Category Archives: life

Why Is This Night Different From All Other Nights?

This evening, I’m flying the red-eye to London Heathrow, headed to England to spend Passover with my family.

It’s funny. I feel like things that for so many other people are special and exciting, are simply the norm for me. Such as flying to England. Sure, I’m excited, but this is my third time there and I know more of what to expect. It’s less of a tourist vacation and more of a family visit.

On the other hand, things that for so many other people are normal, even boring or rote, are new and fascinating to me. Such as a family with whom to spend Passover dinner. I’ve been to many a seder in my life, but never a family seder — especially one I’ve been promised is “rowdy and unorthodox.” To say I’m looking forward to it would be a gross understatement.

Passover is one of my favorite Jewish holidays. It’s anchored in shared traditions and a common narrative — every year, the seder is shaped around the same text, the same recollection of ancient events, the same symbolic foods on the seder plate. The Passover seder — at which, the Four Questions explain, you conduct yourself differently than you do at any other meal — is really a meta-meal. You don’t just eat something; you have to wonder why you are eating it. (And trust me, there is always a good, rabbinic reason.) The meal is just a medium for storytelling and reflection. In true Jewish fashion, it provides an opportunity to overanalyze everything.

For me, this Passover can’t help but be a meta-meta-meal. As we embark on our annual renewal of centuries-old traditions, recounting history through lamb shanks and several glasses of wine, I will be studying a second history. I will look around the table at a family that is somewhat new to me and try to figure out my place in their narrative. Forget Four Questions; I have about four thousand.

And hopefully, in the blissful haze of good food, good drink and good company, I’ll forget them all.

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RIP leadpencil.net

On Sunday, I got an e-mail that was a long time coming, but even though it was no surprise, the words in the subject line smarted more than I thought they would.

“The Registration for your Domains just Expired.”

The domain is question was the first one I ever registered, leadpencil.net. It was 2001. I was 21, just beginning the spring semester of my senior year. I was, at that point, Over College. I was only taking three classes and was focusing on working more hours for my internship at Boston.com and applying for jobs. Over the previous year and a half, I’d become enamored with online journalism, and I was beginning to put all of my eggs in that basket. One step in that direction was purchasing my own domain. Goodbye, Geocities and Freeservers! Hello, shell account and unlimited potential!

I remember agonizing over my domain name. My first choice was littlebluelight.net, inspired by two songs: the Jayhawks’ “What Led Me To This Town” (which sports the lyrics “Blue lights are shining over my life”) and Miracle Legion’s “Little Blue Light.” I got talked out of it (too much KMart association) and settled for leadpencil, a name I thought was very poetic at the time but I soon grew tired of. Too late, though. I was branded. And the more your domain and domain-associated e-mail address get out in the world, the more daunting it is to disassociate yourself from them.

Having my own domain gave me the opportunity to play with HTML and, eventually, CSS. I built several iterations of my website. The first version actually wasn’t so bad, design-wise. I had pages for writing clips, my resume and a bio, but also — ill-advisedly, in retrospect — a link to my Diaryland site (a/k/a Angst Town). Eventually, I hosted a blog, which meant diving into the all-too-fun world of Movable Type installations. At one point, when I was at a crossroads between becoming more of a codehead or continuing to focus on writing, I built a page where I solicited milkshake ratings — for the explicit purpose of learning more about HTML forms. In time, I lessened my emphasis on code, but the HTML playground of those years gave me a basis of understanding that has served me well to this day.

The design screencapped above debuted in 2004 and languished for five years. I can understand why. In 2004, I got my current job. I got married. Life began getting a whole lot busier and crazier. There were more pressing things on my agenda than endlessly redesigning my website, as I was wont to do the previous three years. The website remained live, of course, with the resume updated as necessary and a couple of tweaks made now and then. And the e-mail address was still going strong, as well.

Beginning in 2008, I realized I needed to transition away from leadpencil.net. It took forever and a day for me to transition my e-mail over to Gmail, including updating my e-mail addresses with every online service from my bank to EddieBauer.com. And, of course, my friends. To tell you the truth, the bank and Eddie Bauer were easier to deal with 🙂 Web-wise, I eventually put in a redirect to a Google Pages site I created. Then, I finally bit the bullet and set up shop at georgycohen.com, my new online hub and portfolio. Every few weeks over the past few months, Dotster would send me increasingly anxious (if only in my mind) e-mail reminders about my pending domain expiration. I thought about extending for another year, but I realized that even though a few stragglers might get an error when trying to e-mail my old address, it was time to cut the cord.

So why is this difficult? It’s just a domain name, for Christ’s sake, right? I guess that the expiration of leadpencil.net makes me think about who I was when I first registered it, my intentions at the time, the professional I wanted to become as I sat in my fourth-floor single and sent my resume to anything and everything web. I’m not sure exactly what I expected to get out of all that effort. So, nine years later, who have I become? I may not be working in the same kind of online journalism that I anticipated as an intern at Boston.com, but I am still working in web communications, a field that has evolved to become something that geeky 21-year-old me would marvel at (though perhaps think “been there, done that“). I think overall that she would be pleased with where I ended up.

I suppose that, with the evaporation of leadpencil.net into the domain name ether, this completes my rebranding. But even though I’m setting aside my leadpencil identity, I won’t soon forget my humble beginnings and how my little slice of Internet pie (or sip of milkshake, if you will) helped make me the web professional I am today.

This is a Not a Year-in-Review Post

Over the past week or so, it feels like every other blog post I’ve read has either been a year-in-review or a list of goals for 2010.

This is not one of those posts.

I’m tired of reading them, to tell you the truth. Not because they’re not interesting, especially if they are by my friends, or don’t have valuable bits of insight or advice. Often, they do.

Maybe it’s more than I’m just not ready to read them, so I’m tired of seeing nothing but.

I know that right now is the time I am supposed to be tying up loose ends, putting 2009 to bed and planning in earnest for the year ahead. But I’m not thinking about my three words. I’m not thinking about anything. There is a time for planning, but I’m not there yet. Right now, I am on vacation. I am running errands, going out to eat, seeing friends and family, working on some personal projects, going to the movies and sleeping in. That’s about all I can, or want to, handle.

Let me tell you something: A year ago today, my grandmother died. That set the tone for 2009: tumult. Many good things happened this year, of course, but overall it was a difficult one. So allow me to indulge myself, for this week, in not thinking beyond my next meal or social engagement. Allow me to say good riddance to 2009 by not even giving it the privilege of incubating my dreams for the year to come.

This evening, I made a playlist of songs about how awesome 2010 will be, and that is the extent of strategic planning that I can handle right now.

Call me next week. I will be sorting out my life and planning my life, both personal and professional, in earnest. But right now, I am neither reflective nor academic. Right now, I am done.

It’s The Most Ridiculous Time of the Year

In the animal world, December is a time for slowing down, for setting aside the daily routine of survival in order to find warmth and safety during nature’s least forgiving time of year. It’s a self-preservation move. And when the animals emerge from their dens and boroughs, they are embraced by spring and inspired to bring new life into the world. It’s a beautiful thing.

For people, however, December is ridiculous. From Thanksgiving through New Year’s, we spend inordinate amounts of time shopping, eating, drinking, attending parties, shopping, cooking, wrapping, attending parties, shopping, attending family gatherings, eating and drinking. It’s prime time. It’s nonstop.

People who know me know that I lead a fairly active lifestyle. I like to be out and about, socializing and going places. So for me, December is awesome. The whole month is nothing but a giant opportunity to fill every night of your calendar. And if there isn’t an event, there’s certainly some shopping, cooking or other preparation that needs to be done ahead of a future event. Never a dull moment.

This month alone, I’ve got a handful of networking events, three friends’ holiday parties, two work holiday parties, a couple performances to attend, some possible trivia nights, various one-off social engagements with friends, a 5K and a few holiday gift and craft fairs. Not to mention all the shopping and card-writing I haven’t done yet (ahem).

While I get really excited at the thought of all the awesome events that I have to look forward to, I tend to forget two things. One, I usually don’t know that I’ve taken on too much until it’s really, really apparent that I’ve taken on too much. I am sure that sandwiched in between shopping and parties, there will have to be a few evenings or full weekend days of utter sloth-like behavior, simply to recharge. I never usually anticipate this ahead of time, so perhaps I’m ahead of the game this year.

Secondly, there’s the matter of January. I had always looked forward to January as a hibernation of sorts — after the crazy, jowl-stuffing frenzy of December, we’d always have the promise of a cold, quiet January, where it’s totally okay to go home every night and stay in every weekend, hiding from the cold and restoring energy after a draining series of weeks. A human hibernation, of sorts.

But somewhere along the way, the sanctity of that quiet January began to slip away. I have begun realizing it over the past few years, where my calendar fills up in January comparable to other months on the calendar. Not to an exhausting degree, but certainly fuller than I remember in years past. I don’t mind, necessarily, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss it a little bit.

This is a rough time of year for a lot of people, and in the past it has gotten to me at times. But right now, I feel like I’m in a place to embrace the crazy and dive right in. There’s a lot to be gained — and a lot to be given, to be sure, not just in terms of money but also time and energy. But it’s just one month, right? The key, for me, is to pace myself. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. See you at the finish line — if not at a party along the way.

Photo by Mykl Roventine /Flickr Creative Commons 2.0

Incremental Redesign For Your Life

I was talking to a friend today about all the things we want to do and the people we want to be, but we don’t and we aren’t.

It always amazes me how difficult it is to do the things that you truly want to do. We put so many obstacles between ourselves and the things we want. But a routine, however distasteful, is comfortable, easier and “better” than change. Change is hard. Change is also scary. The fear of failure — whatever definition of it we have imprinted in our brains — is a powerful counter to our great desire for change. The result is paralysis.

Doing anything in life takes discipline. When it comes to upending the status quo, you might as well be talking about shifting tectonic plates with your pinky finger.

The thing that’s easy to forget, though, is that we’ve all done this before. We’ve all accomplished things that, at one point, we believed were impossible, whether it’s a marathon or a New York Times crossword. We’ve all overcome those moments of conviction in our own limitations, leaving accomplishments in their place. If we could only bottle that understanding and recall it when our doubt returns.

Just after parting ways with my friend, I read this blog post by Chris Brogan on tiny revolutions. It seemed impeccably timed. “Every step towards success requires a tiny revolution,” he says:

Planning for “someday” is ineffective. You have to decide what your revolution looks like on the day-to-day scale. Have a vision and keep it far out in front of you, but give yourself daily tasks that will accomplish it. … The American Revolution had several events that brought everything forward. It didn’t just start with the “shot heard round the world” and then we all sat down and wrote the Constitution. The same is true of your own tiny revolutions. … The KEY difference between your revolution and letting life live you is that YOU start making these events happen, instead of just letting them happen to you.

I was saying earlier today that to make major changes in your life, it takes a giant, bold action. That’s not really accurate. To the outside observer, the difference between today and six months ago may look dramatic. But packed into those 180 days were 180 small but significant changes that all added up.

This seems simple, but it’s really important. Success is about 90% planning. Fulfilling your innermost desires to be the person you want to be has little to do with wanting, and almost everything to do with doing. How do you “do” to the level required to effect real change? How do you self-sustain? You plan. You start an incremental revolution. You set up a schedule and a to-do list of manageable tasks that build toward the ultimate goal.

(At the Stamats higher ed web conference I went to last week, I attended a session by Edustyle’s Stewart Foss on incremental redesign, which has planted that phrase in my head. I think the same premise can apply here — use an informed plan to architect gradual change.)

Thinking about all of this stuff is all-too familiar territory. Last month, I posted about overcoming the fear of failure by remaining childlike (adaptable and curious) and accepting the need to make mistakes in order to learn. Back in August, I wrote about the need to own your own life and not just be a self-starter, but a self-sustainer.

I could write on and on, that doesn’t mean I know what I’m doing. This is all an open exercise in trying to understand how to make my life what I want it to be.

I guess in a sense, my life starts with a single shot. The space between when it begins and what it becomes is up to me. Tiny revolutions.

Photo by Marxchivist via Flickr/Creative  2.0

When Your Faith in Life is Gone, Come and Speak to Me

IMG00058-20091113-1908On Friday, my friend Chris and I saw Mike Doughty live at Regattabar in Cambridge. After many missed opportunities, this was my first time seeing Mr. Doughty live, either solo or as Soul Coughing. He did not disappoint, filling the (somewhat sterile) cabaret with good vibes and amazing music. It helped, of course, that Chris and I were seated in the very front, to Doughty’s left.

Many of Mike Doughty’s shows feature the Question Jar, where people can submit questions that Mike will answer throughout the course of a show. My question was what his favorite toy was as a kid (Death Star playset), while Chris asked what was the deal with Miley Cyrus (Mike said he knew, but he could not tell). Two of the questions, though, particularly stuck out in my mind.

“What do you say to writer’s block?” one question asked. Mike Doughty’s response? “Fuck it.”

“What’s a girl to do?” asked another. Doughty: “Party!”

A wise man, that Mike Doughty. And as a bonus, he even played one of my favorites from his solo work, “Your Misfortune,” quoted in the title of this blog post. All in all, a stellar evening.

Running Down a Dream

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This past weekend, I went down to New York to visit my brother. I hadn’t seen him since our roadtrip in July, and I wanted to see him at least once before the holidays. It was a really good trip, and not just for some of the peripheral benefits — much needed zone-out time on the bus, a change of scenery and some fun meals. It was a good opportunity to get perspective. I chatted with him about The Project, and just talking over the issues I’m having moving forward helped me sort out a possible plan (or two) of attack. We had a few other conversations that were really, really good to have, some more meaningful than others. For instance, I chatted with him a little bit (though, in retrospect, not enough) about writing process. I sometimes forget that we are both writers, albeit in different forms and styles, and it’s something I should take advantage more often. Especially when, like lately, I’m at a bit of a fork in the road with my writing. It’s in my blood; it’s just a matter of keeping the blood flowing.

One of the more interesting moments of the weekend came toward the end of the run we went on Sunday morning. The New York City Marathon heads right down 4th Avenue in Brooklyn, right past where his apartment is. When we set out, the stream of runners had not yet hit 4th Avenue, but as we looped back, we saw that they had arrived. Thousands of marathoners stood between us and my brother’s apartment, hot showers and a trip out to breakfast.

s_Frogger_2I had no idea how we were going to get across the street. But my brother knew exactly what we were going to do: we were going to Frogger our way across.

Here’s where the arteries of that shared blood split off: I’m a goody-goody, and he’s a rule-breaker. I saw cops posted on every corner and median in sight (heck, his apartment is around the corner from a substation), and I saw no way of stepping into the thick of the NEW YORK CITY MARATHON without getting collared. But for Andrew, it was no bigs. He stood poised on a cop-free corner, while I stood nearby wringing my hands. Before I knew it, he had burst off the sidewalk, keeping pace with the runners while sidling his way across the southbound lane. Upon hitting the median, he did it again, crossing the stream in the northbound lane while maneuvering toward the opposite curb.

Dumbfounded, I had no choice but to follow. I felt much like I did the time we broke into the abandoned Rhode Island School for the Feeble Minded, half-expecting a cop to jump out of the shadows and slap cuffs around my wrists.

But, much as I did in that abandoned school, I soon realized there was nothing to fear. I simply minded how I navigated myself through the crowded field of runners, and before I knew it I was across the avenue, standing next to Andrew. And hey, maybe now I can say I’ve run in the New York City Marathon (twice — we had to do this a second time to get to breakfast).

If you’re careful, my brother has taught me more than once, you can break a rule or two every now and then and it’s more than worth it — whether the reward is a hot shower, a good meal, or just the reminder that the world is more flexible than you may think.