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Introducing Moscow Chica – now a blog, book and newsletter [#yearofwriting]

Please subscribe to my newsletter and read more of my writing on my personal blog, The Cookie Dough LifeThank you!

As you’ve probably noticed right above this sentence, there is something new in my life – and that is that my in-the-works memoir, Moscow Chica: How Growing Up Russian and Cuban Made Me an American, is now also being joined by a brand-new Medium blog (or publication, as they call it) and a newsletter… all basically in service of my writing about multiculturalism, Russia, Cuba, being American today, immigrant issues and rights, and more.

Here’s the thing I realized recently: Writing a memoir takes TIME. So very much time! One of the commitments I made to myself during this #yearofwriting is that I was going to be doing #52essays2017, all of which are in service of my memoir and writing about how my immigrant and multicultural upbringing has affected my American life.

And it’s really exciting to write about all of that but, to be honest, with everything going on in the world right now with President Cheeto (I’m sorry, I just can’t say his name) and the Muslim travel ban in the first few days of his being in office… and everything that has happened since with immigrant issues and rights (including the recent raids which our so-called leader is calling “a military operation”), I feel the need to do more.

And so I started the Medium publication, Moscow Chica: Half-Russian, Half-Cuban, All-American. In fact, my very first post was about the “A Day Without Immigrants” protest and how I personally am choosing to honor it (hint: it has to do with the new blog!).

What’s coming up on the Medium publication/blog will be primarily topics and issues surrounding immigrant rights today and multiculturalism in general. I will also be sharing things I have published in the past and some of my writing that is being published elsewhere (all related to immigration, being Russian/Cuban/American and growing up or being multicultural).

And, of course, I will be continuing the #52essays2017 challenge (which is, as you already know, about the memoir and my past) and how all of that relates to my upbringing as an immigrant in a multicultural household. These posts will also now live on Medium, since I want to talk about all of the things that relate to being “Half-Russian, Half-Cuban, All-American”.

Meanwhile, the newsletter is primarily a vehicle for me to be able to easily share updates with those that are interested in the things I am writing about. So if you’re curious about memoir writing as a topic, multiculturalism and/or immigration rights (or if you’re just a big fan of me, haha), then you should definitely subscribe.

At the end of the day, though, this isn’t just about me or my work (though I hope you like what I have to say) but about what’s going on in the U.S. today.

It’s no understatement to say that we’re in a bit of a dumpster fire at the moment. Just this week alone, things haven’t been good for immigrants (duh), Native peoples or trans kids. And that really hurts me deep down because I love America. Or at least I used to.

These days, to be honest, I struggle with my (former?) pride in the country my family decided to make our home and my disgust at what is happening today. But I firmly believe that it’s in the power of the people to create change. And as a writer and journalist, my power lies in my words.

As I look to create more dialogue surrounding multiculturalism and immigrant rights, I will also be seeking out and sharing the stories of others. After all, the only way to fully form a resistance is to use our voices (while we can) and continue to speak out against injustices.

At least, that’s my plan for the next four years… and 40 years, too.

Want more? Subscribe to my newsletter to get writing news and updates on my memoir (Moscow Chica). Then check out my personal blog and find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!

The lesson I learned about myself on my first Valentine’s Day with a partner

Please subscribe to my newsletter and read more of my writing on my personal blog, The Cookie Dough LifeThank you!

Valentine’s Day isn’t for everyone. 

It’s a very specific, sort-of-made-up holiday that tends to favor those in love and fans of cheesy gestures of affection. 

I have never in my life been one of those people. Sure, I was a self-admitted hopeless romantic but I usually kept my romanticism where it belonged: cheesy boy-meets-girl rom-coms. I’m not someone who has been counting down the days until a cute boy puts a ring on it with a secret wedding planner scrapbook under my bed since I was 16, nor did I want to be. Which is why it might seem fitting to say that Valentine’s Day was just never my holiday. 

I don’t remember getting a single card when I was younger and I honestly couldn’t tell you what my young adult (and very single) self thought of the holiday. 

I didn’t have a boyfriend until just before my 22nd birthday and, as luck would have it, he was a fellow Valentine’s Day hater. Although for him it largely stemmed from the fact that it was also his birthday, I only mildly minded that we didn’t celebrate the occasion during our two years together. My only other serious relationship afterwards didn’t fare much better. Although not a VDay hater, my then-boyfriend was going to be out of the country. Oh well! Although we did have a small celebration beforehand, it seemed that my destiny was clear: Valentine’s Day was just not for me.

I spent the next several years single AF, as I like to say. I dated, sure, but there was never anyone special to call my own for the five years between my last relationship and the man who has now become my life partner. 

I was never sad about it, though.

Deep down I did house some insecurities about my dating prospects and seeming inability to find love, but I brushed it aside to celebrate this holiday in different ways. I hung out with girlfriends, went out dancing, had dinner with cool married friends and even babysat one year. It was NBD, as they say. 

But this year something changed.

The obvious change in my life, of course, is that since my last Valentine’s Day I have met the person that I plan to be with for the rest of my life. I never imagined that my love life would transform into its own mini rom-com, but it did. Since meeting my now-life partner, I have learned a lot about love, relationships and life in general. 

I’ve learned about the importance of generosity in dating. I’ve learned about moving in with someone, how to unite our finances, why fighting is totally normal (and that making up afterwards really IS the best) and a million other little lessons that can only come when you suddenly become part of a couple. 

To my surprise, even my career has benefitted. Not only have I found my #1 fan (who has already done more to support me and my work than I could have previously imagined possible) but I also have a newfound courage to take more chances and seek new heights with my writing. And I know that much of this I couldn’t have done without the encouragement I receive from home. 

The one unexpected thing, however, is how my perception of Valentine’s Day has suddenly changed. 

It’s not that all of a sudden the day had meaning simply because I was in love for the first real time in my life (because, um, gross?) but it’s that out of nowhere I had expectations about this day. 

Whereas before, in my many years in bad relationships and even more years as a single gal, the day knowingly meant very little, now it had some kind of *meaning*. But what, exactly? 

I’m not proud to admit that I spent the better part of the week before Vday worrying that my boyfriend wouldn’t get me flowers, something which is particularly important to people from a culturally Russian background such as myself, and subsequently feeling ridiculously silly for putting such expectations on him. 

We had talked before that I wasn’t that into this fake-ish holiday, and I was relieved to find out he wasn’t either. But as the day approached, deep down that hopeless romantic I always knew I was started to come into my real life. She wanted to be surprised. She wanted to be wooed. And she wanted it NOW. It was hard to keep her at bay as I argued within myself whether or not I actually wanted to bring any of this up with Adam. Do I tell him now that maybe my opinion of Valentine’s Day had changed just a little, or do I keep silent and risk being disappointed when the day actually came? 

Eventually, I chose to open up.

After all, one of the major strengths of our relationship up until this point was our ability to be totally honest with one another. As cheesy as it sounds, we were totally one of those couples who *told each other everything* and quite proud of it, actually. 

But I was still afraid he’d judge me for my change of heart. On the one hand, I was a rational woman who knew that a single day in the year does not make or break how devoted he is to me and that being pressured into showing that devotion simply, well, CAUSE was silly. Yet on the other hand, I wanted to feel *special* in a way I never had before. 

When I actually brought the subject up, however, he pretended to have a mini argument with me about why this was so important. It wasn’t until days later that I realized he had pulled the wool over my eyes in order to actually be able to surprise me with a lovely dinner and the roses I’d always wanted. 

I was thrilled to celebrate the day with him, and a bit early to boot, in a way I had never been able to do in the past. 

In the end, I realized that it’s not that the day itself became more significant because I was now part of a societally acceptable pairing that would be welcome at any restaurant in town. The truth is that stressing about Valentine’s Day plans – and subsequently being surprised anyway – helped me to understand just how much outward opinions of this day had come up to confront me this year. 

And maybe I’m still understanding the bits and pieces that make me who I am, and certainly all of the parts that make me who I am in my relationship. Thankfully, the lessons I learned this year are ones that I can take with me for years to come. 

Sure, those lessons include that I secretly want to do *something* a little more special than usual on this day… but then again, hadn’t I always done something special with people that I cared about? I’m just lucky that now that list of people includes someone who also happens to be the kindest, sweetest, most generous and incredible person I’ve ever met. 

That’s certainly something to celebrate, isn’t it?

Want more? Subscribe to my newsletter to get writing news and updates on my memoir (Moscow Chica). Then check out my personal blog and find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!

Essay 6: The Dream of a Convertible Car [#52essays2017]

This essay is part of the #52essays2017 series focusing on my memoir, Moscow Chica: How Growing Up in Cuba and Russia Made Me an American. For more, please follow this publication and subscribe to my newsletter.

When my family moved to America in 1994, everything seemed great. Until it wasn’t.

About a year after we came here, my parents separated and divorced. And although they were back together a year later, remarried and happier than ever, that year living in Miami without my dad was (mostly) scary.

But that year had its happier moments too, like how the best Christmas ever was surprisingly spent in a women’s shelter and the little apartment we lived in shortly after. That apartment brought me a lot of happy memories, including my memory of the first adult desire I truly had.

A red Firebird convertible.

That is the only thing that I remember about the billboard advertisement that I saw every day on my way home from school during this year. And it was thrilling.

The car depicted in the poster was beautiful and sexy and it signified a kind of freedom that I didn’t yet understand at the age of nine, but I knew that I wanted it.

The attractive couple sitting in the driver and passenger seats didn’t hurt either, and I longed for when I could have the kind of freedom and happiness that they had clearly tasted.

I honestly can’t remember anything else about that bus ride home, but I remember that billboard. I don’t know who I sat next to on the bus (I didn’t have friends at that school) or how long it took. I don’t even truly remember what time of the year it was or how I noticed this particular photo in the first place, but once I had… I couldn’t take my mind off of it.

The lifestyle promised in this one advertisement seemed like everything I wanted at the time, and everything I have wanted since. It signified success and the power to do anything you wanted to do. I dreamt of the day that I would have those things too.

For years afterward, I always held the wish that someday I would own a red Firebird convertible.

It was the first car that I ever wanted, and the only car that truly appealed to my kid and teenage self. It had to be that car, in red and as a convertible. Something about that entire image meant so much to me that it wasn’t until recently that I started to slowly decipher it all.

Even though I am no longer that scared little 9-year-old girl, new to America, still learning English, with a turbulent home life and no reassurance as to what this world may bring… I am still sometimes unsure of myself, unsure of the world, unsure of the path in front of me. Sometimes I long for the kind of knowledge that little Irina had, the knowledge that having a car like that would mean that I was something special.

It’s probably no surprise, then, that I have never been able to get the idea of that car out of my head. Although I’ve long since moved on from that specific make and model, the color red has always held a special place in my heart.

Red was my favorite color long before this poster, and it’s remained my favorite color for cars – and now for lipstick.

Convertibles have remained a mystery, something I secretly wanted, a symbol of fun and freedom. I was thrilled when my uncle got one a few years ago, and although I had settled on possibly never owning a car because of my love of living in cities with great public transportation, I knew that I would definitely want one if the chance ever presented itself.

Recently, as I readjusted my post-NYC life and settled back in Florida, I contemplated getting a car (and ultimately decided not to). But the thought kept popping up in my mind, and I knew that my new dream was a little red Mini Cooper.

The model may have changed, but the color stayed the same. It was a dream, though, and I never thought it would actually happen.

And then, to my surprise, an opportunity came up.

Adam and I had talked about our need for a second care eventually, and the idea of a convertible came up. I insisted that if we were to get a second car (that I would use), it should be a convertible.

“After all,” I reasoned, “since I work from home and will probably only use it a couple times during the week and on weekends, we may as well make it a fun car, right?” To me, a convertible was the ultimate fun car.

When the unexpected opportunity came up to get a Mini Cooper convertible, I practically jumped at the chance. In fact, getting that car was as much of a spontaneous decision as you could possibly make in the purchase of a vehicle. We heard about it in the morning, and by that same afternoon, it was all mine.

Now my little convertible baby sits in the driveway and gives me immense pleasure whenever I have the chance to take her out with the top down.

Granted she’s not the bright red color that I had always wanted – but that’s okay too. She’s a British racing green and I love that so very much. Maybe it’s not the color I envisioned, but it’s definitely the spirit.

That little girl that used to ride the bus every day to an uncertain future surely has something a little more certain now. If nothing else, my desire for that first red Firebird convertible has influenced the way I view success and some of the things I want in my life.

While my tastes in cars have grown (and maybe not by much), I still find myself surprised by how much that one billboard changed my life. When we’re young, we want things so far out of our reach that we don’t actually think we will ever get there. It’s nice to know that, now, I can actually attain some of those things.

Want more? Subscribe to my newsletter to get writing news and updates on my memoir (Moscow Chica). Then check out my personal blog and find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!

(Image via Chad Horwedel/flickr)

Essay 5: Dumbo, The Lion King &
Disney Movies [#52essays2017]

This essay is part of the #52essays2017 series focusing on my memoir, Moscow Chica: How Growing Up in Cuba and Russia Made Me an American. For more, please follow this publication and subscribe to my newsletter.

In our last year living in Moscow, my parents, baby brother, and I all lived together in a studio apartment.

I don’t remember much about that time – we weren’t there for very long – but I know that it was cozy and comfortable. The studio was huge, with a separate hallway and closet area, a big kitchen and all the love I needed as a seven year old.

And of course, our little studio had a separate living room area with its own little television set.

Until a few years ago, when the U.S.S.R. finally fell, I had no idea what a Disney movie was. But soon enough, there was a high shelf above that TV that housed a pretty robust collection of Russian-dubbed Disney VHS movies that my dad was always bringing home for us. To me, it felt like we had everything.

The Little Mermaid was by far my favorite, but my little brother favored Dumbo. I know that because I watched the movie alongside him every single day for months.

My abuela visited from Cuba at some point, and she happily watched Dumbo alongside us every day. Noly just couldn’t seem to get enough of the happy little elephant movie.

He was only two years old at the time, and I wonder how much of it he actually understood. Even I, five years older than him, didn’t understand much. I knew that the elephant was born with a strange condition (giant ears) and I knew that he suffered greatly when he was separated from his mother. But he got a happy ending after all.

And that’s what I depended on: Dumbo’s happy ending.

Ariel got a happy ending too, in fact. She longed so much to get out of the ocean, to live life the way she wanted to, and to simply be free. I longed for freedom, even if I didn’t know what that meant at the time.

Eventually, after my family moved to America, we started a brand-new Disney movie collection. All still on VHS, of course.

The new collection began with The Lion King. My family moved to the states the same year as that movie came out and, although I never saw it in theaters as many of my friends did, I did have it on video.

Once again, I watched the movie in awe.

The way that Simba sought a similar freedom as Ariel, away from his father and to be his own man (or lion, anyway). And after a long and arduous journey, just as Dumbo, he got his happy ending too.

The bright colors of the movie in my new language, which I was quickly picking up, thrilled me. And soon enough, our new American VHS collection was back to the robust nature as the one we originally had back in that little apartment in Moscow.

While VHS tapes are no longer a part of our lives, Disney has remained a part of mine. When I was young, they promised me a better world – and my parents delivered.

Now, whenever I admire the Disney collection I have build up for myself in DVDs, I remember that little girl who wanted freedom and a better life. I remember watching Dumbo over and over again until I thought my head would explore, and I appreciate it. I smile at the memories of discovering The Lion King, our first movie in English. And it gives me joy to see all of the ones I’ve fallen in love with since.

In the meantime, Disney will always have a special place in my heart for teaching me about life in many languages. And, of course, for giving me joy in darkness and hope where there wasn’t any to start with. Hopefully my kids, who will never know that tiny Moscow apartment shared by four people, will someday appreciate them as much as I did.

Want more? Subscribe to my newsletter to get writing news and updates on my memoir (Moscow Chica). Then check out my personal blog and find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!

(Image via Rhys A./flickr)

January 2017 Writer’s Life: Published pieces, money talk, pitches & more [#yearofwriting]

Please subscribe to my newsletter and read more of my writing on my personal blog, The Cookie Dough LifeThank you!

At the start of the year, I wrote about the 7 fearless things I am doing for my career in 2017 and exactly why I am signing up for the #52essays2017 challenge. I also committed to making 2017 my #yearofwriting… my theme for the year, if you will.

I’ve had a few small successes here and there: Mainly that I am now officially a contributor at Mom.me (yay!) and am getting serious about working on my memoir, Moscow Chica: How Growing Up Cuban and Russian Made Me an American.

But I also wanted to talk about what a writer’s life is really like… Mainly, I wanted to talk about the solid numbers.

So here’s the deal: Starting this month, I am going to get real and tell the truth about how my freelancing has gone this month. I’ll talk about what went well, what didn’t and what it all meant. So here goes!

What was published: 

Some of these pieces were written before this month, and some were written more recently. Obviously, all of my Mom.me work is news stories and the repeal of “wet foot, dry foot” was recent too. But all in all, I also wanted to show what freelancing I did. Other than my part-time food editor job at Brit.co, here are the solid numbers:

How much I wrote: 16,475 words

How much I made: $1725*

*I am including two pieces that were accepted on spec (meaning that the editor wanted to see a full draft before they could finally say “yes”) that have been submitted but I haven’t officially heard back on. Also: This ONLY includes my freelance writing income.

Besides that, there’s also pitching… It’s what us writer have to do in order to write, yes? This month has been by FAR my most successful month of pitching and reaching out to new editors. To be honest, in 2016 I was feeling pretty cushy with my PT food editor gig and my contributing writer roles, and never looked to expand my resume.

Well, one of the things that I am doing for my writing career in 2017 is that I hired a writing coach. Her name is Mridu Khullar Relph and she runs TheInternationalFreelancer.com, and is basically FANTASTIC. The truth is that I needed a big kick to get my career to the next level, which is precisely why I hired her. It’s gone incredibly well so far! Here’s all of the numbers:

Pitches sent out in January: 27
Pitch rejections: 9
Pitch non-replies: 12
Pitch acceptances: 4
Pitch acceptances on spec: 2

Follow-ups with previous pitches: 5
Pitch rejections: 1
Pitch non-replies: 1
Pitch acceptances: 1
Pitch acceptances on spec: 2

I admit: The 27 pitches isn’t an exact number, primarily because one pitch went out on 6 simultaneous submissions and a couple of editors received more than one pitch from me in one email. But that’s basically it.

To be honest, considering that this is the FIRST month of my #yearofwriting and also the first year that I have been seriously going out there and pitching editors, I am feeling pretty good.

The one lesson I learned, for sure, is that there comes a time when you just have to get out there and do it. And I’m happy that I’m finally doing that!

Want more? Subscribe to my newsletter to get writing news and updates on my memoir (Moscow Chica). Then check out my personal blog and find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!

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