Virgin Territory

How to Not Stop Biting Your Fingernails

I was going to write a post called How I Stopped Biting My Fingernails, because I did just that, for many weeks. I woke up one day and decided I was going to stop biting my nails, so I went to the nail salon at 24th and Harrison and I asked them to put acrylic nails on my tiny stubs. When he began cutting the claws down to normal nail size I told him, "Short. Super short. So short you can't believe I came in her to have fake nails put on." Then I asked politely for him to file them very thin. He obliged me on all fronts. As a result I was able to use my hands without the nails getting in the way. I grew my natural nails beneath them long, and eventually moved on to a gel manicure, which is just your own nail with nail polish baked on with heat.

Hands
My hands looked great. I didn't even miss biting my nails, since nail biting isn't a nervous habit as much it is one of obessive grooming. It is vanity, actually. You see a snag or an uneven nail and so you begin to perfect it with your teeth. You can't stand to see your nails with one side even slightly rounder than the other. So you pull more at them with your teeth until you've made an improvement or your fingers bleed.

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I let my last gel manicure go far too long without attention, and so they looked ragged. Grown out and obviously in need of a touchup. So while watching I movie I bit all my fingernails off. I write this with a Band-Aid on my middle finger, and it hurts every time I use it to hit a key.

My nails looked flawed and so I ripped them off with my teeth, one by one. Now, of course, they look jagged and short and terrible.

I'm going to try again. I'm going to get a manicure weekly if need be, cost be damned. I'm going to have to keep them perfect so I won't destroy them entirely. Because my compulsion to fix will override every time.


How to Start a Blog

A good friend of mine asked me to please send him notes on how to start blogging. I laughed because this dear friend used to give me ten tons of shit about having a blog, and so I was highly amused that he wanted to know how now. Then I was informed the info is "for a friend."

Uh huh. Suuuuuure.

Anyway, after I wrote him an email I thought it was worth reposting here. Maybe not, but I'm doing it anyway.

HOW TO START A BLOG

First, you have to put your blog posts and pictures and stuff somewhere, so you have to pick what is called a blogging platform. Plenty of them are free and awesome. No need to pay for one. There are lots of fine options. You can use Blogger.com, Typepad.com, Wordpress.com, but the one that I think is the easiest, the prettiest, the most likely to get a new blogger read and by far the hippest is Tumblr.com.

Just go to Tumblr.com. Fill out the quick three screen registration. Then it will guide you through the setting up process. You'll get to pick a category to put it in, then choose a name for the blog itself. This is pretty important. Make it unique and something people will remember. Not like, "Ashley's Musings" or anything bland like that. Then it will create a URL for the blog. It will be something like, http://mynewblog.tumblr.com.

You can pay to get rid of the tumblr part of the URL for pretty cheap by registering a domain. Tumblr makes this an option in the setting up process. That way you can have AshleysMusings.com, but for the love of God, no one should call their blog that.

Then you get to pick what it looks like. Tumblr has a buttload of themes you can pick from, half of which are free. They are very nice looking. It is fun to go and look at all the different "skins" your blog can wear. I recommend picking a theme instead of trying to design it yourself (which Tumblr allows you to do). Leave it to the pros. You can also spend like $20-$100 for a nicer theme which will be less common since, duh, it's not free. That can give a new blog a nice edge, but totally not necessary.

After that it's pretty much go time. This is the part where, after one post, people freeze. This is the part that is actually blogging.

Bloggers-blog

You have to write. Or if you're not writing you better be posting photos. Or podcasts. Point is you have to make something. This can be pretty much whatever you want. I assume if you want to start a blog you know what it is you want to publish. So, get your ass in the chair and do it. Write your first post. Tumblr will make it obvious how to do so. It's as easy as using Microsoft Word. VERY IMPORTANT: Don't get intimidated. Just write the first post and hit publish. Just get it out there. Then immediately write a better, second one. Then publish that, too.

Blogs don't have to be perfect. They are better if they are not. Publish your first draft. It's not like anyone's reading it yet anyway unless you have had some kind of ribbon cutting party where you handed out the URL on gift bags.

Then keep doing it. Then read other blogs and comment. Market your blog in whatever way you see fit. But you have to keep updating it. Regularly. That's it.

That's how you start blogging.


Goodbye Apron, Hello (Again) HootSuite

You either make time to write or you don't. It's a priority or it's not. Having an excess of time one one's hands does not compel one to write. I still don't have it narrowed down exactly what compels people to write, but I'm highly suspect that an excess of free time is a motivator to sit down and put words down.

Several months ago I gave up my media job in San Jose and began waiting tables. The goal was to spend a couple of years carving out a career as a freelance writer. I was going to go back to my roots to put that magazine journalism degree to good use. I was taking a leap of faith in my own abilities, discipline and drive. I was prepared to be poor. I was asked what I wanted to do, decided, then threw myself into it whole-hog. I was going to write.

I've published nothing since. In 7 months I've earned not a single byline. It's not for lack of writing. There has been lots and lots of writing. But when I began to explore what I wanted out of this endeavor, what I was best at, where my strengths were, I discovered I didn't want to write articles for newspapers, websites and magazines. I didn't want to be a freelance journalist.

I want to tell my own stories.

Whether in raw essay form or barely hidden behind the veil of fabricated characters, the power of my voice exists within the stories I have accumulated. Telling you what happened, secrets and all, is what I'm best at. Telling my tales is where all the impetus lies, the real reason I sit down to write most days. Everything else distracts from this best goal.

Of course, coming to terms with what I am supposed to be writing meant coming to terms with the knowledge that people will be hurt. Telling one's stories means being brave and taking huge interpersonal risks. It means pushing down the voice inside you that demands, "This is off-limits. Stop your story." And that voice is very loud.

Deciding to tell my stories also means finding myself in tears on a regular basis. Or as angry as hot lava as writing a passage reveals more about that incident than I had previously recalled. Or dripping in self-doubt. Telling one's stories is a constant therapy session. It's exhausting.

Much like waiting tables is exhausting. I had forgotten how much it takes out of you.

Waitress

 

I just remembered that I waited tables and tended bar while going to college. Surely, I could do that again and write on the side. Waiting tables would free me up to carve out that freelancer writer life I thought I wanted. Waiting tables would pay the bills while I created a sustainable income for myself doing what I love.

But waiting tables is fucking hard! Even working part-time, the work leaves me both mentally and physically worn out. It's stressful, high-impact and it leaves this nearly 35-year-old beat and with a backache. And it's certainly not as lucrative as I had imagined. You don't get to come back to the restaurant industry after a decade away, now living in one of the most acclaimed dining cities in the world, and get primo shifts at Michelin-star rated restaurants. I have friends who pull 80 grand a year waiting tables, but they have been working their way into these choice positions all along, and they are absolutely phenomenal at their trade.

Truth be told, I'm just a mediocre server. I was told by my dear friend Leo, a friend I made at the restaurant where I work now, "you're not a restaurant person." At the time I was offended. He refused to go into detail; that's how Leos do. But I thought about it for days: "How am I not a restaurant person?"

One beer-soaked evening (for those in the industry there are many), Leo indulged me and expounded further: "You care too much. You let people get to you. I can see you standing at your tables with Pissed Off written all over your face. If you let your tables get under your skin, you are not a great server."

He was right. And putting it that way made me feel less like a failure at serving. I'm decent at it. But I'm never going to get a gig at The French Laundry. Not happening.

And so, because freelance articles were not where I was focusing my writing efforts and because it became apparent that, for me, waitressing was a dead-end enterprise, I began to panic. OH MY GOD, I thought, I'm going to be a 40-year-old waitress barely scraping rent money together. The idea kept me up at night. How was I going to retire someday? Ever take a vacation? Have adequate health insurance, for fuck's sake?

Lucky for me--I am often lucky for reasons beyond my comprehension--a career angel came knocking at my door. A position for CBS Local Digital Media became available: Social Media Coordinator. And the guy who recruited me to come out from Tennessee in 2007 asked if I wanted to come back to the world of Twittering and Facebooking for the media.

It was an offer too good to refuse. It includes a 401K, sick days (!), vacation time and the most precious thing of all: subsidized health insurance. Mr. Dentist, it's been too long, here I come.

I start next Monday. I'll be back at Broadway and Battery where my tenure in San Francisco began. I'm thrilled. It's the smart, responsible path to take, and I'm so much more secure in my well-being knowing something more financially stable is around the corner. At present I fear a bone break or sudden illness like children fear closet monsters. A hospital visit would put me back so far I'd never recover.

And I'll make time for writing. If I want to get it done, I will. I don't need a part-time job to tell my stories, just the wherewithal to get my ass in the chair and put the words down. John Grisham managed to pump out best-sellers while working 100 hours a week as a practicing attorney. I can tell my tale and also work 40. A media career path does not preclude literary accomplishment. I'm going to prove this theory.

October 1st I'm back to an office job. My desk is huge, my co-workers awesome and my bank account is breathing a sigh of relief. I'm excited. I feel incredibly blessed to have the opportunity.

For now, that's all the life news that is fit to self-publish.


Call Me, Longhair

When Beth mentioned offhand one day that she had tickets to The Thunder from Down Under, an all-male, all-Aussie strip show at a downtown hotel, I really hoped she'd pick me to tag along. The day of the show I got my wish. When she texted me about whether I wanted to attend, I may have replied a little too quickly and a little too eagerly.

I'd never been to a male strip show before, but they look to be hilarious from the outside. Plus, I'm fascinated by the wild success of clubs wherein women are paid to take their clothes off and gyrate as if they like you, but an almost complete absence of clubs wherein men are paid to do the same. 

Why is that? Women like sex as much as men do. So, I guess the quick and dirty answer is that these clubs aren't about sex at all.

Regardless of my Women's Studies-style ruminations about the male gaze and the steady growth strip club industry, I mostly just wanted to see what I'd been missing. Aside from a lone male stripper at a sad bachelorette party that ended with the bride humiliated to tears, the closest thing to Chippendale's dancers I'd seen were Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley on SNL. I needed to get a gander what all of this was about. And more importantly: WHO GOES TO THESE THINGS?

Beth and I got dressed up. I wore stiletto heels, for fuck's sake! I never wear heels unless I know I'm being picked up and dropped off door-to-door, but for these slick-chested blokes? I was going to wear heels. God help me, my sartorial choices are often inexplicable.

I suppose I didn't want to look like a two-bit Fabio-look-alike lover in mom jeans and Reeboks. I was trying to keep it classy in a place where every performer had a better wax job than I do. And maybe, just maybe, I hoped they'd pick me to come up onstage.

Trojan

Heels or no, the stripper men weren't interested. In Beth, though? They were so interested she even got a personal tour under a tiny neon thong.

Read all about our adventure at her SFGate Culture Blog. There is even a tragic ending.


Hey, You Wanna Hear a Good Story?

Eve Batey and Justin Beck were very nice to ask me to talk to them about why I decided to leave social media as a career and go back to waiting tables and writing. The conversation was recorded for their media podcast Punching Down. 

Eve and Justin came all the way to me in the Mission, and Justin even brought beer. And not cheap Miller, neither. 

It only took one Day Beer to get my big mouth moving. 

You can listen to me talk Nashville is Talking, what happened after I flounced out of WKRN in a huff, how my work translated in San Francisco, how taking that job in New York was a mistake and why after a short stint in San Jose I said, "Fuck it. I'll just wait tables and write."

Hear all that stuff here.


Getting Trashy (No More Dump and Run)

Recycle, Compost, GarbageHere's a little something different about waiting tables in California versus Tennessee (the only place I was ever a server), besides the health care and minimum wage: by law restaurants have to not only recycle, but compost.

That means three different bins in the dish area: a black one, a blue one and a green one. Food scraps, paper products like beverage napkins, coffee grounds and other "organic" items go in the green bins, plastics and glass from wine bottles go in the blue, while very little, actually, goes in the black.

I'm in full support of this mandate. I used to stand at the enormous trash barrels at Outback Steakhouse and frown at all the wasted food and landfill fodder. It really made me sad. This arrangement feels a little less gratuitously wasteful.*

So, it's awesome that there are three bins.

But hoo boy, do three bins take a lot of extra precious time. 

You're in the weeds, and your table are so fucking mad at you, and you come into the kitchen with a complicated arm load of dirty table items, and you can either dump everything with a quickness into a single, massive tub then gingerly sling flatware into its proper stack and be on your way. 

Orrrr, you can get to the kitchen with the same complicated arm load of dirty table items and stand there trying to determine whether the paper liner will decompose or if that plastic will degrade, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to just dump and run.

But this is better, even though it is more difficult. And it's just different. Sooner than I know, it won't be.

*And for heaven's sake, the portion sizes at Outback Steakhouse contribute to a tremendous amount of food waste. Another plus for smaller portions than that of a trough. 

[photo credit]


Two Cats Go Cross Country

Prettypair

I am worried about these two. When I adopted them from a shelter on the Upper East Side I had no earthly idea that I might be moving 2500 miles away in under a year.

But here I am.

I mean, here we are.

I'm scared that one or both of them will bolt in the security line at the airport and take the next plane to Mexico. I'm afraid they'll get lost like Jack. I'm terrified that they will be traumatized by this move.

But besides taking them back to the pound, I have no choice but to move them. And besides, after ten months together, I am pretty darn attached to these rascals.

I hope they'll be okay.


Fuck Yeah, Beth Spotswood

You guys, guess what? Not only do I get to move back to the City that holds my heart (and sometimes my hair), but I get to live in my favorite neighborhood in all of San Francisco: The Mission District. The entirety of San Francisco kicks ass, but that vibrant, sunny little spot in the center of the peninsula is the best. Mostly due to the sun.

BUT, GUESS WHAT ELSE? I get to live with Beth.

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Yep! One of the people I most admire and adore the most took me in. We're gonna be roommates. She's even kind enough to allow the cats to come.

I'm so very glad that Beth had a spot for me. Without her, I am not sure I could have moved back to San Francisco at all. In fact, her opening her home to me was the impetus to get the ball rolling back west.

So, thank you, Beth. You'll never have to touch the litter box, I make a mean egg-in-a-hole and I'll serenade you while I'm in the shower. Because I am grateful.


See You Soon, San Francisco

I'm going home.

I've been in New York for exactly one year. For me, one year is plenty. 

I'm going back to San Francisco. I'm moving to California on December 1.

New York is a lot. For this gal, it's too much. Did you know that I hate crowds? Oh, yes, I really dislike crowds.

As I write this I struggle to think over the stabbing sounds of horns outside my windows. I'm sitting as high as clouds, and I can see all the way to Brooklyn through the haze. The view here is spectacular, but the view I miss is that of San Francisco as it spills out at 360 degrees from atop Bernal Hill.

I've discussed this with another former San Franciscan, and together we agreed: there is something miraculous about being able to pull back and take in your city from high above. San Francisco allows this at every turn. Each next climb is a new look at the splendor that is San Francisco, so beautifully nestled between the stark sea to the west and the placid bay to the east. It's the most gorgeous city I've ever stepped foot in, and I want to go back. So, I am going back.

There is so much to do here. There is too much to do here. It overwhelms me. It makes me spend money I don't have. I can't climb a hill and pull back and take it all in. If I lived here all my life I'd never scratch the surface of all that this vibrant city has to offer.

I feel like I can handle San Francisco. It's my size.

I got lost in the vertical horizon of New York City. I couldn't find my way. I grew stronger as a result of the struggle, but it sucked me dry down to my bones.

It's hard to live here. If you can handle the hard, it has to be worth it. My God, the place is crawling with world class everything. If you can stand the snow and the summers and the crowds and the expense and the grind of commuting and the non-stop jostle that is living in New York, then the payoff is tremendous. But I don't need world class everything. I don't need the best ballet in the word. Just having a ballet to go to suits me just fine. 

I miss the nature that San Francisco provided. It's a big city in the midst of some of the world's grandest scenery. When people talk about being in San Francisco and being able to be at the ocean one day and skiing the mountains the next, you've heard it a hundred times before. But until you've lived in that kind of paradise, it's hard to comprehend. San Francisco is splendid. New York is splendid, too, but in a grittier, harder, more concrete way.

I'm going back to San Francisco a different woman. New York City is a spanking, and I've learned many a lesson. So many that I know I won't know the breadth of them for a long, long time.

I miss San Francisco so much that I am going back without a job. I've secured housing, but I have yet to find work in the city by the bay. I've been looking, but it's difficult to get hired from 2,500 miles away. I don't care. I can temp, I can wait tables, I can stock shelves, I can work three jobs if need be. I will make it work.

My job at Modest Needs Foundation was incredibly fulfilling and the skills and experience I gained there will carry me far. I am grateful for my time there, but that job requires that I be in New York. And as great is New York is, it isn't great for me.

I'm selling everything I own to afford to move back. I'm bringing my cats, my clothes and a few other valuables, and heading west. What lies next, I have no clue, but I'm up for what ever adventure may await.

San Francisco makes me happy. I did an important thing in coming to New York, but it's time to go home.

Thirty days and counting.