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.

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.>

The Days So Far

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Been going through the archives and decided to share a few pictures from the last couple of months. No cohesive theme here. Just random moments.

I’ve been capturing things a bit differently now that Instagram has become my default channel. But this is still my favorite space for posting pictures.

It’s a lot quieter.

Which means, fewer people see what I post.

Which means, I feel more free.

Which means, this is really how I take pictures.

Funny how that works.

Let’s do dis.

IMG_6409 (1)Quite proud of this rug and its dust bunny friends.

IMG_6463One night Franco and I watched these guys change this sign to an identical, much cleaner sign. We were on our way to a distant bar in Brooklyn late one night to pick up the credit card I’d left behind a few days before (yes, I’m an adult). It was an hourlong slog. When we got there, the place was closed.

IMG_6476Whenever possible.

IMG_6541My super glamorous studio. See that mic stand over there? Swivels 360 degrees to and from your mouth. Patent pending.

IMG_6584A friend and I stumbled upon this cute little park right after this asinine dialogue courtesy of me:

Friend: What’s this?
Me: Ugh. Probably one of those rich-people parks you need a key to get into.
Nice old lady holding open the gate on her way out: Come right in, you cynical asshole.

Then we got chased by a chicken. It was glorious.

IMG_6609One day I dug up my cheapo watercoloring set that I’d bought about seven years ago and completely failed at but still lugged around through my many, many moves. I learned that when you’re bad at colors and coloring, you can get away with picking and choosing what to color.

IMG_6614Office permapup. Fully grown and pocket-sized. Want.

IMG_6699This is how Franco watches sports. You might think it’s really awkward to have a big ol’ window with no curtains. You would be right. But… we’re too lazy to ask the landlord if we can drill holes, so fish tank living room featuring a singing-dancing duo it is. You’re welcome, neighbors.

IMG_6762One of the first nice days of the year we decided to hang at Central Park at the last minute. That blanket is actually a plastic tablecloth from the dollar store.

IMG_6773A book about the joys of spinsterhood. Franco gets nervous whenever I read it around him.

IMG_6781Times Square After Midnight, one of my fave places in the city.

IMG_6785Another creep session. These guys had a synchronized routine. They marched to a spot, lifted some things, hammered some other things, and did it all over again.

IMG_6825Pretending to read the Times, but really we’re about to watch “Gossip Girl” while lunching.

IMG_6827One of those perfect days in the neighborhood.

IMG_6932Best wings in the biz and nicest people ever.

And with that,
~20 pics down, thousands more to go.
Until next time, friends.

New Year’s Eve, Party of Two

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I’ve had my share of extravagant New Year’s Eves.

But this year was the craziest one yet.

There was booze and wild dance moves and fisticuffs and A ROUSING GAME OF SCRABBLE.

OK fine.

Franco and I stayed in because we’re old and that’s what old people do.

And you know what? It was awesome.

All you Olds out there know what I’m talkin’ about. As for you Youths, stay wild. Wear warm undies.

IMG_0877Franco wanted to try out the new cocktail toolset his brother and sister-in-law got us for Christmas. We got the table ready for some serious mixing.

IMG_0886Our go-tos:

IMG_0887IMG_0890IMG_0894IMG_0895IMG_0898IMG_0900IMG_0902IMG_0910Dirrrrrrty martinis!

IMG_0917IMG_0918IMG_0919IMG_0923IMG_0932And Manhattans.
Dental toothpicks included.

IMG_0945For dinner, we made another go-to:

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FANCY PASTA FROM A BOX!

IMG_0960IMG_0967IMG_0970IMG_0976IMG_0979With sauce fresh from the jar straight to our mouths.

IMG_0982Let’s get the party started, shall we?
By the way, why yes that’s an airbed in our living room. We had guests a couple weeks back and kind of just never put it away. Because, AMAZING.

IMG_0987Cracked open the Scrabble set also gifted by Franco’s brother and sister-and-law. It’s like they know us really well or something.

IMG_0995Though we’d played with Scrabble sets as kids, we’d never played a real game before. Shocker, I know.

IMG_1006Modeling our new toy, totally aware of just how fucking cutthroat we, er, I would soon become.

IMG_1013With tunes from the record player I got Franco for Christmas. My dad, by the way, was in awe of this thing. When Franco unwrapped it on Christmas, my dad went from shock (“They still make those?”) to skepticism (“That won’t work!”) to straight up kneeling on the floor to take out the manual from the box before Franco could even get to it. His verdict? “Sounds better than the one I had.”

IMG_1020Round Two.

IMG_1022IMG_1030Don’t let this calm scene fool you. At one point we had to stop the game after I lost my shit when Franco used the tiles I was gunning for. He said something about “You’re too competitive why can’t we just play a fun game of Scrabble wah wah wah.” Rude.

IMG_1034IMG_1046Times Square countdown times.

IMG_1051HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!
Franco ended up winning 299 to 247.
Then he won 267 to 237.
After we both studied some two-letter words he again won 312 to 280.
Yes, we’re obsessed. And yes, I’m pissed. One day I’ll prevail.

IMG_1053IMG_1058Lauryn Hill sounds great as ever on vinyl. The only lame part is this version doesn’t have the hidden tracks. I mean, that was only like 90% of why we got it but whatever. Still good.

IMG_1061IMG_1062Texting loved ones is soooo hard.

IMG_1066The aftermath.

Angela Chase Is My Homie

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I’m always in my head.

Whenever something big happens, I imagine Future Me reflecting on that very moment years later in full-on Angela Chase mode, narrating every furrow of the brow, out loud and angst-filled—all while I’m living it.

That’s what happens when you grow up on The Wonder Years. And Blossom. And Clarissa Explains It All. And, the great overthinker’s bible, My So-Called Life.

It also does a couple things to a young person’s underdeveloped brain:

One, you decide talking to yourself, out loud and often, is acceptable.

Two, overanalyzing becomes your default way of thinking.

And three, you kind of miss out on some things.

You preoccupy yourself with trying to figure out what everything means before it even has a chance to become anything.

You even set some ground rules.

Big moments, you decide, come with symbolic tchotchke like streamers and cake to let oblivious you know that THIS IS A BIG DEAL, IDIOT, PAY ATTENTION.

Little moments, meanwhile, have an easier time slipping by unnoticed.

In most cases, it’s fine. I mean, they’re usually boring and lame and why waste brain space on what kind of pants your neighbor was wearing this morning unless he was wearing, like, MC Hammer pants, because, AMAZING.

What complicates things is when big moments disguise themselves as little moments, only to reveal their true selves long after they’ve passed.

I’ve tried to remedy this by always carrying a camera or a notebook and pen. It helps me relive everything, over and over, the good and the bad, with the benefit of hindsight that I use to craft neat narratives in order to make me sound much wiser and well-adjusted than I actually am.

Those otherwise inconsequential MC Hammer pants? Now they’re a symbol of my lost youth and spontaneity and inability to say, “Fuck You, slacks. I’m wearing MC Hammer pants to work today.”

But just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, a transition rears its ugly head.

Neither big nor small, transitions are merely preludes to either.

Nowhere are transitions more apparent than in New York, where your favorite noodle joints, jobs, and friendships dissipate overnight, sometimes without saying bye. The city conditions us not only to accept it all with a stiff upper lip but also to expect them.

It’s why when the rare transition that you recognize as a transition passes by, in its really fucking beautiful kind of way,

you go outside

and take a picture.

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Who Ever Ever’d

Life is kind of a whirlwind sometimes.

Remember my San Francisco adventure post-work thing last year? Well, the same work thing is happening now, except in DC. But that’s not the only thing that’s happening. Some of my favorite people who ever ever’d are in town – Paul and Alex. Alex and Paul. You might remember them from this.

I’ve known these guys since college. Despite living in different cities, we still try to meet up every once in a while. Or more like, I go on about my business and wait for them to come to me (Journalism pays peanuts, what can I say? Like, this morning I tried to barter a peanut for a piece of gum, and even creepy Billy McGee with the one-eyed parrot felt bad for me).

When we do end up in one place, we turn into carefree, frolicking dweebs (See picture above). There are just certain people whose energy is so infectious you can’t help but want to be around them.

These guys definitely have it.

Let’s start with Paul. Paul, you might recall, left New York for Seattle some months ago. New York hasn’t quite recovered. Sometimes I hear the city wailing in my ear: “Paaauuuullll, why did you leeeaaaaveeee meee?!!” and I have to pat her quivering, soot-covered shoulders, and say, “Chill out, Big Apple. He said he’ll visit.”

Paul emits a certain kind of energy that makes things happen just because he showed up. Allow me to demonstrate.

Setting: swanky lounge. The place is packed but for one empty couch.

Paul: Hey, is that couch available?
Waitress: It’s reserved.

For the commoners, the story ends there. But with Paul…

… But you can sit on that couch over there. Let me kick those people off.

It kind of reminds me of the “30 Rock” episode with Jon Hamm living his wonderful bubble existence. Except Paul’s not at all inept. He’s actually really good at what he does. Dare I say even great.

In college, this made for the “Mean Girls” effect. Like, one time, I saw Paul wearing army pants and flip flops, so I bought army pants and flip flops. In New York, I’ve had people ask me about this mythical Paul creature they keep hearing about but never see. I tell them that perhaps when the moon and the stars align like so, maybe, just maybe they’ll have a Paul sighting.

Then there’s Alex. He wears his heart on his super v-necked T-shirt sleeve, which, for his friends, materializes into a ball of energy. In yo face. Alex can do whatever. He wushus. He acts. He flips. And schmoozes. He can schmooze anyone into doing his bidding. I’ve seen it happen. Like, see this lifeless room with lifeless people? Alex doesn’t know what that’s like, because the energy shifts once he enters the room.

But he’s more than just your average overachiever. He has insight. He talks about life and love and the universe. The other night, at a loud, dude-filled sports bar, he was too busy talking about molecules and atoms and the universe to answer the trivia questions the DJ was doling out (DJ: What country am I talking about when I talk about Sandinistas? Me, rudely interrupting Alex as I throw up my hands: Nicaragua! NICARAGUA!).

Point being, with friends like these in town, a second can’t be wasted on blogging. OK, a second more than I’ve already spent writing this can’t be wasted on blogging (though I wouldn’t really consider this a waste since I kind of like you guys).

I’ll be back soon with tales, pictures and insights. For now, check me out on Twitter and Tumblr.

Friday beckons.

(About the picture: Shoutout to Christine, who also just might be one of my favorite people who ever ever’d.)

How to Lurk Without Dastardly Intentions

Lurking is one of my favorite pastimes.

Sure, it’s often associated with creepiness, what with it also being the favorite pastime of shady characters with hooks for hands, red feathery sombreros and slender yet pointy mustaches. Sure, you’re probably tempted to follow up each mention with “in the shadows.”

But lurking isn’t exclusively for dastardly deeds. It can even happen on a gorgeous afternoon. Saturday was one of those days.

Before I go on, let me preface this by saying it almost didn’t happen. I’d spent much of the morning lounging and reading and surfing (the dry land interwebs kind) that by the time I was ready to go exploring, it was well into the afternoon.

No matter, I thought. It was time to dust off the good ol’ DSLR, charge the batteries, and head on out.

The charger. Where was the charger? Not in the usual spots – the camera bag, on my desk, under my desk, under the bed, in the overhead closet, on the bottom right corner of the closet. It wasn’t in the common rooms or common closets or common nooks behind the couch.

Forty-five minutes of fruitless searching later, I panicked. I CAN’T GO ON. MY BLOG WILL CEASE TO EXIST. AND WITH IT MY WILL TO WRITE AND LIVE AND STUFF.

I then decided to do the next most logical thing. I would research DSLRs online, go to Best Buy, buy a new camera despite not having the funds for it, take pictures and somehow do it all before it was supposed to rain. In two hours.

And then I realized that was impossible. So I panicked some more.

As a last resort, I consulted one of the most amazing tools in reconnecting the dots of my scattered existence: my blog.

I knew the last time I traveled with the camera was here. The charger, I surmised, was either at the beach house or inside the cold, heartless depths of the bin that is airport security.

But then I also knew I charged my batteries right before doing this. Which meant the charger had to be in the apartment somewhere.

And then, I knew.

Looking back, it was quite elementary, my dear reader. The charger, I realized, was clearly on the left side of the closet, next to the ironing board, under a mound of sweaters I hadn’t worn in years and probably never will again.

The lurk was on.

I’m often asked (by my imaginary readers) just how to effectively lurk. I’m by no means a professional, but I’ve spent enough time creeping about to dish out some words of lurkdom. It’s actually very much like walking, which we all do in varying degrees day to day. What sets it apart from snapping a picture on the way to something is there’s intentional exploration involved. That’s where it gets a little less comfortable. Instead of nonchalantly snapping pictures on the way to something, this IS the something you’re walking to. It adds a bit of pressure and an element of “Oh man, am I doing this right?” You’re probably not. Because there isn’t one right way to do this.

The best thing to do is not to over think it. Here are some things that have helped me.

To effectively lurk, you must be incognito. So, put down your multicolored jeggings for now. It’s all about blending in. As for me, I wore the New Yorker uniform: black sweater, black jeans, black flats and black backpack.

Be flexible. The original plan was to gett off at Union Square and walk about 15 minutes to a coffee shop in East Village. But when I emerged from underground, there was so much activity there I stayed.

Observe. I honed this through reporting and from watching the photographers at the local papers I worked for. I must admit that blending in is much easier just with a notepad and a pen. With a camera, people get nervous. Sometimes they want to engage. It’s useful for a little bit of color, but sometimes it results in awkward pictures. I find that it helps to linger long enough for people to stop caring you’re there.

Observing means taking note of the little things. Just because there are 50 people taking pictures in the same place doesn’t mean you will all end up with the same pictures. I like to find funny or non-obvious things, preferably with people in it. I didn’t notice this until after I’d uploaded the picture, but this egg-grabber had bloody fingers.

Color is also neat. And don’t be afraid to get in people’s faces. I’m short, so I often get a lot of people’s backs and limbs in my shots. I don’t mind it, though. It adds movement and an insight into the plight of the vertically challenged.

Sounds are important. I wasn’t in the mood to talk that day, so I wore headphones without actually listening to anything. It’s useful for keeping some sort of distance between you and the subjects, and it also gives people the impression you’re not really listening to whatever they’re saying. Conversations are interesting. In New York, people are used to eavesdroppers and eavesdropping (One guy: “They inject it in your stomach?” Gross.).

The pianist, after a song: “We just met today. He got here two minutes ago.”

Be friendly. Maybe it helps I look 12 and harmless, but I find people are receptive to smiles. New York might be the exception in that people are used to having cameras around, especially on Union Square near the film school. In the event someone does say, “Get outta my face, you picture-taking chipmunk,” just admit defeat, put the camera down and slink off. The good news is, I haven’t had too many of those.

Be confident. The guy on the left actually gave me the death stare after I snapped this picture. He wasn’t having it. So, I did what any normal little person would do in the face of imminent danger. I stood next to him. He dared not look at me like that again.

I’d seen this guy before. Matthew Silver the Great Performer works for the universe.

Finally, just shoot. They say the best camera is the one you have with you (which explains why I’ve been Instagramming everything), but the DSLR has its purpose. I love its quickness and versatility. I love pretending I’m on a super important photo expedition somewhere exotic. I still get nervous when I pick up the DSLR for the first time in a long time. It takes a while to get confident with it. When this happens, I find the best thing to do is to survey the area, walk around, take a deep breath and just shoot.

Happy lurking, friends.