Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Let's Play Catch Up

I guess it should be no surprise to me that it's been almost a month since my last posting. I tend to fall out of routines as quickly as I fall into them. But, instead of beating myself up for my lack of consistency, I will just try to forge ahead.

A lot has happened since my last post. The weather has drastically improved (although, there has been a ghastly amount of rain in the past couple of weeks). I've become more active and involved socially in my new hometown. And...I had my beloved girlfriends, Shahnaz and Shilpa, in town last weekend! We were the triple S threat and had so much fun just exploring the city together. I was very sad to see them go. ;(

So...I've been having all these weird thoughts lately. No, not weird as in "I have the uncontrollable desire to kill somebody" weird or, "I want to runaway and join the circus" weird. Just, your average, everyday, normal "weird."

I've been thinking that since I have been having such a difficult time narrowing down what it is I want to do next in my life, that I should just start doing anything and everything. At least then, I could get myself out of this stagnant rut and simply experience a vast range of ...well, experiences.

Going to law school straight out of college seemed fine and dandy at the time. But now, after going straight from college, to law school to five years of practice, I feel there are so many things I have yet to experience in life. More than anything, I suddenly feel the desire to meet people in different walks of life, and, as weird as it sounds, to encounter the types of hardships and experiences that an educated person with a doctorate's degree wouldn't typically have. A social experiment, of sorts...and I could write about my adventures! ;)

Maybe my first stop will be trying to work at an upscale hotel. For some reason, I have always been fascinated by hotels. Maybe it's the transient nature of the environment that allures me. People come and go and there's no risk of the pitfalls that come with permanence.

Hmmm...I would be happy to start off as a front desk clerk. "Welcome to the Chicago Pennisula Hotel. My name is Sae. How may I be of service to you?" See, I could do that, and be charming and winsome to boot!

Sigh. We'll see how that goes. In this economy, I'd be lucky to get a job in any sector (being overqualified for jobs in this market seems to hurt you more than help you). Also, with all of our trips planned and house guests this summer (some of them staying for as long as a week), what would be the point of getting a job? With my need for that kind of flexibility, probably the only "job" that I could realistically have this summer would be a freelance writing gig.

Food critic, maybe? Cross your fingers!

Friday, April 17, 2009

My Neighborhood Soulmate: Bucktown/Wicker Park

It's been did.

I just finished running (well, more like a light canter and walking combo) around my neighborhood and I can't begin to tell you how nice it felt. It didn't even phase me that I was so out of shape I could barely run four blocks without panting and wheezing. The only thing that mattered was that I was from the shackles of a cruel Chicago winter (they say it was one of the worst).

Apparently, the thermometer has actually inched up to 70...and I can really tell.

Chicago in spring/summer is just an entirely different species from Chicago in winter. As I jogged, I saw people who clearly had just emerged from their cocoons spun out of doldrums and general winter misery. Like fragile, gilded butterflies, they emerged tentatively at first, unsure whether they should trust this apparent mirage of sunshine and warmth. Then, upon the realization that this was no illusion, their faces lit up, beacons of brightness and hope.

Ok, maybe it wasn't that dramatic, but I definitely saw a difference in people's gait, faces, and general vibes. People are wearing shorts and flip-flops, strolling through their neighborhoods, and just soaking in all the sun.

This sudden onslaught of spring-like temperatures would not be as special if it wasn't for my neighborhood. I LOVE my neighborhood. In fact, I would not want to live anywhere else in Chicago.

The more residential streets in my hood are paved with picturesque houses that are anything but cookie-cutter. Little kids play out on in their tiny front yards and say hello as you walk by. Moms and nannies with strollers abound.

On the more retail-oriented streets, there are so many cute little boutiques that sell a vast array of items. There is this store called "Doggy-style" that sells all things pet-related. Coco Rouge sells fine chocolates. Milk and Honey is a popular brunch/breakfast spot, famous for their homemade granola. The list goes on and on.

One of my favorite streets in my neighborhood is Division. This street is unique in that its sidewalks are abnormally large, allowing many restaurants and bars to spill out onto the sidewalks. The patio seating at these establishments are highly coveted spots and are often filled to the brim with Chicagoans determined to take advantage of every warm day and evening. Wine drinking (and lots of beer drinking), chatting with friends, and prime people-watching are the sports of choice on Division.

A true sign of living in a great neighborhood...never really wanting to leave. If we're in the mood for good sushi, there's a place for that. If we want an upscale tequila bar that makes amazing margaritas, there is a place for that. If we want to meet up friends at a dive bar, there's a place for that. If we want to take Yoga classes, there's an app (oops, I mean a place) for that. If we want to check out a local band, there's a place for that. If we want a BYOB restaurant, there are a hundred places for that. If we want to buy a cool, unique outfit, there are a million places for that. ;)

So enough gushing. I can't wait for all my out of town friends (and my family!) to come visit us this summer (May is already booked!) so I can show off my neighborhood in person. Maybe I can convince them all to move least for the summers.

67 Degrees!

Is it possible? Has winter really made its final, dramatic exit?

Today, the forecasters are claiming it will reach 67 degrees...and tomorrow, a whopping 73. People, it is time to rip off that bulky parka, store the boots for good this time, uncork the champagne, y celebrar!

I am actually considering removing the dust bunnies from my running shoes (hmmm...i think I still know where to find those suckers) and engaging in something that (gasp!) resembles physical activity. Although I may huff, puff and wheeze my way through any sort of exercise considering my current physical state, I am willing to take the risk to feel a bit of sunshine on my Vitamin D-deprived skin.

I'm looking forward to this weekend (aren't we all?) for many reasons but mostly because...

On Sunday, I am going to a "pseudo" audition for this guy named Bernard Lachance. I say pseudo because while I will have to sing for him, most likely he will not be too particular since he needs close to 400-500 singers for his show. You may have already heard about him from YouTube. He is this guy from Canada who buys out huge theaters and then literally stands out on the street and sells tickets to his show. He lets pedestrians listen to his voice on a set of headphones and then if they like what he hears, he sells them tickets to his show. Essentially, the definition of an entrepreneur.

He has had much success in Canada and now has chosen Chicago to be the location for his first American concert. He has bought out the historic Chicago theater and has asked for singers to audition to be a part of a huge choir to sing with him during the performances. For me (as I'm sure it is for most), it is the allure of singing/performing in the Chicago Theater that is the attraction. For Lachance, it's a smart marketing decision since each member of his 400 voice choir will undeniably have his family and friends buy tickets to the show.

The last time I sang in such a big production was when I sang Mahler's "Symphony of a Thousand" with the Houston Symphony Chorus and the Houston Symphony Orchestra. That experience could only be described as soul-stirringly extraordinary, and it never leaves you. It was definitely one of the most amazing things I have ever done in my life and I look forward to experiencing that magic again. When you are surrounded by amazing musicians, all singing with so much passion and depth, you feel like you are painting a work of art...and dare i say, a masterpiece at that.

So, I'll definitely let you know how that first audition/practice turns out. I look forward to singing again with a group of people who are as passionate about music as I am.

Gotta running shoes are calling me.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Answer... is Blowing in the Whim

If you know me, I mean really know me, you know that I've never been THAT person. You know, the stable, put-together person who had her life mapped out by the time she was in high school. The girl who always knew exactly where her passions lay and what she wanted to do with her life. The girl who never dared stray from her neatly carved-out path or indulge even the greatest temptation to break free of her comfort zone.

In fact, I'm quite the polar opposite.

I'm the girl who, for some crazy reason, allows herself to be led freely by her passion of the moment; a girl who has always been afraid of limiting herself by making a choice and settling down. My interests vary widely and fluctuate on an almost daily basis. I'd like to believe that these are just the characteristics of the free-spirited artist that I am. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) for me, I'm also one of those hapless souls who earnestly believe that your interests should coincide with your professional career choice.

Ahh...silly, romantic optimist that I am.

I have realized that it would be folly not to embrace this very rare, albeit fleeting, moment in my life when I have the freedom to indulge my whims, no matter how foolish or varied they are. No children to distract me, no law firm to answer to...really, what excuse is there?

So, on that note...

This Tuesday, I started writing my first ever "real" short story. The idea for it came into my head as I lay in bed at night (for some reason, almost all my story ideas come to me as my head hits the pillow). I will share more details of my progress as the story comes along. Right now, I am only at 500 words; the hatching stage. The plot is still thickening in my head, the characters still developing...

I don't want to reveal too much, but I was inspired partly by all the recent mass shootings in this country. Most, if not all of these massacres, have been by male perpetrators. What drives a man, I wondered, to step outside of all known, acceptable boundaries to commit such a heinous act? The only word that kept coming into my head was "damaged." These men are damaged beyond all hope, all healing. What, in their unique histories, created these irreparably damaged souls?

I think the ability for men to be wounded so deeply is rarely discussed. It's acceptable for a women to admit fear, utter despair and loneliness, but what about the men who have lost all hope? The men who live in a squalor of self-hate and stark loneliness? The media tends to concentrate on the violent nature of the acts themselves, sensationalizing their "violent, crazed" nature." I think it's important to explore the humanity behind the monster (don't interpret my sentiments as approval. I definitely find these acts abominable, but I think it's also important to discover why they happen).

On a totally different note...

Today, I emailed an event planning business in town to ask about any possible freelance positions. As I sit here in front of my computer for countless hours in a day, I realize that no matter how much I LOVE to write, I can't be shackled to a desk all day long. It is actually driving me a bit crazy.

But, why event planning?

Unlike the majority of sane people who see the planning portion as a necessary evil to get to the final destination (think wedding, dream vacation, etc), I have always relished the many intricate steps leading up to the final event, as much as the final event itself. I'm the most creative and the most productive in the intense moments of mapping out the details that culminate in a final product/event.

Crazy person that I am, I embraced the opportunity to plan every detail of my own wedding and even found myself a little disappointed when all the stress and sleepless nights were over. Instead of looking at the planning for our month long trip to S. America as a monstrous chore to tackle, I enjoyed every detail-oriented moment of it. I am proud to say that I planned every detail of our lengthy trip (which included nine flights within 26 days) without the aid of any travel agent or tour company.

I'm proud of myself for putting myself out there and emailing this company, but I'm highly doubtful I'll be receiving a reply from them anytime soon. I'm sure that event-planning businesses aren't exactly thriving in this crazy market.

So, anyhoo, I'm letting my whims blow me whichever direction they desire...for now. I'm taking the advice of my very awesome, wise friend who recently told me, "look at this time with joy as a place of discovery."

Of could I have ever thought there was any other option?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Love Me, Worry Warts and All

I am an easily spooked sleeper. For some reason, when night falls, my worry-wart filter becomes a lot more porous. Morbid thoughts and worst-case scenarios that seem ridiculous during the day, seem more than a likely possibility under the cloak of darkness.

Last night, I laid wide-awake, listening to our large bedroom windows shaking and rattling in submission to what felt like a violent windstorm. My husband, being blessed with the ability to sleep through a train wreck, slept soundly next to me.

Although it may not seem like the most logical worry, I could not help but wonder how much longer our windows would hold up. The wind seemed angrily determined to penetrate and obliterate the only barrier between the warmth of our indoor shelter and the harsh elements outside. Images of shattered glass and wood spraying over our slumbering bodies danced like little malicious trolls in my head. How could we ever clean up the littler shards of glass? What would we use to close the gaping holes where our windows used to be?

Then, around midnight, I heard it: the loud sounds of somebody walking to and fro in the unit above us. This would be nothing more than an ordinary nuisance...if it wasn't for the fact that the unit above is vacant. I can assure you that I did not imagine any of this. The sound of footsteps was clearly audible and continued on for a good thirty minutes. Whoever was upstairs was walking very methodically back and forth (i could hear the creaking of a few floorboards).

If I was 7 years old, I would have attributed these footsteps to a schizophrenic zombie sleepwalker. However, as a rational thirty-two year old women, I knew that there were only three explanations: 1) the builders of our unit were doing work in the above unit (at midnight??); 2) an intruder had entered our 3-flat building and was squatting in the empty unit; or 3) an intruder had entered our building with malicious intent.

With my worry-wart gear in full throttle now, the third option seemed the most likely. My eyes opened wide at this realization and I cowered underneath our comforter. What could the intruder be doing up there? Whoever it is, why would he need to continually walk back and forth throughout the unit? And then, the horror of the intruder's plans dawned on me: arson!

Of course, why else would he need to walk around so methodically? He was pouring gasoline throughout the whole unit! But what would be the motive? Wait, who cares about motive, we were about to be burnt to a crisp!

I immediately thought about our smoke alarm and how I had never gotten around to doing the recommended "yearly test." Why hadn't I prioritized that on my to-do list? What about the fire safe that I had so responsibly bought a few months ago? Would I have time to put all our important documents into the safe before the arson-goblin trapped us in our soon to be blazing home?

My mind raced through various escape plans...could we escape through our bedroom back patio? Would he be waiting there for us? Would he have built some elaborate contraption that triggered a bucket of gasoline to fall on us as soon as we opened our sliding glass doors and jumped out onto the patio? Or, would he...

And then...I fell asleep.

Like so many prior mornings after a night of hyper-imaginative story-boarding, I awoke amazed to find the bed intact, our room not ablaze, and both myself and my husband in one piece.

After adjusting to the rationality of daylight, I told my husband about the footsteps and my theory. He seemed a bit annoyed by yet another one of my wildly speculative and drawn-out hypos that he (understandably so) interprets as a real worry.

And is it? I don't know...under the cloak of darkness, most definitely. And in general, I would venture to guess that my worries tend to be a bit more "outside the box" and morbid than those of the average person.

But, i also believe that all this juiced-up drama I frequently conjure up in my head is just a form of creative exercise for my brain, and shouldn't be interpreted literally. Some of my more imagination-oriented brain lobes, dusty and underutilized by years in the legal profession, are simply eager to make up for lost time. Yes, I worry. Yes, my head conjures up some crazy scenarios sometimes. But that doesn't mean that those worries are at the forefront of my consciousness.

I know my husband loves me, worry warts and all, but I can tell it bothers him that I worry about things I can't control. I love him for his concern, but I don't think he gets that I like this crazy, technicolor part of me. It makes me who I am, and I could never be any other way.

My nights may be a bit crazy, but at least they are rarely ever boring.

Oh, and wait until you hear about my dreams.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Warm and Fuzzy

I'm sitting here on our living room couch with my beloved husband. We both have cups of chai tea and laptops on our laps. Up until a few minutes ago, the snow was swirling devilishly outside our huge windows. I can't help but feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

After all this gloom and doom dread, I'm realizing that snow in early-April really isn't that bad. I just suddenly feel ridiculously grateful. Life is good. Sure it sucks that Chicago's winter seems to never end, but without this long period of dreary cold (Erin, your recent blog post inspired me) how would I truly appreciate the beauty of the summer? This 6 month plunge into the ice age will only make the warmth of June so much sweeter.

I have always embraced the notion that the key to being happy is to embrace an attitude of gratefulness. Everything else falls into place after that. Of course, adopting that eternally positive attitude at all times is a challenge, but it really is life's elixir.

This weekend was wonderful. Friday night I cooked kimchi jigae, at the request of my husband, after finding a recipe on the web. I strayed from the recipe by adding ground turkey instead of slices of pork (totally non-Kosher. Koreans, unless you're in my family, love their pork!). We had a nice night in. It's funny. We always seem to have these ambitious plans to go out to dinner/a club/other fun activity on Friday nights but they never seem to materialize. We just seem to be too tired on Fridays to leave the comfy confines of our home. Maybe when the weather gets better, we'll overcome our tiredness to venture out more on Fridays.

On Saturday, I enjoyed a rare girl-centric day. I went with a girlfriend to get manicures and drink wine flights afterward. We chatted up a storm and I had so much fun. I really miss having my girlfriends around. I have made very little effort to meet new girlfriends in this town and I'm feeling the effects of withdrawal from not having meaningful interactions with other women. I will have to get my butt out of this house and make more of an effort.

Today, Sunday, my husband and I grabbed brunch at one of my favorite breakfast spots in our hood, Hot Chocolate. It was such a memorable experience, that I had to write about it as soon as I got home. If you feel like checking it out, here is my Yelp review.

I swear, the food was so good I was kind of in a trance/zone...I'm not too impressed by food at restaurants that often anymore, so this was really good.

After we ate, we walked around the neighborhood window shopping and ducking into a few random stores here and there. Eerily, the streets felt a bit like a ghost town...there were very few people out and about. The few stores that we did enter, we were usually the only people in the stores. At first, my mind immediately chalked it up to the blasted economy. However, one of the sales clerks attributed the slow foot traffic to the reports of imminent sleet and snow. Apparently Chicagoans' hopes of a warm April Sunday had been dashed and they were too bitter to leave their homes. I believe the words she used were "hunkering down." I thought only people in the South said that?

The sales clerks seemed abnormally talkative (as if we were the only human interaction they had had in a while. I guess you can only gaze admiringly at your own inventory or surf the internet for so many hours)but they were all really nice and friendly. One lady, when she found out I was an attorney, even went out of the way to give me the contact info of her legal-recruiter friend. I didn't have the heart to tell her that I would rather stick a hot poker in my eye than go back to the law (yet, very schizophrenic and telling that I still identify myself as an attorney ). This species of friendliness oozes out of the Chicagoans we meet. Or maybe we are just supremely likeable. ;)

When we left the last store, we saw how ominous the sky looked and realized that we would have to outrun the oncoming storm since we were sans umbrella. We walked a bit faster, but, in all honesty, I didn't mind the bitter cold or the sleet that eventually pelted our vulnerable, hatless heads. It was fun and it was our little Wicker Park adventure as we ran hand-in-hand back home (ok, the hand-in-hand part didn't actually happen the whole way home, but it sounded good. C'mon, this is Chicago. It's rare that we remove our hands out of the warm depths of our pockets).

When we got home, we cranked up the heat and bundled up under our chenille throw. Only a few hours later did the beautiful snowflakes begin to flurry wildly outside our window. We didn't mind. We were inside, warm, and blessed to have the option to go inside to escape the cold. I'm trying to see the beauty of this early April snowstorm weather, and I'm getting there.

None of this means that I have stopped my intense longing for the day when I can venture outside without strategizing my layers. I'm just realizing that life is so much more than the weather and learning to appreciate whatever is thrown our way.

Let's hope that this coming week will be filled with productivity.

And gratitude.

Friday, April 3, 2009

April snow showers bring...April indignation...which begets April motivation

Yes, the forecast does say snow on Monday. For a girl like me who has lived in hot, humid Houston for most of her life, that is more than a little mind-boggling.

When our first Chicago winter approached last fall, I was prepared and had been well-versed on the importance of layering, warm boots, and windshield wiper fluid. "You can forget about the cute little wool pea coats," I was warned. Instead, I was to prepare myself for floor-length puffer coats and Chewbacca boots.

To be honest, I actually welcomed a change of climate and scenery. I enjoyed the novelty of watching the leaves change to golden hues of orange and red and seeing my first real snowfall. I reveled at this opportunity to wear coats, scarves, and boots that had been hibernating for years, waiting for this occasion. But now, as April is upon us, I feel that things have gotten a little out of control.

I am tired of being cold. I am tired of coats and furry boots. I am tired of the snow/sleet/rain. I just want some warmth and sunshine. I want to wear sundresses and open-toe shoes.

I think I now officially know why last summer, when we first arrived to Chicago, everyone in the city seemed so happy and alive. Someone explained to us that Chicagoans don't take the summer for granted. Every warm and sunny day is exploited to its full potential: Cubs games at Wrigley Field, volleyball by the lake, outdoor barbecues, hundreds of outdoor festivals covering every art form under the sun, etc. I didn't completely get the city's rapture with summer at the time (everyday was summer in Houston), but now, I SO get it.

So, anyway, I just had to get that out of my system.

Moving on...

In my last post, I revealed that I have woefully discovered that I have not been as productive as I would have liked these past eleven months. Shouldn't I have something tangible to show for all this...time?

My first step to a "new, better you," I mean "me," is to write a schedule. Hopefully that will get me to do at least one productive thing daily. Of course, that begs the question: what, exactly, constitutes productive?

Ok, productive for me will mean trying to do the following:

1. Something remotely physical: walking up and down the stairs to check the mail WILL NOT count. Maybe I can run around my neighborhood when it starts to warm up. Until then, I will have to rely on Fit TV and its awful 80's inspired workout shows.

2. Write something every day: It doesn't matter what. Just write.

3. Read a book every week.

4. Try not to be such a hermit. Winter in this city tends to make hibernators out of people that aren't hibernators by nature. I'm going to have to break out of this rut soon, especially since I moved here not knowing a single soul other than my dear husband. I need to make more of an effort to meet girlfriends. I plan on joining a few meetup groups and see where that takes me.

5. Sleep less. I have been unapologetic and super indulgent with my hours of sleep (mainly because I have been frightened by horror stories of sleep deprivation from all of my friends who are moms. I have been trying to take advantage of this glorious, uninterrupted sleep while it's still a viable option for me). However, it's time to be a little less indulgent. My goal now is to wake up with Brandon in the morning and NOT crawl back into bed after he leaves. But the soft, fluffy comforter is an evil we'll see how this turns out.

6. Be more spontaneous and say "yes" more often: Brandon will often call me from work and ask me to join him for a drink or to watch a soccer game at a downtown bar. I am a sucker for routine and, not wanting to make the effort to get on the train and journey downtown, I usually decline. I plan my dinners a week before, and God forbid that anything get in the way of sticking to the plan. This sad adherence to routine has got to change. I took my first step a few nights ago when Brandon called me and convinced me to go out to a Korean restaurant with him and a co-worker of his. We never go out to dinner on a Wednesday night, so this was a small way for me to break out of my routine and say yes more often.

7. Try something new, step outside of my comfort zone every week: I have already embarked on this goal with little baby steps like taking a sewing class and teaching myself how to cook.

8. Explore Chicago. I live in such an amazing city with so much to offer but we seem to do the same thing every weekend (go out to dinner, have friends over to our place, stay in the same neighborhoods). My goal is to branch out more: visit the art museums, take an architectural boat cruise, go to Chinatown, etc.

9. Become more involved and tap into more creative outlets: I am planning on auditioning for a choral ensemble or choir, I want to take a random pottery or jewelry making class, I want to volunteer more.

10. Think long term and make decisions about what my next career path may be. Full-time mother? Event planner? Freelance writer?

11. Just relax and enjoy my time off. This, as you can clearly see, is actually going to be the hardest goal to accomplish.

I have to stop blaming the weather for my lack of motivation/inspiration. Hopefully, my muse will be invoked soon.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

How to Save a Life

I am approaching my one year anniversary of my retirement from the legal profession. (cue bells, whistles, hoorays, and other general shouts of glee)

Around this time last year, I was tying up lose ends in Houston, saying my goodbyes to people at the courthouse, having tearful goodbyes with old friends, packing diligently, and thanking my lucky stars that I would never have to practice law again. My husband and I were preparing for our cross-country drive to our new home in Chicago. I was really excited about embarking on our new adventure together and for the big change that awaited: Goodbye "Sae, the Lawyer"; hello "Sae, the Lady of Leisure".

I figure this is the perfect time to reflect on how I have spent the past eleven months. In a weird way, I want to hold myself accountable. What do I have to show for this period of my life that I like to think of as "the Renaissance" (yes, my attorney days were the "Dark Ages")?

My purpose is more than just to somehow convince myself that I have not squandered away my months in indulgence and laziness. No, I am opening up honestly about the last eleven months in hopes that it can serve as a social experiment of sorts, or, at least, an informative distraction. I am sure that a lot of my friends who fall under my previous demographic of "working, professionals" are at least slightly curious. What does a person, who has no real responsibilities or parameters on how to spend her time, do with her days?

Well, here is my attempt to discover a sliver of substance and accomplishment...

May 2008- Adjusted to new home, new city (dealt with setting up, connecting, mounting, redoing, fixing, furnishing, decorating, new house stuff, new DL stuff, auto and bank stuff etc.) Ok, this is acceptable. Everyone has to do this "housekeeping" stuff when you first transplant yourself to a new city.

June2008- July 2008- BAR EXAM. Brandon studied while I did my best to learn how to cook and take care of him for those brutal 8 weeks of nonstop studying. I also traveled to Houston to help my father with his big move (packing, etc) and traveled to New York to help my sister with her move to Boston. I'd like to think that this was my selfless, giving I'll but myself some slack here too.

August 2008- We hosted out of town friends, partied at Lollapalooza, went to some Cubs games, and started our long quest for window treatments. I subbed in for a co-ed softball team and struck out every time at bat. I traveled to visit my family in Boston at their new home. I spent almost every free moment in August planning our month long trip to South America. Hmmm...starting to get a little tricky here. I should have really done more with my time. I should have written more, seriously explored future career options. I spent a lot of time trying to perfect our trip...maybe I could have done less? The jury is still out on this month.

September 2008- We traveled through Peru and Argentina for 25 days and had an AMAZING time. We explored the ruins of Machu Picchu, ate the best ceviche we have ever tasted in Lima, snowboarded in the mountains of Bariloche, gazed in awe at the majesty of Iguazu Falls and lived it up in the city of Buenos Aires. We also celebrated my birthday at a tango show in Buenos Aires! Que maravilloso! I have no regrets about this month. I wasn't going to soul-search or demand productivity from myself when I was drinking in all the sights and sounds of S. America. Even I, the queen of self-critique, have some limits.

October 2008- Celebrated the whole month upon finding out that Brandon had passed the Illinois bar exam. We were in Argentina when Lehman Brothers went under and shit was hitting the fan. Needless to say, we felt nervous throughout the whole trip and it was a big relief to find out that Brandon had passed the bar and still had a job. ;) We danced our hearts out at a Brazilian Girls concert, hosted more out of town friends, celebrated Brandon's bday, and dressed to the nines for the Sidley winter formal. Definitely could have done more this month...

November 2008- We watched the historic inauguration with friends and really felt a positive energy in the city. Brandon's mother came into town for Brandon's swearing in ceremony. I was at home alone (and a wee scared)for a week when Brandon had to go to New York for first year orientation. I bought a sewing machine (I had never touched a sewing machine before). We traveled to Boston to spend Thanksgiving with my family. Holidays are always a good excuse for a lack of productivity...

December 2008- Started having more social interactions with new friends (dinners, etc). Pulled my hair out while dealing with home builder for many weeks concerning home issues. Traveled to Houston for a nice long Christmas vacation. Spent our first New Year's Eve in our new city of Chicago. Holidays are always a good excuse for a lack of productivity...

January 2009- Ooh, this month is fuzzy at best. Wrote down a few resolutions. Had fun with friends. Yowzah...I could have written a freakin' novel during this month.

February 2009- Started this sporadic blogging adventure and committed myself to writing a little everyday(we all know how well that turned out). I was hired as a web content writer for my former Houston law firm. Ventured out and volunteer at a shelter for victims of domestic violence. Took my first ever sewing class and did something crafty for the first time in my life: I made a pillow! Went to a Bulls/Rockets game and cheered loudly for the Rockets. Hung out with friends (brunch, silly karaoke nights at our place, etc). Traveled to Boston for a week to spend time with family. Too little too late...

March 2009- We canceled plans right and left because of Brandon's heavy workload. One Friday night (after getting all dolled up), we ended up grabbing food from McDonald's because it got too late to have a nice dinner out. And as for me, what did I accomplish in March? I feel like the honest answer would be very little and, thus, the urgency of this post...

Ok, so after reflecting upon the past eleven months, I realize I have very little to show for this so-called Renaissance. However, I never intended to beat myself over it. I just want to stress that now is the time to be proactive and make a change... and that change starts...tomorrow.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Do these things a writer make?

I keep wondering: at what point can I actually call myself a writer? Now that I've quit the practice of law, how do I respond when people ask the inevitable question: "So, what do you do?"

Believe me, I have tried to say the words, “I am a writer” out loud, but I can’t seem to keep a straight face, or the words come out all wobbly. Sometimes the words are even accompanied by a nervous, apologetic laughter. Who can really blame me? After having the pragmatically esteemed, yet safe (Look, I have the J.D. and the bar license to back it up!) title of attorney to throw around with comfortable ease, saying that I’m a writer just sounds boldly presumptuous. I haven’t published any novels or worked on the staff of any reputable publications. I don’t have a weekly column a la Carrie Bradshaw or even an advice column like Dear Abbey. So, what is a girl to say in response to the go-to cocktail party conversation starter: “What do you do?”

Clearly, the main source of my hesitation to call myself a writer is my lack of qualifications to back it up. "You’re a writer, huh? Ok, prove it." Cornered by someone in this manner, how would I respond? Would I point to my voluminous collection of adolescent diaries and journals, my undergraduate English papers, my old law school newspaper articles, and my witty banter with my friends on Facebook? Do those things a writer make? But, as I ponder this conundrum, I can’t help but wonder: does some of this “professional title” anxiety stem from the fact that a small part of me still identifies myself as an attorney?

This question was clearly answered when I went to the eye doctor recently. As I was filling out the medical forms, I came to the routine question: What is your occupation? I paused. A routine medical questionnaire that I had answered with ease throughout my adult life had me stumped. What should I write? Here were the choices that I saw flashing before me:

1. "unemployed"- No, that sounds like I didn't have any say in the manner when I quit my job. I found it a bit dishonest to lump myself with the legions of people who have recently fallen victim to this country's economic downturn.

2. "housewife" – As brainwashed as I have been by my liberal education, I could never identify with this moniker. In my head, the word “housewife” conjures up images of a Martha Stewart wannabe whose main passions in life are cooking, cleaning, and making those hideous Christmas sweaters. Now, don’t get me wrong. I do plenty of cooking and cleaning and am not ashamed to say that I enjoy taking care of my husband. It is only the negative connotation of the title of “housewife” that I am taking issue with. Oh, and it would be an entirely different story if I had children. Without any spawn to take care of, to identify myself as a housewife by choice seems a bit tragic.

3. "writer, or even aspiring writer"- Seems a little pathetic. I wanted to get my eyes checked, not make the receptionist feel sorry for me and my delusional romantic notions of my artistic grandeur.

So, if none of these choices would do, what did I ultimately end up writing down? Yes, the ol' reliable professional identity that will always be there for me to fallback on: “attorney.” It just felt like the safest thing to write at the time. I still do (and always will) have that “J.D” beside my name after all(don’t worry, I never actually write that after my name. But it comforts me that I could if I wanted to). And when the friendly doctor asked me what kind of law I practiced as he was dilating my pupils, I simply responded that in actuality, I had retired from the practice of law in May and was pursuing a new career path. There, that sounded respectable enough, didn't it?

What to make of all this? Well, it seems that although I am excited about embarking on a new career path, I have not completely disowned my old one. And you know what? That's Ok. I don't need to completely disassociate myself from the identity that I have grown so comfortable with these past five years in order to build a new one. That cutting of the umbilical cord may come with time, or may never come at all. I am learning to be proud of all the time, energy, and hard work I invested as a law student and an attorney. I am proud to have called myself an attorney, and, apparently, will be calling myself one for some time.

It seems only appropriate that after divulging this mini "identity crisis," I should announce that I have received my first paying job as a writer! The partner at my old law firm has hired me to write content for the law firm website. I will be writing various articles to educate the public about the firm and legal issues in general. And to think, without my legal past, I would never have encountered this opportunity. Maybe my stint as an attorney was just what I needed to open some creative doors for me.

Oh, and by the way, I've decided that my hodgepodge collection of random works DO indeed a writer make. And while I still can't help but giggle a bit when I describe myself as a writer, it's not from apologetic awkwardness, but sheer glee.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Don't Cry for Me Cyberspace Denizens!

In May of 2008, I found myself in an odd, and some may say enviable, position. At the age of thirty-one, I had the luxury to retire from the only profession that I had ever known: the practice of law. I suddenly found myself heavily burdened with the freedom to do absolutely whatever I wanted.

Yes, I know, you can hardly hold back your tears of sympathy. Now, don’t get me wrong. I fully realized how blessed I was to find myself in this fortuitous position. But, while it’s true that at times I could hardly contain my excitement at the prospect of never again having to argue another case to an indifferent jury, or assuage the fiery wrath of angry clients, I also found my new circumstances disturbingly intimidating. Blessed with a husband who supported my decision to quit the practice of law, and suddenly in possession of an abundance of free hours in a day, I no longer had any excuse not to be living my ideal life. Instead of immediately charging forward and embracing the fact that a stale legal job no longer held me back from pursuing my passions and making my life as meaningful as possible, I froze in fear. I found myself deeply intimidated by this seemingly boundless gift of freedom and opportunity.

Apparently, my reaction to this new set of circumstances is not that atypical for people of my generation. In an article in the Financial Times, Thomas Barlow explores the culture of discontent that arises not from the frustration caused by lack of opportunity, but from an excess of possibilities. He describes the unique problem of one young American Rhodes Scholar:

“She already had two degrees from top US universities, had worked as a lawyer and as a social worker in the US, and somewhere along the way had acquired a black belt in kung fu. Now, however, her course at Oxford was coming to an end and she was thoroughly angst-ridden about what to do next. Her problem was no ordinary one. She couldn't decide whether she should make a lot of money as a corporate lawyer/management consultant, devote herself to charity work helping battered wives in disadvantaged communities, or go to Hollywood to work as a stunt double in kung fu films. What most struck my friend was not the disparity of this woman's choices, but the earnestness and bad grace with which she ruminated on them. It was almost as though she begrudged her own talents, opportunities and freedom - as though the world had treated her unkindly by forcing her to make such a hard choice.”

Reading this article, I can see why Barlow seems to only harbor disdain for this Rhodes Scholar and others like her who “suffer” from the blight of having too many opportunities. And while a part of me feels that this discontent seems ungrateful and awfully self-indulgent, I can also understand the mindset of this young American woman. While my achievements in no way compare to this Rhodes Scholar/kung fu master/social worker, I can still relate to her angst at having too many doors open and the pressure involved in making touch choices.

Although it’s hard to admit, I think that most of us find some comfort in having limited choices or not having a choice at all. Instead of feeling like they have boundless opportunity, most people feel that life makes the choices for them based on financial and other practical constraints. While it may sound counter intuitive, not having the freedom to make choices can often lift a heavy burden off your shoulders. If you are shackled to an unfulfilled job, marriage, or life circumstance because of practical responsibilities, then you don’t have to confront tough questions such as asking yourself: "is this the best life I could be living?" You don’t have the luxury to soul-search about your purpose in life. There is some comfort in not being able to quit an unsatisfying job because you have mouths to feed, bills to pay and expectations to fulfill.

So, in May 2008, I suddenly found myself with no expectations to fulfill and no practical constraints holding me back. Stripped of all excuses, I no longer could justify not living the most fulfilling life possible. I can tell you in all honesty, that the last eight months have been a journey of both frustrations and achievements. Early on, I found it challenging to feel significant without a job (especially a practical, esteemed-in-the-eyes-of-society job, ie: attorney!) to define me, but gradually, I am enjoying the freedom of knowing that my worth lies in the person that I am and not the professional title I bear.

So now, instead of feeling intimidated when confronted with all the free hours in my days, I am beginning to see the bounty of opportunities before me. Most importantly, I am learning how to be kind to myself; not judging myself too harshly for not doing more, being more. Oh, and in spite of whatever self-indulgent angst-ridden affliction I may occasionally suffer from, not a day goes by when I am not grateful for the freedom of choosing my own destiny.

“The notion that one can do anything is clearly liberating. But life without constraints has also proved a recipe for endless searching, endless questioning of aspirations. It has made this generation obsessed with self-development and determined, for as long as possible, to minimize personal commitments in order to maximize the options open to them. One might see this as a sign of extended adolescence. Eventually, they will be forced to realize that living is as much about closing possibilities as it is about creating them.”

--Thomas Barlow, Financial Times

Monday, February 2, 2009

Burn Hello Kitty, Burn!

Welcome to my first self-indulgent post as a blogger and excuse me while I bask in the glory of your undivided attention.

“To be a useful person has always seemed to me something particularly horrible,”

- Baudelaire

It’s eerie how we can seal our fate at such a young age. I am tempted to blame my tragic, albeit short-lived, legal destiny on one run-on sentence from a deceptively innocuous entry in my Hello Kitty diary:

“I guess I should be a lawyer or writer cuz I always have to write what I’m feeling or I don’t feel whole and I like to argue my point of view.”

- October 28, 1990

I find it both terribly romantic and ridiculously unfair to blame my childhood self for spending eight years of my life pursuing a field of study that never could satisfy me. At the age of fourteen, I clearly had no understanding of what the practice of law entailed. I simply knew that I was opinionated and liked to convince people to believe what I believed. Unfortunately for me, with one stroke of a pen (and with that smug feline Hello Kitty looking on in approval) I had planted the seed that would ultimately germinate into a misguided belief that I could indulge my passion for writing through the practice of law.

What started off as a mere hunch that law may be my most suited career path, slowly evolved into a strong conviction. In my high school English classes, I embraced the majority of what I read, but found particularly attractive the stories with characters who fought for what they believed in. I was inspired by the determined ingenuity of Shakespeare’s Portia. I revered Lee’s Atticus Finch for his goodness and his dogged pursuit of justice in the face of evil. The strong feelings these characters stirred up in me led me to believe that I wanted to become an attorney. What I didn’t realize at the time was that it wasn’t so much the substantive issue of the law that enthralled me, but the carefully crafted words in which these stories were delivered. (Of course, the fight against injustice still appeals to me now as it did then. But I have been sobered by the realization that the vast majority of lawyers advocate clients and issues that are MUCH less romantic).

During my three years of law school, I felt, at best, indifferent, at worst, miserable. Of all my classes, the one I dreaded the most was legal research and writing. I hated all the rules and parameters that were placed on my writing. My happiest moments in law school came from writing for the school newsletter, Legalese. It felt so comfortably familiar and so honest writing about topics that had not been forced down my throat by a legal research and writing professor.

For five long years after I graduated from law school, I practiced law at both government agencies and with private firms. The years had not changed my stance and my unhappiness with my chosen profession. I tried to comfort myself by telling myself I had chosen a practical profession, that my skills would be useful to people. But is that what I wanted for myself? To be useful? Or did I want to alter the course of my destiny and allow my talents and interests to guide me this time around?

Yes, if I had poked a bit more at my youthful conclusion that my love of writing and speaking my mind meant that I should be a lawyer, I would have discovered that it was the art and poetry of the words themselves that lured me. I adored the art of how an idea or thought could be communicated much more than the actual substance of the communication. Even a closer reading of my simple, nonchalant diary entry would have given me insight as to how I truly felt. At the age of fourteen, I had clearly differentiated between my fancy for arguing and my need to write. From a young age, I was conscious of the fact that the simple act of writing down my thoughts made me feel "whole". No matter how sad I felt, no matter what evil things I had done, and no matter how frustratingly mundane the world appeared to be, channeling those feelings into words on paper somehow always gave me such a strong sense of peace.

So, lest I bore you, that is it for now. But don't worry, if you know me (and chances are you do if you are reading this blog out of the gazillion other blogs out there), you know that there is a happy ending to this much abbreviated story. I sit here at the computer, with my cup of tea, free from the practice of any useful or practical profession. And I have never been happier.

“Everyone in his heart of hearts agrees with Baudelaire: ‘To be a useful person has always seemed to me something particularly horrible,’ for, subjectively, to be useful means to be doing not what one wants to do, but what someone else insists on one’s doing.”

- WH Auden

Hellish Kitty

Hellish Kitty
My beloved childhood diary