Friday, February 27, 2015

What we can all learn from The Dress

I was in my bedroom last night, minding my own business, when my husband walked in with something he seemed desperate to show me. He pulled out a picture on his phone of a dress, an ugly two-toned, lace-detailed dress which was covered by what looked like a pleather mini jacket. He said, "What color is this?" and at first, I didn't know what he meant. This dress was so unmistakably blue and black to me that his question seemed like a trick. Maybe you could call the blue "indigo" if you wanted to get specific about it, but I just didn't know what he was getting at.

I answered him. "Blue and black. Blue with black lace."
"Oh my god," he said. "I thought it was just a joke."
"What? Why, what do you see?" I said.
"White and gold. And 75% of the Internet agrees with me."

By now, you've all seen this dress. Unless you have been asleep or on some really long international flight, this image has come across your eyeballs at some point. You have formed really strong opinions about it, polled all of your friends, and now you are questioning everything you thought you knew about color.

For those who don't know (i.e. no one), this picture was posted to Tumblr, and it quickly spread across the Internet as people began arguing about what colors they were seeing. Most were seeing white and gold. A smaller minority saw blue and black. It escalated very quickly. Here are the survey results from Buzzfeed:

The numbers were stacked against me, BUT HOW?!

When Daniel told me that he saw this dress as gold and white, I was so taken aback. Gold and white? Where? What? You mean that the background is white, right? No, but like the reflection of the light is gold, but it's actually black, right? No. Wait. WAIT. WHAT!

While I wouldn't necessarily call myself stoic, I will say that I'm not always the easiest person to impress. However, once I saw this image, I was positively dazzled. For me, even from the very start, it was never about finding out what color the actual dress was, but rather, understanding why this phenomenon was occurring in the first place (WHICH BY THE WAY, WE STILL DON'T REALLY KNOW). 

But what quickly became even more fascinating to me was how this all played out socially. Buzzfeed quickly released a hilarious post about friendships being ruined by The Dress. People started organizing teams (#WhiteAndGold #BlackAndBlue), busting out their photoshop skills, creating memes. I posted about it on my personal Facebook account and I was so blown away by the variety of responses. There were those who believed it was a GIF (sorry folks, it was a JPG). There were those who posted four paragraph descriptions of how cones work in our eyes. There were others still who began posting vehemently about the actual retail dress (which was indeed unmistakably blue). Regardless of whatever new information emerged, people were indignant about the superiority of their color opinion.

For the most part, the larger conversation essentially looked like this: "You are crazy, it's white and gold." "YOU are crazy, it's blue and black."

It seemed that each side became so singularly focused on invalidating the other side's experience that we neglected the fact that something AMAZING was happening. The whole phenomenon was a unique human event. Just ask color vision researcher Dr. Jay Nietz who, according to his interview in Vice, still has no explanation for it. He hilariously remarked, "I thought I was going to cure blindness, but now I guess I'll do this." 

Yet as the Internet so often does, we turned it into a polarizing argument of who was actually "right," and this is where things went from being super fun to being kind of a bummer. Because the truth is, no one is right. And also everyone is right. We each have had a different experience with this image, and maybe we should just celebrate that. On some level, it's actually kind of beautiful. 

And I don't know, I probably shouldn't take this metaphor too far, but meh, what the hell? I, for one, think the dress served to teach us a lesson that we so often neglect to remember: we are people who see the world differently. It's not just this dumb dress. Every aspect of our worldview has been colored with our own experiences. And perhaps instead of admonishing each other for seeing the world a different way, we should seek to understand each other better. We should ask questions, tune into our differences, and get excited about the fact that they exist. Without foregoing our beliefs, we can still keep ourselves from crapping on everyone else's.

At one point last night, suddenly and without warning, I saw The Dress as gold and white. From what I understand, this happened to a lot of people. For me, it was kind of a nauseating feeling to suddenly see this image so differently, but it was also really thrilling. It went back to black and blue almost immediately, but I'll never forget what it was like to actually see what my friends were seeing.

Soooo...let's see the dress from both sides, folks. The metaphorical dress, that is. See whatever you want to see in that dumb picture.

Yours in Black and Blue,

Friday, February 20, 2015

How To Write Well And Write Often (Part 1)

Writing has always been my go-to activity. For instance, when my husband first laid eyes on me, I was sitting in a corner, feverishly scribbling notes into a journal. We were both fifteen-years-old, surrounded by socializing teenagers, and yet there I sat, writing like my life depended on it.

While this image slightly embarrasses me, for the record, not much has changed. I write every single day. I just do. It would feel weird not to. Also, it's my profession, so there's that.

And in writing as often as I do, I've discovered some techniques along the way that have really helped my process. These are ideas that I've either come across from other writers or just by pure accident in my own experimentation. Hopefully you will find value in them, and if you don't, uh, I guess just keep that noise to yourself.

Write morning pages.

This concept comes from The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, and it's been somewhat of a game changer for me this year. Morning pages are comprised of three HANDWRITTEN pages of stream-of-consciousness writing first thing in the morning. And by stream-of-consciousness, I mean that these pages should look like the ramblings of a crazy person. By spewing thoughts all over three pages, it's far simpler to battle those voices in your head that say, "Are you kidding me? Do you really think you're going to write something worthwhile today? Pssh." Writing my morning pages gets my juices flowing, and believe it or not, some of my favorite ideas have come from this process. Whatever comes to mind, write it down, and make a daily habit of it.

Recognize your creativity spikes.

If you put a pen in my hand and tell me to write something at six o'clock in the morning, I might be able to scrawl my own name, but that's about it. By 9 AM, I've got some proper nouns flowing, and by 3 PM, I've got some verbs, but my brain really kicks into gear between 4:30 PM and 1 AM. I'll be the first to admit that this isn't the most practical time to be creative, and believe me, I've tried to switch up my schedule, but it seems this is just how my brain works. Still, because I can recognize this daily spike in my creativity levels, I try to get as much out of this time as I can. I get tedious things like emails and phone calls out of the way in the morning so that come 4:30, I'm ready to bust it, writing style. Think about when you feel most inspired in your day (maybe you're one of those early morning freaks). Are you really using that time to your advantage?

Write shitty first drafts.

I've already written about this idea in a previous post, and I probably will do so about a hundred times after this because it's seriously that important. "Shitty first drafts" comes from the book Bird By Bird by Anne Lammott, which as far as I'm concerned is the best book on writing that exists. Basically, once you've written your morning pages and you've picked a stellar time in your day to work, Lammott argues that you should simply start your project and let it be awful. Use words that aren't glamorous, let your characters say stupid things, make a whole mess of everything. Then go back and pick out the one or two things that you actually like. I think bloggers especially have lost the art of drafting, and it's so very important. Write like crazy, then refine.

Write about your lunch.

Also from Bird By Bird. Folks, when you are struggling for material, write about lunch. Seriously. In particular, write about the lunch that was served in your school cafeteria as a kid. Trust me. Lunch is a goldmine for ideas, and it never gets old no matter how many times you write about it. Never.

Read your writing out loud.

Every post you've read on this blog, I've read out loud to myself. If that sounds excessive, I don't really care. Even if I'm sitting in a coffee shop writing, I'll quietly mutter my words under my breath like a madwoman because that's how important I think this practice is. Reading your writing aloud is the best way to make sure everything sounds like an actual human wrote it. It forces you to think about the way you would communicate your message to a friend, and I'm a firm believer in making friends of your readers. Rule of thumb: If you feel like a robot while reading your stuff out loud, it's time to add some of your own flavor.

Remember that humor is in the details.

Remember how me and Anne Lammott told you to write about lunch? Really think about your childhood cafeteria. Who served your food? What shape was your pizza? Where did you sit? Was there anything that made your lunchroom special? These details are everything. They take a sentence from, "I asked for some milk," to "I sheepishly asked Roberta, the head lunch lady and the star of all of my nightmares, for some milk." Details are glitter. They make your writing sparkle and create a more authentic picture for your readers.

(By the by, in my school cafeteria our milk came in bags. Plastic, beanbag shaped bags that we would have to spear with a pointed straw. They nearly always exploded, and thinking about them still fills me with an inexplicable rage.)

Write for yourself.

If you are a blogger, you probably spend a lot of time thinking about who your audience is and what they might like to read. That's fine, but it's also sort of limiting. My belief is this: if you build it, they will come. Your readers want you, the real you, not some reduced-fat version of you. It can be tempting while writing to think, "Oh GOD, what if my mom reads this?" or "Yikes, this is making me sound like a terrible person." If a thought like that creeps into your mind, shut it down. You can edit out all of your weirdness later, but while you're writing, write only what is true. 

Frickin' LIVE.

You can't write if you don't experience the world around you. Plain and simple. Go live, girl.

Frickin' READ.

You can't write if you don't read. Plain and simple. Go read, girl.

Lookout for the second part of this series next week, but in the meantime...

What is your best piece of writing advice?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

An it's-frickin-cold rant & The Brooklyn Flea

I took this photo the other day while shivering on a mound of ice and praying for a supernova to warm my frostbitten body. I wish it captured the total frigidity in which it was taken, but you'll have to trust me on this one: it's cold here, y'all. When I saw this neon sign in Bed-Stuy over the weekend, I just had to laugh. This sandwich shop, cruelly named as it is, serves as a harsh reminder that summer is not in fact endless. In fact, I half believe I will never see it again. It may very well be dead.

Anyway, I hope you'll excuse my it's-frickin-cold rant. I have one about three times a day, as do most New Yorkers in the month of February. New York winters have this way of marring your outlook, forcing you to look at the world through a lens that makes everything seem evil. I heard all kinds of similarly-themed rants about the cold over the last week ranging from "Whygodwhy?!" to "When will death come?" It's normal. Don't worry about us. We'll all be fine.

Still, in the midst of the coldest weekend of the season, I still managed to discover some wonderful things. For one, my sister came into town and we ate our way through all of Brooklyn's best comfort foods. She handled the cold like a pro, by the way. My hubs and I also braved the elements together this weekend all in the name of love! You know, since it was Valentine's Day and all. I wore two pairs of leggings, three pairs of socks, a puffy coat over an oversized sweater over a regular-sized sweater over a dress over a nightgown over a tank top. And still, I was freezing. 

But regardless, to celebrate our love, we pretended it wasn't two degrees outside and ending up doing one of my favorite things...ever. We went to the Brooklyn Flea.

I've certainly mentioned this on the blog before, but it bears repeating: I LOVE rummaging through vintage stuff. I don't know why. I don't know where this desire comes from, but it is very real. I love old clothes, old dishes, old toys, old postcards, old oil paintings of semi-naked ladies, old light fixtures, old EVERYTHING. I love the smells, the textures, the history, the one-of-a-kindness of it all. It's just everything I love.

And guess what the Brooklyn Flea is full of? OLD STUFF. It's a weekly market featuring a mix of vintage finds and some really incredible (but way out of my price range) handmade items from some talented local artisans. The Flea is held in different places in Brooklyn, but for the winter, it's been held at this huge warehouse space in Crown Heights. This was my first time at this particular location, and I was in heaven. 

Usually the flea involves a lot of dreaming and less actual shopping, but this time was different. As Daniel and I wandered around the place entranced by the vastness of it all, we both found ourselves drawn to a piece of furniture. 

Meet Blanche. That's what I named this gorgeous vanity that we stumbled upon. I know you can't tell much from this picture, but she's STUNNING. She's completely adorned in mirrors, she's octagon-shaped, she's super crazy old, and I fell in love with her the moment I saw her. Daniel did too, not because he is into octagonal vanities, but more so because he knew it was exactly the kind of piece that I have been looking for.

He wanted to buy it for me as an early birthday gift, but I had some seriously major buyer's guilt. I'm curious to know if I'm the only person who has this self-proclaimed affliction. Random purchases do not exhilarate me, but rather, they fill me with a sort of inexplicable dread. Is that just me?

We talked it over and decided to take a lap around the flea. If Blanche was still there when we were done, that would be the sign that she was supposed to be a part of our home. We raced around the warehouse, remarking on items here and there while still thinking about our beloved vanity. When we returned, there stood Blanche, unmoved and untouched. It was fate.

A beautiful woman with green hair sold her to us, remarking, "I can't believe no one else has bought this today." Me neither, my green-haired friend. Me neither.*

And now this is what Blanche looks like in our home:

By the way, I realized immediately that it is crazy hard to take a picture of something covered in mirrors. A selfie ended up being the best way to go (pardon my VANITY...GET IT?!):

So anyway, guys, I'm as cold as the day is long, but I've got a gorgeous vanity named Blanche and a wonderful man by my side, so I guess it all evens out.

How was your Valentine's Day weekend?

*It has come to my attention that the beautiful girl with the green hair was actually Courtney Wagner from A&E's Storage Wars. I feel like a fool for not realizing it at the time, but ah! I love this thing even more!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

My Top 5 Strengths (according to StrengthsFinder)

Uh oh, comes an overshare (haha jk this entire blog is just one giant overshare):

I'm the type of person who is far more prone to recognize my weaknesses than I am to recognize my strengths.

I know, bummer, right? That's not to say that I don't see myself as being gifted in certain areas, but at the end of the day, I tend to focus a lot more in my life on the areas where I need to grow. My thought process often looks a lot like this:

I need to develop a better routine.
I need to get better at answering emails.
I need to keep an editorial calendar figure out what an editorial calendar is.
I need to be more brave.
I need to eat better and exercise more.
I need to be less negative.
I need to be the kind of person who unloads the dishwasher and answers all of my text messages and eats chia seeds and goes to bed before midnight.

This thought cycle is not a healthy practice. Believe me, I know.

And since I have this propensity for dwelling on areas where I need to improve, I sometimes can be a bit unfocused on my actual strengths, even when they are spelled out for me.

Such was the case when I saw the results of my StrengthsFinder test. By the way, if you're unsure of what StrengthsFinder is, it's essentially exactly what it sounds like. Through a series of about zillion questions, this test determines your top five strengths from a list of 34 (34! Guys, this is a really comprehensive test!). My husband took it a few months back, and he gained so many valuable insights from it that have really helped shape the way he approaches his professional life. He's been encouraging me to take it for the last few weeks, and I finally did yesterday. For the record, you honestly don't have to do a lot of arm-twisting to get me to take a personality test. I've done 'em all -- Meyers Briggs, The Big Five, that one where you figure out what your patronus is. I'm all about getting insight into what the hell is going on with my brain.

The process of actually taking the StrengthsFinder test was quite enlightening. To keep someone like me from obsessing over each question, they only give you 20 seconds to choose your answer. That means, you just have to go with your instincts. Here's an example of how the questions were structured:

For the record, I was too distracted to actually take a screen cap, so this one comes from Huey at Huey's Stuff (he also has some good insights into his experience with StrengthsFinder). Also, if it matters, I answered this question differently. I'm more committed to growth.
As I moved through the test, I found myself feeling (probably needlessly) guilty for some of my answers. There were questions that I answered which looked like this:

I have several friends versus I choose my friends carefully.

My ego is not so inflated to require praise or acclaim versus I require praise and acclaim.

But I was determined to keep it real, and of course, I recommend that for anyone taking this test. It's tempting to pick what you think should be the "right" answer, but of course, the truth is the right answer. 

When I reached the end of the test, I was somewhat spent. And results popped up. You ready, friends? I'll lay em out all nice and huge for you:


It was interesting looking at this list for a number of reasons. For one, I couldn't help but notice that "Hotness" and "Moxy" were not among my top strengths (these aren't actually listed among the 34 strengths, but how great would it be if they were?). Second, it was in this moment that I truly realized how much I tend to undermine my abilities. Instead of saying that I have empathy, I often say that I'm too sensitive. Instead of saying that I have great ideas, I often say that my brain is a giant, cluttered mess.

In fact, I would argue that the things that we see as weaknesses in ourselves are actually unfocused strengths. On one hand, we like to feel like we have all the potential in the world, but we often end up frustrated that we don't have certain qualities that we see in others. For me, it was actually nice to narrow it down to these five items because instead of reaching for traits outside of my wheelhouse, I was able to say, okay, this is what I've got to work with. How can I make the best of it?

And I've got to say, I kind of seriously love my strengths. I love that I'm a big, multi-idea person. I love that I can sense when people are hurting. I love that I can anticipate outcomes and develop solutions and adapt when all hell breaks loose. These are pretty kick-ass qualities, and I've got them. 

And I'm sure you've got some pretty great ones too, so if you're wondering how best to access them, perhaps StrengthsFinder would be good for you too. It provides tons of information about how best to hone your skills.

A warning, though, friends: you have to pay for it. I know...significant bummer. Still, of all of the personality tests I've taken, this is the one where I truly understand charging a pretty penny. It's deeply insightful and really catered to your individual responses. For instance, my husband and I ended up with the same 5th strength: Adaptability, but his report on "Adaptability" looked WAY different than mine did. 

So if you're into it: go get it. It costs about $14 on Amazon to get the Kindle version (oh yeah, this test also comes with a really insightful book). Let me know if you take it because I want to hear your results! 

But even if you don't take this particular test, I hope you are able to identify a few key areas in life in which you are particularly gifted. Remember that you've got strengths out the wazoo, ones that you may not even be aware of. Ask your friends and loved ones to tell you what they are, and then go out and do amazing things with them. Amen. 

What are your top strengths?

Oh, also, PS, this post wasn't sponsored. Wish it was. That would have been cool. But no, I just like this test.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Slightly Irreverent Valentine's Day Cards {Free Printables}

Something you should know about me: my love language is Words of Affirmation. I'm a sucker for handwritten notes, out-of-the-blue I-love-yous, and impassioned declarations of friendship. I dish it, I take it. I'm all about letting people know that they are adored. 

Another thing you should probably know about me is that I am chronically twelve-years-old. I love to make jokes about butts and, as my husband often says of me, I've never met a fart sound I did not like. This is the sad, yet wonderful truth about me. Take it or leave it.

That being said, I've decided to combine these two qualities -- my zest for affirmation and my love of irreverent humor -- by creating some affirming, yet not-so-cheesy Valentine's Day cards! If you are looking for just the right thing to say to someone you love, I'm pretty sure I've got you covered with at least one of these. 

A few things to note about these cards: 

-All of these cards were handwritten by me and then dressed up in Photoshop. Technically, you could tell the recipient that these are handwritten notes, and you wouldn't be lying, so that's cool.
-Below each image, you can click the link to get the printable version. They are sized to print as cards (not giant wall posters). 
-Feel free to save them to your phone and just text them instead. That's what I'll be doing on February 14th.
-Cards 1 & 2 can pretty much be given to any loved one. 
-Cards 3 & 4 are intended for someone with whom you are romantically involved. 
-Card 5 is for anyone, friend or lover, who you think has a nice butt.

Here you go!

Hope these cards help you share some sweet, sweet love this Valentine's Day! 

Speaking of sharing love, 
if you like this post, 
you're welcome to share it/tweet it/Pin it/whatever! 
That would be a very cool thing to do.

Friday, January 30, 2015

What it's like to ride the subway (a blog post written on the subway)

A while back, when I conducted a reader survey, many of you mentioned that you would like to see more posts about my experiences as a New Yorker. It's funny, while I love this city and I have been known to gush about it from time to time, I think that in my third year of living here, it's finally all started to feel much more normal to me, more commonplace. The commute, the array of characters, the towering buildings -- it all seems a little less like Disneyworld and a little more like...home.

And I suppose, because of this veil of normalcy that has sort of taken over my New York life, it's tempting to take this place for granted. In some ways, I guess I've forgotten that those whose daily lives are not filled with things like bodega cats, building supers, and Metrocards actually want to know what it's like to live here. I certainly did. That's why I moved here.

So all of that to say, thanks for letting me know that you want to hear more about New York because, honestly girl, I love talking about it. It helps me recapture the magic of what it is to live in this place.

So today, let's talk about something which has really lost some magic for me over time: the subway.

As I write this, I am on the B train. This is what I look like right now: 

I just felt a twinge of embarrassment taking that photo because I know my tendency to judge people who take selfies on the train. I'm now looking around to determine if anyone saw me to do that. The guy sitting across from me is throwing some shade, but whatever. He is eating a giant, smelly burrito, which is a cardinal sin of the Metro Transit Authority, so he has no room to judge. 

Right now, my train is sitting with the doors open at Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. The automated intercom voice just said "Stand clear of the closing doors," which was followed by a sort of ding-dong sound. This disembodied voice has become so much a part of my commute that I honestly never notice him anymore, but whenever I have visitors, they tend to make fun of it a lot. He sometimes says other things about giving your seat to the elderly or not using a crowded train as an opportunity to grope people. He's probably a really good guy, but I stopped hearing what he had to say after my first month here. 

I enjoy the B train in particular for a few reasons. Unlike most newer trains, the B has seats that are perpendicular to the others, so you can actually have a conversation with a friend without craning your neck. I also love being able to sit directly by a window, to lean my temple against it while I go over the Manhattan bridge. 

Going over the bridge is always, without fail, the best part of my subway ride. The feeling of coming out of that tunnel is similar to coming up for air after holding your breath under water. No matter what the weather is like (today it's a bit overcast), the view from the Manhattan bridge is, in a word, redeeming. It feels like a fresh start as the train ascends over the East River and you get to peer into Brooklyn office spaces and imagine what it must be like to work so close to the subway tracks. 

The view coming out of Brooklyn

And then you cross over into Manhattan and it suddenly feels like you are riding The Magic School Bus. You know that episode where everyone -- Ms. Frizzle, her students, and the bus all shrink down to microscopic proportions to explore the human body? It's like that. That's because New York is like this living, breathing creature in so many ways. You always hear descriptions like that in the movies, and though it seems like this trite metaphor, it really rings true when you live here. New York has a pulse. It's alive.

The view going into Manhattan

Right now, I'm almost at my stop. An older woman is sitting next to me. She's sitting a bit closer than I would ordinarily like, but today it's cold, and her closeness is weirdly comforting. This is one of those eerily quiet trains. Everyone is either sleeping or looking at their phones or allowing their eyes to wander towards the various ads overhead. My favorite ad right now is the one for Nanobraces. It doesn't include any pictures, but it does have a truly terrifying title: Did you know that crooked teeth can HOLD YOU BACK?!

I just got off at 34th street. Shuffling around the terminal, I can't help but notice how quiet everyone is today. Standing in line on the escalator, pushing through the gate, walking up the stairs -- no one is making a sound, except for the one guy who just asked me if I could swipe my Metrocard to let him through. I pretended like I didn't hear him. Are you judging me?


Anyway, I wrote all of that in a Note on my phone, and now I'm in a coffee shop putting this whole rambling mess together. Hopefully it gave you an insight into what it's like to be a jaded New Yorker riding the subway. And actually, I wasn't that jaded, was I? I suppose really digesting your surroundings and noticing the little things helps you to appreciate them. Who knew?

Are you a subway rider?
If not, how do you primarily travel around the place you live?


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