Archive | Heartfelt

The style of my smile

And just like that, I’m done with Invisalign.

And I’m fucking thrilled. 

I’ve disliked my teeth for decades. I won’t go into particulars but suffice to say, my teeth were jacked, at least in my mind. Ninety percent of photos of me taken since the early 90s show me smirking, mouth closed. 

I am snarky but the real reason for the smirk was because I was ashamed of my smile. I didn’t talk about it. I just kept my mouth shut.

My dentist has been urging me for more than 10 years to get braces, because my cross bite would only become more problematic as I got older. I freelanced for many years and had crap insurance, and I couldn’t justify taking on that expense, especially when I’d rather use that money for closed-mouth European travel, only parting my lips for croissants, gelato and maybe cute boys…

It seemed indulgent and vain to spend so much money on my dentition. It’s a shame catch-22: I either hate how I look or I loathe my imprudent handling of my finances. 

A full-time job and Covid presented the perfect opportunity to finally take the plunge into the world of orthodontia. Invisalign has come a long way and new technology allowed me to avoid metal braces. My ortho thought it might take a year and a half but I only had to wear the liners for 40 weeks.

The transformation is profound. When I went to Michigan for a family vacation in August, my aunt, who I hadn’t seen in several years, exclaimed, “Your teeth look so good!” when I first saw her. I wasn’t totally conscious of my actions but when I looked at all the photos of me with family and friends, I noticed my wide toothy smile, but I also noticed something else. I saw a lightness, a contentedness with myself. 

And just like that, I’m ready to smile. A lot.

The power of the empath

Raven, badass empath. From The New Teen Titans, No. 27

When I was a kid, I used to sneak into my older brothers’ room and pull out cardboard boxes of comic books from their closet. I especially liked The New Teen Titans, where Robin and Wonder Girl finally got to run the show. 

One of the team was a willowy shrouded figure named Raven, whose superpower was the ability to sense the emotions of anyone. She could drape her soul-self around enemies and drain their rage, or envelop her fellow Titans and diffuse their grief.

Even then, I wondered, where did all that emotion go? What did she do with all those big feelings each time she absorbed them? 

Well, as you may have guessed, she flipped her shit. 

I could relate.

I’m no superhero, but I am an empath, and it’s often crippling. It was helpful during my teen years when I lived with an unpredictable alcoholic, my mother’s partner. I was always on high alert, looking for the winds to shift and her mood to blacken and turn on me or mom. Having an internal sensor that would trip at the first whiff of emotional danger proved a valuable survival tool. Being able to sense my mother’s emotional state provided her comfort.

Now, I don’t need to tap that skill but the instinct kicks in, whether I like it or not. Over the years, my empathetic nature has helped me navigate a lot of tense situations and surly personalities, but it exacts a toll of high stress, GI issues, and poor sleep. I was born during the week of the empath. I’m a Cancer and my watery emotions run close to the surface. But like Raven, I learned to tamp down my own feelings while opening myself up to the service of others, their reactions and feelings swirling wildly in my core. I had an upsetting call with my mother over politics recently and I carried that around with me for days, trying to figure out why it left me so gutted. Maybe the answer lies in Raven (although it’s probably because I can’t wrap my mind around anyone being a Trump supporter). 

Then I masked up and met up with a friend for a walk. Hearing about her fraught home life with her partner and college-aged daughter, my empathy was matched in equal measure with relief that I have a home free of uncomfortable, draining energy. This led to a crazy thought: Could I be single because I’m an empath? Maybe, just maybe, I’m single by emotional if not intellectual choice. Living alone protects me and my emotional outreach. I can control the energy I take on in a way that I can’t when I’m sharing a space with a boyfriend, roommate, or family member. 

Like many, quarantining during COVID has been…a lot. But living alone has allowed me to move through the year better than most. But the flip side of this is that I’ve missed the joys of being empathic: the giddiness of connection, the comfort of shared lives, the joy of another’s successes, the thrill of touch. Empathy can be draining, but it can also be replenishing. As I open myself up to a possible new relationship and counter all the heaviness with buoyant, juicy shared feelings, I’m finding that reaching out and touching someone might just be a superpower after all.

Rome is where the heart is

I recently returned from an eight-day Italian vacation. I went by myself. And it was heavenly. 

Planning proved a challenge. With no constraints and no need to compromise or collaborate, it was hard to drill down on where and when I wanted to go, how to split my time, in which neighborhood to stay, Airbnb or hotel, activities… Faced with so many decisions, I became paralyzed.

Months of inaction yielded insight. It struck me how seldom we get to do whatever the hell we want, within budget and reason, of course. And even more rare is actually following through on our dreams. I met people on this trip who moved to Rome for a short stint or the long haul because perché no? There are a lot of things in this world that are hard to navigate but figuring out how to live abroad is certainly worth the effort. I’m not planning on moving, but I am certainly going to start planning my next solo adventure. 

In addition to all those choices large and small, the unknown causes me anxiety—even renting a car in an unfamiliar city can cause me mild panic. I have flown solo to Europe many times, but usually with someone waiting at the other end of the journey to stay or pal around with. 

To calm my agita, I read guidebooks, practiced Italian with Duolingo, booked tours in advance, and checked out train timetables. I heeded a million well-intentioned warnings about pickpockets and scam artists, and worried about being out of contact with work for a week-plus. 

All of my preperations faded into the background and my worry melted away like gelato on a hot day after my first walk around Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood. My body was so filled with joy and wonder that there was no room for negative feelings. Why spend the money to fly around the world if you aren’t going to utterly juice it up? 

With my leg looped through my handbag strap, I dined al fresco that first night with strangers, a lovely couple on their honeymoon. A gay couple from New York, they immediately felt like home. Rome felt like home, actually. I walked all over the city, often at night and often licking gelato, completely at ease even though my international roaming didn’t work and I had to rely on a paper map and my own sense of direction on Rome’s twisty cobblestone streets. Getting out of my comfort zone, I found a preferable kind of comfort that comes from curiosity and expansiveness. I even reached out to my crypts and catacombs tour guide and asked if he wanted to get together later in the week. Okay, I might have been a little day drunk, but he was from Maryland and Philly and was wicked funny so he felt a little bit like home, too. But it could have been the vino bianco…

I had dinner with a bald novelist another night, an ex-pat from Canada. He walked me around to all his favorite spots near Piazza Navona, mostly churches which were all closed for some reason, but we happened upon an ancient library, musty with the smell of precious books and handwritten ledgers. We ate at Armando’s, a legendary restaurant next to the Pantheon. Again, it felt like home, and not in the “global citizen” kind of way. The tiny restaurant, with its 70s wood paneling and friendly waiters, was reminiscent of a hole-in-the-wall gem you might find in Chicago or Philly, and totally my jam.

I spend a lot of time in solitude but still worried that I might be lonely on vacation without someone to nudge when my Vatican tour guide says “In peculiar” instead of “In particular” or to share a sight of such singular beauty that I’m brought to tears. I noted all of these things by myself and my experience might have been richer for it. I later shared some of these moments with friends on social media or via text. It was a lovely ritual, actually. At night with wine-stained teeth, I’d fall exhausted into bed, edit my photos and reach out around the world to the people who anchor me. As my stepmom Pat said about one of my Facebook posts, “I’m really enjoying your trip.” Yes, I felt she was on the adventure with me. 

While in Florence, I met up with Joe and Ken, the newlyweds I met on my first night in Rome. I joined them on a rooftop bar that overlooked the Duomo, Palazzo Vecchio and the Ponte Vecchio. I hope to see them again the next time I’m in New York.

I celebrated my love of my own life this week. I am generally a snarky person and hate the whole #blessed sentiment. However. This week as I dragged my 51-year-old body to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica and down into a chapel made of the bones of Capuchin monks, as I walked 79.8 miles through the streets of these two glorious cities, I was profoundly thankful that my body and my life allowed me to have all of it. Including 14 flavors of gelato. More of this, please.

So this is a bit of a call to action. Don’t wait for your person or the perfect opportunity or the right time. Don’t let anxiety slow your roll. Do it now, for no other reason than because you and your body can. Find more places out there that feel like home, be it an OG Italian restaurant, strangers who show you kindness, ancient ruins that provide sanctuary to cats, the top of a church or the cool dark of ingenious catacombs, the smell and suppleness of a leather shop, art that transformed the world. Let your senses run amok. And, yeah, always keep an eye on your wallet.

Coming April 17: What’s Your M.O.?

Channel your inner Michelle and tackle all of life’s challenges!

Allow me to introduce my new book: What’s Your M.O.?: Live Your Best Life, the Michelle Obama Way. It publishes on April 17 and I am excited to get it into the hands of readers.

It was a pleasure to write. It even made jury duty a pleasure! Sitting in the jurors lounge waiting for my name to be called, I wrote scenario after scenario, consulting various books about and official speeches by the former First Lady. As you can imagine, I got fired up during the process, because Michelle Obama is a force of nature.

Like Mister Rogers and Oprah, it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t love or at least grudgingly admire Michelle Obama. And me? I freakin’ love her.

So let me tell you a little about the book: It features 50 different scenarios common to most women, such as coping with mansplaining and salary parity to struggling to find sexy time with your partner. I share what Michelle said or did in a particular situation and then pivot to how you can use her example in concrete ways in your own life.

Add to that her most inspiring quotes, various lists and a certain turkey chili recipe, and you get an idea of how chockablock the book is with insight and advice. And let’s face it: don’t we all need a bit of inspiration and guidance during these tumultuous times?

I’ll be kicking things off with an interactive launch party and signing at Secret Garden Books on April 17. Check out my events page for more information. Meanwhile, you can pre-order from your favorite indie bookstore through indiebound.

Let me leave you with an inspiring MO quote of the day: “There’s nothing sexier than a smart woman…we have been told to live by a certain mold; it’s time to break it.”


My vacation “homes”: Finding your tribe, finding yourself, in the unlikeliest of places

Sometimes I want to go where everybody knows your name. And (if you’re lucky) they’re always glad you came.

My favorite vacation spots are places that somehow manage to feel like home. During my 20s and 30s, I drove to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware whenever possible. My friends Ken and Richard took me under my wing when I was fresh out of college and let me crash at their pad more times than I can count.

Richard grew up in Rehoboth and his family operates the beach concessions, including chairs, umbrellas, and food shacks. This means he knows EVERYONE in town. Ken used to wait tables and now manages the best restaurant in town, where people dine on sweetbreads and tiramisu while perusing the current art exhibit on the walls. (Richard, a fine artist, has a show there every other summer.) Ken knows everyone as well. They are a serious seashore power couple.

I consider Rehoboth my home away from home, and I’ve felt that way ever since my toes touched sand, my teeth sank into a Thrasher’s fry, and I met all the colorful and warm people who live in and visit Rehoboth. Everything just fit into place and it’s now one of the few places where I can truly relax and feel right at home.

Living in the northwest, I’ve come to feel similarly about a handful of places—Whidbey and Orcas islands, in particular. But I never thought I’d feel that way on a tiny island in the South Pacific. For all of my waxing rhapsodic about Rehoboth, I’m not a warm-weather person. I will usually choose the chill of the Northwest to the humid beaches of the tropics. But on Aitutaki in the Cook Islands, I’ve come to feel right at home, even as I swat mosquitos and dart in and out of the sun.

And it’s because of the people. Cook Islanders are Maoris and slip back and forth between their native language and English. But their welcoming nature is constant. Carl and I just returned after almost a whole month on the small island. That much time allowed us to ease into the relaxed pace of the islanders. Rather than overscheduling due to a massive case of FOMO that many vacationers experience, we were able to pick and choose activities, based on how we felt and the invitations that cropped up. We decided on dinner based on what Carl caught when he went out fishing with Black Jack. Usually it was tuna but we had a killer dinner of fish and chips made with fresh wahoo. Black also gifted us a haunch of pork, hoof still attached. The Boat Shed or Tupuna’s didn’t stand a chance in the face of pulled pork.

Black invited us to his home for a barbecue, which we found out was a birthday celebration for his 18-year-old daughter. We were the only Caucasians in attendance but I’ll tell you what, I quickly relaxed because I realized I was experiencing the alternate version of my Midwestern upbringing. It all was comfortingly familiar: the men told tall tales and railed against Trump while knocking back bottles of beer and Black Jack carefully tended to the grill, cooking up marinated fish rather than burgers and hot dogs. The table was laden with what I think of as standard “American” picnic fare: potato salad and cole slaw. Those dishes were joined by ika mata (the island’s signature dish of tuna in lime and coconut milk), bananas, and boiled arrowroot. We said grace and sang happy birthday (that awful song is the same even in the southern hemisphere). It was as if I met a swarthier version of my own family. In a word, lovely.

With Onu, owner of Bubbles Below

A photo of myself I never imagined I’d see

And then there was Onu (the Maori word for “turtle”), a sturdy, good-natured man who owns the diving company on the island. He talked me into a “Discovery Dive,” an idea that would never float in the U.S. because of the liability concerns. But to my surprise, I found myself swimming 13 meters underwater while a sea turtle and manta rays wafted by. It was enchanting.

Not so magical was wiping out on my scooter. But Miles, the manager of our bungalow turned into the driveway right after I managed to park the scooter. He got me a first-aid kit and bent bits and pieces back into the place on the bike. Between my accident and our constant issues with wi-fi, I suspect we were pretty high maintenance but he was always kind and accommodating. Sonja, who owns a café and garden market, added some fresh aloe to my tomatoes, basil and starfruit basket so I could tend to my road rash. Jean, who runs a fresh fruit ice cream stand, took out a giant mud crab from her freezer to show me.

These were all people we can’t wait to spend time with during our next visit. The thing is, when I was on Aitutaki—as in Rehoboth—I’m a person I can’t wait to spend time with. I stop and talk with strangers, I listen to their stories, I’m curious, I’m spunkier. Everyone acknowledges that travel widens your perspective but I’d also add that it helps move you closer to your best self, something that gets lost in our daily schedules and routines. And when you find a tribe at your travel destination, your best self is reflected back at you.

Michelle Obama once said that it bugged her when people asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up because that assumed that we arrive at some sort of fixed state when we are actually always becoming. I hope your summer travels take you to a place where you can continue becoming an even more astonishing version of yourself (minus the road rash).


Food issues

I don’t think of myself as high maintenance, but rather mildly OCD. I like straight corners and tidy piles. And I like to know where my next meal is coming from.

I have often wondered where my obsession over future meals originated. I have pinpointed two reasons for this. First, I have two older brothers and growing up, we were always racing to the bottom…of the bowl. If I didn’t grab that extra slice of pizza, it would end up in John’s belly, not on my plate. When we had popsicles in the house, I would squirrel away one or two in the downstairs freezer, the one where Mom put up all her veggies for the winter in airtight plastic containers. I thought the white-sheathed popsicles would fade into the whiteness of the freezer but damn if my brothers didn’t ferret them out without comment.

When my parents split up when I was 12, groceries duties fell by the wayside and the cupboards became bare, except for an errant tube of barley soup starter that Dad liked to use.

But that was decades ago and I still eat my food too fast and while swallowing the last bite of my lunch, I’m already forecasting a dinner plan. As a privileged American, this is not usually a problem. Food is abundant, from stocked supermarkets to tasty takeout to fine dining.

The Cook Islands are another story. Located in the South Pacific (look at a globe, find Hawaii, and then trace a line south past the equator), it’s a popular vacation spot for New Zealanders. My partner Carl and I are on our second vacation on Aitutaki, the most beautiful of the islands, due to the large jaw-dropping lagoon that encircles it. For each trip, we have checked a bag full of food staples: microwavable rice packets, oatmeal, peanut butter, crackers, chocolate, olive oil, mayonnaise, tea and coffee, non-dairy creamer, gin, spices… This seems excessive but the “grocery stores” here are more like corner bodegas with erratic and limited supplies of fresh produce. One day you’ll nab a head of lettuce and that’s it: there’s nothing else to put in your salad. On our first trip, I bought a snack pack of nuts at the store, chopped them up, and sprinkled them on top of the greens. I thought I was a culinary wizard.

Initially, this scarcity of produce caused me agita. But I have learned to embrace the challenge of putting together a meal with limited ingredients, rather than dining at one of the few restaurants on the island. It’s basically a daily Top Chef challenge. Carl has gone deep-sea fishing a couple of times, bringing home a plastic bag of fresh tuna. We’ve grilled it simply, we marinated it in teriyaki sauce, and in the height of indulgence, Carl grilled the rest up and made the best tuna salad ever.

I scored some tomatoes and basil from Tauono’s, a garden market and café on the island owned by Sonja, an Austrian woman. There’s little to no dairy on Aitutaki because all the foodstuffs come over on container ships and dairy wouldn’t fare well. There are a few goats tied to palm trees but otherwise the only livestock on the island are pigs and free-range chickens who roam the beaches and cockadoodledoo all hours of the day and night. Anyway, I sliced those tomatoes, chopped some basil, drizzled olive oil and balsamic over the plate, sprinkled Italian seasoning, and had the healthiest “Caprese” salad in a 2,000-mile radius. Who needs fresh mozzarella?

Black Jack, the captain who takes Carl fishing, gave him a haunch of pork, hoof still attached. We popped it in the oven and roasted it low and slow, hoof poking out of the roasting pan. When that was done, Carl shredded it and made pulled pork. I took an eggplant I found at Sonja’s, diced it in large chunks and roasted it in a bit of the pork drippings. I diced a starfruit, added lime, red onion, and salt to make an island salsa. There was a milestone birthday celebration going on down the beach but the real party that night was in my mouth.

I feel like a French woman, letting the day’s offerings (as limited as they may be here) dictate the meal. But actually, maybe I’m just becoming an islander. I’m off to the store to see if I can get a red pepper (called capsicum here) before they run out. Maybe I can roast that with another eggplant tonight. I’m already thinking about dinner and it’s not even lunchtime yet. But at least I’m not panicked about it.



Dispatches from an unwilling wild woman: Going feral under protest

I forgot my tweezers.

This sounds like a minor to non-existent problem. But if you know me at all, you’ll get why this is causing me no small measure of agita.

Originally used to pluck a stray eyebrow, my Tweezermans have become a trusted partner in my fight against whiskers, nose hair, and middle age. As I march toward 50, my body is starting to betray me. It’s particularly painful because it’s been so good to me for decades—only a few gray hairs poke out through my brunette dye job. My skin, thanks to hats, sunscreen, meticulous skincare, and some strange deal with the devil I’m unaware of, takes a decade off my appearance. My body is pretty much the same shape, give or take 15 pounds, that it’s been since my 20s.

But I’ve been waging a daily war against facial hair in all forms for quite some time. I’ll be washing my face in the shower when I feel the beginnings of a stiff chin whisker. In front of a steamy mirror, I hunt and peck until I gain purchase with the slanted point of my tweezers. Muttering to myself like Jack to Rose as he freezes in the mid-Atlantic, “never let go, never let go.” If I lose my hold on the whisker nubbin or break it off, it will take another day or two to pinpoint it between my tweezers.

I don’t have crazy nose hair but over time, tiny black strands have started to creep out like sentient beings looking for escape from my dim nasal cave. Those are a bitch to pluck, but at least I can see them.

The biggest problem these days, however, is my mustache. I’ve never really had to bleach or wax my lip because the hair was light and sparse. Not so much any more. Darker hairs have sprouted among the light fur that is coming in fast and making me furious. I do a daily check, tweezers in hand, to ferret out the biggest offenders. About once a week, I try to take out a lot of the lighter peach fuzz so I don’t look like a 13-year-old boy trying to grow his first ’stache. I stopped waxing a while back because I got a red rash and little white bumps all along my upper lip after the hair was ripped off my face. With my tweezers, I can control my pain and the aftermath.

This brings us to now. I’m on a four-week workcation with my bushy eyebrowed partner (another reason for the tweezers) on a remote island in the South Pacific. A week in, a screw came out, dislodging one of the temples on my prescription sunglasses. After panicking for a day, I put a paper clip through the tiny holes and temporarily fixed the problem. But I haven’t been able to find a lifehack for the tweezers.

I’ve thought around the problem, trying to Macgyver something. My partner pulls at his stray eyebrows like someone afflicted with trichotillomania. Nothing found in nature will dislodge my hair, however. None of the kitchen utensils are delicate enough to do the job. I wondered if the clip on my pen could clamp down on the biggest offenders but the angles are all wrong. Maybe nail clippers could mow down my mustache.

We joke that we’re going feral, but secretly I don’t find it that funny. I find it slightly mortifying. I embrace the wild woman within me, but don’t want to look like a savage on the surface. I planned on letting my hair go on the trip, knowing a color and cut would get trashed by the sun and watersports, and scheduled an appointment for the week I return home. I stopped wearing makeup here except for a little CC cream with SPF on my cheeks because everything just slides off in the humidity. But the hoary hairy signposts on my face suggest not acceptance of aging, but of a surrender. Vacation is a time for relaxing so I guess that means relaxing my beauty standards and giving myself over to the experience. But I’m not ready to wave the white flag just yet.

The rejuvenating power of the interview

One of the bennies from my Seattle Times column gig is that it has led to other work. I was able to pitch some story ideas to AARP for their work/career section and two of them turned into actual assignments.

I love stories that involve several interviews and consequently varying points of view and advice. An article, which is already outlined, takes on a new shape that’s guided by each new person I interview. First up was a story on how Boomers and Gen Xers can communicate effectively with Millennials in the workplace. I was astounded by how many people wanted to weigh in the subject and in a positive way. The next story was on how to turn your love of travel into an encore career or part-time gig. I had been inspired by Ruby Montana, who now runs a kitschy motor lodge in Palm Springs, and Margaret Manning, who runs a website for women 60 and older from her home in Switzerland. Again, many people generously agreed to share their experience and advice.

Now, energized by these assignments, it’s back to the drawing board with a new secret book project, more freelance articles and publishing consulting. As Ruby Montana might say, Giddyup!

The pussyhat activist

When it comes to conflict, I’m a bit of a pussy.

I am ashamed to say I have only participated in one march, a huge pro-choice march in the early 90s in Washington, DC. While I talk a good game and post articles on Facebook in a furious indignation, the truth is that I’ve let others do the heavy lifting. My blog and subsequent books, Things I Want to Punch in the Face, took aim at the small things in life that chap my hide. I can go after mimes and man buns and mixologists, the truth is that I skirt around the more divisive and serious issues that I believe in, like gun control and reproductive rights and misogyny and climate change and Black Lives Matter, because I have never felt confident enough to argue my point to the metaphorical death. I didn’t grow up in a family or culture that invited spirited debate. We scurried away from any topics that were unpleasant, which meant religion, politics, and money were off limits at the dinner table.

Then along came Donald Trump. I’d say he’s a joke of a human being but the threat he presents is anything but funny. And after decades of taking my rights and freedoms and citizenship for granted, I’ve finally woke. I’ve been a passive American because more often than not, I’ve felt that others were taking care of business on my behalf. Now, I’ve come to realize that citizenship is indeed a responsibility that requires more action than posting New York Times and Atlantic pieces into the echo chamber of my social networks.

It requires more than knitting pussyhats. But for me, that was a start. Stitches have flown off my knitting needles in the past week, as I’ve knocked out 10 in a fever dream. I’ve sent them to all corners of the country and passed them out among my friends. Some women have commented that they think the hats are silly and the pink color too weak to represent our collective rage. But for me, that’s not the point. For me, the process of knitting has been powerful and a way for me to channel and transform my feelings into action. On 9/11, I was living in Philadelphia. Unsure of what was happening and who was still at risk, I walked the 20 blocks from my office to my home, curled up into a fetal position, and then took out my needles. Over the next several days, a sweater emerged from my needles, a deep blue to match the depths of my grief. This past week, I’ve knit resilience and resolve and sisterhood into each hat, reclaiming pink as a badass power color. I have done this so that when I look around tomorrow at the sea of pink hats and lock arms with friends and strangers alike, I will feel myself a vital if small part of this great nation.

So this is why I march tomorrow, and why I will continue to stand up and rise up. We have to protect the rights that have been hard won by those who came before and we have to protect each other. I’m ready to put on my pussyhat and put some skin in the game.

I’m a columnist for The Seattle Times!

mastheadI’m super excited, y’all. I just started writing a jobs column for The Seattle Times! I’ll be writing about how to navigate the gig economy, workplace trends and culture, that sort of thing. And while I may have to do some research to stay current, I do know a thing or two. I’ve been a freelancer for a loonnnnggg time, which is remarkable for several reasons.

But the main reason is that I’m a wuss. Running your own business is not for the faint of heart. I’m risk-adverse so quitting a full-time position as a publishing executive was not exactly an easy decision. On the side, I had co-authored a New York Times best-seller, even winding up on the Today Show. I should have been as cocky as a Kardashian. But I was trembling in my high-heeled boots. Working in publishing, I had a deep Rolodex (yep, I just dated myself right there) and lined up four gigs writing work-for-hire (i.e., non-royalty) manuscripts for various book publishers and packagers. I figured that money would sustain me for a while and if not, I could find another FTE job in publishing.

That was fifteen years ago.

I somehow made it work. Since then, I’ve had some lean times and some shit jobs. I’ve written thousands of product descriptions, I’ve given lectures at colleges around the country to sometimes-empty auditoriums, I went without a car for years and health insurance for months. I’ve put in my 10,000 hours writing, often at a regressive hourly rate. Living the dream sometimes means getting creative, staying hungry, and remaining humble. I may be a New York Times-bestselling author, but I still have to figure out how to make rent.

But on the flip side, I became nimble. I figured out my personal brand and built a solid author platform. I’ve developed a network both broad and deep (which is how I nabbed The Seattle Times gig). And I’m bringing all that juicy experience to the table to talk about thriving in the current economy.

My first column covers the often pesky but always absurd issue of bizspeak. Because I want to help, I share my tips for how to get granular on your industry’s vernacular and skill up in no time. You can read the column here.