Relajando: Relaxing in Mexico City

I didn’t make a New Years Resolution so much as a life goal. Last year was great for my writing career, but it turned me into a workaholic.

My 2017 goal is Balance.

I plan to concentrate on different aspects of that in each city I visit. In January, which I’m spending here in the beautiful Ciudad de México, I decided to work on slowing down – taking time each day to appreciate where I am and live in the now.

That turned out to be a fitting choice.

From the cafe my new RY roomie and I wandered into on day 1 (a local hole-in-the-wall where we ate chilaquiles, fresh papaya and a mystery breakfast of the day) to the outdoor ping pong bar and food court (a trendy smorgasbord of acai bowls, sushi, tacos and chiles rellenos that would be right at home in Williamsburg), meals here are an experience.

Much like in Europe, table service is slow, unhurried. Nobody wants to rush you, and nobody is in a hurry themselves, either. The New Yorker in me got impatient at first – I have so much writing to do! So many neighborhoods to explore and museums to visit!

But then I reminded myself of this month’s focus: Slow Down. Sit back, relax. Enjoy the great food and the even better conversation. I have a whole month here. No need to run around like crazy trying to see it all today.

Yesterday, I went for a stroll through el Bosque de Chapultepec, a park near our workspace. I explored the botanical garden inside, then stared at a map, overwhelmed. Should I visit the Museum of Anthropology, located within the park? The Modern Art Museum is also here. Or I could go into Chapultepec Castle, which looms over the whole forest and houses the National Museum of History.

I wanted to see them all. But instead of trying to rush, I followed my instincts. I was craving greenery. Instead of museum-hopping, I settled near a stream, took off my shoes, and wrote freehand. Nothing for work, just notes for future stories. Random ideas. Snippets of memories from the week.

A local stopped to ask what I was writing. That turned into an hour-long conversation about my trip, the gas riots downtown, his military career and rebound from an accident that nearly paralyzed him.

My Spanish is still rusty. I forgot how to say “lucky” (suerte, by the way) and floundered, trying to describe it for an embarrassingly long time (just try to describe what luck means without using the word itself, I dare you). But like all of the locals I’ve met here so far, he was patient.

He taught me some slang (“padre” means cool – I guess dads are finally cool now!), and gave me trip advice (the Basilica of Guadalupe is a must see, but not on the 12th of the month, her day, because it’s a madhouse). All throughout our conversation, he kept using the word relajado. To describe life in Mexico City, his job, relationships, people here on the whole.

“We know how to enjoy life with what we have,” he said (in my approximate translation). “We throw a lot of parties, we don’t work too hard. We remember to live where we are.”

So I adopted that as my word of the week:

Relajado (adj.) – calm, tranquil, relaxed. e.g.: “Este bosque me parece muy relajado.” (This forest seems very relaxing to me.)

Judging by week 1, I picked the perfect place to start living a more balanced 2017.

(By the way, if you want to see more pictures from my trip so far, I’m posting more than you could ever want on Instagram, ha.)

Leaving New York City

Seven years and two months ago, I moved onto my childhood best friend’s couch on Wall Street with a single suitcase in tow and a publishing job waiting for me.

Seven years and two months later, I’ve handed in my notice at that same job and rented out my room in the Astoria apartment I shared with that same friend. I moved back onto her couch with a single suitcase and a very different career on the horizon.

I did not expect to stay this long. My friends can attest that I’ve spent every year here swearing I’d be moving abroad “any day now.”

I did not expect to stay at my first job out of college for 7 years. Nor I did expect to make so many new friends in New York. I think of myself as shy and kind of awkward, so where did all these people who like hanging out with me come from?

I did not expect to grow roots, but apparently I did. I didn’t even notice how deep they ran until it came time to dig them up.

I stayed this long because of the people. I stayed for my childhood and college besties, for the new friends I met at work and at publishing parties, in new-to-the-area meetups and comic conventions.

Last week, I stood in my friend’s tea house (closed for my going away), surrounded by people from all my different New York social groups meshed together. The room felt like a kaleidoscope of all the lives I’ve lived here. The people I’ve known for decades, the ones I’ve only just met, and everybody else in between.

going-away-party-2

I’m leaving them all.

It hadn’t felt real yet, not until that night. Not until I had to say goodbye.

I’m excited for the next chapter. I can’t wait to explore new cities and make new friends in unexpected places. But leaving is bittersweet. I’ll miss everyone I love in New York, and I’ll miss the city that brought us all together, too.

New York is a city of transplants (with a few proud locals mixed in). It’s a city where your friends become your family, where nobody bats an eye at unusual living situations or the hijinks you get up to on a late-night subway train. You get no privacy here, but neither does anyone else, so we understand when you need to do your makeup in a cab or haul a dog carrier full of doves across town to bird-sit for a weekend.

It’s a city full of artists and writers, actors and dancers. I have a theory that they flock here for the stories. Where else can you find comedic inspiration like a mailman pushing your roommate through a window, or overhearing a drunk guy carry on a 10 minute conversation with your cat? There’s a reason so many sit-coms are set here. People called Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt “unrealistically weird,” but I noticed the only reviews saying that were written by people who had never lived in NYC.

So, I came for a job. I stayed for the people. But I also fell in love with New York along the way. It feels like home right now, a home I’m leaving behind for I-don’t-know-how-long. And just like the other cities I’ve called home, a piece of me will remain here, no matter where I end up next.

Remote Year – Meraki

meraki-infographicIn my last post, I talked about my plan to go freelance in 2017. That’s related to another big life change, which freelancing will enable me to tackle: I’m traveling around the world.

On January 1st, I leave New York City for Mexico City. From there, I will spend each month of 2017 in a different country, traveling with a company called Remote Year. I joined their Meraki group, which means that along with 80 other globetrotters, I’ll be following this itinerary.

Living abroad has been a lifelong dream. I got a small taste of it when I studied abroad in Barcelona in college, and again after graduation when I lived in the UK for a summer. But a couple of months didn’t feel long enough to really appreciate life outside the US. And while I’ve traveled extensively since college, I’ve mostly stuck to Europe and North America.

This summer, I started to research the best countries for US expats. I came up with a few viable options (Argentina and Thailand looked pretty appealing), but I was nervous.

How would I find a community?

Was I willing to move to a new country alone, with no one to advise me on local culture or housing or the best places to explore and the spots to avoid?

Would my rusty Spanish improve enough to make friends if I moved to Argentina? Would I be able to study Thai fast enough to communicate?

Then I stumbled across an article about Remote Year. If you’re accepted to a program, for $2,000 a month (plus a down-payment), Remote Year organizes housing, an office/coworking space rental, and travel to and from the countries on their itinerary. Sure, I could find housing and flights to a lot of these places for less, but it would mean intensive research on my part (especially when looking for safe yet reasonable neighborhoods).

But the biggest draw to RY was the community. The people in each RY group run the gamut from freelancers to startup creators to employees at traditional companies. The only thing everyone has in common is the ability to work remotely (at least for one year).

RY is designed to foster a global professional network. In this day and age, as the world shrinks and the internet increases our ability to build communities from oceans apart, that’s the kind of network that makes sense. After all, I have friends dotted across the globe who are just as close to me as my local friends. Why shouldn’t my professional network mirror my personal one?

I’m looking forward to taking this journey and building those connections. I’m also, let’s be honest, looking forward to traveling my butt off for a whole year.

A month may not be enough time to truly settle into a new city, but it’s long enough to get a good taste for the flavor of each place we’re going. Maybe I’ll return to one for a more in-depth stay later. Or maybe after a year of living the nomadic life, I’ll finally experience this “homesickness” thing people tell me about. Tough to say the answer now, but I can’t wait to find out.

As for this blog, I’ve recently revamped (big thanks to Atmosphere Websites for the design and the new and improved functionality!) in preparation for this trip, because I plan to keep everyone posted on my travels to each spot. Follow any of my posts tagged WhereInTheWorldIs for the latest updates!

Productivity Tracking: Why I’m Going Freelance

I’m taking the plunge! Starting in 2017, I will be writing fiction full-time.

I’m lucky to have the opportunity. It’s taken me years to find enough freelance gigs to make the budget work. And who knows? Maybe I won’t like being in charge of every aspect of my work life. There are certainly things I enjoy about my office day job. My coworkers, my bosses and mentors, the new and interesting challenges that crop up each day. It’s scary to leave that certainty behind in favor of the uncertain world of freelance.

So why did I decide to take the risk?

Because in the past year, as I’ve juggled my full-time day job alongside my freelance projects, I’ve realized: I don’t work from 9 to 5.

I go in to the office for those hours. But much of that time is spent attending meetings, responding to emails, working on daily maintenance tasks, taking tea breaks, snack breaks, more tea breaks, hunting for communal baked goods in the kitchenette… You get the picture.

By contrast, when I’m freelancing, my only billable hours are the ones I spend with my butt in the chair writing. I have to track those hours meticulously, and in doing so, I started to better understand how I actually work: in sprints.

When I first started recording, my work sprints usually lasted 15-20 minutes. Since I made a note every time I started and stopped writing, I was able to see how long my breaks in between sprints lasted, too. Often when I thought I just took 5 minutes to quickly respond to an email, I’d actually stepped away from my work for 30-40 minutes!

I was surprised how often I interrupted my writing flow. I was also surprised at how much time I wasted, since I like to think of myself as an efficient person.

Thankfully, the first step to changing something is recognizing it. Now that I was tracking my time, I had a baseline to improve upon and a KPI (key performance indicator – as you may have guessed, my day job was in marketing) to track in order to measure said improvement.

Three new habits improved my productivity the most:

    1. Recognizing this pattern. Yep, just knowing that I’d be writing down the timestamp when I started and when I stopped motivated me to stay on task longer.
    2. Pre-planning. Before I started the clock each time, I took 1 minute to jot down a couple sentences about what I was going to work on, be it a rough scene outline or notes on what I needed to edit in this chapter.
    3. Setting goals. For example, when drafting, I told myself I could have a break to make more tea and obsessively refresh my inbox once I wrote 2,000 new words.

Soon, I found myself working for 45-60 minute sprints, with only 5-10 minute breaks in between. By working in longer chunks, I was able to consolidate my workday, finish projects sooner, and have more free time afterwards. In the past, I’d sit at my home office for 8 hours, but only write for 3. Now I can knock out 3 hours of writing in 3.5 hours and give myself the rest of the day off.

Recognizing that gave me the final motivational push to jump into freelancing full-time. It isn’t easy, and this coming year will be a real test of my self-discipline. But I have a feeling I’m going to enjoy it!