Author Archives: joanna

Anything but write

I’ll do anything but write.

I’ll clean my room, brush the cats, reorganize my closets.

I’ll do anything but write. Because writing is terrifying.

Of course, I love to write. It’s why I moved to Chicago. But in doing so, I put something out into the universe that I can’t take back. I went after a fantasy of mine that’s never seen the light of day. Something that, until recently, lived as a picture-perfect daydream in the back of my mind. What’s going to happen when I drag it out? When I tear it from its safe place and say, “Here, World, is my most precious dream. Please discuss.”

That’s why, today, I’ll do anything but write. I’ll get a flu shot, I’ll buy some running shoes, I’ll stare at my cats — anything and everything to put off what’s most important.

My sketches need rewrites. My blog needs an update. But my face needs a fucking dermatologist. And that’s something I can tackle in a phone call.


Tonight!, I tell myself. Tonight, we write! But first, isn’t it Harry Potter weekend? And shouldn’t I watch something happy — just for a minute! — to get myself out of this crotchety headspace?

I turn on ABC Family and trick myself into forgetting how Harry gets Slughorn’s memory juice. Then, I genuinely forget who dies at the end of the series (everyone), and, 30 minutes later, find myself balls deep in a Harry Potter internet wormhole.

I did the same thing last month, only with Straight Outta Compton.

I’ll do anything but write, because being creative is uncomfortable. “What if I suck? I probably suck. And if I suck, what’s the point?”

I do my best to ride out these thoughts. I imagine what my old therapist would say. “Who cares if you suck? You’re taking classes to get better.”

She’s right. Of course she’s right. So, in an effort to quash my inner demons, I gave myself a goal: I’ll write for an hour, and then I’ll stop. I’ll blog about something (anything!) for 60 minutes, and then I’ll publish it without obsessively editing it for weeks.

So, my hour is up. Dog walking calls. Which means by the time you read this, I’ve already picked up some poop.



A Freelance Writer’s Style Guide

After making strides as a beauty blogger, I’ve decided to try my hand at fashion blogging. It’s a logical move for me. People always ask about my wardrobe. In fact just last week, my roommate opened my closet and said, “Jo, where are all your clothes?”

I’ve decided to launch my fashion empire with this: Dressing for Success: A Freelance Writer’s Style Guide. But before I show you what a successful freelance writer wears, I’ll tell you what she does:

I start my day the way any go-getter would: at 9:30 a.m., with a cup of coffee, a protein shake and 1-2 episodes of Jersey Shore.

Once I’m good and caffeinated, I open my laptop and get to work. I respond to emails, apply for jobs, work on freelance projects and harass people for more of them.

I check the clock. It’s nearly lunch time. I break from work and dedicate the next 45 minutes or so to my studies. Last week, I taught myself how to French braid. Yesterday, I researched Jersey Shore: Where Are They Now? Today, I read up on sporadic incontinence in cats.

Around 2:00, it’s time for lunch. I make a beautiful spread. As I eat, I pretend the cats are my coworkers and the kitchen is my canteen.

After lunch, I consider showering. I decide against it. Dirty hair is easier to French braid, anyways. So I wash my face and brush my teeth as a make-good to the hygiene gods. I change out of my day wear and into my active wear. Sometimes, I go for a walk. Sometimes, I go for a run. The variety is, without a doubt, overwhelming.

And with that, I present my day-wear or, as I call it, My 4-Point Uniform for Freelance Success!



Lounge pants (from my sister), “virgin” t-shirt (from my mom), open toe Ugg boots (from high school), and an oversized cat sweatshirt (custom-made).

You’ll notice I like to mix patterns and textures. My lounge pants are a fine, silky blend, whereas my sweater is a mix of felt, cotton and googly eyes.

I also employ a mix of blues and greens. I find that cooler hues make my four-day-old hair pop in a way warmer colors can’t.

Finally, on my feet, I don a trade secret we in the industry have kept hush for years. They’re called Uggs (but you didn’t hear it from me 😉 !) Everyone styles them differently – over the pants, under the pants, rolled and then pulled over the pants – but I find them most comfortable with a little hole just above the left big toe.


Toe flow.

Zoo Lessons

It’s a beautiful Friday morning in Chicago. My friends are at work. The cats are napping. So I decide to go to the zoo. After all, it’s free.

I download a podcast and hop on the bus. I’m very proud of myself. I take out my phone to brag to my friends about my super cool city-cred, at which point I realize I’m on the wrong bus.

I’m not sure what to do. How will it look when I get off after just one stop? What will the bus driver think? I wait for a stop that seems like a plausible intended destination and I de-board. I’m scared to get on another bus, so I walk the mile or so back to where I began.

I board the correct bus and arrive at the zoo some 30 minutes later. I have a wonderful time. I spend a few hours there, taking my time with each and every animal. I do a few laps around the camel. I show some kids where the sloth is hiding. I buy some postcards and chocolate and decide to wrap up my tour.


I find a bus stop, which I’m 80% certain is mine. I double check the sign. As I do, an older woman – who is also waiting for the bus – asks me if I need help. I tell her I’m new to town and want to make sure I’m on the right bus. I already got on the wrong bus this morning, I explain.

She confirms that I am, in fact, at the right place. Then she starts asking me questions. Where I’m from, what I do, where I live, how old I am, etc. She asks if I’m single. I say yes. She pulls from her wallet a photo of her son.

“You should meet my son,” she says. “He’s 28 and single, too.” She winks.

I laugh politely, wondering if my mom pulls this same trick.

“I’m going to set you up. He’s very handsome, no?”

I nod.

“He’s 6’3″. Only has two daughters.” I nod again, this time more frantically. I’m not ready to be a stepmom.

“Let me give you my number,” she says.

I freeze. This is starting to feel weird. I take down her number and decide this is the best case scenario. At least she doesn’t have mine.

“What’s yours?” she asks.

I use the next millisecond to weigh the pros and cons of giving her my number. Pro: I give her my number to avoid hurting her feelings. Con: I give her my number to avoid hurting her feelings, but she kills me anyways.

I decide to give her my number.

We board the bus. We sit together. She alters her route so we can talk longer. She starts telling me how she’s going to show me the city. Take me around town. What am I doing the rest of the day? What am I doing next weekend? We’ll go out. She’ll have me “bouncin’ from the hood to the suburbs,” she says.

At this point, I realize I’ve made a terrible mistake.

“I’m getting car sick so I have to stop talking,” I say.

I look forward pointedly, hoping she’ll take the hint.

She does.

We get off at the same stop. I speed-walk the opposite direction of my house.  I walk a mile or so out of my way until I’m confident I’ve lost her.

I circle back towards home. I’m pissed at myself. Disappointed in how quickly I broke down and gave out my information. This was supposed to be my big zoo day! And now I’ve spoiled it.

I text my roommates. They make me feel better.

“Always, always bring headphones,” they say. “No one talks to you when you’re wearing headphones.”

And thus marks Chicago Lesson #1.

The Arrival

I rolled into Chicago with a cooler of crab salad, a car full of cat poop and the pitiful tear-streaked look of defeat.

It was not how I imagined my grand arrival.

TheMoveNo. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It was supposed to be magical. A sappy, happy-tears filled trip with my parents I’d never forget. There was supposed to be laughing. And bonding. And champagne. And by God, at some point, there was supposed to be Kanye West’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothin’.”

Instead, the tone was unmistakably set when James pooped himself 30 minutes into the drive.

To say the $60+ I’d spent on cat-calming oils was a waste is an understatement. Joan was losing fur at a rapid pace, so I didn’t move, eat or drink the entire trip for fear of disturbing her. James’s mess was impossible to remove from his crate without risking his escape, so it traveled the remaining 280 miles with us. I was stressed to tears about my cats. And my mom was stressed to tears about me stressing to tears about my cats.

In short, the ride was bad. But the goodbye was much worse. As we were driving to dinner (my mom and I in my car, my dad behind us in the truck), we learned that my parents’ Air B&B fell through. And so instead of going to dinner, we were forced to pull over and say our goodbyes from the side of the road.

I’ll paint the scene:

“Just go, just leave!” I wailed from the front seat of my car.

“I can’t leave you like this. Joey, please! Eat this sandwich!” My mom begged, pushing a peanut butter and butter sandwich into my hands.

“I don’t. I can’t. Not now. Not like this.”

It went on like this for a few minutes. Me, wailing incoherently. My mom, shoving the remaining car snacks she’d packed (crab salad and deviled eggs) into my arms.

The most embarrassing part was that a few weeks ago, I was excited at the thought of starting over. Of moving to the city with nothing but my cats and a pending Medicaid application. I was uncharacteristically calm in the days leading up to the move. I’d laugh when people asked me about the new job I didn’t have, or the money I hadn’t saved.

I guess it was funny until it was real.

But I suspect homesickness is to be expected. Even from cold, dead-hearted folks like me. So, I’m taking it day by day. And every day gets better.

Plus, I’m now living with two of my dearest friends and, most important, a third cat.


Our new house consists of three girls and three cats. 


A Valentine’s Day Tumble

It’s February 14. Valentine’s Day. The time is 8 a.m.

I’ve decided to look nice today. It’s V Day. I’m not normally a romantic – far from it, in fact. But I need an excuse to buy this $22 bottle of wine I’ve been eyeing. So I decide to make a day of it.

I curl my hair, paint on some eyeliner and don my finest red shirt.

I throw down my morning vitamins, gather my things, and head downstairs to put on some underwear before leaving for work.

Once in the basement, I take off my boots and pants. I reach into the dryer to pull out a fresh pair of underwear – and it hits me. I’ve made a terrible mistake. The same mistake I made during the bowl-cut reversal of 2013. I took too many vitamins at once. And now, I am going to vomit.

I panic. What do I do? Where do I go? Do I have time to put my pants back on? Can I even make it upstairs?

Horrified at the thought of a housemate finding me pantless and puking in our laundry room, I yank on my jeans and sprint upstairs.

But I’m in socks.

Thick purple socks. For Valentine’s Day.

So I slip.

And I fall.

I careen down the stairs at a breakneck speed.

My body crashes into the door (which I’d shut behind me), splintering the wood and busting the lock.

I emit a long, tearless wail.

And then another.

My knees are broken. My door is broken. And I have no choice but to lie down to die.

I imagine the paramedics finding my body.

“28-year-old female. Caucasian. Covered in vomit and knee bones.”

“Man, is she…”

“Yeah. Dressed for Valentine’s Day.”

“How horrible. Think she had a fella?”

“Nah. Neighbors said she was single.”

“Christ. Good thing we got to her before the cats did.”

A few minutes later, I regain the use of my limbs.

I poke my kneecaps. And I am surprised to find them intact.

I unfurl my body from the heap I’ve formed at the foot of the stairs.

I email my maintenance man to tell him I might need a new door.

I email my boss to tell him I’ll be late – I fell down the stairs.

He responds, “Do you need a Life Alert necklace?”

I smile. It’s Valentine’s Day. And a man just offered me jewelry.


The Licki Brush

I received a delightful Christmas gift from a friend at work. It was a Licki Brush. What is a Licki Brush? It is, quite obviously, a tongue-shaped brush you put in your mouth so you can “lick” your cats. Duh.

Much to the horror of my friends and family, I was tickled to death by this unexpected little treat. Social grooming is everything in the cat world – the ultimate sign of acceptance. To finally bridge the gap from Poop-Sifter to Contributing Clowder Member would be the breakthrough of a lifetime.

I was, of course, a tad nervous about what this brush might symbolize. I mean, the signs were all there: not only did I receive a Licki Brush for Christmas, I also received a Snuggie, a Slanket and a new set of loungewear. My family is basically cajoling me into a life of solitude. Yeah, it’s all bubble baths and Kenny G mixtapes for now. But before you know it, I’ll be holed up for good. Trapped in a nest of my own making, living on garbanzo beans, boxed wine and tuna.


The Slanket: my go-to for fancy times.


The Snuggie: my choice for holidays, work and Dungeons and Dragons campaigns.

But that’s weeks from now. And not at all what I’d planned to write about.

No. Today, I review the Licki Brush.

As mentioned above, the Licki Brush is a tool for humans to groom their cats in true cat fashion. Like an As Seen on TV product, it masterfully treads the line between self-aware and utterly ridiculous. It is absurd and yet it makes sense. It is the answer for people, like me, who often wonder, “How can I be sure the Clark line stops with me?” Or, “How does one even begin to commit to a life of abstinence?”

The packaging is a light, bright sky blue. It’s clean and simple and thus not at all indicative of the experience of actually licking a cat (though I suspect this was intentional).


The brush itself is quite large – much larger than you’d expect. By my measurements, it is about twice the size of Joan’s little pea head. (Editor’s note: If you, too, have a cat with an abnormally small face, I suggest you wield the brush carefully.)

If I were making a list of pros and cons, I would first note that the brush is surprisingly satisfying to chew on. It’s like a big rubber block. A Kong for humans, if you will. On the downside, I found it difficult to juggle both chewing and drinking, and so I struggled to reach my ideal wine intake. And that I would not stand for.

Does it work? Does it really help you bond with your cats? Honestly, it’s too soon to tell. Joan and James had very different reactions to it. James made a run for it the moment I turned to face him. This did not surprise me, for he is my gentle giant. My Ferdinand.

Joan was a bit more interested. She inched closer, gave the brush a few good sniffs. I took this as a good sign, so I leaned in to groom her. At which point she countered with this:


I’ve yet to test my luck again.

The Doctor

Visiting the Doctor: A Hypochondriac’s Perspective

You walk in. You sign in using the communal waiting room pen. This disgusts you.

You hand the receptionist your insurance card in exchange for an annual wellness survey. You mouth “thank you” and scurry to a dark, unoccupied corner of the waiting room.

You glance at the survey. It asks you to circle any ongoing symptoms or general health concerns. You laugh. Because they have no idea what’s coming.

You pick apart the list of possible symptoms as one might a tapas menu. Mood swings? Sure! Night sweats? Why not? You crack your knuckles and begin to unleash a year’s worth of neuroses. Within minutes, you convince yourself that you’re dying, if not already dead.

You’re soon escorted back to the next holding pen. There, you strip down to your moose socks and don the dreaded cotton gown. Honestly, you don’t really think about the other naked bodies it’s touched. Until you sit down.

Days later, your doctor comes in and you chit-chat. You talk about your family, your health, the news, etc. You crack a few good jokes. She laughs. “I’m on a roll!” you think. And for the next few minutes, you smile like a smug little asshole, blissfully unaware your gown is wide open.

You move on to blood work.

You faint during blood work.

You come to in a high chair, doubled over at the waist with a trashcan between your ankles.

A nurse hands you a lollipop. You accept the lollipop. You get the lollipop stuck in her lab coat as she checks your vitals.

You mumble your apologies. She tells you to eat your lollipop. You tell her it touched her lab coat and now you’re scared to eat it. She hands you another lollipop and a small cup of water. You notice that the cup looks just like those used for urine samples, but you say nothing. What’s the point? Clearly, you’ve lost too much blood to live.

I asked the blood tech to take a picture of in case I died. Here it is.

I asked the blood tech to take a picture of me in case I died. Here it is.

Another nurse comes in. She asks how you’re feeling. You say “weird.” She asks if you have children. You say no. She says, “Well honey, then that ain’t ever gonna happen.” You agree. Wholeheartedly.

You sit in the high chair like a small child waiting to be released from dinner. Once you’re able to stand on your own, you’re cleared to go.

At check out, you’re given a printout of your medical conditions. It reads:


“My God,” you say to yourself. “I’m a catch.”