Shut Up and Go

What my $1200 tiny Manhattan studio apartment looks like

By April 20, 2015 Life Stories, New York City

Up until last week, I have lived survived for two and a half years in a 250 square foot studio apartment. With a roommate.

To be honest, my studio may even be smaller than 250 square feet; I’m only gauging it off of the 300 square foot mock-up apartment in IKEA Brooklyn. Maybe you live in New York City, in which case, you totally understand the struggle of living in these exaggerated micro-apartments, but if you’re not from a cosmopolitan city, you’re in for a real treat here.

See, when you move to New York City, you know you’re moving for New York City, not for how much bang for your buck you can get when it comes to the size of your apartment. But we all want to save money, and thus, there are two ways to do so while living in New York: get rid of all your crap and downsize or suck it up and get a roommate. I did both, because I knew in my budget (or lack thereof) we were going to have to get creative.

Ask any New Yorker and you’ll find out a $1200 studio in Manhattan (well, Harlem) is hard to come by. Yes, I said, “a studio.” You can find $600 rooms in Brooklyn and Queens, and maybe even Manhattan, but my roommate and I had our own reasons for going in on a studio space together. For $1200 per month, or $600 each, we got everything on our list:

  • Harlem/Manhattan
  • Running distance to Central Park
  • By the 4/5 and the 2/3 express trains off of 125th Street
  • Brownstone
  • Stoop

and then a few things on our super bougie list:

  • High ceilings
  • Hardwood floors
  • Lots of light

Welcome to my $1200 tiny Manhattan studio apartment!



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When you realize your eye doctor is the blind one

By April 18, 2015 Life Stories, Midwest, Motivation

I am just returning from an eye appointment with an eye doctor I’ve gone to, well, since I first figured out just how blind I was in 6th grade. I’ve been a loyal contact lens wearer and customer to my local eye doctor ever since, so when I walked in and smiled at the friendly secretaries, we all went through the predictable Midwest pleasantries (Hi, how are you? Good. Good. Weather is nice. Yeah.), and then I explained that since I’ll be off traveling, I needed get my eyes checked one last time. My eye doctor greeted me, we went through the predictable Midwest pleasantries one more time, and once in the examination room, he asked,

“You haven’t been in for a while, Damon. Where have you been?”

– “Oh, well quite literally New York, Paris, soon California – just wanted to stop in the store and get a new eyeglass prescription before buying a pair of glasses online.”

“First off, never buy glasses online! They’ll break in a year or two!”

–“I’m only buying them online because I’m not in New York to walk into the store. And I’ve already bought a pair with this company that I love.”

I’m already questioning why I’m explaining my entire life story to defend myself to a man who doesn’t know anything about me except that I wear -4.25 contacts and have an eye cylinder of -0.50. But okay, whatever, despite his off-putting tone, I’ll give it to him that he’s just trying to look out for me.

“Anyway, California huh? How do you plan on affording that?”

–“Well after four years in Manhattan and a year in Paris…I’m confident I’ll find a way to make it work!”

Ok, now I just feel like I’m being pushed into sounding like I’m bragging and being arrogant.

“What do you do?”

– “I have a travel YouTube channel and travel blog…and of course I do a lot of side gigs to help make ends meet for now.”

“Wow. So have you graduated?”

– “No, I was a language and film major but dropped out after two years ago to go after this.”

“Oh! So have you gotten a real job yet?”

– “…I have a real job.”

“Oh I thought maybe you worked at the World Trade Center as a translator or something.”

What? Would being employed by someone else make my job more legitimate?

“My son for example told me he wants to go out to California also but I told him, ‘you need a lot of money for that.'”

– “Yeah I find that a lot of people here in the Midwest think that way, but really you should tell him that if he wants to go, he can find a way…and that he may have to share his living quarters but that he’ll survive.”

“Yeah, but you need a good job. I think you’re underestimating this; I’m pretty sure California is more expensive than New York.”


My thoughts in one picture.

And then I stopped and played nice; I don’t need to explain myself or try to win him over, although it would be nice to provoke him to question his way of thinking. I don’t typically surround myself with people who act as gatekeepers like this – the people who feel a need to try to talk people out of doing adventurous, life-changing things that could be risky, but could also be very exciting and worthwhile – hence why I feel compelled enough to write a blog on such a topic when I’m forced to do so in a 7×7 white room.

These ten minutes of pretty much 0% encouragement were symbolic of all the years we go hearing people try to talk us out of travel. They say things like, “but one day you’ll want kids” or “you’ll want a house” and “you’ll need a retirement fund.” What I don’t get is why people think they can only have one or the other. There are no limits in life, but the ones you create for yourself – or really, the ones you let society create for you, and this isn’t just in terms of travel, this is religion, sexuality, political affinity, your career. Maybe one day I will want kids and a white picket fence, but that doesn’t mean my 20s, or even my 30s, or 40s have to be spent building up to that. What about everything I want for the “right now?” The present is just as important as the future.

So he doesn’t think it’s the best idea for his son, or me, to go to California. That’s fine; but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t go. Any time you move somewhere that could be looked at as “big” or “expensive,” you’ll hear all kinds of nonsense. Like, if I want to go to Los Angeles, then I’ll go to Los Angeles! Surely, out of the 39 million people in California or 17 million in the greater Los Angeles area, not all of them are cruising down Sunset Boulevard with shiny, black Escalades, inhabiting Beverly Hills mansions, and eating at five-star gourmet restaurants. There is always a way to make it work, and I know that, because I have made it work, spending three years in NYC sharing a studio apartment with a roommate.

I know my eye doctor was trying to be kind and wise and lead me down a safe path to a comfortable lifestyle, but this is the kind of safe talk that leads people to thinking they can’t have it all and eventually just settle. Not everyone wants such a predictable life and also, can I mention that not everyone wants to be grilled in the eye examination chair…especially when they’re completely blind without contacts.

On the bright side, my eyes “improved” and were “very healthy.” Maybe my trips abroad really were eye-opening.

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Stop Scrolling, Start Doing

By April 16, 2015 Motivation

Blah. For the past few months I’ve felt more addicted to my phone than ever. Tweets, Snapchats, Instagram posts, not to mention the Netflix app to watch TV and HuffPost, Skimmin, Rue89, and Gothamist apps I use to read my news every few hours, my phone’s camera I use to take snapshots for social media, and VSCOcam to edit those pictures, and of course, Facebook messenger to keep in contact with international friends, and that’s just my data package. Then we have text messages, phone calls, setting alarms and reminders, and worst of all for me, refreshing my email inbox.

It’s to the point where I even feel myself rolling my eyes AT MYSELF when I go to unlock my phone, like why do I need to constantly check notifications or emails or whatever. I don’t; because most of the time there’s nothing new and I’m using it as a diversion to something in the real world: boredom on the subway, boredom in bed, boredom at work. I tend to be good about these kinds of things, like realizing the world is more than screens and tweets and photos, and that we survived without them just a few years ago, as every generation older than us millenials feels to need to constantly remind us.

But then I play devil’s advocate and ask myself why there is such a stigma behind being on our phones when doing a lot of these things through a screen are 10x more convenient. It doesn’t mean more to my life whether I’m reading the news from a screen or from a newspaper, or using a bulky digital camera instead of my iPhone, or having to pay to talk to international friends on the phone instead of just calling through the my phone’s internet – doing these things otherwise would just be as if we’re adding an unnecessary, outdated step.

And if I’m on my phone as a solution of boredom, again, why do I feel annoyed that I’m on phone? Would I rather just be bored? No.

And then I stopped into a coffee shop and noticed a few things. The problem is not that I’m using my phone to pay for my tall Americano or read breaking news while I wait in line. It’s when I sit down and notice the groups of friends who were silent on their phones. It’s when the group of friends who, when they finally do decide to talk to each other, choose to gossip about who unfollowed them on Twitter. It’s when they idolize celebrities on Instagram and wish they could have their lifestyle. It’s when they Snapchat a friend elsewhere asking what they’re doing. It’s when they decide to take a selfie of their “fun coffee date.”

It’s when your virtual life starts affecting your real life.

This is why I feel so annoyed at myself. Most of the time, when I tell myself I’m “bored,” I’m not actually bored. When I have a minute of free time, I go straight to my phone checking notifications, catching up on the latest buzz, or reading up on friends’ statuses. My mind sees I have nothing to do and automatically thinks: go on your phone, you’ll have lots of things to do. This is what needs to stop. We don’t need to constantly be stimulated. We need to give ourselves some time to digest and take a chill pill. This is why the days we go without our phones, at first make us feel empty, but then make us feel more alive. We finally force ourselves to stop scrolling and start doing.

We spend less time staring at a screen for unnecessary reasons and more time talking about topics that matter, more time learning about things we’ve been wanting to learn, more time exploring and admiring the cities we live in, more time being active and living a healthier lifestyle. Our days become more worthwhile. Our lives have more oomph.

And it would be hypocritical for me to say that looking at screens is the antithesis of living life, since you’re literally scrolling on this page, but there’s a difference between scrolling just cuz and scrolling because you think this may add value and serve a purpose in your life. It’s about doing things out of purpose, and not simply defaulting to zombie mode and mindlessly going straight to your phone. I appreciate that you’re reading this and hopefully finding inspiration, which will then lead you on to live a more meaningful life with more oomph.

And if this all sounds like common sense to you, then great, but for the people who are reading this and realizing they may be that person at the dinner table checking Twitter, or chatting about all the he said she said that goes on in our Facebook timelines, let this post be a reminder that there is more to life than screens.

Stop scrolling, start doing.

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Exploring Nashville (and eating the best kale of my life)

By April 14, 2015 Nashville

My trip in Nashville would not have been complete without a trip to the rest of Nashville. Before this, I had already spent one day in East Nashville, and my evening scouring the Opry Mills Mall and gorging myself with Chuy’s Mexican food. Ugh, so good. But now it was time to see what the rest of Nashville had to offer – the downtown, and two more cool neighborhoods.

Downtown Nashville

Our second day of exploring Nashville took us to the touristy part of town – the Tennessee Titans stadium, and then downtown’s Broadway strip, filled with anything and everything country. I kid you not, I even went to a place called Honky Tonk Central…where my mom knew all the lyrics to country’s biggest anthems.


We arrived for a quick pick-me-up around 2pm and they had three floors of live music. And great live music, might I add. We sat in the back so as to not draw attention to ourselves – none of that “oh you’re from out of town, let’s get you up on stage” business, although I’m pretty sure anyone on Broadway in Nashville is probably from out of town.


You know you’re in the heart of America when you no better than to ask for anything whole-grain or organic. These chips looked highly radioactive, but the queso dip was on fleek.


Hillsboro Village

After a few rounds of “I’ve Got Friends in Low Places,” it was time for me to head to the next cool part of town, Hillsboro Village. Of course, there’s East Nashville [A Day in East Nashville], but if you’re on the other side of town you’ve got Hillsboro Village and 12th Ave South. I wanted some college town vibes, so I headed to 21st Ave, which to me seemed like the main drag of Hillsboro Village. The street reminded me of a small downtown of a small city – no chain restaurants, simply mom-and-pop, independent stores like…



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