Confession: My biggest shame in life is that I’m a writer who doesn’t read

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This is my absolute deepest, most secret shame… I don’t read.

I know that might be a funny or surprising thing to say considering that I am in recovery and could probably shock even the closest of friends with some of my worst drinking stories (only my partner Adam knows them all), but it’s true.

You see, I love books.

No, seriously, I love love LOVE books. I love the way they smell, I love the way they look, I love holding them, I love collecting them, I love the way they decorate my bookcase, I love that buying them supports another writer, and I love owning them. Seriously, I *love* books!

So what the heck is wrong with me that I don’t read?

I can tell you right now that I have probably owned at least a thousand books in my lifetime. Working as a journalist has allowed me to buy books for cheap, to give them away when I was done with them, to get books for free even, and so much more. When I was really into cooking, I would buy every cookbook I could find (often for $1), and eventually donated them. The same happened when I was really into writing chick lit and YA, books which I eventually gave to my friend who is a teacher.

These days I have stopped buying physical books, and instead switched to ebooks. I thought this was a great switch for me, and even loved it for quite a while. But now I own at least 200 books on my Kindle, most of which I have not actually read.

In fact, as I was doing my taxes last year, I discovered that I spent $1,500 on books. Thanks goodness it’s a tax write-off!

Do you know how many of those books that I bought last year I actually read?

None.

That’s right. Last year, I bought a shitton of books and read absolutely none of them from start to finish… And I feel absolutely horrible about that. I feel guilty, like a loser, like a failed writer, and like a fake.

A common piece of advice that we writers get is that we should be READING ALL THE TIME. It’s a well-known way to learn “the craft” of writing, by simply reading what others do, learning from those that came before you, absorbing their stories and their prose and their sentence structure and… Yeah, all of that.

I don’t disagree with this piece of advice. It’s just I don’t exactly follow it.

Here’s the thing: I don’t get why I don’t follow it considering just how much I truly, truly love books. I love learning about people’s stories, I love fiction and non-fiction and absorbing things about other’s lives. I’ve fallen in love with memoir, and I try to read as much of it as I can while also working on my own memoir, Moscow Chica.

Or at least I want to, in theory. But I don’t read.

Instead, I buy books and then feel guilty because they stay sitting on my shelf, lying on my nightstand, or waiting on my Kindle.

In fact, even my Kindle is a brand-new purchase. Last year, in hopes of reading more, I switched from an iPad to a Kindle. I bought it around the Thanksgiving Day sale on Amazon for a cool $50. I almost bought a fancier, pricier version in hopes that would motivate me further (but I’m really glad I didn’t, because it hasn’t).

I spent hours setting up my Kindle and making it perfect.

All of my books are now in categories, and that makes me SO happy. All of the books I have ever bought in digital form are just happily waiting for me to finally open them, and yet I never do it.

Why is that? What the hell is wrong with me, a writer for the entirety of my 10+ year career and beforehand, that I don’t actually read?

I think I have finally figured it out, actually. The reason behind my oh-so-secret shame as a writer is that I am an extrovert.

Yes, that’s what I said: I am an extrovert and that is why I, a writer who absolutely LOVES books, doesn’t read.

Here’s what typically happens when I sit down to read a book: I read a chapter or two, sometimes more, and then I get antsy and bored. The last time I read a good chunk of my current bookclub book (Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed, a writer I love and follow), I got through to the next section and then decided to go get a manicure and pedicure.

Sometimes, I start reading and decide that I have to take care of the dishes RIGHT NOW, or that I should be cleaning out the litter box, or that I want to draw, or that I want to catch up with Facebook, or whatever. There’s just always something. Something else I want to be doing that isn’t sitting there and reading. A lot of the times I want to be doing something else that involves other people, which is why I often run off to get a mani-pedi or even put in a movie instead.

In a weird way, reading is too isolating to me.

And I know what you’re going to say: Reading is all about using your imagination! You live in the world of the books! You’re involved with those characters!

Hey, I get that, and I don’t disagree. But at the same time, I am realizing that what reading is missing for me is a more personal connection. When I read, I just hear my own voice in my head and somehow… that’s boring.

I don’t know what to make of this, but I just am not good at reading books.

Here’s the other thing I realized, though: I actually do read. I read constantly. I am also an editor, so I am always reading other people’s writing. And because I am a journalist, I am constantly reading other people’s published articles. I am in a few Facebook groups, where people post their most recent stories, and I am often either saving them to read later (sorry, must be more of the not reading issues) because they’re too long for me at the moment or I’m reading them right then and there.

I am constantly consuming media, really, because I am also always either watching television or listening to Spotify or, my newest thing, listening to podcasts.

I talked about it briefly recently when I confessed that I had some middle-of-the-night issues as a writer, but I have fallen in love HARD with podcasts.

Currently, I’m listening primarily to Dear Sugar Radio (that’s Cheryl Strayed’s podcast), Happier with Gretchen Rubin (another writer I love), Modern Love, Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert (ditto as Cheryl and Gretchen), Quiet: The Power of Introverts with Susan Cain (learning something about my partner, Adam, who is an introvert), and many more.

What I’m finding out as I learn more about myself as a writer and as a person in general is that I need to connect with others in order to “recharge”. That’s the whole extrovert thing. And I guess that reading just isn’t recharging enough for me, but somehow watching television or listening to a podcast is recharging.

Even though in those cases I’m not actually spending time with people, I’m still somehow around people in a weird way. If I’m watching a television show or movie that I like, I’m still learning something or feeling close to someone else (even if they’re a fictional character). And with podcasts… Well, even better!

The reason why I’ve fallen in love with podcasts is because one of the reasons I enjoy reading (and do read a lot of articles, honestly) is to learn things, and podcasts are a great way for me to learn.

I also realized that I enjoy audiobooks, after many, many, MANY years of poking fun at one of my best friends (who also happens to be a journalist) who doesn’t read but instead has been listening to audiobooks for years now. I used to think it was kind of funny that he didn’t read (I even gave him the hashtag #jessedoesntread), but now I realize that audiobooks are AWESOME.

I discovered those a couple of months ago, during my April book club, when I listened to Jurassic Park. Then in May, I listened to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Now, in June, I am struggling through reading Wild (because I don’t have the audiobook), and it shows.

Perhaps the other reason I’ve fallen in love with audiobooks and podcasts is because I love multi-tasking, and simply “listening” to something (while learning or absorbing whatever it is that I am hearing) is fulfilling… because I can also be doing something else.

I absolutely loved listening to Jurassic Park all day on a Sunday, for instance, while organizing the second bedroom of my house (which has long been on my To Do List). Lately, I’ve been listening to various podcasts while doing laundry and cooking for the week on Sundays. It helps me pass the time and makes me less bored, honestly.

As I grow and mature as a writer and as a person, I am trying to let go of the expectations that I have for myself and the things that make me needlessly guilty.

So today I am confessing that I am a writer who doesn’t read… Or rather, a writer who has found that sitting down and reading a book for hours just isn’t for me because I need more activity and movement and noise in my life. So instead, I am a writer who loves to read… audiobooks and podcasts and articles that don’t take me too long.

I think that this new realization about myself will actually make me a better writer because I will spend less time obsessing or feeling bad that I’m not reading something, and instead do more “reading” with my audiobooks.

I can’t even begin to tell you how great it feels to wake up, turn on my podcasts (or Audible app), and take my shower while “reading”… Maybe more serious writers will completely judge me for this and tell me that I’m not a real writer if I’m not reading at least a book a week, but that just isn’t me. And I’m tired of living up to the expectations of what a writer should be, and instead am just going to be myself. #irinadoesntread

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On writers… and our middle-of-the-night insomnia

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Writers all have those nights, don’t we? I know I do.

It starts out innocently enough. I get up to go to the bathroom. I quickly check my phone. Then something happens in my brain… and I can’t seem to turn it off.

I’m writing this at 4 in the morning because I haven’t been able to fall asleep again since somewhere around 2:30am. I’m starting to realize that these nights happen to me once every couple of months. They come, and they go, and then they disappear again. But they always come back.

It wasn’t always like this, however.

In my past life of living in New York City and being a full-time employed editor, I don’t remember nights like this.

I do, however, remember the stress. Stress from work and constantly feeling overwhelmed and behind, along with editor perks like press events with free-flowing alcohol several nights a week, led me to develop a problem with alcohol. I’m in recovery now, thank goodness, and haven’t had a drink in well over a year. I am grateful for that.

But now I have these nights.

I’m not sure what it is, really. Maybe it’s because I am now in a different life, in a different mindset, and my creative brain is set free to roam however it needs or wants to.

I know that when I was living in New York, the nights were often late. I would stay up till midnight or later easily, and wake up the next day to go to work. Then, when my alcohol troubles began, I often used drink to soothe myself into sleep after an exhausting day. It became a pattern that I couldn’t keep up, that eventually led to losing jobs and entering rehab and coming out on the other side of things.

Now that I live in a place that is low-stress, and with a supportive partner to boot, things are easier. My life is happy and filled with the kind of joy that I never thought was possible. Yet now sometimes I still can’t sleep, and I do not have the option of a drink to lull me back to bed.

So what’s a writer to do?

For one, today, I decided to write about it. Cause, ya know, I’m a writer and all.

Usually, I lie in bed, tossing and turning, and hope to go back to sleep. Typically it works within a few hours, and I wake up in the morning exhausted and grumpy and having to tell my partner why I might be a bitch that day. He’s always patient and kind, and asks what kept me up. I’m sure he’s tired of hearing all about my sleepless nights, but yet here I am. At it again, as it were.

Tonight it wasn’t anything spectacular, really. I was too warm to sleep and woke up to go to the bathroom. I grabbed my phone to shine the flashlight and checked it from the toilet (glamorous, I know, but I wanted to set the scene). Then, when I got back to bed, I started to think about some of the podcasts I had listened to earlier in the day.

You see, my partner and I have recently both rediscovered podcasts… and basically fell in love, hard. He’s got a longer commute now and I suggested he start listening to podcasts as a way to distract himself from the misery of traffic. Meanwhile, as I heard him talk about some of the cool new ones he discovered (and did my own search to help him along the way), I decided to try them out too.

The truth is, I have long been a bit anti-audio.

One of my best friends has been raving about audio books for years, but I always made fun of him. We created a funny hashtag just for him, because he #doesntread despite being an accomplished journalist, writer and producer in his own right. But he still consumes media and, to be honest, he’s probably “read” 10x the books I have in the past five years.

I’ve resisted the audio book thing, though, and in turn resisted podcasts.

Maybe it’s because I see myself as a writer so somehow listening to something just felt kind of wrong. It felt like I was taking away from the author, from the written word, from my own love of reading. And yet, I don’t actually read nearly as much as I want to in my head. It’s not that I don’t want to, but that I often keep myself busy with other things… like writing or being social or cooking. Things I enjoy and clearly prioritize over reading.

Then earlier this year, a friend of mine and I started a book club focused on books that have turned into movies. We did Hidden Figures for March and, let me tell you, I barely got halfway through reading the paperback copy I got with all of the ladies of the movie on the cover. Then, in April, I decided to try Audible with my 2-book free sample.. and I absolutely LOVED it.

I devoured Jurassic Park that month and then The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in May, and I didn’t look back. To be honest, I shocked myself with my own love and appreciation of the written word spoken out loud.

I think part of what drew me to audio books and, now, to podcasts, is how easy it is to listen throughout the day. Although I can’t really do it while I am writing or editing or doing any kind of work, I can definitely do it while I am showering in the morning, taking the dog out, cooking myself lunch or dinner, and doing a number of other random activities.

In fact, one of the best weekends I spent recently was when I was “reading” a huge chunk of Jurassic Park while cleaning the house and organizing all the shit I needed to organize. It was weirdly thrilling for me, someone who prides herself on being a multi-tasker, to be able to do it in the most extreme way: Read a book AND do errands at the same time. I could check off things from my To Do List and still enjoy myself!

It was thrilling, and I shocked myself by how much I loved it.

So now it’s podcasts that I listen to, since for some reason this month I decided to actually read our book (WILD by Cheryl Strayed, one of my favorite authors and, as luck would have it, one of my favorite podcasts: Dear Sugar). So what kept me up at night once I started to think of podcasts around 3am this morning? Creating my own, of course.

That seems to be the big pattern on nights like this when I can’t fall asleep: I am unable to turn my brain off with the thoughts of, typically, some new creative venture.

Sometimes I am just thinking about story ideas, particular chapters in my memoir, or other writing quandaries. Other times I literally have some new I-think-genius idea and am just mentally trying to figure out how to make it work, whether I have time for it, if I really want to do it…

I know what my partner would say right now. Besides “GET BACK TO BED!”, he would advise me to calm the F down.

I’m an extrovert and a feelings-based person at that, so when I get excited, I get really freaking excited. I can spend days talking about some new idea or some new venture or some other new thing that has me all in a tizzy and thinking about it at all hours of the day, like right now.

I can’t put myself to sleep or, even worse, I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it and end up losing sleep.

And let me tell you: I love my sleep. One of the things I appreciate the most about Adam is that he likes to get to bed early. It’s helped to reset my own bad sleeping habits and, even though I am not a morning person and will consider myself a night owl forever, I am very much enjoying the 8-9 hours of sleep I am getting on a consistent basis.

It’s probably one of the reasons why I feel so at peace and happy these days (though being sober and having love and support in my life is certainly a much being reason), or so Arianna Huffington would have us believe. Trust me, I am all for getting more sleep… except tonight, it seems. And on other nights when this happens.

The funny thing is, of course, that I am sure this happens a lot to many other people, to many other writers and creative types perhaps.

It’s not necessarily exclusive to those of us who venture intro creative fields, but I would bet that we are natural insomniacs at times due to these “holy crap, what an idea!” moments like I am having now.

So how do we cure those moments and how do we help ourselves?

To be honest, I am still trying to figure that part out. I honestly have no idea what to do in these moments when I am up in the middle of the night and can’t seem to shut my damn brain off. What I’ve done when they come for the past year is simply try to get through them.

I shut my eyes, I tell myself to go back to sleep, I ask my brain to please stop, and then I wait until I get too tired and drift back into sleep. But it often takes hours. Sometimes I pick up my phone and jot down the idea. Other times I simply lie there, telling myself it’s dumb and to just please oh please get the F back to sleep.

I do, eventually.

But tonight I decided to try something new. So here I am, writing out my thought and it’s been about 20 minutes of rambling. Maybe it’s time to stop?

Not sure what all of this will mean to me in the morning, but here it is. And now… to sleep. Or at least to try.

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A year ago, I was single, unemployed, homeless, broke, fat and drunk

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Exactly a year ago, I had just arrived in my hometown of Fort Myers, FL.

After 11 and a half happy years as a resident of New York City, I had decided to move back to Southwest Florida with my tail between my legs. Unknown to my friends at the time, I had just come out of the darkest place of my life and decided that what I needed was to restart.

So in early April 2016, I accepted my parent’s invitation to move back home for a little while and set about changing my life. I packed up my apartment, sold as much furniture as I could, had a goodbye party with the friends I loved but couldn’t yet tell the full truth to yet… and finally left the city in a van with the rest of my stuff, my faithful kitty Jack and my mom helping to drive the next 1,250 miles.

When I arrived at my parent’s house on the night of April 22nd last year, I felt completely defeated and lost. I didn’t know what the next month or six months or year would bring, and I was scared.

At the same time, however, I was ready to face up to defeat and admit that I needed to make some drastic changes in my life. As this post would suggest… When I woke up the next day, I realized (albeit half jokingly) that I was single, unemployed, homeless, broke, fat and drunk.

Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit there.

The whole idea behind the title of this post actually started after an idea I had while working on my Map Your 30s blog on my portfolio site. While I ultimately abandoned that idea like so many of my writerly fantasies, the thoughts still persisted.

At the time, I knew that I needed to make changes and figure out some stuff in my life. I had decided to blog about those changes and that “figuring it all out” mentality with the idea that life continues to change and evolve even after turning 30, which I had done exactly a month before my big dramatic move out of the city. I categorized these changes into six different sections: relationships, career, home, money, health and confidence (my code word for mental health and recovery from alcohol addiction, which I wasn’t yet ready to talk about publicly).

Those were the categories in which I thought I needed to make some changes… and although my life might not sound quite as dramatic as the title of this post implies, I was in fact all of those things:

I was single (no long term relationship in the past six years, and the ones back then were pretty freaking crappy). I was unemployed (I had just lost a new job that I realized too late wasn’t going to work out anyway). I was homeless (living with your parents isn’t exactly being the self-sustaining adult I had known myself to be). I was broke (no real savings or any money to speak of, and what little I had was used on moving expenses). I was fat (my health had slowly deteriorated in the past few years to the point that I was 20 pounds higher than what I wished I was, 40 pounds higher than my lowest weight post-weight loss surgery, and 30 pounds higher than my goal weight). And I was drunk (in that I had just suffered from a horrible-but-brief relapse into alcoholism after my first and only stint in rehab in July/August 2015).

Basically, everything was wrong with my life a year ago.

I wasn’t happy. I knew I still loved living in New York City, but I also knew that I needed to get out of there in order to clear my head. Recovery was harder than I thought and being an adult had become increasingly more difficult. And to be honest, being single in the city sucked.

I’m not blaming the problems of my life on where I was living, but I knew at the time that it wasn’t helping. I had loving, supportive, incredible friends… but it just wasn’t enough. My health and career had stalled, I never had enough money and somehow the support system I knew I had just didn’t seem like enough. And so I went home.

Well, as hard as it is to admit… that’s probably the best decision I could have made.

At the time, I remember feeling ashamed. My friends knew I was leaving the city, but not a single one of them truly knew why until weeks later. I just wasn’t ready to come clean as I packed up my boxes and said goodbye to the only city I had chosen to call home, to the friendships I had spent my entire adult life cultivating. It was hard.

But it was also good for me.

I took the wounds that life in the city had slowly cut into me, and I healed them.

In taking myself out of the environment I thought I wanted, I discovered that I am still the person that I always was – I had just gotten a little lost somewhere along the way.

I don’t know if it was the job troubles or the drinking or the not taking care of my body or the frustrating dating life or the living alone or the feeling constantly penniless for 12 years, but I finally broke. But in breaking and admitting that something in me shattered, I was slowly able to put myself back together again.

Shortly after moving back to Florida, I unexpectedly met the love of my life.

I know how ridiculous that might sound, trust me. The “love of my life” is not a phrase I ever thought I would utter. But in meeting my partner Adam, I realized that I had never known love before. He was the first – and very vital piece – of putting my pieces back together.

Afterwards, I got my old job back. Then I moved in with him, just as we both started to eat much healthier and started to take care of my finances again. I rebuilt friendships new and old, reconnected with those I left behind in NYC and those I have missed here in FL since I originally moved away.

And most of all, I haven’t had a single drink since last April.

The life I left behind slowly faded away into this new life I created for myself. I realized that I wasn’t all gone and that taking some time to take care of my mental health was nothing to be ashamed of. I know that I am incredibly lucky to have parents who were behind me when I needed them, and even luckier to have found someone who loves me and supports me (and still wants to see me naked) despite all my horror stories of the past.

Now, a year later, I almost can’t believe the changes I have seen in my life since leaving New York as a single, unemployed, homeless, broke, fat and drunk mess of a person.

I’m now in a loving relationship with a man that shows me more support than I could ever possibly deserve, happier than ever working as a full-time freelance writer and editor, carefully decorating a beautiful home that I share with my love and our two fur babies, slowly paying off all of our debt and saving money for the first time in my life, back to a really happy weight thanks to my mostly-vegetarian diet and going to proudly celebrate two years in recovery this summer (and just celebrated a year since my last relapse).

I’ve rebuilt my life in completely unexpected ways, and it wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t admit to myself back then that I was lost.

When I set out on this journey a year ago, I didn’t know what the year would bring. I didn’t know how lost I was and, to be honest, I hadn’t yet realized just how dark of a place I was in until I was fully out of it. But that’s what happens sometimes, I think. Insert joke about hindsight being 20/20 here…

What’s true now is that I finally feel like I have my life back together. I’ve taken all of those little pieces that slowly crumbled around me without me noticing and I collected them all, meticulously glued them back together with my own brand of crazy glue, and just kept on going.

It’s incredible how I feel today in comparison to this day a year ago. I wouldn’t even know how to describe it except to say that my life is 1000x better than I ever could have imagined.

I know that a lot of that is in part because I found someone who is there for me all the time, no matter what, and who proudly calls himself my number one fan. Gotta love that!

But most of it is because of me, and because of the strides I made to pull myself out of that dark place I was in.

The smiling picture you saw at the beginning of this post was a mask… I was smiling to keep from crying as I took that picture in a restroom somewhere along the drive from NYC to FL. But now my smile is bigger than ever, and it’s genuine.

What a difference a year makes, huh?

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Here’s what happens when a writer has too many ideas

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So if you’ve spent any amount of time around me in real life, then you probably know one thing about me: I get easily excited.

I don’t know if I would consider myself a super impulsive person, but I’m not not an impulsive person. I think my life partner Adam would probably disagree with that statement, actually, as he’s mentioned my impulsivity a few times here and there (and by “few” I mean… maybe many).

What I consider myself, actually, is an ideas person.

I get ideas all the damn time, about any variety of subjects. My chosen career of writer and editor is actually pretty perfect for someone who has too many ideas too much of the time, but it can also be harmful. The problem with having too many ideas is that I can easily jump from one to the other, and still see the value in all of them.

Here’s a perfect example: About a year after I graduated college, I decided that I wanted to write a book.

No, let me rephrase that… For as long as I could remember, I’ve been one of those writers who felt like having a book published, as in something I can hold in my hands with my name on the cover and available in every Barnes & Noble, was the ultimate accomplishment. So I always knew that I would write a book someday, and sometime in 2008 I decided to try my hand at it.

Maybe it’s because I have always done well in school or because my best form of learning is in the classroom (as in, though lectures), but I signed myself up for a chick lit writing class. Chick lit, as in contemporary women’s fiction, was my primary reading at the time so this seemed fitting. I had a story in mind, and I worked on it during the class.

The only problem? Well… in a writing exercise that asked us to switch our voice either to very young or very old, I discovered that I absolutely LOVED writing young adult fiction. Shortly after, I took a YA writing class instead. In fact, I took three of them in a row in the year of 2009.

And here’s where the real problem of my life comes in: TOO. MANY. IDEAS.

When I sat down to focus on the chick-lit-turned-YA-novel story, I got another great YA idea that I became utterly obsessed with. I loooooved this new idea, and ultimately drove myself crazy going back and forth between the two. Eventually, life got busy due to a new job and a new blog (several blogs ago now) and I dropped the book.

A few years went by and I decided to write a memoir. The problem? Yup, you guessed it: Too many ideas! Because at the time I was blogging about my weight loss journey, I wanted to write a memoir about growing up overweight, going through a gastric bypass and what has happened since. But then I also had this other idea about writing a memoir about my upbringing, because I am half-Russian and half-Cuban and people’s reactions to hearing that is always “OH! How did THAT happen?!”, and make that into the next great American immigrant story.

Well… I haven’t gotten any further on either of those ideas than I did with my two big YA novel ideas.

Part of the reason for that is because life is busy and I haven’t made the time to focus on any personal writing outside of occasional blogging (that first weight loss blog led to a food blog and led to my portfolio site, which I wanted to write more on last year… and kinda sorta maybe did but didn’t). And now I’m here.

But where is here, anyway?

In a few weeks, it will be the one year anniversary of me moving out of New York City and moving back to Southwest Florida, where I grew up (more on this soon!). One of my goals when moving down here was to a) take my freelance writing career further and b) finally start working on that book again.

The only problem is I wasn’t totally sure which book. Eventually, I decided to work on Moscow Chica, my memoir and now similarly-named Medium publication and the theme of my newsletter.

But you know what happened in my mind when I finally decided to focus on this? MORE DAMN IDEAS!

I went back-and-forth for a while on whether Moscow Chica is the memoir I should focus on, or if I should still do the weight loss one first. I occasionally entertained the idea of going back to one of my YA novels and, finally after the election, I felt that the immigration story is the important one to tell at this point in history.

And I was totally happy with my choice for a while… a short while.

Then came more ideas. Last year, I tried to blog on my portfolio siteabout a project I called Map Your 30s, which was essentially a bit of what I am doing here but more focused on my age… in that I had just turned 30 and wanted to talk about all of the changes that are still happening in my life… because nothing should be “settled” by a certain age. That was a fun idea but I didn’t actually sustain it for very long, unfortunately. Again, I blame the life changes and a little bit my excitement to start (but not finish) things (more on that later too, I’m sure).

Here is where everything comes full circle.

This year, I decided that this was my #YearOfWriting and I was going to focus it on ALL THE THINGS. I planned to freelance more than ever, put a book proposal together for my memoir and so much more.

One of my biggest goals, actually, was to write for 17 different publications and I’m almost there. So far this year, I have been published on 10 (online) publications and have 5 more in the works. I’ve even got tentative pieces with two others… which would soon enough get me to my goal. So YAY for that.

This whole “too many ideas” thing is definitely good when it comes to my freelance writing career, and I think it’s one of the things that has made me a good (and successful) journalist. But the problem comes in whenever I try to do pretty much any kind of writing in my personal life.

You’ve already heard about the two YA novels and the two memoirs, but there’s more. Honestly, so much more. A few weeks ago, I wrote the beginning pages of another YA novel that a few friends saw and loved. And I also started this new blog…

That’s right, after ALL of my failed attempts at keeping up a blog (Healthy Latin Food being the most memorable), I somehow decided that it was a good idea to try one more more time and last week launched this here The Cookie Dough Life.

I’m really excited by the prospect of this blog, actually. It’s basically for me to have a fun place to talk about whatever I want… from relationships to career stuff to health and life and basically anything else I want to talk (or write) about. And that’s how we got here.

Last week, when it first launched, I explained exactly what the whole “cookie dough” life thing means. And since then I’ve stayed silent. Partially, it is because I have been afraid and unsure of what I wanted to say next. The big “Hooray I Have A New Project!” excitement wore off a little, and I am now faced with an empty blog and no content and, of course, a million ideas.

Sometimes when I have a million ideas, I jump right in. And other times, I freeze. That’s what has been happening to me for the past week, so I thought… What better way to really start this blog than by admitting to all of that mess in my head?

Since career is something that I actively plan to talk about on CDL, here it is: I’m a writer and I have too many ideas.

That’s often very frustrating, I know. Well, maybe you don’t know… but I sure do. Yet despite all of that, the only way forward is to just keep going forward. To be honest, today I don’t know what that means. I am not sure if I am going to go back to focusing on Moscow Chica or one of the YA novels or something else entirely.

I’m not even sure if this blog is going to be The One I Keep Up With Finally, or whether these are all words going into the void that will be erased from the internet in a year (in so much that anyone can ever truly erase anything from the internet, anyway).

But the one thing I know is that I have too many ideas, and I can’t wait to share them all here.

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Thoughts on turning 31… and the
future of Map Your 30s blog

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When I first started writing about turning 30 years old and decided to create the Map Your 30s Blog, my idea was simple: I wanted to write about all of the changes happening in my life and I wanted to make the point that life doesn’t end when you’re 30.

In fact, in my very first post after turning the big 3-0, I said that “my goal with the Map Your 30s blog is to prove that turning this momentous decade doesn’t have to be the end of your journey.” I wanted to write about how it’s okay not to have everything figured out, because I still didn’t and because I knew plenty of people who were stressed because it felt like being 30 meant SO MUCH.

It doesn’t.

Or, at least, it doesn’t have to.

Yesterday, I turned 31 years old and, let me tell you, a LOT of stuff has happened in my life since. If you’ve been following me at all (on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram), then you might have noticed quite a few changes… Starting with the biggest one of all: At 30, I was living in New York City, the place I had chosen to call my home since I went to college there at 18 years old, and am now a happy resident of Southwest Florida, where I am actually originally from and never thought I would end up in again.

But there’s more. And since I had very specific categories I wanted to grow in, talk about and generally work towards bettering in my 30s, here it is.

Relationships: When I turned 30 years old, I was single and kind of starting to be miserable about it. I hadn’t had a longterm relationship in six years and, even worse, the relationships I had before were pretty freaking horrible. But in my first Map Your 30s blog post (which was written exactly 3 months after turning 30), I wrote about finally finding the relationship I have always dreamed of. And well, we’re about to near our one year anniversary and are happily planning for 57 more to come.

Career: This is probably the place where I’ve grown the most, besides relationships. At 30, I had just accepted a job that very quickly turned out to be the wrong move for me and spurned me to go back to Florida, with my tail between my legs, to live with my parents and figure out the next step. In my update last June, I had thankfully gone back to being the Food Editor at Brit+Co and started writing again for MamásLatinas. Since then, I also started being a regular contributor to Mom.me and am hoping to find another PT writing gig soon. Beyond that, though, I also am freelancing a ton since the start of 2017 (after hiring a writing coach) and am very optimistic that I will hit my goal of being published in 17 publications this year… and very soon, I expect!

Home: My home situation obviously changed quite dramatically from being 30 to being 31, since I moved states and settled back in Southwest Florida (for now, anyway). I used to believe that New York City was the place where I belonged and the only city that I could live in, but that’s no longer true. It ironically probably took 10 years of living in the city (the official time you can start calling yourself a “New Yorker,” which I very much consider myself to be) before I realized that I could live elsewhere too. Right now I am happy to be in SW FL but I know that my life is going to take me elsewhere, and possibly before turning 32. That’s meant that my physical home, as in the apartment we live in, is a bit in flux. But that’s okay because, as we all know, I don’t have to have it all figured out just yet.

Finances: This area is a tricky one but, I have to say, I think I am finally starting to get to a better place. At 30, I had no savings to speak of at all. And shortly after starting this blog and moving to Florida, I realized that I might have to save for a car and who knows what else. It’s been tricky, too, because Adam and I traveled a bunch towards the end of 2016 and that ran up our credit cards a bit higher than we’d like. However, with my stable editor and contributor jobs, extra income from freelance writing and some hard-ass budgeting, I am very confident we will be able to pay it all off by the time I turn 32 next year.

Health: I have to admit: At 30, I was definitely not the weight I was hoping to be. Although that didn’t stop me from taking the boudoir photos I had always wanted, it didn’t exactly make me feel good to be eating unhealthy food 80% of the time and only focusing on healthy food 20% of the time. As I wrote in my first Map Your 30s blog post, I wanted to switch those numbers and start to really focus on my health. Although I still haven’t figured out a good gym routine, I am happy to report that I now eat vegetarian or vegan about 80% of the time and have lost about 20 pounds since my 30th birthday. And I wasn’t even trying to!

Confidence: Here is where things get a little tricky… You see, “confidence” was my secret keyword for writing about recovery, which was something that I was not yet comfortable sharing with the world this time last year. I had gone into rehab in July 2015, relapsed in April 2016 (yes, a month after turning 30) and finally confessed to my journey last September, the same month that I celebrated my half-birthday. I also wanted to talk about mental health in this space, and I haven’t done much of that. But from being 30 and on the edge of a relapse to being 31 and almost a whole year sober, I am feeling pretty good and (dare I say it?) more confident than ever.

So, all in all, I would say that the 30th year of my birth was a pretty good one. I met the love of my life, started a full-time freelance writing career, moved from NYC to SW FL, set up a good budget to pay off debts, lost weight as a result of healthier eating and finally figured out life as a sober person.

It’s been quite a rollercoaster and, although I haven’t written about it as much as I initially thought, it’s been a good check-in for myself to see how I have been doing on the bigger life goals.

Here’s the thing though: Although in my head, I kind of want to do more of Map Your 30s, in my heart I know that this is totally unrealistic. The truth is that I have other writing goals right now and no time to focus on this. Beyond that, I want to do something different with my personal writing… and I haven’t quite figured out yet. But I’ll definitely let you know once I do.

However, that’s doesn’t mean that Map Your 30s is totally dead. What it means is that it’s on the back burner and possibly something I just check in with once a year or so. I’m not sure yet, to be honest, but what I do know is that I was right all along: Turning 30 doesn’t mean the end of your life and it doesn’t mean that you have to have everything figured out by then.

If I’ve learned anything over and over in the past year, it’s that life changes and evolves in ways that we imagine, ways that we plan for, ways that we expect… and so many more ways that were definitely not the plan, not what we expected, and not what we could have imagined.

Would I have imagined this time last year that I would be a full-time freelance writer and editor, living with an amazing partner, in Southwest Florida of all places? Absolutely not! But this has brought new adventure, excitement, stability, love, career advances and so much more to my life. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

And I wouldn’t trade turning 30 for anything either. Or 31, for that matter.

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