Monthly Archives: April 2012

It’s easy to be Puff, but it’s harder to be Sean.

Left: Sean Combs circa 1987, his senior year of high school. Right: Diddy and Jay, bein’ Diddy and Jay.

Now that writing is my livelihood – specifically, now that writing for someone else is my livelihood – it’s more important than ever for me to keep pushing myself to grow as a writer and to actively cultivate my own voice. I’m fortunate to be able to do what I love all day, and I feel connected to the topics I cover at work (taking risks, finding balance, and empowering women, among others—all things I’ve written about here). That being said, I necessarily approach these subjects differently in the context of my job. The personal anecdotes and conversational style of a blog would be inappropriate in much of what I write for work, and without the reliable crutch of “me,” it would be easy for my writing to go to a very generic place. There, my challenge is to find fresh approaches to familiar ideas, and to do it in ways that aren’t about me. Here, my challenge is to write about me, but to do it in ways that make the “me” part matter.

A pensive moment for Sean (or is it Diddy?) Combs.

I hesitate to even address this, but I got an anonymous comment comparing a post I wrote on my new lunch place to a Yelp review. I genuinely welcome conversation and criticism—me writing about myself to a faceless Internet with no interactive component is pointless, even – especially! – to me. I will always approve negative comments, as long as they aren’t hateful or gratuitous, and I gave this one some thought. Yes, the post was fluffy. And yes, I want to be real on my blog. But the part of me that loves lunch and wants to get better at writing about lunch is as real as the part of me that loves looking deep inside myself and sharing what I find (and the part of me that believes in attaching a name to my opinions, for that matter). Sometimes I want to write a lighthearted restaurant review. Sometimes I want to write something more personal. It’s all me, though. It all takes time and effort, even if only some of it takes courage.

Sorry he’s not sorry.

In my first post, I touched on how I used to use blogging predominantly as a way of controlling my public image. That’s no longer the case. These days, when I write a Diddy ditty instead of a Sean Combs confessional, it’s because I strive for a life of balance, and I hope that the openness of BITE reflects that. Truthfully, though, there is a lot of stormy stuff I’ve shied away from on here. I’m tempted to blame it on timing – first I was job hunting, and now I’m making new friends and don’t want to scare them away by being That Girl – but I would be lying if I didn’t also cop to being afraid. Accountability is the dark side of being a writer. There’s never a convenient time to open a vein. But pushing yourself to grow in your passions isn’t supposed to be comfortable or easy, and I’m feeling increasingly driven to share. Because if I didn’t believe that words could make a difference, I wouldn’t be doing what I do.

Is there an aspect of doing what you love that scares you?

Fish come true.

There’s something palpably tragic about tuna fish. Perhaps it’s the mercury content. Perhaps it’s the cat lady-derivative aroma. Perhaps it’s those poor dolphins—what about the damn dolphins, dammit?! Perhaps it’s the associations of middle school, when I used to brown bag straight cans of tuna in water. Needless to say, I was not as popular as the kid with the Zebra Cakes.

That’s not to say the chicken of the sea is entirely without merit. During a two-year vegetarian stint that recently ended over a perfectly melty and meaty Cajun sandwich (worth it), my chronic protein deficiency would occasionally erupt in raging tuna melt cravings. Rather than resign myself to the classic mayo-and-pickles special, however, I developed an extensive repertoire of ethnic interpretations. Greek. Italian. Indian. Delicious across the board. For all its political incorrectness, tuna is remarkably international.

As a general rule, though, I prefer salmon. Its taste is less fishy, as are its origins, and memories of lox-and-a-Bloody-Mary-please? boozy brunches are far kinder to my emotional recall. While the canned variety can’t touch Sockeye sashimi or a flaky dill butter filet, I made this recipe last summer to good effect, so I knew salmon salad could rally for a spot in my inner circle of sandwich toppers. Despite being a fan, I rarely prepare it at home—I can never finish a full tub of cream cheese, and salmon doesn’t pair nearly as well with my go-to tuna companion, Greek yogurt.

Hence my lunch hour love affair with Ess-a-Bagel, Gramercy Park’s answer to New York’s love-hate relationship with carbs. While exceptional, the corner shop’s perfectly balanced salmon salad is far from its only draw—the bagels are chewy and authentic, devoid of the dreaded “bread bagel” consistency, and the array of both sweet and savory cream cheeses (including vegan tofu varieties for just about every flavor) is legendary. An everything bagel with lettuce, tomato, and a generous scoop of salmon salad – which, if you’re me, will last you two meals when paired with a small mountain of baby carrots – will set you back about $7. Could be worse. Could be much worse. Could be so much worse.

My one complaint? They’re not on Twitter. Come on, Ess-a-Bagel, I’m just trynna holla atchu.

Ess-a-Bagel. 359 1st Avenue (21st & 1st). 212.260.2252.

Marry it.

I’m not a superstitious person, but I do believe deeply in the cosmic significance of my iPod. I keep it on shuffle, and it has a knack for unearthing from my musical archives exactly what I need to hear at any given moment. My home life unfolds to monthly rotations of club jamz and thug jamz, so when I’m in transit, I throw playlists to the wind and leave my soundtrack in the hands of the universe. I’ve been known to experience spiritual epiphanies on public transportation, and the effect is amplified when it comes to travel—whatever song plays as my flight touches down sets the tone for my entire trip.

As my plane angled into Reagan National last Wednesday, I was curious to see what the iPod gods would throw my way. The evening before had brought my last Trivia Tuesday at Simone’s, a favorite Pilsen haunt for raspberry ale and sweet potato fries, followed by “it’s-not-goodbye-it’s-see-you-later!”s to three of my closest Chicago pals. I had spent the wee hours of the morning dismantling my apartment, a studio in Rogers Park that saw my transformation from rattled but resolute half-shell of a human to what can only be described as Me Again, But Better. At 6am, I had left my keys on the counter, hailed a cab to O’Hare, and boarded a one-way flight to DC. I hadn’t slept in 36 hours. I was physically and emotionally spent. As we prepared for landing, my iPod made its selection, and I fought back tears at the opening chords of Lady Gaga’s “Marry the Night.”

Gaga wrote “Marry the Night” about her return to New York City after a breakdown of epic proportions, so the song assumed a particular gravity for me as I steeled myself for a similar undertaking. I grew up in Northern Virginia, but I’ve wanted to live in New York since I first learned what New York was, and a summer spent interning there in 2010 dispelled my Sex and the City-esque notions but did little to otherwise dampen my affection. I knew I was headed back, but I had no idea when—I graduated without a job offer, and while I had committed to relocating by June, I was half-convinced I’d end up begging for work at the Brooklyn Crossroads. I had contacts in publishing, but I knew of no open entry-level positions. My one prospect was an online editorial gig at a women’s empowerment and career advice site, and while I had managed to fight my way into a second interview, I was expressly told I didn’t have enough experience for the position. I figured any interview practice I could get would be useful, however, and a weekend in NYC would boost my morale for the months of living at home and waiting tables that lay ahead.

On Friday, I boarded a one-way bus for a two-day trip with enough clothes to last me a week. By the good graces of Lord iPod, the theme song to “NFL on Fox” blasted as we drove through the Lincoln Tunnel. Game time.

On Saturday, I woke up early, ate oatmeal I’d brought from home in a plastic baggie, went for a run, showered, donned my prized Chanel jacket, and hopped a subway train downtown. I gave the interview my all, then spent all night blowing off nervous energy. Shortly after 5am, I straggled in, peeled off my sweat-soaked clothes, hurled myself onto my couch bed, and decided I wasn’t leaving.

On Sunday, I called my parents and told them I “had a feeling” I should stay, that there was nothing I would be doing at home that I couldn’t do from Manhattan, and that I would keep them posted on my plans. I think they thought I was nuts. I nursed my hangover, updated my blog, and went about business as usual.

I got the call on Monday. On Tuesday, I began work as a professional writer and editor.

Things happened quickly for me. Almost too quickly. I knew living in NYC would require a learning curve, but I didn’t expect my first week to be such a shock to the system. I wasn’t sleeping, eating, or working out as I normally would, and the temporary suspension of that framework hit me hard. I felt frazzled and sluggish and ill at ease in my own skin. Overwhelmed by my hour-long commute from Washington Heights to Gramercy Park. Simultaneously afraid of and prone to overspending. I’m fortunate to have a support network of family and friends in NYC, but the reality of building a new life in a new city seemed suddenly daunting. A three-month internship two years ago does not a New Yorker make. I know subway lines and neighborhoods, but I don’t know work-life balance and Manhattan real estate (!) and long-term budgeting on a modest salary. I felt like I was finally living the life I’d always wanted, and I was ruining it.

Needless to say, I can be a bit hard on myself. I zoomed down to Virginia this weekend to get more clothes and collect my thoughts, and I’m feeling infinitely more prepared to take on the changes. Moving to New York is a thrilling and inevitable milestone, but I can’t go into it expecting everything to be perfect. I can love New York with all my soul, know in that same soul that I belong there, and still admit that I find it intimidating. I’ve made peace with that. I also got an iPhone, so I feel like that’s really going to change things for me.

Today, I “came home” to New York for the first time. I don’t have an end date. I live here now. Whether or not that life looks like I imagined it would, my childhood dream is a reality. I did it. I got here. And I’m marrying it.

Today, as my bus drove through the Lincoln Tunnel, I chose the soundtrack myself. You guessed it—”Marry the Night.” I don’t harbor any delusions that this is going to be easy. New York is an expensive, competitive, often indifferent city. It’s exhausting. It’s exhilarating. And I’m marrying it.

Today, my life as a New Yorker officially begins. And I’m marrying it.

No questions, just a request:

The night is now. Marry it.

Silent knight.

I am the least coy person in the history of coyness. I hate that rule-following, game-playing nonsense. If I like you, you will know it. I might hang back until you demonstrate an interest, but once you do, I’ll gladly be the one to propose a specific, non-theoretical plan to hang out with you. It’s not that I’m obsessive or willing to rearrange my life to make those plans—it’s just that I do what I want. My love life is the one place I am almost entirely ruled by my Id, and I can’t be bothered to think about how I might come across by communicating with you as I would any other human being.

When it comes to getting first dates, it’s a huge boon. Being pursued is wonderful, but once I got over the idea of the rom com-caliber beginning, my monologue transformed from, “He acts like he likes me, but when is he going to do something about it?” to, “Yeah, we’re going out this week.” Potentials became actuals, and concrete dates replaced ambiguous movie nights and cryptic text messages. Dating isn’t dead—you just have to be willing to ask for it. I occasionally feel silly and unromantic being the one to say, “Great, we like each other, now let’s make a plan.” But for every guy who’s been startled by my unorthodox girl behavior, I’ve had one tell me, “Hey, I’m really glad you got me out tonight, because I’m happy to be spending time with you right now.”

Forwardness has a flip side, though—once you establish yourself as the pursuer, it can be difficult to tell when a doomed courtship has reapportioned you from default plan-maker to clingy stalker. I’d like to think I’m generally adept at picking up on social cues, but there’s something about the delicate nature of relationships that complicates the signals coming from both ends. Unless you’re a complete sadist, it can be as hard to reject someone as it is to be rejected, particularly if you have to see that person on a regular basis. So what do you do when someone refuses to reject you? When tenacity is met with “Yeah, definitely, sometime soon!” wrapped in “I’m just really busy right now,” under a fine drizzle of “WHY AREN’T YOU GETTING THIS PLEASE STOP.”

There comes a point when sanity demands that we consider ourselves rejected until proven desired. When you feel like the potential for something special lies in your hands, committing to that mindset feels unwise—even dangerous. We forget that choosing to read silence as rejection doesn’t necessarily make it so. If the excuses are legitimate and the interest in there, that will likely make itself clear before long. Taking a step back – in essence, rejecting yourself – is about believing that you deserve someone who likes you enough to make the effort. Someone as willing to put himself out there as you are. It’s not about games. It’s about values. Asking, What do I want? And is it you?

As humans, we’re addicted to the chase. We find the idea of a tortured romance as intoxicating as a beautiful one. Letting go is easier said than done, particularly if that person continues to give off signals they might be interested, and I’ve been on both sides enough times to know that sometimes there’s more to the story than, “He’s just not that into you.” Listen, shit happens. People get busy. But if you want to spend time with someone, you find a way to make it work. And if you would make time for someone, but that person is not making time for you, that is a statement of value in its own right—no matter how into you they act when you’re together. Remember that you have a choice to make here, too.

Have you ever made the choice to reject yourself? How did you know when to draw the line?