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

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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.

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

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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!

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