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best essays of 2007So you know the Best American Essays book series that comes out each year? And how there’s a list of the top 100 essays published that year near the back of the book? I’m on that list! It’s for the first creative nonfiction piece I published, which appeared in The Gettysburg Review.

The weird thing is that no one bothered to tell me I was on the list, right there with people like Jamaica Kincaid, Michael Cunningham, David Sedaris, and Sherman Alexie. I only found out because my high school friend’s mom noticed it and told her and then she told me last night.

I didn’t believe her, I said, “Sorry, but I think they would have let me know.” But, it just so happens that my dad gave me the Best American Essays of 2007 for Christmas, and the very book was sitting a few yards away from me. I opened it up and there I was. It was kind of like magic.

Anyway, it is kind of a big deal for me. Especially considering how doubtful I can be about the whole quitting-my-job-to-write-things decision, this makes me feel a little more legit. I mean, there are way more than 100 American creative nonfiction writers and there were way, way more than 100 essays published in America as year. I’ve got a chance!

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ripsAfter getting a few hours of writing done after work, Ben and I walked up the street and returned to our apartment with a few deli wraps and a bottle of wine.

We then spent the night watching mixed martial arts fights on TV, toasting to various things, and envisioning how the next few months of our lives are going to unfold. Now that we will both work from the home, how are things going to change?It was quickly decided (after two glasses of wine) that as far as our growing home office was concerned, Ripley would be named Chief Executive Officer. It was also quickly decided that Rips would look really, really cute in a tie.

I thought it would be a good idea to install a water cooler in the living room so that we could take breaks and talk about the latest episode of Dancing with the Stars. We both agreed that any emails we sent to each other would now be referred to as “office-wide memos.”  

Ben also suggested that we instate a company policy prohibiting interoffice relationships in order to promote professionalism, but Ripley and I quickly struck it down. After three glasses of wine, we decided that instead of “dress-down Fridays” we’d have “drunk Fridays” – you know, just to keep everyone comfortable and to keep company morale up.

The list of things that our office wouldn’t have was highly encouraging, though. No more commutes, no more bagged lunches. No more dress code, no more dour 15-minute birthday celebrations. More importantly, no more spreadsheets (or, at least, very few), no more working on projects I don’t choose, no more phone addict cube mate.

I know that the challenges ahead of me are hard, but at least they’ll be my challenges. And even though my new boss demands to be fed twice a day and makes me clean up her poop, at least she doesn’t have the ability to talk. Or use emoticons.

I’m feeling elated and terrified.

I like the idea of being responsible for my happiness, production, and income on a daily basis. I also like the idea that even if I fail, at least I will have tried and gotten it over with.

My (good, non-emoticon) boss seemed almost as happy as I did. I would say that I liked working with her as much as I hated my job. She’s going to tell my emoticon boss that I’m leaving so I dont’ have to.

I also somewhat brashly asked for a weeklong vacation before officially giving my two-week notice. It was granted. This will give me one paid week in which to get a jumpstart on writing and marketing my ass off.

Anyone’s company need a freelance corporate copywriter?

 * The new website is going to be another day or two as we work out tiny kinks. It’s pretty damn exciting, though.

* I spent the entire day writing biographies of famous boxers for another web content freelance job. It was surprisingly inspiring to write about a bunch of guys over the last 150 years or so who held a vocation that I would describe as the absolute opposite of having an office job.

I was especially inspired by the story of Jack Johnson, the son of two former slaves and the first African-American to win the World Heavyweight Title.  To read about his against-all-odds struggle against racism at the turn of the century was unbelievable – and I immediately Netflixed Ken Burn’s PBS documentary about him on Ben’s recommendation, Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson. I’ll tell you how it is.

And, since I like for everything to be about me, I’ll point out that in each and every one of the boxer bios I wrote today, there was this moment in each fighter’s career when they quit their job at the factory/farm/army base/post office and decided to take the plunge and be a professional boxer. Just like that. (I won’t mention that many of their lives ended in heartbreak and financial ruin.)

* My insomnia is getting worse and worse. And although it makes my mornings painful and takes away from my daytime production, I’m enjoying the surreal hours I spend in the dark on my computer, from about 3 AM to 6 AM, scheming and planning. It’s almost as if things are more possible in the middle of the night than in the light of day. It’s like I’ve replaced my literal nighttime dreams with my figurative career-aspiration dreams. I feel like some sort of freelance writer vampire in that regard – the person inside me who truly believes that I can start up and run my own business retreats to a coffin at sun-up, hissing at the light.

* In fourth grade, it was mandatory for everyone to take swimming lessons at the high school pool. I passed everything except for the diving part and, therefore, I failed gym class that quarter. To this day, it’s been absolutely impossible for me to dive into a body of water – something deep in my brain won’t let my body jump headfirst into something. And yes, even my ten-year-old self understood the blatantly obvious and lame metaphor about diving as it translated to my larger life.

* In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day
, I’d like to post a link to the speech Barak Obama gave yesterday in Atlanta.

Ever since I made a big decision about my job/life (to be disclosed in further detail in the coming terrifying weeks), my crippling insomnia has returned and made itself at home.

I have what I refer to in my head as “Type II Insomnia.” This means that I have absolutely no trouble falling asleep at all but that I wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning and that’s it. Sleep is over for the night. Tossing and turning is acceptable. Getting up and doing something is acceptable. Dozing or snoozing is not.

But here’s the thing: I kind of like it. It feels like… every night feels like the night before Christmas when I was a kid. My mind is simply too excited about things to sleep. The last time I had chronic insomnia was for the two years I was in graduate school – doing what I loved and constantly thinking about what I would do next. And now I have it again. It’s as if it pops back into my life whenever I’m actually thinking about possibilities and acting on them.

If you were really a fan of terrible metaphors, you could say that while I’ve been in this office job, I’ve slept well through the night, but what I didn’t realize that I’ve also been sleep-walking through my days.

And so I lie in bed and have these intense thoughts about all the awesome plans I have and how I will execute the beginnings of them the next day. I write stuff in my head and file it away, where I can access it surprisingly intact sentence by sentence the next day (including this blog post)(including these parentheses!). If I get bored, I hug up on Ben and tell him embarrassingly corny things – and he’s helplessly unconscious and unable to prevent me from doing it.

The bad part isn’t being up at night at all – it’s the part where I have to go to work in the morning and function. I’m doing pretty well so far, but if this continues for many more weeks, we might have a problem on our hands. I might spend all my energy planning stuff at night and be exhausted during the day. Already, after just a few night of sleeplessness, I’m falling asleep earlier and earlier (I didn’t make it to 10 p.m. last night) and waking up earlier and earlier (last night it was two in the morning).

I suppose I can get out my dusty bottle of Simply Sleep (insomniacs everywhere: this is my favorite product ever) and get things back on track. But the point is that, in some sort of strange backwards way, my insomnia is proving to me that I’ve made the right choice. My brain has been jolted awake and is poised at the starting line. Even if  I am scared and hesitant during the day, at night a calmer, more organized part of me is diligently and methodically preparing itself for what is to come.  

Again, as if there was indeed a force greater than just us humans, life tried to speak to me for the second time today. I applied for a freelance job today and heard back from the guy in literally under five minutes.

We met after work today at his offices and I’m hired. And here’s the force-greater-than-just-us-humans part: this one little project pays almost exactly to the dollar what my regular office job paycheck is.

It made me think, as I sat on the couch this evening and got to work on my new freelance assignment, what’s the difference between these two checks (other than the fact that one is for 80 hours of work and the other is for roughly 10 hours of work)?

The answer is that I truly dig it. I enjoy even the most boring of the creative non-fiction writing genres. I enjoy sitting on my couch with my lap top and cat and Ben typing away in the other room. I enjoy that with each new project I get to learn about a whole new subject and world. Oh, and I enjoy choosing which hours I work and whether or not to wear pants while I work.

And here’s the thing: even though I never ever, ever hear back from real full-time jobs that I apply to, I’ve gotten the last five out of five freelance gigs I’ve applied for. Again, capital-L Life is probably banging his head against his desk right now. (Life has his own desk, right?)

The tiny hitch lies in the fact that freelance work doesn’t come regularly. It’s risky. But I might be ready to take some risks after a year and a half of no surprises. Even if it means getting a second job as a clown or stripper or, if push comes to shove, the dreaded clown stripper.

I know this blog has gotten a little more journal-y than usual in the last few days, but this is all I can really think about. Tomorrow I promise I’ll write about something else. At least for one entry.

brett cooperThe International Fight League’s Grand Prix Finals went really, really well – I’ll go as far as saying that it was the best IFL event that I’ve attended so far. They gave out five individual championship belts – one for each weight class – with the biggest upset coming from the lightweight division, where underdog Ryan Shultz utterly pummeled the very talented undefeated pretty boy Chris Horodecki.

I scored a spot in the media section – the lone lady among a group of a couple of dozen tussled sports writers from various mixed martial arts sites and magazines. I was close enough to be able to hear the smack of the various kicks and punches, which I always appreciate, although also close enough that the cameraman was often standing right in front of me. I managed, though. Only one fight ended in a decision, which is good, and none of the fights were boring or unbalanced.

I especially enjoyed watching Matt Horwich, the strangely endearing Jesus-crazy middleweight, win the title by defeating Benji Raddich. I’ve been following Horowich since we attended a small show in Portland three years ago, and he improves so much with each fight that I can’t believe he’s the same kid, except that he still carries his Bible to the ring. He’s so weird and sincere that you just want to take him home and make him a sandwich or something.

Even with the five belts on the line, though, I was most intrigued by two of the preliminary bout fighters, Brett Cooper and Tim Kennedy. There’s something about seeing a rising star make his first big win that is more exciting to me than seeing a well-established fighter continuing to impress. Cooper (pictured above after winning, looking a bit shy and dazed) fought the dangerous and well-versed Rory Markham and got a TKO a minute into the second round – showing off a strong chin and a big heart. The IFL found him during their open tryouts, and everyone thought he was going to get killed by Markham in the ring (whether he knew it or not). It was great to watch him prove everyone wrong.

I was so impressed by Cooper that I’m planning an interview for later this week that, hopefully, Ben will pick up for the IFL website. I’ll let you know how that goes.

After the fights most everyone hung out at Mohegan Sun, the casino where the fights took place. Ben and I don’t do well with the crowds and smoking and loud clubs, though, so we headed back to the hotel for more laid-back drinks and snacks. As always, you can read Ben’s official weekend commentary here and his unofficial commentary here.

We headed back to Queens yesterday, where I finally got to spend some time with Ripley after her brush with death last week. She looks like a hobo cat because of all of her hair loss, but she’s healthy, energetic, and alert. And constantly hungry.

It’s been good to get back into my routine after almost two weeks away from home – as of today I’ll be back to regular blog updates and as of Wednesday I’ll be back in the office, returning to my regular combination of depressed and determined. Watch out world!

I’m writing from beautiful Mystic, Connecticut, where I’m accompanying Ben to the International Fight League’s Grand Prix. It’s a pretty wonderful glimpse into his life on the road – talking with the fighters in the hotel lobby, attending the weigh-in, staying up late writing up articles and getting up early to write articles. It’s a completely different life from my office job – and I can only imagine what it would be like to, oh, I don’t know, have a job I cared about.

The good news is that I scored another freelance job today and am now working on two big-ish projects during the day while Ben is down in the conference rooms doing TV interviews and radio commentary. If I score two or so more jobs in the coming weeks, I’ll even be able to break even on Ripley’s insane vet bills. God willing.

After a day of pecking away on our laptops, we headed to the weigh-in at Mohegan Sun, where the fights take place tomorrow night. It sounds pretty boring, but it’s pretty fun with Ben whispering color commentary to me about the fighters. A few of my favorite fighters, Chris Horodecki and Matt Horwich, are competing for belts, and I’m more than a little excited to see them in action tomorrow night. It’s always a bit sad to sit alone, but getting to see Ben ringside and typing furiously makes me proud enough not to care as much as I might.

My favorite part of the fights, though, is surprising males with my MMA knowledge. There’s nothing I relish more than dropping fighter names or submission names to people who think that I’m just another girlfriend of somebody who actually cares, dragged to the fights against my will. Sure, I might be a 5’4″ chick and just over 100 pounds, and, sure, I might be wearing a skirt and a shirt with kitties on it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know what a gogoplata is.

My second favorite part of accompanying Ben to the fights is working out alongside the fighters in the hotel’s fitness center. This morning, while I was doing my 30-30 (30 minutes of cardio, 30 minutes of lifting) many of the fighters were busy on the treadmills, covered in their plastic sweat suits, cutting weight as fast as they could.

Every once in a while, one would step off, strip down to nothing, and weigh themselves to see how close they were to making weight. Not only have I now seen more than one of the fighters’ junk, but getting to see the fighters train and hearing them talk really gives me a better idea of who they really are and who to root for tomorrow night. I’m certainly not a sports fan who only likes the best athletes, period – I like to pick my favorite fighters based on the whole package. Pun intended.

What I’m saying is that I’m less likely to be won over by the fact that a fighter is an Army ranger, for instance, than by the fact that while cutting weight he outlined the entire plot of Lord of the Rings to his very patient trainer. Matt Horwich is another great example – he’s not the best fighter ever, but his intense sincerity, baffling Christianity and strange smile make it impossible for me to want him to lose at anything.

For more in-depth fight coverage, with Ben’s hilarious insights and inside information, he always blogs about his on-the-job experiences at The Fighting Life.

I was hired for a nice freelance job by a new client this morning, which always, always feels good. I haven’t had work from new people in a couple of months, so even though this is just a web page content job, and even though the project is due the day after Christmas (!), I couldn’t be happier. It’s a new contact and a new future writing sample and a new little notch for my belt.  

Sure, I won’t be able to go crazy at the company holiday party this afternoon, as everyone was probably hoping, but it will be one more nice check to deposit into my Escape from New York savings account.

Speaking of freelancing, it’s now been almost exactly a year since I started looking for writing jobs outside of my crappy office job. Including this new project, which I’m fitting in right before the year-end bell, I’ll have completed 29 separate writing assignments for a profit of just over half of what I make annually as a company drone (before taxes). And every single penny of my freelance money has been nestled safely away. I think that translates to my being half-way to my goal of getting out of this skyscraper and into a pickup truck.

This is all so hard 99% percent of the time, and Ben and I have been so stressed and fatigued and a little hopeless lately, but moments like these are enough to keep me moving forward.

There should be a special word for the feeling one feels upon getting a “nice rejection.” It’s kind of like a combination of the back-handed compliment (I love that skirt – I barely notice your hammish thighs!) and the it’s-not-you-it’s-me breakup (I want to focus on my career. In fact, I want to focus on anything that isn’t your hammish thighs.). It’s like being on the waiting list when I was looking at colleges (We’d love for you to join us, if a certain number of people we’d love to join us more than you decide to go to better universities).

I say this, of course, because I got a kind rejection in the mail yesterday – this time from Meridian, a mid-level lit magazine. It’s hand-written and signed by the editor, which is good. However, it is a rejection, which is bad. It says, and I quote, “I regret the delayed response. I was trying hard to find a place for this in our magazine, but it hasn’t worked out. Please try us again. Best of luck.”

Granted, these always make you feel better than the dozens and dozens of blank photocopied mass-mailed business-card-sized rejections, which make me picture the magazine’s submissions readers reciting sentences from my piece out loud and laughing at how outrageously bad it is. However, can’t they think of a lamer excuse than, “I couldn’t find a place for it in the magazine”? How about on a series of blank pages? Why not just tell me that you think we’d make better friends and should take a break from one another?

It always makes my heart feel… something confusing: they almost wanted me. They almost did, but they didn’t. Le sigh.

I got it – it’s the same exact feeling when you get picked not exactly last for a team sport in gym class – let’s say basketball. Sure, it feels bad to stand there for so long while the girl with the glasses gets picked, followed by the girl with the skin thing, followed by the girl who wets herself. But then you hear your name right before the very last girl is picked and run to join your team, giving them high-fives one after another, thanking god that they built that wheelchair ramp to the gym so that Margaret could participate.