls was three. We exceeded the former, downing four chowders total and had exactly three lobster rolls. On Saturday night, we first enjoyed a tapas-style dinner at Local 188 and then literally had a SECOND dinner at Old Port Tavern where we each ate a full lobster dinner. The best part about nonstop eating in Portland? 1. It’s actually affordable (twin lobster dinner was $26!) and 2. It’s actually fairly healthy! Lobster is like 150 calories a pound or something silly, and, when in Maine, you barely even need the butter that you generally dunk it in because it’s so freakin’ fresh.  Win-win. 

Restaurant list

Castle Hill Inn – Newport, RI – claim chowder, cocktails on the lawn

Midtown Oyster Bar – Newport, RI – tapas & beers - pork belly cracklings and old bay steamed shrimp)

Corner Café – Newport, RI – breakfast! Awesome rosemary-crusted potatoes

Central Provisions – Portland, ME – farm egg bread and butter, roasted bone marrow, cocktails (we LOVED this place so much we went twice!)

LFK – Portland, ME – cocktails (ask for Jasper!) and awesome ambiance to start your night

Yosaku – Portland, ME – anything, but especially the miso soup, lobster and king crab rolls and sake

Isabella’s Sticky buns – Freeport, ME – obviously the sticky buns, but the breakfast sammies are just what you need before a little shopping!

Linda Beans  - Freeport, Me – lobster roll with tarragon

The Lobster Shack at Two Lights – Cape Elizabeth, ME – lobster roll and fried clams

Local 188 – Portland, ME - Tapas & craft cocktails that will rock your world  especially the foie gras and deviled eggs

Old Port Tavern – Portland, ME – Twin lobster dinner ($26!)

How to balance a busy life

I'm currently on my fifth week of working full time while also going to grad school full time. I also generally volunteer monthly, exercise daily, and enjoy having a social life on weekends. I may sound like an obnoxious overachiever and maybe it's because I am (screw you, whatever), but personally, I've just always felt eager to experience as much as possible.

Nevertheless, it gets exhausting. This past month has been a huge adjustment, even for me, but I think I'm finally beginning to learn how to balance it all without angrily texting my boyfriend every time something goes wrong (sorryloveyouthanks!). Anyway, here are my five tips to staying sane while busy.

Wake up earlier

And if you're not a morning person, all the better. I have never enjoyed being spoken to within the first hour of waking. I need coffee, breakfast, and most importantly, some me time, before any interaction. When I'm really under a time crunch, these routines hold even more importance. So, while I could take the train to work and sleep in until 30 minutes before I need to be at my desk, I instead choose to wake up around 75-90 minutes ahead of time (clothes and bag laid out the night prior) and walk the two miles to work. By the time I arrive, I feel energized rather than frantic, which is better for both me and anyone who needs to engage with me on a regular basis.

Prioritize correctly

Do you sit down at your desk and immediately start checking email? It's a hard habit to break and seems like the intuitive way to get your day started, but it can also immediately set you in a reactive mindset. Instead, keep a running to-do list with items listed in order of importance (I use the computer-generated sticky notes so I never lose them!). Upon sitting down, check your list, your calendar, and organize your day. 

Take strategic breaks

Speaking of being reactive, it can be difficult to remain cool and collected when you're under a lot of pressure and have tons going on. And let's be real, unless you work in an ER or a place of equal importance, there's no reason to get super worked up over deadlines and workload. When the emails are piling in, phone is ringing off the hook and you're ready to snap, just take a 10-15 minute break to walk around the block, grab a snack or call your mom and say hi - you'll be better off for it!

Be healthy

You don't need to spend a fortune on probiotic quinoa kale mash or whatever, but do try to make smart food choices - it's literally the fuel we run on. You also don't have to dedicate hours and hours to spin class - in fact, physically exhausting yourself is not a good thing. I learned this last week after I threw my neck out CHANGING MY SHIRT a few days after taking a really hardcore bootcamp class. Looking back, such a high-intensity workout was extremely counterproductive and definitely triggered an injury. I needed to be rejuvenated, not beat the fuck up and out of commission for a week.Lesson learned.

Make time for friends

I'm a yes person. Sometimes my boyfriend will ask me outrageous questions (hey we have two hours to kill - want to go kayaking in the Hudson and train to Flushing Chinatown for lunch?) just to get a kick out of me saying "sure!" sans any hesitation. This trait has scored me some really fun times in life, but it gets exhausting and works against me sometimes. I'm learning (slowly) to choose plans thoughtfully without feeling guilty and plan ahead to make sure I get quality time with friends I love to see.

End your day on a positive note. On all days, but especially busy ones, it's important to turn off the lights and ease into bed, rather than crash into it. For even just TEN minutes before going to sleep, turn all electronics off, light a candle, and read a little something, listen to something inspiring, or nom on some chocolate. Whatever it is, enjoy it!

 

3 key notes about finding your passion (or widely-applicable life lessons from my father)

If one year ago you told me that today I would be a) getting ready to begin my Master of Fine Arts in creative writing at The New School, b) a member of Norwood Club and c) working in Thought Leadership at PwC, I would be over the motherf-cking moon.  Today, all three of those things are true. 

Needless to say, passion, happiness and gratitude have been front-of-mind lately. If I'm really being honest, though, they always have been. Ultimately, it's what the Tangent Pursuit is all about: finding pockets of free time to explore and enjoy your world in a positive way, thereby inching that much closer to an ideal existence. 

Growing up, my dad spoke frequently and candidly about life and the pursuit of passion. As an immigrant who genuinely came from nothing, he was always keenly aware of the opportunities that surrounded him and he made a constant point of it to my brother and I. So, in an attempt to dish out the knowledge I've acquired on finding and pursuing one's passion(s) while remaining happy and grateful along the way, it only felt right to pay some sort of homage to my pops at the same time. Dad, this one's for you. 


3 key notes about finding your passion (or widely-applicable life lessons from my father.)

1. To learn what you DO like, you have to first understand what you DON'T like
At various points in my life when I was frustrated with something I was experiencing, my father would remind me that in order to get closer to the things that make you happy, you have to distance yourself from the things that don't - but first you have to be able to discern between the two! 

As a self-admitted "jack of all trades/master of none,"  I have spent a large portion of my life siphoning through one short-lived hobby to the next - of course taking away pros and cons from each experience, but nevertheless finding myself, at times, frustrated by my easy enamorability (not a word, I know. Whatever). I started a farmer's market, ran a marathon, taught English abroad, etc. The list truly goes on. I mean, does anyone remember when I opened an Etsy shop for handmade feather headdresses? ...hopefully not. But really, I was obsessed. I became totally immersed with this idea of feather headdresses and spent a solid amount of time and a little bit of money pursuing it, only to learn that it felt like I had confined myself to my own personal sweatshop and it wasn't really my thing. But that's okay! From that experience, I was able to take away a set of conditions I knew I didn't like about being a small business owner while also becoming semi-fluent in SEO and website building which would later prove handy. Plus, now I can say I made someone's alternative wedding veil (true story!). 

The point, a la Ze Frank's Brain Crack, is that I gave each idea a legitimate shot and saw it to full fruition prior to abandoning it. Then, when I realized it wasn't for me, I was able to move on without all the internal shoulda/coulda/woulda that comes along with emotionally giving up something you've never actually tried.

To know what you DO like, you have to figure out what you DON'T like. Sometimes, that means trying out a whole bunch of random shit.

2. Know your options 
No joke, these three words are actually inscribed on the back of my dad's business card (he's an independent financial advisor). I like piggybacking this piece of advice on top of the first tip above. Because once you start getting a feel for what you do like or what your passion might be, the focus turns to knowing what your options are in regards to pursuing it. 

To put this in context, I'll give you another personal example. Around 4 years ago, I started writing. I always loved literature and oscillated in and out of stages where I kept a journal or jotted down random snippets of creative thought, but I had never exercised my passion for it regularly. When I finally started working writing into my weekly routine and churning out somewhat readable content, I began submitting essay upon essay to the ever-admirable site, Thought Catalog. Eventually, I ended up getting published. For my 22 year-old self, that silly little nod was the best thing that had ever happened to me, period. It gave me a huge confidence boost. It made me realize that just because I majored in business in college didn't mean I was confined to that world. Ultimately, it led to me becoming more involved in a creative lifestyle. Over the next  three years, I would have articles accepted by Elite Daily and poetry published by the Artist Catalogue. Eventually, I would build my own blog (thanks to some help from that Etsy experience!) and even start a small, successful artist collective. One small pat on the back became impetus for all this imaginative energy. 

However, after 4 years, I finally wondered how I could merge my passion for writing with my every day life. My first thought was an obvious one: change careers and go into journalism. I looked into graduate programs for journalism, searched jobs, etc. It just didn't feel quite right. Was that truly what I wanted? After a lot more research and plenty of time spent thinking about how to satiate this creative urge, I took a gander at Creative Writing MFA programs. Now this, I thought to myself, looks like a way in which I can spend my time. See, it took a significant amount of time and trial and error before I was able to understand what all my options were and then move forth intelligently.   

Same goes for Norwood Club. Over a year ago, my dad (again, go faja!) brought up Soho house to me and suggested I apply. That one suggestion opened my eyes to an entire subculture of compelling social clubs throughout New York. After doing plenty of homework and speaking to a few clubs, I found myself cozily at home at Norwood - and mostly thanks to that small artist collective + writing! 

3. Regardless of what's happening, you gotta live your life 
At the end of the day, my dad has always reminded me that regardless of what's going on, "you gotta live your life." There will, no doubt, be difficult obstacles to work through during this journey.  "Finding your passion" does not happen overnight; working it into your life in a meaningful manner takes even longer. When you experience setbacks or hurdles, it's certainly important to persevere. However, sometimes you have to step aside before you can step forward. Basically, don't forget to take in life's small pleasures and remain grateful. Take a moment to enjoy the sunset, share a glass of wine or laugh at a comedy club. Don't neglect exercise, vacation or any of the essential delights, solely in the name of your passion. And think about this: the last time I went on vacation, I got tapped on the shoulder by a PwCer out of the clear blue sky. It's when I was at my most relaxed that I was introduced to the job I now have. 

 

Have your steak and eat it, too.

Call me old school, but I genuinely believe that it is every young, hardworking New Yorker's divine right to occasionally enjoy a fine-dining steakhouse experience. If nothing else, this city is one intricate culinary expedition. When it comes to steakhouses, there are the tried-and-true antique gems entwined with booming new-comers and, well - simply put, it would be a crying shame to not go out for a fancy dinner every now and then. 

For a family visit, The Palm is an undeniable staple. For romance, there's Quality Meats. Pre-theatre, there's Commerce. Post-work, there's Capital Grille. But rarely is there a place that fits naturally and spectacularly into all four categories. Until now, of course.

Last night I had the pristine pleasure of dining at Charlie Palmer Steak on 54th between 5th and Madison. Located steps from Central Park South, 5 minutes from Grand Central, and a stone's throw from the theatre district, CP Steak seems to have found the perfect home. Better yet, it's found the perfect rhythm. Situated on a side street as opposed to an Avenue (amen, to anyone who gets how much of a difference that makes), the restaurant boasts outdoor seating and 3 unique, flowing spaces inside. It feels undeniably special while still feeling... welcoming. It's hard to explain, but it's a mix of the warm decor and subtle ambience, the ease in which the staff glides about, and the modern twist on the music that makes the experience so versatile while still so full of character.

Besides the space, of course, there's the food. CP Steak delivered above and beyond expectations. First off, ingredients are bar none. We had the pleasure of speaking with Chef Ryan Lory just after he finished a conversation with their fish purveyor. He explained the diligence that goes into the selection process and clued us in to their weekly locavore tasting menus, offered on Fridays and Saturdays. I mean, you can truly, actually, honestly taste the freshness and quality of each ingredient. Then there's the execution. The light sauce beneath the tuna tartare is perfect. The quail egg atop the thick-cut bacon is to die for. The truffles? Shaved just right.  And just thinking about the char on the porterhouse is making my mouth water right now. 

I could go on, but I think I'll let the pictures do the rest of the talking from here. Plus, I've still got some of that 40 oz porterhouse to work on ;-).


Digital dating in NYC: The good, the bad, and the oh-so-interesting

About two years ago, my friend started dating a guy who she met through Tinder. She was all a-glow about this fella, going so far as to pronounce how much even I would like him. I tend to have very stringent expectations when it comes to my friends' boyfriends, and... well, rightfully so, especially in New York. I mean, it's (probably) a fact that for every well-rounded, winsome gentleman, there's somewhere around 100+ sociopaths to match in this city. As it turned out, this particular beau happened to have a suspicious 7+ Facebook accounts and maybe another girlfriend as well. 'Twas a fail.

That said, though, I also happen to know more than one couple who met through Tinder and are now engaged or happily married.

Quite honestly, this *new* world of digital dating seems to be spectacularly similar to the old world of simply meeting in a bar. After all, as many point out, both methodologies are (at least initially) based primarily on aesthetics and instinct, with a small sprinkling of personality and shared interests. Furthermore, with many dating apps or internet sites, you unquestionably gain more insight into an individual's background than you would have had you stumbled into them at 1am at a pub. Does it replace the value of being set up by friends or meeting organically? Probably not. But let's not discount it all together.

Today on Tangent Pursuit, I bring you (anonymously) the queen of digital dating. Her insight into which apps are worth it versus not, recommendations on how to get started and, mostly, her wild and unique stories should be entertaining enough to get your day started off well.

How did you get into "digital" dating?

I initially started using apps in early 2013 right when Tinder was starting to become popular. I was getting tired of the dating scene in NY and had heard a lot about Tinder so figured I would give it a try. I met up with a handful of guys until I met one who I really got along with and we started dating. I restarted Tinder (and added the other new apps) once this relationship ended. I figured if it worked for me once, why not try again?

Which apps/sites have you used?

Primarily have been app-focused, mainly because I don't want to write a lot/answer a lot of questions and the conversations flow easier in a text-based format than sending long messages back and forth. The apps I use are tinder, hinge, happn, and recently added the league.

Which is the worst/why?

They really all have their pros and cons. Tinder back in the day was great, but now is too diluted with too much variety. Everyone is on tinder... so it's harder to find quality. I like the idea of Happn (like you have to "cross paths" with someone), but it's a little overwhelming the way the display options and they don't notify you when you have a new message.


Which is the best/why?

I would say the best one is Hinge, especially if you are just breaking into the app dating scene. It is not overwhelming (you only get a certain number of matches a day) and you have to have some connection via Facebook (i.e. a friend of a friend of a friend). Therefore, the selection ends up being much better. Plus, it requires you to input your height, which I appreciate because I am a tall girl. A lot of my friends exclusively use Hinge and have had some good experiences.


Can you tell me about the most memorable date?

This is a hard one, as I have had many memorable, or should I say interesting, dates... Basically I should write one of those sex diaries they post on NYMag haha.

I met up with this guy once who sent me very strange, inappropriate page-long texts. He would tell me what he wants to do to me and all these very crazy things. He would even give me options for our date and then would make rules about what I was/wasn't allowed to do. I can't really explain this that well without showing you some of these absurd texts. But they were novels. I initially blew him off a few times - not even that bad, I told him I had plans, but could maybe meet up later and then when it got to be 1am I didn't feel like it. He got pissed at me and I felt bad so I finally agreed to meet him, even with the crazy texts, although I kept telling him how I wasn't going to sleep with him etc due to the nature of these texts. Anyway, we meet for drinks.... scratch that, I drink and he has iced tea because he is 13 years sober. So inevitably I get drunk to make up for it and we go to dinner... after dinner he starts making out of with me on the street, which I sometimes find awkward. He is a real estate broker or something so he offers to show me an empty apartment nearby.... I agree because I don't want to just be standing on the street in the rain anymore. We go to this empty apartment and start making out. I realize I could be here a while and I'm kind of drunk from earlier so long story short we end up having sex. Anyway, we met up again another night after this. I text him later joking about whether we're going to get together again and he sent me an insane text message about how I'm self centered because I didn't ask him about how his day was going or some ridiculous thing. I am doing a bad job at explaining this, but it's hard to explain fully via email. I don't speak to him or hear from him after this.

Another time I had a coffee date with this guy... we were supposed to get dinner that night, but he had to cancel to head out of town so we got coffee instead. Well, I got coffee, he got hot chocolate. I thought we hit it off pretty well, even from our texts after etc. But then he kept being evasive and was dodging hanging out with me, and there were other red signs, particularly that he was a legit Mormon. He never came out and said it, but he would only get hot chocolate, he had like a bunch of siblings and his mom was one of 10, and he went to BYU, a fact he covered up by saying he went to Notre Dame, but when I found him on LinkedIn it said BYU. He blew me off a few times, but would still like text me constantly. Eventually, I found out he has a wife and a kid, which is why he was being sketchy....

I met up with this guy one night for drinks. He was super sweet and we had a good time bar hopping. I found out he didn't even live in NY (was just here for work) and has a 10 year old daughter who he has primary custody of. He was nice though and we were having fun so I drunkenly decided to go back to his hotel room with him.... I texted him a month or so later asking how he was doing and he told me that on his way to the airport, he fell on ice and broke his whole leg and hasn't been able to walk since...

Additionally, when I was in Italy before starting work here, I went on two tinder dates! One was pretty normal... we met up for drinks, he walked me home, made out in front of the duomo. He tried to come home with me, but I didn't think that was a good idea since I was staying in an airbnb by myself in a foreign country. The second one was a little more unconventional. I had matched with this guy in Milan when I first got there, but since had been traveling to other cities. However, we continued to talk while I was in Italy. I had to go back through Milan to go home and was supposed to take the train to the airport, which is far away. He offered to pick me up and drive me to the airport. So I get in this car of basically a total stranger who barely spoke English. He drives me to the airport.... I thought he was just going to drop me off, but he parks and walks me in. He waits for me to check my bag and then we have lunch together at this airport restaurant where we have to spend most of the meal translating what the other is saying. He pays for everything and then walks me to the security line and gives me a hug goodbye.

Overall feelings on the experience so far?

I think it's a great vehicle to put yourself out there and meet people. I consider every date a different experience/story so even if they go bad, at least I've tried. These apps allow you to come across people you might not otherwise and it takes all the BS out of the run around at a bar or wherever people meet. It definitely is a good way to get laid, but there are also a variety of guys looking for a variety of things. My last boyfriend I actually met through Tinder in 2013 so it can happen! My friend met her current boyfriend on Hinge. If you're not good at putting yourself out there at a bar or are more interested in hanging with friends when you go out than trolling for men, these are definitely good options.


What kind of tips would you recommend to people just starting to online date?

I'd recommend that they rip the band aid off and just start meeting people. The only way you'll know if you actually mesh with someone is if you meet them in person. And meeting up with strangers gets easier! The more you do it, the more comfortable you are each time. Don't be discouraged by a bad date (or dates in my case) - they happen to everyone, even my skinny hot friends! Also, keep your options open and don't get invested in only one guy until it's legit. Myself and many friends have been ghosted too many times to count. But if you have other things/guys going on, it doesn't hurt as bad and you won't be as bothered by it.

 

The Weekend Getaway: The Catskills

If ever there's a time to enjoy New York City, RIGHT NOW IS NOT IT. It's already common knowledge to avoid the city in the summertime, but with consecutive 95+ degree days, the point cannot be made clear enough. Yesterday, I went from zero to full-upper-lip-sweat-bubbles in 30 seconds on the subway. And it wasn't even an overly hot cart! Obviously - and as my mother likes to remind me - I'm a "sweatball" and something like this could very well happen to me mid-winter. But even if you aren't a naturally-gifted sweatball like myself, it's still fucking hot out. 

ANYWAY, I luckily had the chance to visit the Catskills last weekend and breathe in some cool, fresh mountain air. The weekend in its entirety was a pleasant repose from city life and I would recommend the trip to anyone. So, if you're going to do the Catskills, here are some things you should consider...

1. Go for a wedding!

While I know this can be a tough aspect to plan, it certainly enhances the experience and if you have any influence on an upcoming wedding, I'd nudge for it. I'm just sorry you couldn't be there for last weekend's wedding, because it's prob/def the best one the Catskills has seen to date. Mimi and Rae got married in an old church/now house and then we partied in an old school/now house - it's hard to explain, so just view the pictures and stop assessing my poor sentence structure.

2. Drink the water

Seriously. Drink the tap water. Or the water from the streams while you hike. It's that fresh. Also, you should "drink the water" a la "drink the cool aid." Buy into it. Soak up the small town life, saunter around the downtown area, and kick back. Act like you're on mountain time. 

3. Go hiking

After a hearty breakfast of country-fresh eggs and corned beef hash, Matt and I asked a local for a recommendation on where to hike. What we got back was a pure gift. Through a series of instructions, we were directed down a few miles to the ranger park, back over a few lakes and through no less than three parking lots to find a sign for the Mountain House. We edged along the side of the mountain on an unnamed trail (thanks to the local tip!) and got into some serious rock-climbing. Matt almost catapulted himself off the side of the mountain, but besides that, the hike was perfect and the views? The views were nearly to die for, as Matty illustrated.

4. EAT!

Come on, I wouldn't have left this out. You should know me better than that.

and just as a bonus for making it to the end of the post, here's a really nice picture of everyone that I ruined

3 Affordable Ways to Rejuvenate in NYC

Okay, I know it's been a while. I don't have any excuse other than I've been extremely busy ramping up with my new job, traveling for work/pleasure, and getting up to speed with the social calendar of summer. In the midst of all of this, I have (shockingly) found myself physically tired, emotionally stressed and battling a month-long summer cold. However, I'm happy to say that I'm FINALLY feeling back to normal and looking forward to this glorious holiday weekend that is almost upon us. And since I'm getting back into the swing of things, it felt right to post about it! Here are my top 3 suggestions for how to rejuvenate on the cheap in NYC:

1. Get a Chinese Massage $20-$45

Also known as a Qi Gong parlor or hey-that's-a-sketchy-looking-place, these massage joints literally hit all the right spots. You probably pass by them regularly, thinking to yourself, "no way would I dare walk down this strange, dark alleyway." Next time, you should dare and you just may be rewarded with a glorious massage by an authentic Chinese Qi Gong masseuse that actually knows what they're doing. And have no fear, they cover the cleanliness basics by changing the cotton sheets and paper face thingies in between each session. Sure, the walls are more like soft dividers and there's no steam room to lounge in afterward, but at $37 for a 45 minute massage, you still can't beat the bang for your buck.  I mean, that's like a brunch bill. Come on.

2. Treat yo'self at Juice Generation $4-$10

As mentioned, I had been battling an epic summer cold for about a month, during which time I ingested somewhere around half of aisle 5 at the pharmacy. While medication certainly has its place, I'm also a big proponent of natural remedies. Enter: Juice Generation. For $5.45, you can get a 12-ounce fresh-pressed Cold Warrior, which includes: green tea, fresh orange, ginger root, echinacea, zinc and Vitamin C. It's a pleasant indulgence AND extremely good for you. Even if you're not sick, a trip to Juice Generation for a drink and some of their delicious meals will leave you feeling like you just experienced a mini health retreat. And all for $15-$20. Next girls night adventure? I think so. 

3. Get. Out. Side. FREE 99

I've said it before: never have I interacted with nature on such a daily basis as I do living in New York City. It sounds strange to most people, but it makes plenty of sense when you think about it. First off, I live a stone's throw away from Riverside Park and three blocks from Central Park. Because of the layout of the city, I walk nearly everywhere, including the 2+ miles to work. If you live uptown, this is a no-brainer. However, even if you're downtown, I bet you're not too far from The Highline, Madison Park, Washington Square or an accessible rooftop - so make use of it! You don't necessarily need to kayak in the Hudson or take a day trip to the botanical gardens (though, kudos if you can swing it!), you just need to get outside for a little bit each and every day. We've all heard the factoids about the positive benefits of even just 15 minutes of Vitamin D and they're all true. Even if you're super crunched for time, take 10 minutes to stroll outside in the sun on your next lunch break while counting your blessings or calling a loved one and then try telling me you didn't have a good day.

Getaway: Pacific Beach, California

My friend Erica and I met in first grade and have been #bf4ls ever since. In fact, we were so close growing up, there was even an online thread posted about us once in middle school that claimed we were lesbians. (We ain’t mad ‘bout it.) We went on to graduate college together after she finally transferred to UMD her sophomore year.  Then, that pesky “real world” attacked and I ended up in Virginia > New York and she in Arizona > San Diego. It’s been a little tough and very odd not living side by side these past four years. But once she moved to Pacific Beach last year and I finally felt settled in New York, I knew it was time for a visit.  So, I finally got out there! Below are a few of my favorite things about the trip:

1.      Seeing my BFF, DUH.

There’s only so many people that you can crack up laughing with after only minutes of being together. For me, Erica is one of those people. There’s also only so many people that wont second-guess spending Sunday afternoon of MDW with you at the CVS minute clinic when you come down with a killer sinus headache (#FTL!). Thanks, bae.

2.      Breakfast at The Fig Tree

Situated around the corner from Erica and Drew’s apartment is the most adorable and delicious breakfast place of all time. It looks like a big tree house and the food is phenomenal. (the rosemary potatoes and fresh-squeezed OJ were especially d-lish.)

3.      Riding bikes through La Jolla

After a hearty breakfast, we rode bikes through the streets of La Jolla and played pretend House Hunters. Even with all the mansions and over-the-top residences, though, it was these cute little surf huts that stole my heart.

4.      Lounging at Wind and Sea

Known for being a famous surf break and a hotspot for photo-shoots, Wind and Sea is also a pretty divine location to simply lay out and kick back. Which we managed perfectly, just like the professionals we are.

5.      Acai / Pitaya Bowls

Acai / Pitaya bowls are all the craze these days and they’re seemingly sold on every corner in San Diego. The bowls are made of frozen acai berry or dragon fruit mixed with a small amount of liquid (coconut water, almond milk, soy, etc.) into a sherbet-like texture. They’re then topped with healthy pickings like berries, granola, peanut butter and coconut. #omnomnom is right.

6.      Strolling the Pacific Beach boardwalk at Crystal Pier 

Lined with old-school cottages that have a 2-year waiting list, there’s plenty of history at Crystal Pier. As for the rest of the boardwalk, people-watching alone can be a full day’s activity. We strolled the boardwalk one day and then met my cousins (!) for lunch at World Famous, yet another great foodie find.

7.      Oscar’s Fish Tacos 

Also around the corner from Erica and Drew’s place is Oscar’s. About the size of a small food truck, this North Pacific Beach taco haven crushes it with fresh seafood and ridiculously low prices.

8.      An outdoor BBQ

On Sunday night, I managed to come halfway-back to life after a healthy dose of Sudafed. We barbecued and played corn hole in the front yard.

9.      Experiencing Club Pilates 

I love exercising, so while I wasn’t feeling up to a crazy workout thanks to my sinuses, I wanted to get a little something in during my trip. Enter: Club Pilates. I tried out my first class on the reformer machines for a meager ten bucks. It was actually a ton of fun to maneuver the reformer and definitely the perfect workout to settle on.

10.  Massages & kickin’ back 

I’m a massage fiend and a total diva when it comes to pampering myself. Unfortunately, I’m not made of money. So, it’s always a beautiful thing when I can score a solid massage at a low price. At Health & Wellness Arts Healing Center, I was able to do just that. Located in Pacific Beach amongst a strand of restaurants and shopping, the Healing Center offers a $50 massage for a full hour. It’s clean, relaxing, and best of all, the massage was absolutely top-notch. On my last day, I enjoyed a massage and then kicked back with Erica to crack up over Broad City and Best in Show.

Can’t think of a better way to spend, or end, a vacation!

NYC Coffee: Who reigns supreme?

At some point circa 16 years old, I discovered coconut coffee and started drinking it regularly. Having lived across the highway and then some from the nearest Dunkin Donuts, I would drive there early on Monday Mornings to buy one of those extra massive 36-oz cups and a few 8 oz cups to match. Then, I'd keep the larger container in my parents fridge and heat up a cup each morning for the next 3-4 days, satisfying my teenage sweet tooth. After a few weeks of this, however, even my  immature taste buds knew something was wrong. Apparently, old coffee isn't as tasty as a freshly brewed cup. Who'd a thunk it? 

That was my first early lesson on a good cup o' joe: freshly brewed is best. And of course, freshly ground is even better. And good, filtered water is an absolute must.

Over the course of time, I went through various coffee phases. During college, thanks to a hefty monthly food allowance (hey, Dad!) I enjoyed the daily consumption of skinny vanilla lattes from Starbucks. Post college and no longer free-wheeling it off my parents' funds, I formed a McDonald's coffee addiction (and a hash brown one, too, but that's for a different day). Surprisingly, Mccy D's has a solid cup of coffee and it's always $1, regardless the size. But when I really want a good caffeine fix, I go to Rook in my hometown. Without going too deep into the rabbit hole regarding my undying love and obsession with Rook coffee, let me just put it simply: it's the best cup of coffee you will ever taste. They treat coffee beans like any other crop and buy seasonally. They pack the beans in single-serving airtight containers to preserve freshness. And then they make you a freshly ground, freshly brewed (in, of course, good filtered water) delicious cup of coffee. No lattes, no cappuccinos, no frills. Just good coffee from around the world.

So, NOW, with the understanding that there is, very unfortunately, no Rook in NYC (yet!), allow me to suggest my personal favorite coffee joints in the big apple.

For a single-drip AND the best espresso: JOE COFFEE

Quite honestly, if I was giving an award for best experience, it would also go to Joe's. Each shop I have visited is inviting, clean and friendly. 

For a solid cup and a bite: BIRCH 

Always bustling, always reliable. 

For that french-press craving: GREGORY'S 

I'm a french-press fiend. When brewed correctly, it's richer and stronger and I can buzz 12 hours off of it.

For something fancy.. MAGNOLIA BAKERY

Magnolia Bakery does lattes like nobody's business. For a hint of luxury, go late morning on a Saturday, order the chai latte, add a famous cupcake to your order, and then sit back and enjoy breakfast overlooking one of the many cute streets Magnolia happens to be situated on (Ahem, Columbus and W 69th!)

For the best iced coffee... MOLLYS MILK TRUCK

image.jpg

Available in whole foods and (eventually) most bodegas, this is hands down the best iced coffee you'll ever taste. It has almond milk, agave and some spice to it, but the shot of espresso (RedEye version) really takes it over the top. Plus, Molly's is the ONLY coffee I can consume when hungover - it's that good. 

**when in doubt or when looking for an affordable and reliable option, I always go with street cart coffee. Not only is the cart on 51&7th serving up delicious coffee, but there's nothing quite like putting money directly into the hands of the guy pouring you a cup o joe!

Sonoma: Wine Country in Pictures

And on the last day, God made wine... isn't that how it goes?  At the least, that's how it went for us!

See the pics below for a small snapshot of the day. And if you'd like to scope out the awesome accommodations Ana found us in Healdsburg, see here!

San Francisco Day 2: steep Hills, tears & bicycle beers

After an active day on the water and a few evening cocktails in Luke and Ana’s sweet new loft, I was feeling pretty hungry come morning. Luckily, they just happen to live right around the bend from an old, tiny diner in Oakland called “Lois’ Pies” which serves up southern specialties and prides itself on, you guessed it, pies.

Certain eateries just have something to their aesthetic that lets you know they’re going to be good, and Lois’ is one of those places.

It wasn’t until we sat down that we learned Lois’ was a pretty famous spot. Lois herself is the adoptive mother to Reggie Jackson.

The vibe was warm and the food was good. After meals like this, we were ready to take on the day!

Prior to jumping further into today’s post, I should circle back to a brief conversation Luke and I had during our redwoods/SUP day. See, Ana and Luke had initially been living directly in San Francisco for the past few months in a sublet. The day before my arrival (literally), they moved across the bridge to Oakland. For those unaware, Oakland is somewhat comparable to Brooklyn or Asbury Park, circa 10 years ago.

In terms of energy, my entire Oakland experience was an excessively friendly, quintessentially-Californian one. From the coffee shop owner who absolutely insisted upon giving me a free cup when I realized my credit card wasn’t working to the eclectic group of locals that stopped by their loft to say hello and welcome them to the neighborhood, Oakland felt charming and unique.

When I shared this observation with Luke, he told me how he not only felt the same, but felt that people in Oakland were significantly kinder than those in San Francisco. Interesting, right?

Now, fast-forward to Friday afternoon in Haight-Ashbury. We planned on riding bikes around the city and since I couldn’t fit mine in my carry-on, we had to rent one for me. As we approached a small bike shop, I went to slide past a man halfway in the doorway to scope out the bikes. What then ensued was one of the more unnecessary and unprovoked confrontations that I’ve experienced in a long time.

And, look, I’m from Jersey. 

When faced with a rude stranger, my initial reaction is generally to snap back. It’s something in my DNA… thanks a lot, Dad. 

However (and as my boyfriend will tell you), I sometimes find myself trapped in a figurative glass case of emotion. This, unfortunately, is also something in my DNA... thanks a lot, Mom.

Much to my dismay, the latter occurred and… I just started crying. In public. And fled to the bar next door. It wasn’t embarrassing at all.

P.S. the irony of this occurring in the center of Haight-Ashbury, the neighborhood known for being the origin of effing hippie subculture, did not escape me. Hashtag Blessed. 

After recovering from a few tears-over-nothing, I emerged from el bano to find mom & dad (i.e. Luke and Ana) at the bar poised to welcome me back to emotional stability with a sympathy beer! We finished our Guinnesses and meandered down the block where I was able to successfully rent a bike from a much nicer group of San Francisco(ines/ites/ans?). 

Then, as a finer version of hell's angels, we took off into the day, making our first stop at Inspiration Point.

We then maneuvered down to the Palace of Fine Arts and biked through the posh Marina area.

Soon enough, we figured it was time for another drink and some food. Down in the Cow Hollow area, we posted up at  Pacific Catch for some wine and fried seafood. That calamari though… #OMNOMNOM

We then made our way up to Russian Hill and rode our bikes down the steepest street in America, Lombard Street, which was both terrifying and exciting. A few people walking up the winding road gave me very justified looks of doubt that seemed to say “eh, really?”

Luckily, we survived. Cruising back to the Marina/Cow Hollow area, we finally ended our 3.5-hour bike tour and celebrated with a shot and a beer.

In a sad attempt at rallying for the evening, we made one last stop at Peet’s coffee shop for espresso. Instead of rousing my party energy, I think the warm chai flavor just made me that much more ready for bed.

San Francisco & The Gift of Adventurous Friends

Preface:

Meet Ana. Full Russian, Ana was born and bred in Sweden for the first 16 years of her life before immigrating to America to finish high school and go off to the University of Maryland for college. She has no concept of time or distance (seriously, I wouldn’t put it past her to drive three hours and back just for a lunch date) and somehow possesses an endless repository of energy. The first time we ever went out together, I came home without any shoes on.

In short, she’s “my crazy Russian friend.”

Naturally, though, she is much more than this. She’s cultured, kind-hearted and very sharp. However, her open-minded, adventurous spirit is pretty unparalleled and, to me, that makes for the best of friends.

Having recently moved out to San Francisco to work for Apple (#bosslady), I purposely conjured up time between jobs for a trip to visit her in her new digs. Here’s how it went.

Part 1: Taquerias, Redwoods & Sea Lions, OH MY!

Upon arriving, Ana instructed me to take a cab downtown to a taqueria named “lolo.” As the cab pulled up to the address, I noticed two things: a shady-looking place across the street called “The Make Out Room” and a sign on Lolo’s door that was being flipped to “Closed.” Oh, Ana.


Luckily, Lolo had a sister restaurant down the block so I made my way over to Valencia Street and met Ana and her boyfriend Luke. Unfortunately my taste buds overthrow my brain when food is in front of me and I didn’t get any pictures of the spread, but it was phenomenal. Here’s a small idea of what it’s like, thanks to #Instagram.

While Ana had to go to work the next morning, her boyfriend, Luke, who is also coasting on his last days of funemployment had plenty planned for a solid first day.

Instead of touring the city, we skipped town and drove through the uniquely winding hills that are so synonymous with the California coastline. We dipped in and out of fat pockets of gorgeous redwoods and emerged each time to find an expansive view of mountains beside a crisp, rolling ocean. John Muir State Park welcomed us onto roads with fitting names like “Panoramic Hwy. The fog was nowhere to be found.

Finally landing in a tiny community in Stinson Park, we took out the stand up paddle boards for an epic session. While Luke played in the waves, I snuck into the nearby estuary to do some exploring. Almost immediately, my curiosity was rewarded. I had a close up encounter with a sea lion, followed by a 5-minute paddle alongside a large stingray and my first-ever baby sand shark sighting!

The coolest part came about an hour into the mini-exploration. I heard some noises and couldn’t figure out what they were. As I paddled around the calm back area, I skimmed past a few large sandbars at a distance but didn’t notice anything much.

At first, that is.

When I looked and listened a little closer, I noticed around fifty beached seals, hanging out on a sandbar about 50 yards from me. Having rolled around in the sand, they were difficult to discern from far away. A few more strokes toward them and about 20 seals started flopping their way into the water.

So as not to frighten them, I slowed down and took a seat on my board. Soon enough, I had a whole group of interested,  new friends just a few feet from me! I am really bummed I didn’t have a waterproof camera of sorts to capture the moment, but as my mother likes to say “sometimes the greatest moments are best left to be captured only in memory.” I’ll trust you on this one, Mama bear.

Before leaving, I did get some photographic proof. Lucky for all of you, not only is there this solid shot...

but there are all of these leading up , too: 

To top things off, Luke introduced me to The Lunch Box and I had my first-ever salmon po’boy.  BOOM.  

New Yorkers: How to Weekday Staycation

There are myriad ways to spend a free day in New York, not one of which are "wrong" per se. Between five boroughs, 800+ languages and enough cuisines and cultural events to match, excitement lies every day in every pocket of this great, vast grid we call home. That being said, allow me to now share with you how I decided to spend the past few glorious days off. 

I am currently transitioning jobs and decided to take a little time off in between. At first, I was apprehensive to take more than a long weekend, but after some thinking, I changed my mind. And let me tell ya, I'm glad I did. This break has been a truly wonderful period of reflection, enjoyment and relaxation. At a time when spring is finally coming out of it's half-frozen shell, 10 days off couldn't have been more aptly received. 

1. Head to the Museum

One of the greatest aspects of this city is its rich collections of art and history. But, what New Yorker wants to spend their free Saturday afternoon being suffocated by throngs of crowds just to get a short-lived peek into some of even the most wonderful exhibits? This past Monday, I grabbed a cappuccino from my favorite cafe, Cafe Lalo, and strolled over to the American Museum of Natural History. I most enjoyed the Butterfly Conservatory (duh), the Hayden Big Bang theater, and the Countdown to Zero (Disease Eradication) exhibit. My entire experience was easy, swift, and relatively quiet. I spent a solid 20-25 minutes in the tiny conservatory with 500+ butterflies and maybe 10 other people, tops. I waited less than 4 minutes for the Big Bang theater, and was virtually the only person in the Disease Eradication exhibit. 

If you have only one thing to do on a free weekday in New York, this is it. 

2. SPA (affordably!)

Yes, I know. I adore spas. But, who doesn't? With some nifty research and calculated planning, I've been able to score hour-long massages for as little as $30 in the city. That, however, did not come without its fair share of work. I've used deal sites like Groupon or memberships like CandleSpas and then literally had to plan 4-8 weeks ahead of time for a weekend pampering session. Why? Because you don't get massages that cheap without it coming at a price -- the price being convenience due to mass competition for weekend appointments by other "savvy" New Yorkers who are doing the same exact thing.

However, if you've ever tried to schedule a spa appointment Monday-Friday, the tides radically shift. Spas are virtually empty during the week and you can schedule one as little as 24 hours ahead of time usually. So, when I received a nice little text from Red & White spa in Soho advertising their 50-minute massage & 50-minute facial for $99 total, viable during the dates I was conveniently on staycation, I jumped at the chance. What ensued was a luxurious friday afternoon at one of my favorite spas, feeling like a total princess.

3. Shop

Whether we're talking clothes shopping, food shopping or simply window shopping, shopping in New York on the weekend can be stressful. Like most other activities, everybody's doing it. On an easy Tuesday, however, it's so peaceful it's almost, dare I say, therapeutic. I took the liberty to skim thrift-store racks for some new spring clothes (sans the dressing room wait) before navigating empty aisles of full shelves at Trader Joes. On the way home, I slowly enjoyed the magnificence that is Columbus Avenue in the sunshine, without being shouldered by pedestrian traffic. Though, it's admittedly always a little calmer on the Upper West, this was even surprisingly enjoyable for me. In the evening, I dressed up in my new spring finds and crafted a delicious spread of charcuterie and wine for dinner... on my own couch, in my own little apartment.