Recently: Freelance, Websites & Upcoming Adventure

I’ve heard word that the summer months are supposed to move about at a slightly more languid pace, but that’s been far from the case this year - and it’s been pretty great.

The team at Buffalo Magazine recently asked me for tips on how to explore my adopted hometown. The resulting piece focuses on the section of greater Boston in which I spend most of my time: Cambridge and Somerville. I introduced readers to “Camberville” in Explore Cambridge and Somerville Like a Local.

How often is a writer able to reconcept the very basics of how product copy is positioned on a massive e-commerce website? Over the course of about five weeks this summer, I created product copy best practices for a new website, and then used those principles to create consistent and authentic customer-facing copy for about 25 products.

And finally, the approach of fall means that this year’s Copywriting Conference will be here before we know it. Or, more accurately, I will be there. I’m looking forward to getting back to London for my third straight CopyCon, and this year’s lineup of speakers and sessions is looking like its strongest yet.

This Just In: Barcelona

I recently spent a week in Barcelona. It was my first time in Spain.

During the commute "home" from work to my small rented flat one afternoon, I stopped at a local market to buy a bag of cherries and a large bottle of water. I smiled at strangers along the way to try my best to make up for my linguistic shortcomings. Upon arrival at the apartment, I settled into a chair on the tiny balcony to eat cherries and watch life unfold around and beneath me.

One of many moments I'll treasure from this adventure. Here are a few others!



A Barefoot Moment on Abbey Road

The Beatles and photographer Ian Macmillan had about ten minutes to shoot the cover of Abbey Road on August 8, 1969.

As the story goes, Macmillan stood on a ladder as the four musicians walked back and forth along the crosswalk. A police officer blocked traffic. Because the street surface was hot in early August, Paul alternated between wearing sandals and walking barefoot.

They managed to get the perfect shot: mid-stride, full of style, and incredibly relaxed.

My group of four—my father, uncle, aunt, and me—had about 30 seconds to recreate the cover of Abbey Road on October 11, 2016.

No stepladder. We handed our camera to a lovely guy in his mid-twenties, who stood on the studio side of the street; we followed up by photographing him doing the same thing with his girlfriend.

No police officer. It’s a busy intersection, and occasionally taxi drivers would honk at pedestrians. (How a driver could not anticipate Abbey Road traffic escapes me.)

Because Paul went barefoot, I went barefoot. The street surface is chilly in October.

Somehow, we managed to get as close to the perfect shot as we could: all four of us in the frame, full of excitement, and incredibly optimistic that we weren’t about to be run over.

End result? Brilliant.


At the foot of Canal Street

With September comes an urge to head south and soak up some more of New Orleans - and I suspect that this will become an annual tradition, given the way the city captivated me at this time last year, despite the odds stacked against it, thanks to the Garden State Effect.

Despite fear of dating myself,  here's the breakdown: In the movie Garden State, Natalie Portman's character tells Zach Braff's that listening to the Shins is going to change his life. Upon doing so, she made it impossible for me to give the band a fair shake. It was immediately over-hyped. As a result, when I listened to the band (both in the movie and live), I thought they were perfectly good ... pleasant enough in that melancholy sort of way ... but my life continued on without some great cosmic shift. Whereas other bands that could be considered members of a similar sonic family tree (Rilo Kiley, Belle & Sebastian, etc) completely shook me to my core. Why? I wasn't waiting to be completely blown away.

I've encountered similar situations in travel. As I was preparing for my first trip to Europe, friends and acquaintances told me that I was going to be blown away by Vienna. The Austrian capital was going to provide a game-changing travel experience. By the time I got there, I was so ready to be that dazzled that the bar was set far too high. Vienna was lovely. I had a fine time there, delighted in the coffeehouse culture, and appreciated my introduction to delicious Sturm wine. But when I came home from the trip, was I raving about Vienna? No. I was thrilled by Prague and Budapest, the cities that had been underpromised ... and yet had overdelivered in the most sensational way.

So when the time came to visit New Orleans, years after I'd fallen under its spell reading Anne Rice novels, I was nervous. I'd grown up wanting to visit New Orleans. I'd spent so much time daydreaming about what it would be like. New Orleans existed on a very short list, "Cities I've Wanted to Experience For Most of My Life." How could the New Orleans of my imagination actually live up to reality? Was this to be my Vienna of the Gulf Coast?

Thank you, New Orleans, for delivering. My partner and I ate po-boys prepared in the back room of an Irish bar, discussed the second-line culture at the tiny (yet mind-blowing) Backstreet Cultural Museum, and gazed upon Fats Domino's white Steinway. And by balancing time in the French Quarter and venturing beyond, we felt comfortable exploring and getting more of a sense of the local New Orleans experience. In fact, two of my favorite experiences were more off the beaten path: stepping around the tree in the middle of Cafe Degas, and dancing like mad as Rebirth Brass Band performed its Tuesday-night residency at the Maple Leaf Bar.

We were discussing a return trip during the second day of our first visit. It was that good. 

It's not to be this September - we're about to extend a wedding-related visit to Las Vegas for a few extra days, and otherwise preparing for our October journey to Indonesia. But we're planning, New Orleans. Since we were last with you, we've been dancing to your music, cooking your cuisine, and sipping your cocktails. And I'm freely and enthusiastically imagining the wonders that await in the near future.

We'll see you there real soon.

A valuable pro tip

Back in May, I watched a small group of Brazilian youths demonstrate the boxing skills they had been developing at Grupo Cultural Arte Consciente, an incredible organization rooted in one of Salvador's favelas (shantytown communities).

As part of this special program, Arts Consciente's boxers had selected this discipline from several offered to them - the others being circus arts, percussion, and drumming. And over the course of about an hour, I'd been introduced to the results of all these youngsters' efforts. But given that I was about a week and a half away from dedicating four months to boxing (a sport I knew very little about), I found myself focusing my attention on the boxing group.

After about an hour, an opportunity for questions and answers arose, and I eagerly raised my hand right away.

"Hi, my name is Vickie, and I have a question for the boxers," I said with a smile. "I'm about to learn how to box when I get back to the United States. What tips do the boxing students have for me? What should I make sure to remember as I learn?"

My trip leader translated my inquiry into Portuguese, and I saw several inquisitive faces turn to me in surprise, including my favorite of the group - the lone young girl learning to box. She and I exchanged smiles as a young teenage boy, the seemingly group-appointed leader of the crew, thought for a moment and then answered.

I eagerly awaited the translation as my trip leader chuckled.

"He says that there are several things you should remember," he began. "First, always pay attention to the basics and remain disciplined. The basics are important. Second, always listen to your instructor, because your teachers will help you succeed."

The trip leader grinned. "And finally, just remember: It's really not that hard. You're going to do just fine."

I had no way of knowing at the time just how valuable this advice would be. Over the course of four months, I've reminded myself of each. ... and especially that last bit.

Relax. It's all good. You're going to do just fine.

Obgrigado, young man. Obrigado, indeed.

Quick Hit: Brazil

It's early morning in a misty Rio de Janeiro when you wake early to the sound of the waves rolling into Copacabana Beach. Despite the urge to sleep in, or at least let this oceanic soundtrack lull you back into light dozing, you rise and don your workout gear. There's a long to-do list for the day - from greeting Christ the Redeemer to filling a memory card with photos - and you want to start it all off right.

Tiptoeing out of your hotel room to keep from waking your roommate, you make your way down to the hotel lobby, join your partners in crime, and set off for a light run along the beach. Mosaic paths lead the way as you travel along fellow morning runners (a group with which you'll only align yourself rarely), past massive sandcastles, and along the stretches of beachfront properly that drew Hollywood legends to South America.

This is your first full day in Brazil. And while you know that wonders await, you have no idea precisely how magical an experience you have in store.

Quick Hit: The Black Sea

The Black Sea stretched out behind me as I turned to smile at the camera, trying my best to keep from squinting too much in the bright early-summer sunshine. I had one shot at getting this photograph right, and I wanted it to be a shot I could show off.

"Can you see everything properly?" I asked as one of my fellow travelers focused his camera. I wanted to make sure he could see my grin, the seascape, and the scarf I was proudly hoisting above my head. My hope was that he could easily see the "LFC BOSTON" displayed there.

My goal was to share the image with my friends and fellow Liverpool Football Club supporters once I got back home. It's a common practice for fellow supporters to celebrate the club whenever they travel - to distances near and far. I'd seen scarves hoisted in Las Vegas, at the football club's stadium in Liverpool, and destinations around the world. I hadn't seen any of the Boston supporters showing off their loyalty in Romania, and this was my chance to get the club on the map.

"Looks good!" I grinned, the photo was snapped, and I put my sunglasses back on, thinking that we were good to go. That's about when one of the other travelers asked, "What is LFC Boston?"

I grinned. "It's the local supporters club for my favorite English Premiere League football team."

My photographer looked up. "Wait. WHAT? Oh my goodness, I can't believe I didn't even put two and two together." His British-accented voice rose in excitement. "THAT'S MY CLUB!"

Before I knew it, he had handed his camera to his wife and strode down to me. "I need a picture of this! This is fantastic!" And as we posted against an incredible Eastern European backdrop, I flipped the scarf and we held it proudly.

To be a Liverpool supporter - or to know the club at all - is to know that the club is incredibly connected to the song "You'll Never Walk Alone." It's the anthem, the heartbeat, the song sung in times of joy and despair alike. It's a reminder that no matter what, you're part of something bigger than any one of us, and there's a comfort in that.

Along the shores of the Black Sea, I was given a perfect reminder. No matter where you are, you'll never walk alone.

See more photos of my travels to Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania.