Some of my favorite memories are ones that are impossible to reminisce out loud. I was either alone or surrounded by strangers, which makes me wonder if they ever remember too.  

Walking to buy popcorn chicken on lunch break from a driver’s education class hosted out the back of a strip mall classroom, hot summer sun and listening to Chutes Too Narrow while reading the book that was about to become my favorite for years. Sitting at countless coffee shops – I have sat at so many coffee shops over the years, because of all of the habits I have formed, it seems to be the longest running. Sometimes with my dog (he’s turning seven this year with a new family, another wild thought), usually alone. Almost always writing, almost never the same thing. Driving up the California coast, having cut through the hills to Laguna Niguel, walking through neighborhoods of the super tanned, super fit, super rich. Watching the ocean on several occasions, because you can never watch the ocean too much.  

Are you okay? a friend texted me this morning. I’d taken the day before off work, for “reasons”, and she was just checking in. Oh yeah, I reply, Just general what-am-I-doing-with-my-future-life-is-really-weird-right-now malaise. I’m still sitting in that malaise and have been for a week. I spent the last hour looking at apartments in San Diego, even though I’m actively in the middle of sorting out the next phase of my life here in England. But I also spent five hours yesterday watching a show set in sunny southern California, a place that for me will always have a magic glow and impossibly vague siren call. In my dream world, that one with ceaseless funds and a job that allows a semi-rootless existence, I have two homes. One in San Diego, golden and salty and craftsman, with Gilmore, black iced coffees, drives down the 163 and warm walks through North Park and the Gaslamp. A lithe, aesthetic life where I spend my January to June. And across the world, I have my second home, from June to December. A terraced house nestled in a cathedral city, cozy and cold but faultless in the sun, brick and stone and the weight of a storied existence, energy moving from Roman to medieval to Georgian, all within a stone’s throw. A river nearby, because there needs to be water, and books and cups of tea and winding wandering walks, even just to a corner shop for milk.  

Once when I was living in Long Beach, I decided to make a cake. It was a rare rainy day and I was only missing one or two ingredients. The rain stopped for a few minutes and I tried the tiny grocery a block over, walking rather than driving, getting caught in a downpour moments from the return to my doorstep. I called my mom for company while I baked my cake and tried to explain how much that innocuous walk had reminded me of living in England, of walking to the shops to pick up something, rather than getting into the car. I’ve never owned a car in my years in England, something that will likely change when I eventually leave London, but for now it’s something that draws a very specific divide through my life experiences. Everything about a car feels very Route 66 American, very freeway road trip traffic radio, very windows down Phantom Planet crooning California Here We Come. That will change, but I’m avoiding it. A car is the one form of root I haven’t planted over here. I think something about it makes me nervous in a way I won’t admit.  

I haven’t had roots in a long time. It’s one of the beauties of being on your own, but it’s becoming exhausting. That’s where the malaise of this week really sits. Hiding beneath the very real exhaustion of living in Unprecedented Times, I’m tired of moving and the excitement of the unknown. I still appreciate how valuable it is to have options. But I would love, very much, to have this be the last “next phase” for a while. Whatever is next needs to last a while. Every move feeds that rootless self, that love of asking myself where do I belong? It makes me want to keep trying new places and finding new homes.  

But I’ve already found enough homes.

The Apocalyptic Thing About Change

It’s been a good eight months since I last camped out at Foyles. Considering this was an almost weekly haunt of mine before the world imploded back in March, it’d be surreal sitting back down here even if it wasn’t in a room where everyone is distanced in their support bubbles, masked and sanitized and hopefully not infected. Needless to say, the then-and-now difference is hardly just linear.

How different is my life since I last sat here? Very, but again, not just because of COVID. On a personal level, so much has changed in those eight months. I started a new job, my first outside of true retail (the word retail still hovers, linking me to the past decade of my work, but there are other words in my job title that will hopefully lead to the next decade). Not only that, but I’m a month into a part time masters’ course at Queen Mary University, something that still feels a little wild to me, if I’m honest. Less so now than it did in my second lecture at the end of September, when one really-not-that-silly question suddenly made me feel so deeply out of my depth that I spent the next seventy-two hours scrambling for an eject button. But still wild.

I like to blame my whimsical Piscean flighty-ness when it comes to my love of the eject button (nothing says commitment issues like an inability to go on a second date nearly seven years after I left my last relationship), but the truth is I think it’s a pretty natural reaction. As much as you think it’s going to be a comfort to discover the thing you want to do with the rest of your life, it’s actually fucking terrifying. My genuine love of castles and Empress Matilda and medieval anything sustained me through the application process, the visions of my rural English future in the heritage industry suddenly validated when I was accepted into QMU’s Heritage Management program in July. But the reality of taking steps down a new professional path shook me more than I was prepared for, and I’ve had to do a fair amount of talking myself down (read: panic texting) since logging into that first virtual seminar.

On an emotional level, the last eight months saw the last two-thirds of being in therapy. I had two major blows that kicked off that particular journey: first, the sudden death of my dad last July, and second, being forced to step down from my job at Regent Street. The death of a parent is traumatic by nature, and I wrote an essay about why my personal experience of it was such. But in a different way, my demotion shook me even further. For someone whose only adult concept of commitment was to work, suddenly being told you’re not nearly good enough at your job (whether true or not) makes you doubt what you’ve been doing with yourself for the last ten years. So the two experiences, which happened within two months of each other and were equally blindsiding, kind of, y’know, crushed me.

Being a natural optimist, almost incapable of seeing “cons” and described on more than one occasion as sunshine personified (a favorite compliment I will remember until I shed my mortal coil), I did not handle being crushed particularly well. When my best friend suggested I look into therapy, I listened. Therapy looks different for everyone, and I worked through a goodly amount of my struggles from January to July of this year. I think more than anything the lasting benefits of knowing what it’s like to be heard and give yourself space make therapy for any amount of time worth pursuing.

So, again still ignoring COVID, we have a career change, the discovery of a new life passion, a return to academia, and the finishing (a loose term) of therapy.

Mixed in with the life-altering nature of the pandemic, there’s the resurgence of Black Lives Matter, and the personal stock-taking of privilege, being party to, and engaging and benefiting from systems of oppression and learning how to become an ally. Of expanding my awareness beyond the borders of these personal things that have happened to me in the past eight months and processing the experiences of others.

I remember posting about Ahmaud Arbery back in March, making my first calls to a DA office to leave a voicemail, and being terrified of doing it “wrong”, and almost letting that fear stop me from talking about it. Fast forward to Breonna Taylor. To George Floyd. To it becoming belatedly apparent that staying silent in the past was to be complicit, that to be “apolitical” is (and always has been) synonymous with “my life isn’t effected enough to care, and I don’t care that yours is”. What kinds of changes has this wrought in my life? Adding antiracist reading to my regular book stack. Educating myself on systemic racism, and diversifying my feed, my shopping, and my cultural consumption. Learning that you never stop learning, and that it is a privilege that my education in this subject is academic and not physical.

And then, we have COVID.

When I finally got the call that my Italian citizenship had gone through back in 2014, I spent the next few years hemming and hawing about actually making the move back to England. Those were the days before Brexit seemed remotely possible, so instead of being plagued by potential red tape, the primary case I made for staying in the states could be narrowed down to one thing and one thing only: the movie Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.

Really? you ask, understandably judgemental of the fact that a plot that involved Keira Knightley and Steve Carell as a plausible romantic couple could make me feel anything other than bafflement. Yes, really. For those unfamiliar, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a black comedy that chronicles the last days of earth, after a final attempt to stop a meteor flying towards our home planet fails (…emphasis on the black in black comedy). Keira Knightley and Steve Carell live in the same apartment building, but they don’t meet until he happens upon her, crying on the fire escape, because she has just found out she missed her last chance to fly back to the UK to see her family before the world ends.

Call me crazy, but that movie and that circumstance really fucked me up. I empathized with Keira Knightley’s character, because choosing to live across an ocean from most of the people you love does relinquish a certain degree of control you have over your life. Sure, it’s unlikely that if I lived in Philadelphia and needed to get home to my family under emergency circumstances, that I’d be able to do so on foot. But if it came down to it, physics wouldn’t stop me. You don’t need a plane (or a pilot, for that matter) to make that journey. If I moved to England, though? That was no longer true, and, ridiculous or no, that fact kept me stateside for years.

Obviously, my feelings eventually changed. Not my feelings towards that fear – it’s still deeply rooted within me. But my practical side caught up with me, and egged on by the nagging dissatisfaction I had with my life back in California, I made the move to the UK in 2018. I figured the chances of an apocalypse that would somehow stop me from visiting home and seeing my family was too absurdly unlikely to sacrifice my dream.

Writing this in October of 2020, I think I owe my past self an apology. COVID may not be the apocalypse, but as impossible as the possibility seemed then, we do now live in a world where any minute my ability to go home can suddenly be, well, disabled. More likely than not, it’d only be a temporary problem, but still. Talk about things you never saw coming. (Or did. But wrote off because it seemed like the thing to do at the time.)

So, now, not ignoring COVID, it’s been a long eight months. A whole lot has happened and I am grateful that if nothing else, Foyles is still standing, and I’ve been able to return after all this time, in this unfamiliar world, to something familiar.

Change has many guises and I don’t know that I have anything more philosophical to contribute to the discourse than that. But it would be remiss of me to sit in this café and not share the experience so as to commune even the slightest bit with that old life of mine. I’m pretty busy these days, whether with work or study or just existing, but I’m going to do my damnedest to try and be here a little more. Despite everything that has happened and continues to happen, writing brings me joy, and we can all use a little more joy, right?

And while all that means in the context of this blog is that I’ll post a little more, I’m not sorry. As Carl would say, I will not apologize for art.

The Impossible Thing About Self Worth (…and capitalism)

I sat across from my friend at the Market Hall in Victoria, warmly sequestered inside brick walls, surrounded by nine-to-five suits on their trendy lunch break, drinking the best latte I’ve had in months, wondering how on earth this beautiful person in front of me could possibly feel incapable.

To me, she had so much to offer. A ceaseless, passionate energy, a way with words that a troubadour would envy – blonde mermaid’s hair and a knack for making any marbled knit sweater drape perfectly from her well-postured shoulders. And I sat there, thinking these things, knowing that she was envious of so much about my life. My career, my stability, my trajectory. She was afraid the way so many of us have been throughout the course of our lives, because she has no idea what’s next or how to get there. As we both sipped our lattes and went about splitting a chocolate muffin between us, I realized I was just as jealous of her.

It struck me like a crack of cold air in that rosy warm space that the both of us thought we were in exactly opposite positions, when really, we were exactly the same. And I can’t help looking around me and feeling strangely like many of the amazing women I know in my life are in this same position and that it is total and complete bull shit.

Waxing poetic about the downsides of capitalism isn’t something I’m generally drawn to. In fact, writing about anything that has a semblance of cultural importance is almost always beyond both my interest and remit. But the past few weeks have been such a trial and filled with instances of questioning what is worth – what is value – why do we do what we do? That even I, Piscean and ENFP and optimistic to a blistering, painful fault, feel compelled to address it. Why is it that we so aggressively measure ourselves against anything other than wellness and happiness? Why are so many careers, about things that so resoundingly do not matter, valued so highly?

I wonder these things, three hours after my latte with my friend, in a different hipster coffee shop, now upgraded to a matcha latte, and realize that there is a very simple reason I don’t often contemplate these kinds of things. It’s fucking terrifying. If I think about it for more than five minutes, it’s like trying to wrap my head around a black hole (or space in general, which to me is not the final frontier: it is a terrifying endless mystery that I have no interest in considering or peering into).

Only this black hole isn’t something I can wilfully ignore (because really, will I ever have to confront SPACE?). I have to participate in and engage with this black hole every day. I have to try and figure out what it’s actually all about so I can decide what my next career move is. I have to measure myself against its fathomless fiscal depths before I can give myself a speck of confidence that I’m on the right path. And that’s what really scares me.

Keeping my nose stuck firmly in the past has long been my defensive tactic. A belief as unshakeable as it is absurd, that not knowing what the future holds validates not planning for it, sits nestled at the base of my spine, and it impractically refuses to dislodge. I focus on the lives of people that lived eight hundred years before me, people who even had we shared the same time would have been worlds away from me, and I can’t stop. I visit the places they lived, see the buildings they built, stand in the churches they prayed in, and feel a sense of connection and belonging, a strength of spirit, that I’ve come to live for. I tell myself that those experiences are the ones that matter, that they’re more important than the big picture – because maybe there is no big picture. And as far as defensive tactics go, it worked really well!

Right up until everything blew up in my face.

In the back of my mind, I always had a deeply underappreciated belief that not only was I great at my (capitalist) job, but that I would always be great at it and that there was nowhere to go but up. It wasn’t until about two months ago that everything changed and suddenly I was sat on my own, looking in the mirror, wondering what I was really good for, and where I could possibly go.

A crisis of career confidence is never a pleasant experience. This was my first. I’ve had them before in the sense that I wished I could be a writer, a novelist, a columnist – anything that involved people loving my writing and paying me to produce it – and that I never was granted said wish. But then, I never really tried that hard. I always knew that the only thing to regret in that regard was that I hadn’t truly bothered. As a manager, though, since the moment one of my first DM’s sat me down and told me I was great, I had the luxury of lacking self-doubt of any kind. I knew I was good at my job, I knew I deserved good things, and I loved that about it. It gave me value and worth and I reaped wonderful rewards from it for years. This crisis of confidence was about that job, the one I was actually doing, not some intangible dream job crisis. It profoundly shook me up and prompted a resounding, excruciating, “WHY?”

When I was living in San Jose before I moved back to England, I had everything going for me. If there was a time to be complacent, that was it. Stellar roommate, great job, ace colleagues, and my family close by. But I knew I was missing something and it was that sensation that brought me back over here. In attempting to answer that big old “WHY”, I’ve realized that maybe I had reached a level of stability that was endangering my life’s path, leaving me complacent when that wasn’t in the cards yet. Because let’s be real – would I be out here, asking these big questions, reconsidering a path I long since thought was sorted out, if the past two months hadn’t happened? No fucking way!

Wasn’t this supposed to be about other women too, though, you ask? And capitalism in general? You’re right. Selfishly, my own turn in fortune has brought to light a bigger picture conversation about valuing a bottom line over the hard work of the people you employ. Customer service and retail are the absolute bowels of that aspect of capitalism. Where else can you work your ass off and yet everyone you work for – customers and big wig bosses – have a free pass to shit on you over PRODUCT?


I have long been in this career for two reasons: people and their development. I am actively looking out for the people the brands I work for employ, trying to help them find what drives them, making sure they have a good thing going and that work isn’t just a place they come to pick up a pay check. My teams drive great service because they are supported and validated. It’s certainly not because they’re being paid exceedingly well or feel like they’re changing the world. But every day, we’re doing our job, and doing it well. If people can’t see that – or if they can, but they don’t think it’s enough – then maybe I am in the wrong field. And maybe I did need a kick in the teeth to realize I need to do this somewhere else.

Which brings me to today’s coffee with my friend. That moment where we spent hours talking about the endless spread of opportunities in this world of simple rules – work for the man, get your money, do your thing on your own time – that starting from scratch is just as inspiring as it is terrifying. And I wondered at the ridiculousness of being able to preach that so confidently to her when I knew that I as soon as she got on her train and I went my separate way, that I would do anything but give myself the same advice. If she has endless choice, why don’t I?

The answer is, I do. We all do. If we really want to take the advice that (particularly when you’re inordinately privileged by birth) the only thing stopping you is you, we can. But it feels real fucking impossible right now even though nothing is really that bad. So the next step is to get myself to believe it.

How am I going to do that? Start with small truths, the ones that are easiest to swallow. I’ll begin with the illusive bright side, the mercurial silver lining of essentially getting demoted. Maybe the universe realized I didn’t so much need a job that was stressing me out beyond all belief, but that I needed the friendship of all of my amazing colleagues, something I’d denied myself due to a rigorous belief in drawing professional lines as a manager. Maybe I needed that kick to dislodge that feeling at the base of my spine – that not planning for the future is an okay life policy – and create a long game strategy. Maybe I needed the spare brain space that having less responsibility leaves me with to wrap my head around the exhilaration (and terror) of a fresh start.

I genuinely have no idea where I’m going to go from here. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that way about my life. But slowly, one day at a time, I’m going to indoctrinate that philosophy deep in my bones until I breathe its truth every day. Because the world IS filled with opportunities – I do believe that – and it’s up to me to grab them. And sure, there’s a lot of really shitty shit out there too, but if I can’t be one of the people out there turning it around, helping to give value to those amazing women that feel like they don’t have anything to offer, then what else am I gonna do?

Time to get out there, to motivate, to encourage, to make them laugh and smile and get inspired. I may not yet drink my Koolaid, but I’ve got a tepid matcha latte, and that’s kind of the same thing, right? It’s time to do something bigger and be part of a solution. Retail isn’t shitty because it’s unworthy and filled with people that never tried hard. It’s shitty because all too often it thrives on the ceaseless and thankless work of countless people all for the glory of capitalism. While I’m in it, I’m going to continue to fight for those people and the struggles they face every day. But big picture, it’s time to figure out how I can do that in a bigger way.

The unknown I’m about to face while I try and figure that out is not like space because it is terrifying (it is).

It is like space because it is limitless.

Tattoos Are Kind of Awesome

When I was twelve, as a birthday present, my parents had the less-than-stellar idea to let me paint my bedroom however I wanted. Because I was twelve, I picked a different color for every wall, and because my room was a square with the corner cut off, I got to pick FIVE colors. There was the green wall, where I would later begin thumb-tacking CD’s and posters. There was blue wall, with its wide windows and view of rolling golden hillsides. There was the weird, sort of pre-coral-becoming-a-fashionable-color coral wall, with my door and a Jack Sparrow poster. And the sunshine-yellow wall, against which I shoved my “I don’t need a bedframe for my mattress, guys” bed, directly on the floor. Finally – most importantly – there was the purple wall, where my trusty Vaio PC was stationed, my matching plastic purple desk chair, matching purple keyboard and matching purple desk accessories.  

This remained my set up for years, and it was seated in that purple chair next to that purple wall that I discovered Outer Limits Tattoo in Long Beach and decided I wanted Kari Barba to do my first tattoo. I was about fifteen at the time. 

I’m well aware that lots of young teen girls go through a tattoo-wanting phase, and I’m not here to tell you that mine was more interesting or REAL than all those other girls’ (except it is, and was, obviously). What I will say is that for what should have been one of my cooler phases as a teen, I still managed to find a way to make it as nerdy as possible. Did I want a super sweet butterfly or rose? Did I want a cross or a quote? Nah, yo. I wanted my family crest. Which, for the record, isn’t really even a thing, because for those of you that don’t know, my last name is King. Unsurprisingly for the generic non-royalty we are, we don’t have one.  

(Bad family crest tattoos, I eventually found, are a cliché all their own. Not nearly as cute as butterflies, they typically were more in the realm of bro-y white dudes in their twenties. It’s probably for the best that I outgrew that desire before I turned eighteen and gained the legal ability to do anything about it.) 

Where my interest in that particular design faded, my love for all things tattoo flourished. I did sidetrack into Piercingville first for a few years in my late teens and early twenties, but come my college graduation, I decided I was ready for my first tattoo.  

I unironically traded in my dude-bro cliché for an appropriately late 2000‘s white girl: a feather a quill pen. When it was my only tattoo it got a lot more comments than it does these days, my favorite being “Oh, I love your tattoo! Where did you get it, Urban Outfitters?” from a good friend. Despite that friend being completely on point, my quill pen is still one of my favorites. It officially introduced me to what is now one of my favorite hobbies.  

love tattoos. I love them for a lot of reasons, some that wouldn’t surprise my fifteen year old self, some that would blow her mind a little. And since I can’t share them with her, I’ll share them with you instead. 

Not Every Tattoo Has to “MEAN” Something 

When I was younger I was deeply convinced that all tattoos needed meaning. I swore I would never understand people that got silly tattoos. A joke, PERMANENTLY on your body? What about the aesthetic? At the time a religious fan of Miami Ink, and then LA Ink, I’m not surprised that I subscribed to this particular theory.  

Even outside of reality television it’s a popular one. Why would you bother permanently marking your body with something not memorial? It’s like the physical, permanent version of doing it for the Vine. I thought there was something wrong with the mindset of “I just wanted it” or “it’s funny”. Or, best case, maybe I just didn’t understand it yet.  

And I was right: over the years, I discovered with relish that it really is that simple. Sometimes you just want something, and sometimes something is just funny. Because people can do what they want, they get funny tattoos.  

If anything, silly tattoos are really the kind to celebrate the most. We need more fun and more laughter in life. I don’t yet have any tattoos that I would qualify as a silly tattoo, but the closest I have is Yorick, seated permanently on the top of my wrist. He was essentially a tattoo borne of a whim, and every time I see him, his stupid gummy no-toothed grin makes me happy, as do the words above him (“Alas, poor Yorick!”). THAT’s why not every tattoo has to mean something. Sometimes they just make you happy, and I am all about that.  

One of my favorite tattooing anecdotes was from a conversation during the second session on my Norwich Cathedral shoulder piece. My artist, Mez, was talking about how she long ago ran out of prime space to get good tattoos, and due to how old she’d been when she stepped onto the tattoo scene – in the earlier days, before it was mainstream – she had her fair share of plain old shitty tattoos. But whenever she meets other people that are equally heavily tattooed, and from the same age group, they’ll see each other, note the older, shittier of their pieces, and give each other the head nod of shared experience. They’ve seen some shit, and yeah, some stuff you laser off. But others you keep around so you can laugh about it. 

Tattooing is a Viable Creative Trade 

Creativity is the BEST. It’s the best in every form. With the rise of mainstream tattooing and social media platforms like Instagram, suddenly there are thousands more creative people that get to do what they love for a living. They’re artisans with avid followings that at times even have the opportunity to travel abroad and do what they love. Much the way I love that musicians and the lyrics they write are our bards, the best example of widely-read and lucrative poetry out there, I love that tattoo artists are every day purveyors of art for the public. They’re making the world more beautiful and fun without having to sell out in the sense of designing products for shitty companies or, more likely, just having to have a nine-to-five because like many artists, they can‘t live off of the trade they love. 

Do not get me wrong – tattoo artists work hard. Especially in places like America, where health care only comes with the luxury of that nine-to-five, they have to work really, really hard to make it work. I follow several and know that almost every one of them has had their own journey, with the one common trait being it was not easy and required a lot of sacrifice. But the great thing about tattooing is that, unlike making it in music, tattooing is even better because it’s a much more accessible field to support yourself in. Not every tattoo artist is going to be Florence Welch, but they’ll be better off than being stuck playing dive bars forever. If you’ve got the will to work for it, you can make it happen.

Tattooing is a far from perfect field – another thing I’ve learned from all of the artists I follow, the majority of whom are female. It’s definitely not equally accessible to everyone, with women and POC facing more challenges than most. But like any good and growing field, lots of artists are trying to change that, and slow but steady, it’s happening out there. The fact that the conversation is even happening is a step in the right direction.  

They’re Always There! (And Nobody Can Take Them Away) 

Second to writing, fashion is my favorite form of self-expression. How I dress and how I aesthetically present myself has been major for me since my first day of fifth grade when I wrote an essay about the outfit I’d chosen (it was a sleeveless pink-and-white hibiscus patterned dress, with matching fuchsia shoes. I wore my hair in two braids and looked AMAZING).  

Tattoos are, in short, the ultimate form of that. While you do run the risk of dating yourself, accidentally subscribing to trends that don’t last past 2011, I have the same theory about tattoos that I do about fashion and design: if you always exclusively choose things that you absolutely love, you can’t lose. In the end, whether you’re talking your outfit, your overall closet, your living room, or your body, it will all work out.  

If I put no other effort into how I look on any given day, my tattoos still speak for me and tell you something about the kind of person I am. Sure, that’s more information than some people may ever have the inclination to share with any stranger they walk by. But it’s my choice to share it and that I can through tattoos is one of my favorite aspects. Besides, I sit firmly in the millennial camp, where we spend our money and put our faith in experiences over things. Tattoos are a handy way to have a little, permanent bit of both. 

There’s a definite level of privilege when it comes to having the luxury of making that choice, in terms of how I present myself, in the first place. I’m very grateful for the ability to choose to get the tattoos I have, to be able to share them with people, and to have both of those qualities (hopefully) for the rest of my life. 

Fifteen year old me would probably have a lot to say to the version of her that’s twice her age and writing this. She’d be really curious as to where all her hair’s gone (pixies and buzz cuts for life), why most of the remaining hair is grey (what’s up Italian Policastri genes), and why she’s wearing gold jewelry instead of silver jewelry because all gold jewelry is TACKY, KATHY. But her tattoos? I think that once she got past the fact that there’s no family crest to be seen, she’d be pretty impressed. I’ve got the thirty-year-old Kathy version in the form of the Empress Matilda and Peggy Olson.

I never did get a piece by Kari Barba. There’s definitely still plenty of time, but these days, I’m not quite so close to Long Beach, and my list of artists whose work I admire and want has grown extensively. What I loved first about Kari Barba when I saw her remains the same. She looked badass, she had a badass job, and she was a woman in a culture I was desperate to join. Fifteen years later, I’m well on my way. Because tattoos are AWESOME.  

The Terrifying Thing About Content

Content. Whoof. There’s a word to casually instill fear on an otherwise unassuming Monday morning. I have fought many mediocre battles in my life, but the battle to create content is my longest-standing, and right now it’s sitting right around Kathy: 0, Content: 1,000,000. 

Any time you find something to measure your self-worth with, life gets terrifying real quick. For (my type of) creative, the definitive measure of self-worth is the ability to create things that interest some section of the general populous. The bar for this ability feels Everest-high, unachievable, the sort of thing you have to pay a Sherpa thousands of dollars to help you every step of the you’ll-probably-die-on-the-journey way. It takes one flip through a glossy magazine for me to feel equally inspired and idiotic. 

But then, enter the internet. A quick scroll through any feed and the retina is greeted by articles, listicles, and content of a fairly non-threatening variety. It feels somewhat accessible and, dare I think it, achievable! Suddenly the bar is lowered, temptingly so, and you sit there and go, “Y’know, I can do that. If an article of reposted Tumblr memes can get clicks, then I, too, can get clicks!” 

So you do the thing. You sit down at the coffee shop with your latte, artisanal sourdough toast, and whipped honey butter, and do your damnedest to write some bona fide interesting content.  

And THAT’S when it happens. WHAM – you realize something so deafening, so critically offensive, that you don’t know how to handle it.  

You don’t have anything all that interesting to say.  

Worse, and perhaps just applicable to me, you realize something more terrifying: you do have something interesting to say, but interesting is a relative term, and your relative version of it is that everything you have to say somehow relates to the pop culture of years 1995-2008 – those in which your own culture was cold-pressed, fermented, grown, whatever – and if there is one thing that paying websites aren’t interested in, it’s really, really specific nattering about Meg Ryan films and how underrated the film Titan A.E. is.  

What’s so terrifying about content is that like any slice of self-reflection put out for the masses, it gets held up to the lens of everyone else’s standards. What you thought was cool is not cool according to MaryUnicorn007 or Stan McClusky from Bend, Oregon. It’s definitely not cool or interesting to the Huffington Post, or Vogue, or Vice. So as you throw your 1,500 words out into the great void that is the internet, you hear them knock, hollow and unexpectedly, against a back wall you never saw, before clattering to the floor where your mother and sisters will be the only ones to ever read them.  

Content. Maybe the content itself isn’t terrifying, but what everyone is about to think, or not think, about it, certainly is.   

What turns that terror into beauty is that it so, deeply, profoundly, doesn’t fucking matter. Yeah, it does if you’re trying to pay the rent with it. But ask any freelancer, any writer that’s managed to go from hobby to hustle to full-time gig, and they’ll tell you that if great money is solely what you’re after, you’re in the wrong trade. Writers write to relate to others. To get their thoughts out there to help others. To form a club of cool losers who are on the same page about this one particular thing. To brighten a day or educate a stranger. And they’re right: if you want to get rich, you’re in the wrong trade. Which brings me to why I stopped stressing about content and made this very website happen. 

If there is any one thing you can find that increases the likelihood of a smile, why on earth wouldn’t you want more of it in your life? It’s nobody’s business how interesting that smile-starter is to other humans. Put it out there if it makes you happy. Put it out there if it’s only going to get one unique view per day (from you, when you check the website to remind yourself that yes, it was the best idea to pick that font for the header, because look at how fucking amazing it looks). Create content for you, in every facet of your life, and you can’t come out the other end a loser. Or at least, if you do, I’ll think you’re a very cool loser.  

There’s been a bit of an unaddressed hiatus here at Viv + Kit for the past few months, and to be honest, it’s because my life has been a bit of a shambles since July 27, 2019. I haven’t been able to get ahead of things or find balance or have great vision and control since my dad died and my work got unexpectedly unstable. It’s been a fear of being interesting, of creating content “worth” reading, that’s kept me off of here. I feel like a thorough fuck up right now – what on earth could I have to throw into the void that’s going to do anything for anyone?

But sometimes the moments where you feel like all you’re doing is tripping from one fuck up to the next are the moments when you draw the best conclusions. Even if I don’t, the one thing I absolutely need more of in my life is what I love. What makes me smile. That has always been, and will always be, writing. So in a way, while it feels like the birth of this website two weeks before my life imploded was, shall we say, the most shit timing ever, maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s exactly what I needed.  

So stick around for the content, or don’t. I’ll still be here, creating it. Because that’s what makes me happy.  

I Promise I Don’t Hate Kids

When tasked to come up with one thing that every human is universally good at, I’d love to pick something nice. Like being kind, thoughtful, or patient. (Or funny – we should all be so lucky. Imagine a world filled with John Mulaneys!) But in the glaring light of this blog post, not to mention the purposes of my own argument, I’m going to run with judging. Humans are universally good at judging. The more major the subject, task, or behavior, the more intense the judgement. Naturally it would only follow that for women, one of the most prevalent judgements we face is when we decide not to have children.

It genuinely doesn’t seem to matter why we make that decision, or that of all decisions, this one in particular is the business of absolutely no one but the woman in question. But classic humanity: those very qualifiers obviously make it one of the most widely accepted topics to openly discuss. Prioritizing our careers. Deciding kids aren’t for us. Not being a fan of kids in general. Attempting to stave off overpopulation and reducing our carbon footprints. If there’s one thing you can rest assured when it comes to deciding not to have children, it’s that the majority of the populace will assure YOU that one day, many shriveled years (emphasis on shriveled) down the line, you will regret that decision.

As a woman that’s fairly sure she won’t be reproducing at any point in her lifetime, I’ve read and enjoyed a large number of snappy comeback lists to just those assertions. Tumblr, Buzzfeed – the internet as a whole is full of them, and they’ve got some great rejoinders. (The internet is also apparently full of renaissance paintings infused with the face of Guy Fieri, something I discovered when trying to find a Mother/Daughter painting for the header of this post. Please go look at them.) Every list makes me laugh, but a friend linked one on Facebook a few weeks ago, and about six GIFs in, a nascent response from a fellow frustrated woman actually gave me pause. It mentioned that her least favorite presumption about us is that women that choose not to have children must, clearly, hate children.

There aren’t a lot of decisions in the modern world that you can’t unmake. Your career, your education, your streaming subscription. Your marriage. Having pets. Buying a house. Short of those sins that come with a life sentence, pretty much anything can be reversed. But not having kids. That’s fairly obvious, right? Given that certainty, given the inescapable level of commitment that comes with having children, it’s kind of insane that choosing to have kids is a presumptive societal default. Really, it should be the reverse. Unless you’re absolutely over-the-moon certain that parenthood is for you, maybe we should encourage people to hold off.

There’s no longer a question as to whether humans will survive (well, that’s not entirely true, but let’s just say running out of humans isn’t exactly our problem anymore). So why do we cling to the idea of everyone needing to have children? If anything, we should be grateful that some humans are willing to take one for the homo sapiens team and say “yeah nope” to progeny in general. But a practical argument is hardly guaranteed to stand up against these expectations, so it can be hard to be one of the women that “yeah nopes”. And like any circumstance when you’re judged unfairly, the most hurtful part of it is the conclusions people inevitably draw.

I couldn’t give a shit that you think I’ll regret this in ten, twenty, thirty years. But I really wish people would stop thinking that just because I don’t want kids, I think they are the eleventh plague, that I’d rather die (or at least grimace) than hold a baby. Maybe, y’know, I’d just rather be Auntie Kathy than Mom. After all, being Mom is a helluva lot of responsibility. All of the things we lightly joke about on those rejoinder lists I’m actually quite serious about. Sure, I’ll never know the love of my own child, but it’s not going to kill me. The risk of what could happen if I did have kids and regretted THAT decision ten, twenty, thirty years down the line is potentially far more painful.

So we’ve covered the fact that you can’t just assume I hate kids because I don’t want them. But something a lot less talked about, that is actually almost more of deterrent than the kids themselves, is how much I don’t like moms.

There. I said it.

It’s not quite that simple, because I don’t dislike all moms. Very far from it! Most moms are pretty great (shout out to mine, she’s one of them). But some moms…whoof. Some moms act like the primary requirement to joining their Motherhood Club is an enduring and unquestionable sense of self-righteousness. I just do not think I am ready to deal with that. I have no interest in being dragged into parenting strategy discussions. No interest in the judgement, almost more severe than what I would have faced had I not had children, that eventually follows when you meet a mom that doesn’t think you should be giving your kid potato chips. And I know. I KNOW: “You’ll never understand because you don’t have children.”

Well, in the words of Chuck from Sons of Anarchy, I accept that.

There are other ways to use the energy that mothers expend on loving their own children. I can’t argue that they’re equally fulfilling, but I would argue that they are equally admirable. Working with youth that don’t have supportive family systems. Fostering. Adopting. Volunteering. Or going to the other end of the spectrum – all of those people filled with decades upon decades of gut-wrenching and hilarious stories of their own, sitting in group homes with a weekly visit from family at most. Visiting them, talking with them, keeping them company. There are so many humans out there to love.

Do I do all of those things? Absolutely not. (Is it physically possible to be that saintly?) But should I feel that I have an unused portion of my heart come my older years because I chose not to have my own kids, I am quite certain in my knowledge of my own spirit that engaging in any of the above would go far to make up the gap. Beyond that, I already have the luxury of (nearly!) two nieces to dote on ceaselessly. Somehow I doubt they’ll begrudge having an extra benefactor should it come down to it, and from what I’ve been given to understand, the Aunt Club is just a touch more chill than the Mom one.

I am so excited to hear when my friends decide to have children and become mothers. I can’t say I’m passionate about changing diapers, but I’m happy to help and laugh when it’s an awful mess (Huggies are not my strong suit). I do think we should be more aware of how many more people this planet really needs, but I don’t believe restricting how many kids people have is the answer.

I hope people are equally less judgmental of my decision to go childless, however much judging is their forte. I mean, maybe I will change my mind in ten minutes or three years. That’d be just fine too.

Because when it comes down to it, there are no wrong answers to whether or not a woman wants to have children. But there is definitely a wrong way to respond.

Grief, Or Something Like It

There are phone calls, and then there are phone calls.

The second kind become great, memorable divides, minutes-long exchanges that separate Life Before and Life After. They’re the kind that tell you about something that’s already happened, while you’ve been blithely unaware, and suddenly the world shifts. You can’t unhave them and you can’t forget them. Saturday, July 27th, I got the second kind of phone call from my sister. Two transatlantic flights, one attempt to go back to work before I was ready, and some bone-deep jet lag later, I’m still coming to terms with the fact that my dad has died.

When I went home to visit my family last February, I decided well in advance that I would try to specifically get my dad to engage. He was living with my mom and sister in Georgia and they were taking care of him, a task that became more mammoth as his Type II Diabetes (and stubborness) wore on. His behavior was the same unchanged pattern of the last seven trying years: solving puzzles online, reading articles online, and watching Netflix. Determined to squeeze something else out of him in the six days I visited, and with the resiliance of spirit of someone that didn’t have to deal with his increasingly difficult personality every day, I brought the game Catch Phrase.

My family has always been terrible at enjoying each other’s complete company. Terrible is a strong word, but the truth of it is that there aren’t a lot of situations where all five of us in the same room ends up being much fun. But the surest fire way to achieve fun throughout childhood was a good card game. It was how my parents had passed their honeymoon and it was still a solid strategy three daughters later. Catch Phrase wasn’t a card game, but I thought it was a better bet, because it forced conversation. You can’t play Catch Phrase – basically $100,000 Pyramid in a pass-around electronic form – without talking to each other excessively. Ideally, also, it would involve a whole lot of laughing.

Skeptical at first, my dad eventually acquiesced and the four of us sat in the living room, listening to John Anderson, playing Catch Phrase. And I will be forever grateful for that stupid little game, because in those few nights, I saw more of the old dad I remembered than I had seen in years. Sure, before and after he was unchanged, returning to his room and his puzzles once we’d finished. But the during – his thoughtful descriptions, his raised eyebrow at our own, less-than-thoughtful ones, the gleam of genuine amusement and following laughter when the buzzer went off the second he handed the game to my sister – the during I’ll remember forever.

My dad was a wildly successful workaholic for the majority of my childhood. He’d been a regular full-time employee in the IBM-led tech world of the 1980’s before I was born, but for my entire memorable existence he’d been a charismatic contractor, selling his expertise to assorted companies across a variety of sectors. His contracts would take him all over the county, oftentimes all over the state, and they always paid him very well. My dad loved providing for his family and was fiercely passionate about it; he derived the majority of his joy in life from work, the sense of purpose and affluence it gave him, and most importantly, his ability to support his family. What he didn’t get from that (or our love, of course), he happily got from eating extraordinarily well. My dad was a big guy, and it took big food to keep him that way.

There wasn’t much that stopped him, either, regardless of what he wanted. He had a steel will that was terrifying to behold, and not just as his child. I imagine dealing with my father in the workplace could be as horrifying as it was inspiring. He had a zero-tolerance policy for bull shit – a life motto of “No Surprises” and “You Can’t Fix Stupid” – that even extended to being too silly in the car. (During an ill-advised family road trip to Louisiana, one of only two such family vacations we went on in my entire childhood, we lost the privilege of going to a theme park on the way due to excessive silliness in the car.)

In a family with a 4:1 female-to-male ratio, you’d think we would have ended up a pretty emotive, demonstrative bunch. But that was far from the truth. I never, ever doubted that my dad loved me. How he chose to show it, though, was in the way he provided for us, in the experiences he could give us, and from time to time, in a charming affability that made us realize that while poorly-timed silliness on our terms was something he had little patience for, silliness on his own terms was something he enjoyed sharing with us very much. The way my dad expressed love was usually never through words, and, not in the hollow way it sounds, almost always expressed through money. Taking us out to dinner. Paying for our favorite clothes and toys. Buying me an oboe after he’d just bought me a flute because I had the instrumental constancy of, well, an eleven year old. Dad loved us by spoiling us, and he loved it well.

An imposing six-foot-three inches, confident, mustached, the definition of the sort of gentleman that can only buy his suits at the Big and Tall store: that was the guy I grew up with, and I was often in awe of him. We didn’t talk about a lot, but I loved listening to him, and most of my young memories of him are more of just going on rides with him than anything else. (He was a major fan of driving.) My sisters and I spent many an hour standing behind his office chair, peering at his computer monitor over his shoulder, impatient for him to finish explaining his newest Excel spreadsheet. And while we didn’t always have the same opinions, we could always be sure he would share his, and he always spoke with authority and inflection on most any subject at hand. He could sear you and your opinions with a look.

I share all of this so you can understand just how hard it was to process the person he became after 2008, the person I visited last February.

Between the sudden death of his best friend, who was almost ten years his junior, and the economic recession, which slowly saw the last of his contracts permanently dry up, my dad was a vastly different person from 2008 onwards. Never a man of many hobbies, with no work to keep him busy, he became a recluse, hyper conscious of the family budget and more inclined to spend time looking up minutia on the internet than to spend it speaking with any of us. Despite numerous efforts to network, he continually struggled to find any new jobs. Eventually he just stopped looking.

It sounds so simple in hindsight, but it took us years to realize he was depressed, and years more to talk to him about it. But by the time we did, it was too late. Maybe because he thought it was weak, maybe because he genuinely did not think anything could be changed, maybe because he simply did not have the wherewithal to try – whatever his reasons, he never did anything to try and fix it. For seven years, it got progressively harder to keep the faith that he would ever manage to. From the moment I got that phone call from my sister, I realized a harsh truth: now, he never would.

Losing your dad is never easy, but my dad’s health had been waning for years, and he had not been “himself” for a decade. I genuinely thought I had done most of my mourning for the person that raised me, because so much of him was already gone. Boy, was I wrong. I hadn’t realized that however much I had accepted where he currently was, that was NOT the same as him being gone. While he was still alive, there was still a chance – however impossible, however small – that he would rally. That the dad I had grown up with, dynamic and confident and charming and vital, would come back. I don’t think I will ever stop being sad that he just couldn’t. Because of his depression.

Worse, it hurts that he never felt like he could talk to us about it. I would have given anything to lend just five minutes of my own drive and self confidence to my dad – from whom, through both nature and nuture, so much of those qualities were sourced – to get him to see he had the strength to get through it. To see that it wasn’t weakness to talk about it, that we absolutely knew he still loved and cared about us. To see that he didn’t need money to prove it and that all we wanted was for him to express it through words. All we wanted was a conversation about something other than the weather, a day spent on something other than puzzles and streaming more NCIS.

My dad had advanced Type II Diabetes, Congestive Heart Failure, and was severely overweight. He passed peacefully in his sleep on a Saturday morning from a combination of his physical ailments. But I would argue that depression was his deepest illness, and that I couldn’t help him with it will always be one of my deepest regrets. I have my suspicions, but the truth is I’ll never know what it was that stopped my dad from being able to share what he was going through. All I know is he was painfully good at faking otherwise – he was always “doing good”. So in his memory, I want to take the time to say that if you are reading this, and you are “doing good”, you may not feel ready to talk about it yet. But I want you to know that when you are, I am someone that will always be here to listen.

I didn’t know how to help my dad and so I settled for telling him that I loved him, showing him that I loved him. It wasn’t much towards the end – if I could change how often I called him over the last year, God you know I would – but I know as much as you can know anything in this life that he knew he was loved. Sometimes that is the best that you can do.

It sounds stupid, so basic, but the strangest part of death is that no matter where you go, you will never find that person. No matter where you go. But there is a constant comfort in memories, perfect and imperfect, and while I will be sad for a long time, I will also be okay. I will move forward and eventually stop having those cutting, random thoughts – that my dad won’t ever know the person I marry, that he won’t get to see my neices grow up – and realize that for my dad, this was the best case scenario. More than anything, I will always be grateful for the time I did have, and everything wonderful he did give me. Because old those memories may be, but they will never fade, nor will their impact, nor my image – strong, dynamic, and loving – of my dad.

Three Fave Books Right Now

Need a new companion for your daily commute? We’ve got you covered in three very different directions.

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I picked this book up on a whim at Foyles and didn’t realize until I was halfway through that I had encountered a clip from a Ted Talk by author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in my newsfeed a few weeks earlier. In it, she lightly but thoroughly tackled the racist preconceptions a college roommate had about her home country of Nigeria (go watch The Danger of a Single Story). I’ve since learned you can’t go wrong with reading anything Adichie puts to paper.

In many ways a story about how some connections and relationships both define and never leave you, Americanah is stunning from its tangible main characters, Ifemelu and Obinze, to their experience of culture and race in several settings, to the vibrancy of those settings themselves. Whether it’s the streets of central London, an American hole-in-the wall hair salon, or a crammed outdoor food market in Lagos, Adiche’s descriptions satisfy every sense, instantly transporting you as needed. Given the far-reaching global stage of Ifemelu and Obinze’s stories, that’s quite a feat.

Bonus: if, like me, you enter the novel unfamiliar with the music of Onyeka Onwenu, you’ll exit it with the IMPOSSIBLY FUN Living Music stuck in your head for days.

Nobody Cares – Anne T. Donahue

A totally different timbre from Americanah, Nobody Cares is a collection of zingy and heart-felt essays by Canadian author Anne T. Donahue. I owe my knowledge of this particular author to my shameless continued use of Tumblr, and am the better for it. I now follow her on Instagram and was duly aware (and thrilled) when she debuted her first book, and I grabbed a copy as soon as it was available in the UK.

When you need a sharp, funny, ten page pick-me-up, from social pressures, to mental health, to dealing with the best and the shittiest friends and life circumstances, you can do no better than sitting down with any one of the essays in Nobody Cares. It’s like having a motivational speaker in your bag. It may be a motivational speaker that functions a little like a quirky, snarky aunt stuck in the late 60’s, but as Anne’s Insta will attest, she’s the first to admit that. And as I will attest, it’s an absolute blast.

Matilda: Empress, Queen, Warrior

Most people don’t think historical reading is accessible, and most of the time, I can agree with you. A lot of it isn’t. But books like Helen Castor’s She Wolves have popularized a more digestible version of history books, valiantly outshining those of the past that rock that strange dichotomy of theoretically, deeply fascinating material, but literally, written in a way that’s anything but. Catherine Hanley’s fresh biography of my favorite local 12th century feminist is happily of the She Wolves vein.

Hanley walks us through the entire life of the Empress Matilda, from child-bride of the Holy Roman Emperor to Queen-of-England hopeful in her own right. Better yet – especially since Matilda’s story is so unknown and difficult to detail based on the male-leaning chroniclers of the time – Hanley’s writing is well-researched, always stuck firmly in the female perspective, and best of all, just fun. Hanley is insightful and funny, sharing Matilda’s experience as Empress, Queen, and Warrior in an engaging, contemporary style without getting bogged down in the twelfth-century details. (Favorite line: “..Matilda gave birth – to her immense relief – to a healthy son. In one of the least surprising moves of the Middle Ages, the boy was named Henry.”)

If you’ve been avoiding history books until now, I urge you to dive headfirst in with this one.

Bio Pages Are the Worst

First off, cards on the table, I’m writing this about myself. All-powerful-Oz reveal. So, if I go and write an entire bio page about myself in the third person, it feels unutterably pretentious. Whether or not that’s true, or if the queasy pompous- feels it triggers are really an impostor syndrome flare up, is up to the internet jury.

Instead of waiting for feedback I’m going to listen to Laura Branigan’s Gloria and write a weekly blog post that will for the foreseeable future function as my contributor’s bio page* for Viv + Kit. (I am already so into this idea that I think this will be the policy for all new contributors. The Laura Branigan part will be encouraged but optional.)

*Editors note from 25/10/20 – this is now somewhat outdated, primarily due to the fact that my career went full dumpster fire at the end of 2019 and I pivoted accordingly

Orange County born, Sacramento raised, and a jure sanguinis dual Italian American citizen, I’ve lived in all the best parts of California (I’m looking at YOU, San Diego) and now call London home. Day-to-day I’m head person in charge at Anthropologie’s flagship European store on Regent Street.

Viv + Kit was borne of a desire to not only create and write on the regular, but to try and be a bright spot in any single person’s day, one post/list/essay at a time. You’re not going to find any Great Gatsby sort of authorship under my name, and I don’t know that I’m capable of changing anyone’s life or perspective in a major way. But if I can throw together a niche favorites list or snappy diatribe on how I think you should judge your success versus how society does that elicits just ONE laugh or smile, then I’m all about it.

I used to really beat myself up because I felt like even post undergraduate education, I didn’t know “a lot” about anything. Like, most English Lit majors may not have a career waiting for them on the other side of that graduation ceremony stage, but at least they could walk you through Paradise Lost. No such luck here. When I was 22, the thing in life I knew the most about and was the best at was the “hip” import retailer Cost Plus World Market – real talk. I started working there as a cashier out of high school in 2007 and returned to the life when six months of dallying with the real world got me (and my degree) nowhere.

Making a career out of retail has been a JOURNEY for me, mostly because I hate the idea of doing something other people don’t think is cool. (If you didn’t think I was basic before, there you have it. I’ve got the career aspiration equivalent of a pumpkin spice latte.) I derived the majority of my self worth for years out of what my job was, and for someone who viscerally remembers standing in the stock room of her old World Market, deciding to sign on for $30k in college debt because she REFUSED to be stuck in retail forever, having a career in retail was some Old Fashioned level bitter gall.

But I’m exceptionally lucky in my skills and my interests (and my flawless aesthetic, I tell myself), because once I developed enough as a person to realize job status does not equal personal value / a job is a job no matter how you slice it, the two combined to land me in a career that’s ironically taken me everywhere I could’ve asked for.

I was just biding my time while my dual Italian American citizenship stagnated when my District Manager approached me about becoming a supervisor with World Market. Two years later I was a Store Manager when a customer, who apparently worked at Anthropologie, recognized that my pants were from Anthro, and reached out to recruit me when I impressed her with my service. I worked for Anthro for two years and then it gave me the perfect in to move back to the UK, a goal I’d had since the second I left Norwich after university and had all but given up on by 2017.

While customers, yes, can be challenging (when they’re not recruiting you), what nobody tells you about retail is that it’s like any other job – it’s defined by the people and what you put into it. I’ve worked with a handful of characters that I could happily do with never seeing again, but for the vast majority of my career I’ve had the pleasure of working with and learning from some most excellent specimens of human cool. In retail, there’s a 50/50 shot that every one of your coworkers has a side-hustle they wish was their main hustle – who, after all, would actively choose retail, is the running joke – and those side hustles are always fascinating.

Over the years and with the help of some absolutely stellar professional mentors (Ed, if you’re reading this, you are still my hero), I’ve become a really great retail manager, and I genuinely enjoy it.

Given all of the above, a lot of what I write comes from a place of self criticism, weighing my own values and journey against those of society, trying to take life a little less seriously, and reveling in and laughing at all of the conclusions I draw from my rose-colored view of my past and potential future. When you read something I’ve written, it’s likely to be laced with at least one of those concepts. I like to think of myself as an unlicensed authority on them.

Other things I’ll chalk up as interesting qualifiers: experience living abroad and far from my family (not once, but twice!), unparalleled skill at quoting/making very specific pop culture references, and overusing a new word every 3-4 years. Ten years ago it was “epic”. Right now it’s “niche”. I enjoy making people laugh and I enjoy immersing myself in good music, fun pop culture lists, great fashion, highly-specific history subjects, and anything well-written. So it should surprise no one that I’m the founder of this website.

My greatest fear is that when I write I’m like Midge Maisel telling her manager Susie that working every dinner party she can snag an invitation to is the same as successfully working an actual comedy club crowd. But let’s be honest. If that’s what’s happening here, there are worse people to be than Midge, center stage in someone else’s living room, making her friends and borderline strangers laugh. (Right…?)

Three Fave Underrated Chick Flick Leads

Fine, not all of three of these gals are the leads – you got me. But you can leave that negativity at the front door and read on anyway, because I assure all three women are worth watching.

Loretta Castorini – Moonstruck (1987)

Cher is an icon. So you’d think it would be impossible for her to play a role where you don’t first and foremost see her as, well, Cher, right?

Enter her Oscar-winning performance as Loretta Castorini. We’ll skip past the fact that this is also one of Nic Cage’s best performances (and best lines – “A BRIDE WITHOUT A HEAD” comes to mind, but “and I bake bread, bread, BREAD” stands out too) and focus instead on Cher. Moonstruck, one of the best romantic comedies knocking around the genre, starts off with 37-year-old widow Loretta’s engagement to raging milksop Johnny Cammareri, but the action really starts when Loretta takes it upon herself to invite Johnny’s one-handed younger brother Ronny (Cage) to the wedding.

Loretta landed on this list because she works with whatever comes her direction with a woman’s particularly unquestioning efficiency. What’s happened to her has happened to her and she’s making the best of it. This skews her priorities a little from the get go, with a staunch superstition that all be done to a traiditonal T to avoid the bad luck she’s experienced through most of her life, but as in all good stories, that flaw turns out to be the driving force and undoing of the plot. Loretta is sweet but uncompromising, leaning heavily into her family and relatably struggling with a divided loyalty between her straying, mid-life-crisis father Cosmo and her supportive, sarcastic mother (played in another epic casting turn by Olympia Dukakis).

Cher (that HAIR) & Nic Cage (those CHEEKBONES) in Moonstruck, MGM

Mostly I am endlessly envious of Loretta’s PEAK 80’s makeover before her hot date at the Met, but having the strength of character to plant both feet on the ground, resist any ounce of self-pity, and a perfectly-timed, life-changing, post-opera decision to side with romance over reason are other strong contenders for why I wish I could be Loretta Castorini.

Other Reasons to Just love Moonstruck Anyway:

The entire film is quotable (“Old man, you give those dogs another plate of my food and I’m gonna kick you ’til you’re DEAD”; “Birds fly to the stars, I guess.”), its Italian-American/Brooklyn aesthetic cannot be overvalued, the entire adorable date between Olympia Dukakis and Fraiser Crane’s dad.

Kate – French Kiss (1995)

It could be argued that Meg Ryan single-handedly kept the chick flick alive straight from When Harry Met Sally on through You’ve Got Mail. Sure, she clearly got dead tired of it (see Proof of Life, In the Cut, and Against the Ropes for reference), but even that neck-cricking 180 can’t diminish the strength of her prior performances. And I’m here to tell you that, You’ve Got Mail fan girl I am, her turn as Kate in French Kiss is the best of the bunch.

French Kiss flew a bit under the radar, most likely due to the fact that Ryan wasn’t starring opposite Tom Hanks, but her Kate to Kevin Kline’s Luc is a snappy, sarcastic example of great chemistry. Kate, eyes scrunched, uttering the line “All men are bastards!” and, moments later, “Of course you know him! All you bastards know each other!” remains one of my favorites.

Meg Ryan (and kind of Kevin Kline), getting her squint on, 20th Century Fox

But more than her connection with Luc, I love Kate because of her transition from relationship-reliant to strong solo female. Sure, she ends up with Luc in the end (on their own vineyard in Bordeaux, no less), but not before she decided she was perfectly happy ditching the fiance that had already ditched her when he comes back, tail-between-his-hella-90’s-dressed legs, and flying home on her own.

Kate also spends a lot of the movie associating her geographic home with her identity as well. In the process of gaining Canadian citizenship, she considers herself no longer an American, and when an embassy worker denies her that treasured maple leaf flag, she later declares herself “currently without country”, somewhere between proud and self-satisfied at how much it no longer matters. If you’re struggling with getting outside of your comfort zone or with re-defining what defines you, a girl can do far worse than using the strangely-rootless Kate as a role model.

Other Reasons to Just Love French Kiss Anyway:

Bizarrely excellent 90’s French soundtrack (featuring Kevin Kline singing La Mer), specifically mid-90’s French fashion/aesthetic, Jean Reno, the entire exchange between Kate and the concierge at the George V.

Patti – Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)

I know, I know – Diane Lane’s Frances is supposed to be the protagonist of Under the Tuscan Sun. But after watching this chick-flick staple hundreds of times over the years, I’m here to tell you the truth: Frances’ pregnant, jilted, lesbian best friend, played impeccably by Sandra Oh, is this film’s true hero.

It’s easy to get confused about this, as Diane Lane did get top billing, and Patti fulfills many best friend/side kick tropes. She bestows Oprah-like advice about the crossroads of Frances post-divorce life, she provides emotional support when Frances doesn’t exactly cope, and she delivers zingy-one-liners about Frances’ shitty ex and her comical new situation in Tuscany. But what Patti does even better than this, and does better than Frances, is rise from the ashes of an absolutely shitty set of real-life circumstances when her long-term partner leaves her when she’s seven months pregnant with the baby they’ve been trying to have together for years.

Talk about an excuse to quit life. I can’t imagine something scarier than facing parenthood on your own when every expectation is that it’s the last thing you’ll have to do. But Patti eats her words about how probably not great an idea it was for Frances to have bought a villa in Tuscany and instead, in her own moment of cheesy Oprah crossroads, ditches San Francisco to join her bestie there. Yeah, it’s peak Hollywood privilege to have that kind of fallback plan, but it’s still pretty brave for Patti to even in those circumstances power through and have and keep the kid she’d been planning on raising with her ex. If I can handle even one life crisis with the humor and humility Patti does, I’ll consider myself a success.

Sandra Oh, being great, Touchstone Pictures

Other Reasons to Just Love Under the Tuscan Sun Anyway:

That goddamn Tuscan scenery (plus two Positano cameos), “D’you want to come over?” “…maybe later?” FACEPALM, Patti swoop-dancing with the baby amongst the trees, “Okay, yes” and the entire Polish construction crew, everything utterly ridiculous Katherine (the inimitable Lindsay Duncan) does.