Thursday, June 5, 2014

New Website

I have moved From The Inside over to a new spot and lay-out right here: From The Inside
It's a continuous work in progress, and I will more than likely be adding more content, more frequently!


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Ramblings: Attempting the Freelance World Again

Every so often I go through this same procedure and just give up because it all just seems too hard. And I’m not one for giving up. I’m stubborn enough to butt my head against a wall until I crack it and it all comes down, brick by brick. But I just feel so lost whenever I try to break into this industry, probably because I am not confident enough in my own talent to really push for it, but also because I really don’t know where to start. And where do you start? The world of freelance writing is so huge and so daunting that you can try and jump in the deep end and see what kind of creatures you may encounter in the depths, or you can dip your toes in the shallow end and decide to walk away until the water gets warmer. But how does the water get warmer?

Four years ago I tried. I set up profiles on freelance websites, applied for different job listings and did some work for a company in India that was paying about $0.01 cents a word to write SEO articles. That lasted a week – my writing was worth much more than that. I wrote some pretty interesting articles for a blog, and was never credited for them (I can still see them up there for everyone to read), and was paid a little bit more than a pittance for them. Then I decided that I would rather write articles for my own blog, because at least I could give myself credit for it and write about what I wanted. So I basically gave up. At the time I just took on another job on top of my regular bartending job and focused on writing for myself in my free time.
This time around I have decided that I am going to try a bit harder. This is what I have always wanted to do: work from home as a writer. And now I’m even more motivated – I’m at home raising my daughter and therefore have flexible hours to write. And I’m good at it – I love writing about just about everything, I love doing the research, I love that feeling of excitement you get when you write the first draft and the words are coming out faster than you can type. I love going back to a draft to edit it and realizing that it really sounds good, that the tone and the style and the words all work, and that it is something you would want to read. I just love to express myself with words. It’s what I have been doing all my life. And to get paid for doing what I love? Who wouldn’t want that?

So how on earth do you start? I’ve read countless articles on what to do and where to go and how much to charge. But how do you REALLY get in there? How do you start selling your product for the correct price? Yet again I set up profiles on freelance sites. Yet again I started to bid for projects. And yet again I feel like it’s just not worth it. This time it’s not about my confidence – I KNOW I am good, and I know I can produce excellent copy. This time it’s about what I would be getting paid. I looked up freelance writer rates online, thought back to what we would pay our translators, editors and proofreaders when I worked for a translation agency and came up with what I think are correct rates. On the low end, but not selling myself short. The first ad I answered was very interested in what I could do for them (research and provide 2 blog articles a week on the bar and restaurant industry, showcasing people, drinks, food, locations etc); but told me I was expensive. I haven’t heard back again, but we will see about that one. Then yesterday as I perused through an email I receive on a daily basis from one of the freelance sites I saw an ongoing editing and proofreading job. Perfect – something to get me in there, start getting somewhat of a reputation, right? Something I know I can do very well seeing as I did it for years. And then I saw what they are paying. $1 a PAGE. $1 a page to edit, probably research, and proofread a copy? Are they completely insane?? Are there really people out there who work for that type of money? This means that in order to make $100 in a day you need to edit and proofread 100 pages. Assuming that there are about 250 words per page (industry standard) and that you proofread on average 1,000 words per hour, if you worked a 12 hour day you would therefore be making a whopping $48 at $4 an hour. And this is assuming that you have nothing else to do for 12 hours and that the copy is not too bad. If you did this for 7 days straight you would make $336 before tax at the end of the week. Do it for a month and your pay would be $1,344. Nope, NOT worth it. Who on earth works for these rates? And yes, I know that it’s possible to do the work a lot faster, but what kind of quality are you going to be providing? 

And that‘s the whole point isn’t it? Why would anyone in their right mind provide any kind of quality work if they are being paid a pittance to do so? And who are the people who are actually accepting these rates? How on earth am I ever going to find any kind of work in this industry if these are the jobs I have to accept? It’s extremely disheartening. Should I just give up on the whole idea of being a freelance writer again? How can I prove to potential employers that I have the skills that they need, and that they need to hire me, especially since I don’t have any real experience in the industry? I’m determined to not give in this time as I would like to be able to work from home, in my own time, doing what I love, but I still don’t know where to start. I suppose this is just the beginning of multiple ramblings and rants on the subject…

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Ramblings: Recovery (what I remember of it)

About halfway through my pregnancy I started to imagine those two months I would take off work after childbirth, and conjured up images of myself being the perfect home builder-mother type person, keeping the house perfectly clean, laundry done, groceries shopped for and freshly made meals prepared every day, so that C could come home late at night and heat up his dinner. Oh yes, I imagined that the first couple of weeks would be difficult, but after that I would magically snap back into my normal self. Little did I know that instead of being worried about the last months of pregnancy or childbirth I should have been preparing for the recovery.

I learnt that there is no “perfect” way to be a mother. You aren’t going to be that woman in the baby food commercial, hair perfectly coiffed, matching outfit and wobbly bits miraculously disappeared. And that’s OK – because you ARE perfect, to your child. You are the most important person in your child’s life, and that’s the most important thing you keep in mind. Motherhood is what you make it, and that’s the wonderful part about it all.

Read what you will about pregnancy and childbirth, recovery is often glazed over (or maybe I glazed over it?). I wish books were more honest with how hard it actually is. You know when they say prepare meals and put them in the freezer? DO IT. And not just for a week or two. Make enough for a month. Stock up on tea and coffee and things that don’t perish easily. Have take out menus and Seamless on hand because if you often find yourself home alone with your child and you are breastfeeding you may not find the time to prepare a meal. And you get HUNGRY. I forgot what it was actually like to be hungry during those last months of pregnancy, but now my stomach actually rumbles every few hours. Don’t worry too much of dishes aren’t done immediately and things get a little dusty – because recovery isn’t called recovery without reason. You have to rest.

I really thought I would be up and about after 2 weeks. After 5 weeks I was still nowhere near the image in my imagination of before. I finally started going out for walks every day. I finally stopped wearing pajama bottoms and started wearing actual clothes. After 7 weeks I feel a LOT better, and have been making trips into the city and making it back alive. Going back to work is something that I never want to have to consider again (um are you asking me to actually LEAVE my child with someone else?!! No way.), and we finally have this breastfeeding thing down for the most part (more on that later). There are so many things that I would like to warn other first time mothers to be about that I wish I had known (or acknowledged when people were trying to warn me). Granted, it may be very different for others, but I think I would have been easier on myself if I had known the toll it would take on me.

No one told me during labour that all the Pitocin and antibiotics they pumped into me could delay my milk coming in for a bit longer than average. Or maybe it doesn’t affect everyone like that, but all that medicine took a toll on my body, maybe more so because I hardly ever take antibiotics. I mean I don’t ever remember taking any at all! The first night in the hospital Luna was crying her eyes out, and I kept thinking she must be hungry, even though I had read that all they need in the first few days was the colostrum you produce until your milk comes in. The night nurse came in to check on us and basically told me that my child was starving and that if I couldn’t feed her properly myself then I needed to give her formula. Even when I tried to explain that that was not true and I didn’t want to give my child formula she kept pressing the issue. Those close to me know how important it was for me to breastfeed exclusively, but after labour and no sleep for 30 hours, a brand new newborn crying in despair in my arms and someone pushing a solution on me, I gave in. The next morning, after a few hours sleep I felt like myself again and was really angry for not being listened to and decided to not let my arm be twisted again. And yes, the formula did shut her up and comfort her, and yes, we did give her a tenth of a bottle over the first couple of nights she was home, but she really disliked it and just wanted to nurse. And nursing was SO painful. I literally cried in pain and gritted my teeth so that Luna wouldn’t feel my stress and pain every time she latched on. The lactation consultant I had seen in the hospital was a complete waste of space (she didn’t even come near enough to actually show me how to make sure I was doing it properly). When myy milk finally came in 6 days after birth and so did the cracked and painful nipples. Breastfeeding is NOT easy, and whoever says it is must have been really lucky. We struggled for at least 3 weeks to get it right, but I am very proud of us both for succeeding and persevering. Oh, and you will not starve your child if your milk isn’t there immediately… Before formula existed women could only breastfeed (or hand their child over to a wet nurse), so don’t listen to people who think better. Case in point: Luna actually put on weight over the first week after her birth and grew 2 inches, and that was NOT due to the tiny amount of formula we gave her the first few days – it was due to what I was giving her, however painful it was. I’ve even started to get over my fear of breastfeeding in public, and even did it in Washington Square Park without a cover the other day (only because there were other mothers doing it and I felt less self-conscious – I used a cover on the subway!). I’m aiming on doing this for a year if possible, even after we start her on solids after 6 months. She’s growing so fast, so it’s definitely doing her the world of good!

I mentioned the subway just above – apart from walking the only form of transport that I use to get around the city… Luna loves her carrier (although the one we have plays havoc on my back after a while so we are saving up to get an Ergo which will help), but if I am going to be out and about in the city for a while I need to be able to put her down at times, and this has been impossible the last few times I have taken her out in it. And she gets really hot in the carrier… It’s a great option for short journeys and if you are going from one location to another but difficult when you are strolling around. She also loves the stroller (and I use it when she refuses to sleep during the day which she does all the time), but the stroller is heavy with the infant seat in it and I can’t carry it up and down stairs by myself just yet. So I figured out which stations have elevators and did a trial run the other day. It’s doable, a little confusing at times (especially 74th St/Roosevelt Ave), and most people were really helpful and lovely (bar the lady who was in a rush and shouted at me that some people didn’t have the luxury of staying home with their kids…). It’s all part of living in the city… And part of the reason that I really want away from all the stress. I LOVE this city and I LOVE that it has been my home for the past 9 years, but I am starting to consider a change… But those thoughts are for another time. In the meantime I won’t let it stop me from getting out and about, but I will be spending a lot of time out and about nearer home. 

 There will be people who tell you how to parent your child, but I learnt well over the first couple of weeks that none of that really matters – it’s what works for you as parents and your child that is the best. I remember being in the drug store with a friend when Luna started crying while I was paying at the check-out. She literally had time to let out one little wail when a woman behind me said loudly to the rest of the people in the store “somebody needs to give that child a pacifier!” Oh really? I was actually a little shocked and just muttered something about how rude she was and then posted about it on Facebook. A friend left a comment about just ignoring these types of comments gracefully, as I would hear them all of the time, and she was absolutely right. And babies cry, it’s normal. It may be irritating to others, but no one is going to be able to keep their child inside until they are two years old, and at the same time, nobody wants to shut their child up just for the sake of others. There is nothing wrong with a child vocalizing what they want – and the only way for a baby to do it is by crying. I have a baby who is very vocal and I am not going to apologise for it! In the end, I am the one who has been blessed with this beautiful child, and C and I are the only ones who will have a say in how she is raised. 

And that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Through-out my pretty wonderful pregnancy and less than wonderful recovery the main point is that we created an amazing little human being who is growing and thriving every day. I already have forgotten the discomfort of the first trimester and the miserable hugeness of the last two weeks of the third trimester, and at nearly 8 weeks post partum I have already completely glazed over the pain of the recovery. To be honest if I hadn’t started writing this 3 weeks ago I probably wouldn’t even have written anything about it. Because it was ALL completely worth it. I look at my daughter’s beautiful little peaceful face while she is sleeping and have to restrain myself from kissing her cheeks every 2 seconds. She smiles at me in the morning and laughs when I do silly things to make her giggle. It still blows my mind that C and I were able to create this little person, the most important action we have ever done in our lives. I’m still completely overwhelmed with happiness and I doubt this feeling will ever go away! 

(Huge thanks to my friends Tiffany, Ryvenna and Gina for helping me get through the first few weeks just by answering questions and reassuring me that I was normal, and a huge thanks to Google for answering many of my questions, allaying many fears and sometimes for scaring the shit out of me. And another huge thanks to my doctor Ronnie Lichtman for being there through-out my whole pregnancy, for answering my questions and for just being a lovely human being. I am really going to miss all the ladies at MIC Fort Greene).

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Ramblings: Just a Walk in the Park...

Memorial Day weekend always reminds me of moving to NYC – the heat, the humidity, the laziness of the first holiday of the year since New Year’s Day in the middle of the bustle and noise of everyday life. Subsequent years bore beach days and hungover days; brunch times and walks in the city;  Long Island days and barbeques in Bushwick. Every year I longed for Memorial Day weekend to arrive so that I could celebrate the beginning of summer, my real favourite season in NYC. This year it crept up on me, my first Memorial Day as a family: a day where no one needed to work, a day to spend together as we see fit, no plans, just mother, father and baby time.

Nowadays it’s really just the simple things that matter: a walk in the park, watching the turtles watching you with their little heads sticking out of the water, looking at the squirrel scampering away with the acorn in its mouth, relaxing on a blanket under a tree and closing your eyes. Choosing a pretty spring outfit for yourself and your daughter, knowing full well that she doesn’t care if you are in a dress or pyjamas, or if she is in a onesie or a dress, but doing it anyway because it is fun and because you can. Walking along the sidewalk as a unit, mother, father, daughter, altogether as one, making jokes and gazing at the pretty houses and gardens, imagining together what our next home and garden will look like. Tickling your child under the chin with a blade of grass and listening to her laugh and hoping that you will hear that beautiful sound every day, forever.

Flushing ended up being a good choice for us, because despite the commute into Manhattan, it really is beautiful here. There are parks and gardens and trees and flowers everywhere and a happy alternative to the race of the city and all that it entails. As I was walking around the neighbourhood yesterday I realised just how much every single priority had changed for the better. A walk in the park is just so much more enjoyable now, as are all of those little things that we take for granted most of the time, the turtles and the squirrels and the naps in the grass, the smell of concrete after a rain shower, and the lilac bushes in bloom on the street corners. I guess this is what my real happiness is…

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Short Story: An Angel Passes By

As I am (slowly) putting my website together and applying for freelance writing jobs I have been going through a lot of my writing and trying to group everything together. I noticed that I hadn't posted this story, which is strange as it quite naturally goes with Autumn's Place and Of Instability and Growing Roots. I wrote them all about the same time and with the same frame of mind.
In any case, everyone needs a Marlena in their lives, just to make everything a little brighter and happier. Not long after I write this one Bat For Lashes released her last album, with the song Laura on it, and it really made me think of my own Marlenas. Cherish those friends forever.

An angel passes by ("un ange passe") is a French expression that always takes me back to moments in the dead of the night during my late teens with the friends I grew up with, that moment when everyone goes quiet, contemplating their own thoughts, and then all go back to their conversations at the same time. That silence that doesn't feel uncomfortable, but warm and fuzzy. These are the people that will always be with you, your own personal angels in your lives. I dedicate this one to those who aren't here anymore.

An Angel Passes By

She stood there in her little babydoll dress, her long, skinny arms wrapped tight around her body, as if she were protecting herself from an invisible force that was about to hit at any moment. Her eyes stared wide into the distance, somewhere away from what we could all see around us and her forehead was creased into a frown of concentration. This is always the image I will have of her in my mind, touchable but unapproachable. Surrounded by a ring of fire keeping her away from the rest of us.

She stood there in her skinny black jeans and black velvet jacket, cigarette smoke encasing her body and a bright smile on her face when she recognized a friendly face approaching her. Nothing fake about her smile – once bestowed upon you, you felt like you were the center of attention for a minute; that no one else existed but you in the world. There are so few people on this earth who have the ability to make you feel this way, that when you meet them you cherish their love for life, long after they have moved on to other places and other people. This is the other image I have of her, happiness and sadness, encased in that body with the beautiful face.

Some people leave and their memories fade over time, until they are remembered only when a photo is found, or a random memory pops into your mind. Other people leave a special legacy behind, one that cannot be erased by time, or alcohol, or drugs or age. All I need to do is close my eyes and conjure up her face and all the emotions I felt every time I was in her presence, even after all these years. Her foot prints can be found all over the world, in the many countries that she traveled to and the many people she met and loved along the way. She was never famous, she never felt exceptional in any way, but she simply made everyone she came into contact feel special for a few moments, and those few moments always lasted forever. Some days I walk through the streets of Manhattan and see a swish of long, blonde hair and a cigarette in a hand and my heart stops for a second. Maybe it is her? Maybe she is still here, walking and talking and dreaming and crying and smiling and just simply present. Maybe I can have one last hug, and this time I will know it will be the last and I will remember it forever. I never knew the last time she hugged me would be the last time I felt her touch and smelt her shampoo and perfume floating around me. If I had known, the last time I told her I loved her I would have looked her in the eyes for more than two seconds and would have made sure she knew that I meant it with all my heart. I hope she knew that before she left.

Marlena was one of those people that you felt had always been in your life, however long you may have known them. She arrived in my life randomly one night, a friend of a friend drinking in a bar that we didn’t often frequent. I didn’t really talk to her that night, she was wrapped up in a conversation with another person who didn’t want to surrender her attention, and then she left abruptly, hugging everyone as she made her way to the exit. A few days later I bumped into her on the street, and she smiled at me and invited me to grab a late lunch with her at her favourite restaurant. She gradually introduced me to all of the people she knew in the neighbourhood and I became part of the family of people working and living there. Marlena always had time for a chat, however tired or overworked she was. She had the ability to make me laugh and smile, even when I knew she was having a rough day. And when she was tired or unhappy, all I wanted to do was make her feel better, a small gesture, a hug, a cup of tea at 3am. Anything to get that look of pure gratitude she would give you on those days. 

There are no perfect human beings. If perfection really existed it would be a flat, boring piece of blank wood. Imperfections create the depth that makes someone human. As much as Marlena was an amazing person, she was definitely not perfect. She kept herself distant from certain things, and locked away parts of herself deep inside so that you could not even see a glimpse of them in her eyes. She would turn away when someone tried to get too close and shut down, wary of giving herself fully to another, wary of being hurt again, and having to deal with pain, again. But she would cry openly and sometimes let you into what her life had been and what she wanted to hide from. What she had finally got over and what she was still going through. She could be as stubborn as a bull and would butt heads with people with her strong opinions. I could not even count the amount of times I had seen her jump up and smash her fist on the bar shouting “but you aren’t listening to me!!!” and stomp off outside for another cigarette, ranting under her breath about idiocy and hypocrisy. But two minutes later she would be back, buying rounds of shots for everyone and laughing at the argument that had taken place moments before. There was never a boring moment in her presence.

Marlena taught me how to find the perfect beaches near the city, wild places where the waves would drag in shells and crabs and city trash, where you could sleep at night if you felt like it and you knew you were safe. She showed me special places in the city where the walls were painted with so much art you could spend hours just looking at them. I taught her where to find the best bagels and where to go to feel like you were in the middle of the countryside right in the city. She would sometimes disappear for a few days and apologise when she reappeared, always saying she needed time away, time to herself, time to finish a song, time to listen to her own voice in her head, away from others that were always crowding it. She would wrap her arms around herself and frown worries away until she could smile lightly again. Some days I would walk into her work and see how tired she was despite her smile and other days she would jump up in happiness and throw herself into my arms, a little ball of energy that couldn’t stop itself from showing all her emotions. She was just a normal girl, but one who created a special place in her heart for everyone.

“I think it’s time for a pint – who’s in?”

“Marlena – it’s only Noon! We have stuff to do today!”

“I said a pint, not 20, and I could really murder a Guinness right now. We can have it with lunch, that way we won’t feel like we are just drinking. And let’s call Robert and Liza and Sandy and the rest so they can join us!”

“OK – and here goes our productive Monday. Let the fun and games begin!”

Never a boring moment. Being friends with Marlena meant being friends with everyone she knew. And being friends with everyone she knew meant that you never really felt alone anymore. Some people you liked less than others, some you felt great connections with while others remained acquaintances, but everyone had something in common: Marlena. She loved to be surrounded by friends and watch them interact and be around each other. She loved to try and match make but hated it when people tried to do it to her. She didn’t get angry often, but when she did you could never see it coming until her rage had broken free. After you saw that you tried hard not to cross her or upset her. No one wanted to be on the other side of that!

When I put her in a cab that night and hugged her, telling her I loved her, she asked me to text her when I got home, which was always the last question she asked all her friends when they left the bar. Twenty minutes later I got her text saying she was home safe and getting into bed. She never made it out of bed alive. Her heart just stopped beating, gave up and sent her off to another place. There was no real medical explanation for this happening at such a young age, so we all ended up deciding that she was needed more somewhere else, and that she had given us everything we needed and everything she had to give. That doesn’t mean that I wasn’t devastated… It took me months and months to stop waking up crying and looking at pictures of her. I found it hard to walk down the streets where she used to always be, hard to be in places where I always wondered if she would miraculously walk through the front door. All of her friends banded together and talked about her and stayed friends, but it was always surrounded by sadness. Her presence was always around, but her voice could not be heard anymore.

Even now, years later, we always hold a Marlena party, a night out together where we drink pints, do shots in her honour and get completely drunk and silly. There are people who just won’t go away, even if they are dead and long gone. Marlena is one of those, an angel passing through lives, making them just that little bit better than they were before she arrived. Cherish those Marlenas as they are special people that may not be able to stay long. 

Catch some of their essence before it drifts away elsewhere – it will stay with you for life.