The Astromaid Chronicles

Slow Travel, Creative Living, and Speculation

Category: On Working

Super Moon, Super Powers

If any of you counted how many days since my last update  (approximately 145 days), you’d think that the daffodils I ingested in my last post actually did kill me.

But lo! They did not! I am alive and well and a new business owner, to boot! Updates are forthcoming…I have a lot of things I want to say about the developments in Ye Olde Personalle Life, which include, among other things, rampant gardening, a food truck, adventures in serving hamburgers to the masses, a vineyard, and…well…today’s topic.

My Super Power.

If any of you have used even an ounce of social media lately, you’ve probably heard about the Super Moon. The most recent Super Moon, that is, which apparently rose on the 14th of November, and won’t be seen again for seventy years. So like, it’s really important because we’ll all be DEAD the next  time it comes around.

I should add that I feel like these super-rare super moons come about quite often, or maybe I’m just thinking of meteoroid showers or something. It also irks me that Facebook now advises us to “take a step outside and see for yourself!” but, that’s for another time. (At least it doesn’t say “BECAUSE THE NEXT TIME IT COMES AROUND YOU’LL BE DEAD”.)

The past five or so days have seen some odd communication patterns. A lot of people I’ve reached out to this past week have expressed shock or even relief–“Wow, how did you know I needed to hear from you?” and “Man, I really needed someone to reach out to me” and “Dude, I was JUST doing [thing I had randomly texted about for the first time in my entire life]”. It’s whatever–it could be the moon, or it could be life, or it could be flukes, or it could be nothing.

When super moons like these rise...get ready for the weird. Photo Credit:

When super moons like these rise…get ready for the weird. Photo Credit:

But there is a certain part of me that likes to get caught up in the whirly-swirls of the SuPeR mOoN! When people whisper reverently about the connectivity and the energy and the high this and the intense that…well, fuck. Maybe I’m feeling it too. Maybe it could be.

Well today, I found out–it IS the Super Moon. Because I have a super power.

I have proof.

It literally knocked on my door.

LET ME SET THE SCENE. For the past six months or so, I’ve been vaguely discontent with my internet provider. I pay way more per month than what I should, especially for sub-standard internet performance (i.e. One person watching Netflix will make websites slow to load elsewhere).  I’ve called in to complain and receive help a number of times. It never ends well. (In fact, it usually ends with my saying “IN THIS DAY AND AGE, I SHOULD BE ABLE TO WATCH NETFLIX AND GOOGLE SOMETHING, FOR GOD’S SAKE”.)

High-Speed Internet

When my bill went up by $20 a couple months ago, I really began to question my commitment to buying local when it came to internet. Should I really pay SO much money and be SO irritated by this? Especially when I work from HOME and rely on this crap?

So when my bill arrived today, I circled back to the question for the millionth time: do I stay or do I go? I pulled up a quick google search to find other high-speed internet providers in my area (thank God nobody was watching Netflix at the same time!). AT&T danced in the back of my head, as it has for a couple months now. But I just haven’t been able to take the plunge. There’s something about it that just feels…distant. Unfeeling. Too big for my britches.

I went to AT&T’s website, briefly. Then, in a fit of laziness, I said to myself, “Eh. Let’s just pay another month. I’ll decide in the interim.”

So I closed AT&T’s website and went to go pay my internet bill, like a good loyal pushover.

As I began to enter my billing information, someone knocked on my door.

I huffed, as I usually do when I get random knocks on my door during my work day. I hopped up to answer it. An unknown guy my age looked back at me, dressed in khakis and a blue polo. Inwardly, I groaned. This had to be one of the random sales calls I get from time to time…where they show up and ask me if I’m happy with my cable provider and I tell them I don’t watch TV and they stumble away, dumbfounded.

But he had no clipboard. And he looked pretty normal. And then he asked me, “Hey, are you an AT&T customer?”

I blinked at him, the words knocking around in my skull like pinballs. Say what? “Um…no. I’m not.”

“Oh, okay. I was just in the neighborhood because there were some complaints about slow internet, things not loading or streaming well, pixelated images…I wanted to check it out.” He offered a smile. “If that’s not you then sorry to bother.”

I blinked at him again. This had to be a joke. He couldn’t have…known, right? “Uh…well, actually, I HAVE been complaining of those things, except with a different company.”

I told him about my angst, and my needs, and he politely and helpfully told me about some of the packages AT&T could offer, even though he wasn’t the guy who could set me up for it. Wasn’t pushy, wasn’t making me sign anything or offer half of a down payment.

And then I told him: “This is actually super weird. I was just researching new internet providers three minutes before you knocked. AT&T being one of them.”

“That’s crazy,” he said.

“And I was literally just about to pay for another month of internet the actual second you knocked,” I added.

This time, he laughed. “I can’t believe it.”

“You intervened.” I swallowed hard, peering up into the sky. “It’s gotta be the full moon.” I couldn’t see it anywhere, but it was lurking. It had to be. Off yonder horizon, penetrating the world with its super powers. Soaking us to the bone.

Some people might talk about the connectivity, or the energy, or the high this or the intense that.

But me? I can manifest a new internet provider like that when the moon is right.

Three hours (and a lot of super moon angst) after the rep’s unexpected (but totally fated?? cosmic?? pre-designed??) arrival, I’m a new AT&T customer.

We all have our super powers. You just gotta recognize ’em when they show up.

(…Though really, maybe writing is my real super power, because this full moon got me back to my blog.)

NiceTalk, Nice Gig

I’m starting a new category today called #ShareTheWealth, where I share interesting and potentially lucrative or money-saving ideas. Today’s item came from my friend Justin Gray, a nomad often on the lookout for interesting jobs that support a life drifting with the wind. He has an uncanny ability to find some gems like this one below.

If you’re like me, maybe you’ve recognized the fact that you are fluent in a language people want to learn, but have never really jived with the whole “teaching” thing. It’s been a weird aspect throughout my life, I must admit. As a vagabond, the opportunity to teach English abroad is EVERYWHERE. Literally. It’s the most plentiful job opportunity out there (not that it always pays well, however).

But I don’t like to teach. I just don’t. I’ve known since a very young girl that I would never be a traditional teacher. It has never appealed to me. Creating lesson plans make me feel unsettled, and needing to control classrooms of 5 or 15 year old’s makes a factory job sound preferable. Can’t there just be some way to simply CONVERSE with people in my native language and get paid for it? You know, just skip the 9-5 English Teacher part and convey my skills another way?

Turns out there is. 

NiceTalk. It’s an app, and it comes from China, and it pairs English language-learners with native English speakers. What’s a good way for students to practice English outside of the classroom? Use technology to connect them to native speakers halfway around the world! Duh!

This app is like something from Back To The Future. As a teacher, I log on, and sooner or later I’ll get a call from a student. Once I accept, we’re looking at each other, thousands of miles away, talking as though face-to-face. Once each call is done, I send the student a comment or suggestion, and then I’m able to receive more calls. I can log on or off whenever I want (keeping in mind the time in China when I’m online).

Nicetalk Tutor App

And I get paid. $10/hour. Not bad for a side gig, eh? Even though some calls might last only a few minutes, they can add up quickly. The app pays weekly, as long as you’ve hit a $20 threshold. And all for just conversing in your native language, free of lesson plans and report cards and wearing sensible gray skirts.

The app itself isn’t the most polished or English-proficient tool. There’s definitely some Engrish-grade flubs here and there, and sometimes the app freezes. Overall, though, it’s easy to learn and quite user-friendly.

Prior to becoming a tutor, you must apply for the position via the app. This involves submitting an introductory video, which will be assessed by NiceTalk employees. If approved, you fill out your profile and begin accepting calls immediately. The profile includes things like education, languages spoken, and basic interests, so potential students can select tutors they jive with.

If you’re good, or sociable, or helpful, you’ll get repeat students. So far, I’ve talked with a wide variety of students: an 11-year old boy just before his grandparents finished making lunch…a 20-something physics teacher who studied in the UK…a 16-year-old girl who called just before her morning classes began at high school. And so many more! I never imagined I’d be able to peek into the home life of a regular Chinese family, or inside a high school. It’s a really cool cultural exchange for that reason. You’re able to glimpse slices of life that you might never come into contact with otherwise…and have some pretty interesting conversations along the way.

If you’re interested in signing up and you want to help a girl out, use my referral code: MTVE2B1L. Or just go to, sign up, and start tutoring!

Interviewin’ A Badass Series: VANESSA ALVARADO

Vanessa Alvarado is another stellar member of the #LoudLadies community who lives a life full of passion and creativity. Her blog, Thrift Core, is one of the most interesting spots on the world wide web, where she shares inspiration for living a life outside of the status quo. Plus, she’s the only herbalist I’ve met with an affinity for both anime AND cephalopods. Let’s learn some more about this awesome ex-pat #loudlady!

Thank you so much for appearing on my blog! Can you give my readers a summary of what your current projects are?

Right now I’m finishing my studies to become a certified herbalist and loving it! I’m working with my mom and boyfriend to launch a line of natural body care products and plotting behind-the-scenes on some fresh re-branding for my blog. I was selling vintage and taking clients for random projects but cleared most of that from my plate. I’ve stopped trying to do one million projects at once…for now!

Phew! That’s a lot of awesome projects! And WHERE are you right now?

I’m in the best apartment in Riverside, Jacksonville, Florida with my best friend and boyfriend 😀 But you probably meant in life? I’m feeling dizzy from the array of choices I have with my two big projects right now and just trying to buckle down, focus, and make them the best they can be.

Ms. Vanessa herself, in a hotel in Tampa rather than in her lovely apartment.

Ms. Vanessa herself, in a hotel in Tampa rather than in her lovely apartment.

Your life location AND physical location both sound pretty dang great. Mmm, Florida! I’ve only ever visited Fort Myers, and that was for a wild whirlwind vacation with my girlfriends where I think all of us technically got married on the beach. So you were raised in Naples, Italy and Jacksonville, Florida. Did you split your time between both places, or spend a set number of years in each place?

My dad was in the Navy so we moved around a little bit. I was born in Norfolk Virgina. We moved to Naples, Italy where I only spent four years. We then moved to South Carolina for two years. After that we moved to Jacksonville, Florida where I’ve remained ever since. It’s been two decades since I’ve lived in Italy and I still miss it.

What is your mother tongue, and where else do you consider home?

I’m half Mexican (mom) and half Puerto Rican (dad) but my parents raised my brothers and I to speak English and only English. They said we rejected Spanish completely by about age 3 and refused to speak it. I consider my eclectic bohemian neighborhood (Riverside, Jacksonville) home but I have severe wanderlust and love to explore everywhere and everything. I want to travel the U.S.A in an RV and travel the world from there!

USA by RV is also one of my travel goals. I salivate thinking about exploring the Wild West that way. Do you travel much during the year to new places, or do you mostly make the rounds to visit family and friends in the same spots across the globe?

I visit family in Puerto Rico sporadically, they live in the Southern part (Ponce) away from the tourist scene so I get to indulge in the “real” Puerto Rico. We rarely explore the island outside of that, but try to. Otherwise, I try to go somewhere new in my area at least once a week or go on weekend trips to areas that are 2-5 hours away. My friends and I have a big calendar of explorations booked for the summer and I’m saving up for future, farther trips!

Caracoles, La Parguera, Puerto Rico

Caracoles, La Parguera, Puerto Rico, where you get dropped off via boat to reach one of the tinier Caribbean Islands.

What is something you’ve learned about travel the HARD way that you can share with my readers?

Really be alert when planning your trips and when you’re on your trips. I had a friend book a trip to Key West for us and he accidentally booked the hotel one hour away from Key West. We had to drive an hour each time we wanted to see more in the key! Also, pay close attention in the airport. I had a fast connector flight from Tokyo to Washington and didn’t hear that I got to skip ahead in the customs line for it. I had to dash across the airport and nearly missed my flight!

Just hearing about your near-miss at the airport made my heart rate spike. That’s really good advice, especially about double-checking your hotel bookings. RyanAir in Europe likes to make their own airports, claiming they’re in a city like Barcelona, for instance, and then when you land there you realize you’re actually an hour outside of Barcelona and have to spend even more money to get to the freaking city you wanted in the first place. SIGH. But, moving on…

You have a self-proclaimed love for cephalopods. Would you still love them so much if you woke up with an oversized, creepy, bottom-of-the-sea-feeder, electric blue mollusk poised to suction cup itself to your face?

I really would.

That’s so creepy. Have you ever been deep-sea diving and/or handled a mollusk? If not, can we try it together?

Nope, but it’s been a childhood dream. Let’s do it!

You’re one of the nerdy website girls of the late 90’s, like I was. Most of my time between ages 11 and 15 was spent teaching myself HTML so I could perfect the frames on my Hanson fansite (yes, yes, I know…) What were your websites about, and did you ever use Angelfire?

Haha, no shame. I had two of their CDs and my friends had wall-to-wall Hanson “wallpaper” (pages ripped out of teen magazines.) All the eyes everywhere made it terrifying to attempt sleep! I made several different anime fan-sites on Angelfire before switching to hosting them off my own domain name in the future! Oh, memories! I was sucked in and addicted from my very first Angelfire website. I had stupidly long URLS and abused the animated gifs.

The animated GIF’s! Ahh, what great times with those!

What is the biggest lesson you learned from your time spent as a corporate copywriter? And how do you use that experience to direct your freelancing career?

It would be hard to narrow it down to one! I value the search engine optimization tricks I learned, but learning how to phrase things to sell is my favorite lesson. The importance of communicating value was practiced and refined during my time in an office.

And those aren’t easy things to learn or refine! I certainly could stand to learn more about it (so I’ll probably let you know when I need a crash course sometime down the road…)

What’s your favorite non-American recipe? Share as much details as possible, because I want to make it like, tonight.

A classic comfort food staple I learned to make in Italy was a classic Italian-style Caprece salad with fresh buffalo mozzarella. It’s very healthy and fresh, a beautiful reflection of “real” Italian food, which is lighter and fresher than the Italian-American counterpart. You cube ripe tomatoes, cube fresh buffalo mozzarella from the market, julienne freshly picked basil and toss it all with extra virgin olive oil. Top with a dash of sea salt. Simple. Perfection. Makes your mouth very happy and takes very little time, too!

Dinner tonight = ready. Thanks for joining us, Vanessa! Don’t forget to check out her blog, Thrift Core!

Interviewin’ A Badass Series: STEPH SHAR

Stephanie Shar, you’re a pretty bad-ass chick. A mid-western girl by birth, you left home and moved out west several years ago to grab life by the balls: something I really admire in others. And in doing so, you started your own business; have launched a professional modeling career; you started a family; and you provide hope and inspiration to tons of ladies. It doesn’t get much better than that. So I’m here because I want to pick your brain a bit. Okay? Okay!

Let’s get right to it: in your life, what was the scariest trip you’ve ever taken, and why?

Well, first off, thank you so much for having me and for your kind words!  Wow!  I’m honored to be here.  Hmm, so scariest trip.  I’m not sure, because honestly traveling isn’t scary for me.  But I’d say it was the plane ride on my way to New York in high school, because I hadn’t been on a plane in years and I was nervous!  I’ve flown a bunch of times since then though, so I’m totally used to it now.

Yet the thrill of riding in a plane or going to the airport doesn’t ever totally wear off. There’s something so romantic about boarding a plane and taking off into the air. Sigh! Before you moved out west, what were your greatest fears? And how did you overcome them?

I was actually very naive and optimistic before moving from Michigan to California.  I had no plan and barely any money.  I didn’t have a job lined up and didn’t know what I was going to do there; all I really wanted was to leave!  I’m proud of where I’m from, but I wanted something different (and was sick of the snow).  So when my boyfriend at the time told me he was going, I decided to go too and off we went.  Things went smoothly at first, but it was rocky for a few years.  Moving to a new place was an easy decision, but ended up being a difficult adjustment.  Finding the right support system in LA definitely helped!

Well said, and SO true! Sounds a little bit like my own move to South America, in fact. But the bottom line is, packing up and moving elsewhere is a BIG DEAL. Oftentimes, there are a lot of naysayers who disguise their fears as ‘advice’. What did your family and friends think?

My mom cried and my dad barely spoke to me for 6 months.  I was raised in a conservative home and moving across the country to live with someone out of wedlock was far from what my parents wanted.  The rest of my family and friends were pretty supportive, because I think they always knew that even though I was a goody-two-shoes, I had a secret rebellious side.  I’m happy to report that, 6 years later, my parents are totally used to me being gone; of course, they do still miss me (especially since I now have a little one in tow).

Seeing your parents react that way must have been so heartbreaking. I’m glad you followed your dreams and that they came around to it in their time (though I bet they wish their grandson was around more!) Let’s talk numbers. Before you took the plunge, did you have a nest egg? Or did you just wing it? What would you recommend to other ladies looking to make a similar leap?

Haha, I wouldn’t recommend what I did to anyone!  I think I had a little over $2,000 when I left (which is NOTHING in Los Angeles).  I was fortunate to find a job right away, but it wasn’t something I was passionate about… it just paid the bills.  I would suggest doing lots of research before moving to your destination — figure out how much your cost of living will be, and then how much you’ll need to make in order to sustain yourself.  Try to save enough so that if you move and can’t find a job right away, you’ll be okay for a few months.  The job market still sucks in most cities.  Proper planning is really important and I wish I’d done more of it — but at the same time, if you wait until you’re “ready” then you’ll never be ready.  So pick a moving date in advance, create a plan and stick to it!

Stephanie Shar, creator of Loudmouth Lifestyle. Photo Credit: Megan Burke

Stephanie Shar, creator of The Loudmouth Lifestyle. Photo Credit: Megan Burke

You could drop 2k on a pseudo-luxury hotel room in L.A…for one NIGHT. This is all great advice, Stephanie. I think the line is quite thin between adequate preparation and never being ready. Somewhere in that tiny gray area, you gotta take the leap like you did.

Have you traveled abroad? If so, what was your favorite place? And if not, where do you most want to go?

The last time I went out of the country was when I was 19 for my friend’s bachelorette party, and we went to Canada because it wasn’t far from Detroit and we could drink there.  Ha!  I’ve been to Europe a couple times but I was really little.  So… I’m just going to say no, I haven’t traveled abroad, or at least not from what I can remember.  I’d love to go to Italy and France, maybe Spain too.  And Poland, because I have relatives there still!

For growing up only 2 hours away from Canada, I am embarrassed to report I’ve never been there. Someday…I’ll get there. I think your international travel list sounds great, and I heartily recommend Venice, Italy to you! As well as every other place you want to go, because EUROPE! So, did you hear about the travel apparatus that prevents people from reclining their seats, so long-legged passengers can have a more comfortable flight experience? ISN’T THAT CRAZY?! What do you think?

Wow!  Well, it looks rude, but I’m 5’8″ and I’m always uncomfortable on planes anyway, so I don’t think I would even notice if someone was using one.  Lol.  I always try to save for the bigger seats in front, or grab one in the emergency aisle because I think those have more room!

Would you rather have an honest-to-god Italian pesto in Venice, or some bizarre, once-in-a-lifetime dish from some obscure country you’ve never heard of that includes animal guts only so you could have the bragging rights?

I’d take the pesto.  I’m a wimp!

Be real: Malbec or Merlot???

Merlot, because I think it’s cheaper.  But if you’re buying, I’ll take the Malbec.  I just like alcohol, okay!?

If that’s the case, I’ll certainly buy us a bottle of wine the next time we’re in the same area! Or, you know, three. What do you miss most about home?

My family, the fresh air and wide open spaces…

Word, sista! Did you know that growing up, we used to refer to Michigan drivers as “insane”, “crazy”, and “out of control”…simply because your highway speed limit was 10 mph higher than ours in Ohio? Since living abroad, I’ve realized that Michigan drivers are none of those things…because in the USA, we drive so CALMLY compared to other countries!

That’s hilarious.  You haven’t seen crazy ’til you’ve tried to drive in LA!

What is one piece of advice you’d like to offer to my readers in terms of relocation, goal-acquisition, and starting their own enterprises?

Have so much confidence that you don’t need anyone else’s approval!  But be humble enough to ask for help.  Like, you know, from a coach or something…


Thank you so much for joining me today, Stephanie! Don’t forget to check out the Loudmouth Lifestyle website, or follow the conversation on twitter via #liveloudly or by following Steph here.

You Can Have Dreads AND a 401(k)!

Once upon a time, everyone who heard of my plan to put dreadlocks in my hair had a specific piece of advice to give. Usually they were tips based on second-and-third-hand experiences; other times, they were warnings about my future. They sounded like this:

“Oh, god, you can never wash your hair again! Did you know that?”

“You’ll have to shave your head afterward. Did you know that?”

“Everyone will think you smoke weed and are a loser pot head. Did you know that?”

“You won’t be able find a job. Did you KNOW that?!”

Ahhh, blanket statements about stereotypes! How snug and comforting they all feel, being hurled by well-meaning friends! I didn’t really care about these warnings. I had a firm game plan: put dreads in, and see what happens. I was positive I could wash my hair with dreads; I knew that shaving my head wasn’t the end of the world like some people seem to think, and actually is something I plan to do someday; and furthermore, being a non-loser, I was firm enough into my personal identity to not care what perfect strangers might assume about me because, hi, a small percentage of people are always going to think SOMEthing negative about you despite your best efforts.

Bottom line was: did I want the well-meaning but misguided advice of my social network (and beyond) to influence something that was a dream I’d had for years and years and years?

I can see the benefit to intervening in a loved one’s life choice if it involved something like, oh, I don’t know, deciding to become a private escort, or picking up a sleek new heroin habit.

But changing my hairstyle? Come on. Let’s reserve the stiff-lipped life advice for things that really matter, like procreating, earth stewarding, and ethical dilemmas.

Five years into the dreadlocks, I am happy to report that none of the advice I was given ever came into fruition. Well, almost none of the advice.

Bugs did not nest in my scalp, nor did all of my dreadlocks merge into one huge unmanageable hippie cranial cord. I do not smell — bad, that is, because my dreads are quite fragrant. People don’t assume I’m a loser — though some assume I smoke weed and tend to ask me in public spaces while traveling if I have any (sorry, guys). A small percentage of people assume I’m Rastafari (I’m not) and that my allegience has been pledged to Jah (it hasn’t).

The big one for me, though, was the job thing.

I get a lot of people who come to me wild-eyed and salivating, wanting dreads so desperately but too afraid to take the leap into locking up for fear of ruining any and all future job prospects. 

“If I put dreadlocks in my hair, I just won’t be able to find any jobs,” they tell me, eyes suddenly misty and contemplating the horizon. Somehow, they know the certainty of this. I’m not sure if they have a crystal ball or a time-warping capabilities forged from a black hole in their basement, but they know.

To be fair, some of the job prospect outlook depends on what you want to do with your life. I never had dreams of being a versatile hair model, an employee where neat, carbon-copy business attire rules over anything else, or working someplace where machines whir and spin at high speeds and could therefore catch my dreadlock by the tip and pull me into the complex, crushing gears of a truffle-making machine.

My post-graduate goals were speak Spanish and help people. I figured I could do that AND have dreadlocks, right?

More than right. Not only did I have dreadlocks, I had multiple jobs with multiple bosses and multiple career opportunities.

*collective gasp from the audience*

*a couple theater-goers look around in shock, trying to locate the source of that scream*

*someone tries to recoup their spilled popcorn from the floor before their friend notices*

In the past five years, the opportunities and experiences have been diverse.

I worked as a bartender with dreadlocks. I worked in retail with dreadlocks. I worked at a finance company with dreadlocks. I worked as an interpreter with dreadlocks. I worked at a health clinic with dreadlocks. I ran an OB-GYN office with dreadlocks. And finally, I had health insurance and a very-responsible-sounding 401(k) with dreadlocks.

You know what didn’t happen?

Nobody judged me for having them. Nobody said, man, you’d be a much better employee if you didn’t have hair like that. Nobody tried to demote me because of my hair. And probably most interestingly, not a single person has said, God, those are hideous and you look like a loser.

Curtain of Dreads.

Curtain of Dreads.

(Editor’s Note: Someone once DID tell me that I can’t have dreadlocks while not Rastarfari, since that is ‘what dreadlocks mean’. I directed them to educate themselves about the multiple and multicultural histories of dreadlocks around the world, which includes a wide variety of uses, methods, and meanings.)

I can’t speak for all people that have dreads, of course. Maybe some people have them in an effort to distance themselves from things like office jobs and traditional savings accounts. Maybe others prefer that marginalization that sometimes accompanies knee jerk reactions to the choice to lock up.

But I don’t believe that dreadlocks inherently equates to anything other than what it means for the person wearing them. In fact, the more people there are with visible “alternative choices” in terms of physical appearance that prove themselves to be intelligent and valuable human beings in general, the better.

Any chance to break down stereotypes is a welcome one. I’m excited for the day when people look at me and, instead of thinking “Wow, that’s a white girl with dreadlocks, she must be X and Y”, they instead think, “There’s a person I’d like to learn more about”, free from assumptions and pre-conceived notions.

We would all do well to remember this about every person that crosses our paths, as well.


Life Lessons Learned through Laptops

Or, Thoughts About Self-Employment-Type-Stuff from a 20-Something Who’s Still Figuring It Out

America is a nation of brand identity and advertising. If we aren’t feeling superior based on our deodorant choice, or that our selection of cereal somehow means something about how serious we are about heath or fighting types of cancers, then we aren’t doing it right.

My soup choice means something...right?

My soup choice means something…right?

Even though we all logically know this is a heaping pile of poopy alpaca crap, on some level it permeates. Advertising is designed to permeate without our consent – that’s the genius part about how effective it is, right? – and if it were something we could opt out of without throwing the television in the garbage, well, then, this world would be a much different place.

But what can our brand loyalties teach us, other than the fact that we’re slavishly supporting a corporation that is probably making millions of dollars off of our misplaced and overly-idealized allegiances?

I began owning and utilizing laptops of my own accord around age 18. After several laptop purchases had come and gone, I realized that my choice was always Sony Vaio.

I loved everything about them. The shape, the style, the power, the logo. I liked associating myself with Sony – “I’m a Sony girl”, “Oh trust me, I’d never get anything other than a Sony” – and I began to delude myself, to a certain extent, that this was some sort of basic, unalterable truth about me. It was something that I had chosen for myself, and as a burgeoning adult, it felt good to identify with something bigger than me.

I am Shannon. I am Sony Girl.

Years came and went under the unblinking eye of Vaio laptops. Even when one of them died and I was forced to receive whatever replacement laptop I could get within a week’s time before I left the country, it was a Sony Vaio. (I swear, I didn’t plan that.)

But then a time came when I had to face a hard and somewhat unpleasant truth about my beloved company. Sony’s customer service had left me high and dry in a time of need. As an American living abroad, I utilize my laptop as my sole source of income generation. In other words, I live and die by my computer now.

OK, so it's not exactly like this...but wouldn't it be cool??

OK, so it’s not exactly like this…but wouldn’t it be cool??
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Not only is it the vehicle for income earning for three different jobs, my laptop is also my primary means of writing, blogging, organizing my life, and keeping in touch with literally every single person I know. I must have a computer that works. And this Vaio stopped working 9 months into our relationship, without any sort of warning that it had been dissatisfied or seeking a different arrangement.

I sent that baby in, and Sony told me the motherboard had corroded. Despite still being under that automatic one-year warranty, this issue wasn’t covered. My $1k investment was worthless and they wouldn’t be replacing it. The warranty didn’t cover ‘spills’, even though the cause of my laptop’s death was 100% not related to any spill. There was no arguing, no way out. I had a very expensive piece of garbage.

Sure, I'll just throw this money in the toilet...

Sure, I’ll just throw this money in the toilet…

I couldn’t afford this scenario again. Though I’ll vehemently deny that I ever spilled anything on that laptop until the day I die, the incident taught me some lessons that are important to consider at any stage in the self-employed/ex-patriot/young professional/20-something-wanderer/anybody with a passion and need for computer lifestyle. These also apply very well to almost any other arena of life. Here they are:

Take your work equipment seriously. As in, insure it seriously. If you live and die by a piece of equipment, then you better be sure that it is covered in all moments of life and death. And this means buying extra warranties, extra spill coverage, extra drop protection, and whatever else those MF’ers are offering you. (Haay, tax deductions!)

  • EXTRAPOLATED LIFE LESSON: Take a bunch of other stuff seriously, like your health, and your home. Insure that shit, and be prepared for those moments you think might never come but always do when you least expect it.

Feedback is key. As I began the hunt for The Next Laptop. I felt obliged to remain loyal to my brand – after all, I was a VAIO GIRL – but I was feeling the burn from the recent mishap. Did I want to trust them to protect me again? What if something like that had happened while I was abroad? What other models could they offer where the same thing wouldn’t happen? After researching thoroughly online (as opposed to blindly following my brand loyalty), I found that most actual Vaio Users had a similar complaint: the customer service is shit. That’s a big deal when you suddenly find yourself in a position where you need a helping hand. And in my hunt for The Next Laptop, I began to look seriously at companies’ customer service ranking, not to mention losing hours of my life sifting through personal experiences in computer forums.

  • EXTRAPOLATED LIFE LESSON: Listen to others that have been there. Seek counsel. The experience of others can be extremely useful or extremely useless as you make your own decisions — but knowing more is always better.

Be honest about what’s out there. Before I found my current work laptop, my number one priority for the laptop was that it was a Vaio. I’m not even kidding. Second and third on my list were color (white) and size (ultra-light). I was essentially seeking a Macbook with Windows but struggled to remain loyal to my Vaio roots. After the warranty burn with Vaio, I slowly and painfully began to research other brands. I didn’t even know where to begin, and had all sorts of extremely outdated judgments about other laptops (Acer is CRAP; Dell is UGLY; Toshiba is only for ROCK CLIMBERS). But once I began narrowing my most important attributes – lightweight because I travel a lot, but not extremely small because I write a lot, fast enough to multitask like the multitasking ninja I am, etc – I began to have a more reasonable pool of options. From there, I went onto the lesser important details, like *cough* similarities to MacBook.

  • EXTRAPOLATED LIFE LESSON: Don’t kid yourself about any aspect of your life. Our expectations and fantasies can color our realities, so be real about whats actually in front of you: whether it be a job, a relationship, a financial situation, etc.

Be prepared for losses at any time. Being that I maintain a bi-coastal existence (part of the year in South America, part in North America), my crap is pretty spread out. I have a hard drive with all of my important information from Ever in North America, and then a portable one with more recent backups that travels with me. But when the Vaio motherboard went on hiatus, and then later my gifted laptop came down with a registry error disease while I was backpacking and unable to fix it, I realized something very stark and very painful: have your shit backed up at all times. There’s plenty of businesses out there strictly aimed at this, so finding some sort of cloud backup or on-the-go reserve isn’t a hard task. For me, it was more about learning to take it seriously. Like insuring my equipment in any and all circumstances. Thankfully, I haven’t lost anything irreplaceable. But I have lost plenty of hilarious and otherwise great first drafts of articles and stories that I would pay a pretty penny to have back in my hands.

  • EXTRAPOLATED LIFE LESSON: Losses come in many forms, and as morbid as it may sound, they’re waiting for all of us. Loss of material possessions, loved ones, health, even our own memories… Know that it is part of life, and just be as prepared as you can be for when the loss eventually arrives.

Lessons come where they can, I suppose, extrapolated and otherwise. For someone who began programming a Commodore 64 at age 7 and spends a disproportionately high number of hours staring at a screen comprised of pixels, it only makes sense that some of my learnings came via laptop. And as I sit comfortable and content behind my super skinny, super light, white, touchscreen Acer Aspire s7, I can’t help but think that the constantly visible Aspire brand might have had something to do with this piece, this inspiration, or maybe something about who I am as a person overall.

But no – I am no longer a girl of any one company, much less an Acer girl. I am simply Shannon. But I certainly love using this Acer, and for anyone interested in buying, I give this baby a full two thumbs up.

Why Growing Up Near an Amusement Park Might Permanently Taint My Career

We all know that the best writers take moments, experiences and relationships from real life and inject them into their writing with a finely-disguised syringe, sending a therapeutic jolt of relate-able life zipping through the blood stream of their prose.

I try to do this as well. Really, it’s the natural byproduct of what happens from living life — writers observe people, the ebb and flow of relationships, striking life moments, dull life moments, and these all collect into a Pool of Usable Material at the fingertips of a writer. Or in the tip of their Bic pen, or under the keys of their typewriters.

Jill and I have been talking a lot lately about our craft, why our stable middle-class childhoods both helped and hurt our art form, and why it might not be a bad idea to take a quick dip into the pools of Suffering and Addiction — just momentarily, for the sake of the craft. But scheduling heroin cycles and past domestic abuse isn’t something you can just decide to weave into the tapestry of your existence. Actually, hold on — I suppose I could start with the heroin or instigate some highly unhealthy domestic habits and make my life go south, but I’m not going to do that.

That being said, I’m stuck with my middle-class stability…my relatively non-traumatic childhood, my degree, my job(s), my good health, and my loving, supportive family. SHEESH, GUYS!

Although this is just a sampling of Those That 
Constitute My Genes, I am so blessed to have the 
family that I do. 

I guess the only thing I can do is use my formative years to my advantage. Much to my chagrin/delight, the most resonate aspect of my childhood is Cedar Point. That’s right — America’s Rockin’ Roller Coast. Located in Sandusky, Ohio, this gem of a thrill-seeker’s oasis constituted the bulk of my introduction into Real Life. Summers were focused on obtaining season passes to Cedar Point, from my youngest memories until present day, and then abusing those passes to the fullest extent. Winters were spent pining for a variety of wood and steel-based experiences. Falls were spent being haunted by local ghosts and riding the last wave of available thrills, and springs were spent waiting desperately for the Opening Day.

It comes as no surprise, then, that my adult years are spent relating a majority of my life experiences to the cycles of Cedar Point. I didn’t realize this right off the bat — in fact, it took a good number of years before I realized how ingrained Cedar Point and its environs were in the fabric of my being….all the way to my artistic metaphors.

This came to my attention for the Nth time when Jill and I were caught in a rainstorm on our way to the Chilean version of Wal-Mart way across town. We had been dodging various gushes of water from the streets, multiple dripping gutters and a whole slew of rain-borne lakes when I mentioned (i.e. screamed over the downpour), somewhat offhandedly given the storm, “This is worse than Thunder Canyon!”

Any Cedar Point Aficionado will know exactly what I’m talking about — the desperate unknowing of when the next gush of frigid water will unexpectedly saturate, douse and completely chill you to the bone. Will the raft rotate enough for you to miss the waterfall, or will it place you directly in its torrential, unforgiving path? The feeling of helplessness is overwhelming…and apparently a life experience that resonated most strongly with me via Thunder Canyon.

This is not the first time Cedar Point and its rollercoasters have been the subject of my (select one: poorly-timed/lame/ambiguously creative/regionally-based/mildly interesting) metaphorsimiles. Once in Europe, Jill and I encountered a museum with a line so long it prompted me to shriek, “This is worse than when Raptor opened!”

See, Ohio-folks? You know exactly how long that line was. INSANEly long.

This emergence of a Cedar Point-focused understanding of the world around me has led me not only to seek an appropriate diagnosis in the new DSM-IV, the giant book of  disorders that was recently re-issued, but also to delve a bit deeper and find out what else, exactly, I understand in terms of roller coasters and amusements parks.

Childhood Amusement Park Coming of Age: A bit different than the classical coming of age later in puberty, this experience coincides with finally reaching the height requirement for the Big Kid rides. Any Sandusky native knows about waiting with desperate, nearly fatal excitement for the time when the height stick is the same level as the tippy top of your head (possibly with hair teased a bit higher by mom). This milestone of reaching the height requirement for all the cool rides inevitably forms the foundation around which Childhood Life is based. (“That summer we finally could ride the Magnum”, or “The day you finally made it onto the WildCat”) Boasting to your friends that you finally rode such-and-such roller coaster proves to be good fodder for street cred later in the halls of Perkins Schools once the end of summer hits.

The “Holy Shit What Did I Get Myself Into” Second Thoughts: A brand of roller coaster regret that, although short-lived, is soul-piercing and also nearly fatal. Occurs most often once boarding a new ride, or one you haven’t been on in a very long time, just after your window for changing your mind and getting off has passed and the car begins heading up the first hill. Usually accompanied by an intense urge to pee and or defecate. This is when you shouldn’t look down.

Coaster Second Thoughts tend to occur
at about this point in the ascent.

Amusement Park Exhaustion: A specific brand of exhaustion that occurs only after a special cocktail of elements are mixed, including mid-summer Ohio heat, twelve hours of walking/roller coaster riding/line waiting/greasy food ingesting/water-logged pants from the water rides you swore you wouldn’t go on in your clothes but you did anyway because it was so damn hot out/refusing to sit down and rest because we’re going to ride as much as we possibly can today/lines that reach the 2 hour mark or higher, and sun burns.This exhaustion is usually accompanied by the notable scents of sun screen, body odor, sweat, aforementioned fried food smell clinging to your clothes, and the lingering grit of countless metal hand rails.

Loss of a Beloved Coaster: Cedar Point deals with limited real estate (but really, can’t we extend the peninsula by now? COME ON) which means that certain rides and coasters get ousted in favor of the latest and greatest. Many of my childhood favorites have been heartlessly canned — such as the Pirate Ride and, more recently, Disaster Transport — but at the very least this teaches us an important lesson in the changing nature of life and love. Everything must come to an end. We all get dismantled and discarded eventually….which, I guess in human terms, would be dying. Even Disaster Transport, which, to be honest, I still haven’t dealt with that grief. (Roller coaster counseling, anyone?)

In reality I began detaching myself from 
Disaster Transport when they removed the
outer space theme and the all moving bits and bobs
in the repair bay.

New Coaster Excitement: This is a type of excitement that, for coaster enthusiasts like myself, penetrates deeper than most anything else in life. Let’s talk about Gatekeeper — I’ve been watching simulated video footage of this beast for over a year. I’m living in Chile but I’ll be damned if I don’t get a season pass for the four weeks I’m in Ohio just because I am positive I will go enough times to more than pay for the cost of the pass. This isn’t just excitement, this is dedication. Sure, the ride will be over in a matter of minutes, but that’ll be some damn thrilling couple hundred of seconds. Also including in this branch of excitement are people who track time in terms of number of days until Cedar Point opens.

The “One-Chance Shot” Letdown: This is a brand of disappointment that thankfully doesn’t strike often, but when it does, can be highly disruptive. The scenario usually goes as follows: you’ve either left the city or state for work or school or pursuing-life-goal purposes, and either don’t have it in your budget or priorities to purchase a season pass for Cedar Point. This means you visit once, and during your trip to Ohio you buy a day pass, probably from Meijer. You have one chance to go, and you plan to make the best of it and ride as much as possible, but the one day you’re able to go between park hours, family obligations and general vacation timetable is….the one day it rains. Or the one day all your favorite coasters are down for repairs. Or the one day the wind is so strong that Wind Seeker is closed due to weather and you still haven’t had a chance to ride it since it came out. So what do you do? Ride Calypso? Play Skee-ball? Oh, like that’s worth $50? This is the one-chance shot letdown. Better luck next year!

Other Cedar Point-Specific Phenomena: the Gray-Out that occurs after the first hill on Millennium Force, the specific emotional arc that accompanies Top-Thrill Dragster (anticipation–surprise–glee–one moment of heart-stopping beauty and adrenaline from the front seat at the top curve–glee–feeling like you’re dying/being born–the come down as the ride stops), the spine-jarring experience of the Mean Streak, and the dismay when you realize the Back Lot is full…

As evidenced by this excessively lengthy post, Cedar Point is near and dear not only to my heart, but to my understanding of the world around me. Though there are some life moments that are best understood in terms of roller coasters and amusement parks, I will make a sincere effort to wrangle this probable disorder so that it does not negatively affect my creative fiction. Unless, of course, I decide to get into Roller Coaster Fan Fiction writing…now that might be a real moneymaker that combines all my passions!

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