The meaning of joy


….is rummaging in your pantry on a Friday night after a long, busy and stressful week, and finding a box of unopened Girl Scout S’mores cookies.


Let’s hear it for Susan Boyle!


Tell me you can watch this video of Susan Boyle’s triumph in her audition for Britain’s Got Talent without crying. I think I’ve seen this at least a dozen times, and each time I bawled and bawled. I have a desktop full of crumpled tissues to prove it.

A few snarky YouTube commentators wrote that her voice “isn’t anything special,” that as a “pro in musical theatre,” they claim that she’s just average, or some such nonsense. These folks obviously missed the huge, huge point glaring at them in the face, i.e., that it’s not just her voice (and clearly, as someone who is not a pro but rather a sheltered church-choir amateur, Boyle is a revelation) but rather the stark, brilliant contrast between the audience’s expectations and her mind-blowing performance. Her back story (she only entered the competition in order to fulfill her dying mother’s wish for her to “make something of [herself]”), her obvious gush of glee and exuberance, her amazing self-possession despite the audience’s skepticism and cynicism…those are what make this video so bloody moving.

I desperately wish I could watch her progress through the show’s trials, but for now I’ll just be content keeping track of her from across the pond. Britain’s bookmakers are already betting on Ms. Boyle’s ultimate victory. I can’t even imagine what that must be like, having your entire life change in mere minutes, going from being an object of scorn and condescension to the center of the entire world’s attention.

Ms. Boyle, congratulations. Welcome to stardom.

Back in the saddle again


It’s funny. We’ve been in Texas for just a little over a week (having arrived last Sunday, the 22nd), and yet we already feel as if we never left, the 2 1/2 years in Grand Junction notwithstanding. B. and I speculate that it’s a coping mechanism/trick the brain employs to alleviate the shock of leaving one place and settling in another, especially if the transition is short and quick like ours was. From the moment B. received the job offer to the day we actually left GJ was just a little over two weeks. Talk about abrupt.

B. started working at the hospital today, and for a wild moment I imagined that it was all an April’s Fools’ Day joke, that his supervisor would greet him at the door with, “Hey, we were just kidding! We didn’t really offer you a job!” In actuality, though, they apparently weren’t expecting him until Monday, but it worked out okay as he spent most of the day running around campus, finishing up paperwork and getting to know the lay of the land. Since his contract says that April 1st is his start date, he’s in good shape.

It’s a very strange experience, sort of a reverse culture shock, that may be even more acute than what I went through when I moved back to Dallas after two years in Japan. Maybe it’s because I’m a bit older, but it really has been an adjustment being here. I imagine it’s partly because my mom retired to the Philippines literally two days after we arrived (no worries, this was something she had planned months, years ago, so she didn’t flee the country just because we were back in town!), so there’s that void. We’re also in a sort of limbo, as the new apartment that we’ve signed up for won’t be ready until the middle of May, so we’re camping out at my brother and sister-in-law’s house until then. They’ve been exceedingly kind and accommodating to us, and I love being around my one-year-old niece, but it’s different when it’s your own place, you know? And it can’t be easy to have long-term guests in your own home, even though we basically live on their 2nd floor while they occupy the rest of the house. Still, it’s wonderful knowing that we didn’t have to worry about finding a place to live right away.

The one thing neither of was truly prepared for, though, was the traffic. I’d always known that Dallas traffic gets worse every year, but have the drivers always been this aggressive and downright reckless? For god’s sake, a school bus overtook me in a 20-mph school zone yesterday. I’ve never been afraid of driving on city freeways and interstates, but lately it seems more like a death wish than a route from Point A to Point B. Yesterday the evening news shows were filled with reports about a 72-year-old school crossing guard who was struck and killed by a drunk driver. At eight in the morning.

Yeah, it’s times like these that I realize just how quiet and relatively safe I felt in Grand Junction, compared to the big city.

Still, it’s lovely to be back with the families again. To know that anytime I wanted to patronize a Filipino restaurant, I could do so within the hour. (When I lived in GJ, anytime I traveled I would check the local listings to see if there was a Filipino restaurant in the area. Salt Lake City, you really need to get some entrepreneurial Pinoy foodies to move to your fair metropolis.) To be able to shop for just about anything I want, from organic soy candles handmade by a local artisan to Choc-Nut bars at the Asian market to cool-if-overpriced-and-overhyped organizing bins at the Container Store. Oh, and yes, it’s nice to have Ikea nearby, even though realistically I’ll probably go there no more than once a year.

I miss GJ like crazy. I miss my friends, my favorite editor (Josh, you rock!), my favorite coffee shops (Coffee Muggers and Colorado Java House), the view outside my office window of Colorado National Monument, the running trail just behind my house. When we first set foot in GJ over Labor Day weekend in 2006, we weren’t sure what we had gotten ourselves into and were wondering if we would ever get used to living there. Just two and a half years later, it turns out to be one of the best little secrets in America.

But now we’re here, and we’re going to make the most of it. Back home with family, back home where we were both raised, back home where the familiar and the new collide.

It’s just great to be back.

When it rains…


So B. and I are moving to Dallas next week, and here’s what the universe has thrown in our direction:

a) I caught a weird sore throat/flu/cold combo on Monday, and now I get out of breath just climbing up the stairs. Weird, because I just ran 4.5 miles on Sunday at a nice, strong clip and felt amazing. Guess I should’ve taken myself more seriously whenever I scrawled “Need more sleep!” on my running journal.

b) I was chewing on some chicken the other day when I felt a dull pain in my mouth. I checked out my teeth that night and realized that a filling I’ve had for 20-odd years has chipped off. Nice. My dentist is out of town all week (spring break!?), so after some frantic calling-around I was able to get an appointment tomorrow with a dentist across the hall from my usual guy.

c) I still haven’t been able to go on remission with my ulcerative colitis — after several months’ of trying out different medications and diets — so I’ve made an appointment to see my GI doc on Tuesday, i.e., the day before we’re scheduled to leave for Dallas. I guess I should consider myself lucky that I was able to nab an appointment at all, as he’s out of town this entire week as well. (Spring break?!)

I’ve rescheduled a bunch of last-minute coffees and lunches with friends, and now I’m worried that I won’t be able to say goodbye to some folks. Yikes. When we said that the decision to leave GJ was “sudden,” I guess it didn’t occur to us just how sudden it really is.

We were really on schedule to have everything packed up by the end of this week, but with my illness that’s all up in the air now. B. has had to do everything pretty much by himself, as it tires me out just going up the stairs. I’m usually asleep by 9:30 pm and able to crawl out of bed by 9:00 am, which is probably good for my body, but I still lack the energy to do more than work on the laptop and watch hours of daytime TV.

I’m also very, very lucky in that I don’t have any assignments at all for the next two weeks. I do have my [final!!!] column due on Tuesday, but other than that, I don’t have any commitments. I should be panicking, but I have all the work I need to keep me busy until we get settled in our temporary quarters at my brother’s house in Irving. My body’s taught me that there’s really only so much it can take before it gives out on me, so for once I’m heeding its call to get lots of rest before I subject it to more stress next week. Five days of being on the road! Woo-hoo!

Irene Natividad for Wikipedia!


In doing research for a query, I remembered an amazing Filipina-American whose name I read/heard on TV/radio countless times: Irene Natividad. Born in the Philippines but raised in various countries, she’s now the president of the Global Summit of Women, past president of the National Women’s Political Caucus, former National Chair of the AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) for Hillary during the 2008 presidential campaign, and oh, she heads her own public affairs firm in D.C., GlobeWomen. She’s a sought-after speaker, is on several corporate boards, has had editorials published in national newspapers, has appeared on national news shows, and is widely considered one of the most influential women in America.

Okay. I get it. She’s amazing. When I grow up, I wanna be her.

So why is she nowhere to be found on Wikipedia? Justin Guarini, yes. Irene Natividad, er, no? I realize that people are constantly warned never to consider Wikipedia as a reliable source, but I know more than a few professionals — yup, journalists, too — who consider it a valuable jumping-off point for research.

Gotta learn how to contribute to the Wiki.

Happy Christmas, Everyone!


My family has a reputation for having stuff happen during the holidays. Nothing major. My dad died two weeks before Christmas. Money issues. Breakups. Marriage proposals. Family estrangement. The usual dysfunction of every American family.

This year is no different, but a new wrinkle has been added to the mix: my car died this morning! Yep, the poor baby won’t start. It won’t even light up, save for the oil and brake indicator lights. B. suspects it’s the alternator not charging up the battery — he couldn’t get it started for a while last night as he was leaving work either, but after one last putsch, it came to life with I guess enough electricity to take him home. As I don’t want to spend the money for a tow truck — mostly because I don’t want any ol’ tow mechanic to potentially damage her (and yes, I consider my car to be a beloved, animate object) — I have to wait until Monday, when I can get a rental car, to take it to the garage. Sigh. Always somethin’.

On a happy note, though, I’m healthy, no one’s dying (…that I know of…), and I get presents! Wa-Hey! Presents can line any tragic moment with shiny silver. B. (whom a co-worker took to work this morning) and I are going to stay in tonight, hope for more snow, and watch some old movies before Christmas slips away again. We had planned to pick up some fried chicken at the store (our new holiday tradition!), but it may have to be take-out pizza tonight, assuming that the delivery folks are open.

I should write about the year and all that’s happened, but I’m not feeling especially motivated at the moment. Right now my desk is somewhat clean-ish, and although I have a massive to-do list, all I want to really do is have a cup of cafe au lait at the local coffee shop and relax. It’s awfully gloomy outside, the weatherman’s predicting more snow, and, well, I can’t bring myself to be productive. I’m just glad I got most of my errands and all of my Christmas shopping done.

Something I’ve been wanting to do for awhile is revamp my other blogs and start over again in the New Year. That little to-do item (which involves tons of sub-to-do lists) has been on my plate for weeks, but a major project I hope will be completed by the end of January has been taking up most of my mental bandwidth. Plus, of course, my novel.

Ah yes, my novel. It’s still here, waiting for its final pages. I have loads more research to do, which I hope to accomplish by the end of January as well. I just got another major writing assignment that I had been hoping to land and which will probably represent a nice little check in February, so I have to prioritize that. I can’t take any much more freelancing, though, until I get these major projects out of my way, as they’ll pretty much take up all my free time through the beginning of spring. It’s a good problem to have, being busy with useful things, but sometimes I wonder how the hell I got anything done when I had a full-time job and still juggling most of these things.

10 Things Writers Don’t Need…Necessarily


I think I speak for a lot of writers when I say that office supplies and high-tech toys are cool. I love going to Office Depot, Office Max, or any stationery store, for that matter, and just inhaling the smell of all things office-related. I once had to go shopping at an Office Depot after being hired at a nonprofit, and I was told to pretty much get what I thought I need, as my position was new and therefore had nothing to its name other than a title. I went bananas, piling pens, pencils, legal pads (yellow!), notebooks, staples, and all manner of supplies before my supervisor gently took my hand and restrained me from making what would have undoubtedly become yet another regrettable purchase.

When my novels sell a gajillion copies, and I become rich and famous, I will probably do that again — go berserk at an office supply shop, that is — but in the meantime, in light of my meager income, I’ll satisfy myself with browsing through random office supply catalogs. Even a quick perusal elicits sighs of ecstasy, but in the midst of my swoons of happiness, I recognize that there are just some things that writers don’t really need and could do very well without.

  • AlphaSmart. If you don’t have a laptop but are instead tethered to your desktop PC, this may be a good option for you if you don’t want to spend several hundred dollars on a notebook. Still, if you have a notebook — and most writers I know do — the AlphaSmart really is just another excuse to play with a new toy and distract oneself from actual writing. Sure, it’s cute and portable and doesn’t have to “boot up,” thereby saving oneself valuable seconds of time. But it doesn’t offer Internet access or a full monitor, so freelance writers who need the research capabilities of Google and Wikipedia will be SOL if this is all they have while on the road. For an extra couple hundred, you can get a decent Linux laptop online or at your nearest Wal-Mart and get word processing and Internet browsing, all in one computer.
  • Blackberry. I soooo want one of these. I saw the Pearl at my local Best Buy the other day for less than US$100 and almost snatched one. But if I really, really think about it, I’ll admit that this unwieldy gadget has little use to me except satisfy this neurotic need I have to check my email every five seconds. That’s the last thing I should be doing, especially if my month is dry and I need to hustle and get a dozen queries out the door. I already resent the fact that some people get upset when I don’t answer my regular cell phone, as if that little trill is some kind of dog whistle that I have to heed. Imagine what a Blackberry would do to my sanity. No thanks.
  • A Virtual Assistant. I’ll admit, I want one of these soooo badly. I looked into hiring a local VA a few months ago when I was blessedly swamped with work, but reason prevailed when the woman quoted her per-hour fee: $40. That’s just for transcribing, mind you, not balancing my books or even answering my phone. Very busy, six-figure freelancers can and should hire a VA to handle their routine paperwork, scheduling, even research and, yes, answering their phone. But since the majority of freelancers still have to hustle to make three figures a month, we really shouldn’t be sharing that money with anyone when we can do it perfectly well ourselves. If you must, hire your son or wife at below minimum wage (if at all) to help you out. Otherwise, stick it out and do your own work for the time being until you make enough so that a $20/hr secretary seems like a bargain when you compare how much you make.
  • Fancy bookcases with glass shelves and interior lighting. I dream about having my own expansive, wood-paneled library with floor-to-ceiling custom bookcases and one of those sliding ladders that can traverse the length of the room. I even dream about those cool bookcases from IKEA with the frosted glass doors and, yes, interior lighting. But for now I happily settle for the cheaper, plain-but-sturdy particle board BILLY bookcases from IKEA. With the optional top shelf, it almost looks as if I have floor-to-ceiling bookcases, and they stand up better to the weight of my many, many books than just about any comparable bookcase at Office Depot or Office Max. All you really need is something strong to carry what is likely a massive and still-growing book collection, so until you make that six-figure income, stick with the basics that will do the job for a fraction of the price of those fancy-schmancy “wood” bookcases.
  • Fancy desks/workstations. I once had a cherry wood L-shaped desk, complete with a full hutch that took up nearly an entire wall, at a previous job. It was brand new when I took the position, and they hadn’t exactly measured the office dimensions before ordering the giant. It filled the entire space and dwarfed me behind it. Still, I loved it. So much room, so much shine! It cost over $1,000, but hey, I didn’t have to pay for it. Now that I do, though, I’m content with my IKEA desktop and a 6′-folding table I bought separately at Office Depot to create a makeshift L-shaped workstation for myself. It’s not exactly Wall Street, but frankly, it’s not just functional but comfortable as well. Total cost? About $200.

There’s plenty more non-essential goodies I would love to have but know that I don’t really need, and I’m sure you do as well. What office supplies/equipment/gear do you lust after, even knowing that your life won’t necessarily be any better off with it?

Help a Reporter Out


No, I’m not talking about me. (Although I appreciate any offers of help. Especially those involving the ingestion of lots of rich, dark chocolate, or even the disposal of lots of rich, green money.)

Peter Shankman is a high-energy PR guy based in NYC whose pet project, Help a Reporter Out (HARO), has become the go-to place for journalists looking for sources and experts/ordinary people wanting to become sources. Are you doing an article for Cosmopolitan about the most popular sex toys in use among, uhm, fundamentalist Christian couples? (What? I’m just flying by the seat of my pants here. Cut me some slack.) Post a request on HARO, and he’ll get you in touch with tons of potential interviewees out there.

You can also participate by signing up and offering to be a source. All you have to do is submit your name and email address, and a couple of times a day you’ll get a list of HARO requests from reporters and freelance writers all over the country. You don’t have to be an expert in anything esoteric (although they welcome that, too); you can just be Joe Schmoe wanting to — say it with me, folks — Help a Reporter Out. This morning’s list, for example, a request from a reporter doing an article for Bloomberg for anyone looking to buy a used or new Toyota Prius, and another one asking respondents what they would love to see in their game room for the 2008 holiday season.

So that’s your good deed for the day. I don’t know Peter personally, but check out his Web site/blog/Facebook/Twitter account sometime. Seriously, the man doesn’t sleep. Or at least he doesn’t appear to. He’s a very strange but seemingly friendly man. And that’s good enough for me. 🙂

Oh, and don’t forget about my cool giveaway of Robert W. Bly’s Getting Started as a Freelance Writer Expanded and Revised Edition! The deadline is Tuesday, July 22nd, so make sure you post your comment to enter the contest!