A Mosh Pit Full of Fist Pumps Episode II

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2015 was such a whirlwind. A blur. A ride. An adventure. A spectacle. A blast. A rollercoaster. A peanut.

Crap, I lost it. Let’s just say, a lot of stuff happened.

In many ways it felt like I was wandering aimlessly on this new writing path. Last I wrote about it, I oh so dramatically outlined my reasons for peace-ing out on journalism (On a scale of 1-10 in breakups, I’d give it a 55. Necessary, sure, but awful as fuck. I enjoyed writing for newspapers for a time but didn’t quite have the temperament for the daily 300-word regurgitation of things you can Google elsewhere. Even as a reader, I much prefer longer narratives and pieces that take months and months to write. But I’d do it all over again, layoff and financial destitution and all. It was like being in a time capsule—a writing bootcamp that future generations won’t get to experience. Suck it, babies).

Unlike the well-worn and fading path of daily newspapering, this new one is much more nebulous.

And in 2015, it showed.

I was all over the place.

Chronologically,

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JAN:

I left a contract job in NYC so I could intern at a cool ad agency in Minneapolis for a couple months. Steeped in great copywriting tradition, this place was like rubbing shoulders with the ghosts of the greats and the rockstars of the current. I also got to see what an agency’s like when it debuts an ad baby on the night of the Holy Grail of admaking—the Super Bowl.

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MARCH:

I got back to New York, probably more unsure than ever of where to go next. Instead of immediately lining up an ad gig, I decided to use my savings to hole up and start drawing. And I kept drawing (more on that later).

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JUNE:

With a couple dozen comic strips under my belt and a revamped portfolio incorporating my doodles, it was time to look for another gig. I soon was faced with two choices: a stable position in Manhattan calling for a very specific skillset or a contract one in Jersey calling for anything and everything that was 1.5 hours by train and train and bus. I took the one in Jersey.

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SEPT:

Franco and I moved into our own space. One word: liberating. Hence, this current spate of posts.

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OCT:

When summer ended, so did the Jersey gig. Days into yet another stretch of holing up and drawing, I got a call for a monthlong project in Pittsburgh. (Pittsburgh, by the way, is an awesome town. In another lifetime in another universe, I would have loved it.)

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NOV/DEC:

Back in NYC, I closed out the year with another contract job in Manhattan. Because. Bookends.

***

Looking back now, I see there was one constant: experimentation.

Different ads and clients and cities and agencies and people—I wanted to try them all.

All throughout, I still wrote side projects for myself. Not in this space, because for a while I felt like everything I wanted to share didn’t belong here. They were meant to be short stories, maybe, or diary comics, or shitty tumblr posts or some other form I don’t really know yet.

I’ve grown more patient with them.

2015 made my writing goals much clearer. I’d share what they are but this space is much better in hindsight.

Because

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But I can speak in generalities.

I’ve found that to grow as a writer, you  have to grow as a human. That may include admitting things about yourself you may not like, purging a lot of things that are bad for you, and not being afraid of the changes you need to make to get to where you want to be. Just like anything in life, things may be crap for a while but time has a way of ironing things out.

I’ve found that just because you’re growing in a certain direction doesn’t mean the people you know are going to go with you. And that’s OK. Some people are right for us in spurts, not eternity.

In the same vein, pursuing your own path, especially one that doesn’t quite jibe with the status quo, can be quite lonely. It’s why surrounding yourself with awesome people isn’t just important—it’s pretty damn necessary. And because forging real bonds takes a lot of time and energy, we must be very cognizant of who we give that time and energy to.

Finally, #LIVINGTHEDREAM can change as you change. This time 10 years ago, I was a senior journalism major gearing up for a summer internship at a daily newspaper; was editing the college paper and would soon be running it by fall; and leaving it all behind by spring to live in Spain for a couple months. Shit. I was way cooler 10 years ago.

And that’s OK.

Because I didn’t know then what I know now.

That is, #LIVINGTHEDREAM may at times look a lot like wandering aimlessly, making questionable career moves, waking up in the middle of the night going: What the fuck am I doing? It’s talking to people about your dreams about writing and being flat out told: HA. So you want to be a writer? Not if you don’t write in a certain manner at this kind of place, slaving away every night and weekend FOR ALL OF ETERNITY you won’t!

In spite of it all, no, in the face of it all, you keep writing. Not just writing, mind you, but writing in the kind of way that excites you and sounds like you.

Because weirdly enough, this nonlinear path actually gets you much closer to #LIVINGTHEDREAM than the one that came with all the cool, fancy titles.

In my old writing life, I put my work with the capital W ahead of everything. That was necessary for that point in my life, but now… fuck. That. I’m convinced my best writing self comes from being the best human me.

Which means being in the city I love.

With the people I love.

To do the kind of writing I love.

It took a while to get here, but man am I glad I did.

Happy New Year, friends.

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karenbolipata.com is up & running

You can find this smoker & possibly some non-smokers at karenbolipata.com

You might have noticed I’ve been absent. If you haven’t, then fine. I don’t need you anyway…

(Come back.)

For those of you who have been religiously refreshing my blog in hopes of seeing a new entry — thanks, Dad! — I apologize for the nothingness. I had planned a few entries for the week (and now they’ll hopefully be written this week), but then something amazing happened. Well, two things:

(1) I discovered delicious tiramisu at Trader Joe’s.
(2) I found a job as a writer/researcher for a great company on Union Square, which coincidentally is where Trader Joe’s is located, which means I will have daily access to this delicious tiramisu if I so desired.

The stars have aligned!

Because a full-time job will force me to manage my time a lot more efficiently, I knew I had to get my online portfolio up and running before my first day. I’ve spent the last week doing just that. It’s funny I finally finished it, considering I started working on it before I even moved to New York. It might also have been before my temp job at a law firm, which was back in July. I was that slow.

It wasn’t that anything about the portfolio itself was intricate. In fact, I wanted something so simple that even a beginning HTML-er could construct it. Black text on white? Check. That was my one requirement.

The thing that held me back, however, was the idea of having an online portfolio. I know it’s weird to say this, but I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of bragging about myself. Yes, I promote myself through blogs (which is fun) and list my work history on Facebook, which used to be is fun, but an online portfolio is basically a collection of your best work, your supposed successes, and a chance to tell the world, “Hey, look at me! I am awesome!”

There are the lucky few who don’t really need a portfolio to tell the world that. I, unfortunately, do. I’m a writer, yes, and my byline has appeared in hundreds of articles. The byline, of course, is the author’s name in tiny, tiny font at the top of the article. Most people don’t even look at it. It’s a way to stamp your work without drawing attention to yourself. I’m perfectly comfortable drawing attention to my writing (though some articles have given me night sweats and insomnia in anticipation of publishing something potentially controversial), but unless I’m being funny (at least in my head) or doing a cool jig, I’m not comfortable drawing attention to myself as “Karen Bolipata, the writer of awesome things.”

With that said, I know that marketing is a major part of freelancing. So, I had to get over it. Here I am, getting over it. Please check out my portfolio. Feedback is much appreciated.

And oh, if you need writing services, hire me.

Conversations with Strangers

Albert was in his 50s, or given Asians’ tendency to look perpetually young, maybe even older.

He sat next to me on the plane, and as I’d gotten very little sleep before my flight (I’d spent the morning running errands and 30 minutes of it  packing), I was in no mood for small talk. I pulled out a book, turned on my ipod and hoped the plane would lull me to sleep.

But Albert was persistent. I can’t remember how the conversation started or what in my “I’m busy” demeanor gave him the indication that I welcomed conversation, but almost instantly the questions began. And they didn’t stop for much of our 12-hour flight.

He was curious about the dozens of college students on the same flight to Spain and perhaps he could sense my apprehension. At 22, I’d traveled little, as my parents could barely afford to send my siblings and me to college, let alone plan overseas excursions outside of going to the homeland to attend funerals (and for all those trips my mom went solo). I’d held jobs in high school and college, having to rely on those paltry earnings to fund my own excursions (which in college translated to beer, food, gas and more beer).

Though it was my first time alone on a plane, I’d always been independent. My parents didn’t like that. In fact, they discouraged anything I wanted to do that didn’t involve staying home until I was whisked away by a suitor, preferably Filipino, in some respectable profession. They especially couldn’t fathom how their youngest daughter could survive four months in a huge city like Barcelona.

“You have good parents,” Albert told me, “for letting you do this.”

And just like that, he put things in perspective.

When we landed we said our goodbyes, and I watched him disappear into the crowd.

* * *

Though journalism is in a downward spiral, I haven’t regretted pursuing it. Through it, I’ve grown accustomed to talking to strangers and developing an insight into all sorts of people. Albert was different because I didn’t need a story from him, and he actually taught me a thing or two about traveling (Lesson 1: Conversations with strangers en route might actually be quite meaningful).

I’ve applied that to everyday life. I can’t say I make friends with everyone I meet or that I haphazardly go to bars to talk to strangers, but when the situation presents itself I consider it an opportunity to potentially learn from someone. That’s not to say I don’t take necessary precautions or stay aware of my surroundings.

Naturally, it’s drawn some criticism from friends who don’t share the same view. Often they tell me horror stories of kidnappings and murders, with the implication I will meet the same fate unless I bring a weapon or bodyguard. But journalists are always on their own, I tell them. Though they write for news organizations and may be accompanied by a crew, journalists do much of the reporting alone before the cameras roll. It’s probably in their best interests not to venture to war-torn countries, but how else will these stories get told?

I haven’t been anywhere close to that kind of danger, but I’ve gone to strangers’ houses, been verbally threatened, taken rides with sources and have driven through desolate country roads to even more desolate spots past midnight with only a map in hand, vague directions and no phone service.

I’ve survived unscathed, I tell them.

“But you’re in New York,” they say, as if all the crazy people in the world congregated in this city and nowhere else (though city crime rankings seem to think it’s pretty safe here). They think of the crack epidemic that plagued New York in years past, not the current gentrified  Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn that have displaced the very people who are actually from New York.

I find it funny that my encounters are met with such cynicism amid our culture of oversharing on Facebook and the heyday of Craigslist, with people willing to live with total strangers. I stand by my belief that crazy things happen everywhere, whether you’re in New York or in a small unheard of town.

Sure, I can choose to hide in my illusion of safety and keep a closed off, cynical view of the world, never allowing myself to experience anything I can’t directly control. Or I can be smart about things and still revel in the unknown.

I choose to be the latter.

Farewell to the old school newsroom

Photo by luc_legay

This piece by the American Journalism Review is dedicated to newsrooms of years past. Back in the days when white men from blue-collar backgrounds got reporting jobs without journalism degrees, sometimes because they failed at everything else. They played pranks on each other, cursed each other and even physically fought each other. When computers, corporations and women arrived, things got a bit sanitized. They were a little neater, a little more proper. Money troubles made things worse.

I can’t quite identify with being a white man in a male-dominated newsroom of the ’70s, but I can relate to the passion, the sense of duty, the cynicism and idealism of it all. The work attracts interesting people, for sure. We are misfits, stubborn, daring, foolish. When an ambulance wails in the streets, it piques our senses, but probably not for the reasons it does for others. It’s something that many did and continue to do despite the low pay; it’s something many do for free.

At a time when newspapers and media professionals are at a crossroads, it’s hard to tell whether such an environment can ever be replicated. For one thing, morale is low in many newsrooms; people are expected to do more with less. Further, many of us are jobless or heading in a new direction. I can’t tell you how often I’ve spoken with young journalists, all so talented and passionate, who question the paths they’ve taken. They suggest that perhaps they should go back to school to do something less unstable.

For all the newsosaurs’ romanticizing and nostalgia for the past, at least they had the fortune of having one. By the time I got to a real newsroom, I knew my days were numbered. The closest I got to such revelry was in college.

I mean, not that I participated in any misdeeds in college. Or know of any for that matter.

There was one particular morning, though, when the newspaper halls’ dented walls and tire-marked wooden floors left the staff wondering what had happened the previous night. Coincidentally, it was the morning after we produced the paper’s last issue of the school year. Even the business department wasn’t immune. Their chairs bore the scratches likely acquired from whatever happened in the hallway.

The newsroom’s chairs, meanwhile, miraculously survived unscathed.