Monthly Archives: September 2013

I’m not freaking out. Yet.

I’ve been thinking about my future the past few days. Thinking in a critical, exploratory way. Mostly void of the panic and despair that has plagued such thoughts in recent months. My sister talked me off the ledge last week (wailing and keening in my car over the impossibility of finding peace or even neautrality in my professional life) and informed me that, in no uncertain terms, was I to freak out until November 30th.

I was to carry on about my life, healing my injured body, resting, participating in my business class and not engaging in any behavior that could be mistaken as freaking out. This includes flinging myself about on the hardwoods like an epileptic howling about certain future homelessness and starvation. This includes consuming vast quantities of frozen dairy products while immersed in the couch. This includes deleting any root level directories of various web projects.

It’s the kind of tactic that would work beautifully on a five-year-old – “Here honey, hold the timer and when it goes off, then you can bother mommy in the tub with her bottle of wine.”

Perhaps my emotional life is temporarily stunted because the certain deadline quieted me immediately. A deadline more efficient than valium. Because after repeating the command three times out loud (she made me say it back to her – again! With feeling! Until she was satisfied I was fully grasping the concept) I fell slack in my bucket seat, breathed a deep breath of release, and drove off into the sunset to buy Swiffers so I could clean my apartment. That night I climbed into bed and slept the slumber of the dead. There’s something to be said for cognitive behavioral therapy.

The real beauty of this release from the great Freak Out 2013 is a return to examining possibilities (previously seen as obligations). I noticed during my business class yesterday that I was listening to my fellow classmates describing their start-up, and immediately dreaming up detailed web sites and social media strategies for each of them, one after the other. I noticed also that I was smiling while I was doing this. Spontaneously.

I returned in my mind to my career path, wondering if perhaps there was room for web development after all. I somehow got it in my head that I should only be writing – that anything else was just a distraction from my true purpose, my true calling.

But can you have a calling and a day job, too? Because web development for me is not emotionally fraught and weighted like writing, which is why I got into it in the first place. Coding has the certainty and calm organization of math. There is peace within its lines. You know if the code is right or wrong because the intended action either happens or it doesn’t.

Honestly, I was happiest when I was immersed in web dev, and writing. Writing at night, when I was feeling dreamy and poetic, flushed with the day’s accomplishments and discoveries. Writing early in the morning before my city was awake, my long-hand pages at the cafe at the same table I’ve enjoyed my morning coffee in for two years. (I’m Mayor of Fremont Coffee Company, bitches.)

I felt challenged and excited but rarely stressed. When I was stressed in a negative way, it was usually because I procrastinated on a project and didn’t leave myself enough time to both sleep and get it done.

And there was the one nightmare client that nearly turned me off of client work forever. But I learned from the experience and just decided that I’d prefer not to partner with insane people when I can avoid it. Simple enough solution.

I was even inspired to pull one of the many new books I purchased in the past year off the shelf and crack the binding. A year away from active web dev and my skills are already stale. So I’ve taken on HTML5 and CSS3 this week to bring myself up to speed. And it was fun! I was enjoying the reading, enjoying thinking about the community that I used to be a part of, geeks like me who get excited talking about web standards and open source programming. Elegant, valid code.

One thing I learned a few years ago through first-hand experience, is that if you buy into the right brain/left brain thing, you can focus on strengthening either side of your brain with specific tasks. And when that side gets stronger, so does the other side. As a creative person, I tend toward the more right brained ways of being. But I do have left-brained tendencies: I’ve been an organizer, labeler, scheduler and planner since the seventh grade when I bought my first Franklin Covey planner with my allowance that I’d saved up for months.

Learning web dev seriously hammered on my left brain. I felt it get stronger each day, and coding got easier. Enjoyable. And I also felt like my creative work got better. It had more energy in it.

And of course the beauty of building websites, if you’re doing front end and back end yourself, is you get to be crazy creative in the design, and structured in the execution.

All in all web development feels like the perfect match for my brain. Toss in creative content development (writing articles, developing content marketing strategies, writing up editorial calendars, blogging) and I’ve got a well-rounded occupation.

I’m not sure how I got on this one-track mind obsession where I had to “honor my passion” by just doing that. I scared the crap out of my passion and it took a powder right when I needed it most. I haven’t been able to write what I want to write for weeks. Ever since deciding it was just the writing I should be doing.

I know a lot of this is a reaction to having too much on my plate. I was holding down a very stressful full-time job, doing freelance web design outside of work, taking classes, and then trying to write on top of all that. And my health was going down the toilet. So I made a lot of assumptions about what I could and couldn’t handle based on an untenable set-up that has since come to pass.

That was what these four months are supposed to be about: figuring out the sustainable path. Not living in reactionary mode and climbing whatever ladder is mounted in front of me. (I made a similar statement to my former boss and based on his confused reaction, that was the beginning of the end in his opinion of me. The idea of conscious living tends to frighten and alienate people who are not living that way.)

Coincidentally, last night I was nominated as IT Officer for the scooter club I’m a part of. I’m getting back into these projects. I know the club can get mired in politics, especially if you’re a girl like me. The crotchety old white men and their vintage Lambrettas lurk around the corners of the club trying to make the rest of us feel inferior. Too bad buddy. I’ve always subscribed to the motto, “Two wheels, one love.” I couldn’t give a fuck what you ride. How do you treat people?

So I’m not freaking out about this, at least not until November 30th, but it’s useful information to add to my arsenal.

This is Me, 3 Ways

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I went to a creativity meet-up this morning and one of the assignments was taking a self-portrait in six different ways. Here’s three of the ones that aren’t too bad. I like how you can see my wrist tattoo reflected in the sunglasses of the first one. Accidental touch that works in the end.

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Suicidal Self-Improvement

So I’ve been thinking, maybe I’ve been going about this whole jobless situation the wrong way.

I’m supposed to be focusing on my business, since I’m enrolled in that class, and I definitely enjoy working on the business from an abstract point of view. Even doing the assessment of the market, and target market research, psychographics. It’s the execution that keeps me paralyzed. To the point where for the past few days I’ve definitely been thinking about getting myself an office manager type position when this little adventure is up.

At first, the idea of returning to full-time employment as an executive assistant in the witness protection program felt like certain death. Like I might as well go take that jump off the Aurora Bridge that I’m always talking about.

But lately it’s begun to feel… soothing. And worst of all, inevitable.

Maybe I’m not cut out for business. For the execution of content on demand. I wasn’t good at it when I worked as a Content Developer at Circle.com in the early 00’s. Each small business network security article felt, literally, like pulling teeth.

Ah ha! You say. That’s because you didn’t care about network security. This is true. But I’m feeling the same way toward a site I run now that is pure fluffy fun and a topic I’ve long been passionate about, a topic I attend to at least daily within my own life: journal writing. And art journaling. And ahhhh… paper.

(Please pause for station identification; the Page has just returned with Hung De crab rangoon for me to devour and they are only good when hot. Did you know Hung De is not the moniker of a well-endowed Chinese man, but a phrase meaning “birds-nest”? Tastiest birds-nest EVAR.)

Maybe it’s time to acknowledge that I am not cut out for the pursuit of a full time business in content creation, that maybe this blogging about various topics is like Seth Godin claims, My Hobby. I think I could accept that, without too much turmoil or heartbreak. I mean, there was even a time last year when I sat at my computer, a total mess for so many reasons, starting at the root folder of my web hosting account, where all of my projects in their various states of doneness lived, all their folders highlighted, index finger hovering over the delete button. I seriously wanted to eliminate the root of my business, to make it a non-entity, so I wouldn’t have to struggle against what I should or shouldn’t be doing in relation to it.

It’s not gotten that bad again, that’s not where I’m going with this. Mainly because deleting all those sites would physically hurt. I can at least show them enough love and affection to allow them to dwindle away slowly into obscurity, filled with spam comments on social media marketing and penis size.

When I was young, my friend Kimberly and I had an interesting conversation about suicide. Never having experienced depression and the holes it can rent like a cancer in your life, Kimberly suggested that – if you were going to kill yourself, why not live for a little while like you had a death wish? You’ve already established that nothing matters. Why not do some crazy shit? Why no pack up your car and drive cross country, eating everything you wanted, having sex with whomever would have you, screaming late into the night, leaving a wake of intense experimentation behind you. I mean, you’re going to kill yourself anyway, right?

Despite having experienced first-hand the dim gray prison of depression, I came to appreciate a certain logic to her view.

So while this is a bit of a cognitive stretch, I’ve been thinking about the next six weeks or so framed by the fact that I might just have to go get another job. Which is pretty much ending my life as I know it from my point of view.

Knowing my world as is would end in 6 to 8 weeks, what crazy shit could I do?

I’m not talking about robbing liquor stores or shooting up with scary foreigners in dark corners.

In fact now that I’ve drawn that parallel, my original intent seems ludicrous. Because I’m thinking about self-improvement.

Like, what insane boot camps could I endure with nothing else slowing me down? How much gym magic could I procure? With discipline on my side, how well could I whip myself back into shape? Because I need whipping. Desperately.

There are all sorts of areas of my life that need deep, focused attention – boot camps of their own. The possibility is intoxicatingly more attractive than the way I’ve been spending my days – reading YA Fiction, eating take-out, call it a miracle when there’s make-up involved (it’s hard to feel like dressing up or looking pretty when smacked up on painkillers and wearing an elephantine boot, crutches at the ready. But we can move on from that – I’m getting stronger.)

So, it’s settled.

This is more free-form writing that I need to attend to elsewhere by hand, so please excuse me. I’ll be back tomorrow and tell you all about it. I know you’ll be waiting with baited breath. (Grossest image ever).

I saved you a crab rangoon.

Bench Pressing the Muse

I am not in a writing mood in the least tonight, and indeed the only reason I am here is because I promised myself I would I’m determined to keep at least one promise to myself, however trivial. Trivial, of course, because I am writing into the abyss, with no intended audience and no… well, point. No point except to accumulate words on the page. A rather dull point.

Writing regardless of mood is definitely a sharp point and one I am pursuing from every angle as of late. I just finished this amazing eBook from Behance called “Manage Your Day-to-day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind.” It’s staggering in its insight.

Normally I get productivity or other self-help style books and they are like reading Oprah: the cover is intoxicating in its possibilities and after I’ve finished reading the entire magazine, I feel hungry. A day or two later I see the cover again, and excitedly pick up the magazine, forgetting that I’ve read all these promised improvements and solutions and they’ve left me neither improved nor solved.

But this book, slender and hyper-focused, is a gem. It features experts from all over, many names you’d recognize. Best of the best. And there is an essay by Seth Godin, my hero and yours (even if you’ve yet to meet). He writes about creating daily regardless of mood, and how the myth of inspiration can derail a creative mind to the point of oblivion.

This one quote struck me so strongly I’ve printed it up and pasted it all over the damn place.

The notion that I do my work here, now, like this, even when I do not feel like it, and especially when I do not feel like it, is very important. Because lots and lots of people are creative when they feel like it, but you are only going to become a professional if you do it when you don’t feel like it. And that emotional waiver is why this is your work and not your hobby.”

Whew. When I first read that statement, I felt shamed. Silly hobbyist. But then it caught up with me and I realized how freeing it could be. It eliminates the need to drum up this mythical beast called “inspiration.” All this time I’ve been trying to figure out how to summon the gauzy priestess of inspiration, so that I could finally sit down and get some work done.

But Seth’s all, “do it anyway.” While finding the motivation and energy to execute delivers its own set of hurdles, that particular dilemma somehow more approachable. Like math. The motivation to sit down and write is an equation I can grapple with more clearly.

And imagine! If I actually could develop this wee little discipline muscle enough to get my behind in the chair daily to produce, the possibilities to what I could create are endless!

So it has become my mission to build my discipline in relation to my writing, my content production.

Steve Pavlina, another in my line-up vying for hero status, goes into great detail talking about self-discipline as an actual muscle. And it’s amazing that it’s not discussed more – whether in creativity circles or the business and entrepreneurial forums I participate in. The analogy is simple: you wouldn’t walk into the gym on day one and expect to bench press 300 lbs. Even if you tried it – you’d fail. Can you imagine walking out after that? Thinking, “I totally can’t lift weights – I tried it, I couldn’t do it. Not for me.”

But we do that to ourselves every day with other things. If I can’t sit down and generate 3,000 words of high-quality, polished content like clockwork my first day at the desk, do I assume I’m not cut out for it? That I just don’t have it in me?

What if I approached it from the assumption that one day I’d be able to bench press 300 lbs. But I needed to start with just 35 lbs. Every couple of days I’d add some weight; if I couldn’t lift the new weight, I’d back it up a few pounds.

It’s sensible. So why do we get so crazy when it comes to creativity? Like putting words down on paper is somehow subject to different laws of physics. Creation has its own atmosphere and gravity, didn’t you know?

I think wildly of all the things I could accomplish if only I could eliminate this need for “inspiration.” If I could learn to operate regardless of whim.

Think I’ll start with this 35lb. dumbbell.

East Coast and Unapproachable

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Ruby Fuss posted this quote from creative goddess Julia Cameron on Facebook tonight:

“It is far harder and more painful to be a blocked artist than it is to do the work.”

It made me think of the lesson from Tony Robbins (and a million other self-help gurus) that we avoid doing something until the pain of not doing outweighs the pain of doing.

I’ve believed this my whole life. But right now it seems that whatever internal mechanism that’s responsible for that tipping point is in desperate need of repair.

I picture it like an ancient teeter-totter on the playground, rusted and busted up and I’m the little kid stuck at the very top, legs swinging wildly, pumping up and down but unable to upset the inertia.

Maybe it’s the transitions. I’ve never been good with transitions – I get all screwed up whether it’s just the seasons switching or a new parking space. And I’m in the middle of many hairy transitions.

Two months ago I quit my job of seven years. Huge, right? I mean, as far as transitions go. What used to be a decent day job that I felt pretty good about, and allowed me to pursue my dreams and playtimes outside of work morphed into some hideous creature that was making me physically sick. I moved into a new department with a new boss and it was a bad fit. I’ll chalk it up to Creative Differences. Namely that I’m too creative to be in that position and no matter how hard I tried to be quiet and simple and just do my job, nobody there was buying my act.

It’s amazing how other people’s perceptions of you, rife with their baggage and bullshit, can determine your very own future, independent of your actions and beliefs. It’s like once these guys got the idea in their head that I didn’t want to be there, nothing I did would sway their opinion.

And it was guys — 15 of them. And me. At first it felt fabulous to be freed from the estrogen-fueled drama of my previous department. But then the thing happened that always happens when I’m surrounded by men lacking in testicular fortitude: they got intimidated.

It’s not my rueful intellect or disarming good looks that trips them up. It’s my freakishly imposing height and my big mouth. Well, my mouth isn’t larger than average. It’s just the words coming out of it.

I don’t tolerate bullshit and I tend to answer questions honestly. This will blow your mind: people actually don’t want the real answers to the questions they ask! In reality there’s this whole scripted ritual that you’re supposed to adhere to. Problem is, nobody gave me the script. No wonder I kept missing my cues.

This is the third time the following description has been applied to me in a workplace setting: “East Coast and unapproachable.”

The first time was my first job out here on the soft coast, and was delivered during my first performance review. I told my friends, they thought it was funny, we laughed about it. We were going to get t-shirts made up that said “East Coast and unapproachable” across the front.

Then it happened again. And again.

It’s enough to make a girl want to run back to Boston where she belongs.

Honestly I was actively making peace with all this: especially the part where everybody but me thought I shouldn’t be an employee.

Cause I shouldn’t be an employee. I should have a business card like Mark Zuckerburg:

Mark-Zuckerberg-Business-Card

Mildly mindless office positions have been my staple since graduating with a journalism degree. They offered the perfect cover for a writer in witness protection.

I tried to talk very little about myself, my beliefs, what I did outside of work. Black Sheep can fit in relatively well assuming they’ve got a talented stylist.

At first it was just writing. I liked the jobs where I just had to sit and answer the phone, or be a receptionist. I could write during work then, too.

I think the conflict began as my business education continued, and I got serious about understanding smart ways to work, how to get results. t’s hard to be surrounded by people going about their business all the wrong way, dragging you into their bad decisions, sackless management, inept organizational skills. And then trying to improve stuff. Mostly to make my own job easier, but also because I want to help people.

I think the final straw with my most recent job was during the last Goal Setting exercise, where my boss made me write that I should

“align my goals with corporate objectives and seek buy-in from key stakeholders on the quality of my customer service to guarantee excellence.”

Writing those words, I died a little bit inside. And then I threw up in my mouth.

It was too much Corporate Bullshit Bingo, a game we used to play during teleconference meetings at the Dot Com where I worked after college. Before a big meeting someone would print out a dozen sheets and hand them out and we’d joyously toss down our penny marker every time we heard “on the same page”, “outside the box”, “key stakeholder,” or anything involving “excellence.” My personal addition was the abhorrent phrase “inpactful” which is just ass backwards.

bingocards

But I was being forced to use these actual phrases – on purpose – to define the most important parts of what I should be doing all day.

The day my manager happily approved that version of my goals for the upcoming year I realized with a jolt that my days were numbered.

They’d always been numbered. I’d had an action plan going strong for awhile, but the numbers were more like 730 days. The rate we were going at goals time, it was looking more like 250 days.

In the end, the days were numbered 124.

Things wrapped up pretty quickly. I’d wanted a certain amount of funding stowed away so when I took my chance at running my own gig, I’d have rent covered and maybe some sacks of beans and rice from Costco. (I was ready to scale back to make my dream a reality.)

In the end, things got bad enough that I had to leave with enough provisions for about a week. Not exactly the 9 months I’d planned.

But sometimes a situation gets so bad that the pain of staying in it far outweighs the fear and insecurity of freeing yourself. (Huh — so it was just 2 months ago that my teeter totter appeared to be in working order.)

My boss called a meeting with HR five minutes before I was leaving on vacation for a much needed week of sunshine and fruit on the beach in Boca and laid out his Formal Warning and the Compulsory Excellence Action Plan I had to agree to in lieu of immediate termination. I told him I’d think about it, and got on my plane.

After a weekend of lolling in the sand with my sister, I sent an email telling him thanks for the offer but I quit. So this was my two week notice, one of them was me on vacation and the second was Fourth of July week. I mean, if you’re going to fuck up the one vacation I get this year, that’s what you get.

So there in Florida, I was suddenly free – suddenly floatly and disconnected and had made a very real decision that was going to affect the rest of my life in a big way.

I’m glad my sister was there because she made me type some sentence at the end of my email about being grateful for the opportunities I’d been provided yadda yadda which I was too furious to include myself. It made for an easier exit.

So presto! My 730 day plan was suddenly a 6 day plan and I was loading my one cardboard box into my car, amazed that seven years of working my ass off resulted in that tiny tote of insignificant items.

Moving on.

Because nothing is ever easy, the day after I quit my job while on vacation in Florida, the swollen and sore ankle that had been bothering me off and on for a few months suddenly burst into a fantastic array of colors and the center of my leg swelled to the size of a cantaloupe, ringed by bright red bursts of steamy infection crawling up my veins.

Ten years ago I broke my leg and they insert nickel hardware to hold the bones in place while they healed. Once the healing had begun, they realized I am allergic to metal, specifically nickel, and the wound just would not heal closed. The healing process and long and drawn out, and the hardware never felt quite settled in my leg.

Every once in awhile, years later, the old wound would break open and start oozing, like the bone was trying to expel the hardware. God knows what damage it was doing to me on the inside – well it turns out over the past year or two it had started to truly become a problem as the antibodies against this foreign object multiplied and grew stronger. Inflammation coursed throughout my body, to the point where they thought I had Lupus or some major rheumatic condition.

The ankle took on an infection and escalated its attack against itself with the force of a riptide in Boca, and I found myself in the emergency clinic in the middle of my vacation with a fever of 102 and an ass full of needles as they tried to bring the infection under control.

The infection spread systemically and I was brutally sick. Not the semi-sick I’d been since February when it first started acting up. I felt like I had the flu, all the time. The shakes, the sweats, exhausted, every joint in my body in pain. All sorts of fun.

The antibiotics I got at the clinic gave me a measure of peace as I felt my immune system reign itself in. But when I went to visit the orthopedic specialist upon my return from the vacation, he said he wanted to set up a surgery date to take the offending hardware out. Also, he would set me up on IV antibiotics for six weeks to clear the infection.

Fuck.

Not only was my freshly-free summer now getting the smack down, but I was going to have to shell out $650 a month for COBRA when my health care coverage ended at the end of the month. I know from the first time I had a similar surgery these things cost more than a four-year education at Harvard.

Double fuck.

BUT if this meant I would finally feel better, not ravaged by this autoimmune storm going on in my organs, and not left hot and limpy with a steamy, infected limb, let’s get this shit over with.

My surgery was scheduled for the first week of August, which left me two full weeks of fevers and shaking sickness to lie around waiting. I guess it could have been worse – I could have been at work. Or even worse – not at work but supposing to be at work. One of the action items of concern on my Official Warning was the taking of sick days to attend to this unruly limb. My workplace was not a big fan of this particular leg, let me tell you.

So the surgery went successfully, I stayed in the hospital for half a week so they could get me started on the IV antibiotics and do this bone biopsy to see what flavor the infection was and target the beasties with the right drugs.

They sent me home with a PIC line, which is really gross – essentially a long tube that goes in your arm and along one of your blood vessels to your heart, used as a depository of antibiotics. So I didn’t have to sit hooked up to a drip bag for 6 weeks – just had to give myself these gargantuan doses once a night.

It was actually pretty scary at first and quite involved. I had a visiting nurse that came to help me. I’ve generally tried to avoid shooting things directly into my veins for most of my adult life, and I was hesitant to assume the habit now. But in the name of better health I injected glutinous yellow liquids that smelled like Mr. Clean into my heart using a giant needle.

Until the allergic reaction started. Of course I’m allergic to the hardware, allergic to the cure. Freaking antibiotics nearly killed me.

So on to a different kind, which had a more laborious administrative routine involving a 20 minute dispensary. Until the allergic reaction to that nearly killed me.

So now it’s on to oral antibiotics, and tear out the damn PIC line (I can shower finally!!!!). These pills are killing me as well, but much more slowly, offset by the pseudo-morphine they’ve given me, and hopefully I can combat the allergy long enough to finish the stupid run of pills in 2.5 more weeks and put this whole damn shitshow behind me.

Two weeks of non-weight bearing meant launching my heavily-drugged self up 4 flights of crooked, moss-covered stone steps outside my apartment on one shaky leg. Hence, I didn’t leave the apartment. I was Rapunzel at the top of her tower, unfurling my locks to entice groceries to mollify my seclusion in the Magnolia Treehouse.

Because I needed some sense of order and moving forward while trying to Transition from my previous life, I signed up for a comprehensive Business Start-up course. I’m currently in the second week. It’s a fabulous course and I’m very excited to be taking it. It’s taught online, so I don’t have to brave those gnarly steps unnecessarily.

The Business class homework has been about the most I’ve been able to accomplish, and it has been seriously taxing. I’m just all kaput. I feel unmoored and physically sick. I’m unsure of my forward path – or rather, I know what the path is I just doubt my ability to walk it.

The doubt is, of course, what’s got me stuck at the top of my proverbial teeter-totter. Cause the pain of inertia is overwhelming. But I’ve not managed to topple that terror over into action.

Until tonight. This paltry, winding, poorly-written blog post. On a blog that I once tended lovingly, several times a week, for years. It’s my digital version of hospice care. No – not hospice care. You don’t come out of hospice care. Convalescent care. Oh, fuckit. It’s a Bed & Breakfast with a killer detox wing and I’m setting up shop here.

I know the writing is bad, because I’m heavily medicated, because I’m totally out of practice. But these are words, and they’re in order, and I’m going to put them here.

I’m breaking the seal. Because I have to get that damn teeter-totter down in order to survive.

I cannot not create and live. I just can’t.

I’m reading this awesome book called Manage Your Day-to-Day by the folks at Behance. One of the essays totally hit home to me – I began to write out little parts of it and post them around my studio, which I affectionately call The Situation Room. Gretchen Rubin of the Happiness Project writes about Frequency, and how writing every day can help you overcome the many demons that transform themselves into writer’s block. Her suggestions and points struck me so deeply that they actually got me up off the couch tonight. Got me sitting here, doped up and packed in ice, to put words down.

And the scariest part is that I’m going to do it again tomorrow.

Because I truly believe if I can do this, it will push me out of the horrible, painful creative block I’ve surrendered myself to for the past few months.

I’m going to write a lot. I’m not going to edit at all. I just need the words to come out and play. They’re new friends, and I’m not going to make fun of their grammar or the way their mothers dress them when they’ve showed up to get me down from this freaking teeter-totter.

There’ll be plenty of time for proper editorial process later. And it’ll be all East Coast and Unapproachable.

I can’t wait.