Some summer self-improvement

I read constantly. All day, nearly every day, for my job. I read for a living. Because of that, when I’m off the clock, whatever I do, I really do not want to keep reading. It hit me, while I was on a recent flight and trying to find something to fill my time, that something I used to love to do was now almost unbearable.

So as this summer continues and as it starts to wind down, I’m making a pledge to myself: I’m going to read more for pleasure, even if I don’t want to. Once I start reading, I don’t regret doing it. It’s just getting the urge to start. I’m deep into a Tom Holland historical non-fiction book about the end of the ancient world and the rise of Islam, “The Shadow of the Sword.” Next I’m planning to check off a book that’s long been on my list: Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods.”

I actually have my boyfriend to thank for this jump start. Sensing that I was becoming listless and in need of a hobby besides coming from and going to work and Netflix, he nudged me back toward my books. I’m also planning to take some time for myself to pick up some basic coding skills (which he’s promised to teach me at some point, but I’d like a head start).

Lately I’ve been trying to be more conscientious about myself and how I use my time. I wouldn’t call it a full-on existential crisis, but merely a renewed understanding that my time is limited and that zoning out to old “Friends” episodes is probably not the best use of it (I’m on season 9 now, though, so almost done). I’m also thinking about possible career moves in the future and am afraid of limiting myself or being pigeon-holed. A hobby might very well one day lead to a new career, or it can help keep me sane. Either way, I’m making this my summer of self-improvement.

Trip-planning as a couple

As September gets closer, I’m putting final touches on my planned holiday with my boyfriend. This isn’t our first vacation together, but it’s the first one that requires international travel for both of us, and the first one to require substantial planning and booking ahead of time. With our previous trip to Manchester and the Lake District, we showed up at hotels where we’d booked, ate where we wanted and went to whatever museums we wanted. It was generally unhurried and relaxed. This year, though, the planning is more intensive.

I booked my flight for September back in March, and at about that same time, booked tickets to see “Much Ado About Nothing” at the Globe Theatre in London. This was for a play six months away and seats were still mostly sold out or unavailable. This past weekend, I managed to secure tickets for a Yo-Yo Ma solo performance at Royal Albert Hall, part of the BBC Proms concert series. The tickets sold out the same day they became available and I was lucky to get them.

Still ahead for booking: our return flight to Prague, Gatwick Express return tickets, tickets to visit the Sky Garden in London, ghost tour tickets in Prague, the Prague Card combination museum/transit pass, seven of our eight nights in hotels, some restaurants (including the Michelin-starred Alcron in Prague) and Thorpe Park tickets. Some things we’re doing were my idea, some were his idea and some came from both of us. It’s compromise, and it’s wonderful.

Just thinking about the sheer amount of stuff we’re fitting into this week is taxing. But that also makes it unique and amazing, the second in what I hope will be an extensive series of holidays, both long and short, for us as partners.

I’ve heard before that if you and your partner can travel successfully together, you’ll be OK. While we didn’t travel too extensively last time, we were able to catch trains and find hotels smoothly. I’d say we passed the initial hurdle. We didn’t fight or get frustrated with each other. This coming trip will require a little more coordination and put us more to the test, but I can’t wait. I love talking about it with my boyfriend and I love the two of us working together to create an experience that’s ours.

September to remember

I’ve spent the past couple of days meticulously planning a late summer trip with my boyfriend. We have a lot to celebrate, as he recently achieved an internship/training placement with a job offer at the end of it.

We decided to move our holiday from August to September, because his work placement starts in August and he wanted time to arrange his holiday time off.

Assuming he can get the time off, we’re spending a day in London, then heading off to Prague for four nights. Our Prague sightseeing list includes Prague Castle, the Old Jewish Cemetery, Charles Bridge, St. Vitus Cathedral and the Clementinum. The plan is to head back to London on a late flight, spend another day in the city (“Much Ado About Nothing” is playing at the Globe Theatre; it is my favorite Shakespearean play so it feels like serendipity), then visit Thorpe Park on our last day.

If he can’t secure the time off, then I’ll simply stay with him that week and we’ll do what we have time do in the area. The important thing is that we’ll be able to see each other after a year (?!) apart. Everything is coming together, and I couldn’t be happier to head back to my favorite city and discover another one.

‘House of Cards’ has a lady journo problem

Caution that there are some spoilers here, up to about the last 2-3 episodes of the third season. I don’t think it’s anything drastic but use your discretion.

The first thing a lot of people would ask me, when I told them I watched “House of Cards,” is what I thought of Zoe Barnes.

I’m a female journalist, she was a female journalist and most of my non-journalist friends and family apparently assumed that I’d root for her or find her to be some kindred spirit.

I did not.

I actually found her to be an entitled, unethical brat. At some point in the social media age, journalists became aware of themselves as a “brand” apart from the outlet for which they worked. The best reporters and editors brought their own followings along no matter where they worked. In that sense, Zoe’s aggressive self-promotion seemed like a response to this trend of “personal branding.”

But it will never be a trend to become sexually and emotionally involved with a source. So rather than root for Zoe when she began sleeping with Frank Underwood and launching her career off the manipulated intel he gave her (she more or less acted as his one-woman PR firm), I felt no camaraderie, only disgust. And when Janine Gorsky, who had been set up as a more experienced, more hard-nosed alternative to Zoe, confided to Zoe that she had in the past been “sucking, screwing, and jerking anything that moved just to get a story,” my confidence that “Cards” would ever get female journalists right plummeted. It was not just an issue with Zoe; it was lady journos in general, it seemed.

There was a brief flicker of hope near the end of Season 2 and through the early part of Season 3 when Ayla Sayyad replaced Zoe as the series’ journalism focus. She seemed to ask decent questions and managed to avoid sleeping with a source (that we saw) throughout her duration. Her reward for appearing to meet the bare competency threshold? Being dismissed from the White House press corps, sold out by a fellow journalist in exchange for access to information that had been under a moratorium. (And also, that is absolutely not how White House press credentials work.)

Kate Baldwin, Ayla’s successor, showed up with a lot of promise. She vowed to ask tougher questions and had hallmarks of being a grizzled veteran. That promise took a swan dive as soon as she began an affair with Thomas Yates, who was on the president’s payroll as, let’s call a spade a spade, a propagandist. That Thomas started out as an (uncooperative) source wasn’t a deterrent, nor did Kate seem particularly bothered by not covering scheduled events (aka the job for which she was getting paid) in order to have a tryst in a hotel room on the trail. To her credit, Kate does point out the conflict of interest when Thomas tries to leak to her a chapter of the book he’s writing, but at that point it’s too late and it comes off as incredibly half-assed.

So of the four prominent female journalists in the series, three of them have slept with their sources, one of them was railroaded out of her beat and one of them printed a congressman’s talking points more or less verbatim for the sole purpose of advancing her own career. Male journalists, interestingly, haven’t played as large of a role in the series. Tom Hammerschmidt, Zoe’s old boss, is treated as a hardass dinosaur who’s behind the times. Lucas Goodwin comes off as lovesick over Zoe and too easily falls into a trap, but there are hints that his previous work has been of good quality and effected change. Kate’s editor at the fictional Telegraph has a brief appearance, but all he really does is squash her barnstorming writing by pointing out the silly notion that writing a full-on column is not good practice for a supposedly impartial news reporter (and Kate’s response is to just move into column-writing, even at the expense of her climb up the masthead). All of the male journalists we meet have one major thing in common: We see none of them sleeping with sources.

Is this what Beau Willimon and Co. actually think female journalists (or journalists in general) do? I hope not. Is our line of work being made more tawdry for the sake of drama? Surely. Is there something more scintillating about a female reporter who can’t manage to not bang a source? I guess? I do know dozens of female reporters and editors, and every one of them takes her job very seriously. They’re talented enough and connected enough to rely on their skills and reputations. And seeing their work distilled into what’s on display in “House of Cards” is incredibly depressing, even though I do enjoy the show.

And yes, the show is fictional. It does not accurately convey the realities of Congress, the White House, lobbying, the United Nations, bilateral agreements, … nth. But being a female journalist is one thing that I at least have the experience to speak out about. Give us a female reporter or editor who isn’t a stenographer, a backstabber, a liar and/or a source bedmate. Too much to ask?

Czech mate

My boyfriend and I have decided to spend a few days in Prague this August. The plan is for me to fly to London, for us to spend a couple of days together there, then go to Prague, and then fly back to London for another couple of days.

Prague is one of the major cities I’ve wanted to visit but haven’t been able to yet. We agreed to go somewhere neither of us had been, and Prague fit the bill. Its weather in the summer, numerous museums, gorgeous architecture and inexpensive food and beer made it a clear choice.

So that is my next international adventure. The time should go by quickly, as I prepare to move into a new apartment, visit my parents in July and go through major transitions at work.

Anyone with good tips for what to see and do in Prague, let me have it. Likewise, if anyone has a good language resource for Czech, that’d be great, too!

The Solo Diner

I’ve written before about traveling solo and how invigorating (and, I think, necessary) it is. But what about going solo in the city where you live?

I am a classic introvert. I like people and I like seeing friends, but it exhausts me. Unless something major is happening, I try to stick to about one “thing” with people each weekend. This weekend I’m meeting a friend for a film and dinner and next week I’m going to a happy hour party for a friend’s new job. The rest of the time, I have “me” time.

During the majority of the week, I’m surrounded by people and my time is not really my own. But on weekends I tend to wander around on my own, and I like it that way. I can pick the films I want to see, the coffee shops where I hang out and read and the restaurants where I eat.

I celebrated my raise with a solo dinner at Oyamel. Probably once every other month or so I go to The Coupe and sit and have a meal at the bar. Ted’s Bulletin on 14th? Great solo bar breakfasts. I also did a Restaurant Week lunch last weekend at The Source. It’s just what I do, and it’s great.

I never got the point of being embarrassed or scared of doing things alone. I think it might be a combination of my introversion and being an only child. I’ve always been self-sufficient and have never relied on finding other people to do things with. Do I like going out with friends, yes. Am I mentally exhausted after, also yes. I’d miss out on a lot of experiences, things I want to do, if I only ever did them when I could coordinate with other people.

So make that solo dinner reservation without fear. Just maybe bring a book.

The family you choose vs. the one you’re born into

I spent Thanksgiving week in Kansas City at my parents’ house. I hadn’t seen them in about six months, and hadn’t seen my dog for longer than that. The house was mostly the same, with a few changes here and there. My mother had, for instance, cleaned out and organized my bedroom, turning it into a tasteful yet still personalized guest room.

This was a notable Thanksgiving because it was the first one I’d spent with my parents in three years. Last year I spent Thanksgiving in Germany and two years ago I was with my grandparents in Vermont. Three years ago, I had just returned from England and was still readjusting. Four years ago, I was in England.

We decided to spend the week together, just the three of us. And the dog. I’ve always been closer to my parents than many people, I guess, because I’m an only child. At the end of the day, it’s the three of us. And the dog, so long as there’s cheese.

I’m also normally a fairly insular person. I don’t let people in easily and I can be aloof. I don’t make friends that easily but the friends I have are uniformly rock solid. So the arrangement of me, my mum and my dad is pretty much fine with me.

And yet I spent this week in almost constant contact, via email and Gchat, with my boyfriend, thousands of miles away. It was important to me that he understood what was going on and why, what was involved and that it mattered to me. He’s promised to celebrate the holiday with me when and if we make it to that point of being able to celebrate it together.

While it was great to celebrate the holiday with my biological family, it was also wonderful to start to share it with, if all goes well, my eventual chosen family: me, my boyfriend and our blended families. There’s that saying of, “Friends are the family you choose,” but this is decidedly deeper … legal even, eventually, maybe. It was a big step for me to share the intricacies of the holiday and family traditions with someone else, and for that sharing to be valued. That my boyfriend is a foreigner makes it that much more special, because, lacking the Thanksgiving tradition growing up, he has my example to follow.

Poor prior experiences with trying to open up about traditions to the men I’ve dated made me appreciate the enthusiastic response from Jamie all the more. It made me want to go all out for him and to make him look forward to the holiday every year as much as he would if he were American.

I think we may make it after all.

(Jinx.)