Yeah. Perspective.

I’m 28. I’ll be 29 in a month and 6 days. And the first time I took a psychology class at the college level, I was a gawky fourteen-year-old, and the only reason I was in a college class at 14 was because my father was a professor at the school at the time.

It was an intro-psych class. College level. College material. I did pretty well, considering I was a high-school freshman and in an intro-psych class that dealt in both cognitive and abnormal psych. In other words, I diagnosed myself with depression – a family gift, passed down from generation to generation - at fourteen.

If I were anyone else, with any other life experience, then maybe I could laugh at this now and think, this is why teenagers shouldn’t read the DSM. However, I had to claw my way out of that quagmire, and nearly everything that I learned in that textbook over the three months I was in that class – and the others I’ve taken since – became the staircase I needed to get out of the hole.

It split perspective in an interesting way, too, but for that, keep reading.

What I may not have mentioned in prior entries on the topic is that depression often manifests physically, because if the person doesn’t have a psychological outlet, it flows over into physical well-being and turns into lack thereof.

No two people experience the physical hallmarks of depression the same way. There’s no real way of knowing. If mental hallmarks are difficult to spot, physical are twice so. You just cannot tell. And moreover, you just cannot put an end to it if you happen to be the one who has to deal with it. This is why whenever I catch someone saying to anyone, “well, they can just not be depressed”, I want to beat them with something blunt.

The best way I can think to describe depression is to have a constant, heavy, tightly-buttoned, self-closing coat on you. Imagine it. Imagine that it has a mind of its own and the only thing it does is drape itself across your shoulders and button you up in its merciless grip. Imagine it weighing you down to where you know that if you reach up to open one button, it’s going to take an immeasurable effort, and no matter how hard you try to reach the first button, your arms are so weighed down that it’s a Herculean effort to even shift while wearing it. It’s tight; you know you can have it loose or off, and that it won’t interfere with you unbuttoning it, but since you can’t loosen it, then you have to walk around and deal with the way it constrains everything that you do. And it doesn’t go away: you can’t take off the coat and put it back on as you feel like it; once it’s on, you either fight to remove it for a prolonged period, or you take the other route. You have to wear it everywhere.

But when you do manage to unbutton it, take it off, let it fall with a dull clunk on the floor, your body never quite recovers from it. It will always remember the heaviness, the tightness, the discomfort, and the weakness that it felt when trying to remove it. And the coat is there, still, on the floor, reminding you that any minute, it can be on you again. You can wake up wearing it again and never know how the hell it got back onto you again.

Because I’m a scholar at the core, and because I studied the science of psychology in many and multiple iterations for what’s now half my life, I have a very curious dual perspective of depression. I have the experience of someone who had studied it, and someone who had gone through it. And, if my physical symptoms are to judge, is still getting through the aftershocks of it.

My own physical symptoms of depression are particular to the lifestyle that I find myself in. I’m a lot more tired mentally than I’ve ever been physically as of late, and this is something that I can neither help nor mitigate; this is the nature of my line of work. But what it lent itself to is the fatigue; the consuming physical and mental fatigue that makes me want to crawl under the covers and want to stay there for a week – which I’d never allow myself to do because it’s completely contrary to my otherwise very active nature. While no, I’m not at my ideal health, the aches and pains I’ve developed lately are not due to any physical ailments. The back pain is no injury, and I am not prone to headaches, and especially not migraines, on an ordinary day. I know too well the mindset I was in when I first started having those headaches. I expect some joint pain, yes, but it’s localized mostly to the knees – not the shoulders, which feel as though there’s a small boulder on each.

And it discombobulates me a fair bit, because I didn’t notice anything creep up on me on the mental side. I enjoy things the way I always enjoy them, I am in my regular mood – hey, for me, being cantankerous and sarcastic is 100% normal – and I certainly do not feel as though anything is particularly, you know, off. I don’t feel sad, hopeless, or anything even remotely resembling the mental black hole I was in before. But I feel the physical symptoms a lot more than usual. And lately, I just don’t have the spoons to keep going past a certain point.

If you want to know what I mean by “don’t have the spoons”, read The Spoon Theory. It’s a really great read about chronic conditions, and living with them, and depression is no different.

Funny thing is, I’m still treating myself as my own case study. On one hand, I crawl into bed wishing that the alarm wouldn’t have to go off (and knowing full well that it’s not like I have that much of a choice), and on another, I will wake up at that alarm clock, take a deep breath, and commit my dreams or lack thereof, aches and pains, any mood change or any foreboding-type of gut feeling to memory or to a journal. That’s the scholar’s perspective, and yes, in a way, it does help. By detaching from the condition itself, by treating it as though it were someone, anyone else, I’m actually doing two things: one is that I’m doing a lot better at steering clear of the worst of the quagmire, and two is that I’m seeing just how human I am. I’m not SuperWoman, even though my ex-boss and a few of my friends will say to contrary. I’m good – oh, I’m very good at what I do – but I am not the best (which is okay), and I certainly do not have the energy for everything (which is also okay).

It also makes me feel like I’m on the outside of myself looking in, and what I’m seeing right now is someone who really needs to get some sleep. Not just a nice night, but spend a couple of days just drifting in and out of snooze mode. And yes, it’s in part because I work in a high-stress environment at peak deadline. But the other part is that there was once a big heavy coat on my shoulders, and my body remembers the weight of carrying it and shifting and bracing up to bear it again.

I won over it before. I will win again. Otherwise, I’m just not me. It may take a heating pad or two, though.


Behind the Gilded Shell

It’s very rare that I share anything from the NY Post, which I have absolutely zero respect for, but their article on L’Wren Scott’s suicide was very on-target.

I live in NYC. I see these people every day. I see the businessmen with the sharp suits, the perfectly gelled hair, the manicures, the briefcases. I see the women fashionably dressed, with the right artistic touch, the perfect carat of jewelry, a genuine Prada purse that costs more than all my traveling combined, and all of them have one thing in common: their eyes. The eyes that say that they really want to be anywhere but where they are. They can hide it, they can talk a good game, but I’ve been talking the talk myself for a few years too. I know when people really don’t want to be where they are.

The creative world, especially the higher end of it, is built on impressions, but those impressions cost money. And if you don’t have – actually have the money to back up your impressions, then you’re basically stuck putting on a very elaborate charade that is bound to catch up with you eventually. And if you want to make a living in the high-end creative world, that is to say in fashion, acting of the Hollywood caliber, even in music, then your image has to become a part of your product. That image does not, by any means, come cheap, and again…it’s just the image. It’s not at all, in the least.

What L’Wren Scott’s life had turned out to be is, unfortunately, no different than the lives of many, many people in this city. Most of the creative folks I meet have either been in this gilded scene or are trying to get there. It’s an expensive endeavor, and keeping up appearances and the inflow of money do not always reconcile. This is why I have always told a fellow writer friend of mine: you absolutely have to have a job, because no matter how much you write, you have to find a way to sustain yourself. Because otherwise, the real life of paying your bills and the life you have in your social circle, especially if said circle consists of people that you want to see you as this successful, glamorous, wealthy individual, will diverge very quickly.

What no one will tell you is that while social scenes can and often do fade with time, the reality of the everyday sticks around. Rent still needs to be paid. You can’t put a trip to the Maldives on a credit card and not expect that bill to stop racking up interest and disappear. Your garbage needs to be taken out. And eventually, when it comes to choosing between the publishers’ soiree at Chic Restaurant and paying Con Edison….Con Ed will always win.

But the pressure to put on the show for others’ benefit is outrageous. I have often written that people who are most in the public eye are the people who need to get away from it the quickest, and the last person to whom this applied was Philip Seymour Hoffman. Yes, people knew that he was struggling with addiction, but did anyone ever ask why? Well, this is why: he had to keep putting on a show off the set too. He had pressure on him to go places, see people, laugh it up whether or not he wanted to do any of the above, schmooze with people he may’ve detested… You get the idea. The public eye is a pressure cooker. Philip S. Hoffman may’ve not even known how much money was in his account, but he knew that he had to buy a round to every single Hollywood person at The Hot Party, or else he would’ve been wrung out to dry and kiss a good role farewell. Or so he – and everyone else around him – believed.

Same for Amy Winehouse. She was struggling, she should never have been performing, but they shoved her onto the stage anyway…with the same result.

And L’Wren Scott, a designer of quite a bit of talent, was caught in the pressure cooker that is NY’s fashion scene, where everyone is expected to carry on as though they have no budget constraints, even though the jobs in fashion and publishing don’t pay anywhere near enough to sustain such a lifestyle, never mind sustaining the outrageous cost of living in NYC.

It doesn’t surprise me one bit that it was discovered that she was deep in debt. But it greatly dismays me that the creative world puts such pressure on people working in it. It’s like expecting them to stop being human beings, with very human struggles and human budgets, and instead dressing them up like dolls and parading them out on display.

Michal Baisden posted this on his Facebook page a long while ago, and I cannot help but agree. “People spend money they don’t have to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.” Whether or not Baisden had composed this quote I do not know, but it sums up the conundrum of the creative world in a nutshell. All we, the observers, see are the show people put on, and then later down the line, the end results of what happens when the show becomes too much work to maintain.

And L’Wren Scott could not keep putting on the show. Reality has never gone away and it caught up to her with a vengeance. The gilt had eroded to reveal the coarse, heavy, gray lead beneath. What’s my favorite saying for these situations? If you make like an ostrich, all it means is that someone can come by and give you a kick in the arse.

No matter how many parties you go to, you still have rent  to pay. No matter how many trips you take, you’ll still need to pay your electric bill. Your cell phone can have a $100 case on it, but the $200 bill for usage still needs paying. It adds up, and it adds up to where you have to choose whether or not you want to go take that jaunt to a week-long party in LA or maybe it’s a good idea to see how much is in your bank account to last you to your next payday.

This is where you have to see whether or not the show is even remotely sustainable anymore.

This is actually why I love jazz as much as I do. It’s real. It’s raw. And once the performer off the stage, you see very well that they’re every bit as regular a human being as the rest of us. They have other pursuits. They have families, or pets, or parents, or significant others they take care of. They’re not perfect. They talk about paying bills and working, and maybe giving away a CD or a song or two. They’re absolutely, refreshingly human. They don’t need to pretend that all is right and perfect and gilded in their worlds because their world and ours are all but identical. Just that theirs has a lot more music in it.

And the same goes for the fans. about 95% of them are just astoundingly real, no matter what their walks of life are, and I love it when I meet them. I meet them everywhere: in line at the Note, behind a cash register, checking in for a flight…you name it. Real, raw individuals who love music and love life. They don’t have to pretend everything is glitzier and more glamorous than it actually is, because they know life can’t glitter all the time.

There are, of course, exceptions. And in my experience, the people who try to show themselves as more “chic”, more “wealthy” (regardless of actual wealth), or somehow “classier” than the people next to them are the ones who are putting on the biggest charade of all. This is the thing, folks, and I know I may sound like a fortune cookie when I say this, but it won’t make it less true: your true colors will show eventually no matter what charade you put on, so you might as well be real from the get-go. You can have the big house, the hot car, the designer outfits, the fancy gadgets, the perfectly coiffed hair, pay your restaurant tab with crisp hundreds, but none of this will hide who you really are for long. And it’s worse if you’re trying to show yourself off as more chic/wealthy/classy than the person next to you. It never works. The harder you try to portray yourself as “better”, the more you show that you’re the opposite.

More than once, at several shows, I sat next to people who would try anything to assert some sort of superiority over me. Men are not exempt from this, but I get it far worse from the women. Yes, I know I’m the youngest person in the house, yes, I’m aware I don’t wear designer clothes and don’t carry a $500 purse, and yes, I’m 100% aware I’m not taken seriously because of my age, and yes, I’m aware that they think I’m a groupie if I’m seen talking to the artists – again, because I’m young and female. Do I give a shit about any of the above? No. But when someone – who nearly always happens to be female – tries to assert herself as “superior” for whatever reason, whether it be her “status” with the artist, real or perceived, or the fact that she sees me as a “plain little nobody”, is just plain ridiculous. Laughable, even. We’re not in high school, first of all, and secondly, we’re in the same space for only a handful of hours. You may not ever see me again. So why pull the “I’m better than you” routine? What, exactly, is the point of trying to make yourself feel superior over a complete stranger?

Besides, jazz is not the scene where flaunting wealth or looks gets you anywhere. In this world, you get further by simply being a real human being.

Personally, I don’t give a shit for appearances. Nothing I put on ever costs more than $40 (excepting maybe boots and my winter coat), I wear things until they’re so faded and shrunken in the wash that they are no longer fit for being worn, I walk around in sweats, cargos, glasses, I wear makeup next to never – because none of that matters. My photography, my writing, how well I am able to hustle, my bookkeeping, how quickly I can get my work done and out the door – those are the important things. I can put on a cocktail dress or a suit just as easily as I can throw on my favorite sweatshirt. But if I had to choose between the two, the sweatshirt wins. Always. Comfort over show, every time.

And yes, having a job helps too, because like it as not, the hustle always works better with some backing behind it.

But most of all, what is important is to keep an eye on reality not fading in the glitz. It’s easy, so easy, way too easy to get caught up in things. L’Wren Scott spent her entire adult life caught up in this world – at the cost of her reality, and ultimately her life. But fashion is a world of outward appearances, shallows, and illusions in and of itself. A stroke of a brush can transform someone’s age, but no amount of makeup and foundation can erase long-term trouble, whether the trouble is in the wallet or in the soul.

It’s something that we, from all walks of life, in all creative scenes, can stand to remember.

In Memoriam, L’Wren Scott.


A Letter to your Future Self

A little cheesy, I’m sure, but I glimpsed this on my FB feed and something about this made me smile. I’ve written a letter to my past self before s part of a challenge for a good cause, but this…this is a little different as far as where the perspective is.

Right now I’m looking at my 29th birthday. I had no idea this much time passed since I started writing this blog at just after 24. I had no idea that it was possible to grow as much in five years. Heal. Love. Learn. Everything. It’s been a journey. And it’s still a reminder that yes, there’s plenty more work for me to do and plenty more places to travel to, and shoot, etc. It’s also a reminder to think about what else you want in your life.

Well…here goes.

–Dear Future Self,

You opened this envelope and you likely smiled, thinking about how old-fashioned or sentimental putting pen to paper is. But that’s who you are. Look around your apartment now, look around where you live. All the things have a classic, simplistic feel to it. You hadn’t changed in that part of you, and nor will your letter style. In fact, I bet that you’d gladly do a pen and paper letter again if you knew who’d like it.

You likely know plenty of those folks too.

I hope you still listen to jazz music. Especially contemporary jazz. Or smooth jazz. Or whatever it’s called. You know what it is, it went right to your soul those years ago and launched everything you ever dreamed of. Do you still listen to Black Diamond by The Rippingtons when you’re walking over the Brooklyn Bridge? Or while driving? Do you still wake up to Spyro Gyra’s Morning Dance when you’re on vacation? Do you still write The Index Series while listening to Four80East?

I hope you do. I hope that life sustained your creative streak, not extinguished it. What’s your current camera? Computer? You love your technology. Do you build furniture still? Work out? Swim? I hope you keep yourself active; yours isn’t a spirit that’s meant to sit still. Same goes for your body.

Keep active. You have the strength of three people – better make it ten to be sure. But if you still have that bum knee, the plus side is you might yet be called Bionic Woman.

Keep your mind active too. You like puzzles, numbers, and chess.

Stick with accounting. You are good at it.

Stick with your friends. They need you. You need you too. Even at your weakest moments, you are the strongest of rocks, not just for them – for yourself too.

And if you have a husband again, then I hope that he’s the one you need. I hope he challenges you, and delivers his best when you challenge him in return. I hope he makes you feel like someone soaked your nerves in jet fuel and threw in a match. I hope you give him a run for the money. I hope you both know each other – really know each other – down to every predictable small habit, but can keep an element of surprise to yourselves. You need a challenge, a fiery challenge as tough and multifaceted as yourself. And I don’t know whether to wish the poor sap luck or cheer him on, but I hope that apart from being what you want, he is also what you, above all, need.

Stick with jazz. It’s more than just music. Its sound was a love affair with your ears at fifteen, it was a business by twenty-eight, and if ever are you in doubt, remember: it all started with a show. Music has been there for you before. It will always, without fail, be there when you need it.

Travel. Travel like you used to when you were 24; board the plane with excitement, leave your stress behind in the terminal, and keep seeing new things. If you already crossed off your destination list, I know you have another one you’re working on. Keep working on it. Keep going the way you always had.  Tunnel vision is an art form. So is gumption.

Trust your judgment and your instinct. They will never mislead you.

I hope that, right now reading this, you know that you reached your goals, set new ones, and kept reaching higher. It’s not the achievement, it’s the determination that counts the most, and few beings in this world have as much gumption as yourself.

And never forget that red wine, usually, cures all ills.


2014′s K.G.

Why buy? On thinking ahead and living

This is something that both my mother and my peers have been asking me, and while my mother sees why homeownership is a necessary thing, that may not hold to be the case for folks my age. And I’m not that old.

This may hold especially true for New Yorkers, or anyone who is living in a big city trying to make it, but for the sake of ease, I’ll continue this narrative in the vein of New York, if only out of my personal experience for one, and for two, I’m sure that the multitudes of creative types who are under 35 can relate to me, especially if they’re stuck in the same situation as myself.

You’ve heard me rail about the quagmire of student loans, and you’ve seen me occasionally lose direction because of that. I will be honest, as little as three years ago, I never thought that there was a light at the end of that particular debt tunnel. I’ve been lucky to land a career-track job right out of college, even if it had nothing to do with my field, and I’ve been lucky to begin making enough to get by. These are key words: enough to get by. Not many people are that lucky. As I’ve said millions of times, no one tells you when you get into college that a starting salary of 30K is an average, if not a welcome thing, and that while you’re in college trying to gain experience for the job you want, the job you have will barely pay enough to cover your bills (read: under 30K). And this is a standard routine of the American workforce; we just have to adapt to it and find a way to live.

To live. Not to just survive, but to live.

Granted, I don’t have ambitions of marriage and kids, but what I am about to say here is a tenet of more mathematics than life ambition, and especially in a city like NYC, where cost of living is abhorrently expensive, and applies across the board.


Here it is: you need to think long and hard about where your money is going, and renting is, ultimately, a waste of good money. 

I know that I’ve just elicited gasps from my fellow New Yorkers, but let’s think about it a little. In a city that laughs in the face of the financial guideline that rent should be only 1/3 of your monthly pay, your money is being depleted faster than you think. I’m sure that you’ve gone more than once living on boxed meals or ramen noodles because of unexpected expenses, less pay, whatever the cause. This is the other reason why people my age live with their parents well into their thirties: apart from the fact that student loans will eat rent, so will, well, rent itself. It’s just math: if you’re working at 30K per year on your first job, your net income is maybe $1,600 per month. A studio in, say, Sheepshead Bay will run you about $1,000. Add $112 to that every month for a MetroCard. About $125 for the monthly phone/cable/net package. If you’re paying student loans, it’s unlikely that you’ll have less than 75K to pay off, and monthly payment for that, if extended, ballparks out at….$300, if the lender’s willing to set it. So for food, clothing, etc. you will have per month… *crunches numbers* $63.

For a month of food. I won’t get into what kind of food you’ll end up getting for a month for $63 and stay on budget. Another rant for another time.

Also note that I didn’t list medical expenses or health insurance in there. With the ACA, insurance companies calculate your premium based on your monthly gross income, not net income less living expenses. So if you’re getting a cheapo insurance policy – since a lot of starter jobs come with a no-insurance-available clause – then you add on another $150-$200 onto your list of expenses. Guess what: you’re now in debt.

This is why NYC is not a sustainable city in and of itself; it drives out the very people who seek to thrive in it by the simple fact that its living is completely unaffordable and impractical for the number of college grads that it produces year in and year out. I won’t get into the over-inflated house prices in the city. But bear with me.

Suppose for a second that the same person, who’s making 30K per year, even with loan payments, were to look at a buying 50K co-op studio in upstate NY, no money down. Yes, that price is legit; I’ve checked the markets, it’s likely a short-sale price, but work with the scenario. No money down is also sometimes possible. But again, hypothetical here.

You will have a monthly mortgage of about $400, which covers property taxes and insurance too. Maintenance fees depend on the building, but a 50K studio on short sale would’ve likely brought 75K at market value, and if the building’s main amenity is the laundromat in the basement, then let’s ballpark about $350 maintenance expenses. $175 for a monthly rail ticket as a ballpark. And again: $1,600 net income. Same $125 for phone/net/cable TV.  Your flex, which was only $63 for the month, becomes…$250.  Which opens up possibilities.

Difference? Yes. Major. Not just in the additional flexible income, but also because you have an asset to your name that you can, if need be, re-sell and have some income from it: the studio itself. With rent, what exactly do you get for your money? Not a damned thing.

The thing about commutes is, while they’re annoying in their length and sometimes cost, there is a huge tradeoff in cost of living overall. Believe me when I say, my mom and I could have taken a 2BR in Upper Manhattan or Queens. Our commute time will be sliced to a fraction, but costwise, it would not have been anywhere near effective. MetroCard cost within the city for unlimited monthly use does not change and the distance does not play a factor in it. But instead, we’re out more money due to the rent increase.

What do we own as a result of twenty years of renting? Not a damn thing. And I don’t joke when I say that for the money we paid out in rent so far, the house would’ve long been paid off. 

That stick in my craw. Granted, when we got to NYC, we had little more than the clothes on our backs and what eight homemade duffels could stuff. So we couldn’t really own much of anything at the time, but that was also when $80,000 could’ve bought us a 3BR house with no problem. Now Brooklyn realtors will laugh when you ask for that price for that size.

However, it’s the current day and time, and I’m finding myself becoming my mother in the regard of starting a life. My mother was in her forties back then, granted, but twenty years ago, she was making what I am making now, and she was making the decisions on how to live and sustain us all. She did what was feasible and best for the circumstances, but she was also planning on how to make the most of what she was making.

The thing is this: if you’re renting in NYC, you won’t be able to sustain yourself that way forever. Even as your salary grows, your rents will hike up too, and at the end of ten years of working, you will find yourself not too far off from where you began, if not at the same place exactly. If you want more out of your life, and more out of the money that you make, think long-term. And this does, for some people, equate to buying your own place as opposed to renting. To me, at the very least, it’s part and parcel of it. Because I know that even if half my money monthly goes towards the mortgage and maintenance of a home, I also know that in 30 years, the mortgage disappears, or if I decide to sell it, I can turn a profit by selling a former short-sale property at market cost.

Or I can keep it and sublet it, and still turn a profit from the income net of the maintenance fee.

Think about this: even if you are not going to live in the same apartment the entire time, you can make a profit off selling it, as opposed to taking an additional financial hit off the broker’s fee and security deposit.

This message is to my fellow college grads, the starving artists whom I have shared the survival struggle with and still share it: think long-term for what you want to achieve and know that for it, money and saving money are a requirement. Start setting aside money for retirement; it’s been 7 years since the year of my college graduation, and I’m watching my mother approach her retirement with apprehension as to whether or not she’ll be able to afford living on her scant pension and on whatever Social Security she will get. I have an IRA set up, which I’m also prepared to gut out to make a down payment on a place (consult your tax professional, because first-time homebuying might be the one time you can take your IRA distribution before your retirement without getting hit by tax penalties). Even something as little as $50 a month put into a retirement account pools up to a significant sum over 5 years and, as a bonus, contributing to a traditional IRA is tax-deductible (as opposed to a Roth). But either way, you have to sit down and, as scary as it may be – and it is scary, make no mistake! – start planning for your future. If you’re making little money, at least set aside however little you can. Even if it’s a “for emergencies only” savings account as opposed to an IRA, investment, etc., some money set aside is better than flat-out none.

This is where I’m very glad for my accounting job. I never took a class outside of that one stint in the spring of last year, and I am glad more than anything for the fact that I’m in this field. Why? It gave me a very much needed hands-on education in how money and taxes work. The real-estate license, while not bringing me the income that I had hoped for, has given me an insight into the benefits and drawbacks of owning a property.

And I tell you this, peers of mine: this is an important thing to know. Sooner or later you will be faced with a sheaf of closing documents, and it would really help if you knew exactly what was in them and how it impacts your life. Same for a tax return: know what’s in yours and know how it works. Both will benefit you a lot.


Staying Warm

Polar vortex is the media adapted term for “really severe cold snap”. I won’t get into that though, but fact is this: we’re getting a taste of the new normal. Yes, it is thanks to global warming, on the account that the more heated air is in the atmosphere, the more intense the storms – of both kinds. This is what happens when a world with a raised temperature is trying to go back to normal: we get extreme cold snaps. And this isn’t just me, it’s cold hard science talking.

But that’s beside the point of this post. The point of this post is to keep you guys warmer. I was born in a cold country, and wasn’t really expecting to have my birthplace’s weather come back to visit. Not the reminder I wanted. Some of these tips you may have known, but can’t be too careful.

What to wear:

1. Two pairs of socks. No, I’m not kidding. One pair short, one pair long is best. But the base point is this: unless your boots are fur-lined, you’re going to have a lot of trouble keeping your toes warm. Frostbite sets into the extremities first, this is without fail. If you have one pair of thick long socks, great, but slide on a pair of plain old athletic socks underneath those. If you have homemade knitted socks – GREAT. They’re warmest of all. And still put on a pair under those.

2. Boots ONLY. Do NOT wear sneakers. No matter how tempting it is, do NOT wear sneakers. They’re comfortable, but they’re also ventilated. How else would they vent out the sweat/odor but through the tiny little holes you see around the top? This will work against you. Cold wind will blow right through those sneakers given enough force, and this is where two pairs of socks won’t do you anywhere near as much good as they would do in leather (or even pleather) boots. $40 will get you thick, chunky faux-fur-lined boots from Payless. I strongly recommend the investment.

3. Thermals, or alternatives. Now we move on to pants. Ladies, this one’s for you: whatever you do, do NOT wear skirts in weather below 25F. Trust me on this: no fashion is worth being chilled to the bone. No amount of looking cute is worth freezing certain body parts. Just trust me on this. It’s pure experience talking.

That said: you need to layer. If you do not have long johns, or don’t like them, then your yoga pants ought to do in lieu of thermals. They’re usually cotton and leg-hugging, so they’ll slide under your pants easily and keep you toasty under whatever pants you wear atop those. It’s a good idea to have a pair of pants one size bigger than what you usually wear for just these events, and even better if they’re wool. There’s a reason why Russian peasants had worn wool (okay, and fur) through the centuries: that shit is w-a-r-m. Long johns are great for heat retention, but when you do not have ‘em, cotton will do. Cotton under wool? Winner.

DO NOT WEAR JEANS. Yes, they’re cotton, yes, they may seem thicker than your usual pants, but they allow for too much airflow. You do NOT want that when it’s cold and there are subzero wind chills to boot.

3. There’s No Such Thing as Too Much Layers. Okay, no, there is: when you can’t move. However, when you want to keep warm, this is effectively imperative.

Start easy: shirt and undershirt. Cotton tank top under a long-sleeve T-shirt. Already, you’re better off than with just the tee. Sweaters you need to choose wisely. If you have a body-hugging cashmere sweater, I recommend it: cashmere-wool blends are spectacular for heat retention. I recommend that under another sweater, preferably a loose fleece sweatshirt.

I have a body-hugging fleece sweatshirt that goes well underneath a baggy hoodie. Together, they’re honestly a match for a coat. But they do little for the wind, pity.

That said…

4. Choose Your Coat Wisely. Down coats are best for extreme temperatures. We know it. However, if you do not have a down coat, or a parka or any sort, the next best thing is either fur, shearling, or heavy, heavy wool. You can tell if it’s heavy enough easily: it will slightly impede your movements just with its weight. And if you ever wondered why Russians have fur coats, this is why: because it is cold as all unholy hell, and this is the only coat you can wear if you don’t want death by hypothermia. It’s not fashion, it’s survival, no more and no less.

But that aside: if you’re choosing a coat, make sure that it’s about a size too big. You want to be able to wear it with layers and get into it.  Ski jackets are a good idea, but make sure they’re lined. Make sure that the coat is longer than your hips. Trust me, a frozen behind is not fun and yes, it is possible. If you’re lucky enough to find a wool coat down to your ankles, I recommend it.

5. Yes, it’s about the wool. In this case, wool scarves.

Look, I’m a knitter. And I’ve not had to buy a scarf since maybe 1998. One of the best scarves I’ve made is one made of fisherman’s wool. Fisherman’s wool is light, but warm. I also have a wool-rayon blend white scarf that’s long enough to sweep at my feet. Both have one thing in common: wrap them around and you will never, ever be cold. A thick worsted yarn, even if it’s synthetic, does a hell of a lot of good. Avoid chenille; it looks thick, but it’s nowhere near as warm as it appears. It does nothing for wind.

6. Yes, gloves and hats are required. Unless you want to experiment with frostbite on your fingers. I cannot say this enough: you need wool here. Wool or fleece, not leather, unless fleece-lined. Same thing with the hat; make sure it’s knit or fleecy. Anything that will trap and keep heat.

And whatever you do, remember that the wind is the culprit. You can tolerate chilly temperatures if you bundle up, but the wind is the worst. The more of it, the more likely that you will get sick from it. Protect against the wind and you’ll be okay.

Stay warm out there.


New Year, again

It fees like I was making this post just a couple of weeks ago. It just goes to show you that time waits for no one, and the older we get – and the more mired we get, accordingly – we get more and more caught up by this strange phenomenon where we blink and an entire month, or more than that, flies by.

My mother has remarked on this for a long time. I once got on her case that she sometimes lives and acts like we just moved into our building and into our apartment. And she asked me then, “Well, how long have we lived here, anyway?” The question suddenly doesn’t seem that surprising. I may have moved into our apartment just last week, even though our moving anniversary has been on Thanksgiving. We’re halfway through our lease term already.

Well, it’s 2014. I could’ve sworn that I was railing against the Republican party’s asshattery in the Presidential election just a handful of weeks ago. Apparently, it’s been longer. And considering that this is an election year for a lot of Senate seats, there will be much more railing. Oy. I do not want to go through this again, but…well. You know me by now, folks.

So, 2013. What has happened?

Traveling, for sure. I’ve sworn I wouldn’t spend this year flying to hither and yon, and lo and behold: I ended up on a plane to Rochester within the first month. The promise to stay away from travel is a futile one, and I learned not to make it again. Such is my life and livelihood that I will be living the life of a semi-nomad until I die. I can’t stay still. I can’t stay in one place for long. And to my credit, the destinations have changed up a fair bit. Rochester, yes. I’ve gone to Baltimore, and glad to have spent some time there. I’ve been to Curacao, which has been on my bucket list for quite some time. Same as Aruba. Rochester. Ridgefield, CT – not a major new destination, but worth a schlep. Out in the Wine Country of Long Island – longest drive I’ve had to date. Every year, there’s something new, and that’s what I love.

I also got a lot better at the whole photography thing. When I first started getting noteworthy shots, I knew what path I was heading down, but what I didn’t know was the business aspect of it. As my photography improved, so did my business acumen. And so did a sense of purpose to the entire thing. I can’t really say that this is a hobby. I don’t think I’ve said this was a hobby since I picked up the camera. But right now, now that the photography has ended up in magazines, has been noted by more than a few notable people…now it’s pretty clear that this is a pure business and artistic endeavor.

I changed jobs, of course. I had to, on account that I was terrified of having to bury my then-boss. Unfortunately, that’s what ended up happening. Though I am an employee at another CPA firm (yes, you can roll your eyes right about now), I kept my old job as a client and added bookkeeping to my range of offered services.

The most important thing to come out of 2013 for me was the business aspect of things. I got a lot better at the way I handle my endeavors. Granted, I’ve not had much time or wherewithal to market my books the way that they need to be marketed, but my photography has seen massive improvements in the way that it has been handled. I have gone from “I need improvement, therefore I am okay with anything as it comes to me” to being extremely picky as to where my photos go and what they earn. They are a product. They have always been a product. I think it’s high time that they got treated in the way that they need to be. As I said before: We do NOT work for free, and love doesn’t pay the bills. That’s what a lot of people don’t get about not just photographers, but musicians, and other creative types: not one of us has ever paid the bills with anything but cold hard cash. Love, karma, promotion, exposure – what-the-fuck-ever – none of this has ever kept the phone bill on.

So I think you can well say that 2013 has been another eye-opener of a year, in many a regard.

I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions out of habit. Let’s be honest with ourselves: the gyms will be full in January, but how many of the people filling them up now will stay through March? We slip in our resolve, all of us. It’s a human thing, and it’s not something that we can be faulted for, nor should we fault others for. So I don’t make the resolutions – I know for a fact that if I want to get something done, it will get done at the exact time that it’s right. Trying to shoehorn a goal into a year, especially if it’s a long-term goal, is not going to be effective.

My goals remain fairly constant:

1. Travel – to new places.

2. Improve on my skills, all of them.

3. Stop stressing so much.

4. Keep debt under control.

5. Don’t take anyone’s crap.

Really, out of any time or place, this is likely all I need.


Apparently, Michael Baisden and I share a brain.

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot out of Michael Baisden. After seeing his commentary on relationships, which greatly echoed my own opinion on the subject, I decided to read his latest book, Raise Your Hand If You Have Issues, while away on my trip this year. And I found that Michael Baisden and I have a lot of similar opinions.

Baisden is an author, first of all, but above that, he’s a person with solid experience with life and people, and he had gone from writing fiction to writing nonfiction. I don’t have love for self-help books, first of all. Never have and never will. So I read this one out of curiosity, and frankly, I found myself pleasantly surprised.

There’s one particular post on his Facebook page that’s very aptly opened with “Fuck love” and talks very firmly about how people in love, or people who believe they are in love, are ripe to make the worst decisions of their lives. He also mentions, rightly, that some of the best relationships, and marriages, are founded on friendship first, as opposed to love. 

I made the one mistake that I had sworn off on making after becoming a Youtube regular: I read the comments. Why, why, oh why do I read the comments?

More than half of the comments were in the vein of how can you say that? Love is everything,  and so on and so forth. Me, I slapped myself on the forehead. He voiced an opinion based on 1. experience, 2. interviewing people, and 3. observation, and the mere fact that his opinion was out of their comfort zone had elicited an immediate knee-jerk of how can he say that? On one hand, I understand it: something out of a comfort zone can be, and often is, jarring. But the immediate “what’s wrong with you for saying it” sentiment made me facepalm and shake my head.

What really aggravated me was one woman saying, “We as women aren’t built to think logically where love is concerned” (paraphrase). I’m sorry, but speak for yourself. Nothing annoys me more than when another female makes a statement like that. Those of us who do NOT think with our uteri, ovaries, or hormones take serious umbrage with people who make a blanket assumption that all women think a certain way.

But going back to the original post? Michael Baisden is 100% correct. If you haven’t had the experience that makes you agree with him, then it’s a matter of time until you do. If you go through your entire relationship or marriage without anything that will make you stop and say, “This is not right!”, then you are in the less-than-single-digit percent of people who are truly that lucky. Most of us, however, are not so lucky, and it takes a lot of honesty – with ourselves, first of all – to realize that yes, love screws up a lot of thinking processes. Logic is the first to go, observation second, though you may argue me on that.

Look. I won’t deny that I’m one of those people who had done stupid-as-hell things when I was in love. I’ve done dumb shit when I thought I was in love just as much as when I actually was. However, it taught me that the men were by no means the problem: the problem was how I was processing these feelings and how they were affecting me and my judgment. True fact: I was married. I can honestly say I did love my ex-husband. What I egregiously ignored, however, was that he and I were drastically different people, with equally drastically different ideas about life, who wouldn’t be compatible in any way, shape, or form. Could I have seen it? Yes, I could’ve. But I was in love, and to me, that was enough.

I say this to my younger self now: BULLSHIT. If two people’s core values are at the opposite sides of the globe, not a damn thing can change that. I should have known better, yes, but again – I was in love. My better judgment took a back burner in the name of love. Never again.

I’m also sure that we all know this one person – or more than one – whose relationships went up in flames because of reasons that were obvious to us, but not to them. They asked us for advice while they were in those partnerships, we gave it, and they immediately fired back with “What do you know?” or similar, because we weren’t giving them our instant support. If we asked them, after it was already over, why they stuck around that long, they always answered, “I was in love.”

There’s a reason we say love is blind. It blinds us to people’s faults. It blinds us to obvious incompatibilities. It blinds us to the simple fact that the other person does absolutely nothing to further our own personal growth. It blinds us to the glaringly obvious faults in that other person, or to the small but hugely important fact that you and the other person have vastly different goals and ideas of a relationship. Hormones and pheromones do not help matters. Sometimes, an attraction can be so strong that it overpowers all sense of reason, and the hormones stay at a sustained level to fool the mind into thinking that a great lay is a husband/wife material, when it is simply not the case. Love is blind indeed, and please don’t differentiate between love, lust, and infatuation: all three are equally guilty of pulling the wool over ordinarily sensible people’s eyes. 

Love makes fools out of people more often than it gives them their dues. It makes desperate fools out of women and men alike, and fools twice if they keep repeating the same errors over and over again thinking, “This time will be different.” It never works. And there’s always disappointment and resentment, and the “but I thought…” and the “why”. And it’s never different for more than a day.

As I said before, I’m not innocent, but I definitely learned from experience. I have also learned a very valuable lesson our of my experiences: if people show you who they are: believe them. No amount of love changes a person, and love – or the illusion thereof – will keep you from seeing the most absolutely glaring incompatibilities, which will never, ever go away or get “healed” or anything.

Most recently, my friend of over a decade, whom I shall call Neil (pseudonym; all details used with permission) started dating a girl. After three months of things going hunky-dory, he told me that he thought she was The One. I told him, “Neil, it’s been three months only. You and I both know that it’s not enough time, and no matter how you feel about her now, wait and see what happens.” Sure enough, right now Neil is back to being single. Why? Because his then-girlfriend showed her true colors, and Neil saw that they were wholly and completely incompatible. I saw it coming, yes, but that is not important. What was important was that he waited long enough for those true colors to show.

Neil’s experience, as well as my own, is why I firmly agree with Michael Baisden when he says “Fuck love”. Because he’s right. In both my own past experience and observing others, I learned that some of the best relationships and marriages are those between two people who have a solid friendship foundation as its basis. I can draw multiple examples of some of the best couples and families I’ve seen, and they all have one major thing in common: their husband/wife is their best friend, whose core values are completely in sync with one another. They’re the couples who have been married for 20+ years, raised families (or not, if they’re childfree), and they’re so secure in themselves and their relationship that you know that there’s not a damn thing that they don’t know about each other and are not accepting of. They’re the couples people want to be, but those people who want to have the same thing completely disregard that no one who has that sort of a deep, loving, trusting companionship got there on love alone. They got there by outright knowing the person they’re with, which is something that only longtime friendship, acceptance, and growth can create. And this usually means that the “knight in shining armor” thing that most women buy into, as well as the “damsel in distress” thing for men, are no more than a farce, a nice little illusion that has nothing to do with reality. 

Don’t get me started on the “damsel in distress” bit. We’re all guilty of having The Mr. or Ms. Fix-Them relationships in our history. I’ve taken in strays before, and if asked if I’d do it again, I’ll be honest: I’d do my best not to, but can’t say it won’t happen. It’s a separate topic altogether, though it directly ties into what I’m saying here.

And if that shatters a few illusion bubbles? GREAT. Fantastic. It ought to. Because we can spare ourselves so much grief and disappointment if we were, first and foremost, honest with ourselves about the people we’re with. Because when you take the hormones, the emotions, and the pheromones out of the equation, the truth is right there in front of you. You usually know it already, even before you realize it.

And while you’re at it, read Michael Baisden’s book. A major eye-opener.



Thoughts on NaNoWriMo

At 50,349 I claimed my eighth win in a row.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, this is your reference:

And those of you who do: before you give me a shout of huzzah, consider that this has been honestly one of those years where I had no idea which way was up in terms of my writing. As I learned the very hard way when I had first started out on my journey as an author, if I do not market my books on a constant basis, I cannot hope for sales. And that caliber of marketing requires either 1. money to have someone do it, or 2. time to do so on my own.

That’s exactly my problem.

As a self-published author, I don’t have a marketing team behind me. I am extremely lucky to have a great production team in my graphic artists and editors. But as far as marketing goes, I am on my own. And that’s a problem because – as you may have gathered if you are on my Facebook page – I am extremely busy. The photography business has been evolving and growing, and has been the primary object of my attention. I have two jobs, three if you count the business. In other words, I’m lucky if I remember to breathe.

But every year, no matter how busy I get, I always carve out time for NaNoWriMo, even though by now, anyone else would have trimmed that out of the annual schedule of things to get done.

But not me.

Though this year I only knew what I wanted to write, not how I wanted to write it, was entirely too scrambled with business-related and job-related commitments to actually put thought into my story. Last night, as I wrote a critical scene to the book that I knew I’d have to rearrange and stick somewhere else much later, I had to wonder how I was going to connect the dots, since until then, I wrote the bulk of the story in order, but for that one scene. And I realized that I both missed this particular outlet of creativity – having carved the setting of my books in nothing more than my own imagination from the get-go -and really, really wished I worked on my time management better, so that I wouldn’t be so scrambled in the first place.

It also reminded me that I really need to restart and rework my marketing of my stories. Right now, my photography has excellent, fantastic exposure and a measure of respect. Could I potentially parlay jazz lovers into sci-fi lovers? Maybe. They already know I write, do they not? And I’m just as sure that $3.99 for an e-book is feasible for cost.

The truth is, though, I know very well that without NaNo, the entire concept of me as an author would just be nothing more than an errant thought, something straight of Langston Hughes’s poem A Dream Deferred. In all actuality, this challenge is primarily responsible for all my creative business in the first place. I’d have never decided to go to my first jazz show if I weren’t thoroughly sick of editing Book 1 back in March 2007; that show had resulted in the one connection that had opened every single door since. I’d have never accomplished this lifelong dream of mine of writing a series if I hadn’t decided to do NaNo time and again. I’d have never formed the friendships and connections that I formed if I wasn’t able to say, “I’m an author” and speak nothing but the truth. And I would have never gotten to half of where I got if I didn’t write in this blog too.

The habit of regular writing is something that is directly responsible for everything else. A decision to participate in NaNoWriMo had ended up evolving to things far and above greater than just writing books. And it’ll get better still, of that I’m sure.

What I’m planning on doing is this: at the end of NaNoWriMo, which is November 30th, my reformatted Book 1, with editing courtesy of Cassidy Frazee, will be available for free for five days. Link forthcoming. But on top of that, I’m doing something a lot more special: I’m also working on the release of the screenplay version of the same first book. Having experimented with script writing, I feel confident that I can release the first draft to the public. It will be released similarly to the novel version: print and e-book. If you have a non-Kindle reader, either download the Kindle app, which is free for every platform of operating system and phone/tablet, or contact me directly; I’ll be glad to send you a PDF.

Happy writing to the rest of my fellow participants!


CD Review: Marqueal R. Jordan’s Catalyst

CatalystI will preface this review by saying that while yes, Marqueal is a longtime friend thanks to Capital Jazz Cruises, you guys should know by now that knowing me doesn’t give anyone any special perks. In fact, if I know someone, then they’ll have double the pressure to prove their moxie and merit. I do not do favors for folks I know; I double down on them more than I would on complete strangers.  If they’re friends of mine, they know they need to stand to merit.

That said…

Marqueal Jordan’s debut album is interesting, and titled quite aptly. The definition of the term is agent of change, and if you’ve ever taken chemistry, then you can apply this to music. Indeed, Catalyst is an album that will change the way you see a person.

Chicago local sax slinger and vocalist Marqueal Jordan is no stranger to changes, and nor is he a stranger to versatility. You see him on the tenor sax, and you hear him sing, and usually you catch him on tour with Brian Culbertson. But pop this CD into your audio device of choice and you suddenly see him in a new light. The tenor sax takes on a whole variety of flavors between 2am and Maracas Beach, which push at a more straight-ahead flavor, and Chillin’ with MJ, in which Jordan calls on Chris “Big Dog” Davis and stews the same tenor sax in a sauceful of R&B. Between the Sheets is an immediate introduction to Marqueal as a vocalist independent of anyone else’s show, and while I know his voice well, something about the way he sounds is interesting. Engaging, easygoing. Somewhat reminiscent of Dwele. Featuring Brian Culbertson on When You Smile, Jordan firmly crosses into the R&B boundary, and does so in such a way in conjunction with the rest of the tracks on the album that you will not only not notice the shift but want more of it.

Whether or not the listener gets that, I won’t tell you. You just have to find out on your own.

A catalyst indeed: a catalyst for mixing genres, lyrical style on both vocals and tenor saxophone, a catalyst for propelling Marqueal Jordan out of the sidelines and firmly into a spotlight all his own  - any way you slice it this album is something you need to hear if . If you like your Euge Groove, if you like your Dwele, if you like Brian Culbertson, and don’t mind a Stanley Turrentine-gone-modern flavor to your instrumentals, then you need to pick up a copy of Catalyst  by Marqueal Jordan. Right away, if not yesterday.

Amazon link:

Also on iTunes and CD Baby.

It’s November 1st. Do you know where your author is?

If you’re reading this now, there’s a pretty solid chance that you may want to wish me a bon voyage.  My plane is doing the pre-wheels up routine and is taxiing away from the gate, taking me onto yet another adventure.

But photography aside, for a moment, let’s talk November 1st. NaNoWriMo.

Come on, did you really think I’d pass it by? Compulsive writer is compulsive.

This year, I’m taking The Index in a different direction. I’ve long thought about writing my characters’ back stories, but couldn’t think of a way to work them in. The thought of interspersing a past story with the present has crossed my mind, but on second thought, I find it to be completely impractical. So I figured I’d dive right in and make an arc out of it. I have laid down enough groundwork in Books 1-7 (with 5-7 yet to be released) to work through a more than decent back story arc for all the characters involved.

Did I plan my story?

Oh, gods, people, don’t make me laugh. I didn’t have the time to breathe, never mind to actually plan a story. But I do have the very basic idea of what I want to do. The question remains of just how far back I want it to go. If I take it back too far, it’s going to become like J.R.R. Tolkien: long-winded, and while it’ll make a great film adaptation, it’ll be incredibly unreadable. So I figured that it’s in my best interests to just make it a straight-up arc. A nice, straight-up arc of stories, about 4 books, that spans the characters’ back stories. One per character, maybe two in some particular cases.

And Book 8 shall be the back story of Rhyssius. And Morrhia. I know some of my people loved Morrhia as a bad girl, so I think I’ll write a little bit about how she came to be. We’ll see what develops. I’ll lay down the beginnings of the story when I land.

But right now, it’s almost wheels up, and the incredibly soporific effect of the plane is taking hold.

Happy writing to my fellow Wrimos!