“The Writing Year”

Me

Hello again.

I’m sure you’ll all be very happy to know that I have indeed been writing since I last posted. The problem is that what I have written has mostly been unpolished scribblings of me sorting through small private problems – in a word, “unpublishable.” But I have decided that 2018 will be “The Writing Year” for me, because I love writing, and also because when I do it, I find I am a more focused, calmer person, and this allows me to be kinder and more patient with everyone around me. So, in an effort to just get on with it, I am abandoning originality and doing the same post everyone is doing – a list of my “resolutions.”

Let me preface this by saying that all of the things on this list are pieces of the larger goal of becoming “the woman I want to be.” When I think of her, the ideal Ann, I think of myself sitting in a café, in a white button-down shirt, with very clear skin, tapping away at my laptop – alternately thinking through and sorting out problems, and publishing other work in Vanity Fair. This Ann is happy, she is hydrated, she is kind and gentle and patient with people, she is smart and funny but polite, and she owns exactly the right clothes for every occasion and not one stitch extra; she is adventurous and she reads and writes constantly. She is, essentially, full of life, and totally alive. And so to that end, to become this lovely, lively version of myself, I have made these resolutions for 2018:

  • Prioritize getting 8 hours of sleep (most nights)
  • Submit essays somewhere
  • Take care of your back
  • Don’t buy any new clothes — you do not need them
  • Use up the lipsticks, lip balms, lotions and potions you already have
  • Get dressed for the day – you feel nicer when you look nice
  • Travel
    • Possible solo trip?
    • London in May
  • Address work stress √
  • Continue skincare routine
  • Continue saying no to things that do not make you happy
  • Continue swing dancing education
  • Continue surfing

Overall, I want to continue getting rid of things that don’t make me happy, and continue doing things that do make me happy. In the last couple of months, I have done a social media purge and unfollowed people and deleted apps that either distract or deplete me. I have ruthlessly cleaned out my closet and gotten rid of all the clothes that I never wear or never want to wear (and I did make a little bit of money consigning them!). I want to get rid of all the little distractions that take away from what I really want to be doing – writing, reading, really living in the world and having technology-free evenings with friends and family.

Life is happening RIGHT NOW. I don’t want to look back on this year and realize I spent 20% of it on my phone, browsing the J. Crew website for clothes I don’t need, or looking at Facebook pages of people I haven’t spoken to in 5 years. I think the key to this is to give myself the time to sleep, to write, to stretch, so I can be a kinder, more patient person. And I want to do all of this wearing one of the three button-down shirts I just brought to the cleaners to get all crisped up. I can learn to iron in 2019.

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Would You Send Me Your Favorite Quotes?

Other Peoples' Writing

I haven’t posted in months, but it is not for lack of trying! I’ve started handful of posts, but nothing is really coming together.

But I have had an idea – I turn 29 next Tuesday, and I want this year to be one full of writing. I wonder if my readers could send me their favorite quotes (about anything – aging, friendship, love, work, loss) in the hope that the words of other writers will unlock something in my head.

You can email me or leave them in the comments – I will appreciate every single one!

In the meantime, have a great weekend!

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Can Good Things Get Away?

Boys, Family & Friends, Other Peoples' Writing, Work

I often reread a letter John Steinbeck wrote to his son. The line that stays with me: “Nothing good gets away.”

Last week I cracked open a fortune cookie: “Don’t wait for your ship to come in, swim out to it.” I kind of liked that too.

Can both sentences be true? At first they seemed at odds, but now I think they may be two parts of the same story. Maybe nothing good gets away, but you still have to throw your hat in the ring, don’t you — for the job, for the guy, for the record deal? Good things can get away, maybe, if you don’t go after them. There are lots of fish in the sea, yes — but you have to throw a line.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m not swimming hard enough. Should I be submitting these essays somewhere? Should I be saving more diligently? Should I be looking harder for Mr. Right? Should I be backpacking around the world instead of doing the 9-to-5 thing?

But I’ve now and then examined and appraised each alternative version of my life, and decided, “No, not right now,” and put each back in the top drawer, closed it up until the next bad day at work, the next important birthday, the next reminder of my mortality, when I pull them out to reexamine and reassess. The truth is that nothing is stopping me from quitting my job and hopping the next plane to Bogotá. If I wanted to, I could make it my project to get married in the next year. I could be submitting pieces all over town. But I guess I don’t really want to do any of those things right now. That’s what I come back to, I just don’t want any of that bad enough.

Anyone familiar with my particular configuration of neuroses knows that when I really want something, I’m obsessive. I swim (thrash) out to it. I am historically quite relentless in my pursuit of what I really, really want. (This may be why I feel a certain masochistic delight in paddling out with my surfboard through a set of waves that keep holding me back, pushing me under—ha ha, waves! I know I’m going to get beyond the break, even if I get warped for 15 minutes. Once I have decided to do something, I am doing it.)

I don’t want to regret not going for it, whatever ‘it’ is. In my youth (This is still funny right? Because I’m still in my youth, right?), I spent a lot of time worrying about “what other people would think.” And while I was worrying about what the other seventh graders thought of my dance moves, maybe I did let good things get away. Happiness doesn’t just appear; you create the circumstances, don’t you? And sometimes good things do just show up, but you’ve still got to smile at them, don’t you?

I think you have to swim out to your ship, but that’s only half of the story. If what you’re swimming to is right, it will stick — a job, a friend, a partner, a flattering style of dress, a number-one radio single.

Sometimes, maybe you’ll mistake someone else’s ship for your own. In that case, even if it feels almost right, let it get away. The Good ship (Lollipop?), your ship (mine is surely called The Good Ship Lollipop) is probably just beyond the break.

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Getting Noticed

Boys

I’ve discovered something recently: I think I value thoughtfulness most in people, and to have someone in your life who not only tries to avoid doing things that will make you unhappy, but who actively tries to make you happy, is an extraordinary thing.

Although in a romantic partner I think it becomes even more important, it has been the thoughtful actions of friends that have revealed this to me. I’ll give you an example of what I mean: Once, I had invited people over for dinner, but got caught up at work and was running really late. My roommate texted: “I cut up all the ingredients for dinner and preheated the oven. I know you’re running late and you’re going to be stressed.” Almost cried I was so relieved.

Another: I had lunch with two friends, and realized upon sitting down at their nearby apartment that I’d forgotten my umbrella at the restaurant. One of them wordlessly laced her shoes back up and dashed out of the apartment to retrieve it.

It’s someone noticing you’re uncomfortable at a party, and coming over to stand next to you. It’s someone noticing that you keep reaching across the table for the butter, and pushing it toward you. It’s someone remembering that you like HAIM, and adding it to his playlist when you’re around. It’s someone really listening to you, really paying attention.

It’s nothing big, ever. But I think it’s the accumulation of little kindnesses that, for me, solidify friendships, and I wonder if it’s been the lack of them (on my part or the suitor in question) that has halted budding romances.

As I have only recently put my finger on this quality, it’s hard to say whether it’s been a deal-breaker with previous dates, but I have started to notice that many people who are close to me have it, and many others who have passed through and out of my life do not.

But I don’t think people are even consciously doing these thoughtful things most of the time. In romances, I think “it” is there or it’s not, and if “it” is, you naturally do nice things for one another. You remember so-and-so likes this author, or wanted to try that restaurant, or loves carousels or sunsets or whatever, and you’re delighted to delight them by making plans around what they like. Am I simplifying? Someone tell me. I’m really asking.

Many of us have rehashed and analyzed and tried to figure out “where it all went wrong” upon receiving the standard breakup text about the lack of “connection,” (or about being “very busy the next few weeks” or just not being “ready for a relationship right now”), but it’s a waste of time (though I like to brood for 24 hours when sloughed off by a love interest – then, onto the next). I don’t think there’s a moment where you could have said something different and changed the entire trajectory of the relationship. I think if someone doesn’t want to see you again, it probably just wasn’t there. And there’s literally nothing you can do about it. And isn’t that actually kind of a comfort? So take a moment, weep for what was never, ever going to be, and then move on.

No one can control to whom they are magnetized, and this should also be a comfort after a fledgling relationship dissolves. Proof: Haven’t we all overlooked the mediocre table manners of someone we really liked, but been much harsher on the new haircut of someone we didn’t? Haven’t you rearranged your schedule to make plans with someone you were interested in? No? You’re lying.

I think this is a healthy attitude to carry into the new season: Summer’s just begun. Possibility is in the air. There’s so much jilting ahead. So — come at me, (thoughtful) bros.

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My Fifth Grade “Manifesto”

Family & Friends, Me


AK 10-ish

The “shady lady” herself


In cleaning out my closet “back home” last weekend, I discovered an 18-year-old school assignment in a red binder, an “autobiography” I produced when I was ten years old. The girl-writer considered herself a “semi-athlete” and imagined herself working as a fashion designer in London when she grew up, but in the present, well, let me just give you some of the best lines:

In describing my sister, Claire, then 9 years old:
“She has many friends, (but to tell you the truth, I don’t know how she keeps them all, with her attitude.)”

In response to the prompt: I’d like to tell my teacher…
“that we all have lives to[o]. We don’t go home to paradise. It’s not just adults that are stressed out, kids are too.”

In describing my mother, likened to an object (I guess this was part of the assignment):
“My mom is like a picture on a mantle. Very neat and never does anything wrong. You never know she there but she’s watching from the mantle. She’s always carefully watching you, and will find out what you don’t tell from another sibling, who is mad at you.”

I was also keen to tell my friends that, “I can be serious too. Some of them still don’t know that, so sometimes I get treated unfairly and not nicely and I’m usually left out of the serious conversation because I’m too silly…I am a human being. Not a doll that you can do whatever you want with, or hit. No, I’m not those things. I’m Ann Kaiser, and I’m registered as an American citizen, so I’d like to be treated that way.” [Editor’s note: What the hell was going on in the fifth grade that year?]

I was, of course, hysterical, as was the rest of my family, as I read them selections of one of my earliest works, basically a Burn Book in which they featured prominently.

I sometimes remember myself as a sweet, sort of shy child, existing in a misty goodness and vague undeveloped personality, but as evidenced by the slanderous illustrated work of non-fiction that I constructed–and boldly handed in to a teacher–as a 10-year-old, I was kind of a bitch. And honestly I feel a little good about it–like, definitely embarrassed, but also like, hey this chick is weird and individual and insecure but demands some goddamn respect. 

But the core of “me” really hasn’t changed, I just understand myself better now. I see myself in context. I’m not measuring myself against siblings or classmates or friends, and the slights and opinions of other people don’t make dents in me in the way they did 18 years ago. Really I just care a lot less if people think I am silly or dumb or untalented or un-athletic or whatever it is.

But I remember it all. I remember feeling misunderstood, I remember being on the fringes of popularity. I remember being the only girl in the class not invited to a pool party around that time, and I remember crying in the family mini-van after school when one of my teacher’s made fun of me in front of the whole class after I mixed up a presentation on the valves of the heart. I remember wanting long hair very badly because mine was short and people told me it looked liked a boy’s, and I remember being told I wasn’t good at math, and I remember trying to find an identity–was I a pretty girl, an athlete, a musician, a smart girl? I remember being called silly and people thinking I was stupid because I giggled a lot. I remember being called “nice” and not really liking the implication of that. I remember it all because the girl who wrote that book is still in here somewhere, and although I have grown up and into a thicker skin, of course I sometimes still care what other people think. The difference is that now, I’ve got a hard candy shell off which most insults and criticisms bounce (a few can crack it, though). I see now that adults don’t have all the answers–they’re just people!–and kids have even fewer. Now, I give more weight to the opinions of people I admire, who I think are good and fair and can see me, and much less weight to the type of person who would still exclude one classmate from her pool party, if given the chance (where were her parents!, that’s what I think now). I see how much I value kindness now, and compassion, and the feeling that someone “gets” me.

If I could go back and tell that girl-writer how things would turn out, I wouldn’t. She figures it out, and taking her sweet time in doing it has made the lessons stick. Some of the things she was insecure about are what this woman-writer loves most about her: I do laugh a lot, but I love to laugh! I love a boy-cut haircut now, and have chosen to wear one at different times even though I’m a girl. What do you think of that?

To look back on a ten-year-old’s version of my life is funny, but humbling–I know I wrote this, and you don’t grow up and become someone completely different; you don’t, at age 18, cast off all doubt and insecurities and suddenly become the complete, “finished” adult version of yourself. You are never finished–but I think you can get better with age.

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Decisions, Decisions

Me

I was talking to a friend recently about this idea that any one decision could set your life on a completely different course. She was very worried about making the “wrong” choices, but how can you really ever know what’s wrong or right? You’ll never get to go back and choose the other way. You can only make a decision with the information you have at the time.

It made me think of a couple of books on writing I’ve been reading over the last couple of months. All of them say the same thing about developing the story: Get to know your characters, let them reveal themselves to you, and let them go. Don’t try to contrive a plot – it will be obvious if you’re trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Just let the characters tell you what they want to do, and let everything shake out how it wants to.

To me, that seems a pretty good road map for the real story of one’s life: Get to know the characters – most importantly, the main one, yourself – and then see how it all shakes out. You can’t control the other characters, you can only discover what decisions you make in each moment, and let the rest unfold. Every choice I make is just building this wonderful story that is just mine, maybe the only thing that belongs just to me.

It really cuts down on worrying, when you think of it this way. (Plus everyone knows that the stuff that’s really worth worrying about is the stuff that sucker punches you out of the blue, the stuff you never could have foreseen.)

But if bad things can happen without warning, so can really good things. Planning everything out – I will get X job, I will fall in love at X age with X type of person, and then we’ll get married in Savannah in June and have X number of kids and then in X years move to the suburbs – that seems a little boring, doesn’t it? Aren’t the best stories the ones with twists? (And in most stories, they’re coming, whether you like it or not.) Isn’t truth stranger than fiction sometimes, and how exciting is that!? I’d like to get to 50 and 70 and 95 and think, geez I never saw half of that coming, what a life.

Sometimes, I think back to “this time last year” and catalog of all the things I had no idea were coming my way, good and bad, and I have to say, I wouldn’t go back and change much (and there’s really no point rehashing – many an author has cringed about lines in an already-published book, but once it’s printed, there’s no more editing). I am kind of tickled to know that there was a time when I didn’t know my closest friends, a time before I discovered J.D. Salinger’s stories about the Glass family, a time before I even dreamed of living in New York. On January 1, 2016, I didn’t even know I’d be going to South Africa that summer, had not even a twinkle of an idea that I’d be flying to Oslo a few months afterward. (I also didn’t know that a cut of meat the waitress just called “gland” was considered a “very good cut” in Stockholm, and had I known, I would not have ordered the sliders there – but you win some, you lose some.)

You can only make decisions with the information you have at that moment, and I just try to make decisions that will make me happy (and, hopefully, make other people happy too). I don’t know if I’ll regret anything down the line. I don’t know if I’ll wish I had done X, Y, or Z now, when I am 38 or 48 (except I am sure I would regret not wearing sunblock – so I do, all the time). How can I know? At age 18, I had no idea what I’d be like or what my life would be like at 28 – but I think Ann-at-18 would have been thrilled. I can never go back and ask myself, though. Ann-at-38 won’t be able to ask of her previous iterations either. Who knows where she’ll be? Who knows who she’ll be? I just hope I can keep writing and find out.

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Polite Conversation

Me

I have for nearly 28 years subscribed to the idea that politics and religion have no place in polite conversation. It made (and still makes) me uncomfortable to discuss either, even—or perhaps especially with–friends. I feel too uneducated in religions traditions and government structure to have a firm opinion on a lot of issues, and I am very afraid of offending.

Though the conversations about the things that are the most important to people are by nature uncomfortable–to disagree can feel like a slight to someone’s whole value system–I don’t think we have the luxury of avoiding these topics of conversation anymore.  We cannot let fear, or discomfort, or pride, keep us from having the conversations that make ‘other’ not so ‘other.’ We have to talk about what makes us different, so we can see that we really are very much the same.

To hateful ideologies, I cannot listen. But to the concerns and fears and opinions of others, I am going to try to listen before I speak, as difficult as that may be.

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Writing, Walking, Thinking

Me, NYC

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” – Joan Didion

I recently reread Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, written about the year following her husband’s death, and discovered that in addition to sharing a town (New York City), Joan and I share a birthday. We also share this habit – writing helps me figure out what I think, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means, too, so I’m resolved now to do more of it, even when I don’t have anything in particular to write about. I just really enjoy it, and find it kind of spiritual, maybe is the word. But I don’t sit down to write until I feel I have some relevant and relatable topic to opine upon, and now I think, the hell with that. I’ll just start typing and see what comes out and share it or not.

I am currently thinking, among other things, that I have become much too attached to my phone. Although I have found the Merriam-Webster app very useful (yesterday, I was able to produce the definitions of the words “limpid” and “precocious”), I do find that I spend more time than I am comfortable with flipping through other people’s instagram photos, or killing time reading such irrelevant articles as “The 10 Things No One Tells You About Dating in Your 40s” (reminder, I am 27) and “Eyelash Extensions—What You Need to Know” (I have zero interest in eyelash extensions). I have spent hours watching hair and makeup tutorials on YouTube although I never intend to use any of the tips and have had basically the same “beauty” routine since I visited the Clinique counter in my senior year of high school and have very, very little interest in changing it.

I don’t give myself much time for silence, or doing nothing at all, although the times I do go for a walk by myself, sans phone, I feel so free! I feel kind of powerful and like I’m doing something a little dangerous—no one can reach me (even though, oftentimes when I return to my phone, no one has tried to reach me). In the last few weeks, I have walked home from work or meeting friends in Manhattan, down to the Brooklyn Bridge and back home (about a two-hour walk). I haven’t listened to music. I haven’t called anyone while I’m walking. I haven’t texted or snap-chatted or instagrammed or even checked the time. I just walked, and saw what was happening, and thought whatever I thought, and told no one else about it, which is both a strange and scrumptious thing for me, who is used to sharing many of my thoughts in real time via text or social media.

I have come to enjoy doing things alone—having brunch or seeing a movie or whatever—but a walk is something special, I think because my body is moving in some direction, and it seems this encourages my mind to move in some direction too. Usually everything is moving kind of fast in life, and all of a sudden I’ll realize I feel like I am all tangled up and nothing is in line and I can’t see what I’m thinking or where I’m going or what I’m doing. But when I walk–and when I write–I can think, and I find life is much more pleasant. So I’m resolved now to write more, walk more, give myself time to think more, and make an effort to experience things in front of me, rather than on my phone.

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Treading Water

Family & Friends

‘I must be a mermaid, Rango. I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.’ – Anaïs Nin

It is possible that I am a high-maintenance friend. Some examples of my requirements for the position: respond to my texts within 4 hours, listen to the same song I like 5 times in a row at parties (it’s “Pillowtalk” so no hardship there), show up more or less on time, let me read this passage of this book to you and react with awe – but do not ask for context, I’m busy reading! It’s nice if you remember my siblings’ names, the town I grew up in, the distinct identities of my ten friends named ‘Kaitlin’ – you know, ‘the details.’

But the only thing I truly need is access to the depth of someone’s feelings; to feel like
I have found a safe place in someone else, and to feel like I am one for them. This has always been by understanding of what friendship is, and I assumed it was a universal truth.

I want to be a sounding board for friends’ problems and dilemmas; I want the whole story. I want to make their lives better; I want to discuss; I want to enjoy their good days with them and I want to improve their bad days. I want to be a soft place to land, a non-judgmental listener and reliable movie date. I want to be there for them, and I want them to be there for me, and I want it to be kind of easy.

I don’t mind putting in some work to get things off the ground–you have to feel each other out, see if this is someone you can trust with your secret things, who won’t tell so-and-so what you said about them, who will come all the way to Brooklyn for brunch. But in order to really be a friend, I think, and to really have a friend, you have to give each other all the tools to really cut each other up, and trust that neither of you will use them. In my mind, a friend not only keeps your secrets, they protect them. They know where you’re vulnerable and they don’t attack there and they try not to let others attack there either.

Some people will lay this all out there without much investigation. Other people need a little more time to open up; they’re more cautious, more private. I have both of these types in my circle, but over time I have reached the same depths of friendship with both, regardless of how things began. But with some people, it seems like you’re just treading water, forever. This is the type that confuses me. Don’t you trust me? Don’t you know I won’t hurt you? Why won’t you show me your hand? Don’t you see mine? Don’t you see me?

Perhaps I have been luckier than other people in relationships, or I am more resilient, or I have a bad memory and have forgotten the people who were bad to me. I don’t hand over all my secrets immediately, but I’m not afraid to either, after some time. I have misjudged people and I have been sliced, and it hurt like hell, and maybe it made me a little wiser–but that was then, and this is now. Sometimes you’re going to get hurt, and sometimes the person who hurts you isn’t going to care or apologize or make it up to you. And that’s really painful.

But there are other people who will apologize and make it up to you. I don’t think being a friend to someone means you never hurt them–the people you care about are the ones with the ammo to wound you, and they will make mistakes. They may let you down. But if they love you, you’ll figure it out. They’ll stick around. If someone cares, you don’t have to hold onto them too tightly. You can’t, really–you can’t make anyone care about you if they just don’t, as painful a realization as that is. You can’t make someone be a good friend to you if they don’t want to be, even if you’ve been a good friend to them.

Friendship seems to be almost a miraculous thing–some people just care about each other, without having to do much of anything. I have been very lucky to have come across people like this at different points in life, and we’ve been simpatico, and they’re still around. There have been other people who wanted more from me than I wanted to give them, and others still who I wanted more from than they wanted to give me, and those relationships mostly fizzled before they really got off the ground.

But it is hard for me to let go of things I really, really want–I am after all the same girl who hounded the salespeople at Ann Taylor for weeks in the 7th grade until a specific dress went on sale, and sat through 14 interviews over the course of 18 months in the effort to work in New York. When I think I have found a kindred spirit, it is very difficult for me to let them go if they don’t see it too. But eventually, I have to, and believe that if they are meant to be in my life, they will be, and if they are not, I’m creating space for someone or something that is.

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New

Family & Friends

Today my coworker’s sister had a baby. I have not met the baby. I have not even met the sister. But my point is, as the family waited for the baby to arrive today, I was struck by the not-at-all-new idea that this baby, in the hours right before she was born, had her whole life ahead (which then caused me to cry at my desk for a few minutes). In the hours right before a baby is born, it is not yet afraid of anything. It has experienced no disappointments, or joys. Everything is ahead. It has so much to look forward to: There will be a moment when she first sees color, when she first feels the sun on her face, when she first experiences the sensation of walking, when she first tastes lemonade. Is that not actually the most incredible thing?

Almost every human being experiences these things, but almost always before he or she is really conscious of them, before he or she really appreciates them. I don’t remember the first time I felt the sun on my face, or the first step I ever took, or the first time I tasted lemonade. I was probably in a developmental rush, or unable to fully comprehend the significance of those experiences. But thinking about this new tiny person and how, starting today, she will experience everything for the first time, I cannot help but think of how exciting it is, how fantastic that is. I feel excited for her, whom I have never met, to experience these things that I have already experienced. Surely she will have disappointments and frustrations sometime, but hopefully, for a long while, only discoveries and happiness and triumphs—enough good stuff to fortify her against the other stuff she’ll come up against later.

It seems unavoidable that life gets more complicated as the years go on. But I think the happiest adults may be the ones for whom the wisdom of maturity has deepened the appreciation of life’s firsts.

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