December 30, 2016

A December of doing nothing

From the moment I went freelance on August 1, I knew in the back of my mind that I'd be taking December easy—I'd earmarked a check-in with myself around the six month-ish mark and the holidays are usually a quiet time in digital media anyway. I told myself I was going to work as hard as I could the first few months of freelancing, establish a roster of regular clients, and pare down from there—that's the strategy with which I approach pretty much any situation in my life when both ultimate goals and clear pathways to success aren't immediately obvious (especially when it comes to work). My theory is that you can't meticulously plan and control process, details, and outcomes if you're (1) not sure what you want, in concrete terms, and (2) if you don't really know what you're getting into, so you might as well go all-in, then figure out what you can do without after a 90-day trial run. In my case, the "great unknown" is the current state of the industry—we've seen plenty of legacy magazines and media brands fold or drastically scale back over the past few years, and the past five months have been no different. So, while the market is strong for freelancers right now (the more staff jobs are lost, the more contract an freelance work is available), doing the work is like throwing spaghetti against the wall: you can type until your little fingers fall off, but if your commissioning editor gets the boot, your outlet folds, or there's a holdup at payroll because of corporate changes, as an outsider, besides sending strings of strongly-worded-but-polite emails into the ether, you're kinda out of luck.

I've been really lucky: freelancing has been really good to me. After working in the industry for 15 years, I have lots of good friends in assigning positions at big publishing houses. So over the past few months I've been working consistently—and have gotten some really plum assignments that included lots of once-in-a-lifetime travel (see: What to do on the Rocky Mountaineer in Conde Nast Traveler, and my week at Versailles Behind the scenes with Brad Kilgore at A Taste of Waldorf for Food & Wine). For anyone who's thinking of going freelance and wondering about how the finances stack up, I can only speak from my experience, but I made way more money as a freelancer than I did as a director at a major media company—and while it's not a regular paycheck that's direct-deposited into your account every two weeks (and sometimes you do find yourself badgering editors to approve your invoices), freelancing can be very financially rewarding.

There's also the lifestyle, which is pretty much unbeatable. Over the past five months of saying yes to nearly every assignment editors threw my way, I'd estimate that, on average, I probably worked really hard two days every week—and by really hard, I mean I'd start writing at 6 or 7 a.m. and would churn through the day writing, doing phone interviews, transcribing, and writing more, until 11 p.m. or midnight. OK, that sounds like a crazy day, but keep in mind that the rest of the week—for five days!—I'd probably work about two hours each morning, then be free the rest of the day. Plus, no commute. And NO MEETINGS, which is a huge boon to productivity. To be honest, I can't really think of many downsides to freelance life, besides the obvious: drastic reduction in human contact, no brainstorming sessions with your colleagues, no funny Slack convos, reduced exposure to shared cat GIFs. The only thing that really bothers me, that I'll never get over, is surrendering control of your work. As someone who works outside of an office and isn't part of a core decision-making editorial team, you completely lose control over your story once it's filed—you have no real say over how it's illustrated, very little say in the editing process, no control over publication time or date, and zero influence over how your story is positioned in the larger framework of digital editorial strategy. That's been my only frustration over the past few months. Freelancing has taught me to be way more zen about this, though, and I've definitely learned to let go (a little bit).

So yeah, back to December. It's been such a luxury to do very little this month. I've really been laying low since Thanksgiving, getting lots of sleep, eating enormous holiday meals, watching way too much YouTube, and traveling. There have been a few stories here and there—my trip to France, a story for GQ on ugly Christmas sweaters, and some news reblogging here and there. But otherwise, zilch. It's probably the longest break I've taken since I started working full-time after grad school and it's been glorious. Like, today for instance, I woke up at 7 a.m. and went back to sleep after realizing I didn't have anything pressing to accomplish this morning, now it's noon and I'm thinking I'll spend my afternoon at the Natural History Museum and maybe go for a drink at one of my favorite places in town, a deconsecrated church where my friend Alex and I threw our joint 22nd birthday party. I feel like a lady of leisure.

That said, I've recently made the decision to step back into an office job, so it's T-10 'til I'm back on staff somewhere! I'll let you guys know when that announcement is official in the new year. Giving up my introvert/recluse lifestyle wasn't the easiest decision to make, but it's the opportunity of a lifetime—and I'm super excited to get back into the strategic side of digital editorial. You know what they say about the pendulum swinging both ways—I guess after months of stepping completely away from the managerial side of things and focusing on writing (which I love), there's something inside of me that won't feel fulfilled unless I'm hitting goals on a bigger corporate scale. So yeah, I'm very excited.

OK, let's go see some Dodo birds.

December 29, 2016

The thing I was doing in France

Here's what I was up to all week in Versailles earlier this month! Got to hang out with these two awesome chef guys and do lots of fun food things.

Food & WineBrad Kilgore in Versailles

December 21, 2016

Face + Food

A couple of things today.

SelfDermatologists' advice for your winter skincare routine

Food & WinePurple

Also, random day of doing not much at all vlog:

December 20, 2016

Seven minutes in heaven

OK, not really. But something exciting (I think)!

I've been invited by SXSW to be a "Mentor" this March, so I'll be heading down to the Interactive conference in Austin in a few months to hold a series of speed-mentoring sessions. More details on date/times and sign-ups tbd, but so far all I know is that the quick-hit drive-by mentorships will last for about seven minutes each, so talk fast and bring your most pressing questions! I'm very excited about this. If you know me, you know I love giving people ADVICE. Lol. But seriously, there's nothing I like more than helping people find solutions for problems in their workflow, or talking people through career questions, suggesting resources for people who are just starting out, etc. etc. etc. I think I'm slated for the media/journalism division at SXSW, and whether they put me in food or style remains to be seen.

A couple of years ago, I participated in a panel talk at SXSW on data-driven editorial strategy and, like, 500 people showed up to hear what we had to say. Pretty awesome. I think my favorite part of the panel, though, was after the scheduled talk when audience members came up to chat with us one-on-one. I really enjoy hearing about people's startups, their business ideas, and sharing info from my personal work experience that might be able to help others along their way.

December 18, 2016

1 Unforgettable meal

I know this looks like an iMovie from 2002, but do not let my poor videography skills detract from the overall epic-ness of the chef's table menu at the Gordon Ramsay au Trianon. One of my favorite fine dining experiences of all time.

December 15, 2016

39 things I learned in 39 years

Today is my 39th birthday. I'm spending it on assignment in Paris. I think I'm meeting up with one of my favorite people in the world for a drink tonight, a long lost friend who happens to also be in town, right time right place. I'm not very good at celebrating birthdays (I don't like parties just for me, I feel awkward), but I do like lists. Here are 39 random things I've learned about the world and myself over the past 39 years.

1. It doesn't matter how much you want something. If you're not meant to have it, you're not gonna get it.
2. Not everyone gets everything in life. If you have a satisfying career and a nice place to live, you're doing great.
3. If at first you don't succeed, try again, then quit.
4. People who are photogenic aren't always videogenic, and vice versa.
5. Sometimes it isn't about talent or hard work. Sometimes, whoever sticks it out the longest wins.
6. Oftentimes, the best work is born out of difficult situations.
7. The only way to grow is to step outside your comfort zone.
8. If you find something you love, buy at least three.
9. Eventually all your friends will get married, have children, and/or leave New York. Make plans accordingly.
10. Young people know a lot of stuff; learn from them.
11. Freedom is the thing I value most.
12. Not everyone is a good person, there are people out there who are just bad people and, well, they're not rare.
13. Undergrad is more important than you think.
14. Grad school is less important than you think.
15. Drinking lots of water and eating a varied and nutritious diet is one of the most important things you can do for your mental well-being.
16. Who cares if you're a little chubby.
17. Life really is a one-time thing. So are most of its greatest opportunities.
18. Go to the strange place, take the weird job, order the crazy dish. You can always leave, quit, or not eat it.
19. As often as possible during the day ask yourself: "Why am I doing this?"
20. You don't have to be friends with someone forever. Some people are better as memories.
21. If you're obsessed with something, chances are there are a million other people on the internet also obsessed with the same thing.
22. Always print your favorite photographs.
23. Every accomplished, successful person you respect and admire is probably a little bit crazy.
24. Don't talk about yourself too much. It's boring. Talk about ideas. Ideas are interesting.
25. It's perfectly OK to not like clubbing. Or not get clubbing. Or never go clubbing.
26. I've never used an illegal drug and I have no regrets about that.
27. Volunteering to help someone else is the most rewarding thing, ever.
28. You don't have to dance in public if you don't want to. You might have to speak in public at some point in your life, though. No getting around that one.
29. Doctors don't know everything.
30. Parents are people, too. They did the best they could.
31. There will come a point in your 30s when a switch flips and you all of a sudden just decide that you're not going to take any more shit from anyone (or anything, including but not limited to uncomfortable shoes, low-rise jeans, and bad bosses).
32. I really don't need all the stuff I have.
33. There's a 99 percent chance you won't ever be able to change someone else's opinion. Most of the time it's not even worth trying.
34. Remember, you can always move.
35. Always do your best to stand on the right side of history.
36. Tip generously whenever you can. $1 might not be a big deal to you, but it could mean a great deal to someone else.
37. Not everything needs to be done in extremes.
38. Most of the time, if you don't tell people it's athleisure, they'll never know.
39. If you are not honest with yourself about yourself, nothing else you do will really matter.

December 13, 2016

Dispatch from Versailles, so far

I'm in Versailles working on a semi-secret story and doing some super-fun non-secret stuff, like visiting fluffy chickens. Here are some of my favorite bits and bobs from the past few days (with bonus photos!).

I love chickens.

Here's me talking really fast about Marie Antoinette's sheep:

The local cathedral.

Arriving in Versailles.

Cute fake hedgehog at market.

December 09, 2016

One more city

Marie ClaireAustin, according to Jessi Afshin

Bloggers' opinions on cities

Marie ClaireJenny Tsang's LA guide

Marie ClaireSai de Silva's NY guide

My (Danica's) opinions: In LA, stay at Chateau Marmont, eat at the pink taco restaurant across the street, go to The Grove, hike Runyon, drive by and look at all the Scientology centers in town, shop at the LA Opening Ceremony (it's very good), eat at a Roy Choi restaurant, drive out to Point Dume, buy slouchy jersey clothes at the Malibu Country Mart, earmark a day for Disneyland. In NY, stay at the Gramercy Park Hotel, eat breakfast at Norma's, see everything on Broadway, go to every museum, walk the Highline, shop at Bergdorf Goodman, buy shoes at Jeffrey, go to B&H (it's amazing—and so New York), walk up and down both sides of Manhattan, go everywhere in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Staten Island to see the real New York (it's still there, if you look).

Also, I am still sick (or sick again). Immune system, why have you betrayed me?

December 08, 2016

December 07, 2016

Kate Moss and fashion stuff

Some things I made.

Food & WineKate Moss hangs out at her brother's food truck

Marie ClaireHoliday party outfit ideas

My high school

I received a really interesting email this morning from my high school alumni association. It included a link to Newsweek's "America's Top High School 2016" rankings. My high school, Stuyvesant, a New York City public school where entry in freshman and sophomore year are exam- and merit-based, ranks number three. What I thought was especially interesting is that the data also shows that Stuyvesant has the highest percentage of students living at or below poverty level—47.3 percent!—of any schools in the top-ten.

There's been a lot of chatter from the Mayor's office and the New York City Board of Education over the past few years about doing away with the entry exam for Stuyvesant and hinging admission on junior high school academic records, with an eye towards cultivating a more racially diverse student body. I don't know what the correct solution is here—because I do believe that diversity is one of the most important facets of an educational environment. But it's clear that Stuyvesant, with nearly half of its student population living in poverty yet still excelling in national school league tables, is doing something right. In a way, the school is the embodiment of a stepping stone on your way to the American dream: it doesn't matter who you are or where you come from, if you can compete, if you work hard, if you show up, you'll make it.

When I was a student at Stuy in the early-90s, I knew lots of kids who grew up without money—some kids I knew lived in rooms in the backs of restaurants with their entire families, some kids I knew were living out of the shelter system, bringing all their stuff with them to and from school everyday. Most of these kids grew up to become doctors, lawyers, bankers, scientists, and business-owners (I know because of Facebook). That's why I don't think that keeping kids out of Stuyvesant because they don't match a specific racial profile is the correct solution. It's not fair to deprive a student of an opportunity to succeed when they're motivated, eager, and hard-working.

The only way to raise the bar of education in this city is to ACTUALLY RAISE THE BAR all across the board, in every single school in the five boroughs. It doesn't make sense to overhaul something that has a 100+ year history of success and over-performance—tall poppy syndrome should have no place in formulating our city's education policies. Foundational public education—from kindergarten through twelfth grade—as well as parental and community outreach, giving families access to information about opportunities available to their children, needs to drastically improve from the ground up.

The magic of being a student at Stuyvesant is that, for four years, you're immersed in an intense, vibrant, thought-provoking, achievement-oriented culture. It works. Why tamp down on that? Instead, the city could find a way to encourage a culture of learning, intellectual curiosity, and the rewards of academic achievement in all its public schools.

December 06, 2016

Rare sighting (in print!)

The latest issue of Naturally, Danny Seo is on newsstands today and guess who's in it? Me. Ta-da. And I'm wearing a fleecy plaid shirt from L.L. Bean that was so cozy I didn't really want to give it back after the shoot (my jeans are from American Eagle and the bracelets are Alex & Ani).

The feature I was interviewed for is about the concept of "Carrying Light" for others—it's something that's always been really important to me, especially when leading teams in digital media—an industry and work environment that can often be brutally cutthroat. I think one of the most important things you can do in the workplace is to, every single day, think carefully about how to set performance bars high while creating safe, positive, nurturing, ideas-driven environments where people feel respected, motivated, and inspired to grow.

Science, technology, and food

Food & WineI can't wait to go here

Food & WineDo you trust GMOs?

November favorites (finally)

December 03, 2016

December 01, 2016

Does this count as an "interiors" story?

Just pubbed in Marie ClaireHow to style your vanity.

I've been thinking about getting a vanity for a while, though there's nowhere to put it in my apartment right now. I was watching Remi Ashten's closet tour the other day and she has this amazing set-up in her wardrobe room with a full-on Hollywood mirror-light combo from Impressions Vanity. Totally covetworthy.


A couple of things.

Food & WineThis is a good guy

Food & WineAn American adaptation of a British reality show (surprise)