Play Like It’s Your Job Because It Is.

There comes a time in every creative professional’s life when you’re faced with these important questions:

Should I keep casting a wide net and seeing what sticks?

Should I specialize?

Should I put pants on today?

No one but you can answer these questions. But yes, you should put pants on. Pants are sleeves for your legs, and it’s cold outside.

But back to specializing. Only you can determine whether you should do so, because only you know what you like and what you’re good at. Hopefully those things intersect with market demands.

“But I’m good at everything,” you say. “Why should I be punished for being awesome?”

I agree, fellow awesome person.

We ARE a lucky breed.

So, before you decide on whether to specialize at all, you should probably do some experimentation first.

Take me, for instance. My favorite topic.

Each job I’ve had has focused my writing and helped build my writing toolkit. And we all know how great I am with tools. Is this a wrench in my hand? You betcha.

When I was starting out in the world of the working, I knew I loved to write so I ended up writing for print daily newspapers. That soon proved unsustainable because it was a service that was specific to prehistoric, er, pre-internet days. It relied on profiting off a monopoly on information.

But it wasn’t all for naught. I learned how to take complex information and turn it into digestible prose. I learned about structure and not burying the lede (a.k.a., the most important part of the story). I learned about being concise, using facts to build a narrative, and using simple words for clarity’s sake instead of being superfluous, fanciful and showboaty.

Most challenging of all, I had to do it fast, multiple times a day. It was back in the days when reporters actually had to do research and go outside and spend hours talking to randos in search of a good quote, versus just embedding someone’s tweet and calling it a day. Not that I’m bitter or anything.

It meant I had to learn how to craft the beginning, the middle, and end of a story in my head, on my drive back to the office—all before I could even fire up my 30-year-old desktop computer that croaked sweet nothings in my ear. Things like, “Please put me out of my misery for I wasn’t built for multitasking, you dumb, young but-on-the-older-end-of-the-spectrum millennial.”

Perhaps the most important thing I learned was that I liked writing features more than breaking news. I loved marinating on ideas and mulling over words more than dumping out all the information I had available, as fast as possible.

“Where was the poetry? The thought? The wordplay?” I screamed into the uncaring void, waving a quill and a copy of “Infinite Jest” that I never read but made me look smart.

I just wanted to write, man.

So I switched to copywriting.

Unlike journalism, copywriting doesn’t rely on people to engage with it out of moral obligation and civic duty (What a relief, amiright?). It’s attuned to how we live. It’s what we sleep in, what we put on in the morning, and what we eat for breakfast. It’s all up in our faces and on our faces, lathered, rinsed and repeated.

At its best, it’s the voice that reaches out to you when you’re looking for it and says, “Hi. Let’s do it. Let’s be friends. Wait, what did you think I was talking about, ya gross person, you? I’m reconsidering this whole friendship thing, except I’m not because your grossness is what I like about you.”

Copywriting’s fun, guys.

But even within copywriting, there are specialties. There’s social media copywriting. TV copywriting. Print copywriting.

There’s food copywriting! Financial copywriting! Medical copywriting!

THERE’S EVEN COPYWRITING ABOUT COPYWRITING.

OVERTHINKING’S SO MUCH FUN GUYS.

Luckily, we don’t have to figure everything out all at once. It takes years of experience and experimentation.

And who better to talk about experience and experimentation—the creative kind and only the creative kind, of course—than my dear friend, Andy Warhol?

You probably know him better as Andy Warhol.

Take it away, Andy Warhol!

 

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Hello, Karen’s readers. I am Andy Warhol. You may call me Andy Warhol.

Why do I sound like Karen, you ask? It’s because we are friends, and this is how friends talk. Two hearts, one mind, six Cheetos.

Anyway, I’m going to take you through a few of my own works to illustrate the experimentation I undertook to find my voice. See what I did there? I used illustrate in a sentence, because I was an illustrator.

A commercial illustrator, to be precise. Bet you didn’t know I was clever.

I started out at ad agencies, you see, where I became known for my innovative processes, quick—and dare I say awesome—work, and for being an all-around delight to work with.

D-e-l-aiiiiight.

I grew fascinated with the whole concept of mass production, and how all these packaged goods could end up in people’s homes so effortlessly. Why couldn’t they be art? Was it because they weren’t protected by slabs of wood and glass, tacked onto walls like a shrine for the sole purpose of admiration sans real interaction? Were they artless because they were actually useful?

“Poppycock!” (which in my hometown of Pittsburgh is slang for “bullshit”) said I.

CPG (that’s consumer packaged goods to you, you civilian) can be art.

Ya see?

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Don’t they look machine-made? Guess what? They are not. The soup cans, in particular, I painstakingly drew by hand to look eerily identical except for slight differences, NBD.

But drawing by hand was slow. So I moved onto screen prints.

While screen printing had been a thing in Asia for, well, ever, I popularized it here in ‘Murica. Pretty groovy, huh? Or, as you kids would now say, a pretty fine act of appropriation, huh?

Hey, Andy Warhol. It’s me again, Karen. I’d like to take this moment to interject and ask that if taking an existing technique and making it your own is appropriation, wouldn’t much of art in the history of art be appropriation? Shouldn’t we be more nuanced in our judgment?

Girl, do I look like mahogany because I am bored.

OK, sorry, Andy Warhol. Please continue.

As I was saying, why stop at CPG?

I mean, check out my friend Marilyn.

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Everyone’s a product, so to speak. Some just have prettier packaging than others.

I was also tickled by the ability of mass-produced images to dull and desensitize us toward violent images.

I mean, look at this electric chair.

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Isn’t it pretty all purple and shit?

Now here’s a rather potent pic taken during the Civil Rights movement.

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In a newspaper, it merely informs. Here, it’s confrontational.

Point is, mass production raises the stakes. As my friend Capitalism would say, more is more!

This concept is best exemplified by my other friend, Mona.

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How annoying to have to line up at the Louvre and crowd around her teeny, tiny frame to take a good selfie. Why couldn’t there be 30 Mona Lisas? After all, 30x the Mona Lisas = 30x the selfies!

Well, one might say that the paintings of yore were super famous particularly for their formerly innovative processes that are now totally common or even obsolete, but there’s still value in seeing the pioneering works in real life. This screen print, however, essentially takes the value of a handmade painting away. The art is no longer the process, but the copy of the process and whatever statement that’s supposed to make. You’ve gone and messed with it, Andy! You’ve messed with it!

Oh Karen, you really are such a square. Speaking of squares.

Here’s one.

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Actually, this looks more like a rectang–

Here’s another.

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And another.

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Colors are a thing I like.

I knew Basquiat. We were friends. We were super cool.

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Super cool indeed, Andy Warhol. But can we stay on topic plea–

Side projects! Gotta do dem side projects to keep the ~*~*~creative juices~*~*~ flowing. I drew. I made films.

I also made wallpaper.

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Wouldn’t that look pretty in your house?

My lease forbids me from–

Let’s fast forward to the end of my experimentation. You see, my real dream was to become a fine artist but this whole pop art thing kind of took off and I guess made me famous or something <rolls eyes>. But toward the end of my career, I tried my hand at abstract art, which was all the rage in those days.

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Wow, what a departure from everything we’ve seen thus far. 

Look closer.

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Yes, it’s really nice but–

Closer.

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Now press your nose against it.

Andy Warhol, I would never–

PRESS.

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YOUR. NOSE.

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AGAINST.

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THE CANVAS.

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Guess what?

<stifling sobs> What?

It’s piss.

WTF Andy Warhol?!

<Andy Warhol cackles a lot.>

 

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Thanks, Andy Warhol. You’re a d-e-l-aiiiggght indeed.

So there you have it, dear reader. While the greats may have gotten famous for one particular work or style—in Andy’s case, screen printing—it took quite a bit of play to get there. And even within that style, he played around quite a bit, toggling from ad-like objects and celebrities, to topical light-hearted fare, like racism.

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I love learning about all the stuff writers and artists make outside of the stuff that made them famous. It reminds me to have a sense of play in everything I do. Because otherwise, what’s the point?

Big thanks to the Whitney for this exhibit btw, and especially for allowing photography of the works so idiots like me could take a piss out of everything.

(See what I did there?)

For a more serious, actually eloquent take on Andy Warhol’s work, check out the audio guide here.

Or you could just check out the exhibit in person between now and March 31. Which you should. Because it’s awesome.

As for me, I’m gonna go wash my face. And my whole body.

Bye.

Decluttering. Is. Awesome.

Not to brag, but I’ve been decluttering before it was cool. I try to do it regularly, but with my work and life and lazin’-about schedule taking up all of my time, decluttering tends to get reduced to a once-a-year occasion.

But boy do I look forward to it.

I look forward to it like how my puppy looks forward to kibbles.

Like how productive but overpaying members of society look forward to tax refunds.

Like how GoDaddy looks forward to automatically renewing the 30 unused domains I’ve impulsively bought over the years because one day I totally will write about my conversations with my sandwich (dot com).

You get it.

Decluttering. Is. Awesome.

Because I’m all about sharing wisdom these days, I’ve decided to take you through my process. Just think of me as your very own KonMari but without the Netflix deal and happy clients. On the internet, EVERYONE’s an expert.

So step into my office, my friend. And by office, I mean my cupboard. And by friend I mean internet stranger.

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Well, hello. Don’t we look positively It Came With The Apartment Like This And My Landlord Made Me Sign Something That Said I Better Leave It Like This, Too, If I Want My Security Deposit Back JK I’m Never Getting My Security Deposit Back LOL?

Cupboards are ripe for decluttering. It’s so easy to tuck away a novelty mug here and a cracked martini glass there ever so conveniently behind closed doors, freeing yourself from the guilt of having to throw away otherwise perfectly functional dishware. After all, what’s a little bloody lip after sipping from a chipped mason jar? Repeat after me: it’s not broken. It’s just full of character.

Let’s take a closer look.

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Ah, it appears the liquid containers are grouped together, with the special, scarcely used yet more expensive glasses up high, and the everyday utilitarian cups down low, closer to the ground so they remember their lot in life.

Like a perfectly functioning caste system, this works. But a little decluttering can make it work even better.

We’ll start with our bottom feeders, lest we rattle the status quo by making cuts starting from the top. <Insert knowing, shared laughter between me and the monogrammed decanter.>

Unlike the KonMari way, my method is based on science.

Here, we evaluate how much joy an item sparks based on quantifiable measures. Like a finely tuned corporate annual performance review, it is infallible.

Let’s begin.

cupboard_dsc05198Years of service: <5
Duties: Coffee receptacle. Sometimes water.
Pros: Looks great in a hand.
Cons: Makes everyone else look bad.
Middle management potential: Low
Room for improvement: Yes. There’s no “I” in team. Less quirk, more conformity, er, collaboration, please.
Final verdict: My name does indeed start with a K. The cup stays.

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Years of service: <5
Duties: A fine coffee receptacle.
Pros: Makes me look smart. It says, “Look at me. Books are a thing I read.”
Cons: As with anything French, it thinks it’s better than everyone.
Middle management potential: Low.
Room for improvement: Oui. Less sneering, more agreeing.
Final verdict: The coffee stains show dedication. They say, “Yes, I WILL skip my kid’s first birthday for your meeting about that other meeting.” This cup gets it. It stays.

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What even is this? Must be a minority hire. Stick it in the back until the annual company picnic, when we’ll position it front and center for the newsletter picture to show our commitment to diversity.

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Years of service: 5
Duties: Ah, a camping coffee cup. Lured by promises of outside responsibilities, it spends most days inside. In the dark.
Pros: It tells people I go outside sometimes.
Cons: It reminds me how often I don’t go outside.
Middle management potential: It’s not quite doing what it’s good at, but it’s pleasant enough to not cause a stir (get it?). Its chances are very high.
Room for improvement: I’m sorry, who are we talking about again?
Final verdict: Sure.

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Years of service: <5
Duties: Flattery and validation. The Office Suckup.
Pros: I enjoy compliments.
Cons: Tries a little too hard and can’t be trusted.
Middle management potential: High
Room for improvement: As long as it continues to suck up to the right people (me), then not much.
Final verdict: Not the most talented but good to have drinks with? PROMOTION.

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OMG YES.

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Years of service: > 5
Duties: BURRRRRRRR
Pros: Every cupboard needs a hip, happening cool foreigner. It tells people I am cultured. I am unique.
Cons: Can’t understand WTF it’s saying.
Middle management potential: Ya kidding? It’s on an H-1B visa that’s about to expire. It’s just happy it has a warm place to poop in.
Room for improvement: Unless it can turn Miller Lite into vodka, I just don’t know how that’s possible.
Final verdict: Sî. Which is Spanish AND Catalan (the official languages of Barcelona, though a good chunk of its population would prefer for it to be just the latter—history’s cool, guys!) for YES.

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HAHAHAHAHHHAHAHA way too big for everyday use but lights up a room with its big stupid head. It stays. Forever.

cupboard_DSC05226.jpgWhat sound did I just make?

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A novelty mug of a fictional place from a TV show from a simpler time? Totes.

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Years of service: Judging from its weathered face, 175.
Duties: Reminding everyone of our own mortality.
Pros: It says age is nothing but a number that tells you just how much closer you are to death. Also, use sunblock.
Cons: Is this BPA free?
Middle management potential: Sadly none on this Earth but maybe in the afterlife.
Room for improvement: Seriously, am I going to die from BPA? Also, what’s BPA?
Final verdict: Despite my inner voice telling me to Let It Go (Crap, wrong musical), I don’t have the heart to do it. Corporations do indeed care, people. All I ask is that it doesn’t expire on the job and on the premises. A lawsuit’s the last thing I need. But please put it in the corner where I don’t have to look at it.

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And there you have it, folks. The foolproof, highly scientific method of decluttering in a number of indeterminate but easy steps. Just by replicating my 4-point factor analysis, you too will soon be clutter-free. What do you mean I didn’t get rid of anything and the cupboard’s still cluttered? I guess that means I’m perfect. Hopefully you’ll discover you’re perfect, too.

Join me next time for the ever so mysterious, highly contentious Sock Drawer (I mean, where DOES the other one go?).

I’m so excited my back hairs are tingling.

Peace.

Not A Writer, Not Yet Not A Writer

I’m trying this new thing where I’m being less neurotic about the things I write (which is like telling a bird not to shit and an M&M not to melt in your mouth) by introducing a few new, hopefully easier-to-write-than-an-essay columns.

Because I sometimes get letters from aspiring writers and creatives wondering how I’m doing all the writing and creating I’m supposedly doing, I, a writer of my stature (that is, none), think it’s high time I share my so-called wisdom with a recurring column called Questions & Answers(ish).

Instead of responding to one lucky asker via email, I’m now sharing my answers with the lucky readers of this blog—all five of you (seriously, good turnout this year).

Without further ado, I’m kicking things off with something light and fluffy: The Great Recession.

Enjoy.

 

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QUESTION:

Yo, yo, Karen. I hear you’ve been writing professionally since back in the days when Ja Rule wasn’t just a punchline associated with a festival named after what, for legal reasons, I’ll refer to only as an oxidizing chemical reaction, but rather a successful rapper who, based on his veritable hits with the legendary Bronx native J.Lo and the iconic Ashanti, well, quite literally ruled. Nonetheless, in the late aughts, you fell on hard times when the economy came crashing down. What was that like? What did you learn from it? Based on the recent HuffPo and BuzzFeed layoffs, history seems to be repeating itself. Is writing still a valid way to make a living or should I just give it all up now and go to med school, as is custom especially if you’re a practical, probably Asian human with demanding, probably also Asian human parents? Also, do you think med schools would count my Contemporary Flailing Called Dance* as a transfer credit?

Signed,
Not a Writer, Not Yet Not a Writer

 

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ANSWER:

Dear Not a Writer, Not Yet Not a Writer:

First of all, breathe.

Second of all, what’s your favorite Ja song? Mine’s probably “Put It On Me.” I mean, what would we do in a world without Ja? Not putting things on other things, that’s what.

Third, and sorry to suck the air out of the room, but for most people writing has never been a valid way to make a living. (Again, sorry.)

For every Stephen King and J.K. Rowling, there has been an untold number of writers in the history of Earth creating mostly unread rants on scrolls and self-published pamphlets and blogs (hi). Writers in the days of yore (that’s how you can tell they’re really old) often held down normal jobs to pay the bills. Other more idealistic and, not coincidentally, unemployable writers died poor AF.

So, unless you’re going the poor AF route, perhaps the validity of the writing profession isn’t quite the right question to ask.

The question should be: How do I make a living as a writer?

If you do go the way of med school (or insert some other lucrative, more stable profession here), you could still totally be a writer. Michael Crichton, author of a book of essays—many of which involved med school things—called “Travels,” did just that. He may have gone on to write more famous books, possibly about dinosaurs, but I’ve never read them so I can’t speak to them.

Point is, you don’t have to only write to be a writer, which is the really cool thing about it. It’s also the really frustrating thing about it. You could spend your whole life trying to figure out how to be good enough to get paid doing something else while making enough time to be good enough to get paid at the writing thing, too.

It’s a totally annoying balancing act, but dem’s the breaks.

If you’re like: Hey, Karen, I don’t have to balance shit because my parents are so totally loaded/I won a billion dollars in the Powerball/I’m Stephen King, then, that’s cool, bro. This column isn’t for you (more power to you, though).

If you’re like me—a writer who isn’t good enough at anything else to get paid for it and has made the terrible decision to put all your eggs in the writing basket, but doesn’t come from money and must overcome additional layers of complications outside of your writing ability, including but not limited to, issues of Other-ness, immigrant-ness, woman-ness, and short-ness—then you’re in the right place. And this place is dark.

But don’t fret.

I’m not about to give you bullshit advice by saying things like, just show up somewhere and do things for free, including taking out the trash and washing dishes, to show your true dedication and work ethic!

I could write a whole other column about that whole mess, but let’s just say that tactic works well for people whose main bias to overcome is whether or not they can write. Because, you know, what they lack in melanin they make up for in gumption that other people also have! That’s like High School Me saying, you too can get those Hershey’s Sundae Pies at Burger King for free because your brother also works there and he will also hook you upppppp.

You get the idea. And you’re right. High School Me was super hip.

Here’s what I did do: I wrote. I studied something writing-related in school. Then I wrote some more.

I decided I’d show up somewhere with the skills and qualifications to demand the same respect as more privileged writers. It was kind of delusional—I believed the world was a meritocracy. But it was the kind of delusion I needed to pursue this path. It helped me get my first paid writing jobs in the small towns of Virginia, sometimes for media conglomerates that had programs like “mainstreaming,” which required that each reporter talked to a person of color and logged it. Curiously, I was never told about this program by anyone in a position of power. Perhaps my existence was mainstreaming enough.

 

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In the years leading up to the recession, I chose to put my writing skills to practical use by majoring in journalism. And not just any journalism, but print journalism.

Ya done laughing now?

My program was so old school that one of my classes involved cutting handmade headlines by hand and gluing them onto a different piece of paper so you could photocopy them into something that looked like a printed newspaper.

If you’re scratching your head thinking, I knew you were old but not that old, you’d be right. Suffice it to say, the program was kind of behind on the times, which was not unlike the news industry itself. Instead of adapting to the internet, the news gods far and wide decided to stick their heads in the sand, cling to the millions of dollars they were still making, and hope it would all go away (spoiler: it did not).

While I’d been writing on the internets since I was about 13 years old, I wasn’t entrepreneurial or prescient enough to figure out how to make that work for me. I actually hid my writing voice in order to get hired by paying publications. Keep in mind that back in those days, objectivity in journalism was very much the thing. Expressing opinions in your writing, much less Twitter, was discouraged. If you were really square, you didn’t even vote (whoa).

Fun ancient practices aside, the important thing was that I was writing. I was writing memoir(ish) essays in my LiveJournal. I wrote for the school paper. I wrote in class. Every summer, I took paid internships and wrote for small daily newspapers in small towns in Virginia. After I graduated from undergrad, I got a job as a reporter for a small daily newspaper in a city about 40 minutes away from home. I was a professional writer.

Life was good.

A few years passed, and pretty soon it was 2009. The year of <dun dun dun> The Great Recession.

I’m not going to go into the specifics of how I got laid off and what I did after. I wrote about that at length here and here and here.

Long story short, it sucked, but was at times great, and I ended up figuring it all out. For a while. Then I pivoted again and went to grad school, then moved back to New York, and figured it out all over again.

Now here I am, on the 10th anniversary of my layoff (WOO), having just left my last stable writing gig, and figuring it out all over again.

Are you sensing a theme here?

I can’t give you specific steps for how to make a living as a writer, because I don’t know what the future of media and journalism and writing and intergalactic hieroglyphics will be in 10 years. All I know is that to stay in the game, you just have to, well, write. It’s as hard and as simple as that.

 

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You know how they say you are what you eat? The same is true for writing. You are what you eat when you’re writing. I mean. You are what you write.

You’re probably thinking, Oh no, Karen. I write coupons for a living. Does that mean I am a coupon? Also, if I read two of your blog posts, will I get the third one free?

The answer, my friend, is kind of. Plus, you’re in luck. My blog is currently running a Read Two or Three or a Million for FREE special. But hurry—this offer won’t last forever.

In an ideal world, one would get paid to write the kind of shit one loves to write. But one must also be ready to adapt to economic realities and take jobs that pay the bills. Sometimes that involves writing about intellectual property law, which was actually way more interesting than it sounds, or in your case, coupons. Ain’t no shame in making ends meet. Hopefully, though, one’s getting paid doing something that’s not all-consuming and so draining that it prevents one from writing the things one’s passionate about. And hopefully one’s building up one’s skills and portfolio so that one day one will snag that dream writing gig. Finally, one must stop saying one because one sounds stupid. One.

Ten years later, I’m doing OK.

Copywriting pays well enough that it’s allowed me to build an emergency fund I can use when I’m in between gigs. I get paid to write fun projects and not suppress my voice behind thinly veiled objectivity (because I’m square enough to care about that kind of thing).  I’ve written things I’m really proud of and things I’m not proud of (which you never, ever put in your portfolio, but think of fondly while you’re staring at the pink sky in some far-off destination because it paid for that amazing trip).

Outside of copywriting, I take writing classes. Sketch writing. Fiction writing. I make comics. I tweet. I Instagram. I write this blog for you five and hopefully one day, if I’m dreaming REALLY big, 10 whole people. One day I’m going to write a book.

I’ve come to expect discomfort and uncertainty. It will never get easier. When it does get easier, I know I should fucking cherish it because surprise—nothing lasts forever, suckaaaaaa. And that’s fine. Far more successful people have LIVED THE DREAM, only to return to Earth and have to make new dreams.

The thing I’m still learning, though, is being patient. I’m often too busy thinking about the next thing to celebrate the successes I’ve actually had. But just let me be impatient and forever unsatisfied, universe. You can’t have everything.

 

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Before I go, I’ll leave you with one last long-winded story.

During The Great Recession, amid the throes of unemployment, with the possibility of me moving to New York feeling damn near impossible, I wrote to a former student of my former journalism professor and lifelong mentor. She was a freelance writer in New York. I asked if she wanted to grab coffee someday.

“I don’t know what to do,” I wrote in weepy fashion. “My parents say I should do something more practical. My friends are worried about me moving to New York to ‘freelance,’ whatever the hell that is. I hear it’s the fast track to poverty.”

“Should I go to law school?”

She soon wrote me back, detailing the woes of the freelance writer’s life in New York City. It sounded awful.

She closed with this:

Do NOT go to law school. Exclamation point. Exclamation point. Exclamation point.

I never did meet up with her for coffee. I guess that was all I needed to hear.

Now I’m going to repeat it here for you.

If you can envision yourself being a great lawyer/doctor/whatever and really enjoying it, then go do that. There are far worse ways to make a living. Write on the side and maybe you’ll find you’re awesome at writing AND lawyering. Like John Grisham. That fucker.

If you can’t envision any of the above, and you’re kind of hopeless because writing is literally your one and only useless, semi-marketable skill, then hi. Welcome to one of the most frustrating, horrible and seriously fulfilling things you’ll ever do.

Sucker.

Sincerely,

Karen

*P.S.  I’m not well-versed in college transcripts so you’d really have to ask your prospective schools about whether you can transfer your Contemporary Flailing Called Dance credit. My gut tells me no, but I also didn’t go to one of those schools where you, like, make up your own major and, like, get a degree in it.

My bad.  

Got a question? Leave it in the comments/email me at karenbolipata (at) gmail (dot) com. Don’t worry, I’ll keep it between you, me, and my five readers. 

The Conversations I Never Have

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‘Twas the season indeed.

There was tinsel. Presents. The ability to listen to *NSYNC’s Christmas album—arguably their best and most amazing work, ever (I mean, who could forget JC’s “O Holy Night”? Lance’s super deep and perfect “YOU” when he sang “The only gift I wanted was you”? And the sexual undertones and overtones of “Under My Tree”? They weren’t just talking about conifers, am I right?)—without judgment.

There was also home.

And for people living in New York City, a.k.a. land of the people from elsewhere, home is a familiar, comforting, and ever-so-frustrating place.

I know what you’re thinking: Home is frustrating for everyone. You New Yawkers ain’t special!

While I agree, and thank you for speaking in the native tongue, there’s a special kind of frustration that comes from going home after living elsewhere for a long time, and not just any elsewhere, but an elsewhere unlike any other elsewhere in the world. (I’ll give you a minute.)

After all, it’s a city that attracts a high concentration of intensely passionate, ambitious, and competitive people. Which means instead of dreaming of nice, practical things like buying houses with yards, we drive ourselves crazy dreaming of the impossible: writing the next great something or curing cancer, or maybe just some good ol’ fashioned world domination.

Even our food people are intense. Here, you can get the urge to eat something at any time of day and have it delivered to you. Fast. By multiple sources who compete for your measly tip.

You can only imagine the type of people bred by prolonged exposure to such conditions.

Assholes. Yup. We’re assholes.

Assholes who, when found outside of our natural habitat, say:

What is this work-life balance you speak of?

Why does no car appear when I raise my hand likeso in hailing fashion?

And since when does “takeout” mean I have to physically go to the place to take out the food and bring it to the domicile? How positively medieval and wow where’d this giant turkey leg and mead come from because they’re delicious?

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This strange existence gets even stranger when you’re home for the holidays.

In between the tinsel and Justin’s sexy crooning about the wonderful feeling of the love in the room from the floor to the ceiling (down there), you must somehow exist as your present self while surrounded by images of your past life (hi, journalism plaques and pictures from the 4th grade) and while fielding questions regarding your hypothetical present self in a parallel universe everyone else seems to think you’re striving to be.

In this parallel universe, you’re married to the handsome, strapping fellow you’ve somehow convinced to deem you worthy of his ownership, with many offspring, and a career in… doesn’t matter. Because women and careers? Maniacal laugh.

Worse still, on top of being an asshole New Yorker, you’re also the immigrant daughter of two immigrants from the Philippines, which comes with certain expectations set long before any of you were even zygotes.

Like, the writing thing’s cute and all but success is measured by matrimony and procreation. Family. The spreading of the seeds to continue the lineage so that your parents’ sacrifice of leaving behind everything they knew in the Old World so you could prosper in the New World wouldn’t be in vain.

Whoever said you can’t go home again obviously wasn’t a progeny of a people with strong familial, religious, tribal, and conservative views you can never run away from no matter how far you go.

Because regardless of your individual dreams, you’re going home dammit.

Because you are not bastos.

Besides, what would our aunties and uncles—you know, that close-knit community of 200 Filipinos you’re supposed to consider family—think?

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The longer I’m away, the more disconnected I am from this past life. This is normal, as time tends to do its thing. In an ideal world, though, we’d all evolve and change, in disparate yet intersecting ways.

But when it comes to me and my parents, the whole immigrant thing really puts a chink in the armor (Chink sounds super offensive, by the way. How about, a hot sauce in the chocolate chip cookie? A vegan in the meatatarian parade? Birkenstocks in, oh who am I kidding, Birkenstocks are great everywhere.)

Because not only are we separated by time and space, we’re also separated by a set of wildly disparate beliefs shaped by our totally different upbringings.

The more time passes, the further our worlds diverge, to the point where the details of these past lives sometimes feel imaginary.

Like, did I really grow up in what many Americans would now consider an un-hip tiny house without wheels?

Did we really not have hot running water?

Did my childhood jeepney—in other words, school bus—really run over someone on my way to school and this someone was carried off the street and into the center of the jeepney, flanked by two rows of children facing said someone’s bloody carcass, en route to the hospital and, at some point, the school?

Who knows, say I as I sip my $5 cappuccino delivered to me via drone after speaking into the toilet.

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This disconnect is most palpable over the holidays, when it manifests itself after a year of blissful diversion. Because my family and I immigrated when I was around 8 years old, which was well into my cognizance as a human, our most vivid shared experiences are of the struggles of assimilating into this strange new world.

On Christmas, it makes great dinner fodder.

Unsuspecting Family Friend: Can you speak Tagalog?

Me: I can understand it but I can’t speak it well.

Mother: Why DID you forget it anyway?

Me: You guys told us to speak English at home when we first moved to America so we could lose our accents and not be bullied at school. So… way to go, parents.

Mother: That was your Dad who made you do that! I speak Tagalog at home! Why would I do that!

Me: Sounds like something better discussed not over the sacred Sinigang (super delish, btw, you’ve outdone yourself again!), but behind closed doors, not on Christmas, and in 1992.

Father: Anyhoo, on to lighter matters. How ‘bout dat Trump?

Recently, a friend told me he gifted his dad golf flags with pictures of his mustachioed face. I told him how cool it was that his parents understood his humor. If I’d given my parents the same thing, they’d wonder if I had, like, a hormonal issue or something.

Also, what is golf?

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Thus, I’ve learned to adapt. Immigrants are nothing if not master adapters. “Assimilate or perish!” our collective forehead tattoos say.   

Here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Gift cards make awesome presents. They say I’m thinking of you, Mom and Dad, without confusing you by getting you something only I think is funny.

2. We can talk about the weather and how New York experiences weather, sometimes seasonally.

3. When there’s a lull at dinner and I don’t feel like bringing up my past life growing up in an un-hip tiny house without wheels nor my shaky grasp of my native tongue, I can pull out the Trump card to really get the party started. Since my parents have declared lifelong fealty to opposing parties, it’s fun seeing a microcosm of our adopted country’s polarizing views in action.

4. Questions about marriage? Point at the partner. Children? Point at the dog. Marriage AND children? Point at the Corona.

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Still, I can’t help but long for a more nuanced conversation about my real, actual self in this universe.

I think it would be quite nice.

Here’s how it would go:

Hello, Karen, darling progeny of ours. How’s your domestic partnership—a totally valid life choice, by the way, seeing how marriage isn’t the only way to solidify a union—of more than four years with Franco, and your progeny from another Frenchie, Henri?

Good. Our family is a small but happy one filled with laughter and many farts (sometimes Henri’s).

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How’s your career going?

Not bad. I wrote a bunch of burrito jokes for two packaging projects that went national—literally my dream projects, NBD. Actually, it was a big deal. I saw the mountaintop and it was filled with burritos, and I climbed it! Then I ate all the burritos.

That’s pretty cool—I’m sure your burrito jokes are funny to somebody. How’s the small but practical apartment for two people who aren’t fond of cleaning, and a small dog who doesn’t like exercise?

It’s good! It’s rent-stabilized, and we were able to renew the lease for 2 years. Plus, the rent only went up by, like, $30!

Amazing. That means you get to save a lot of money and take time off to write about nothing, much like this very entertaining and thoughtful essay, which is like your dream, right?

Yeah!

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And take time off to travel for an irresponsibly long time, which is another one of your dreams, right?

Totally.

How wise and frugal of you, given the whole rise of the far-right movement and the seemingly inevitable end of the present world order (big ups to the big man in the homeland with a name that rhymes with Do Tear Tay, that loveable rascal!)—we’re just kidding of course. But seriously, who knows how long all the borders will be safe to travel freely, am I right?

You’re so right. Tyranny is funny!

<Shared laughter, with one of us laughing way too hard.>

So, what’s next?

I want to keep freelancing and writing in New York City. It’s been swell.

Cool, cool. We’re so happy for you, our sweet, amazing, and one-of-a kind daughter.

Aw, stahp, but don’t stop.

One more thing.

What?

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When are you gonna get married and pop out dem babies?

<Fin.>

A Day of Me

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You know how some people love celebrating their birthdays by doing all the things they like planned by, well, themselves?

What a horrible concept.

Not because of the whole narcissistic aspect of it. Nope, that part’s great. After all, it’s one of the few times in your life you can totally get away with getting your way (other than maybe graduation and your wedding day—if you’re the bride, that is) while everyone else has to bite their tongues about your narcissism.

What makes it horrible is that you’re the one doing all the planning and the researching and the inviting and the logistic-ing, which, if you’re like me, is a whole lot of time spent doing all the things you really hate versus doing all the things you really love. Like, napping.

Which is why I outsource all of that stuff to Franco.

Every year we plan each other’s birthdays based on a broad spectrum of things we enjoy (Him: I like steak!), while the other goes through all the trouble of making it happen (Me: Dear Google, steak NYC where yum yum?).

This year, Franco’s query for me involved:

Maybe West Village
Maybe books
Probably outside
Drinks of some kind
Coffee question mark
With food

Go, Franco, go!

And that, my friends, yielded some awesome results.

Without further ado, these are a few of my favorite things, in no particular order, except chronological:

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No. 1
The pupper in a bag. (Oh yeah, we got a pup. I’ll tell you all about him later.)

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We dropped the pupper off at my brother’s place in Manhattan (Oh yeah, my bro moved to NYC. Man, you’ve missed a lot.) to ease the separation anxiety—ours.

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No. 2
Franco letting his majestic hair down, if only for a few seconds.

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Like so.

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No. 3
Eating somewhere chill and delicious and cute. Franco chose The Spaniard because I love Spain despite the whole them colonizing my homeland thing. It is a part of us. And I’m an ignorant stupid American now. Also, there were bacon slabs, guys. BACON. SLABS.

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No. 4
A bookstore. This one’s one of my faves. Though I rarely set foot in it, it’s a piece of OG NYC and I like knowing it’s there. It’s the kind of spot where the neighborhood people stop by and talk shop, er, books, and the people who work there recommend books sans pretension. One recently arrived New Yorker asked for books about New York because he “wanted to fall in love with New York by book… I guess,” and ended up with a pile at least five books high, as each staffer had their own very special rec.

 

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Here’s a book on the dumpster outside the bookstore.

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Here’s Franco by a barbershop because I thought it would be funny if Franco sent this pic to his mom. Y/N?

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I also thought this was artsy.

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No. 5
Ice cream. This thing was actually faux ice cream and basically flavored ice shavings. I’m probably sounding really old right now but what even is this thing? I ate it anyway. It was good.

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No. 6
A visit to the Tenement Museum. Yes, I really did throw this museum out as a suggestion, faux half-joking, and Franco wisely concluded I was very serious about it and signed us up for the Hard Times tour. In case you’ve never been to this museum, it’s a look at how people in NYC lived in teeny tiny apartments amid bigotry and anti-immigrant sentiment. It’s also called The Totally Present Day museum.

***

Lady on the PA: It’s time to line up for the 4 p.m. Meet Victoria tour and the 4 p.m. Hard Times tour.

ME: I sure hope Franco booked the Hard Times tour.

Franco: Here’s our ticket for the Hard Times tour, milady.

ME: YEEESSSSSSSS.

He’s a keeper, ladies and gents.

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No. 7
Butts.

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Whenever I see stuff like this, I think it’s cool then wonder if it’s some kind of guerrilla marketing. Maybe for a guac shop? A smoothie joint? A pop-up investment bank?

 

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No. 8
Coffee. It was hot AF and we needed to kill time before dinner. I’d also like to add that Franco is very photogenic, so most of my pics are of him. He tried taking pics of me but the camera burst into flames.

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Now THIS is definitely marketing of some kind. Check out dat hashtag. Is it for a shoe? A university? The moon?

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Nearby was this anti-AirBnB ad. This neighborhood is clearly going through some shit.

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No. 9
RAMEN. Who eats really hot ramen on a really hot day? Me! Me! I do! Franco and I stumbled upon this place one drunk night, and I hadn’t been back since.

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Til now. Check out dat black ramen.

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He gets white ramen. We are an inclusive couple.

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No. 10
Dirty martinis. I enjoy going to ridiculously fancy places like The Grill while severely underdressed because it confuses the staff.

Them: Who are these 12-year-olds and why are they at the bar? Is this a trick?
Me, raising my martini glass to my lips, pinkie extended: MUWAHAHAHAA.

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Then we picked up the pupper and went home.

Everything Is Terrible

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If you’ve been reading my ramblings since my LJ days or we’re friends IRL, you’d know my background is in journalism—not in the “I studied it in undergrad then went into marketing” kind of way but in the “I studied it in undergrad, became editor of the school paper, interned at a bunch of small daily newspapers in small Virginia towns until one hired me when I graduated, got laid off in the recession, moved to New York City jobless until an international trade publication hired me to write about mostly US intellectual property law, felt stifled by the lack of post-non-IP-law options that didn’t involve writing five 300-word articles a day, or writing listicles, or moving back to a small town to be the only person not of a certain hue in a five-state radius, went back to school to study the dark side, THEN went into marketing” kind of way.

It’s a special kind of crazy. Not only can I read a sensational article and know it’s sensational; or question the veracity of an article (and be totally excited by the opportunity to use “veracity” in a sentence); or know the difference between a well-informed opinion piece, an investigative piece, a shit blog post, and a tweet by a troll (even when that troll runs for president); I can also say that my first instinct when some weird shit is going down is to go check it out and take pictures.

Because what’s the point of weird shit going down if you can’t tell people about it?

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Journalism, of course, has been getting a lot of crap from His Royal Cheeto (also known as: The Dictatingest Orangey Dictator, He Who Can’t Read Or Speak Good, and Damn He Racist). But to be honest, journalists didn’t really help themselves leading up to what is now what I call the Everything Is Terrible era.

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First, there was the sense of complacency during the Obama era, as if all was well and good because we elected a black president (go us, amiright?). Second, fluffery was so encouraged that listicles became a thing and even reputable newspapers started running blog posts masquerading as articles that often made me want to yell on a crowded train: “Et tu, WaPo?” Third—and this is a big third—journalists willfully ignored the basics, all for the sake of amassing clicks for His Royal Cheeto’s latest fuckery.

Like how you’re not supposed to broadcast some crazy comment some famous person said without context (A headline that says “‘Everyone’s an alien,’ says His Royal Cheeto” is different from one that says “‘Fringe presidential candidate His Royal Cheeto says everyone’s an alien, which is clearly not true and WTF why are we covering what this dumbass says anyway oh right because we’re like totally getting all the clicks, bye integrity, bye soul that I’ve discarded in the recycling bin a while back but yay recycling”).

That said, there are a few not so terrible things in the Everything Is Terrible era:

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It’s forcing journalists to get their shit together—I’m looking at you, WaPo, NYT and a Bernsteiny (he of Watergate creds) CNN.

People are starting to pay attention to what makes this country run.

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So much so that courts even trend on Twitter sometimes.

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And bills don’t go on the chopping block without someone somewhere raising a big stink about it.

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Even better, people are getting off their asses to raise a big stink (I’m talking about they of the non tiki torch-wielding, white-hooded variety, of course. Those folks can stay on their asses, thank you very much).

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Which, for our typically complacent selves, is a big deal. After all, it’s much harder to ignore actual masses of people on the street than it is to ignore viral RTs. IRL protests do what tweets can’t, just as a tweet thread can articulate what a quippy line on a poster can’t.

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Together, they empower those in power who still have a soul to get their shit together.

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Which is why public opinion is the most powerful thing there is. Without it, journalism just doesn’t matter.

Ultimately, it’s the public who can force politicians to pivot, companies to delete ill-timed tweets, a show runner to write unrealistic happy endings for their characters (I’m looking at you, PLL), and for Taylor Swift to finally release a song.

It can even topple shitty leaders.

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So,

if I had to sum this post up in one tweet:

Let’s keep on keeping on.

Fist emoji.

If you’re feeling blue

Here’s something to make you even more blue.

You’re welcome.

P.S. I’m still alive and kicking. I’m just a very slow writer unless I have deadlines. Anyone want to project manage my blog? Just kidding. I’d fire you in a second. And then you’d sue me for wrongful termination. And then I’d be like, but it was unpaid. And then you’d ding me for that, too. A-no, a-thank, a-you.

In the meantime, I’m just uke-ing and doodling and traveling and thinking about writing while not writing. I went through a period of, who cares about what I have to say anyway? There are enough personal essays out in the world. But then Bourdain reminded me that people who write are clearly sick in the head because they think they have Things To Say that will be of use to others.

Which made me think: You’re right, Bourdain. I totally am sick in the head.

So stay tuned. A-wink.