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Thursday, November 06, 2014

Why You Shouldn’t Save It for Later

But sometimes all those books come in handy!
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about hoarding.

No, I am not in any danger of having a house filled several feet deep with old newspapers, empty pizza boxes and cat poop. Or at least, I don’t think I’m in danger of that. I am guessing the man currently tunneling through an apartment piled to the ceiling in filth at one time didn’t think he would ever be living like that, and yet…there he is.

No, I am thinking about my own personal hoarding demon. Perhaps a more insidious form of crazy because it’s less obvious. I am thinking about the way I endlessly pin things on Pinterest for “later” that I never look at again—clothes, decorating ideas, DIY projects and recipes. I am thinking of the GB of emails and files I have saved to “read later” and for projects I never get around to. I look at the box of “too small” clothes in the spare closet that I might fit into again one day, and the box of “too big” clothes I may have to wear again one day.

Then there’s the “just in case” food storage rotting away in the cupboard, the flower pots I bought for an herb garden I haven’t started…yet…two years later. The cracked watercolors and warped paintbrushes I have lugged around since college through several moves, packing and unpacking but never using. Because one mysterious and magical day, I will have time again to paint and have a garden and do all of the cooking and DIY projects I imagine I could do…probably in the same imaginary world where I am a size 2 again.

Mostly I think about why I keep all of these things. I know the reasons I give my long-suffering husband, especially about the piles of cooking magazines and endless Tupperware collections. I tell myself I am being thrifty, not wasting or throwing away “perfectly good” ratty towels and squeaky shoes, and how I will need all of these things later. Probably tomorrow actually. But why am I really hanging on?

The cats enjoy when I hoard boxes.
I remember during our last move, I finally went through a bin of old college notes and papers I was saving for when I went to grad school. And I couldn’t just throw the entire bin away, I had to pour over old handwritten notes I didn’t even really understand anymore. I wasn’t throwing away college notes and papers, I was throwing away a dream, a dusty, deteriorating dream that sat in a closet too long.

The other day, I was trying to remember some Shakespeare minutiae during a random conversation. I can’t even remember why it was so important that I recall a bunch of factoids from an old college class, but it suddenly struck me how much I had forgotten about a subject I used to be very knowledgeable and passionate about. I finally had to admit that I wasn’t sure anymore.

“You know, you can’t hoard knowledge,” I said to my husband, feeling a little deflated. “If you don’t use it, you lose it.”

This realization is disheartening. A part of me wants to save as much as I can—ideas, things, plans—when they’re available, and even if I don’t use something for a decade, it should still be shiny and new and just as useful as the day I stored it away. But in real life, that doesn’t happen. Pant seams fray, that gaudy “gold” ring turns brassy, the colors fade on that poster you planned to frame eventually, and the last few drops of your favorite perfume sour while you wait for the special occasion to use them.

I don’t understand what fears of mine are being assuaged by holding on. But I am starting to understand that if you hang onto something that you aren’t using, you are wasting it. And by the time you finally get around to using it, there probably won’t be much left to work with anyway. If you don’t use it, you lose it, even if it’s still stowed safely in a drawer somewhere waiting for the perfect moment.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The Truth About Writing for Hire

I spent a few years working in the oil and gas business, and when people asked me what I did for a living, and I told them I was a landman, the reactions ranged from confusion to boredom. Or the always fun joke, “You mean, land-WOMAN?”

Now, when I tell people that I am a writer, inevitably the reaction is very positive. People get excited, ask questions, and tell me how lucky I am to be able to work from home. (And oh, they have a book they are going to write, and could I look at it?)

But the reality of the writer’s life, which first prompted me to change professions a few years ago, is that very rarely can the full-time writer support themselves writing just what they want to write. Friends are shocked when I tell them that article I wrote in blah magazine was not something I chose to write about. It was assigned to me, with a word count and often, specific editorial direction. And more often than not, isn’t what I would write if I had any say about it.

A few months ago I was assigned an article on getting back in shape after having a baby. I don’t have any children, so I decided to ask mothers who were friends of mine on social media to write about their experiences with post-baby fitness. The response was overwhelming, and I was struck by the unrealistic pressures many new mothers experience right after having a baby.

I then interviewed the owners of yoga studios and gyms around town and got some wonderful stories from them about their own struggles and realizations about post-partum fitness. Most of the stories focused on the mother’s need for emotional wholeness more than fitting back into their pre-pregnancy jeans in six weeks. And if anything, these women often resented the media pressure to “bounce back” like so many magazine celebrities immediately after giving birth.

I tell you all that to say this: I didn’t get to write about any of that. My editor wanted a 300-word article listing fitness centers around town that offered post-baby fitness classes. And that is what I gave her. And this story is the same story as so many other article assignments I’ve had over the years.

That is what writing for hire is like. All the stories I want to write remain mostly untold.

Years ago, when I got my first full-time job as a magazine editor, one of my jobs was to interview emerging artists for a short column. For most of the artists I interviewed, I had just 250 words to write about their art and career. I was still a newbie, so I would spend 30 minutes to an hour on the phone with every one of them collecting fascinating stories about why they became artists, what they love about their craft, career setbacks and often, many stories that were personal and that I knew were not meant for sharing.

I didn’t realize at the time how little of those interviews would actually make it into the final piece. Each month as I struggled to cut 750 words down to 250, I learned how to find the essential truth and wonder about every person’s story. It was a great but hard lesson. And I don’t think anyone I have ever interviewed will ever understand how painful it is for me, as the writer tasked with telling their story, to keep editing and cutting down the story far past what I wish I could share. Or worse, I don’t even get to share the story I want to tell at all.

This is the writer’s life. I spend most of day writing about things I don’t care about, or if I do care about them, I can’t write about them in the way I would like. And for this privilege, I am asked to charge less than what I am worth, wait months to be paid and sometimes not even get paid at all. Many times I don’t get any feedback: “Great piece.” “Nice work.” or even “That sucks, please try again.” And some days, like today, I find out something I wrote and am very proud of isn’t going to run at all because of an editorial goof.

So why do I write? Some days I don’t know. Maybe it is the naïve hope that one day, I will actually be able to support myself while writing what matter most to me. (And some days I wonder what it is that even matters most to me. What would I write about if I could write about anything?) For now, I take comfort in the little victories—the interview where I really connected with my subject, the chance to tell someone’s story that needs to be told, or the opportunity to eat good food and get paid to write about it.

Why do I write? I ask myself this question every morning.

I write to connect with people, to understand them, and have the privilege of sharing their stories. I write to connect with you, to understand you and to hopefully have the privilege of writing something meaningful that touches you.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

You Won’t Believe What This Blogger Did Next

It was then I realized I finally had hit rock bottom.

After years of ________________________ (favorite vice), I felt _________________________ (depressing adjective). I didn’t know what to do or where to go from here. I had lost _________________ (noun, person), my job as a _____________________ (noun, vocation) and even _______________ (noun, something else heartbreaking). I was overwhelmed with guilt over my ____________________ (noun, transgression) and what I had done to ________________ (noun, person). I knew something had to change.

Every morning I see multiple confessionals in my email and newsfeed—well-meaning blogs meant to inspire me, I suppose, by showing how other people have overcome their demons.

Initially, I found these posts interesting, though I’m not exactly sure why. Was it the shock value? Or the sad way we are drawn to the gory details of other people’s tragedies? Was it so I wouldn’t feel quite so bad about my own messes? Or was it simply an excuse to avoid my work for a few minutes?

But after I while, I became bored with reading about everyone’s drug habit/binge drinking/eating disorder/career crisis. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be gaining by reading these stories, but it was clear it wasn’t empathy anymore…it was impatience.

They all started sounding like the same self-indulgent story.

Maybe they are all the same story, if you just swap out a couple of details: an abusive father switches to an abusive boyfriend, a drug habit becomes a porn addiction. But my irritation over these stories piqued my curiosity. Why exactly do they bother me?

After all, I am a fan of confessional memoirs like Chelsea Handler’s Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea or even darker reads, such as Augusten Burroughs’ Running with Scissors. Maybe humor is part of it. But I also enjoy more serious memoirs like The Diving Bell and the Butterfly or my new personal favorite, Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter.

What makes these books better than the average blogosphere offering? Is it the author’s time commitment, the careful crafting and editing, or just plain talent?

I think it is something far simpler. Audience.

Is the writer writing for only themselves or are they writing to communicate with others? Is the writer even aware of their audience at all? When a blogger treats their posts as a personal journal entry, they tend to be far more egocentric. There is little or no awareness of an audience, and what might be of interest to them. It is just another generic self-involved entry in an already overfilled anthology of narcissism and egomania.

I don’t think it’s the confessional nature of the subject matter in and of itself that’s the problem. It’s the intention. As a reader, what am I supposed to do with it? Why should I care? Are you even aware I’m here?

Your story is yours alone, but it isn’t that unique. As the Ani Difranco lyric says, “Like the rest of the human race, you are one of a kind.”

We all have these stories. I won’t read your story just because it happened. Too much of our social media life is just about shouting our own story and trying to be heard rather than actually having a conversation. We aren’t sharing our lives in order to honestly connect.

Telling my story for me is easy. Telling my story in a way that makes you see your own story differently is a completely different matter. That’s where the magic is.

“Writing is an extreme privilege, but it’s also a gift. It’s a gift to yourself and it’s a gift of giving a story to someone.” – Amy Tan

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Runner's Corner: Identity Crisis - How Do I Know I Am Still a Runner?

"I am taking a break from marathoning," I told my husband a little over a month ago. 

"Really?" he said, incredulous. "Are you sure?"

"Oh yeah. I think I need a break. I'm just going to work on my short runs, run a few 5Ks and get my groove back again," I said.

You see, for several months, I have been a mentor with Team in Training. It was a wonderful experience, especially when you see new runners realize they can run a marathon, and you witness the sense of accomplishment that comes when they cross that finish line. But, if you have been following my running posts at all, you know I have an on-again, off-again relationship with running.

A few weeks ago, over enchiladas at Joe T's, I met a lady from Louisiana. After bonding over all of the usual why-we-love-NOLA things, somehow we got on the topic of running.

"Are you a runner?" she asked. 

Now, looking at her, I assumed she was a runner because she has far more of the stereotypical runner's body than I do. In fact, my body doesn't resemble a runner's body at all. It's just that when you see my body running, you have to admit that I am in fact running, and this is my body. 

I guessed she was a runner, and so I was ashamed to admit that at that moment, I hadn't run in almost two months. I paused, then started to say no.

"Yes. Yes she is," my husband interrupted. "She just ran a half marathon in November."

"Oh, yes you definitely are a runner!" she agreed. "I can't run a mile to save my life."

But I wasn't so sure any more. Once the TNT season ended, so did my running motivation. If I was going to keep running, I needed a goal.

When I told my husband I signed up for El Scorcho again, a 25/50K midnight race that happens every July in the hottest part of Fort Worth summer, he just shook his head. Soon, I convinced my uncle--who ran the 180-mile Grand Teton Relay with me last summer--to sign up to run the Big Sur Half Marathon in Monterey Bay this November.

And today I started the Bad to the Bone Virtual 50K that an acquaintance of mine created as a fundraiser for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Everyone who runs 31.1 miles in the month of May gets a medal and t-shirt with this awesome design:

You can still sign up through May 3 here:  

A couple of days ago, an envelope arrived containing my Big Sur Half Marathon training shirt. I excitedly opened the package and held the shirt up for my husband to see.

"Not running any more half marathons?" he asked. "I better not hear you tell anyone you aren't a runner."

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Noteworthy Nosh: Grilled Pork Vermicelli @ Noodles at Boba Tea House

For this week’s nosh, we head to north Fort Worth outside Loop 820. Noodles at Boba Tea House, a Vietnamese fusion eatery at the intersection of Basswood Blvd. and Beach St., is a frequent haunt of mine. In fact, I have been known to visit once a week for lunch when I have an insatiable craving for pho or bun. And I never fail to find a packed dining room during lunch hours.

In addition to the namesake boba “bubble” tea, the restaurant offers several classic Vietnamese dishes, including pho, bun and spring rolls, as well as decent sushi selection. I have yet to try the sushi, but the chicken pho and classic spring rolls with peanut sauce are always a good choice.

However, their best dish in my opinion, and one I have had more than a dozen times, is the bun thit nuong, or Vietnamese grilled pork with vermicelli. Thin slices of tender marinated pork are served warm over chilled vermicelli rice noodles with a sprinkling of crushed peanuts. Fresh mint leaves, bean sprouts, matchstick cucumber, shredded carrots and lettuce, as well as a savory and delicious fish sauce, accompany the dish.

Mint, sprouts and sauce are added at the user’s discretion, but I never fail to add them all. The combination of hot and cold, the crunch of the fresh vegetables with silky noodles, the pop of mint, and the tender and garlicky chunks of pork make this dish unforgettable.

For over-the-top deliciousness, add the BTH egg roll to your bowl. I always let the egg rolls sit long enough to soak up the goodness at the bottom of the bowl before eating and save one eggroll for my last bite.

Noodles at Boba House may be a little out of the way for some, but worth a visit if you happen to find yourself on the north side of town. They offer classic dishes and consistently good quality. And if you’re not a boba tea fan, like me, don’t pass up their classic Jasmine tea served with a small pitcher of simple syrup.

Noodles at Boba Tea House (, 7355 N Beach St., Sun-Thurs 10:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., Fri-Sat 10:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Do you have a favorite pho or bun place in the DFW area? Please feel free to share.