My Outlet

I’m not talking about shopping or electrical ones. 

I began this blog because I needed to write for pleasure, express my ideas, and blow off frustrations of life. 

Lately I feel very light, mentally speaking. My frustrations, creative and otherwise, have lifted. For now, at least. 

My fight against my depression and negativity have provided fodder for hundreds of my blog posts. Now I need to learn how to write about being happy without being cloying, content while making sure readers know my life isn’t perfect, and about good things without forgetting the bad. 

This is sort of like when I had to relearn how to cook after I decided to live as a vegan. That hasn’t turned out amazingly well (so far), so let’s hope this transition is a bit easier. 

Travelling Changes your Personal Aesthetic

Courtesy of Jezebel:

backpacker

When I quit my job in New York to go backpacking in South America, I agonized over what to pack. I couldn’t, for instance, not bring my Ferragamo flats, even if it meant ruining their soles on dirt paths and crumbling cobblestones. I certainly couldn’t leave behind my beloved red lipstick—I wanted it for nights out salsa dancing, or when I needed to feel myself. It was a reliable pick-me-up, an armor against insecurity. But I left behind everything else: my makeup bag full of OPI and Essie nail polishes in shades of red and gray and green, expensive top-coats with specks of gold glitter, black eyeliner and mascara and dozens of tubes of lipstick—neutral to crimson to pretty in pink. I’d left my satin gloves and pearl necklaces and flapper dresses.

Consciously, I’d decided to leave behind the New York fantasy I had built for myself, a fantasy built in no small part on clothes. Still, I refused to buy a pair of hiking shoes. I couldn’t stand the way they looked: clumsy, heavy, ugly mud brown.

I wore a v-neck t-shirt, jeans, and an old cardigan at the airport. I did not feel myself. I sat across a perfectly coiffed Colombian woman with a Hermès Birkin in her lap. I frantically texted my friend: I feel so underdressed. My hiking backpack, with its countless, messy straps, didn’t lend me an air of sophistication.

I love clothes. I always have. In the earliest days when fashion blogs were just beginning to sprout, I posted daily outfits to a Flickr group. Fashion was novel and exciting, and it was a way to distinguish myself. I loved losing myself in editorials, in beauty and glamour. I loved the transformative power of clothes, how changing your outfit meant changing your persona.

On the road, my aesthetic changed. It was a slow, subtle process. It became looser and easier the longer I was away. In New York I loved silk shirts and tailored blazers and pencil skirts. In South America, I bought feather earrings and macramé necklaces made from natural stones. My single pair of jeans became worn out with holes. I never put on my red lipstick. And I learned the depth of my mistake about the hiking shoes: I went hiking for the first time in the rocky, jagged mountains of Colombia wearing gym shoes that had tractionless white soles. It was completely miserable.

So I stopped worrying about it, and I got hiking shoes. There was so much more to do. There were hikes to go on and waterfalls to swim in and cities to explore. If anything, I wanted to play down my Western clothes. It was easier to explore Latin America as a young woman alone if I was less conspicuous, and so it was jeans and t-shirts and a local bag. On the nights I did go out with fellow travelers, everyone else was rumpled too. At least I had my Ferragamos. That was the only thing that tied me to the past, my fancy New York persona. Once, someone recognized the brand and laughed. They became worn down, too, holes on the toes, the heels. I took them to a cobbler in a small Peruvian city, and afterwards, the shoes looked industrial. I could have cried. I desperately missed my favorite cobbler in Williamsburg, who worked miracles restoring the shoes once every couple of months.

Still, there was a certain joy in abandoning myself to the world around me, which meant becoming a hippie. The travelers who dressed very well—the girls with heels in their backpack—were a different kind of traveler: prone to dancing and drinking in hostels full of Westerners, and not so much exploring dusty, neglected towns and mountains with unmarked trails alone.

After seven months of backpacking in South America, I came back to New York for a visit.

I felt shocked by the style all around me. I kept staring at clothes of strangers. I admired the gold buckles of boots and the sharp silhouettes of coats. I looked at stylish haircuts and dangling earrings. I’d been lost for so long in a world of Keen sandals and alpaca sweaters.

“You look exhausted,” a friend told me at dinner. We were at a West Village restaurant that served complicated classics: tiny corn dog appetizers paired with curated sauces. I felt the sting even as I smiled and said, oh, I’m not.

I was happy, actually, overwhelmed by the sudden return to the city, the Western world, but blissed-out from my travels. But then again: I wasn’t wearing makeup. My t-shirt had holes in the neckline. My woven bag from Colombia was tattered and pilled.

It shouldn’t have mattered. But so much of my identity as a New Yorker had been built around a certain attitude, a certain look. It alarmed me that, so quickly, I’d become a stranger.

So I left again. Traveling in Asia, I became fully unrecognizable in comparison to old selfies: me with lush bangs, cat eyeliner. On the road, sometimes I’d dig up the photos and show them to the people I met. What happened, a man in China exclaimed. He was not enthusiastic about my short hair, my makeup-free face. In big cities in China, it set me apart as an outsider, where most young women looked like dolls in pastel-hued dresses. Sometimes, I got the hippie approval. A rock climber in Yangshuo told me it suited me better. Mostly, I agreed.

Nearly two years after I first left, I moved back to New York. I didn’t think I’d stay—I only intended to visit before heading off on another trip. But then I fell back in love with the city, and I couldn’t go.

This time, I had only my backpacking clothes (all of it fit inside one tote bag). For the winter, I bought just one new thing: a black wool coat that I wore every day. Remarkably, my backpacker clothes served just as well in NYC.

This time, I found the balance between two worlds that once felt contradictory. Now, I wear clothes until they are absolutely undone. Half of my wardrobe comes from my travels: oversized cotton shirts and long linen skirts, pashmina scarves and wool shawls from China, Peru, Nepal. I’m still fond of clothes that let you walk long hours and sleep on couches, clothes for grass and sand and mountains, clothes that are quickly washable and not so delicate. And I’ve also grown fond, again, of my city shoes and fancy jewelry: leather oxfords and loafers with intricate beading, a ring of diamonds and rose gold.

The only thing I’ve left behind for good is the performance of beauty. When my friends tell me about new hair treatments or shopping trips to Sephora, I listen blankly. But then, still, some days, I curl my lashes, sweep on blush, and put on tinted lip balm. But I don’t spend too much time before the mirror. Instead, I go for long walks in neighborhoods I don’t know, and turn my face up to the sun.

Laura Yan is a writer, wanderer, and sketcher of strangers. She does not know where she is going next. She tweets @noirony.

Photos via Laura Yan.

Making Lemonade

This summer was supposed to be our epic, legendary trek to London, Paris, and Reykjavik. However! We also decided, some time after that inital travel plan, to sell our rental property. To sell this property we need to have money for light renos and fluffing that are beyond regular staging. And we will need to carry that property until the sale closes, which will require patience and fortitude. And money.

This summer is the last one in which I can travel for an extended period of time with both of my midgets. Boy is 14 now, and is already at an age when I expected him to have a summer job. But, it’s all just shit talk until you are raising your own offspring. Next summer when he is 15, he will have a job earning minimum wage, keeping him occupied.

So what to do? Time is of the essence. I decided to use Airbnb to rent out our own living quarters, to raise some funds we can use to travel. I also scaled back our plans to make them more finanically reasonable but still adventurous. I tossed around many ideas, from a road trip in Canada or US, to flying somewhere on the west coast or east coast. Once you add plane travel, a trip gets a lot more expensive of course, but cheap accommodation can make up for that. 

I landed on a trip to Central America or the Caribbean. I found a wonderful rental, very close to the beach, in the Dominican Republic. All of us will fly down there for a 3-week stay, the same length of time we have renters in our own house. The flights are not outrageously priced, and the accommodations are cheap and cheerful. We are getting a little bit of adventure, a lot of relaxation, and all at a price that doesn’t stress me out. Our era of family travelling is going out with a bang.

A weekend of very little talking: A love story 

This weekend, husband is off on a short trip to visit far-away family. The midgets are with their dad. I have a few days on my own, and I’m looking forward to it. I will have no responsibilities, no obligations, and no noise except that which I create myself or is created by the dogs. 

I feel about these upcoming days the same as a hungry person sitting down to a plate of good food. I will savour every moment! 

On Monday the cacophony resumes.

As an aside, I don’t want to try any more recipe iPhone apps. Unless that code will shop, prepare, and clean up after a meal, there’s nothing new in it for me to discover. Nothing. 

How to Appear Pathetic: Lessons From My Dog

That's My Shoe

I write and talk about my dogs a lot. Arguably I post more photos of my dogs online than of my midgets. I have a good reason for this: my dogs can’t be exploited?/endangered? as easily as my midgets. Everyone knows about the faceless numerous creeps online who get their jollies by looking at photos of kids. Usually I dismiss my fears because I want to share photos of my darlings, but generally I feel more confident about sharing photos of canines than I do of children. It’s a modern problem.

Another modern problem is getting noticed. My midgets are skilled at looking pathetic, but my dogs are pathetic all-stars. When I make plans to leave my house and I attempt to leave the hounds at home, they put on quite a display while barely making a sound. All I need to do is put on my shoes and the dogs react by swiftly walking to the front door and either prancing or sitting to block my way out. And oh, how their faces fall when I tell them No, you can’t come. Dogs aren’t people and so they don’t have the range of emotions that we do, but man are they good at imitating them. Unless I’m headed somewhere dogs aren’t allowed, or if the weather is especially cold or hot, which would make leaving the dogs in the car or outside unwise, I take them along.

My family had a mini poodle when I was growing up, and his act was sitting by the front door with 1 front paw raised, body shaking while whining at a low volume. He was very good. But, dogs aren’t allowed on a school bus or in an elementary school and so Pepper was left behind that time. I’m sure within 5 minutes of our departure he was on our couch, snoring. And I’m sure my dogs are on the couch or dog bed, having their 8-hour daily nap within 10. But if I can make them happy by giving them a walk or car ride, I’ll do so. Simple emotions, simple problems, simple solutions. This is why I, and many others, like having a dog around: we experience small victories every day.

 

I Need the Motivator from Wipeout

If I could get that installed at my house, I could better propel myself out the front door of my house.

My jobs in the morning are: let dogs out for a pee; take my pills; get midgets up out of bed (sure, they have alarm clocks, but that doesn’t mean they will heed them, so I’m their backup, their plan B); monitor the progress of the aforementioned midgets, offering solutions to problems such as forms that need to be signed, swimming stuff to find, and a distinct lack of socks all while keeping an eye on the clock; get myself ready for work, the effort of which varies depending on the dirtiness of my hair; feed dogs (because if I feed them as soon as I get out of bed, they wake me up earlier and earlier every day); kiss girl midget good-bye; take dogs for a walk; and go to work. Would I want my midgets to be more independent? I used to think Yes, but I’m glad to be included in their daily routines. This involvement keeps us connected.

I can (usually) get myself out of bed easily enough, and I crank some tunes via Songza to get my mood to a happy state. It’s the leaving of the house that presents a problem, one that would be solved by The Motivator. For now, the warmer weather is my metaphorical Motivator, and for now that’s good enough.

I’ve been riding my bike to work and that’s providing some joy. Always people wonder why I bike on busy streets instead of the bike path. The bike path is boring. The landscape is homogenous, the wind is formidable, and there are no flower shops, bakeries, or traffic lights to break up the windy monotony.

The warm weather has also quieted down the plaintive whining in my head that appears during the winter to wonder why in hell I live in such a cold climate. So there’s that.

You Know You’re White…Right?

This is the comment I hear very often, because I sometimes use the following phrases:

  • Dolla Dolla Bill, y’all
  • Takin’ Care ‘a Bidness
  • Ah-ight
  • Mashallah
  • Zei Gezunt
  • Menches Kint

No, these are not the most professional words to use, but that’s why I’m not in management. I have a lot of freedoms not afforded to people who have an image to uphold. I’m not naive enough to think my off-kilter sense of humour doesn’t affect others’ perception of me, but then again, even if I was a ‘proper’ serious person, I sincerely believe I would be in the same professional position as I am now. My skill set is mostly measured upon the words I smith and deadlines I meet.

I’m a white Christian who married a Jew, who lives in a multi-cultural city and works in an office with many different ethnicities. My weekday lunch time foods are atypical compared to what I grew up eating. It makes sense for me to have varied phrases in my vocabulary, but even I laugh at myself when I say to my very Jewish brother-in-law on a Friday afternoon: Good Shabbas.

Taking My Concept of Happiness and Putting it on its Ass

Husband runs his own business and loves it. He is gregarious, smart, charming, and witty, and he loves his job. This becomes obvious to anyone who enters his store. I have often found myself to be so jealous of his job satisfaction, because mine seems to ebb and flow. Husband loves helping people and derives a lot of satisfaction from that.

I mentioned that my documents and such don’t help very many people, maybe a maximum of 10, and even then in a very limited manner. Husband replied that to the people in my family, my job helps them quite a bit. I provide a steady income and health insurance, both of which have contributed immensely to my family’s successes big and small. We have a happy, cozy, home, largely due to my beige cube job, and that’s not a small accomplishment. I have held onto my career through motherhood and divorce. I bought my own home and then a rental property on my own. Then I sold my home and with Husband, we bought a cute house in a great neighbourhood. We travel. We drink Starbucks. We do things. We are happy.

So yes, I do make people happy every day, and I do help people every day.

This Fall we are hoping to sell our rental property. Sometimes we think it would be better to sell our own house and move into the rental property, but lately we are leaning toward staying in our current home. This is because our home has a fully separate basement apartment, which provides a nice income stream. Seems like a clear cut decision, except our home has a bigger mortgage owing on it than the rental does, and we would stand to gain much more financially by selling our home.  Aside from that, I hate moving. I hate decorating and getting everything just right, only to have to leave it behind and start all over again. We have tried to take emotion out of this decision, but that’s just impossible.

We still have time to discuss and decide, which we will do.  Meanwhile, I continue making people happy daily.

Short and Sweet-ish.

Sometimes when I click on a link or menu item that I’ve clicked on 100s of times before, I will position my mouse to anticipate where the next link or button will appear. That’s just a little game I play to keep myself amused.

What would happen if I decided I wanted a lower paying physical job instead of the beige one I have now? I call my current job beige because the walls, carpeting, and people are beige. I’m not referring ethnicity; rather to attitudes/acceptance/facial expressions of coworkers.

I’m not a spring chicken (and thank goodness, because I don’t want to get eaten this summer). Physical jobs are for the young or people who haven’t any other options. Of course I’ve seen the toll a physical job takes on a person no matter their age. The young (under 30) generally thrive. They show off their amazingly tight abs, arm muscles, and suntan. Anyone over 40 though, who is doing a physically active job, starts to develop bodily ailments because they are literally wearing out their joints, bones, ligaments, and muscles.

Generally I like trading my brain capacity for money. I wish that capacity was worth more money and required less time, but overall I feel like this is the best I can do. Is that…sad? I don’t think so? I don’t know.

This year will be busy because there are lots of changes coming about.

I’m not playing

The problem I want to have: my midgets like to play cards and always want me to play with them. I never let them win on purpose. Every win they achieve is genuine, and they win often. Our main games are Crazy Eights and Euchre, both of which are family traditions. I remember playing hours of Euchre with my sister, when we were still young enough to need a sitter.

Previous to being old enough to play Euchre at family gatherings where 6-handed was the norm, we kids would wander around the perimeter of the table, looking at each of the player’s hands. We were not supposed to reveal, though facial expression, which hands we thought were good and which players were pooched. We usually failed and were booted from the room in quick fashion.

I’m terrible at the finger game called Chopsticks. Terrible. My midgets are great at it, because they have 100s of hours of practise at it. They let me win sometimes, because they think that will encourage me to play more often. They’re probably right about that.

It’s interesting that many parents don’t play with their kids after a certain age, citing being tired or having more important things to do. I have been guilty of doing that too, but I try to resist that urge. Soon enough my kids won’t want to play anymore.