Fifty Shades of WTF?

I couldn’t resist. So yeah, the Fifty Shades of Grey tripe is becoming a movie franchise, and it has a shiny new trailer.

Of course, people are going gaga over it.

I swear, I must be a pod person or something. Really. Because I just cannot see any of that as “sexy”. I cannot see anything about Christian Grey as a character that would make it noteworthy, except for the fact that he’s a fucking sociopath.

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s get this straight: abuse is not sexy. Not even if it’s written to try and be sexy. Abuse is abuse, and abuse should not be tolerated, whether physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, you name it.

I read some of the book, but I stopped in disgust. Can someone please tell me how any of that is different from Twilight? How is the dynamic between Christian and Ana any different than Edward and Bella? Both are incredibly unhealthy, and in both cases, the male half acts as a predator chasing prey. In Twilight, it was Bella for being human and having the blood scent that affected Edward like heroin. Not even kidding, look in the books – “You are like my personal brand of heroin” was the phrase used. And Christian targets Ana because she’s a virgin, ergo naive, ergo he can do with her as he feels like and “mold” her into his ideal partner.

And people think it’s sexy? That it’s a good portrayal of the BDSM scene? Good lord, folks, if that’s what you think is sexy, I truly wonder about how satisfied you are in your own sex lives and what your ideas are about men respecting women. Because that’s just some seriously unhealthy shit that I’ve skimmed through in that book, and by no means am I a prude.

One of my best friends is heavily in BDSM, and she’s a sub. I also chatted up a professional dominatrix at a bar – yes, I live in NYC, you never know whom you’ll meet where. From the opposite side of the submission divide, they both told me that in the BDSM world, no one in their right minds would treat anyone the way Christian treats Ana throughout the series. BDSM hinges very, very, very heavily on consent. Hell, 99% of all sexual relationships hinge on consent. What Christian does treads into the territory of rape; I do not recall Ana consent to much of what he was doing with her. And don’t let me hear the “if she doesn’t say no that means yes” crap – hell no. If you’re in bed with someone and you aren’t blind or deaf, you will know very well when someone wants you to continue.

Really. I can’t understand how this shit got this popular, in both series’ cases. I will not pay money to even a street bootlegger hocking DVDs to see this crap. I mean, really. I know Americans as a whole are still very Puritanic when it comes to sex, but…really, folks, give me a break. I have read all of Twilight on a lost bet, so I know how to get through shitty fiction. But if it fails the Random Page Test in about two paragraphs, then I can’t help you there.

I really, honestly cannot understand how people, especially women, think that this shit is sexy, romantic, etc. I can’t. Granted I’m not exactly a “romantic” in the strictest sense, but I have a certain standard of behavior I expect in a relationship, based on this little thing called respect and this other thing called common sense. Except I’m afraid it’s not so common.

Really? This is made into a movie?

Then I guess fiction really has gone to shit.


On Hitting the Three-Oh and Milestones

In one of my “thinking” moods, I realized that yes, I’ll be celebrating a “milestone birthday” next year. Well, so people call it, in any case. I use quotations because, really, I’ve not put much emphasis on age or lack thereof in the past.

Considering that when I entered my twenties I was coming out of a convoluted and rather sheltered upbringing, the past ten years alone have been an eye-opener, start to finish. Not easy at the best of times, but necessary. Let no one say that the real world is not a worthwhile teacher; often, it is the best teacher one can have. Certainly, it was mine.

It’s all about how you apply the lessons you’re presented with.

One very, very major thing I learned is to adjust your goals, or the means to approach them, as you go. If you can’t get to your goal after repeated attempts, it’s perfectly fine to re-evaluate it and adjust it as it needs to be done. When I was 20, I wanted to be taken care of and comfortable. I learned that I shouldn’t necessarily have to rely on other people – parents, husband, etc. – for that. I still want to be taken care of – but this time, by myself, first and foremost. Did I accomplish that? Within reason, yes. Do I have more to go? Yes.

What I started thinking about is what “being 30″ actually means in today’s world. Just the larger spectrum of things.

When I was growing up and later, when I went to college, I was taught, as were most of my peers, that by thirty, you’re supposed to have “settled in and settled down”. What does that mean? It meant a career path that, after college, you now had about 7 or so years to get settled into, a career path that brings you enough income to have a place of your own. By 30, if you’re not married and have a kid or two, you’re usually told (if you’re female) that your “biological clock is ticking”, regardless of whether or not that’s true.

That’s what I kept seeing ahead for myself when I was in school. Then I actually had to ask myself: what of this do I want? And turned out that quite a lot of the expected script for being in one’s thirties did not at all appeal to me.

And, well, you know me. If I see an opportunity to do something the way I want, I will immediately go for it, doubly so if I know in advance that it will make me very happy.

So right now, with my age mark about to hit the three-oh, I realize that, apart from the fact that going your own way in life is truly the best thing any human being can do for themselves, that my peers have been lied to by the sheer virtue of being given a LifeScript(tm) to follow. By shoehorning themselves into a scripted, predictable, society-expectation-molded way of life, they have effectively given up any real freedom that they could’ve had. I mean, think about it: an average Joe USA will go to school, take a job to pay the bills, get married and have a kid, and then work work work because kids are expensive (which is one of those things no one tells you) and tries to pay off mortgage and student loans (because you can’t live without debt these days, which is another thing no one tells you). Yes, it’s what’s expected of him. This is how thousands of people across the country live. Not once do they question this script. Not once do they step back and see that they are roped into working longer and longer hours for the same pay to make payments on the house they almost never spend time in. Their time is invested into the job. They come home, exhausted, and then they come home to have to work again on their relationship – because it does require work – and their children.

Likewise for women. They’re told to go to school, get a job, get married, have kids. And then what? Exhaust themselves twice over being an employee and a mom? And face social guilt and everyone getting judgey on them because they aren’t doing X or Y per the script? Come on. Moms and non-moms get it all the time about how they’re not doing X enough when in reality, they’re running themselves ragged with X and Y, but no one mentions Y. Work, come home, parent, be a spouse. Where’s the “rest” aspect to this?

What sort of freedom is this? What sort of freedom does this script allow?

My twenties were marked by analyzing that script, and every other social directive my peers and I have been spoonfed, and realizing – harshly in some cases – that I am just not capable of doing that to myself. I felt most at home when I was traveling: to my friend’s up in Cape Cod, on a plane to my first cruise, on the railroad to explore a new city… Travel was where I felt most at home. Even though right now, at a bit older than 24 (when I started traveling for real), I grumble and grouse at the early wakeup calls to my flights, I can never deny that this is what I was born to do: gallivant, explore, photograph, tell stories of my adventures.

The other major realization that I feel coming with my thirties is the responsibility that we are all given, to take care of ourselves and ours.

My health has been a thorough misadventure. But it’s also been a great learning experience about what does and doesn’t work with my body. As it is, I have tried the whole “lose weight” rigmarole. Once my thyroid got its meds, the weight started coming off rapid-fire. When it stalled, I tried WeightWatchers, only to plateau and regain everything I lost when my body hit starvation mode: WW relies largely on fiber and vegetables as a filler, and completely disregards that lipids are an essential part of any diet (a half an avocado is how many points?!). It’s great for getting into healthier eating habits, but for long-term weight loss, it fails. I went back to WW after I regained the weight, only to yo-yo again. So I decided to scrap all “weight loss” plans and just enjoy my workouts for the endorphin rush, and eat as I please.

Know what happened? My health thrived. My blood tests kicked out their first “perfect score” in about a decade. I stopped feeling like my stomach is a bottomless pit waiting to be stuffed with food; I stayed with my habits but re-introduced avocados and the occasional potato. My appetite became a lot less “must eat everything” and a lot more “fuel up, stay full through day”.

We get only one body. Only one health. We can’t change bodies when this one has outgrown its usefulness. Our primary responsibility is to know when to focus on you. Your health, your well-being, your living. And if you’re in the position where you have to be a caregiver – then taking care of that person’s health is also on us.

I’m not talking about kids.Not just about kids, for my parent readers. I’m talking about the people who are around you. Parents, if you’re close to them. People who took care of you, who may be needing care in return. Myself, I had to come to close terms with my mother’s retirement, not just as the end of comfort – and let’s face it, so far I’ve been lucky enough to be comfortable while living with her – but as the beginning of my slow takeover as the household provider. I’ve seen it coming, but now’s the time to actually stop looking and start doing. My mother is looking forward to her retirement and not working, and maybe just possibly doing a little travel in her own right. And other things. And financially, I know that she and I need to start working together financially; this way I can sustain us, and she can enjoy some peace in her retirement without having to go broke.

That’s responsibility. That’s shared responsibility. And moving into my thirties knowing how to handle that, frankly, is something I feel very proud about.

All those milestones that people put into the standard LifeScript(tm), they are milestones only in the context of the people who set them. For people who graduated high school and then got married and had a couple of kids before they hit thirty, any other sort of life is unimaginable, especially if they see everyone around them doing the same. To them, that’s normal. That’s the script. So they will set the same milestones for their children, regardless of how their children feel. So many times I see stories online of X person being the first in their family to graduate college, and behind the stories of people supporting their goals, I find myself always asking, “And how many naysayers are around X right now saying behind their backs that they don’t see the point in college and X should’ve just gotten married and stayed in town?” Because for those people, X’s accomplishment, momentous on the scale that they’re the first ones to graduate in their family, just doesn’t make sense because it breaks the norm. It doesn’t fit the script. They don’t know what to do with it, and in all things human-natured, decry it.

Let them.

In my experience, the people who try to pull you down for your achievements are wholly incapable of doing what you’ve done. So let them bitch. Define what your milestones are for yourself.

Most people wouldn’t think that “taking care of their mother” is a milestone – for me, it is. My mother had pulled me out of a fair few sticky situations, and I see it as a return of debt to make sure that her retirement isn’t fraught with financial worries, and a point of pride that I have a plan to do so, and can follow through with it. Most of my peers don’t quite see contributing to an IRA as a milestone – and in that regard, I wholly understand them; there isn’t enough income to go around when you still have loans to pay. But the fact that I have saved my first thousand dollars for retirement despite my otherwise deplorable spending habits is a great thing. It’s a thousand dollars that I won’t have to bust my hump for after a certain age.

Right now, very safe to say that I look at fiscal responsibility as a major part of growing older. It took me a long time to get smart about my money, even more surprising the fact that I work in accounting. But that is also how I got smart about what’s mine: I worked on other people’s books, finances, companies, and looked at what they were doing, and began to see how to apply it to myself. I am not where I want to be, but I am a ways ahead of my peers at this moment, and if there’s anything I can do to help them out, then usually I do so. Knowledge is the thing that pays it forward.

As I gear up for being a “thirty-something” in New York, I’m also setting new goals for myself. First goal is to just relax – reasons obvious. Second goal: to not spend so much time working and/or being alone; like it as not, human contact is an essential thing, and my friendships do need cultivating. And third goal: get myself to where I can, in fact, think seriously about buying a house. If student loans are the only thing standing in my way, then I need to figure out a way to up the ante and get them paid off now.

I’m still not too sold on the idea of having a “personal life”. Maybe it’s because I am too busy, maybe I’m just not wired for it, but I just don’t see myself with long-term companionship at this stage in time. Still. I just don’t see it. If I think of a weekend, then inevitably, there’s my camera, there’s an event, and there’s a ticket to a bus/train/flight to get there. And the way I see it is thus: if over the next five years I do not meet anyone who is worth carving out the time for, anyone who will make me say, “This one is special, different, worth my time and efforts”, then I will resign myself to the single life for good. I don’t see myself ultimately staying alone – so my intuition says – but I certainly don’t see myself dating anyone with my adventurous, photography-chasing, music-indulging life being what it is, and I am a realist above all. I don’t believe in “the one”, I don’t believe in Prince Charmings, and I certainly don’t believe in settling down. But if in the first five years of my thirty-dom I don’t meet anyone – then, you know what? Works for me A-OK if I’m a solo flyer. I can build a hell of a life for myself by myself. After all, I’ve already gotten a good start on it.

Bring on the Thirties!


Beware of false prophets (or, caveat emptor)

Warning for “post that will piss people off”. Warning completed.

In light of Joel Osteen’s exorbitant price tag for his “sermons”, I would like to say this:

A life coach or a televangelist is a salesman, nothing more and nothing less.

And, of course, the corollary to that is caveat emptor (let the buyer beware, Latin).

In fact, the more I go through life, the more I realize that pretty much all of these life coaches and philosophers and televangelists are just plain out there for money. They may have had difficult lives and triumphed, they feel that they may benefit people by passing on their message, and all of that may be good and true, but pretty much everything has a dollar tag attached. Moreover, considering that skeletons in closets tend to rattle louder if the closets are more public, the quality of the product is questionable as well.

In other words, be very careful of who comes in trying to sell you something, especially if it’s a philosophy.

The old saying goes that your therapist is probably the one with the most issues. From personal experience, the majority of people whom I encounter who work as shrinks have worse issues than some of their patients. The ones who don’t are usually the ones trying to fix their colleagues’ damage and are outnumbered by the shitty ones 4 to 1 at the very least. But life coaches are a special brand of individuals whom, as I find, should be avoided.

Let me explain why.

They have had difficult stretches in life. They got through on a combination of faith, philosophy, and reading inspirational Bible verses. Okay, great. They then continue to write a book about their experiences only because they know full well that people in similar situations will think, “They did this, so can I” and will buy their books. This is how they make their money; that and workshops and TV appearances. Think about it: self-help stories are a dime a dozen, and there are so many of them, all of whom are taking money for workshops on “how to build yourself up” and other things, that I am truly questioning the validity of some of their books. Those of you who are Law and Order: SVU fans will likely know what I mean when I will mention the possibility of more than one Erica Windemere instance in the self-help world.

I will never deny the benefit of such stories and workshops – sometimes, they do quite a bit of good. But to take the money that some people charge for them is just plain ridiculous, and it shows exactly what is at the forefront of putting them on in the first place. And it’s to build up something other than confidence.

In truth, it doesn’t matter, ultimately, how many workshops you go to or how many self-help books your will read: if you want to build up your confidence, if has to start from your inside, not someone else’s. Not a book. Not a workshop. But the actual honest-to-cheese person who needs the building. And maybe I’m going out on an unpopular limb here, but I severely doubt that paying $100 admission will go very far in confidence-building.

Worse, those “life coaches” tend to have at least one aspect of their own lives that is so horribly messed up that, if you knew about it, you wouldn’t give them one red cent to “build confidence” or “coach” anyone, because it will be plain and obvious that their entire qualification is baloney. They live in terror that their fucked-up personal situations will be exposed, because that in and of itself will discredit whatever they’re building up as their “life coaching” product. Because really, how can you possibly coach someone else when you yourself are messed up? How can you possibly teach someone to embrace their independence when in your personal life, you are so clingy and codependent that you scare people away? Can you really build up confidence in someone else when you’re clearly lacking it yourself? If tele-preacher Creflo Dollar, who spoke of confidence and forgiveness for abuse, got caught abusing his own daughter, then it’s really not that far a stretch to consider that pretty much everyone in the life-coaching/self-help industry has something to hide, and most of the time, that “something” will immediately discredit their entire message.

The words that come to mind are, “Doctor, heal thyself.”

Too many of these “life coaches” need to check themselves and their own lives before they go out there to pass their philosophy on to the world. People who are already down in the dumps really could find a better role model than someone who, for instance, preaches female confidence while at the same time being unbelievably clingy, codependent, and desperate when they think no one’s looking.

There’s a very crass saying, and unfortunately, it’s true: “shit floats to the top”. And trust me: it always does. If you’re trying to preach a message that you yourself don’t practice, you will find, very fast, that you won’t be able to keep that under wraps.

There’s a good reason that the self-help industry is a profitable and thriving industry: people are so desperate for an easy way, an easy approach, a lifeline of any kind, that they’re willing to pony up big bucks for anything that they feel will make life easier to handle. That is how people who purport themselves as life coaches thrive: because they are just a little bit more adept at marketing themselves and telling people what to do. In reality, they’re people, like any other person, and the only thing they’re selling is themselves. Philosophy, itself, is free, and can be acquired with a library book. Yes, their stories are inspirational, but for them, selling those stories and selling the mentality is a business. Make no mistake: Iyanla Vanzant makes a pretty penny. So does Michael Baisden. I may agree with what both of them have to say, but I also don’t lose sight of the fact that the money I’m paying for their books is money that they’re making by turning themselves and their experiences into a brand product.

They are salesmen. it’s just that their product is themselves. I will gladly buy a book if I think I will like it because I like to read, but if anyone thinks I will waste one red cent on any of their workshops, they’re mistaken. I am not of the sort of people who likes paying a complete stranger to tell me what to do with my life. I spent entirely too much time carving it into what I want out of it, and will be damned if anyone will disturb that harmony.

Philosophy is not supposed to be a business venture. Socrates had to swallow a cup of hemlock for his trouble, and he was by no means wealthy for his work in getting people to start asking the hard questions. Salvation is supposed to be free, why is Joel Osteen charging three figures for admissions to his megachurch sermons? And have you seen the lifestyle he has with that income? Have you seen the lifestyles of the megachurch Southern Baptist preachers in the South? I’m sure you’ve seen the stories of Ted Haggard, the infamous anti-gay televangelist who got exposed for – of course! – soliciting sex from a male prostitute. Here’s the thing: they are all like that. All of those conservative preachers, all those anti-gay anti-abortion reverends, they’re all no more than hypocrites with a cross and a Bible. The more they preach against something, the more likely it is that they themselves are guilty of the exact sin they decry. And they still will charge you $300 and up to listen to them run at the mouth.

This is why the verse about false prophets comes to mind, and this is also why I strongly urge caution whenever you meet someone trying to sell you something that is not supposed to have a price tag in the first place. Salvation is free, and even if you’re not a Roman Catholic or a Presbyterian, both of these church denominations can offer you the same comforts and the same verses for none of the cost of Joel Osteen. My own opinion of the Bible and its validity completely aside here, think about it like this: an average preacher of the Roman Catholic Church does not have Joel Osteen’s private jet or McMansion. And yeah, Osteen has both of the above. No recognized church – Church of England, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Eastern Orthodox, just for example – has their preachers flying in private jets. Tell me, exactly, why you’d pay money for Joel Osteen, and I’ll be glad to show you how you got duped.

You may remember Miss Cleo, the tarot psychic of late-night 90s commercial fame. Know where she is now? In jail for fraud. Whatever your opinion on validity of psychics and tarot cards aside, again: her services at $5/min could be well acquired either on your own with a $15 tarot deck that you can teach yourself to read, or from a anyone else with a tarot deck for $10 a pop. No need for an exorbitant phone bill for someone with a fake accent to guesswork at your life. You may question that too, but I’m sure you can understand from this essay so far: take caution when someone offers you a price tag for something that has no business having a price tag that high in the first place, if at all..

Caveat Emptor, and consequently, Caveat Venditor (let the seller beware, Latin).


Wow. It propagated. (On relationships – again – and why I won’t be in one)

Very interesting thing in my stats today: my old post on why I refuse to get into a relationship has been propagating. Long story short, Michael Baisden had dropped an excellent bit of food for thought on the topic, I sounded off…and apparently, y’all really like it. :)

Thanks for reading, first of all.

Now, in case you’re wondering, to a major extent, all of that still holds true.

I’m still busy. I changed jobs since I wrote that post, and my new job is giving me more and more tasks and responsibilities. Business is thriving. I’ve finally gotten one of the photo gigs on my photographic bucket list. I still don’t have the time to sleep properly or think straight, and trust me, I’m well aware of what that means for my health, but the hustle waits for no one.

And the same consideration, this leaves me in the exact same spot: where, exactly, does dating fit in? Even if I wanted to get into a relationship, I know exactly why I will not.

First of all, I’m hardly the marriage type. I’ve been married. It took me that experience to drive home that I am not the family type. I’m too much of an adventurer at heart to be tied down to any one place or person.

Second: my life, and all I do in it, will always take first priority. If there’s a man who’s expecting to become top priority in my life, he will be cruelly disappointed. Unless, of course, his life is as hectic and multifaceted as my own, because two busy people tend to always find a way to jive (in my experience). I’m a workaholic with a deep love of travel, music, and all that goes with it. Likely, the only man whom I’d date is someone within the music circle, except that I have this little bad habit known as integrity, which takes precedence over anything I might want, think about, consider, etc. In other words: business comes first, always, and forever.

Third: I refuse to compromise on my standards or on who I am. This is non-negotiable. Please spare me the whole “all relationships require compromise” schpeel - I’m well aware of that. But I also firmly believe that if I have to, in any way, change who I am and what my standards are just to have a relationship, it’s not a relationship worth having. I keep a high standard for people around me and for myself because I expect to be treated a certain way and expect to treat people likewise. I should not have to settle for less than what I feel that I deserve just because of a relationship, a hookup, etc. I know my worth and don’t offer discounts.

Four: I’m childfree. You’d be amazed at how quickly the words “I don’t like small children” make people scatter, or worse, pull out the bingo routine. (CF folks, you know what I mean).

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: love makes fools of people well before it’ll ever give them their dues. After my divorce, after a few attempts at dating, and the sheer great luck of having a couple of F.W.B.s with their brains straight over the past 7 years, I have come to view any sort of a romantic entanglement as just another form of a business arrangement. Would you hire a substandard employee? Of course not. I’d rather the men in my life have a life of their own, and be as okay with the convoluted busy craziness of mine as I am and expect to be with theirs. Because let’s face it: the hustle waits for no one. I don’t expect to put it on pause, and I certainly don’t expect someone else to put theirs on pause for my sake. But if the hustle overlaps and it works well when it does – then we have something that can work.

But right now, I’d rather my life and my work take top priority in my book. There’s still a long work in progress to finish. Until I feel that that’s done, I will foot it alone. Not the first year.



On Letting Someone Go (In Fiction and In Life)

Harsh truths out of the way first: there’s no such thing as forever.

We grow apart from where we started out. Whether or not we change or just better understand why we feel the way we feel, we grow, we evolve, and time is the greatest catalyst of all. We can’t escape change. We can say that there’s no way that we right now, in our late twenties and early thirties (my peers, in this case) are the same as we were when we were just starting college, or graduating it, etc.

Same can be said for relationships and friendships, whether written or real-life.

I’ve always said that blood is water-soluble. It’s true in chemistry and in life. While you can’t choose the people whom you’re born to, you have every freedom in the world to choose your association with them. Just because someone is born as your blood family member doesn’t automatically qualify them as a good person to be around. Ask the survivors of narcissistic parents, ask abuse survivors whether or not they will ever associate with their family members, and you will find that their answer will be an immediate and unequivocal no way.

Why is that? Simple: just because someone is family doesn’t mean they 1. are a good person and 2. deserve a relationship.

There’s a pretty great meme that has gone around, a meme that says, “You are the CEO of your life. Promote, demote, and terminate accordingly” – paraphrased. It’s a sentiment I wholly agree with, having done all of the above to nearly every relationship I’ve had.

Yes, you can pick your family, if you let go of the idea that family = blood. And you will find that the family you pick can sometimes be a lot better than the family you were born into.

Consider this, ladies and gents: you are under no obligation to accept someone’s bad behavior if their behavior affects your own quality of life. You’re also under no obligation to allow someone to make you feel bad just because you happen to be related to them or their friend for multiple years. You, and yourself, are the first priority in your life and livelihood, regardless of whether or not there are other people in your immediate life. If you don’t take care of yourself, and if you don’t take the time to make yourself the best you are capable of being, then who else will?

This isn’t the time to say “my husband” or “my children” or “my wife”. No. YOU are the first and sole person responsible for your well-being at the end of the day. Marriages can end. Your children can move away from you and get busy in their own lives, since they are people in their own right. Where would that leave you?

And that is the primary reason why I, once again, say: be selective with who is allowed in your life. Be selective. Be picky. Be very, very, very picky. Yes, it can be a lonely road to follow, but what you will see, some years down the line, is that you will be surrounding yourself with far better quality individuals than before. Your life and well-being are both influenced by the people you surround yourself with, and if you surround yourself with people that lift you up as opposed to bring you down – well, the possibilities become endless.

But life and living stuff aside, let’s not forget that we, as writers, create our own relationships, especially with our characters. They are our children, of sorts, regardless of whether or not we have kids; these characters have been created by us, created down to the way they take their coffee in the morning, and there is nothing quite like the relationship that we, the authors, build with them.

When it comes to Arriella in particular, my main character in The Index Series,  I feel like a mixture of friend and parent to her, even though 1. she’s not technically real outside of my books, and 2. she’s a product of my own brainpan. But that’s exactly why I feel that way about her: she’s the product of my brain. I conceived her, her abilities, her personality, her hang-ups, and put it down on paper (or screen, if you must get technical), and I also conceived her relationship, especially to the brothers Shou and Kian. In determining how they started and how they ended up, well, you can just say my own brain is a mess, but in writing Books 1 through 4, I couldn’t help but become the “parent” figure to Arriella, in a sense. Her need to protect people clashed mightily with the fact that she had very strong and obvious feelings that she didn’t know what to do with.

But when it came to Shou – and those of you who hadn’t read Book 4, you may not like me very much for this – I realized that even though I killed him off pretty quickly, I couldn’t quite let him go. Not easily. Not yet.

Sure, technically he was dead. But his cause of death in and of itself was a plotline, but moreover, I wasn’t ready to let him go. Arriella certainly wasn’t, and she had gone to some extreme lengths to try and keep her grief at losing him under wraps, including but not limited to fighting a war. But she was too close to him, and I had invested too much time entirely in writing the brothers to let Shou go so easily. He was not just Kian’s twin, but he was Arriella’s closest friend and, for a while, lover. To just yank him out of the story as a victim was just too abrupt. So yes, there will be signs of Shou to follow, but I can’t tell you what’s where as of yet. I have to edit Book 5, but before I do that, I need to spend some time and actually finish Book 8. -_- Yeaaah. The boon of multitasking and writing.

But you can see the problem and the benefit in the fact that I wasn’t able to let the character of Shou go just yet. The benefit is the storyline, obviously, but the problem is one that, in real life, has drastic consequences: holding onto something- or someone – that has long outworn its welcome creates more problems than there have been in the first place. Yeah, I got my plotline all right, but the more I think about it, the more I think that it may have broken the canon of the world I’ve spent years writing into existence, even if everything looks to be fitting well together.

There is nothing wrong with drifting away from people, whether they’re fictional or not, but I warn you, as someone who spends quite a bit of time around people and lives in one of the most densely populated places in the world: when you start to feel like the person you’re around is really  not bringing anything to the table anymore, and if you see more drawbacks than benefits to being in the friendship/relationship, it may well be time to reconsider letting it continue. And blood is water-soluble; it isn’t thicker than water in the least, and, as I have said before time and again, just because you’re related to someone doesn’t mean you’re obligated to 1. like them and 2. associate with them. There’s no shame in saying no to something negative.

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An Open Letter to the Fitness & Dieting Industry

Dear weight-loss industry,


I say this after WeightWatchers had charged me for the month of May, after I’ve gone to the gym and did better with cardio than I’ve done in five years, and my scale is telling me that I’ve been steadily putting pounds on back to my Very Sick time period, even though my pants, which had fit me pretty tightly for about a year, began to get loose.

I say this to you after I see, with my own eyes, that my figure is leaner than it has been before my thyroid has gone to hell, and somehow the more important thing is my BMI, which will never show me as “healthy”, because I weigh more than what is ascribed at my height, even though if I go below 170 lbs, my ribs will stick out.

I say this after the countless Shop jobs I see in every single smiling gym advert. I’m a graphic designer and photographer; I know a Shop job when I see one, and I don’t buy shop-job ads, but I get to overhear girls ten years younger than me – sometimes fifteen years – in the locker room saying that they want to look just like the girl in the poster for the gym ad, even though they’re slimmer and more fit than I have been since my own teens.

I say this after I killed about six hundred dollars grand total on WeightWatchers telling me to do what I have been doing already anyway, six hundred dollars that could’ve paid off a bill or three, that could’ve gone into my savings, but instead paid for a subscription to a service that basically put me on the diet that I’ve fallen into already when I graduated college and began earning enough to buy real food.

Get. Bent.

Nowadays, I work out more for strength and stress relief than I do for actual weight loss. I’ve long accepted than I will likely never be below a size 12 again, even though I dipped to a size 10 before stress began to eat me alive. I work out for the endorphin and serotonin spikes, because by the time I get off the elliptical, I feel like I’m on top of the world, and the fact that I don’t feel winded sprinting up the subway stairs is a bonus. And of course, the strength training – I love pushing my already pretty formidable strength to the next level.

But I very deeply resent the fact that there’s basically an entire industry geared to telling people, men and women alike, that they’re somehow “not enough” unless they lose weight or look like a poster, when not even the people in the poster look like the poster, honestly. There’s a Walgreen’s across from my gym, and there’s a section of an aisle equal to the cold/flu section devoted to nothing but diet pills, which, let’s face it, do much more harm to a person than their manufacturers would care to admit. The entertainment industry has The Biggest Loser, which is based on people striving towards their best weight, but what the show will never tell you is that these people all gain back the weight they lose, because once they go back to their usual lives, they do not have anywhere near as much time to work out as they did while filming the show. Because that’s just not “glamorous”, amirite?

I was at the doctor’s on Thursday, and this was the first time in years that she didn’t have a word to say about my numbers. My thyroid is kaput, yes, but my glucose levels are perfect, my cholesterol is ideal, no vitamin deficiencies – first time in years. And yet, because my scale quotes a number that’s not someone’s idea of perfect, hello good morning, here come the judgey ads, posters, diet pills, and folks at my gym who, bless ‘em, are trying to recruit me to get a personal trainer. Which I’ll do anyway, but not to lose weight – for strength and endurance instead.

I think I’d rather, at this point in time, tell the weight-loss industry to screw off and do my own thing. Work out twice, three times a week and break my records for weights or reps, go on long walks, eat what I please in moderation and when I’m hungry only, and not pay a program to tell me that I’m eating too much in points. Whatever. Screw points. I don’t particularly like sweets, but I shouldn’t be guilted into ignoring them on the occasion I feel like having an apple tart a la mode. I don’t like heavy foods either, but I do like a burger once a month. And if I do lose some weight, then you know what,that’s cool. But if I don’t, then you know what, it’s not like I wasn’t awesome when I was bigger than what I am now. Awesomeness doesn’t depend on pounds or clothing sizes.

And certainly it doesn’t depend on a program telling me something.



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.