Wednesday, February 26, 2014

(Don't) Take Cover.

I plopped down into a bar seat at Page's Okra Grill for an early, solo lunch, and the owner, Courtney, (whom I met when Brian and I interviewed her for a story) came to me and said her hellos - then asked why I had a long face.

"I don't know," I sighed. "Being a magazine editor is hard sometimes."

Before all of you start chuckling at that comment - or, worse, rolling your eyes - let me explain.

Not long ago, I put our March/April cover together rather shakily. I had a notion (vision?) that I wanted a garden cover. The only problem was that it's been a rather harsh Southern winter this year, and I had plenty to mull over in terms of making it work.

"What about vegetation?" asked my coworkers. "Won't it just be dirt at this time of year?"

But I insisted that it would look the way early spring/late winter is supposed to look in a garden - full of watering cans, shovels, seeds and cheerful gardeners.

I ran into a few obstacles, naturally. I had to find the people who would agree to be on our cover. I had to obtain our gardening props. I had to frame the shot right - or help my photographer, Kate, frame it right.

After putting together a mock cover with our art director yesterday, I paraded the results around the office to a few people and received a bevy of replies - some feedback a little hard to take. I started feeling insecure. I even started lamenting the subjective nature of my profession - how it's always open to discussion. How any kind of creativity is open to discussion, both negative and positive.

That evening, I cuddled up in bed after my tough day with a fresh issue of Elle, one of my all-time favorite magazines, as y'all know. I flipped to the editor's note and, to my amazement, Roberta Myers was defending a cover from the issue before! She talked about how Elle strives to publish "images to surprise, to convey a side of someone you may not have seen...." Lo and behold, she sounded a little insecure herself. But she courageously stood by her cover.

I know I've written about this topic before, in some form or fashion, but knowing that other magazine editors out there go through exactly what I go through is heartening. It's also a little scary and strange, knowing that no matter what publication I end up working with in my life, I'll encounter the same questions. The difference is, I'll eventually learn to be better at dealing.

Anyway, back to the lunch scene at Page's.

"I think you do a great job," said Courtney, as I placed my order with her for fried shrimp.
"I always pick up your magazine."

"Thank you," I replied with a smile. "That means a lot to me."

And it does. And it will. The great thing about doing creative work is the chance to live each day like it's an adventure. And part of that adventure is being open to discussion, both negative and positive.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

New Adventures in the Old Kitchen.

I grew up with my grandmother - who is an excellent cook - preparing the majority of my meals. She'd make an array of classic dinners, from beef stew to chicken with rice. I took it slightly for granted as a kid, but now I recognize that she has mad skills. She's also a killer cake baker.

My sister took after her, always inquiring about how to prepare certain dishes, particularly traditional, Lebanese plates that my grandmother only made on special occasions. Marie is definitely more talented than me. But she's also always had more of an interest in the art of cooking. I've always been more like my mom; I can put something simple together, but my passion for eating always outweighed my passion for putting food together.

I don't know if it's been the chillier than usual temps this winter, or just a newfound inspiration in the kitchen, but I've been making food at home a lot more. And yes, I'm enough of a newbie that I need to brag about it (at age 34). There are always the usual reasons to cook meals at home: You'll save money; you'll be healthier. However, I've compounded a list of additional reasons I like making food at home.

  • My computer is nearby, as are my books, papers and anything else I might need to jot down a poem, take photos of my food without receiving withering looks from a tableful of people, etc. 
  • Genessa often comes home, asks what I'm making, and sounds mildly impressed when I announce the evening's project. 
  • The grocery store is apparently a good place to meet men, or so I hear. I haven't met one there yet. 
  • I can listen to Pandora. 
  • The smell of the food cooking pretty much counts as an appetizer. I think I eat a little less at home, because I'm not as frantic when I finally sit down with my plate. 

And, if you're wondering what I've been making as of late, it's nothing to get ALL excited about. Here, a short list.

  • French toast with a side of oranges 
  • Salmon with Brussels sprouts tossed in balsamic, olive oil and bacon bits 
  • cheese and onion omelet with toast 
  • steak and eggs with a side of spinach 
  • fajitas with steak and bell peppers 

So, as you can see, I'm still a beginner. But I'm getting better. I didn't mean to make a resolution for 2014, but I think I've come up with one without meaning to: Eat at home at least a few times per week.

And flirt with a man in the grocery store.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Here's Looking at 34.

My birthday was over the weekend and I turned 34. I can't believe it. Luckily, I've been so bombarded by the well wishes of my friends and family (who downright spoiled me this year) that I haven't had the time to dwell on the aging process. Whew!

Normally, the gift du jour during birthdays is a shot of liquor or a glass of champagne during the party - and I did get plenty of those. But this year I also racked up a few nice gifts. Here's the short list:

a homemade journal, made by my pal Jim
gift cards to Chick Fil A and Barnes & Noble (two of my FAVORITE places)
cake and cupcakes (chocolate and red velvet!)
designer stationary
candles with fine scents
homemade birthday cards
homemade candy, made by my pal Emily
a book journal - I called it the "old-fashioned version of Goodreads"
lottery tickets

So, as you can see, I was overwhelmed by the generosity of my people. But I pretty much feel that way every single day, because their unwavering support and friendship gets me through whatever life tosses onto my (cake) plate.


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Not About Baseball But About the Pitch.

I once picked up this book at a thrift shop on freelance writing. You want to know something even funnier? The book is from the 1970s - and I bought it just a few years ago, in the thick of our ongoing social media and Internet frenzy. Still, this book has helped me as a freelance writer more than many other sources I've consulted. For one thing, it introduced me to the magazine pitch, a skill any successful freelance writer needs tucked under her belt.

Writers don't discuss pitches too often. Not sure if it's because we think we'll steal one another's ideas or simply laugh at the ideas for being no good. (Or both.) Recently, I've been (secretly) pitching a few magazines that are, for the moment anyway, a little out of my league. But it's because I've been coming up with ideas.

Here's the thing about pitching. Once you come up with a good idea and get an editor to listen, your foot is in the door. Ever notice how magazines publish plenty of repetitive stuff - from how to meet a man to five new ways to wear a white shirt to earth-friendly products to clean your household? But you can't address an editor and pitch the same old boring ideas about meeting men; you won't get his or her attention that way. You have to pitch something new and different. And if you come up with something fresh, the editor will take you seriously and know that you're capable of thinking new thoughts.

It seems weird that my 1970s pitch book helped me think new thoughts, but apparently I just needed a little guidance. You never know where ideas will come from.

Ironically, I just received a pitch from one of Mount Pleasant Magazine's contributors this evening - just now, as I'm writing this blog! I loved his suggestion and told him as much. At the end of the email I wrote, "Great pitch," followed by a smiley face.

It's gotta be good karma, right? Receive pitch and ye shall be received? Or something?