Category Archives for Writing

Some of the Senses

“RS’s RSS” at a glance…

QUOTED:

“Each fresh Trump astonishment overrides an old one, as if it were a new file on a hard drive that has reached storage capacity. And the accumulation of astonishments lowers the bar for what’s expected of him and turns all the astonishments into a blur.”Frank Bruni

SEEN:

David Duchovny, heartthrob Hank Moody in Californication and real-life admitted (and perhaps recovering?) sex addict, most known for his role as Fox Mudler in the hit series, The X-Files — can sing too! I had the fortune to attend his sold-out show at Seattle’s Crocodile Cafe last night, and though I suspect Duchovny’s voice will never win a Grammy, the Princeton undergrad and Yale English lit grad writes lyrics worth looking up. Pardon the grainy photo, I’m petite and have to stand at the back of the room to see shows. =)

 

HEARD: 

Ever wondered how renowned brands like Crate & Barrel, Zappos, Kate Spade, and Spanx got their start? CEOs and founders from notable companies share how their ideas for a product or company were formed and what it took to get their idea from their mind to the consumer. Encouraging stories of how a little capital, a bit of sweat, a lot of perseverance, and often timing and luck played into their success. The podcast, How I Built This — hosted by NPR’s whip-smart host with an even better name Guy Raz — began in the fall, so it’s easy to catch up. For anyone who’s a creative, an entrepreneur, a creative entrepreneur, or simply curious — you may want to give it a listen.

DANCEDCold, Maroon 5 featuring Future — because despite (and in light of) all the seriousness shared here, sometimes you just have to shake your ass around the house in your underwear.

READ: Some of my fondest memories from childhood took place in libraries. Mostly in middle school and high school. I wasn’t there for the books per se, I sought refuge in the library for the quiet and the camaraderie with other nerds. Rather than play with the rambunctious kids on the playground, the quiet kids in glasses sitting at long wooden tables with their heads buried in books were more my speed. Then there was the time in third grade when a Rastafarian taught me and my all white, air-force brat classmates a skill mastered by savvy business people everywhere. Gathered around in a circle, the man said nothing as he took turns holding out his hand to each child. After he made his way around the circle, he walked to the center and explained to us what a handshake was and why it was important. It was way to make a good first impression and convey confidence through touch. I learned two lessons that day, how to shake hands and to not be afraid of strange-looking men.

This piece An Elegy for the Library  in the New York Times brought back all the memories. Maybe it will for you, too.

Why We Do

I’ve been writing more in recent months than ever before. Writing is what I get paid to do and it’s what I love to do. It’s my flow, my happy place.

I’m beginning to come around to the idea of the aphorism shared by authors, English teachers, and writing coaches everywhere: if you want to be a better writer, you simply have to write. A lot. The more you do the whole “butt in chair” thing, the stronger the muscle gets. Best of all, you begin to see opportunities to self-edit and express yourself with greater precision.

Continue reading

Keeping a Journal

I was listening to a podcast this afternoon and took note when the interviewee, writer Patricia Bosworth, spoke about the importance of keeping a journal. I hear this often, from writers and non-writers alike. Like much of the practical and proven good advice we receive in life, things like cutting down on carbs and alcohol, and exercising regularly, I know that I should do those things, but implementation and habit often curtail my best intentions.

Walking and listening to the podcast, I laughed because I had just left Goodwill where I bought not one but four (!!!) journals. I couldn’t help myself, they were brand-new and only $0.99/ea! Admiring their newness as I assessed them in the stationery aisle, I suspected they, too, were good intentions or long-ago resolutions of their original purchasers — the donors who gifted them to Goodwill. That, or the donors were the unfortunate recipients of gifts that had missed their mark.

Continue reading

Post-Facebook :: Welcome to My Playground

On Christmas night, I gave myself the gift of quitting Facebook. I didn’t wrap it, but it was a surprise. I didn’t know if I would have the balls to do it. Is there a lady equivalent to balls? Ovaries don’t seem to pack the same punch.

As someone who has long utilized social media for business  — my own and others’ — and enjoyed it for pleasure, it felt like an addiction. A bad one, not the good kind like exercise or the first flushes of romantic love. Social media was starting to feel like a playground with peeling paint and sharp edges, a place no longer fun.

In the wake of the election and reading friends’ posts who supported Trump, I felt visceral disgust every time I scrolled through my news feed. I looked at people I otherwise respected and I questioned how they could be my friends if our values and thoughts on decency were so divergent. Then came the “news” stories about the election and the comments associated with the posts. Reading the vitriol lobbed among strangers in comment sections made me question humanity. Not just question my nation, but also the world — what are we coming to?

So I quit.

Continue reading

Cuban Ghandi

As I continue to parse out my thoughts on my trip to Cuba and endeavor to (admittedly) be less cranky about the experience, I hope the benefit of time starts to dull the sharp edges of memory.

When I reflect back, I can’t help blanching a little inside at the native-to-a-Third-World-country experience of folks frequently coming up to foreigner on the street hoping to sell them something or scam them. Sure, there are people who just see someone clearly out of the ordinary and they’re curious to strike up conversation and share, but those experiences are often few.

I want to continue to make clear I don’t begrudge people for trying to make a living. I get it, and as a privileged white American woman, I can only scratch the surface of my imagination on the struggles of people in poverty and in politically suppressed countries. BUT as an American with no access to debit or credit cards, the lack of funds simply through a wrench in my normal travel experience which entails a generous giving of gratuities and purchasing of wares and experiences. Walking through markets rich with handmade goods and intersections clotted with taxis and pedicabs, it was hard to be hit up for business every few minutes when my companion and I simply did not have funds beyond those set aside for two meals a day, beverages, and taxis.

Friends who have heard my Cuba stories since my return ponder aloud the “unique to Americans” choice between traveling in a foreign country and having to carry all your cash on your person or simply not traveling there at all because you don’t have traditional access to funds (or would have to take an organized tour). It’s a tough choice, to be sure. However, I’d also like to make clear I never felt unsafe or threatened when my female friend and I walked alone day or night through sometimes questionable-looking streets.

There are two interactions that stand out in my mind when I think of the memorable exchanges we had with Cuban people. I’ll share the first one today and the other in a later post.

Continue reading

An American in Cuba, Part 2

I continue to recover from the month of December. That’s what I am telling people when they ask, “Have you healed from your mosquito bite virus yet?” After suffering through 72 hours of fever, fatigue, and hives, I was then hit with a run of the mill cold. Honestly, after all that I went through in Cuba, I barely noticed. I’ve simply decided to throw in the towel on December of 2016 altogether and I greatly look forward to January.

Sitting at a dinner party this week, I remarked to friends that it was the first time in my life I couldn’t “spin” the story of my trip. Always one to give people and experiences the benefit of the doubt, I can usually spot the silver lining in any story. But for Cuba? I simply cannot lie and tell people it was wonderful when it was not. Sure, I met MANY lovely Cuban people like our Airbnb hosts and occasional folks on the street who weren’t trying to sell us something, but the whole lack of access to credit cards and debit cards really threw a wrench in what was supposed to be a “vacation” — for journalistic purposes, ahem.

And then there was the tourist harassment that felt like it was coming at me at all times, “Lady, you want a taxi? Lady, you want to tour in an old car?” I get it, everyone has to make a living, but unlike travel I’ve experienced in other Third World countries, it was incessant and tiring to be hit up every few feet while walking down the sidewalk. Especially since I had no access to the money the locals presupposed I had. Juliann, my friend, was much nicer. I would blaze ahead down the road on my way to a museum or sight — pretending I knew where I was headed — while she walked a couple feet behind me on the narrow sidewalks, saying a polite “No, gracias” to the many people I just started ignoring after the first few days of attempting a polite dismissal. I’m not proud of this in hindsight, but it was so tiresome.

But enough about me. I want this post to be helpful, so let’s talk about money.

You can only get Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) in Cuba. If you bring in American dollars, expect to pay a 10% fee, so your dollar is actually worth 90 cents, less the fee or percentage taken by the currency exchange office (typically 3-4%). On average, we got $0.86 CUC to our $1 US. One bank actually negotiated with me for a higher rate ($.90). Yes, in Cuba you can negotiate everywhere, even in banks. Smart Americans exchange their US dollars to Canadian currency and bring that into the country instead since you’re not penalized for Canadian dollars like you are for US.

About the cost of things, which was a head-scratcher at times when it came to goods/service/hours spent vs. amount charged. A true Wild West of pricing, and never consistent…

  • Average “casa particular” lodging for two people: $30 CUC/night via Airbnb or walking up in person.
  • Book things in advance as much as you can (remember, Airbnb WILL NOT WORK for Americans while you’re in Cuba — see my last post: Part 1.) Casa particular owners ARE VERY HELPFUL and usually have relationships with friends/hosts/casa owners in other towns, so use their connections if you find yourself in need of lodging while on the road.
  • Beers $1.50 – $2 CUC. Cocktails (mojitos, daquiris, rum straight) $3. White Chilean wine: $4/glass.
  • Breakfasts consisting of coffee, juice, fruits, eggs made to order, and toasts consistently cost $5CUC — except for one Airbnb which charged us $5 CUC extra for the pleasure of dining on the roof. Which we soon learned was free everywhere else.
  • The cheapest, best dinners we found were around $4-5 CUC. A hint: look for the places where the prices are listed in Cuban pesos (CUPs) — which translate to $25 CUP:$1 CUC. Don’t run out the door if you see $100 on the menu, it’s pesos, which they’ll translate to CUC when they bring you the bill. It’s usually a sign of “authentic” food — which I will dedicate a whole post to shortly. This meal pictured (the only food photo I took while in Cuba) was $12 CUC at our Airbnb in Santa Clara. Food pics, like selfies, are not in my wheelhouse. And yes, those are papaya balls in cucumber. Cool, huh?
  • We hired a taxi to take us 1.5 hours to a boat that would take us to the waterfall pictured above. The driver waited for us to return six hours later and then he drove us 1.5 hours home. It cost the shockingly low price of $40 CUC for the entire day. (This is also indicative of the small town region–Cienfuegos–we were in vs. Havana.)
  • The guided 1.5 hour boat ride; 1-hour hike in; and 2-hour dip and tour of the waterfall plus the return 1-hour hike out and 1.5-hour boat ride back? $20 CUC total for 2 of us for the day (entering at Hanabanilla, hiking to El Nicho waterfall). We tipped him $10 CUC because we were horrified it was so cheap.
  • Entrance to the El Nicho waterfall $10 CUC for foreigners. (Must show your passport.)

  • No taxis have meters, though the shitty Lonely Planet Cuba book (its official title from here onward) mentions them like they’re as natural as the Cuban sun. The only taxis that *may* remotely have meters are the “state-sanctioned” yellow ones, but even when we rode in one, I suspected the meter didn’t work or hadn’t been turned on in years.
  • “Collectivos” are a great way of taxi sharing with other travelers to popular sights and towns. We traveled from Trinidad to Havana (a 4-hour ride) for $30 CUC a person. The minivan we were traveling in had seven other passengers crammed in, but it was air conditioned and tolerable.

*A tip we learned from our lovely Airbnb hosts in Cienfuegos: Book the Viazul buses in advance (ahem, as an American the site did not work for me when I tried to do this before my trip), but if you book advance while in Cuba and the bus office or site claims the bus is “full,” show up anyway. Ten minutes or so before the bus leaves, drivers pocket cash fees slightly above the posted rate and miraculously find room for passengers. Other travelers told us stories of sitting on buses where people were standing in the aisles for three hours. So if you’re desperate to get from one place to another and aren’t scheduling a a Collectivo ride through your casa host or an Infotur office, try this.

Continue reading

Airbnb Tips for Hosting: The Social Animal

IMG_1778“We have never used AirB&B before so this will be a new experience for us, and, not being social people, we are concerned that we might need to ‘socialize’ with our hosts. That would be so not us!”

I received this message from a guest a few weeks ago and I have to admit, I appreciated her candor. In a perfect world, if I could add features to the Airbnb interface, I would add a personality portion where guests could state their social inclinations. Continue reading

Showing Up

photo (7)On Friday afternoon, as I sorted laundry—matching duvet covers to sheet sets and pairing taupe towels—I went over the details of who’d be arriving at my house that day. I was out of practice. A family friend (and Microsoft intern) had left earlier in the week after a three-month stay. My other guest, a woman from Boston who’d interned at a financial company, had checked out that morning on her last day of work. She’d been with me since mid-June. Continue reading