January 26, 2016

An incomplete list of all the things I almost always overbuy expressly to avoid running out of

— Toilet paper: Charmin
— Twinings organic peppermint tea
— Patent black pumps
— Organic whole milk
— Eames dining chairs
— Diptyque "Figuier" candles
— Decorative candy bowls
— Commemorative teapots
— Vanilla extract
— Organic free range pasture raised eggs: extra-large or jumbo
— Ham
— Butter
— Collegiate sweatpants
— Organic steel cut rolled oats
— Frederic Malle perfume
— College-ruled yellow legal pads

January 24, 2016

Full-on fashion

Background: It's been just over ten years since I finished up the MA at Saint Martins and tomorrow I'm starting the first serious fashion job of my career. Not that all the jobs I've had up to this point aren't serious jobs—they were just serious in other ways. Working at the Post was all about scooping the News, developing the paper's first market pages, and shock value; launching Racked National was creating a national shopping blog POV from scratch and securing its place in the landscape of independent fashion blogs at the time; the three times I worked at Glamour always boiled down to moving the traffic needle with a content-first strategy while covering as much ground as possible without sacrificing brand value; and my under-a-year stint at Epicurious (food, not fashion) was all about getting the website to max traffic in the shortest amount of time while overhauling a 20-year-old site's functionality, purpose, and design.

The tipping point: About three months ago, I was summoned to the office of one of the most important people in fashion publishing. We talked about my career, the internet, and millennials—and the one thing that resonated with me the most (and that I've thought about every single day since) is when she said to me, "It sounds like you're a generalist." 

I don't want to be a generalist. I didn't spend my 20s doing semi-random master's degrees (first women's studies, then fashion) to wind up a generalist. I felt lost during so many of my higher education years and through a dozen internships (liver cell research lab; corporate law firm; PR agency; college administration) before finally, after landing at CSM, I felt like everything in the world and in my little life finally made sense. I guess at some point over the last ten years, I must have lost my way. Two years ago, I became completely disillusioned with fashion—for so many reasons, but especially the way the industry functions in the United States—and I thought I wanted out. Now, after a professional break—first with a stint in the food media industry and then as a digital generalist and news and politics editor—I'm ready to go back. And I'm not going the consumer-facing service media route this time: I'm going full-on news.

Wish me luck.

January 3, 2016

Apartment facelift time: 5 easy changes I'm making this month

I was well-aware, at the beginning of 2015, that December 28th of last year (uh, last week) would mark my ten-year anniversary of living in this apartment. That's a long time. So I made a resolution a year ago today that before the end of the year, I would either renovate and redecorate or move. Since I love my neighborhood and Manhattan real estate is totally bananas right now—the only way I'd actually be able to significantly upgrade my living space would be if I sold my one room studio and moved off the island—I decided in the beginning of December to make a real go at redecorating. And what I realized is that by changing just a few key things superficially, I could drastically alter the look and feel of my space.

Here are five things that are coming and going:
Bed: My friend Danny, who used to have his own organic mattress collection, told me that you're meant to get a new mattress every two presidential terms. My mattress is 10 years old, so I'm changing it up—and getting a new bed frame while I'm at it.
Custom shelving: When I moved into my apartment at age 28, I designed my space to perfectly accommodate the life (and stuff) I had back then. Ten years on, my book, kitchen appliance, and shoe collection have way outgrown their allotted storage spaces. So last month I met with a designer to create a customized bookshelf that will span nearly the entirety of the eastern wall of my studio.
New window treatments: I used to be super-minimalist (well, a minimalist who's always been thwarted by my own maximalism). To that end, my apartment right now is a glossy white box with pale-to-medium-gray furnishings and textiles (rugs, towels, sheets). But now I prefer comfort over austerity in my old age, I'm more interested in neutrals and warmth. So I'm adding drapery.
Bathroom fixtures: I was never really crazy about the toilet I'd installed in my very-small bathroom when I moved in in 2005—small bathroom fixtures are pretty hard to find—so a couple of years ago, I ordered a new Toto toilet and asked my super to install it (my building's staff is awesome and it's so much easier to work with them on building projects rather than hire unknown outsiders who then need to procure paperwork, COIs, etc.). Next up, I'm thinking about switching from a vanity to a pedestal sink. I'm still grappling with what to do about bathroom storage when I lose that under-cabinet space, but I think that what I lose will be made up for in easy-to-clean-ness and the additional feeling of spaciousness in a small bath.
New rugs: This is a no-brainer (new rugs = new look), but I've always been nervous about adding too much pattern-wise to an already small space. More investigation needed, but I've already mentally committed to the idea.

December 31, 2015

Totally unrealistic new year's resolutions I make every year, plus some new bonus ones for 2016

— Lose weight while maintaining a nonchalant attitude towards eating what I want (nachos)
— Exercise in the morning before work, after coffee, but before breakfast 5/7 days of the week
— Renovate my apartment (which I have been living in for 10 years as of last weekend)
— Write another book, maybe two, sell it/them
— Buy a country house with above book money, spend time in the country
— Go on more ambitious vacations, possibly involving more fishing
— Invest more in skincare and wear less makeup
— Learn to explain my thought processes more patiently and in more detail
— Read more fiction
— Learn to drive (this, surprisingly, is the most unrealistic resolution of all)

December 30, 2015

How to be homesick

A few months ago on a flight back from London, I sat next to a teenage boy who was going to New York City for the very first time. He was born in India, spent his whole life in Goa, and was traveling to the U.S. to start college. There was so much I wanted to tell him about New York, freshman year, living away from your parents for the first time, and being homesick—but he was super-excited and I didn't want to scare him. So, instead, I asked him about his pending computer science coursework and we talked about the weather.

I know most of my friends (and my family) think I'm super-weird for spending the last week of December on my own in Hanover. None of them have said anything to me about it, but I can tell. After all, who in their right mind spends New Year's Eve alone in the tiny town (pop. 11,000) where she went to college 20 years ago?

Well, the logical reasons I'm in New Hampshire are the following:
— I left holiday booking way too late and didn't figure out whether I could even leave New York until right before Christmas
— I wanted to get out of the city for a few days, but didn't want to make a whole production out of it
— I can't drive, but wanted to be in the country, and (ditto above) didn't want to make a whole production out of it
— I wanted to be somewhere easy and familiar, where I wouldn't feel the pressure to sightsee
— I wanted a travel experience that would circumvent all major transportation hubs
— I wanted to stay in a really nice hotel for not a lot of money
— I wanted to be somewhere wintry, not sunny, because it's been so warm in New York all season; also I'm a little fat right now and wanted to wear sweaters, not swimsuits

The illogical reasons I'm here are more abstract. When I first got to Hanover, a college freshman in the fall of 1995, I wasn't at all prepared. Sure, I'd been to sleepaway camps (math sleepaway camps—we're first-gen Asians, that's how we roll) three-to-six weeks at a time every summer since I was 12, but I'd underestimated how much of a city kid I really was. And I was pretty flip about the whole college thing—big deal, I thought, freshman year, middle of nowhere. I didn't even go on an outing club trip before orientation because there were 27 kids in our entering class from my high school—I figured I already knew 2.7 percent of my year.

But that fall and winter were tough. I remember waking up one morning, turning on the radio, and hearing the broadcaster announce that outside, with wind chill, it was minus-70 degrees. That winter I got mono and was laid up in Dick's House (that's what the Dartmouth infirmary is called—best. name. ever.) for two weeks. And for the first three terms, I was still pretending to make pre-med work. It didn't. I think I got a C+ in chemistry (unrelated/related tangent: My freshman writing seminar prof gave me a C that fall and told me I had no aptitude for writing). As a whole, freshman year was not one of my brightest moments.

But, as it turned out, a shitty first year at school is just like so many other beginnings and unfamiliar circumstances that can feel new and impossible at the start. After a summer at home, I came back up to Hanover in sophomore year and everything was better—and kept getting better, month after month, year after year. Now, looking back, I wouldn't change anything, not even the mono.

After college I moved to Cairo (that's right, Egypt), and I went through somewhat of a similar adjustment process. Then there was grad school in England, where at first I didn't feel like I belonged at all and, later, found the first place in the world where I've ever felt completely at home, surrounded by like-minded people.

What I've learned about homesickness and/or adapting to new environments is that coping comes in stages. When uncomfortableness first sets in—somewhere in between the novelty wearing thin and your mind starting to panic from feeling trapped—the easiest thing to do is to nest: eat foods, create superficial experiences, and surround yourself with objects that remind you of home. Me, I try to find Chinese food wherever I go. In most cities, I'll look for a pub or coffee shop to make a ritual out of visiting every day (also, wine and coffee are my panacea).

In the mid-term of homesickness, the most important thing is to find or build a community of like-minded people around you. That was the key for me at St. Martins—I found some of my best friends in the world to this day within six weeks of starting the MA, we all wound up living together a few months later, and they completely shaped all my strongest memories and emotional ties to that city and those two years.

Eventually, if you're lucky, in most cases, the more new environments you experience, the more the idea of 'home' expands and redraws its borders. Sometimes it's weird how that can manifest: for me, for example, Oxford just smells right. And while I love London, Cambridge, Bath, and Brighton, as soon as my bus or train pulls into the Oxford station, everything in my body relaxes and I instantly feel correct. That's it: correct.

It's OK if a place doesn't turn into home, no matter how much you try. Living in Cairo was hard for me—I was a young kid, super-naive, super-sheltered, and sort of just wound up in the Middle East by accident after college. I cried every single day for the first three months even though I knew I wouldn't quit and go home early (because I'm not a quitter). But then I remember waking up in my apartment in Zamalek on December 1 and everything was all of a sudden A-OK. And I was really sad to leave when my contract was up in mid-2000. I visited a few times in the years afterwards. But even though I love Cairo (and, to this day, Aswan is one of my favorite places on earth—I'm always trying to get back there), I still have complicated feelings about my time in Egypt (though my hangups are mostly due to the person I was in my early-20s).

I'm 38 this year and what I've noticed is that (1) I finally feel like an adult. I think most of my friends who got married and had kids started to feel like proper grown-ups when they hit those social life landmarks (marriage, parenthood), but without experiencing those external changes, I've often struggled with identifying contextual markers for my own adulthood. (2) I have a very strong attachment to place. I've always felt so lucky to have been able to travel for fun as much as I do. In the last few months I've been to Mexico (twice), Alaska, South Dakota, England (twice), San Fran, LA, a bunch of places. But there are cities I'm drawn to over and over again, where I'll blow way too much money just to be there for a long weekend, walk around town, breathe the air, eat a meal, buy a book. Sometimes I'm so overwhelmed with nostalgia for a place—not necessarily the people (I hate school reunion weekends, for example, even though I always always attend)—especially if my experiences there involved a sense of personal struggle.

Anyway, tl;dr, that's why I'm in Hanover for New Year's. It's snowing outside, I've already been to every single store and restaurant two or three times this week, I don't know a single person in town right now, and it's so great, the best. Home, a sense of place, has changed and evolved so much for me over the past 20 years—and, right now, this is only place on earth where I want to be.

December 26, 2015

Found gems

I do this all the time—leave photos on SD cards for years and years before downloading and storing them. Just found these gems on a card tonight—arts and crafts from 2013 by me, Caitlin P, and Lindsay S.

December 24, 2015

Favorite Christmas scene from a movie

Well, at least, one of the greatest. From Les Parapluies de Cherbourg:

December 23, 2015

New favorite magazine: Country Life

I recently paid something like $300 for a one-year subscription to Country Life magazine. My first issue just arrived. Here are some reasons why I'm in love with this weekly.

Editorial opens in this issue with an op-ed from the Rt Rev Richard Frith, Bishop of Hereford on the Syrian refugee crisis. Yes, this is Country Life magazine. And he's right: "Although aware that not everyone will be as welcoming as we would like, in preparing the ground in advance, I see no reason why these new arrivals will not be accommodated and settled happily in our deeply rural area. We've done it before."

This very serious editorial is followed by a series of short front-of-book news items, including a page on Taittinger Champagne; a rapid decline in the curlew population; a notice about a new game fair in June; and a news item called "Save Our Rare Goats." ALL ON TWO PAGES.

Then there's more front-of-book items, some market work (a dressing gown, a tote bag, a crystal bowl), a sidebar about Champagne, a reader's letter to the editor about her labrador, an op-ed about animal charity, and then straight into a profile of the Director of the National Gallery.

I love the diversity of content—somehow the pages seem totally ADD, but it all holds together because everything is interesting and thoughtfully executed.

Some of my other favorite stories from this issue:
— A beautiful pictorial of the Lichfield Cathedral in Staffordshire
— A two-page spread on snowberries
— A story called: "How to enjoy the Christmas full moon" which is exactly what is says it is
— Guide to family-owned British businesses that are more than 300 years old
— A THREE PAGE FEATURE ON ERMINES, the animal. The pull-quote is: "An ermine signified the villainous stoat newly shriven of its sins." Best pull-quote ever about ermines.
— A mini Shakespeare quiz
— A historical anniversaries quiz, sample question: "It will be 300 years since the birth of this landscape gardener, who designed the estates of Croome Court, Blenheim Palace, and Harewood House" which I think proves that British people are smarter or are just taught more facts in school.
— A short story by William Boyd
— A story about master cake-icers
— FOUR Brussels sprouts recipes
— A page of Zara Phillips' favorite things this season (I want to buy all of them, but wouldn't know what to do with the Range Rover since I can't drive)
— Feature on Fawlty Towers' 40th anniversary
— A comparison chart of property prices across the UK from 1980 to present day

This is my new favorite magazine and I'm so happy it's going to be coming weekly. *Happy dance*

December 11, 2015

The 5 best clothing and apparel items I bought in 2015

Every year, I buy a lot of stuff, especially clothes, and, at the end of the year, I try to take stock of what worked out for the best (and what didn't). This year, in addition to my annual basic stockpile of Marks & Spencer black tights, Uniqlo HeatTech turtlenecks, two pairs of Tod's flats, go-with-anything Stuart Weitzman over-the-knee boots, Patagonia puffa coat, and fluffy AEO holiday onesie (seriously, I buy these items every single year), here are the five best clothing and apparel items I bought in '15—the most-worn, most loved, most obsessed-over-because-I-love-them things that most accurately outwardly represent my current state of mind and perception of self. This is profound stuff you guys.

— TWO rib knitted rollneck merino dresses at Karen Millen: I bought one, loved it so much, so I bought another one. I can never resist a Karen Millen knit dress for everyday wear.
Lounge pants at Aether Apparel: Slim-cut sweatpants with the softest insides.
Free 4.0 Flyknit sneakers at Nike: Mushy yet somehow supportive and acceptable for weekend outdoor wear.
Barbour lined Beadnell jacket at Orvis: Warm and not muggy like waxed Barbour jackets (which i love, still). Neat and tidy and smart looking while still comfy.
Tasseled loafers at custom shoemaker Ducker and Son: Bought with a little bit of a block heel. I've worn these pretty much every day for the past three weeks. Makes satisfying and important clunk-clunk noises when I walk down the street.

Honorable mention goes to the Ann Demeulemeester asymmetrical dress I bought at Liberty a few months ago, in late summer. The one I linked is red, but I have the black one—and I'm pretty sure they're all sold out. It goes with everything, has a stretchy belt, and I can wear it with sneakers without anyone looking at me funny.

December 9, 2015

Things that are really inspiring me right now

It's December and I can almost feel myself start to slip into a winter funk—dark mornings, even darker afternoons. Work is stressful right now, my health isn't where I want it to be at the moment, and I'm grappling with a lot of annoying mid-career, mid-life questions that are totally ordinary and boring, but that I can't seem to shake. Here are some things that have really been inspiring me lately: stuff I've been turning over in my mind over the past few weeks/months, that will hopefully grow and lead to bigger ideas.

My week in the English countryside. Makes me think a lot about buying a house—but not just a house: a house with land on either side of the house. Not, like, a house next to another house. I want to be by myself. Me, a great kitchen, a cozy cottage, and lots of land. Maybe a small herd of pygmy goats and a few hedgehogs and bunnies.
YouTube. I can't remember the last time I turned on my TV, but I probably watch at least two or three hours of YouTube a day. I love the start-stop of it, I love the diverse voices, the diverse content, the seriousness, the flipness—I love how when you watch YouTube anything seems possible, because the people on the other side of the screen are people who are just like you and me.
The idea of amusing myself at work. I was flipping through some old photos of work friends this afternoon for a research project and I realized that as recently as a few months ago, going to work was really fun—and everyone was just having the best time at work. I've been thinking a lot about the broader idea of work—in the world at large—and I think that superficial happiness and shallow fun and amusement are actually really important things that you need to work really hard to hold onto in an office environment. One of my goals over the next few weeks and months is to strive for that—for myself and to hopefully engender that feeling with the people around me, all these awesome people I love working with every day.
Apple TV. Seriously a genius product. I want to make an Apple TV content app. Not sure what the content is, yet, but I want to make one.
Prep to death. Right now, at this moment, the '90s are back. And not just any old '90s—it's a 1991-1995 revival and I feel like I'm in high school all over again. I know because I bought a pair of trousers for the first time in 15 years—and I keep thinking about whether or not I want to buy Docs and pullover anoraks.
But I'm really into the early '80s right now. My natural '90s-ism is being thwarted by a strong personal interest right now in the early '80s: specifically that decade's Sloane Rangers and the Paninaro look from early-'80s Milan. All I want to do is wear expensive, label-less, slightly-dumpy classic clothes, pearls, loafers, and understated gold jewelry with maybe a puffa vest over it all, I dunno.
Traveling but also standing still. Over the past two years, I've really dedicated my travel time to exploring domestic destinations—before this, I'd try to hop a plane out of the country any chance I got. I love exploring the U.S., but am pretty limited in scope (because I can't drive). I think in the coming year, I'm really feeling the idea of a remote staycation. Susan and I have been talking casually about where to go on vacation in early spring, and the thing that appeals to me most right now (and I don't know if it's because of how hectic everything feels in my life at the moment) is renting a giant house somewhere amazing for a week or two and just being there—maybe inviting some other friends to come along, stay the whole time or for a few days, but just being there with no pressure to sightsee, eat at amazing restaurants, or anything involving strangers. That's all I want to do next year. Maybe I should just learn to drive.

December 5, 2015

Can't stop, won't stop: The 2015 Andy, David, Danica reunion food tour

After working in fashion for more than ten years, I have a whole group of really close friends who, well, don't really eat...much. Or, at least, when I hang out with them, eating is not a huge priority of a group activity. On the opposite end of the spectrum, having spent seven years at the New York Post hanging out with an entire team staffed with hedonists and food obsessives—and then, much later, working as exec editor at Epicurious—I have a whole other group of really close friends who have eating pegged as their number-one priority of a group activity.

Rewind to yesterday.

Two of my friends-for-life-from-the-Post, Andy Wang (former NYP real estate editor) and David Landsel (former NYP travel editor), just happened to be in New York City at the same time for the first time in ages. So I took the day off work to hang out with them—and as the day unfolded, so did what turned out to be a pretty insane eating schedule.

Here's what happened:

10 a.m. I met Andy at the Gansevoort Market, where I grabbed a sausage roll and cup of tea at Myers of Keswick and he had an orange soda—because he'd already eaten breakfast risotto at Santina before meeting up. What? Santina is open for breakfast? You know what this means: This means I'm going to start scheduling all my breakfast meetings from now on at Santina.

11:00 a.m. We're texting with David and he's running late, so we decide to take a walk over to Dominique Ansel Kitchen, just to see what Ansel has been up to. The last time I was there was just a couple of weeks ago for a Wool and the Gang event—where I spotted Ansel knitting a snood.

A video posted by Danica Lo (@danicalo) on

David took the train in from Newark that morning, so was hungry when he arrived. I'd already ordered a cup of tea, some green tea beignets, and a flaky pastry sandwich thing with jam and cream:

And David ordered himself a croque monsieur, which turned out to be the most epic croque monsieur of all time. Good value for money, we agreed all around.

12 p.m. Andy had a meeting at Cafe Clover—his parting words to us were: "Don't eat anything!"—so we dropped him off there and decided to walk over to the LES, stopping at Morgenstern's Ice Cream on the way because, well, why not. We ordered three scoops: salted pretzel caramel, american egg custard, and burnt honey. Highly recommend.

1:30 p.m. After a walk through Essex Street Market, we met up with Andy again at Ivan Ramen on Clinton Street, where we'd come specifically to try out Ivan's new-ish Dan Dan Ramen.

It was, predictably, delicious, and we also ordered daikon radish, pork musubi (below), tonkotsu tsukumen, and Herbie's International Sandwich. Everything was ace, super yum—but Ivan is a genius, so yeah.

2:30 p.m. We were pretty full after lunch, so we decided to walk a little, and pay a look-see visit to Xian Famous Foods, one of our favorite noodle spots, on St. Marks. We totally resisted going in, because we were stuffed. Andy and David wanted to try the chicken sandwich at Fuku, but we knew we needed a coffee break first, so we stopped at Tarallucci et Vino for some espresso before popping next door for this. Verdict: eh.

3 to 5 p.m. Onwards, we forged up through the Union Square Holiday Market, which seems bigger and even more unwieldy, crowd-wise, than previous years, and headed up to Eataly, which was packed and intense and stressful. We tried to take a break at the Nomad, but the library bar was packed and Nomad Bar around the corner wasn't open yet. Somehow we managed to catch the M7 bus (I love a bus) uptown to Parm UWS. Now, I've been to all the Parms in New York—multiple times. There's a Parm next door to my office and, for one brief two-week period a few months ago, when work was super-stressful, I'm pretty sure I went there every single day and ate salad, pasta, and ice cream cake. I love Parm, it's one of my favorite, most reliable, affordable places to dine in New York. at Parm UWS, Andy ordered a "Randy Levine" sandwich off the menu, we got the chicken parm, a Sunday salad, and bolognese. Everything was excellent, as usual.

6:30 p.m. After Parm, we walked a little, but it was getting cold, so we hopped in a cab and headed back downtown for our final stop of the night: one of our all-time favorite dining experiences (where we used to bring groups of friends and call our monthly gatherings Chinese Food Fight Club), Szechuan hotpot at Legend in Chelsea. Our friend Alex and his girlfriend Ash joined us and it was awesome. I was dead full and headed home afterwards to immediately crawl into bed and pass out, but David went off to another dinner party, and Andy headed back uptown to meet some friends for Korean barbecue. Because why not.

~ fin ~

December 1, 2015

Glad that's over

Things I ordered on the internet on Cyber Monday:
— A KitchenAid stand mixer
— A 6-port USB charger

Things I almost ordered on the internet on Cyber Monday:
— 100 pairs of socks from Uniqlo
— HeatTech T-shirts from Uniqlo even though I already have 100
— A hiking trip in Utah
— Cameras, many
— Sleeveless dresses I will never wear irl
— A giant SimpleHuman kitchen garbage bin

November 29, 2015

Learning imagination: a week at Arvon at the Hurst

One of the biggest challenges I've been struggling with over the, oh, last decade, is finding my imagination. For a long time I didn't think I had one—mostly because, through my entire education and working life, I'd never been expected to produce any imaginative content. All the original thought and work I've ever done has been product of extensive research, scientific method, collaborative thinking, and were, more or less, grounded in logic and reality.

On the flight back from London yesterday, I listened to the episode of NPR's TED Radio Hour podcast which includes an interview with Sir Ken Robinson on how modern education doesn't help foster creativity and imagination:

Here's the part of his talk I keep thinking about (emphasis mine):
Our education system is predicated on the idea of academic ability. And there's a reason. Around the world, there were no public systems of education, really, before the 19th century. They all came into being to meet the needs of industrialism. So the hierarchy is rooted on two ideas.

Number one, that the most useful subjects for work are at the top. So you were probably steered benignly away from things at school when you were a kid, things you liked, on the grounds that you would never get a job doing that. Is that right? Don't do music, you're not going to be a musician; don't do art, you won't be an artist. Benign advice—now, profoundly mistaken. The whole world is engulfed in a revolution.

And the second is academic ability, which has really come to dominate our view of intelligence, because the universities designed the system in their image. If you think of it, the whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance. And the consequence is that many highly-talented, brilliant, creative people think they're not, because the thing they were good at at school wasn't valued, or was actually stigmatized. And I think we can't afford to go on that way.
It made me feel better to hear him say that because at least now my struggles with this feeling-of-something-missing makes sense. I just don't know how to reconcile it with the other voice in my head: the one that tells me I have 100 stories to tell, 100 books to write, a whole entire life I haven't tapped into yet, but I'd better hurry up and do it because I'm not getting any younger here.

Last week, I booked myself into The Hurst—playwright John Osborne's former home in Clun in Shropshire—for a five-day writing workshop with poet Michael Laskey and novelist Jess Richards. Every morning at The Hurst, attendees are put through a intense rapid-fire series of writing exercises (afterwards, you wind up reading things you've just written aloud—it's kind of like group therapy) and every afternoon is dedicated to individual writing (or long walks). Going in, my ultimate, loftiest, pie-in-the-sky goal was to come away with two or three first-drafts of complete chapters of a fiction novel—and, because of this notion that I'd be able to run before walking, by Wednesday I was already completely stressed out and not sleeping, trying to commit to a book idea.

Instead of landing back at JFK with two or three perfectly polished chapters to immediately send off to Mel, my agent, I left The Hurst with something completely intangible—and a little bit of a personal breakthrough.

I really underestimated how much blockage I have around imagination. I'm still pretty sure it's in there—but it's buried a lot deeper down that I'd originally thought. Every morning, when I'd sit down at that big round table with all the other writers, I'd panic. My work was bad; there were a lot of writing exercises I couldn't complete (at all); my imagination failed me over and over again; reading my crap poems out loud at the end of workshop made me break out in cold sweats. Every afternoon at 1 when we'd break for lunch and individual writing time, I'd be so emotionally and intellectually drained, I'd have to lie down and turn everything off for at least an hour (read: nap).

But by Friday morning, our very last workshop session, I felt something give. It was a teeny tiny little something. That morning, I could complete all the exercises the tutors threw at us; what appeared on the page surprised me as my hand was writing it; and there was even one moment where somewhere in between my brain and my fingertips, I was pulling thoughts and ideas out of thin air—and writing down names, characters, plots, actions, and images that had never occurred to me before that very second. Tl;dr: I think I opened a new synapse, you guys.

So yeah. That's what happened. And it only took five days of self-imposed isolation in a country manor house, a few sleepless nights, a lot of bad poetry, and some truly dark existential moments where I seriously questioned everything I'd ever believed about my own abilities and purpose. The only problem now is that I want to keep going, see where this leads. Stay tuned.

November 21, 2015

The Magicians: Syfy's newest press kit

It's my favorite thing to stop everything in the middle of the day and unbox something random for 5 minutes. Today it came down to this or Godiva chocolates.

November 20, 2015

Before coffee thoughts: "Splendid Literary Isolation"

Having a quick coffee right now before an early morning load of laundry and a full day at work, dinner with a friend, and then maybe one more load of laundry late tonight. Then I have a few things to tidy up around the house tomorrow before heading overseas for the week—where, from what I understand, I'll have no wifi or cell service. Am simultaneously excited and petrified at the prospect of complete digital shutdown.

What I'm taking a stab at next week is Serious Writing. It's been 10 years since I wrote How Not to Look Fat—and that was prescriptive non-fiction (i.e. something I wrote out of my head during one particularly hectic September fashion week every night between midnight and 3 a.m.). For a decade I've convinced myself—using every excuse I could think of—that I don't have another book in me. But the truth is, deep down, I know I do. Maybe I even have three books in me...somewhere...I'm not sure. I think they're fiction, even though I've long suspected I have no imagination.

So this weekend I'll be in London. And then on Monday I'm heading off into the countryside to sequester myself in, what I read on another writer's review of the place, "Splendid Literary Isolation." It's one way of testing my theory, or, at least the thing I tell myself most, that I "don't have time" to write and pursue my own creative projects outside the office. I know a lot of people who feel the way I do at this age and stage in their careers—a little stifled, a little is-this-it? I'm hoping I can turn out a few chapters of solid work while I'm away in the middle of nowhere with no distractions. And if I can't, well, then I think it will be time for me to reevaluate what I've always held as a glimmer of distant hope in terms of a creative outlet/project.

November 18, 2015

My new favorite new late-in-the-day activity

Pretty much nothing makes me feel more zen and calm near the end of a super-stressful busy day than to stop everything, unwrap some new snacks, and share them with my colleagues. Thank you colleagues.

November 12, 2015

Bath blogging

Every night, or whenever I have time, I try to take a lavender Epsom salt bath. I do this so often that sometimes I get concerned that I might be overdosing on magnesium (as absorbed through the skin), but then I google "Epsom salt bath overdose" and I'm pretty sure no one's ever died from it so I feel OK. I buy Epsom salt in 20-lb. bags, dump two cups into a warm bath, dropper in pure organic lavender oil, and soak and read for 20 or 30 minutes. It's the only thing I do all day that helps me sleep.

Some thoughts on-location in my lavender bath tonight:
— I want to make lunch for my team in a 7-quart slow cooker Black + Decker sent to my office, but I'm not sure what to make
— How will I get through all the emails I need to get through tomorrow?
— Should I buy a new point-and-shoot camera and maybe a taller tripod
— Can I justify going to bed at 10:30?
— Really I want to write a novel this weekend. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I feel like I can at least crank out a few chapters.
— I also really want to do Crest White Strips this weekend but I'm finding it hard to commit to two solid hours of no eating or drinking.