Showing posts with label daily adventures. Show all posts
Showing posts with label daily adventures. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

So I think I can be an intern for Chicago Magazine

Dear Mrs. Elizabeth Fenner,

Before writing these lines, I stared for a couple of seconds at this picture of you. “She looks like a tough lady (gulp!)” I said to myself. But there was no way I could back out.

You see, there are probably at least a hundred of college kids making a bee line at your door for an internship. Many of them Chicago natives, studying at Columbia or Loyola. Why would you choose me then, a European journalist, who didn’t work a day in an American newsroom?

Because I have the one thing journalists lack nowadays. I have guts. Audacity. Grit. You name it. It was courage that nudged me to leave a comfy career at the biggest Romanian newspaper and move to the other side of the Earth to become a self-thought English writer. My love for stories didn’t end when I changed continents. Instead, it grew stronger and wilder, like a stubborn backyard weed. I had no choice, but cave in and learn how to write in your language.  

Sporting a red scarf, during an interview with Romanian Minister of Education

Knowing the human attention is pretty limited, I feel compelled to go extreme with my own story.
You know how transgender people say they were “born in the wrong body”? That’s how my husband and I felt about Romania, our home country. But since we had zero contacts in America, legally moving here was a Sisyphean task. It took us five years, $10K, one blog, hundreds of e-mails sent to U.S. companies to ask for work and one lucky submission to the Diversity Lottery Visa.

It doesn’t hurt to have a person like this in the team. Put me in charge of making coffee for everyone and I’ll deliver the best hot drink that ever crossed your lips. Send me to cover a major story and I’ll spend an all-nighter writing the most original article. Besides...

I strive for creativity. Just read this and this.
I don’t return empty handed from the dullest conference. This one was pretty interesting
I aim for subtle humor as well. See here and here.  
I take time for complex stories. Like this one.
I write about pretty much everything under the sun. Like getting lost in a Chicago forest.

Why Chicago Magazine? Why not. Since when is dreaming big considered a sin? I want to be inspired by my coworkers, to walk in the newsroom with a shiver of excitement, not knowing what the day will bring. I also want to blossom in the journalist I was meant to be.

What can I write about? My writing can be shoehorned best in the life&style columns. As a legal immigrant, a wife, a foodie, a fitness lover and a former anorexic, I can cover anything from health and eating tips to marriage and travel adventures.

I am not sorry for bothering you, though I am honored!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

You probably won’t marry your soul mate. Get over it!

My husband, 31, is also my high school sweetheart. This year, on August 15, we blew out candles on our ninth year of relationship and fourth of marriage. It was pretty amazing. Judging by all modern society’s beliefs - even mine, for a long period of time – we must be soul mates or at least BFFs. And this is not entirely a wrong assumption. But it’s also far from the truth.
Yes, we do love and respect each other; the whole shebang one supposed to feel when married. On the other hand, there have been plenty of times when I deadpanned: “You think it’s too late to get a divorce?” You see, when we tied the knot, I was a college freshman, who blindly believed in the infamous notion of soul mates. Over the years, though, I got a reality check: there’s no such thing. 

Like me, millions had fallen into the same trap. America is slowly becoming “the cat lady”, according to data used by Bureau of Labor Statistics in September’s job market-report. For the first time in 38 years, more than 50% of American adult population is single. Particularly the young ones. Financial and social implications set aside, that should be exhilarating news for everyone who seeks a life partner. It’s quite the opposite, actually.

Photo source

These young men and women choose to turn up their noses at hundreds of potential lovers for fear of missing out on something better; their soul mates. This discovery was made in 2001, by Rutgers University’s National Marriage Project team, who conducted a survey among 20-somethings. "They [88 percent] believe there is one special person out there just for you and all you have to do is find him or her," said David Popenoe, the professor who oversight the survey. This is a too simplistic view, he believes. 

And I couldn’t agree more. Take our couple, for example: we engage in at least two superficial fights per week, meaning no yelling or verbal attacks occurs. The usual bones of contention are plain silly – the remote control, a sink full of dry toothpaste or nagging, to name a few. Just reading this make me cringe. At first, every clash between the two of us left me doubtful: “Is our marriage falling apart?”

These days, close to 90% of time we live in harmony. Whenever we do fight, we accept it and move on. Simple, yet effective.   
"The worst thing to do is to keep it in, not talk about the problem, brood about it, and be continuously angry," says Ernest Harburg, professor emeritus at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. His study, released in 2008, revealed that couples who don’t express anger live a lot less than those who do.

Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that true love and soul-mating – aka perfection - hardly ever overlap. If you agree romance is not a perfectly round lollipop, but a delicious chocolate truffle with lumps and bumps, you should probably go on as many dates as you can. Then settle down with one person. The one whose flaws you think you can live with for many years. A lifetime, if you’re lucky.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Living according to the “The Secret” and hating it

It’s hard to pin point the exact moment when I started to project my life in America. My earliest memory of this kind is from college, when I developed a habit of looking up on Google Images for stunning, obviously digitally enhanced pictures of Chicago’s skyline and save them as a desktop background, which I then stared at whenever I was feeling down. It offered me free, instant pleasure.

Later, I got really into Oprah and the hype surrounding her “Law of Attraction” principle.  She suggested thinking and acting as if our biggest wishes already happened. So I started doing that.

Laid on my bed, eyes close, I would imagine a vivid scene taking place in Chicago. It was either me strolling down the Magnificent Mile all the way to Millennium Park, bathing with all my senses in a swirling vortex of scents and colors, or both of us, serving dinner in our comfy three bedroom house in ”The Windy City”. I felt high just from doing that.

My addictive personality immediately clung to these simulations exercises, as if they were crack. Any free time between classes was spent sitting on a bench in a nearby park, jotting down random ideas about America.  Phrases like “I’m already there”, “This is a fact” or “Chicago is waiting for me” found their way into my school books.

Here's what my current Dream Board look like. I look forward to: get a tattoo, eat sushi, watch the fireworks on New Years Eve in Downtown, visit Oahu, buy a Fitbit and, most important of all, work for Chicago Tribune
But instead of seeing progress, something bizarre happened. I would go to school and sleep my way through seminaries. My once favorite public garden seemed like a dump when I compared it to Millennium Park. The Romanian peanut butter I ate for breakfast tasted like Vaseline. Nothing was good enough as the American version. I feel trapped in a world I didn’t want to live anymore. Things got so bad that I couldn’t function without movies, YouTube videos and songs, all in English. Apparently, I attracted the wrong live.

The day we found out none of us had been selected on the Diversity Visa Lottery for second year in a row, I hit rock bottom. Getting to a better place took months, but I did it by using the same tool that got me there in the first place: my thoughts. America was not a moving train; it would be still there after one or ten years. With that in mind, I enrolled in an imaginary rehab. My husband held me accountable. Every day after work, we would chop veggies to go with scramble eggs, while I named at least three things I was grateful for. It went like this for several weeks, but it eventually came naturally. The habit of keeping a gratitude list stuck with me to this day. 
What I know now- Oprah actually mentioned about this – is that you don't let fantasies sidetrack you from the actual work. My new strategy involved sending e-mails to U.S. companies, asking for a job, opening a blog in English and hanging out with Americans living in Romania. In the end, what brought us here was The Diversity Visa, but if The Secret it’s a real thing, then it wasn’t pure luck; I earned it.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

I want to share my Green Card with Jose Antonio Vargas

It may sound counter-intuitive, but when the mailman delivered our Green Cards, less than two weeks ago,  my first thought was “Do I really deserve it? After all, I’ve waited in line only five years. Others dream for it a lifetime”.  
This privacy thing is no joke

The fact that I am struggling to find my own identity in America proves that being an alien is plain hard, with or without legal documents. If only there was a way to split this tiny, valuable card… I would choose to share mine with Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.
Jose, in case you didn’t know, it’s the equivalent of a superhero for all the 11 million unauthorized people living in the U.S. 
Three years ago, he cried from the housetop that he basically shouldn’t be in America. His essay, published in the New York Times, had a very simple, yet moving title: “My life as an undocumented immigrant”.
Jose Antonio Vargas- Photo source
I remember almost chocking on Caesar salad when I read it, during my lunch break. Back then, I was just a newbie in the journalistic field and don’t know what blew me away the most; his writing style or his story. After that day at work, I went home and told my husband that we will either go to America with a Green Card, or we won’t go at all. Neither of us could muster the mental strength to live like Jose did for so many years.

Busy with my own American adventure, I totally forgot about him until yesterday, when a string of happy coincidences led me to a website called “Chicago Ideas Week”. Jose’s name was right underneath the “Immigration: From Ellis Island to ICE”panel. 
I bought myself one thicket and next thing I know, we started to follow each other on Twitter. Turns out that not only he wasn’t deported (although he was really close), but also he traveled around the country, in an attempt to shed more light on immigration problems.
On October 15, I will be more than honored to meet this wonderful man, who serves me as an example on so many levels. I am so excited that I’m strongly considering tattooing the date on my wrist, so I can see it every day when I’m handing bowls of soups for a living.

p.s. A big shout-out to Inter Solutions Co., a Chicago based printing company, who offered to donate me a couple of business cards to use at this event. Of course, the owner, Rafal Brzegowy, is Polish. Don’t all big-hearted people in Chicago come from Poland?

Friday, September 26, 2014

What do you call a journalist with a tray? A “traynalist”

It’s unbelievable how some people are gifted with both creative and crafting skills. Like my uncle, who made a career out of carpentry, but that didn’t stopped him from earning a Master in Poetry, later in life.

For me, it has always been one or the other. Or so I thought. After three days of being trained as a server for an upscale retirement home, yesterday they finally had me working a full shift.
I was sporting a hair net, while taking a bathroom selfie

Armed with a work badge photo a tad more flattering than a mug shot and just enough confidence not to pass out, I managed to deliver dinner for almost forty hungry, sometimes grumpy residents.

It was, hands down, the hardest and most rewarding experience of my life. 

Most of this success is owed to my supportive colleagues who cheered for me every ten minutes, like I was running a marathon (carrying back and forth a heavy tray, tens of times a day, should become a legitimate type of workout). 

Not everything was perfect.

Running around like a headless chicken made me clumsy and accident-prone. At one point, my left hand was half covered in chocolate frosting, while the other was mildly burned with navy bean soup. The whole serving thing lasted a total of two hours, which seemed like forever. By the time it was over, I was so thirsty that, when nobody was watching, I leaned against the refrigerator door and gulped down a cup of cranberry juice.

Eventually, I got to relax a bit by rolling silverware in paper napkins, before picking up all the salt and pepper shakers. “Thanks for helping me today”, I solemnly said to everyone who was in the break room, just as a doctor would show gratitude to his team after a hard surgery.

They didn’t look too impressed. Instead, two girls assured me that “it was nothing” and “it gets really easy”. Deep inside me, I hope I won’t be around long enough to experience that.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

How I survived my first week as a dining server (it ain't over yet)

This week I had an epiphany about life, during my training as a part-time server at a fancy schmancy retirement home. Kelly, an 18 years old voluptuous blonde girl, with sky blue eyes and full, rosy lips, was showing me how to carry a heavy tray when I realized: we can do pretty much anything, if we are desperate enough.
Back home, I never served anything to anyone, besides a cup of water to my husband. The thought of tripping and spilling a drink in a costumer's lap made me pledge to never accept this type of jobs. Oh, the irony of life!
On the bright side, being the only foreign in the team is a real boon. My colleagues, mostly high school teenagers, seem amazed when they hear how far I traveled to move here. We bond over work chores and that makes me feel accepted. I also discovered that taking orders, pouring soup, folding napkins and parking walkers for a living becomes more bearable, if I pretend I’m just documenting the life of a server. 
My first attempt to take an order and my notebook with new words in English

But working among natives really pushes my limits. It's an ongoing struggle to understand both the language and the job itself. Let me give you an example.

When Veronica, another colleague of mine, suggested I should take the order from a table of eight, I freaked out. “Sure, just let me go to the bathroom real quick”, I said as calmly as I could, with a frozen smile on my face. Some deep breaths later and a short pep talk, I was ready to tackle my first work challenge. While writing down everything was easier than I thought, I found it extremely difficult to keep track of their orders. One table received dessert, the other was still expected the salad.

Today someone will be shadowing me and I have no clue how will things progress from here on. The convenience of having a part-time decently paid that leaves me with plenty of time to write on this blog is priceless. At the same time, a new job sounds to me like the perfect Christmas present.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

My American dream in numbers (it's not looking too good)

Today I gave myself a pat on the back for being a real trooper over the last few weeks. Looking at the aftermath of our cultural crisis, we realized that our human structure is forever changed. Sufferance had an abrasive effect on us and striped every last bit of pride. We have more sympathy for those in need, although less willpower to forgive those who did us wrong.

I wanted to celebrate this day by making a graphic with a little help from Canva. In addition to the numbers that went on it, a bunch of others are worth mentioning:   
  •  Four times our car battery died and several strangers borrowed us their jumper cables
  •  Three successful interviews out of six. Two of them were too far from my home, so I choose a closer, yet a lousy paid part-time job
  •  Seven Sundays when I went to the church, begging God for signs that we belong here
  •  One minor car accident my husband was involved as a victim 
  • A hundred times Americans proved to be the nicest people we have ever met 
  • Zero times I actually thought going back to Romania and giving up on my dream of becoming a journalist in this country