3 Things I’ve Learned on The Journey to Becoming A Value-Focused Freelancer

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#1 Be an Investment Not an Expense

Freelancing is a journey of creativity, impact, quality and value. It doesn’t take long for you to discover the importance of putting yourself out there as an investment for a client rather than another potentially costly expense.

An expense implies that you’ve become part of the client’s overhead and another bill that needs to be paid. Value, on the other hand, has broader implications beyond cost and market price.

When we focus on value we’re shifting the heart of the matter from the bare bones of producing goods to the artisanal, toward building a relationship with our client and engaging in a meaningful value exchange.

A value exchange needs to be cultivated between client and freelancer so that you get paid appropriately for delivering quality and significance. And the significance of the product rests on your respect for the client’s voice and appreciation for the client’s audience.

#2 Charge A Premium

The onus is on us to make our client feel comfortable paying a premium for professionally executed services. Our part in the value exchange gives the client the benefit of the doubt―that the client is not a dilettante. And neither are we. In return, our clientele receives impactful, meaningful web content, blog posts, or other products, reliably, consistently, and honestly.

A freelance writer’s service is ultimately based on the outcomes that are delivered. Both client and writer are committed to results. Building a foundation based on a mutually beneficial relationship is the core of being value-focused.

When a freelancer is value-focused, that is, writing to provide cost-effective quality, the conventional wisdom is that clients will feel encouraged to ungrudgingly see their own place in this exchange. They see the freelancer as an investment and an important contributor both creatively and financially. We’re part of the team even if the team is just the two of us.

#3 Be An Asset

As freelancers, we also need to see the value in ourselves and our work. We don’t want to come off like were just a dabbler, but rather as an asset, and one that provides the  best possible work available to our clients all the time. And we need to understand the recalcitrant client, too.

There are some low-end platforms out there, content mills that charge freelancers fees while giving their impassive approval to rates that often come to a fraction of a penny per word. They churn out poor writing and set a value, both in terms of market price and also in terms of quality that are frankly awful, unacceptable, and hurt the freelancer and the freelancing industry.

Our client posted his assignments on one of those sites in the past. And he got what he paid for. He’s unhappy and skeptical at best. Who wouldn’t be? But the significance of our work is tied to the value we place on our relationship today.

We do this by being proactive and putting in the necessary effort. We become adept at juggling high standards, ethical values, and providing the highest quality product we can muster. We make an impact on our client, and, to borrow from GM, we get paid for professional grade.

We value their time, deadlines and feedback, and they value our commitment to providing excellence. We make an effective impact and we all move forward. Now that’s valuable!

Three More Things I’ve Learned on The Journey of Becoming A Value-Focused Freelancer

  1. I have the Greek word for “river” tattooed on my right wrist as a tribute to my dad. He disliked the idea of going with the flow and told me, “Be the river.” But there are no dichotomies. You can be both. Be the river and carve a canyon through a very competitive freelancing world. But sometimes that means going with the flow, also. Particularly in respect to clients. The focus is quality and value always.
  2. Framing and context are everything. Tomorrow is another day, but for today, I don’t want to cut out a client or kvetch over a project based on her budget when my heart is set on making a difference.
  3. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Nothing is more motivating than hitting the ground running and looking down and actually seeing that you landed on something solid! One of the things I’ve learned to appreciate is niching down. Working away from being a generalist to cultivating a niche has had an impact on both my writing and my business relationships. Getting to know the personality and standards of the people I want to work with, and holistically addressing needs―that’s quite the launching pad for value. And success.

 

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Do it! Experience Appreciative Change With A Life Coach Today

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Where are you going?

With the places life has taken me to in 2016, I’m on the threshold of a new life.

I have been reflecting on my career development. I have recently experimented and explored independent human services consulting. I set out on that journey through freelance writing as the first step toward that big mission.

Freelance writing is not only more tenable, it is also a reasonable starting point. This is what my journey, as one of the 35% of the U.S. population who is self-employed, has made clear to me.

I’ll get to why that makes sense in a moment.

You’re not going alone, are you?

Take a jacket.

I sure am taking a jacket. It’s appreciative change―layering for success, actually. One thing that had been missing on my journey was a mentor or a coach. I changed that recently.

I sure have been changing―what I do, how I do it, what I think, what I say, and how I say it. I have grown as a content and copywriter. I’ve learned a ton about a variety of topics. These include web content, blog writing, social media marketing, networking, ebooks, self-publishing, and more.

My writing has improved. My resume has improved, too, both the content and the layout―and the targets I’m aiming at are sharp.

And then I connected with a coach. There are differences between a counselor and a coach. My coach has blurred the distinctions and the impact has been invaluable.

As a result, I have recently been thinking a great deal about the theories originated by Anne Roe. My thoughts focused on transtheoretical, or stages of change models, of career counseling.

Anne Roe’s theories are reminiscent of Murray Bowen’s. Like Bowen, Roe focuses on the importance of early childhood experiences and parent-child relationships.

Oh, Pete…do we have to go that far back?

Yeah. I’m a developmentalist by education and an advocate of developmental psychology. I urge you to stay with me. This is going to be good.

Anne Roe believes that we likely choose a work-life that reflects the psychology of the home we grew up in.

Integrative life planning and cognitive theories of career counseling are important. In my experience, Roe is less complicated and way more interesting.

Roe comes at coaching with a needs approach. She takes a person-oriented focus. This approach helps in understanding coaching clients and their relationships with family. The effects of those relationships are the key.

Roe’s person-oriented focus gives the coach an understanding of career direction. And also an understanding of the obstacles the client is having difficulty with. Where the client is stuck, and which solutions to provide are an important part of the package.

One cannot coach an individual one does not know. Roe encourages the use of personality theories to learn more about the client. The idea is to throw light onto the client’s assumptions about choice and why they need to make better ones.

The right coach will impart important lessons. Some of these will be about how choices affect all areas of life, not just career trajectory. To know a client, you have to understand the choices she has made and know her pain.

Informed choices and learning to make quality choices are important skills to learn. A coach will help with that. And that’s one of the ways pain gets relieved.

One overlooked area is the gratifications which work can offer. I chose freelance writing first as I grow toward consulting because I love writing. I mean I really love writing.

I was reading a blog post by a self-publishing guru. He suggested writers get into the habit of writing 1000 words a day. A DAY! I thought, brah, I can write 1000 words in 2 hours.

And here’s a bit of news: personal evolution and growth include career development, too. It’s a process that takes place over the entire life span. Life and work stop for no one.

The Landscape of Career Opportunity

From 1760 to 1840, machines changed people’s way of life as well as their methods of manufacture. The 100 years that followed, saw the United States as the major economic and cultural power in the world.

1973-1975 marked the end of the great post-World War II economic boom. The US crept into a post-industrial economy. Recently, we have experienced the post-internet economy. Today we are living through the beginnings of the post-labor economy.

In an era where there is no longer a market for labor, the US is experiencing limits to growth. An end to growth, many believe, will lead to the eventual end of full employment. Some experts say we need is a new social and political paradigm. Practical, profitable jobs, they claim, will stop in due course.

The fact remains that everybody deserves dignity. What we need is to replace wealth with efficiency. We need to replace stuff with education. We need to replace welfare with an inclusive guaranteed income. We need to replace bureaucrats with counselors, corporation with community.

Economic change will force the hand of cultural change. And so, this is the age of the entrepreneur.

Changes in work and changes in the economy are inextricably linked. In 2008-2009, many of us learned this first hand. Before I was ready to make a career transition, the economy tanked.

The change was due to the $15,000 gap between my salary and the salary of my nearest colleague. . . on the food chain, pun intended. That was the strongest factor in the big bub-bye to Pete of ’09.

Having a college degree helped. I could transition from a culinary career to mental health services. It took a great deal of time to get a new job in a new field.

One interview that shortly followed was for a bachelor’s level substance abuse counselor. The experience made it clear how tough it has gotten. The correction’s department in my state was looking to hire a Master’s level clinician. They could get away with paying entry level wages to a better-qualified candidate.

I started thinking about making the transformation from freelancer to consultant. I still believe that’s my best bet.

In other sectors of the job market, automation is taking jobs for which there is no pay scale. The present time belongs to hackers and coders. The future, to associate’s degree level engineers, technicians, and designers.

The landscape of career opportunity is a shifting panorama, to be sure.

A person does not grow from the ground like a vine or a tree, one is not part of a plot of land. Mankind has legs so it can wander. ―Roman Payne

I have known people who have lived their entire lives in the same basic location. They have worked the same kinds of jobs. They have even spent their entire careers with the same company.

A large number of people have put down impressive roots. Others have expressed courage in other ways. Many Americans have explored multiple careers changes in their lifetimes.

Of theses two types, I have been the latter. It is impossible for me to say that only recent changes in the American economy have had an effect on me and my work life.

Family, culture and personal choice have had an effect. Life-span development and personal spiritual formation have also come together. All these things, not just the economy, affected a radical shift in how I see myself.

My focus has shifted. I’ve gone from job hunting to becoming career conscious―this is one major area of change.

Another shift has been from goals to targets. That is, from the monolithic notion that a job is an end in itself to accepting a design framework instead. The focus is now on the flexibility of function rather than objectified ambition.

Finally, the acquisition of the material—property, houses, cars—is of no importance. I’d rather have a plane ticket and a passport than a house and a car.

Abundance Over Scarcity

My aim has been to holistically grasp the depth and meaning of this new direction. I seek to harmonize and counterbalance mindfulness, with the practical every-day reality of life.   

I am introducing a paradigm shift. It’s a shift toward abundance over scarcity. I make it sound more complicated than it is.

Still, it’s a huge part of why I’ve made the choices I have made. And the best choice I made was to work with a coach.

When the economy went south, I adopted a brave indigence framework. I felt that within my financial scarcity, I could find a spiritual creativity. In essence, I wanted creative indigence. I even ran a blog with that title.

I’m at a place in my personal development today where I take fewer and fewer things in life as belonging to me. It is much more meaningful to contribute something meaningful. There’s little room for third-rate advice, ill-informed opinions, judgment, and the demandingness of others.

But “simple work” no longer gives me satisfaction. It’s about leaving behind a palpable legacy―in my career and life. This is the way to achieve a sense of satisfaction. The way to get there is simple. It’s through giving.

I often said that the more you give, the more you have to give. The time came to live that out.

In the past, my goal was to work at my best, to develop competencies. I wanted to create a space where I could earn a promotion and a raise. Today, as I have said (and I laugh a bit about it, too) I have no business acumen as a result of wearing the blinders of goals.

For example, I once believed that I had no clue about networking. I compensated for my cluelessness by taking the plunge. I replaced The Big Goal of creating a network. I aimed at the practical target of messaging someone on LikedIn.

Lo and behold, I was networking.

Another target area for me was to explore how to make my existing skill set part of my personal brand. This helped me see things in a new light. Writing and my self-perception as an artist are marketable features of my career.

Lo and behold, I’m a freelance writer.

My self-perception as an expressive, original, and independent creative has dividends yet to pay.

I find fulfillment in helping people. Particularly in a capacity where I am able to coach or show people how to do a task. I cherish the notion of being there to help and to be a part of a group that finds solutions to problems.

What I didn’t realize back in 2009 was that this is the definition of an entrepreneur.

This goes back to my maternal grandmother. Julia was a devout Episcopalian who gave much of her property to build churches. During the summer, one of the bedrooms in her beach house became a clinic.

One of the dioceses in Louisiana arranged to send physicians and nurses. I spent weeks at a time in the summer translating. I spent some of the most memorable times in my life in San Marcos de Omoa, Honduras.

I saw human fragility and dignity, illness and courage. I saw what it meant to people to have even one doctor when there was no access to health care.

One young mother walked for 12 straight hours to see a doctor. She carried her swaddled infant for over 40 km. The baby boy would have otherwise died of dehydration because of diarrhea. One young man had an inguinal hernia without any hope for treatment.

I learned that everything that has a front has a back. Gratitude without appreciation is meaningless. The patients served, and the medical personnel we helped, modeled this for me every day.

The first male nurse I ever met was John Henry Williams. He had been in the Navy Medical Corps during World War II, stationed on a battleship that sunk in the Pacific. He had a huge impact on my life. He was a person who stayed behind after everyone else left. John lived in the village he served. He taught about clean water, nutrition, and health, not as an expert but as a neighbor and a part of the community.

John was not a go-getter. He was a giver. His value to his community was in his generosity. He gave continuously. His was a life not of creative indigence but of abundance. On his terms.

On The Scale

When I became a graduate student, social entrepreneurial initiatives seemed logical. From the beaches of Honduras to community interest companies and Appreciative Inquiry. It makes sense to me.

But those are Big Goals and with no idea about scalability, it’s a pipe dream.

An honest scalability model helps the freelancer. Most entrepreneurs want to transition from one business model to a wider entrepreneurial sphere. As we take on an increased or expanding workload, we expand our vision.

A system that scales well will be able to increase its level of performance and efficiency. Not just when tested by larger operational demands, but when tested by a larger vision. That’s true not just for business but the entrepreneur running it.

Scale yourself first. This isn’t about climbing the ladder. This scale is about progression, succession, sequence.

Freelancer to Social Entrepreneur. Nurturing a heart for both giving and abundance. Wanting to make a difference for clients now, and change the world as I scale up. In the system that I’m creating, these are also Big Goals. With scalability, they become a Big Mission.

This is why getting a career counselor or a life coach is so powerful. With a coach, we choose the positive as the focus. We identify the life-giving and create a preferred future. We innovate and improvise and generate the appreciative rather than the struggling.

Choose abundance over scarcity.

The coach I work with is available when you’re ready to explore your own choices.

Soul Searching? Good. Work with a “re-connect with your soul” facilitator.                 Contact Maria Yum on Facebook today.                        https://www.facebook.com/mariahum108?fref=ts

The Best Blog Post About “Story” You’re Going to Read

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There are two kinds of story. There is external story. There is internal story. The more unrealistic and unreasonable you are perceived as being, the more external story there will be.

Do not be deceived. Your personal, internal story about you and the external story that others have about you will not match up. Not often. Not accurately. If you’re lucky you will come to appreciate the synergy between these two stories.

The simple fact of the matter is that there are going to be very few people who are going to connect positively to your self-narrative. Most people lack sufficient self-awareness to even handle their own story, much less be a dispassionate, fair-minded biographer.

That’s okay. As long as their story doesn’t interfere or create doubt about your story, there could be something to learn or something to let go of.

People will tell you your story anyway. When they do it’s an opportunity to check over your story and accept or reject what they say and then, well, story forth, as the old saying goes.

One external story I have heard from others is about passion. I seem to appear to be passionate to some people. Quite lazy and befuddled to others, but rather intense, amorous and excitable to most.

When it comes to passion, frankly I’m rather suspicious of it. Passion to me is  questionable, even disreputable―at least in relationships. Passion is unsustainable elsewhere.

If our relationship is hot, be prepared for it to cool off. If you have passion in business, as an entrepreneur, there better be other things you can scale quickly or adapt toward maintaining at a certain rate or level. Otherwise, you’ll both burn out and fade away. My my. Hey hey.

Passion is all very feel good on the ego. I’m grand and noble and have found my passion. I’m living my passion. Someone said, and they sounded very enlightened, too: “Take time to work through the process and know that, no matter what, you’ll be getting closer to where you want to be.” Why? Because passion.

Passion implies a burning fire and fires exhaust themselves. I may very well be intense, amorous and excitable, but I detest being exhausted. These days I’m not interested in following my passion, living my passion, finding my passion.

I’m interested in a commitment to action.

I wrote about this already, that I must have easily 100+ items on my to-do list. This week I am not going to get 100 things done. Not with 24 hours in a day. Not with all the passion in my Scorpionic stars.

I’m going to get things done because of my commitment to action. Just not 100+ Big List items.

When I ask myself the very calm question, “What 3 things do I need to accomplish that will guarantee this week will feel like a win?” it reins in the “passion” and directs it toward activity and away from agitation. It also highlights my problem with passion:

No matter what you think about passion―it’s about you. Your commitment to action is about others. Actionable steps in my day are about the service I provide as a freelancer. My commitment to action is about the people in my life and about making a difference in theirs.

Actionable steps are about providing benefit to your clients.

And here’s why I say this: Because I’m unrealistic and unreasonable.

This is, of course, an external story. And I’m fine with it because as an “unrealistic” person who has always made the “unreasonable” viable, I’ve come to value navigating through pain, interest and over to solutions and a good personal and professional sense of action.

I quote Derek Halpern a lot: Passion doesn’t pay the bills. Pain does. Find the pain. Offer relief. Get paid. Passion may help you feel good but it doesn’t do squat for anyone else.

Passion is a comfort zone issue. As Dr. Joyce Knudsen says, “A comfort zone is a beautiful place but nothing ever grows there.” Get into the taking action zone instead!

I’ve always been unrealistic and unreasonable. Way the hell before I started freelancing.

The Is That It Is

When my Yia Yia passed away and my family was in Greece, after 6 months my parents rightly wanted to know what I was going to do. It was unrealistic to go to Paris and spend 18 months there. It was unreasonable to have spent 2 years in Europe. I did it anyway.

When I returned to my hometown of New York City, I went to CCNY. I was a Creative Writing and a Film major. I found a mentor in professor and poet Constantinos Lardas. Gus loved me and my writing.

He used to look at me with a disconcerting mix of pity and tender irascibility (you  may have to be Greek to understand that one).

One gorgeous May afternoon, I asked him as we walked toward St. Nicholas Terrace, “Gus? Is something wrong? You seem upset with me.”

“I’m not upset with you. I’m wondering what you’re supposed to do.”

I stopped and looked at him. “What do you mean?” His tone of voice made me nervous.

“You should have been born in the 18th or 19th centuries. You’re a poet and that’s all you’ll ever be. The world is not known for treating people like you very well at all and I’m worried.”

It was unreasonable that by mid-terms I was excused from all my writing classes for the remainder of the semester because I had already earned a 4.0 in those courses.

It was unrealistic that I would share the stage at university poetry readings with Amiri Baraka and Allan Ginsberg. Or that Gary Dourdan would back me up on percussion at readings in the East Village.

It was unreasonable that a tenured Columbia University professor would invite me to participate with MFA writing students, to read and share work when I was barely an undergrad. Those guys hated me.

My culinary career was unrealistic. I would head to China Town several times a week and walk into the manager’s office with product and a receipt to be reimbursed. I’d rush into the kitchen to exercise improvisational cooking like I had a Food Network show.

Totally unreasonable.

Moving to Las Vegas to “seek my fortune” was unrealistic. Finishing my degree and changing my career was unreasonable. It was unrealistic for me to attempt a Master’s degree.

In comparison, maybe becoming a freelance writer was practical and tenable after all. Whatever external story people have about me, in all honesty, I got stones, my friend.

I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid of the future. I can’t see it well because the darkness covers it. The future doesn’t make sense to me. But I’m not fearful of it.

What I’m afraid of is errors of perception. When I’ve screwed up (and yes, I have a litany of screw-ups), it’s always been because of an error of perception, an inability to see the “is that it is.” That’s something that belongs to me.

I was in a relationship, seems like several lifetimes ago, that I wrongly perceived as being detached and disengaged.

The error was that I perceived us traveling the road of life separately. Like we were on a road trip in two separate cars and that was interpreted as a misadventure, a tragedy, catastrophic.

I could not have been more wrong! I could not have been more immature, inexperienced, more maladaptive.

In Life the is that it is is that we sure as hell are in different vehicles and thankfully so! Even if we were conjoined, she still was not me, she still was an entity of my environment like I was for her.

This is a great thing―not a catastrophe. The only real adversity was the error in perception that ended the relationship and sent my life spiraling out.

If I’m here to facilitate your transition into a new life, or to be there in the capacity of a catalyst for the intelligible or the possible in your life, then I am damn proud that I could do that.

Did you learn something? Did you get something meaningful? Good.

My new life is about to begin. I can’t see it worth a damn. There are no navigational reference points. The sky is dark and starless. And yet, not one catastrophic tragedy. Just life in my environment in the is that it is.

Shakespeare said

There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures. 

In other words, Life moves like the tides and seizing the highest tide leads us to success. If we let the high tide pass us by, the voyage of life gets miserable. I’m put to sea on such a tide right now and I have to take life’s current as it’s offered. Or lose. But I will not lose. So don’t you be afraid either.

Live today as a life unto itself.

Live today with a focus on meaning-making. In psychology, meaning-making is the process of how persons construe, understand, or make sense of life events, relationships, and the self.

We gather information, we have experiences, we give them meaning, we form an impression, we act on what we believe we’ve learned. That is what it is to be human.

We then construct a life-world.

Our life-world is made up of all the immediate experiences, activities, and connections that make up our environment. Remember, anyone, anything, and anyplace that isn’t you is your environment.

When we grow in meaning-making and in our perceptions of ourselves, then other people, places, and things become intelligible to us, and all the darkness in the world doesn’t make any difference in our reality. Or on our internal story.

When I was in that Road Trip Relationship, my openness to and awareness of the world was what was darkened. The perception of traveling in separate cars down the road of life was unacceptable because it represented a threat to my life-world at the time.

The problem with the perception error I committed is that it did not coincide with reality and rather than accepting it as a challenge, I left.

And I began to focus on my internal story. I continued, in fact, to persist in being unreasonable. The voyage continues, with a dark and starless sky. With no sea monsters, no siren’s song. The story, no matter how unrealistic it seems, continues.

Appreciate the synergy

Dispose of That Evil Sense of Being Swamped in 1 Easy Lesson

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I recently changed my habits and strategies. First of all, I now call them routines and action plans. Helps the mindset and it enhances my self-care. Trust me.

Habits sound negative. Strategies sound complicated. Routines and action plans sound easier.

I wish I could remember where I got this from so I could give credit where credit is due, but here it is anyway.

I write it all down on what I call my Giant List. Everything I want to do, everything I want to accomplish, everything I want to take action on. Write.it.down. My MacBook Air has a “Notes” app. I use the heck out f it.

I have a weekly prioritization ritual. I scan the Giant List and it’s obvious that I’m not getting all that stuff done today. I literally have a 100+ item list.

My anxiety and that evil sense of being swamped want to rear their ugly pimply heads, but I’m an adult and these two aren’t going to defeat me. Pshaw! The very idea!

My “ritual” is to ask myself, what 3 things do I need to accomplish that will guarantee this week will feel like a win?

I use the free app TickTick and input the 3 highest leverage, highest priority tasks from The Giant List and I let go of everything else.

This, oddly perhaps, helps me commit to taking action because I’m not setting myself up for frustration, or worse, failure. I tweak my 3 commitments so they’re realistically accomplishable in the next 7 days. And I get to work.

If I finish any of my 3 tasks sooner, I feel accomplished and I’m free to take a look at my list and add something else―an easter egg of sorts―something fun.

Remember―self-care needs to factor in here, brah.

I find that since I’ve been doing this, I’m much happier. The momentum is strong, and the results are improved. And I like concurrent rewards like doing tedious things at my favorite Starbucks instead of insisting that I soldier through it. Pshaw! The very idea!

Today is Sunday. It’s 81ºF/27ºC. My self-care is about Starbucks and lounging, chatting with friends, and reading with absolutely nothing hanging over my head. Freedom, people.

My “better half” (as my Mom so aptly calls her) is spending her weekend driving from Modesto to Huntington Beach to San Diego down the PCH and FaceTime is here so I can keep her company. I share in her travels. She sends me pics and FTs when she wants to see my mug. I love it. It’s freedom, people. *ahhhh*

Having control over my routine and action plan over the week gives me a self-care Sunday to breathe deeply and just be. Can’t beat it!

Tuscany 2

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Vicchio

Our first night at Villa Rucellai, we sit outside and have smokes and vino. The villa’s proprietary wine is quite stunning.

We had quite the urban, if not urbane experience in Morocco. Here in Tuscany, there’s no culture shock after all, just the desire for a truly new experience. I found a little place in Vicchio. It’s the local Casa del Prosciutto.

Our host Alessandro and I were talking about it. I seem so full of surprises in Italy, and I’ve arranged a day trip for us. We’ll take a bus ride and two trains through the Tuscan countryside. We’ll leave after breakfast.

The villa serves breakfast from 7:30 to 9:30 every morning, and I like my coffee hot, so I get to the dining room early. I smuggle back pastry, juice, and yogurt for you. If we leave by 10:00 we’ll get to Vicchio by 12:30.

This is a rural experience. Maybe we’re all citied out. Maybe we’re not. Maybe it’s more like an embrace. We have so thoroughly accepted one another that we can be anywhere and embrace that unconditionally, too. Like a silver tea ball, our hearts infuse where we are, becoming a part of it and it a part of us, like we are to each other.

Most everyone on the bus is local. You hold my hand in yours the whole ride, not speaking, looking out the window. There’s an old couple across the aisle from us and I notice they’re sitting like a mirror image. I don’t want you to see them. It’s like they’re revealing a secret, but I’m smiling and I feel butterflies.

The train ride through the Tuscan hills is beguiling. And the 15-minute walk to the restaurant is warm, sunny, and you’re still holding my hand. You have a lot to say now, and I always eat this up. It reminds me of when you used to record our conversations on your iPhone. I love how you speak, the way your mouth moves, and how you absently touch your face so delicately.

The food at Casa del Prosciutto is local cuisine to the utmost. I’m trying not to drink too much Giulitta Ale. This food is ridiculous, I say. You’re ridiculous, dolly, you tell me and giggle, giving me a flash of those coquettish eyes. The schiacciata is delicious. You know I love it and you feed me two fork fulls of yours. Because I’m spoiled.

This time I take you by the hand. It’s another 15-minute, maybe 25-minute country road walk to Poggio a Sieve and La Casa Verde. You see the farmhouse and I do believe I have never made you so happy.

I’m guessing we’re moving out of the villa soon.

Tuscany 1

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Prato

We landed in Aeroporto di Firenze-Peretola. I was a little tense and tried unsuccessfully to play it off that I was worried about the flight. My Greek dad had some hilarious, if not totally inappropriate World War II stories about the Italian Air Force―cluster fucks on runways and missed targets by airmen not really motivated to bomb their neighbors for Germans they were allies with, but never really cared a damn for.

I couldn’t keep a mosquito bite from you and the truth is that I’m expecting a little culture shock. We’d been in Morocco for so long, but even I know that the adjustment is part of the journey. The narrow streets will feel like home to us anyway, so why worry?

You’ve never been so happy! Yes, it’s true―wherever we are is home because we’re together. But geez! We’re in Tuscany! Finally! Hello! When we land we look at each other and take a deep smiling breath and laugh together.

The act of travel, being onboard a jet and getting through an airport itself feels so much like home, but this arrival is different. And we know it and we’re totally stoked.

The last time I was here it was called the Amerigo Vespucci Airport. I loved that name. But now, with most of our belongings shipped ahead to Prato, we quickly grab our bags and make the 30-minute drive by cab to Villa Rucellai.

It will be home for a while. My friends have already set us up to meet with someone who has an apartment on Via Pietro Verri in Prato, and I have a hunch we’re going to love it. Third floor, balcony, the works.

And there’s a surprise for you that I have already planned. After a day or two at the villa, because I love how Italy works and our schedule so, it might be three, I’ll take you sight seeing to the Museum of San Marco.

When you get hungry, I’ll take your hand and we’ll walk to the Trattoria Tilo to eat. Then, I’ll tell you there’s an antique store you’ve just got to see! It’s not far, dolly, it’s on Via San Gallo.

It’s a small place above an antique store that sells old eyewear and telescopes, with green shutters on the windows, on this beautiful narrow street.

Today we walk up the garden path to Villa Rucellai along the paving stones to the entrance. The main room, with white sofas and chairs,  looks so comfortable, Tuscan and perfect.

Our room is large, with a king-sized bed and a row of antique portraits on the wall above. I think our favorite place will be the balcony off of the dining area, with a view of one of the gardens with a small square pool of water and white ducks swimming languidly.

After we unpack, we’re invited to join the wine aficionados in the main room. It is so relaxed. We sip our wine. It’s amazing! It’s a Capezzana, and we are time travelers.

Paris Cinq 2

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by Kristin Barnett & Pete Koufos

 

But I don’t want to sleep. I want to enjoy every moment of each perfect day and night. You effortlessly make every plan and outing special. There is no worry, no hesitation, no regret. Just me and you with no need for expectations or a deal. No need for a schedule or stress. This is where we were meant to spend a part of our lives together. 

We have our favorite places―the ones that remind us of each other. The ones that make us smile and wink at each other from across the room. We spend hours in bookstores. Drink too much coffee, smoke too many cigarettes, and love each other so much. 

We sleep for days and then are energized and writing for days. We plan a weekend trip to Burgundy and take the train. A small cottage is waiting for us―ashtrays yearning for the ash from our cigarettes, bottles of wine waiting to be enjoyed by people like us―there are no other people like us.

It’s overcast and we decide to nap the first morning after we’ve made love―no rushing, no schedules. -KB

There are no other people like us. You always say things like that, always right of course, because there isn’t. No one gets this and it makes me grin foolishly and laugh with a child’s delight.

The only two people who love a gray sky, love eating every meal in bed, love each other’s three-day no-shower skin.

It’s overcast and we decide to nap the first morning after we’ve made love―no rushing, no schedules. We are the program and the agenda, and we did enough hurtling and careening through this old fucked up world to get together, stay together, and travel to where we want.

Can you have anticipation without expectations?

We don’t stop touching. We don’t want the other out of reach because there’s comfort and peace in touch, there’s sweat and the feeling of cool  air on our skin, the softness of one another’s arms and legs, the bliss of sleep not far off.

When you wake up, I’m gone. You stretch your arms across the empty side of the bed and call out to me. I don’t answer. You smile and roll over and fall asleep. Later, ten minutes or an hour, the small vehicle noise from Rue Jules Guesde wakes you. You call out for me and wait, listen to hear if I’m home. I’m not.

The old French lock cracks open and I’m not sure if you’re awake. I close the door behind me and walk into the room. I peek inside. You smile and hide a little. “Hi dolly.”

In a jiffy, I’m back with nem nuong cuon, broken rice and bun cha from the Vietnamese place down the street. You sit up in bed as I serve up dinner, loving the fact that you’re about to eat naked take-out. You turn on the TV. It’s Step Brothers dubbed in French and we can’t stop laughing. It’s starting to rain and we’re staying in tonight. -PK

II

We stay in. Our nights are often the same yet always different. It’s always us, we’re always together, but the sheer bliss of another night spent together―no matter what we’re doing―makes it different and exciting. Never know what we’ll do or what we’ll say. What world problems we’d solve or epiphanies we’d reach. 

We wake up early, but the sun is already up. I get up first and have your clothes ready for you. We’re going for a long brunch. Long walks. Long talks. We catch an afternoon film and get inspired to cook at home tonight. So we go to the market and find our stuff. The stuff that excites us and will fill our evening with smells and nothing but passion and excitement. -KB

I don’t want to get up. I don’t want to be awake. But you smile at me and treat me to a bowl of cafe au lait. You’re wearing one of my shirts and I can’t take me eyes off of you. Oh, do I want that coffee now! Besides, you have my clothes ready for me. We’re going for a long brunch, you tell me. Long walks. Long talks. We catch an afternoon film and get inspired to cook at home tonight. So we go to the market and find our stuff. The stuff that excites us and will fill our evening with smells and nothing but passion and excitement.

I know exactly where to go. It’s two buses and an hour, or a long curve on the Metro through two arrondissements and 45 minutes, so definitely on the way back? With all our packages, it won’t be hard to convince me to take a cab and cut the return trip to 20 minutes, even in Paris traffic.

So we’re off to the 5th, off to Marché Mouffetard! I’m so excited! Once we cross the busy main road, which neither of us like, the walk might be long but at least it takes us through Parisian off-the-beaten-track neighborhoods.

We stop for brunch at the cafe at the Biosphére on the way. You order a Tartare de saumon, a Salade Vitalité and two Kronenbourg beers. How you always know exactly what to order no matter where we go always surprises me and makes me proud. And I love your accent in French when you order food. Makes me want to bite you, you are so darling! No better word to describe it.

I ask you pick things at the market, too, everything in fact. You think it’s random and you’re shy about your choices―hey, did I put anything back or give you a disapproving shake of my head? No. I want you to be instinctual so that I can improvise in the kitchen, pure improvisation. Food like no one else is eating, not even in Paris, not for dinner at home.

The narrow streets are packed with people. We love how they run this street market or market street―whatever you want to call it. Market stalls close when the sellers go to lunch and often don’t open again, not in the afternoon, not until the next day. Late mornings are the best time to visit.  We like that most stalls won’t be fully operational until 10am or later.

You actually find someone selling lotus root and buy some. Challenge accepted, I say, but with the fresh seafood and vegetables you picked, I’m already thinking seafood pot au feu…Don’t forget a bottle of Ricard, dolly! -PK

III

Food like no one else is eating, not even in Paris, not for dinner at home. You trust me, and you’re excited to see what choices I make. Cuz we both know you can make anything out of anything―”keep it simple, though―5 ingredients or less,” as dolly would say. That’s our way of eating, our way of enjoying the finer things in life.

Nothing complicated, no rules or strict requirements―just simplicity and joy. Like staring at the street market and watching the patrons and saints, the items sold and treasured. There is nothing like it―a cool Saturday morning, sun on your face, the smell of people’s hard work and passion going into what they have to offer.

I’m wearing one of your shirts. It’s all you can think about in between thoughts of me tasting your seafood pot au feu and getting pure joy out of watching you work. -KB

Our little place smells of roots and rain and Ricard and saffron. You’re naked under my shirt. It’s all I can do to keep from grabbing you…You’re obviously telling me something―hair loosened from its bun, eyes wild. Maybe it’s the Ricard and water, the food, the hashish, Paris, the rain, but maybe it doesn’t matter. We never ask what tomorrow will bring or even the next moment. We’re so utterly present and untamed.

Maybe it’s the Ricard and water, the food, the hashish, Paris, the rain, but maybe it doesn’t matter. We never ask what tomorrow will bring or even the next moment. We’re so utterly present and untamed.

Your hands make me high. Isn’t that enough? Isn’t it enough that we’re as strong as rocks? You know why, dolly? Because we have a few tricks up our sleeves and turned some sharp corners together and we’re in Paris and ain’t life grand? And yes, I’m borrowing from Frank O’Hara, but  in a world where you are possible, my love, nothing can go wrong for us. I have trusted that and I have trusted you since, oh, around  April 13, 2015.

There is nothing like a cool weekend morning, sun on your face, the smell of people’s hard work and passion going into what they have to offer. That’s Meraki. That’s why I need you to point out these things so I don’t forget or take anything for granted.

After you wear my shirts, I try to keep them from you so you don’t bring them to the laundry and they lose your smell. -PK

IV

When I wear your shirts, I try to keep them on for days. See how many times we can make love in the same clothes, smelling of each other, realizing what it does to us to love another so deeply. Love only that one other so deeply. 

I’m always telling you something. It’s the Ricard and water, the rain. It’s my hair loosened, smelling of ginger and hash. It’s the magic in the kitchen of you cooking and looking at me like you do.

You know why, dolly? Because we have a few tricks up our sleeves and turned some sharp corners together and we’re in Paris and ain’t life grand?  -KB

Realizing what it does to us to love another so deeply is what this conversation has always been about―to love only that one other so deeply, that’s where this journey has led. Realizing that this is what you’re telling me―that you love me as I love you, that you love me more than the bad days, more than the struggle, more than any distance between us, more than any obstacle―that’s the dream and the you I have waited for my whole life. -PK