Reinvention

When I was in high school, I planned to major in drama when I went I college. But then I didn’t get the lead role – or any role for that matter – in the senior play, crushing my Broadway dreams. I went to the other extreme: I decided to major in pre-law.

My step-mother talked me out of it. “Do you really want to be a lawyer?” she asked. “You’re too diplomatic for that.”

Diplomacy wasn’t a major so I went with International Relations. “What kind of job are you going to get as an IR major,” the adults around me asked. I didn’t really know. I figured I’d travel the world and eventually become a diplomat.

Senior year, the need for a respectable job looming, I took the Foreign Service exam.

(As an aside, my creative writing instructor encouraged me to become a writer. “You’re talented. You should really consider this writing thing.” His words still ring through my brain on a loop.)

On the Foreign Service exam, I scored one point lower than the cut-off for an interview. (14 years later, pregnant with Colin, I was offered that interview as part of the settlement of a class action lawsuit, but I wasn’t really in a position to take a post in a third world country, as amazing as that sounds to me now.)

I wanted to go abroad, mostly because I was in love with a foreigner. I applied for the Peace Corps. Got an interview. Was told my liberal arts degree didn’t arm me with any applicable skills. “I want to volunteer,” I pleaded. “I can teach English as a Second Language.” I needed experience to prove it.

So I applied to a program to teach English in the Czech Republic for a summer. It was a fabulous experience. This was the answer. I’d go home, get a Master’s degree in Education, travel the world teaching English.

I got a job teaching ESL in Boston and went to school at night. But three days after graduating with my M.Ed., I had an epiphany: my lifelong dream was to work on Capitol Hill.

I didn’t know the first thing about how to get a job on Capitol Hill. I flew to DC. Walked unscheduled into Senator Susan Collins’ office.

“Hi, I’m from Maine. I’ve always wanted to work on Capitol Hill and was wondering if someone could talk to me about the process.” That “talk” ended with a job offer.

I moved, driving solo in a U-Haul truck with all my worldly belongings to a city where I knew two people. I made friends. I figured out what “recess” meant and how to get to the Senate floor. At some point I was given the responsibility of writing letters on environmental issues, which led to a job on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

A moderate republican environmentalist was born. The rest is on my LinkedIn page.

Everything opportunity I’ve had in DC happened by accident. I’m some weird poster child for being in the right place at the right time. But were all these career moves right?

While I balance consulting for myself with writing my novel, more and more of my passion flows toward the latter. Just have coffee, lunch, a drink with me and time how many minutes I spend talking about the book versus talking about lobbying. I don’t picture myself pounding the marble halls of Congress forever. In an ideal world, I don’t picture myself pounding the halls of Congress next year. I know how dangerous it is to put that in writing; some future employer or client could use it against me. “She’s not dedicated enough to policy. She just wants to write her book.”

But that’s far from true. I’m still passionate about my issues, and as long as working on them helps me sustain this dream of being published, I’ll continue to pursue energy work with gusto. It’s admittedly hard. This isn’t a town that embraces the unconventional. By my own invention, I don’t fit the norm.

But for now I’ll wear the label of wacky lobbyist-slash-aspiring-writer and hope that my professional luck continues. Maybe someday, that long ago writing instructor will see my published book and remember my name.

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the winter of my contentment

I know it’s technically spring, but my down coat still hangs front and center in my closet; I dare not put away my snow boots or pack up the hats and gloves. Many have groaned and sighed at the beating we took this winter. We may not have had storms that packed the punch of those belonging to snowmaggedon, but the season was long and bitter and won’t soon be forgot.

I loved it.

Sure, I rolled my eyes in sympathy with the complainers, commiserated with the cold and weary. But I had my fingers crossed behind my back as tightly as the scarf was wound around my neck.

Winter is the most romantic season of all. And while I spent it alone, there’s nothing like wind chills in the single digits and a fire roaring in the fire place to inspire great writing.  I haven’t exactly been the most social being the last four months. Winter exacerbated my reserve, and writing gave me something productive to do behind closed doors (sometimes under piles of blankets). Now I get why there are so many great Russian writers.

Perhaps my favorite day this winter came just before spring officially came on the books. The St. Patrick’s Day storm lived up to the hype, dropping nine inches in our town, closing the federal government and schools. (As a sole proprietor, I follow whatever closing decision is most advantageous to my needs.) My dear friends hosted happy hour. Outside. In their backyard. A fire blazed in the fire pit. Snowbanks kept our Guinness and wine cold. We bundled up and sat close, making the most of what we could not control. I felt truly social for the first time since December, huddled over a fire as the snow fell and kids sledded nearby. I wanted that night to never end.

I’m out of tights. Open-toed shoes are waiting in the closet. It feels awkward to wear a black sweater in mid-April. (Easter dress, schmeaster dress.) My down coat really does need a turn in the washing machine and my wool coats are ready for dry cleaning. My yard is happily popping with tulips and daffodils and I would like to open the windows, but I’m sad to see the winter go. This winter was made glorious summer by my embracing its chilly offerings.

 

where have all the bookstores gone?

Remember the days when if you had a little extra time, you’d meander into a bookstore? Walk between the aisles, looking for something new or maybe a long lost book written by a favorite author? Nowadays we instead spend our leisure time taking Buzz Feed quizzes and following on Facebook the lives of people who wouldn’t under other circumstances make the friend cut.

I miss bookstores. Hey, I fell for it like everyone else. I jumped on the Kindle bandwagon early. It felt safer to travel with an e-reader in case I’m ever stuck on the Tarmac for so long that if I finish my book, I conveniently have another waiting without all the bulk. But lately I’ve been craving books. Real paper and binding books.

I love the way books smell. I love the way they feel. You can bathe with them, sleep with them, and even dribble ice cream on them without concern.

My desire to trade my electronics for paper did not come out of nowhere. I’m inspired by the fact that I JUST WROTE A NOVEL and at some point in the undefined future, I’m going to want people to buy my book. And not the electronic version (though if that’s the only way to get you to read it, then fine). I want you all to buy the tangible version and take it with you everywhere so passers by ask, “hey, how is it?” To which you will reply, “I can’t put it down.”

But I digress.

These days when I buy a book, I usually order from Amazon because there are no more bookstores. I read an interview with a literary agent who said if you are a debut author and you aren’t going to a bookstore at least once a month to buy in hardback another debut author’s work, you aren’t supporting other writers. I want to help, I do. I believe in karma. Please someone let me pay full price for a hard cover book. But where?

Today I tried to hit the only Barnes and Noble I can think of, which I know is really no better than Amazon but forget finding an independent bookstore. Traffic jams, too many tourists and lack of parking got the better of me and I gave up the mission. This evening I stopped by Busboys and Poets. While I appreciate the curated (i.e. small) fiction collection, it wasn’t as satisfying of an experience. You can’t get lost in between two bookshelves.

I’m determined to bring back books. Let’s make it sexy again to carry a book. (I’d totally date that book toting guy.) If we demand it, they shall build it, right? As shopping trends move toward buying local, don’t forget that there are and should be more places to buy your reads than Amazon.

tales of a music festival

I just spent the weekend at Coachella. I significantly underestimated how cool I would feel just saying that. I might never be the same.

I must admit that reaction was mixed when I announced to friends that I was going.

YOU are going to Coachella?

What the hell is Coachella?

For those who don’t know, it’s a 3-day music festival in Palm Springs, California. Tickets go on sale a year in advance and move quickly. Luckily for me, I have a friend who was on the ball and bought two tickets last May. And even luckier, the friend she was supposed to go with bailed at the last minute, giving me the opportunity to slip in and take her coveted wristband.

I spent hours going over the lineup. I consider myself to know a fair amount about music but I was shocked at the number of musicians whose names I didn’t recognize. But that was fine. I was eager to discover my next new favorite band.

I also spent an absurd amount of time trying to figure out what to wear. Music festivals are not runways but the fashion is certainly a sight to behold. I consulted my friend Allie at Wardrobe Oxygen who is not only a fashion blogger but an experienced music festival-ite. She wrote a nice post on what to wear to Coachella that I only clicked on approximately 25,000 times as I surveyed my utterly unhip wardrobe.

In spite of my eager cramming for Coachella, no articles or playlists could have prepared me for what we encountered. I’m going to be talking for some time about the pervasiveness of bralets as tops. I only hope the trend of wearing your denim shorts unbuttoned and folded down to reveal underwear is contained to the desert. Many skimpy bikinis were on display, not my first choice of what to wear to sit in the dusty grass. Hell, it’s not my first choice of what to wear to the beach.

While the style was interesting the music was phenomenal. I still have a medley of Broken Bells songs stuck in my head. They were a favorite before the festival but earned my deeper adoration with their live performance. I discovered a new favorite: Future Islands. Sadly I missed the much-written about Beyoncé appearance on her sister’s stage because, frankly, I didn’t know Solange was her sister. I am to be forgiven for that because I got close enough to Jared Leto to run my fingers through his ombréd mane, though of course I resisted such temptation.

I discovered a new skill. I’m an adept crowd pusher. (Now I know how rough it is to be salmon.) I’m still working the dust out of my eyes from Saturday’s sand storm. (Weekend two attendees: bring swim goggles.) Six pairs of shoes turned out to be way too many but three hats was just the right number.

This year has been about doing things I haven’t done before. You know, like writing a book. Coachella fit neatly into the “experience I’ve never had” box. I feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to attend. I wasn’t even the oldest one there, as some so-called friends might have suggested I would be. And who knows, maybe next year I’ll rock the bralet.

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