New Year, Same Me

When I brought this website back to life last year, I thought, “This is the year I write.”

I had grand plans of a monthly (if not bi-monthly!) posting schedule. I was going to talk about my oh so thrilling life in D.C. and try to frame it in a way so that someone other than my mom would care about reading it. I was going to finally find and take the time to write for myself, dammit, because I deserved to invest that time in myself!

The last blog I posted is from uh…March 2018. 

Somewhere along the way, I got so focused on living my life, that I forgot to write about it. And for months, I’d take embarrassed peeks at this website, telling myself that this weekend would be the weekend that I’d finally start to write again. So I guess you could say despite my best intentions, it was a new year, but same me.

But here’s the thing – I was writing. I was writing at my day-job as a social media manager, communications manager, and assistant editor (yes, I performed ALL THREE JOBS in one place of employment) and I was writing multiple freelance articles a month. I was writing letters to friends, letters mailed across the country or across the world, letters that I’ve kept and never sent. I was writing an absurdly stupid amount of Instagram captions about all the food I was eating.

And most importantly, I was writing cover letter upon cover letter. I was editing minuscule details on my resume as much as possible within severely-adjusted margins that squeezed all of my qualifications onto one page. I was writing emails explaining exactly why I was perfect for the job, thanks so much for the phone interview, please let me know if I can provide you with any more information to help you with your decision.

Searching for a job while working full-time AND working two freelance gigs on the side is exhausting, to say the least. And amidst all that writing, I was also balancing a somewhat aggressive social life, exploring new hobbies, and hiking plenty of mountains. It’s honestly a miracle that in July, I did get a new job – one that offers me new and more extensive opportunities to learn and grow and finally, finally, finally work in the fields that I really love: writing and editing. I am one of The Writers on staff, and that is thrilling to me.

So here I am, writing again. Writing at work, and at home. But for the first time in a long time, I feel like the writing I’m doing at work actually matters, and for the first time in nearly a year, I’m finally back to writing here on this website.

People make all sorts of lists and goals and resolutions this time of year, right? I tend to shy away from those, as I don’t always stick to them, and then end up feeling like the first half of my year has been a failure because I didn’t manage to lose fifteen pounds or learn to spatchcock a chicken.

But this year, I want to live with intention. I think it’s all too easy to settle into a safe routine when you’ve gotten a better job and are cycling through a schedule of happy hours and historic pub lectures and fun days out. Comfort, in many ways, keeps you from going after what you really want. So this year will be a year of living with intention, of not just cruising and letting things happen to me. This year will be a year of making choices that matter.

This year, I’m going to write.

So What Do You Do?

“So…who do you know?”

It was 2016, sometime in February, and I was jostling for position at the bar, desperately trying to get the attention of the tattooed bartender who was looking at anyone (namely, girls with better outfits and more makeup) besides me. I was out in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of D.C. (which I have since learned to avoid on Saturday nights) and my friends, who had dragged me to this bar, were off somewhere grinding to “mid-2000s throwbacks.” Because, you know, the mid-2000s were so long ago now that we can throwback to them and pretend to dance to Chris Brown without feeling guilty about it.

I turned to look at the guy who had been attempting to make some pretty terrible small talk with me and thus, had made me lose my one chance to grab just one gin and tonic please, is that so much to ask when the bartender scanned the crowd, saw us talking and presumably assumed I was too busy for alcohol, and ignored me once again. The man trying to talk to me was your average white dude, if we’re being honest. His face was unremarkable, his hair…probably brown? I know he was wearing a collared, button-down shirt, but it’s noteworthy that the rest of him was so entirely un-noteworthy to me that he’s become just a blur of a memory, two years later.

“What?” I yelled above the thudding, terrible house music.

“Who do you know?” The guy yelled back. And I looked at him – with his neatly-pressed khakis, his Ready To Meet The Parents-haircut, that smarmy smirk like he had just dropped the world’s cleverest pick-up line – and I immediately recognized him as a staffer. You know who I’m talking about: the quintessential white, male Capitol Hill employee. And as soon as I realized that, I also realized that he wasn’t asking me who I knew in this bar, or if I had friends I could introduce him to. No, this man was quite literally asking me, in a crowded bar on a Saturday night in an effort to make a move, who I knew of importance in the United States government.

“Well, personally, I think my mom’s pretty cool,” I responded, to which the staffer looked predictably unimpressed. It was at that moment that I seized my chance, elbowed a pretty blonde out of the way, and grabbed the bartender as he passed. “Just one gin and tonic,” I yelled over the noise. “Please.” Is that so much to ask?

Washington, D.C. is, obviously, an interesting city. It’s the capital of the United States, so people often think that the only thing here are government buildings and historic monuments, but it is actually an interesting city. The international food scene is incredible, there’s a thriving art community both online and on the streets, national and international movements are born here, and if you’re ever bored on a weekend, it’s because you’re too lazy to find something to do, because there is literally always something to do.

But guess what else? Washington, D.C. can be a terrible place to date people. And not just because of the transient nature of the place – after all, people flow in and out of here based on election results, and foreign diplomats don’t exactly put down roots. It’s also not just because eventually, people get sick of the high cost of living, the insane traffic congestion, and all of these allergies, and eventually move away to smaller, less pollen-ridden towns.

No, Washington, D.C. can be a terrible place to date people…because of the people. Don’t try to fight me on this – I will die on this metaphoric hill.

It’s a constant joke that the first question people will ask you when you’re out at a bar, event, or just minding your own business while watching ducks float by at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool is: What Do You Do? I have navigated entire evenings of conversation in which I learn all the ins and outs of someone’s job, what hip D.C. neighborhood they can afford to live in because of their salary, and what they want to do next in their career, but I’ll leave the conversation realizing that I never learned their name. Worse than that? I leave the conversation feeling like I didn’t even learn anything about them. Their opening line is always the same: so what do you do?

This isn’t just me. This happens to everybody. When you mention it, everyone laughs it off in a “Oh, isn’t that just such a silly D.C. thing,” with a dismissive hand wave and chuckle, but it’s actually a terrible phenomenon. And it’s not just with dating – this happens in every D.C. young adult’s life when trying to awkwardly make friends as a grown-up. Even grabbing drinks with friends has become branded as a chance to expand your circle, make contacts, learn more about “the industry.” After all, it’s not just grabbing drinks with friends – it’s a “networking happy hour.” And if you’re going to a networking happy hour, you better bring your business cards and the D.C. conversation starter pack: It’s so nice to meet you! Where do you work?

I think it’s wonderful that people are passionate about their jobs and the work they do here in this city. I would rather someone be excited about how they contribute to society for eight hours a day than hear them whining incessantly on Google Hangouts about how bored they are. Being driven and passionate is a good thing! It’s also pretty cool to be in a city that is essentially The Room Where It Happens. The longer you live in D.C., the more you realize that you’re surrounded by people who actually make things happen in the world. Meeting incredible people from all over the globe who care about the work they do and aren’t just cruising through life is definitely inspiring, I won’t deny it.

But unless someone is gushing about their job and why they’re so passionate about it, when complaining about work or discussing the ins and outs of office dynamics and strategy are the only things people talk about at a bar, it gets repetitive and boring. It feels superficial. What about hobbies? What about causes you believe in? What about your friends, family, pets, favorite junk food? What are you excited about, how do you make people’s days better? Instead, you get the usual: so what do you do? In the end, you leave the conversation feeling like you didn’t meet the person at all. I exit D.C. bars after five hours, still craving genuine, human connections that I managed to make in fifteen minutes in the common areas of hostels abroad.

So in an effort to facilitate those genuine, human connections (or actually just to do something completely stupid and spontaneous that took me out of my comfort zone), I did what any normal human would do: Isigned up for an in-person, speed-dating event at my local (absolute favorite) independent bookstore. On Valentine’s Day.

“Retro Tinder,” as Kramerbooks & Afterwords Café called it, was exactly as you’ve seen it in sitcoms and 90’s movies. It was indeed like Tinder in Real Life, except I had to wear real clothes, makeup, and spend money. To be honest, I prefer the version in which I window-shop men in my pajamas from behind the safety of my phone screen, but this was fun too. I did indeed wear real clothes (a bright red dress and heels that I tripped in on my walk to the bookstore), makeup (which I put on my face with five minutes to spare in my office bathroom), and spend money (on a really amazing cocktail called “The Gin Gatsby” that involves plenty of gin, hibiscus, lime, and rosemary sprigs).

My pal Moira and I had signed up for this speed-dating event together, and so we went up to the mezzanine of Kramer’s Bookstore where the event was held. Every table was decorated with a candle, a bowl of sweetheart candy, and the cover of a Fabio harlequin romance novel. I sat down at my assigned novel cover (Wild Scottish Embrace by Rebecca Sinclair) as quickly as possible because with my heels and low ceilings, I was an absolute giant, and then promptly awaited true love.

By true love, I mean a man who was hopefully my own age, since the sign-up form for speed-dating had kept the age range from 23-35, but there were definitely quite a few gentlemen filtering into the room who were significantly older than 35 and had maybe lied about their age. We were instructed to bring our favorite book as a conversation starter – if we didn’t bring our favorite book, then the bookstore staff would hand you a copy of 50 Shades of Grey and you’d have to explain to a complete stranger why that collection of trash masquerading as a book is your favorite thing to read.

Terrified of having to explain to my potential first husband why I was (not at all) passionate about reading an inaccurate portrayal of BDSM, I brought one of my top 10 favorite books of all time: David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day. David Sedaris is an incredibly funny nonfiction writer who basically takes every terrible thought you’ve ever had in the back of your head, pairs it with his fun upbringing as a gay man raised in the boonies of North Carolina, and creates writing that has actually had me snickering out loud on public transportation. I wasn’t exactly expecting to meet anyone significant that night, but on the off chance my soulmate showed up to this random bookstore speed-dating event, I wanted to bring a book that would filter out anyone who didn’t appreciate a slightly twisted sense of humor.

I won’t share names or too many details about my dates because of privacy and all that jazz. They were all perfectly nice and friendly, but the first guy to sit down across from me had apparently partaken in an Ash Wednesday service earlier during the day and I, a survivor of 16 years of Catholic school, started off our three-minute date by making a joke about ashes and Catholicism. It uh…didn’t go over well.

Every three minutes, a buzzer would ring and I’d stand up and move to the next table, where I’d try to decide whether or not I liked this stranger within a grand total of 180 seconds. I guess out in the real world, that’s all it takes to know if you jive with someone, right? The man in the bar who had asked me who do you know? required all of 30 seconds of interaction before I realized I disliked him. The guy I shared headphones with in a brewery a few years ago and danced to Elvis with as everyone stared? It took all of 2 minutes of that song to realize that I was a big fan.

First impressions matter, and so you would think that these three minutes would give me enough of an impression of these men to decide if I liked them or not, and to scribble a little “yes” or “no” on my speed-dating card, but it was stressful. Not only was I trying to get to know them, they were trying to get to know me. The room was loud, there were weird, raunchy Fabio book covers on every table, and I was trying to charm these strangers while wondering if my mascara was melting down my face.

The good news is my mother taught me from a young age how to talk to strangers, so I babbled with the best of them! The bad news was I left each table confused as to whether or not I actually liked the person, or if I just had expertly executed a conversation and was flying high off of that. As I said, everyone was perfectly friendly! We talked about books and how weird speed-dating is! But I definitely scared one particularly shy guy with my exuberance about whatever it was we were talking about, because he walked away looking both relieved and terrified.

In the end, I stayed true to myself: I talked about pasta, I talked about ramen, I talked about prosciutto. I also think I had some conversations about gentrification in D.C., nonfiction as a genre, and where I intended to travel in the next year as well, but I honestly can’t remember. I think someone complimented me on how personable I was, but that could have just been another way of saying that I wouldn’t shut up. I don’t know – it’s all a blur to me now. I had ten dates in one hour and before I knew it, the evening was over. We turned in our cards and were assured that if we had mutual matches, we’d be given the emails of those people in the next few days.

All of the men slowly filtered out of the room, but for some reason, the ladies stayed. I felt like I had just run a marathon, and I decided to reward myself for going through more first dates in one night than I had had in the past two years by buying myself a glass of wine.

But you know what was my favorite portion of the night? The part that came after the dates. The moment when I was standing there in that tiny, dark room – covered in those gaudy Valentine’s Day decorations – sipping a glass of rosé and suddenly befriending the other eight girls in the room. It was instantaneous. If we weren’t laughing at the absurdity of what we had just put ourselves through, we were earnestly talking about the books we had brought, with more enthusiasm than we had been able to muster when talking to our potential dates.

Before we knew it, an entire hour had passed after the conclusion of the speed-dating, and we were basically best friends. You might think I’m exaggerating, but actually, we formed a book club, right then and there. The event’s organizer, Olivia, was a whirlwind of personality and hilarity, and she took all of our emails down and declared that she would be founding a book club with all of us. It seemed like one of those things you say upon meeting new people at one of those networking happy hours, right? “Oh, we should totally grab drinks sometime!” You exchange numbers, friend request each other on Facebook, and then never see them again for the rest of your life.

But guess what? A few days after the speed-dating event, we got the emails with our date matches. And a week later, we got an email picking out days for our future wine and book club to be hosted at Kramer’s, with a suggested book genre already in place. My date matches were perfectly nice and friendly and sent me sincere emails about the conversations we had (about ramen), but I’m kiiiiiind of more excited about this book club that’s coming up.

Because if there’s one thing I’ve had trouble with in D.C., it’s occasionally breaking through that wall of constant professionalism and getting to know the people around me as actual humans with lives outside of their offices. And, surrounded by a bunch of girls laughing at the fact that we had just tried speed-dating for the first time, commiserating with each other on lost love, and gushing about books and reading and life – I realized that I had done it. I had had conversations with people that went beyond just what do you do? I bonded with strangers, I pushed myself beyond my comfort zone on a silly holiday, and I’m going to see all of my new friends next month to talk about the cheesy, ridiculous harlequin romance novel we’re all going to read.

D.C. is a challenging place to date people, it’s true. But if you’re not too afraid of looking like an idiot at events like speed-dating in a bookstore on Valentine’s Day, you might be surprised by the people (and potential friends, soul mates, etc.) that you’ll meet just by asking questions beyond someone’s 9-5 gig.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

On any given day, I can go onto Facebook and tell you what I was doing exactly one, two, or even nine years ago on that day. It’s both the joy and horror of social media: having a literal, day-by-day record of every overpriced meal, every happy hour, every stupid shared meme. On good days of nostalgia it can be a great way to reminisce – on bad days it can be a jolt in the stomach. A weird and sudden reminder that a year ago to the day, you were going hiking with someone you don’t talk to anymore, wearing a dress that doesn’t fit quite right anymore, sharing holidays with someone who’s now gone.

I know it sounds like a Pinterest quote board to say it, but it’s so easy to always look back and never look straight ahead. I spent a lot of time last year looking back, and I got mired in it. And that’s the thing about going through an uncertain time in your life: you can feel so unbearably alone.

It can sometimes be easier to retreat into yourself and fall into a routine of work, Netflix, bed. When you lose important people in your life, they leave big holes in your daily routine, which you are constantly skirting around the edges of during the daytime, and pulling yourself out of at night. When you question what you want to do with your career, or what city you want to live in, or what hobbies you want to dedicate yourself to, it can become an exhausting conversation you have over and over again with yourself for weeks. Months. It’s all-consuming and alienating.

I had a few months like that and uh…no fancy way to say it, it sucked. In some ways, it was easier to think I was all alone, because then I could feel sorry for myself and dramatically listen to “To Build a Home” by The Cinematic Orchestra while driving back from a solo hike, pretending I was at the beginning of some pathetic life actualization indie film.  

But I got sick of doing that. It was annoying, and repetitive, and I stress-ate way too much pasta. So instead I reached out to some friends. I made amends with a few others. I rebuilt conversations that I had let die a long time ago and I signed up for dance classes and made small talk with strangers in bars. I read books before falling asleep at night, rather than letting myself get sucked into the endless black hole of television. I started volunteering with the homeless and at animal shelters. I began working out consistently again, eating healthier, and hiking a whole lot more.

And I’ve realized that while I’ve gone through one of the more uncertain times in my life where I was questioning everything and thought I had lost irreplaceable things, I’ve actually gained so much. I was so stupidly blind to the amazing friends I had always had, that were just waiting for me to put in a little more time, and little more effort. Friendships should, of course, come easily and naturally, like breathing. But they also require just as much care and effort as relationships, and if I learned anything last year, it was that much like relationships, if you love and care about a person, you have to commit to them. Put in the time. Listen to their heartache, take them out for tacos, debate the species of sea turtle you’re watching swim on the screen of Planet Blue. Be willing to be there all the way, all the time.

I’ve learned to prioritize the people that matter, and I’ve learned that the people that matter will prioritize me. I know, I know – that’s brie-level of cheesiness. But anything less is a waste of time – efforts made to something that was a lost cause a long time ago. I am grateful for the FaceTime dates I’ve had with my friend Amanda, who is thousands of miles away, probably zipping through Thailand on the back of a moped. I would be lost without Kate, who indulges my late-night texts about where we should get on a plane to next. I am so lucky to have my roommate Laura, who is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met and also seems to always crave ice cream at the same time as me. I’m impossibly happy to have daily chats with Alyssa and Lisa and Erin. I love exchanging snail mail coast-to-coast with Lily and Katie. I laugh hardest with genuine, goofy people like Jay, I love getting my hands dirty while hiking with Camille and Lauren, and I find comfort in reconnecting with friends like Miriam, Jon, and Moira, who I’ve known since we were all fourteen years old.

The list of people in my life who I am thankful for keeps growing, these days. I used to put my own happiness on the line just to make others happy – or worse, just to make them like me. And now I’ve discovered the excitement and beauty and support of having it go both ways – to love someone and for them to love you back, unselfishly. To pull each other up. To celebrate little victories with excited phone calls and to send handwritten notes when there are disappointments. To realize that we’re all going through uncertain times, but that everything is less scary, and so much better, when you’re in it together.

This is just to say: it feels really good to no longer be stuck always looking back, and to instead start looking forward again. I have amazing friends and an incredible family (have I mentioned my incredible family? My parents are amazing). And, objectively, the cutest and most loving dog on the planet. I have traveled to 16 countries and counting, I live in an apartment painted the color of mint that is full of plants, and I have finally started writing again. Life is so, so good, and I have all of you to thank for that.