December 30, 2009

Decade in Review

The first decade of the new millenium seemed to fly by for me, but I'm in a very different place now than I was when I was partying like it was 1999.

Because I feel the need to reflect, remind, and regurgitate, here are my most significant, life-changing events of the past ten years, in chronological order:
  • Moving out on my own and going roommate-free in 2001
  • Winning a game show (VH1's Name That Video) in 2001
  • Watching the towers fall on TV and then hearing my mother say "I love you" over the phone, the last time I ever heard it from her and one of the only times I think she actually may have meant it.
  • Saying goodbye to Atlantic Records in 2001
  • Buying my first computer in 2002
  • Losing 30 pounds in 2003 for a high school reunion that was only attended by less than 20 people out of a 300+ graduating class
  • Blackout of 2003. Best. Night. Ever.
  • Finding Easy Rock soulmates and discovering new reasons to love deep Queens in 2003 (and the resulting underwear wrestling matches, topless dance parties and other mayhem that continued in the following years)
  • The emergence of my favorite weekend of the year, Open House New York, in 2003, sparking my interest in historic preservation and urban exploration
  • Sending flowers to my dreamy eye doctor on Valentine's Day 2004 and going on one date with him, only for him to freak out and fade away afterwards, like all the other guys in New York City
  • Buying my first couch in 2004
  • Becoming friends with Edith in 2004 after letting her ignore me for two years
  • Discovering that I wasn't the girlfriend, I was the other woman - again - thereby ending the relationship with only the second (and now last) person I ever considered actually my boyfriend. I haven't gone beyond three dates with anyone since 2004.
  • Joining Naked Angels for Tuesdays @ 9 in 2005
  • Starting to blog in 2006 thanks to MySpace
  • Singing backup vocals on Twisted Sister's A Twisted Christmas in 2006
  • Not sleeping alone all the time, August 2006-May 2008
  • Marshall Stack, born Fall 2006
  • Cutting all ties with my parents in early 2007
  • Playing the role of private investigator-meets-attorney to seize money from the bank account of a record company that owed me back pay in 2007
  • Being debt-free August 2007-January 2009. It was nice while it lasted.
  • Discovering deserts in 2008, starting with a trip to Death Valley that sparked my persistent existential crisis
  • Learning to love dogs in 2008
  • Facing betrayal, cowardice, abandonment and retaliation in 2008 and coming out on the other side a stronger person
  • Beginning my home shopping hosting career in 2008
  • Meeting Stevie Nicks in 2009
  • The Desert Lily Artist Residency, 2009
  • Hiking my way to enlightenment in 2009
  • Restoring the terrazzo floor of the New York State Pavilion in 2009
  • Every concert by Justin Timberlake, Stevie Nicks, Billy Idol, Nicole Atkins and Vic Thrill I could catch
  • Learning Masala Bhangra - a continuing process!
  • Slowly being absorbed into a new family, learning how to be a daughter and a sister to people who actually want me there....
Upon reflection, I'm glad to see that only a handful of these game-changers have anything to do with work. From 1997-2001, my life was monopolized by work, clocking in 10 hour days, going to the gym, going out and getting drunk, sleeping and then starting all over again. In fact, I don't even remember the year 2000 at all. I retain glimpses of dancing to 80s music at Tribe (RIP) and getting a tiny raise that didn't even cover the increase in the cost of living, but there are basically no distinct memories. I know that I was fat, sad, hung over, and lonely, and could not comprehend where my life would be in ten years. I hoped I would be married. That I would have a bigger apartment. That I would finally have a cat.

Ten years later, I'm still workin' on it.

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December 29, 2009

My Public Radio Debut

I ventured into my old office building today for the first time since January. I needed a land line from which to conduct my interview on WNYC's "The Leonard Lopate Show" (as a winner of SMITH Magazine's Six Word Resolutions contest), and dragging Edith into work on her day off was pretty much my only recourse.

I didn't mind it so much. Over the last year, I'd stood outside the building several times waiting for a lunch date to come downstairs, or picking Edith up after work, and felt a mild amount of anxiety just being there, the context cues of the deli on the corner, the coffee shop across the street, the NYU students and their parents littering the sidewalks, the playground cries coming from the Children's Aid Society...But today, in a brisk winter wind with a chill in the single digits, my eyes squinting at the harsh angle of the sun and my ears covered by muffs, I plodded my way into the front door and the elevator without pause, noting the small changes along the way, and the unusually pleasant, fruity smell of the elevator.

I waited upwards of 40 minutes for the show producer to call me on Edith's work line, legs bouncing nervously as I sat in my comfy former office chair that Edith managed to snag upon my departure. I was sipping a bottle of Poland Spring I stole from the executive refrigerator (reserved for guests only), drumming my fingers on Edith's desk, and flexing my leg muscles as I started to feel dizzy with the growing anxiety of waiting for the phone to ring.

When it finally rang, and I was greeted by the show's host and the editors of SMITH, it all went by so fast. I got to tell one good joke. I made Leonard Lopate, a serious public radio figure, act a little frisky. But they didn't even say my last name and I didn't get to plug my blog or my SMITH username, unlike the winner that followed me who plugged her upcoming gig at The Living Room. At least I wasn't too humiliated by the personal nature of the resolutions that won. Not yet, anyway.

Is it hard to write about your life in six words? For some people it is. But sometimes limitations can be liberating, unbound by rules of grammar or syntax. All that matters is that you tell the truth.

I kind of like riding the pendulum of my life, which swings so severely between one extreme and another: from home shopping host to public radio literary figure, all in one month. These things can coexist in my life, if I can keep capitalizing on every opportunity that comes my way...

The show is archived via the player below. You can hear me about 25 minutes in (thanks to a post-show editing job in which they remove the pleas for donations and other sponsored messages). 

Incidentally, independently of this contest and today's interview, I was also featured as today's Six Word Memoir of the Day on SMITH's website.

December 23, 2009

Leave No Trace - Workplace Edition

I've taken down the holly garland I'd strung around the pole that separated my desk from the workspace to my left.

I've emptied the Hershey's Kisses from my holiday penguin tin, leaving the chocolates on the ledge of my partition that makes my old desk look like a receptionist's.

I deleted all my passwords off of Firefox.

I emptied the (physical and digital) trash.

I threw away the Post-It Notes that reminded me of things I no longer need to remember.

I set my Out of Office Autoreply.

I packed my coffee mug, water bottle, soy sauce dish, and tissue box.

I hugged my coworkers and kissed the dog goodbye.

Yesterday was my last day in the office of a three-month inhouse consulting gig. The packing felt like the office cleanup I'd completed nearly a year ago. But this time there was no celebratory brunch. No gifts. No dinner. No party. Just a goodbye and a thank you.

I'm glad to go, to move onto new things, to find something else to do. As hard as I worked and as much as I tried to impact my projects positively, upon my exit I tried to leave no physical trace of me there, so that the workspace could be returned in its original condition to its rightful owner in January.

Oops, I left a blueberry yogurt in the fridge.

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December 17, 2009

Open Letter to Michael McDonald

At Westbury Music Fair

Dear Michael McDonald, oh DEAR Michael McDonald,

I don't remember when I first heard your voice, but I know I had "Yah Mo B There" on a K-Tel cassette tape from the early 80s.

I never really remembered your big solo hit "I Keep Forgettin'" until Warren G reminded me of it in his classic tune "Regulate."

But I remember the moment I really fell in love with your smooth vocal stylings, and your heartbreaking  composing: the first time I listened to the Razor & Tie compilation Easy Rock, whose TV commercial led me to not only buy two copies, but to go work for Razor & Tie. Sure, it was more than 20 years after "What a Fool Believes" was originally a hit, but the song's lyrics struck me. I made my friends listen to it while I cried out, "It's SO SAD!"

After that I started finding your voice in whatever other songs I listened to. Christopher Cross, check. Kenny Loggins, check. Steely Dan, check. Robbie Dupree (of "Steal Away" fame), check. Patti LaBelle, check. David Pack told me he co-wrote one of Ambrosia's biggest hits ("You're the Only Woman") with you. I even found you in a post-Africa Toto song ("I'll Be Over You.")

You, sir McDonald, are not only ubiquitous in all pop music that I love, but you are all-powerful in your ability to make me gush about easy rock, the genre you created. Razor & Tie now pays me to talk about you on QVC.

You wrote a cajun Christmas song that does not sound ridiculous. You make "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" sound like you wrote that one too. And you can channel Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder so well, you make housewives across the country squeal in delight.

So please, Michael McDonald, with all the power of your stark white hair and your great trimmed beard, don't deprecate yourself with old jokes, fat jokes, stupid jokes, and dorky jokes. Even in a sweaty white dress shirt with no undershirt (oh, please wear an undershirt), you rock the hell out of a circular rotating stage in Long Island. You give Kenny Rogers more than a run for his money for best easy rock Christmas show ever. People give you a standing ovation at the mere suggestion of the first few keyboard strokes from "What a Fool Believes."

Go on, play your accordion and your tiny guitar and your acoustic guitar. I like to see you stand rather than always hunched over that keyboard.

playing the accordion

And do talk to me, talk to me in that very normal, average-sounding speaking voice of yours that, in comparison, makes your singing voice sound ever so much more luxurious, like a fine velour...Just keep it short and cute, and leave out the complaints about joining the AARP. I didn't mind how old you were in the "Sweet Freedom" music video when I was just 11 years old. Don't remind me of the time that has passed since.


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December 16, 2009

The End of the Semester

Since I quit my job last January, I've found myself back on a schedule reminiscent of my college days, indexing the year into three, four, five, or six month increments much like a school semester or a summer break. My consulting gigs have sliced up my year - normally an indigestible twelve months of non-stop work - into tasty little bite-sized pieces that are somehow more palatable.

As much as I complain - "work" has such negative connotations for me since my last job, which damaged me deeply to the core - I choose my projects carefully, and am proud of every single one of them. I was downright giddy to see Ziggy Marley on the Thanksgiving Day Parade this year, and thrilled to hear of his Grammy nomination, both of which were absolutely goals we were working towards over the summer. I feel a personal investment in every crazy classical project I write a press release for, no matter how esoteric or "out there" it may be. Understandably, it's a little hard for me to leave behind three months' of work on my recent dance music projects, when I felt like I was just getting started. I never got the chance to really own any of them, from beginning to end. I was the stepmother or the surrogate or maybe, at the most, the nanny. Perhaps like my time spent in Joshua Tree this summer, maybe I was just a glorified housesitter.

But, whatever it was, my time is up and it is time to move on. I'm returning the projects to the hands of their capable former guardian.

I'd like to think I helped. I tried not to screw anything up.

Nevertheless, I'm sure some people will be glad to see me go. In an industry of strong personalities, creative differences, and easily bruised egos, it's hard not to step on some toes when you're trying to do good things for projects that deserve attention. If I didn't care, I would've ended up being the 20-hour-a-week employee I intended to be when I signed up for the gig. Instead, I've answered calls late at night, checked emails early in the morning, and written press releases while bedridden with the flu. I've gone to shows where the artist practically spits in my face, I've given everyone my cell phone number, and I've learned to do things I've never done before ("Look! I made this article happen! That was me!").

For months since I started, people who have encountered me in my current position have been asking, "So what's next?" I thought I had plenty of time to figure that out, but next week is Christmas, and the week after that is New Year's. Then, the entire year of 2010 is wide open for me, waiting for me to figure out what to do with it.

But sometimes you don't want a whole year. You just want a couple of months...

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Letting It Run Its Course

Since this weekend, I have been the sickest I have been since I was a little kid. I managed to get some Christmas shopping done on Saturday, drop my hulking jewelry box off at Goodwill, and have brunch at 'inoteca on Sunday before completely collapsing into oblivion for over two days.

Thank God I showered on Sunday, because I still have not.

Getting sick as a kid was both a blessing and a curse. Although I dreaded school every day, it provided a respite from my tortuous and traumatic home life. Staying home from school, though, provided no respite at all: secluding me in my room, the acrid smell of cleaning fluids burning my inflamed nostrils and tickling my scratchy throat, causing coughs that perpetuated throughout the night, disturbing not only my own sleep but that of my sister and my mother. Somehow my father managed to sleep through it all. Somehow my father always managed to ignore everything.

If my sister and I ever started to feel ill, at first we'd deny it, to ourselves and all those around us. We'd try to will the illness away, cast it out like a demon, before it possessed our bodies and subjected us to our mother's nursing hand. When we'd finally succumb to it, despite our weakened state we'd receive continued punishments, accusations, and denials all around one central theme: "You'd better not get me sick."

There were no warming soups delivered to bed-ridden infants. If you wanted to eat, you had to drag yourself down to the kitchen and sit up at the table. If you had to throw up, there was a Rubbermaid dishpan placed next to your bed on the floor (henceforth known as "the bucket"). Unlucky for me, more than once I didn't make it to the bucket and got sick in my own bed. God forbid you had to go to the bathroom, because you had no choice but to climb the staircase down - careful not to actually hold onto the wooden railing which had been painstakingly waxed several times over - and skate across the slick hardwood floor, through the kitchen of slamming cupboard doors, and into the bathroom at the farthest reaches of the house.

In my tiny little apartment, I don't have far to go for soup, tea, tissues, or the bathroom. I'm lucky enough to have Edith bring me medicine and orange juice. I had a pizza delivered for dinner. It's not too bad here, lying by the everglow of my Christmas tree in a flu stupor. But there's a life to be led out there somewhere, and I can't stay in here forever. Now that I'm an adult, I'll let myself be sick. But there's no reason to stay sick for too long - adventure awaits!

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December 08, 2009

Plight of the Uninsured

This is the longest I've ever gone without health insurance, recently surpassing the 10-month unemployed stint between Atlantic Records and Razor & Tie in 2001-2. Unfortunately for me, I've had some weird health problems that have sent me into doctors' offices, not only for office visits that cost $250 a pop, but for tests that command upwards of $400-500 apiece.

With each visit, the nurses, doctors, and billing staffs seem so shocked that I don't have health insurance. They ask me repeatedly for my insurance card, to which now I simply respond with a credit card. They look confused, and then their faces fall. They pity me, but not enough to give me a price break (unlike my dentist, who is a master negotiator).

Now the prescriptions start. I ceased my regular monthly prescriptions over the summer partially because I couldn't afford them anymore, but I've needed a couple new ones in the last month or two to try to treat some bizarre, undiagnosed ailments in my body (not so unusual for a patient with fibromyalgia).

Last night, picking up my prescription from Duane Reade, the pharmacy attendant asks me if I have insurance. I say no and roll my eyes. Then she looks at the form stapled to my prescription, looks up at me quizzically, and says, "It says it was cancelled."

I sigh.

"That's what happens when you quit your job and don't have another one lined up."


"I would think these days you would have a lot of people coming in here without insurance."

The attendant - not a pharmacist herself, but a glorified cashier, somewhat better than the ones up front who are notoriously worse than McDonald's employees - looks down and says quietly, "Not really."

I'm on the attack. "Well, I guess I'm the unluckiest unemployed person in the United States then."

I can't imagine what she says is true, but maybe, in this healthcare crisis, the uninsured are going to public clinics for treatment, or not seeking treatment at all, or just aren't filling their prescriptions. For now, I have the luxury of having some cash at my disposal to pay for medical care - something I should probably prioritize over, say, drinks or dining out or travel. But that may run out soon. And then what will I do?

I asked for insurance from Ultra, since I was going to be there basically full-time for three months or more. They wouldn't give it to me. But the longer I sit at that desk, stagnant in that office chair, breathing in the germs of all the other workers who are practically sitting on my lap, the more I subject myself to needing medical care. I felt safer climbing the rocky peaks of Joshua Tree National Park.

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December 07, 2009

Donating My Life Away

Even at 34 years old, my life is full of relics from my childhood. Sure, like most people, I have a box of junk in my closet that I can't get rid of, but given the tininess of my studio apartment and my desire to move soon, I've been trying to clean out as many unnecessities as possible - which includes getting rid of as much stuff gifted to me by my mother as I can.

Decorating the tree this weekend, I found myself being choosier than ever when it came to selecting ornaments for my six-foot Frasier fir, whose branches could not carry all of them. The more I associated an ornament with my mother - who annually gifted us Hallmark ornaments as kids, and then lavish, heavy, huge ornaments that were more her taste than ours as adults - the more likely I was to wrap it back up in its tissue paper and place it at the bottom of the box, buried in the empty wrappers of the ornaments that did make it to the tree. As much as I've been able to clear out of my apartment over the last year or two, for some reason, I can't get rid of those ornaments.

Instead, I set my sights on the big, clunky, wooden jewelry box in my closet. I'd asked for a small jewelry box one year for my birthday or Christmas, and my mother ordered this one off television, despite it being too huge for my space. In kind, she also started buying me a lot of jewelry off television, most of which has tarnished too easily, broken into pieces, or hung unworn for years. This jewelry box, and its contents, were the last big relic from a poisonous pattern of gifting with my mother that only ceased when I stopped calling home. Every morning when I get dressed, I look at it and feel sick. The necklaces get tangled on the hooks. The drawers swing open to the side but only if the top is open, which is impossible given the height of my shelf. The earring racks indeed hold earrings, after some difficulty inserting them, but the racks themselves fall out. And most importantly, I'm sure my mother still thinks I owe her something in return for this gift, some debt that I can never repay.

Last night, I emptied the jewelry box.

I kept the pieces that I'd purchased myself, or that had been given to me by Maria, and placed almost everything else in a Ziploc bag for Goodwill. With a stretched-out safety pin, I surgically untangled two necklace chains that had become inextricably intermingled. And I distributed the remaining pieces between a box gifted to me by Maria, and a new jewelry box I'd purchased at Bed Bath & Beyond for 20% off on Black Friday.

The irony is, my mother would be proud. She was always getting rid of things. Like the disease that hoarders have, my mother would get high off purging, giving our toys away to our uncle and our cousins before we were quite through with them, boasting about the value of the items that she'd donated to the Salvation Army. When she started giving away the gifts that we'd worked so hard to track down for her, on which we'd spent a lot of money we didn't have, my sister and I had had enough.

My purging feels a bit like revenge, even though my mother has no contact with me that would allow her to find out about it. But it also feels a bit like I'm channeling her, giving away perfectly good items that someone else would be thrilled to have.

Let somebody else polish the tarnish off the silver, untangle the chains, and swing the drawers out to the side. Someone with room in their life for a jewelry box so big. I've spent years trying to clean out my life, and I just can't keep these things in my home anymore.

What's left, besides the Christmas ornaments that only come out once a year, and only for a moment before I wrap them back up?

Well, there's still the tea kettle on my stove that I've been trying to replace for years...

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December 04, 2009

Scene from the QVC Green Room

I'm standing in my stocking feet - saving the already-eroded tips from my patent leather heels - watching a guy sell lobster tails on the big flatscreen TV in the room everyone calls "Q." I'm standing not only because my outfit looks much better standing (as evidenced by the clip of me onair, during which sitting on a couch collected all my body fat in my middle section), but also because I can't sit comfortably with the control top pantyhose I scraped upwards along my thighs and finally over the tops of my hips, causing something like rugburn on both sides of my body.

The lobster tails guy only has three minutes to make his sell - about a third of the time I will have onair in a little while - and his colleague, or maybe his boss, is sitting at the computer monitoring the sales as they happen. Suddenly he starts yelling at the flatscreen, urging the spokesperson along, coaxing the right sell lines out of him.

"Only two times a year!" he shouts, like a fan at a boxing match or a spirited soccer tournament.

Dan responds in kind, as though somehow he heard, saying, "And you know, I haven't been here since May, so these are really limited..."

The hosts are gabbing along, dipping lobster in melted butter and talking with their mouths full, not letting Dan get a word in edgewise.

The guy at the computer is becoming more and more irate, yelling out his own sell lines, and criticizing the hosts. "How about some Easy Pay, huh? Do you feel like saying that? Only two times per year!"

"Two easy payments!"

"Come on Dan, get in there!"

But Dan is overwhelmed, completely overtaken by full-mouthed hosts hungry with the approaching lunch hour, faces weighed down by makeup, eyes squinting with the bright soundstage lights. Dan doesn't have a chance.

"Come on, come on, come on....!" the guy at the computer urges, but his encouragements fall upon deaf ears. Dan no longer responds.

And suddenly, the segment is over.

Dan's one-man cheering squad throws his hands up in the air, slaps them down on his knees, and shakes his head. His team has lost the game.

And he has to wait another six months to try again.

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December 02, 2009

Squeezing a Dollar Out of a Dime

I haven't worked this hard since the fall of 2002, when I began my job at Razor & Tie with no office, no assistant, no boss, and a roster of doomed projects. At the time, not only was I staying at work until 8 p.m. or later, but I was spending all other free time - mornings, evenings, and weekends - programming music for the Crunch fitness club chain, continuing the freelance work I started during the 10 months I was unemployed after 9/11.

Now I get up at 7:45 in the morning and write press releases, answer overnight emails from Ultra, look for jobs, and conduct general consulting business development BEFORE going into the office at 10:30 or 11. Now that my time at this inhouse consulting gig is ending, I spend all day putting out fires, mediating squabbles between the label and its artists, and teaching my coworkers how to do their jobs, all the while conducting conference calls to try to get some new clients for January when I will be released from my current assistant-free, cubicle-bound assignment. At night, I do more freelance writing, coordinate travel for my QVC appearances, and agonize over eyebrows, teeth, skin, hair and nails that will be illuminated by bright soundstage lights and magnified by digital HD cable. And although I am constantly on the prowl for kickbacks - any other sources of income -, I've been able to retain most of my weekends, save for the occasional frantic work phone call on a Saturday night and a trip down to West Chester, PA for QVC.

In some ways I feel like I've regressed more than ten years, when I was just starting out in the music industry as an assistant at Atlantic Records' classical division, not making enough money to pay my half of $1000/month rent. I took on a second job in the music department of the now-closed Barnes & Noble Chelsea, working until close both weekend days, and often leaving the Atlantic office at 2 on summer Fridays and starting my next shift at 3. I only lasted a few months in that routine, until I received a meager salary increase at Atlantic that made up the difference just enough to let me quit the second job that was slowly killing me.

Do I regret quitting my job in January? No way. Do I regret taking on this current job, with smaller budgets, smaller artists, smaller staff, and smaller power than I'm used to? Sometimes I do. Sometimes I think I've made a big mistake, that I'm wasting my time on a nowhere business where people who know less than me insist on arguing with me. But I have to keep remembering that the last time I felt this way, when I worked for three weeks at CMJ and was so visibly miserable that I got fired, it led to my hiring at Razor & Tie, a place that did make me happy for a few years, until things just went terribly wrong....

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