I attended an editing workshop at The Poynter Institute this week. In some ways, I don’t really know why. I’ve never held an editing role in my life. I’m not particularly enthused by the thought of reading over other people’s work. And for all I know, editing is the red markup you get back when your writing is bad. Who would ever aspire to be that person, that word janitor?
Beyond reason, I went to the workshop anyway, and I’m glad I did. It certainly didn’t hurt that Poynter is conveniently located in St. Petersburg, Florida, home to soft white sand that sifts seamlessly through your toes and a sun that coalesces beautifully with your skin. I figured that my indulgent beach lounging would be justified if I acquired some form of knowledge in addition to a bronze glow (which ended up being more lobster-red than anything).
The other attendees at the seminar were -surprise!- actual editors, and way more accomplished than me. I was humbled to sit alongside some really impressive individuals. Shout-out to Lisa, a news editor who works for a news wire I can’t pronounce (the Swedish version of the AP) and who travelled all the way from Stockholm! The 15 of us learned tips on line editing, brainstorming story ideas, coaching reporters, and social media. But for me, the most important takeaway was quite basic: an understanding of what an editor actually does.
Traditionally, the image of an editor conjures up images of a white male, legs perched on a desk, brooding over a newspaper mark-up or proceeding over a meeting. It’s a grand representation of man’s authority over what is “fit to print”. That image is partially true. But there is also a softer, less tactile element that involves the relationship between editor and writer. I learned that editing, at its core, is less about being a hardline news guru as it is helping to nurture and coach writers to construct stories in a way that enhances their value beyond the individual lens.
So, the most basic question an editor must ask is: “What to look for in a piece of writing?” Looking over someone else’s work is a huge responsibility. The first temptation is to rewrite from our own lens. All spelling, grammar, and syntax aside, I learned that there are really only 2 important things to look for: theme and clarity.
Theme – A story is only good when you know what it’s about. At the end of a story, you should be able to easily identify the core message. If you can’t, that’s a problem. Determine the focus of the story and be sure that every section directly adds to that theme. This eliminates redundancy and trims fat, builds muscle.
Clarity – This goes hand-in-hand with theme. If you know the theme, find a way of mapping it out – clearly. Kelley Benham, a writer and editor for the Tampa Bay Times (whose recently Pulitzer Prize-nominated piece you should read) recommended “running a chronology comb” through the writing. Making a timeline with a logical procession of events usually helps to construct stories with absolute simplicity and clarity.
I found these guidelines reassuring and helpful. Previously when given a piece to edit, I would strap on my writing helmet and enter battle. Never was the pen a mightier sword as it slashed through words and corrected spelling like a gallant warrior. (Allow me, itt was the closest I’d get to feeling like my life was an action movie. These days, it’s not so glorious when everything is done on a blinking screen; I type louder to make the process seem more dramatic.)
But in reality, making the paper bleed is not an editor’s job. It’s the reverse, actually; becoming a word janitor is what happens when you don’t let the writer do what he or she is supposed to do: write.
John Carroll, the former editor of the Los Angeles Times, advised editors to cultivate a lazy streak:
“What’s better than rewriting is to take an extra few minutes diagnosing the story’s one or two biggest problems (but not all of them) and return it to the reporter for adjustments. This is good for all concerned. You won’t get bogged down doing someone else’s jo b while oher stories pile up. And the reporter will be able to take pride in the story. The story’s minor problems tend to get straightened out in the rewrite process.
Good editors often have a lazy streak. Instead of impulsively jumping into the fray, put your feet up and figure out how to get somebody else to do the work. Things usually turn out better that way.”
Rather than rewrite, an editor’s job is to discuss the story and make it culturally relevant, together, with the writer. It is to make the story so deep, rich, and revealing of something deeply embedded within our human nature. It is to find a story that rises above the individual lens, that spreads its wings beyond the mere facts. That’s editing.
I knew I was attracted to it for a reason.
*Many thanks to the staff at Poynter for a well-organized and insightful workshop. I highly recommend their training programs to those in the journalism profession looking to sharpen their skills. Special thanks to Tom Huang of the Dallas Morning News who led the seminar and encouraged us to find our “personal dimension” to this line of work. The story will continue to evolve, but I think, just maybe, I’ve found the beginning scraps.
Got really vulnerable, y’all.
Last week, I had the fortune of meeting Christina Vuleta, founder of 40:20 vision, a website that offers advice from 40something women who have been there, to 20something women (like me) who are trying to figure it out. Christina was a panelist at a 40:20 Highwater Women panel where she, along with some other incredibly accomplished women, offered invaluable tidbits on how to navigate this thing called life. I feel extremely lucky to have made a connection with someone so willing to pass on her experiences and help the next generation weather through the rocky 20s.
I wrote a guest post for her site about a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about lately: failure.
Read it, but if you’re busy here’s the Cliff’s Notes version straight from the last two sentences:
Embrace failure as relentlessly as you pursue success. One is not better than the other, as they both simply bring us closer to the goal.
Elusively motivational? That’s how I like it.
Also, I haven’t said this before but to all who actually read these meanderings, thank you. I don’t get to see your faces often but simply knowing that there are faces is encouraging. It’s what keeps me typing.
The more often you create and share ideas, the better you get at it.
My friend Alex and I have decided to gather a few women every other week to brainstorm business plans, passion projects, and entrepreneurial ventures together. Our 20s are a critical period for growth and at a time when commitment to ideas is especially hard to find, we believe a group like this is necessary.
The goal is to compile ideas and follow through with ones that resonate. Some will be interesting, most will be lousy, one or two may even work. The point is to simply hold ourselves accountable to doing work that really matters. Ultimately, we want to find an idea that sticks and matches our unique strengths with the needs of the world.
What this group is not: a think tank or discussion group. Ideas are a dime in a dozen; money lies in execution. We’ll craft plans to make ideas happen. Some will fail but hey, failing isn’t as bad when there’s a group of other smart, motivated girls experiencing it with you.
If your current routine isn’t cutting it, join us as we experiment with projects that lead to greater fulfillment, if for any reason because doing stuff on your own is hard. We’re looking for a group of 4-6 New York women in their 20s, curious with a desire to learn and do something more. Any industry, talent, or niche is welcome. Leave a comment or email firstname.lastname@example.org for details. We’ll likely be meeting on Sunday afternoon, so be willing to sacrifice Sunday brunch for this. In exchange, a supply of lady refreshments ie. wine & cheese, will be on hand.
If you’re not in New York, sorry- we’re keeping things local for now. But stay tuned!
Hats off to 2012! Wherever you are, I hope you’re able to reflect on the highs and lows of the year with honesty and humility. Among the many year-in-reviews and recap videos, I found this one particularly gut-wrenching- 2012: What Brought Us Together
With 2013 fast approaching, it’s list time. I love these handy things. They’re the most basic tool to getting organized when one actually keeps track of them and checks consistently. While charting course for the New Year, I’ve started to think about the ways I can make 2013 better – more authentic, challenging, and meaningful – through…you guessed it!…lists.
Charlie O’Donnell, partner and founder of Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, writes a weekly newsletter about tech events in NYC. (Sidenote: If you are new to the space and want a quick way to get acquainted with NYC tech, ‘This Week In NYC Innovation‘ is a great place to start.)
Last week, he included a compilation of list topics to think about for the new year, which I found very useful:
- Three people I’m actually friends with that I would like to be better friends with.
- Ten people I should know, but don’t.
- Five people I’d like to help be successful.
- Three things I’d like to learn.
- A physical goal (a time, a measurement, or just being able to be more bendy, less creaky, etc.)
- An emotional goal.
- Something you’d like to close the book on and move on from.
- Three ways you’re going to try to get more sleep.
- Read a book a month…list the first three you’re going to read. (Might I suggest re-reading the Great Gatsby before summer.)
- Five people you feel like you’re supposed to be friends with, but really don’t like, that you’re going to unfriend/disconnect/ignore.
- Three things that you’ve been procrastinating on that you’re going to get done.
I like this list for its holistic approach. It takes into account practical, emotional, physical, and educational goals. There’s also heavy emphasis on improving relationships, while understanding that not all interactions are created equal (ie. friendships vs. idols vs. mentorships, even un-friendships are included).
I’m sharing a few of my goals from this list because I firmly believe if it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist. Here’s to accountability!
3 Things I’d Like to Learn This Year:
- How to cook (I’m keeping a list of my favorite dishes and recipes to learn – open to additions!)
- Adobe Creative Suite (InDesign, PhotoShop, Illustrator – open to help!)
- Bible Literacy (open to fellow faith buddies)
A Physical Goal
- Be able to do this without sounding or looking like a gorilla. (Getting rid of the pooch would be nice too.)
3 Ways to Get More Sleep
- Having a set bed time. I’m setting it for 11:30 – 7:30 (for now) which gives me a healthy 8 hours.
- Completely turning off an hour before bed. That means, winding down and turning off the computer/TV by 10:30 pm.
- (Hm, I can only come up with two.)
2013 Book-a-Month List (in no particular order; open to other good reads)
- The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo
- On the Road, by Jack Keruoac
- The Education of Henry Adams, by Henry Adams
- Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
- Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo
- Ulysses, by James Joyce
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz
- The Influencing Machine, by Brooke Gladstone
- Change by Design, by Tim Brown
- Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg
- St Paul Trois Ch Teaux, by C. Joybell C.
- The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg
3 Things I’ve been procrastinating on that WILL get done
- Submitting to Thought Catalog
- Calling a loved one..because in this day and age, it doesn’t happen enough.
The full list of notes are currently scribbled in my TextEdit, and I’m well aware many will remain unfulfilled. Life tends to begin (how dare it), pushing these goals to the dusty, untouched crevices of the mind. Hard to say which will stick and which will be thrown to the wind. Life is unpredictable. Either way, it’s here for the love of lists.
“You may not know where you’re going, but you know that so long as you spread your wings, the winds will carry you.”
- C. Joybell C.
Happy New Year! I wish you all a fruitful 2013 with many healthy happenings.
If the world were to end tomorrow, would you be ready?
My take on 12/21/12 is that the Mayans got it wrong and the world will continue to turn on its axis. NASA agrees. However, I’m of New Age mindset. To me, 12/21/12 marks the end of an old world and the start of a new one, ushering in an age when Earthly inhabitants undergo positive transformation. In other words, New Years Day. Time to make and break our resolutions with unfailing eagerness.
It was the most tiring, terrifying, and terrific year in memory.
It started with bright eyes and high hopes. I moved to a small but cozy Park Slope apartment to begin my New York saga symbolically on New Years. Forget that I wasn’t sure if I would make enough to pay monthly rent. Waking to the sight of the Chrysler building from my bedroom window was enough reason to get out of bed. Anything was possible.
I was first exposed to the realities of the city as a personal/editorial assistant for a wine business owner. My boss was wonderful but after the n-millionth time picking up office supplies and fetching coffee, I started to wonder if this was all a college degree was worth. On the weekends, I drank my share of wine. (Work-related research, of course!)
My second job landed me at a prestigious startup fellowship program that placed college graduates to work at startups in lower-cost cities. I was their first recruiter but was exposed to much more than recruiting. Event planning, social media, office politics – - with a small staff, there was a lot to get done and at times, my lack of corporate/organizational experience showed. I learned a few key things about organization, foremost being that I’m not organized. It’s why writing things down and having clear daily to-do lists have become new resolutions. The job took me to Providence over the summer for a phenomenal training camp which remains one of the best memories of the year, purely for the chance to meet 40 of the most inspiring and creative college graduates. I grew by leaps and bounds but after 5 months, I knew that this company wasn’t the right cultural fit.
Life since has been a mix of freelance writing, tech dabbling, user acquisition, and social media strategy. Highly stimulating work with little peace to be found. I networked, mingled, exchanged business cards, went social to the max. The freelance/startup life taught me the importance of being disciplined with time. If you’re good at it, go superwoman! Bad at it, never sleep. We’ll see if I give in to 9-5 soon.
So, was 2012 a success? Last year I wrote, “If I can make just one tiny decision that moves me closer to being my best self-whatever that may entail, wherever that may be- that’s success in my flighty mind.” 2012 was to be the year forward.
And? Am I ahead, off track, 2 steps forward 3 steps back? Well, I can say that I’m officially a New Yorker and now part of the craziness I used to only admire from afar. I’ve spent far too much, slept far too little. I could have been wiser. And yet at 23, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I end 2012 exhausted, knowing that I tire because I’ve tried my hand at many things, failed, and therefore, moved forward.
2013 – Focus
Notifications blew up my phone in 2012. While this gave me bursts of serotonin, it also lead to unhealthy crashes and reduced productivity. It’s resulted in my decision to disconnect and retire. When I say retire, I mean retiring from perpetual social grooming and focusing instead on real work.
Last week I deactivated Facebook, and yesterday I followed through with Instagram. A friend messaged me saying that he was astonished and a little sad that I was leaving all these social networks. To him, I was the epitome of Generation 2.0: Miss Popular with tons of friends, always connected and blogging and snapping photos. Reading this only reinforced my need to retire. My public image was so well-crafted. So well-crafted that sooner or later, people would be let down. Achieving a self-involved image is no small feat, and I don’t have the energy or desire to maintain it anymore.
Aside from ‘connecting’, I’ve started to realize that all the other stuff that comes with being ‘social’ serves more as a disutility that detracts from my day. Because when you peel away all the layers of perfectly timed and witty statements, cute outfits, and adventurous getaways, what’s left is a pretty plain and boring person too tired to do much of anything other than appear. The thought of being that lame person used to sadden me. Now it just excites me because it means more time to sleep. 2013 will be the year of focus and commitment. Take me as I am, just a lazy being who wants to lie in bed, eat, and watch TV.
In 2013, I plan to focus on building non-social digital skills (CRM, Creative Suite, Mailchimp), cooking more, and solidifying pre-existing relationships. It’s quite boring, but really just a continuance of my 2012 resolution, because only by getting serious will I ever be able to move forward.
I’ve always lived with a sense of urgency, a conviction that time is running out. But with the world ending tomorrow, it’s time to be really honest and live out our truest lives, not just what sounds good or what makes an interesting story. Because what makes us happiest may not be all that interesting. And that’s okay.
I began the month of November with the vow to write every day. Since then, WordPress has informed me that I’ve published 28 times, garnering just under 1000 views collectively. The goal was to write and I guess in some measurable way, I did.
Then I realize that the date is December 3 and my stomach sinks like it did in high school, when my grade would come just short of an A. My goal was to write every day for the month of November. It’s now December and I’m still only writing for November 30, Day 30: My Final Post. Also, I am somehow missing two days – Day 10 and Day 23 - so I didn’t actually write every day of the month.
In this not-so-grand finale, missteps and incompletion are revealed. My story is one of backtracking, writing about events that happened days before, yet still documenting in present-tense as if it was all unfolding in real-time. I’m a fraud and time warp if there ever was one. Writing everyday is pretty straightforward. Pitter patter into the blog-o-sphere, publish, boom. Like clockwork, day in day out…yet I couldn’t do it.
Fortunately, I don’t really care. I wish I cared more. If I did, I’d probably accomplish more of my goals and be a better person. I’d finally get more sleep and be less crabby . I’d stop eating cupcakes and be skinnier. I’d meet deadlines and be responsible. Which would be great and then I’d have nothing to write about.
My friend, a fellow writer, wrote me this the other day:
“Today, and lately, I’ve felt like I want to just retire. Like how at the end of Casablanca, Laszlo says “welcome back to the fight, this time I know our side will win.” I kinda wanna say fuck him and fuck the good fight and take Ilsa away and live happily ever after. I feel like I’ve lived my life a certain way. Trying to write about the Last Generation. The Novel. Trying to encourage all of us to be our best and trying to be a role model. But I’m tired now and lonesome and have nothing to show for it but anxiety and doubt. Lately part of me, a vocal part, just wants to say fuck it, grab the nearest Princess Jasmine and get out of Dodge while the getting is good (as in, Marry the Girl with the stupid proposal on the ice in front of Rockefeller center, the Big Law job, the Quiet Normal life.) Let the Last Generation fight on without me – it’s filled with 5th columnists away. Not only do I want to retire, I feel like I’ve earned it.“
I tire too. I tire of translating thoughts out of an overwrought mind, craving connection with an audience (imaginary and real), dreaming of making it, only to then have people misinterpret me and my words. Forget it. It’s December, Christmas music is playing, and I just want to mindlessly sip hot chocolate. Turn my computer off forever. Pretend I’m normal and forget being the role model, because being a role model at 20something is oxymoronic anyway.
At the ragged age of 23, I’m preemptively announcing my retirement. To those who have followed me on this November journey, thanks for your readership. Who knows what happens from here. Maybe I’ll find a boyfriend, maybe I’ll completely up and leave the digital sphere, or move out of New York. I’m tempted to say I will never jot thoughts into the universe again.
But knowing me, I’ll wake up tomorrow, retreat to my favorite coffee shop in the neighborhood, order an Almond Biscuit with black coffee, and…do it all over again. Because truthfully folks, the day I can no longer pour out the addled contents of my mind will be a sad one. And that day, I will retire.
A few hours separate one coast – and one world – from another. This morning, I braved gutsy hurricane-like winds in San Francisco, now I’m warmly tucked in to my Brooklyn nook. Air travel, akin to time travel, will never cease to amaze.
So there I sat at 4:30 am PST, my thoughts dripping steadily like the rain drops coalescing on the airplane window. My SFO – - > JFK flight was delayed. We had been stuck on the runway for nearly 2 hours before the pilot was forced to head back to the gate to refuel and wait the storm out. Storm gusts blew at more than 15 knots per hour. (know what that means? neither do I)
For 72 hours before, I took in San Francisco like a vagrant. I stayed at a humble artist’s hotel with morbidly beautiful paintings adorning the wall (my first two room options consisted of one: a crying geisha, two: a stripper staring me down). I finally settled on a more calming bedroom backdrop reminiscent of a Japanese ‘Starry Night’.
Night time brought walking escapades through the city, often with nary an idea of where I was going. Thankfully there were friends who led the way through various neighborhoods. Interesting to observe their tendencies. Just like some New Yorkers shudder at the mention of certain neighborhoods (ahem Williamsburg), San Franciscans have similar reactions to particular areas (Marina?) Ultimately, each neighborhood has a distinct character and way of life that makes San Francisco what it is. In addition to downtown, there are neighboring suburbs: Palo Alto, San Jose, Cupertino, Oakland, Marin County etc. which collectively comprise the Bay Area, a whole other world to itself.
I jotted mental notes comparing San Francisco to New York. Each is arguably the ‘golden’ city on its own coast so, of course, I was evaluating the potential of each as a future home.
The main differences I noticed:
- Residential: San Francisco, while urban, is markedly more residential. You’ll see long stretches of houses and apartments even in the thick of downtown. In Manhattan, aside from maybe the Upper East and West, that’s unseen. And even in neighborhoods like those, Manhattan retains an utterly cosmopolitan environment.
- Style: San Franciscans are more casual. Admittedly, I spent all of my time at startups (one in downtown, and another in Palo Alto) but even around the more corporate Financial District I sensed a greater level of openness and earthiness. New York, while scrappy in ways, is all business with its swank and suits.
- Health: San Franciscans veer natural. They are close to the outdoors with hiking paths, access to mountains and actual room to breathe. Living in New York, meanwhile, might take a year off your life. Physically and mentally, you drive yourself sick between riding the subways, battling anxiety and other neurotic souls, while being lured into oil-dripping street Halal food. But…it’s New York.
I spent most of my time in the more touristy parts of San Francisco: Union Square, Ferry Building, Financial District. Next time, I’m intensely interested in understanding the people, values, and pace of the city. This visit was far too short to get at the city’s real essence. But from the few people I did encounter (including the good samaritan who paid my MUNI fare because I didn’t know you needed exact change) - I’d say it was quite nice.
- seeing my childhood best pal and longest friend to date, Diana
- eavesdropping on “big ideas” at Ground Up Cafe, a shared space for employees in the AOL building (which houses several startups and Stanford’s startup incubator)
- touring the ZeroCater office and shadowing their account managers for a very accurately depicted “day in the life”
- eating cioppino and sea dabs for the first time at a homey family-owned Italian restaurant in North Beach
- exploring the bar scene. Local Edition (located in the Hearst building; the displays of old San Francisco Chronicle editions with typewriters make this a news nerd’s heaven) and Bourbon & Branch (prohibition-style bar with great whiskey & gin cocktails; there’s an old-school library too)
- being a tourist and eating overpriced hamburgers and martinis while overlooking Union Square. Totally worth it.
“Look at all those fish swimming in a fish bowl down there.”
Thanks for a great time, San Francisco. I hope I get to spend more time with you one day.
I’m facing the hard truth that my metabolism is slowing down and I can no longer eat ice cream or pizza whenever I want without facing some consequence.
I am using the remaining days of November to elucidate goals, and write about how I plan to make positive change in myself. I’m starting with health because it is the most important aspect of life. Without it, we would be dead. Plain and simple.
But it’s more than a matter of life of death. There are rungs on the health ladder; rock bottom being a lump of lethargic uselessness, the top being “Ironman/woman status” which is borderline intimidating. I aspire to be slightly above the middle rung, fit enough to run a marathon (in good time), weak enough to have a man still feel obligated to carry heavy things for me.
I used to be there. Nearly two years ago, I ran a half-marathon in 1 hr 48 mins, ranking 13th in my age group among women. It wasn’t the New York Marathon but I don’t necessarily have an athletic predisposition either, so I was happy. Soon after this personal victory, I entered my last semester of college with a full and ready heart to live it up. Senioritis was like glutton-itis. I drank and ate really well. Too well. Some friends and I even started a tradition of eating incredibly terrible (and by terrible, I mean DELICIOUS) foods heavy with the words fried, sweet, and caloric. We called ourselves FAFLs (I’ll let you guess what it stands for). A summer in Italy and a year in New York later, I’m about 8 pounds heavier than when I ran my half-marathon. That’s almost 20 pounds heavier from where I was at the start of college. At that rate, I’ve gained about 5 pounds a year for the past 4 years. Something’s gotta give…soon.
I’ve received several reality checks over the past few months, which I’m gradually awakening to. The first was several months ago when I came home, stepped on the scale for the first time in a while, and gasp! (There’s a reason I don’t own a scale in New York.) After that, I was able to lose 5 pounds in the 3 weeks I was home with the help of my Mom who I now see as a commando dietician. In theory, the weight loss was simple: move more than you take in. My Mom cooked only healthy food and made sure I wasn’t snacking in between meals, even when I was “hungry”. Back in New York, I gained those lost pounds back, simply because the allure of eating out and my love for baked goods lured the pounds back in. It made me realize that you truly are what you eat and do. On this most recent visit home, I got another reality check when I was so sure I could fit into Size Small that in the midst of doing so, I broke a button. Needless to say, I got a Size Medium.
This all may sound incredibly trivial and dramatized. Medium is by no means big and I’m certainly not fat, but to a girl who’s been Size 0 and been able to fit into Abercrombie Kids until recently, the added weight is a big deal. Trust me, I don’t necessarily want to return to skinny minnie days. My body is more womanly and beautiful than it was then. So this isn’t about weight. It’s about being healthy and knowing that I own my body, which I truthfully can’t say I do now. I barely run 2 miles without having to stop and catch my breath. My face is pudgier than I would like. (Allow a girl a little superficiality.) I often feel like an oompa loompa after meals.
‘Once to the lips, forever to the hips’ is becoming ever more true. I drafted the following manifesto to combat this.
Lynne’s Manifesto on Healthier Living
Preamble: It does not involve 5-pound lobster.
Exercise, moderation, and balance.
Exercise, defined as “moving the body as much as possible”. Do something active at least 5 times a week. If gym is not possible, walk while talking on the phone, do 10 pushups, jump up and down sporadically, throw a spontaneous solo dance party. Don’t sit as much. Move.
Moderation, defined as “appreciating food but knowing when to stop”. When the appreciation stops, stop. When stomach feels like it’s about to burst, stop. If eating out of a bag of processed food, stop after reaching in twice.
Balance, defined as “eating 3 meals with fresh, whole foods”. 80/20 rule: Eat healthy and watch diet 80%of the time, 20% of the time indulge, and don’t feel bad about it.
Ultimately, it’s hard to resist a cute French bakery. But a girl’s gotta have some hips. So, allow her that. Just a little.
What are the biggest questions – personal, societal and technological-that you think need solving today?
This is no light fare. After receiving an email with the subject “Big questions, looking for yours” (from a friend I highly respect), I scoured my brain. I complain all the time. Surely, I can come up with TONS of problems worth solving.
At first I thought big: world peace, AIDS, healthcare. Problems worthy of the name are generally…big, right? They wouldn’t be substantial issues if they weren’t.
After further inspection, however, I realized that the biggest obstacles in my life are quite small. Things like:
- being perpetually late,
- not getting enough sleep,
- not having time to exercise or take care of myself,
- feeling perpetually guilty about neglecting certain relationships,
- not having enough time to stock my fridge.
Selfish as this may sound, I don’t really have time to think about problems bigger than me and my anemic fridge. Can anyone say SERIOUS FIRST-WORLD.
So, here we arrive at the root of near all first-world problems: time and choice.
When these two variables are at odds, we fail to be healthy, productive, or happy citizens.
Too little time and too much choice, we are overwhelmed. (typical first-world)
Too much time and too little choice, we are deprived. (third-world)
One world suffers from excess, the other from scarcity. So, I propose this question for those of us in the former group:
How do we allow our lifestyles to be a healthy balance of time and choice: one with ample time to take care of ourselves, our loved ones and the world outside our sheltered bubble? What is the minimum number of options we need to feel self-sufficient in life?
One of my favorite restaurants is a cozy Indian restaurant nestled on a corner in the Lower East Village. The menu fits neatly on a glossy 8 1/2 x 11 pamphlet. I have my 2 staple dishes, which I usually alternate between. If I’m feeling a bit more adventurous, I’ll try something else on the menu. The waiter can helpfully guide me through the possible choices but even without his help, I can usually navigate the menu myself since there aren’t an overwhelming number of options. Plus price, taste, and quality are all pretty consistent. It’s glorious. For once, I don’t get a headache from calculating all the cost-benefits. (Such is the plight of neurotic maximizing New Yorkers.)
This is the way life, ideally, should be.
In today’s mass consumer market, selection is an asset. It’s a sign of wealth, choice, freedom. But with the number of choices we face daily, from the breadth of cheeses at Trader Joe’s to even the variety of lingerie I can get at Victoria’s Secret, at some point, I’m willing to say, “Just give me your most pretentious cheese and scandalous underwear.” I don’t want to try a million different options; I just want something that’s good. (Of course what is good? That’s another can of worms.)
So what big question needs solving? It boils down to what we prioritize. The big question that we each need to solve is, in fact, very simple.
What do you want?
The reality is that modern society presents us with so many choices that answering this question is actually pretty difficult. Perhaps it would do us good to create systems that restrict information flow, with all the products, sales, and news blips. It’s our duty to stay informed, but with just enough information. We need time and choice, but just enough. Just enough is… enough.
God is probably laughing. This is what we’ve run our lives into. We’re so wealthy that we’re pushing away options. Of course I”m sure that the minute these choices are removed and we move to, say, North Korea, I’ll yearn for these days of over-inundated marketing.
In response to my own question, I want to have more time to take care of myself, so I can then spend more quality time with loved ones, so I can then thoughtfully decide how I can help the rest of the world. Re “helping the rest of the world”, I know there are a million ways but just give me just 3 choices – seriously. Otherwise I’ll spend all my brainpower deciding what to do and by the time I decide, I’ll be too tired to do anything.
There are plenty of problems. But tackling the self is the biggest obstacle.
“If there is beauty in character, there will be harmony in the home. If there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the nation. If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world.” – Confucius
If you want to change the world, start small. The biggest questions lie within.
Ideation is like a breezy joy ride along the Pacific Coast Highway. With all the smiling possibilities and wind-in-your-hair serendipity, the drive is exhilarating.
I can spend hours bouncing ideas. Things usually end on a high but eventually, like a joy ride, I have to get out of the car. Make moves. Get shit done.
Oh, how I often yearn to stay in the car. After all, who wants to stop and park on a windy road high on the cliffs when the view is just so perfect behind closed doors? But it is all just a sight – or a very good brainstorming session – if you never get out to explore what is actually possible given the surroundings.
Ideas are a dime in a dozen. A good idea that can actually happen takes discipline and a neurotic focus on the “how”.
I have yet to actually drive the Pacific Coast Highway. But I imagine that when I do, the wind will blow my hair into an effortless tussle amid the mind-blowingly beautiful backdrop. I’ll laugh endlessly with the love of my life as we beat on in a red Mustang, not a care in the world, all the while wondering what the crashing surf below is like. Maybe we’ll stop the car and actually hike down. I hear the beaches are inaccessible. Even better. Once there, we’ll build a sand castle and claim territory.
Of course, this is all imagination. I’m a dreamer. I have no idea where to park, how to get down to the beach, or who this hypothetical partner-in-crime would be. Dreams are grand, yet far too easy.
Always dream. Thereafter, execute. Marry inspiration with pragmatism. It’s the only way anything will happen.
It’s tempting to turn cynical in an age when we’d rather send a text than pick up the phone to say thank you. (myself included) Should I even mention the Middle East turmoil, lackluster economy, and our own personal heartbreaks? Life sucks and yet, the world is still a beautiful place.
Sunset in Bali, September 2009
It’s become tradition for me to list the things I’m grateful for on Thanksgiving Eve. Life isn’t rosy, but we still have it good. It’s not that I hope we turn a blind eye to the woes of the world. I just hope that on a day like Thanksgiving, we celebrate the places where these woes are absent, enjoying dutifully and in good taste what we have. If for any reason, because that’s what the damn day is for. (Strong language for a genuinely good holiday – I mean it!)
Pray that peace comes to the Middle East and other war-torn regions, that basic necessities reach those who are starving for these things, and that we may each become a version of our best self. Then put those woes aside and enjoy a nice meal with loved ones. (If you can’t, maybe order good Chinese takeout?)
To whoever is reading this, thank you. Your readership- however distant, frequent, or haphazard – creates a kinship that the most untainted part of me can only believe stems from something true and pure.
Without further ado (and before I turn too Zen)
23 Things I am Thankful for on my 23rd Thanksgiving
1. Me. You. The world. Creation.
2. The number 2. Not being the leader, but the first follower. It is by being the first follower that the lone nut is transformed into a leader.
3. My family, without whom, I would certainly be starving, poor, and (likely) dead.
4. My friends, for without whom, I would certainly be depressed, less interesting, and (likely) dead.
5. Humor, all forms.
6. Unconditional love.
7. The ability and right to think.
8. The ability and right to communicate.
9. God and His unending grace.
10. Food (special appreciation for all things wine and cheese).
12. Good beats, rhythm, and dance.
13. Danza Kudoro- 175 plays and effectively the most played song on my iPod since I danced to it on the streets of Italy last summer. I listen to it almost everyday and am still not tired of it. I’ll be grateful until the day I am.
14. Technology. Love it hate it, you wouldn’t be reading this without it. (so you better love it)
17. New York City. Waking up and seeing the Chrysler Building from my window keeps my head justifiably in the clouds.
18. Beauty, seen and unseen.
19. First-responders, technicians, janitors, EMTs, transit operators - you make our world work.
21. The person who brought my passport to Lost & Found that time I was scrambling to find it 5 minutes before my flight from Singapore back to the US,
22. The fact that ‘itis happens to me on a regular basis – gluttonous proof of my excessive well-being.
23. The future and all it holds. There is much more to learn. Hope abounds and that cannot disappoint.
Many of my friends are in relationships. It didn’t occur to me exactly how many until today, when I was talking to my Mom about my plans to visit a friend and her boyfriend. They’ve found jobs in the same city and now live close enough to see each other regularly.
“Are you jealous of her?” she asked.
“Jealous? That she lives in San Francisco and has a stable job?”, figuring that if I had to go on the defensive about my employment and living choices once again, I might as well beat her to the punch.
“No,” she sighed. “She has a boyfriend she can see all the time. You don’t. Aren’t you…lonely?”
Subtlety is not her niche. I’ve been prodded by my Mom about my weight, intellect, and inability to cook before. But hearing her hint at my loneliness was possibly one of the most piercing truths my single 23-year old self has heard in a long, long time.
I’ve dated and been in quasi-relationships before, but nothing serious. It’s not that I’m against relationships. And it’s not even like I’m one of those girls with absurdly high standards, waiting for “the one”. I have no checkbox criteria.
I think the reason I’m still single is precisely because I don’t think about it a lot, despite how it’s now made increasingly apparent by my mother and number of committed friends.
I’ve been called independent, intimidating, asexual even? So, let me make this clear. I’m none of that. Maybe a little independent, but not to the point where I want to stand solitary for the rest of my life. I also don’t mind being objectified. I love my body; straight men probably do too, and I feel empowered by that. I am single, straight, and willing to mingle. But in the right ways. Ultimately, I value certain things in life including God, my time, career, and dignity. Anyone who unnaturally imposes on any of these I probably won’t be able to comfortably date or be in a relationship with.
Some have said that my somewhat fickle relationship complex may be a sign of something deeper. By never being taken seriously as a child, I’m now trying to overcompensate by acting like super independent woman. Perhaps. But enough psychoanalyzing. All I know is that when the right person comes, everything else in life should flow seamlessly. There are no doubts, little compromise, niente stress. I don’t think that’s too high of a standard. Until then, I will continue enjoying my (in)dependence.
And Mom, no jealously on my part. The third wheel on a tricycle is the best part.
I’ve created my own office in the flight attendant waiting area at JFK. I accompanied my friend who was flying out a couple hours before me, so I’m 4 hours early for my flight. I figured the down time and lack of Internet access would force me to focus, write, and plan. I went to the bathroom and Starbucks for 10 minutes and this is what I returned to:
Yes, that’s my computer tucked away in the back. …I was effectively crowded out. So much for focus.
I’m going to be away from the city for two weeks, which will do me good. I have a lot of thinking to do about my future. Whether that means settling into a full-time position which provides stability and structure (at the cost of less free time), or continuing the freelance lifestyle with more time for friends and passion projects (at the cost of a routine that keeps me somewhat sane), a cost-benefit analysis will probably be involved.
Holidays and retreats from the norm are reminders that our routine lives are often stuck in bubbles. Life in New York- as dynamic as it is- is not life, nor is life an act in suburbia with my parents. These are simply snapshots. Indeed, the compilation of everything – the fence posts and everything in between – is life. I’m coming to the realization (reluctantly) that my favorite song lyric from Conor Oberst’s Bowl of Oranges does not sing quite as true anymore:
But if the world could remain within a frame like a painting on a wall.
Then I think we would see the beauty.
Then we would stand staring in awe at our still lives posed like a bowl of oranges,
like a story told by the fault lines and the soil.
Life is not a painting on the wall left for admiration, nor is it still and immovable. It is dynamic, changing, fluid; a river, more than a tree. However, I don’t ever want to stop believing it is beautiful.
Some things never change.
My friend Kristin who has been out of the country for 18 months returned to the States this weekend. Before going home to Florida, she made a stop in New York City where she was greeted with big hugs, kisses, and a rousing homecoming from close-knit friends. We ate cupcakes, shopped, and hair-flipped our way through New York City like an obnoxious group of sorority sisters. It was almost like college again
Kristin and I traveled together last summer when we both taught English in Italy through a program called ACLE. We have always shared a strong connection through our mutual love for traveling and culture, but it was our OBSESSION with gelato that really solidified our bond. (One scoop? Try two or three…per day.) I left Europe after 3 months but Kristin stuck to the peripatetic life for another year and a half. Her travels took her from Italy to London to Paris to all throughout Asia (Taiwan, China, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia).
Over dim-sum on Sunday, Kristin shared stories about her travels, ranging from her run-in with Asian girls at karaoke ‘gangnam style’ to the incredible hospitality she experienced in Malaysia. Kristin has always been an adventurous spirit but she has now surpassed everyone within our circle of friends in sheer bad-ass status with the number of far-fetched tales she has.
She is that girl, the cultured one, the one who has friends everywhere because she’s actually been to those countries. She’ll begin a story with “This one time, my Dutch friend…” On a practical level, she can tell the difference between a good macaroon and a bad one, and has developed a strong inkling for when someone is ripping her off. She appreciates hole-in-the wall authenticity over flashy tourist traps. As a plus, she can probably educate you on all the details of the various visa application processes since she’s faced several interesting experiences with that herself. Read all of her helpful travel tips on her blog, Lost Abroad.
A year and a half seems like a long time. But as Kristin said herself, it’s really just a spec. What matters more than all of her worldly stories is that she can still snort a big laugh and engulf several slices of American pizza with a smile on her face. Some things never change…and they never should.
Even on the sunniest of days, it can be difficult to stay upbeat.
As I rushed from one arrangement to the next, my mind waxed incoherence about the purpose of it all. There were simply too many people and not enough space. It was cold. My feet hurt. I was tired.
At a coffee date later, I found myself turning zombie-like. I might as well have. Eyes rolled to the back of my head, synapses mis-navigating, and me thirsting for…sleep.
Truthfully, it was a great day. I supported a friend/mentor in a social media lecture at SUNY and got the chance to meet with an awesome company about a potential partnership. I saw 2 friends over coffee and dinner. I ate, conversed, and laughed (albeit deliriously).
And I’m in New York, where places like this are commonplace. Pinch me. Sometimes I fail to remember.
You fail to see the beauty in things when your mind is struggling to stay awake. I have deprived myself of so much sleep this past week tying up loose ends – attending a late networking event, sending last emails, writing these posts – that I forget about the larger vision behind all these tasks. The key to unlocking big ideas is not to keep your eyes open all the time; it’s to close them regularly so you can achieve grander things when awake. As Arianna Huffington says, sleep your way to the top.
There you have it. Rather than belabor the point, I’m going to heed these words and head to bed. It’s a Friday night and temptation is out there. Thank goodness for a friend who just sent me this text:
Gosh, I am blessed. I’ll sleep to that!
I had the pleasure of interviewing Monica McCarthy, actress, producer, and founder of Show & Tell Stories Productions, a boutique video production company based in NYC that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, artists, and organizations share their story. I talked to her about the importance of storytelling for InnerGap (an upcoming interviewing platform for HR professionals and recruiters), for both those being interviewed AND those asking the questions.
Why storytelling? It’s a buzzword these days, but why is it especially important for those on the job market?
M: It’s important these days for anyone who’s trying to get their message across because these days there’s so much information out there with social media. If you’re just spitting out facts it just gets lost in the deluge of information. So, it’s really important when you want to be able to express something that’s unique to you and why people should be listening to you. You need to have a story.
InnerGap caters to HR professionals and recruiters. How can they ask the right questions to draw out people’s stories?
M: One of the main things that I would say for interviewers is that you’re looking for connection. You already have the person’s resume. One mistake that a lot of recruiters make is that they’re taking time to ask questions that they can get the answer to on the resume (ie. Where did you go to school? What was your major?) Instead they should be using the resume as a starting off point…What they’re ultimately trying to do is to get more information than just a fact on a piece of paper.
Recruiters should also ask questions that don’t require just a yes or no answer. Recruiters usually have a set criteria of questions they’re going to ask, but they shouldn’t be afraid to be present in the moment. If someone says something that is very intriguing, feel free to follow up with that. You don’t have to stick to set questions. That way, you can really find out more about that person.
For those being interviewed, how should they respond to more spontaneous questions that don’t directly relate to their skill set?
M: When you’re being interviewed, you actually have a lot more control over the interview than most people think. Celebrities and politicians are great at this. Several things to note:
1. Be empowered.
2. Know ahead of time what your talking points are.
3. Do your research on the company. Preferably find out who will be interviewing you because again, it’s about the connection…don’t be afraid to show some of your human connection.
4. Yes – and (borrowed from the improv world) Don’t give a yes or no answer, even if you’re asked a question that just seems like yes or no. It’s always, ‘yes’ and then add a piece of information. That really keeps the conversation going and again spawns that connection between two people.
Be sure to check out Monica and more of her storytelling tips at showandtellstories.com!
If you’re reading this from a cubicle, you probably won’t be in 2 years. If you’re reading from a laptop, you likely won’t be doing that either. Space and the tools we use in the space will be drastically transformed in the coming years. I’m not a psychic; this is strictly based on data, trends, and yes, a little bit of New York bias.
Living in New York is a bit like living in a time lapse. At the risk of sounding like an elitist urbanite, the rest of the country (San Francisco and Boston notwithstanding) trails in comparison. This is not meant to be condescending; it is simply a basic truth about metropolitan cities in general. With the sheer number of people (a large proportion being investors, technophiles, and creatives) progress is bound to unfold at a much more rapid pace.
One of the best places to witness the future is at co-working spaces. A co-working space is a shared work space for anyone who needs a place to plop down, get connected, and work outside of the basic constructs of a “normal” office space. Initially, co-working space was used by mostly freelancers as a way to escape the humdrum of working from home. Now, people from a variety of backgrounds flock to co-working spaces (developers, artists, independent consultants, even accountants and lawyers).
Last year when I was completely new to the tech scene, I visited New Work City, largely known as one of the first co-working spaces in New York. I personally believe it should be every New York newbie’s crash course into the tech world. I was immediately enlivened by the quiet energy buzzing inside. It was much better than a coffee shop, mostly because a.) no one was hogging the outlet, b.) no one near you was in an intense gossip sesh as you attempt to do work, and c.) coffee was FREE. Outlets, productivity, and free caffeine yield generally good vibes. Who wouldn’t want that? As a freelancer, I would often go to coffee shops, not because I needed another 3 cups of coffee, but simply because I wanted a positive workflow that was conducive to getting things done. Most of all, I wanted an environment that reminded me I was not the only one. Connection. Something not unlike the college library buzzing with activity at 3 am during final exam week because you’re all in the same over-caffeinated, underprepared, cramming (aka screwed) state. Imagine that everyday, just with more chic chairs and desks, and more “sophisticated” problems to stress about. That’s a co-working space.
The number of co-working spaces in New York has doubled each year since 2006. In that same period of time, New York City has exploded as a tech hub. Vivek Wadhwa recently said, “In 2006, I wouldn’t have put New York anywhere on the map of leading tech hubs. Now it is literally number 2.” According to Tony Bacigalupo, founder of New Work City, there is a direct correlation between the growth of co-working and the explosion of New York City’s startup ecosystem. The reason? Co-working spaces facilitate transitions between jobs. In today’s ever-changing economy, a co-working space becomes quite necessary when you’re transitioning from a full-time gig to work at a startup or as an independent. This trend will only grow as industries continue to be disrupted. This is generation flux after all, and that’s not just a catchy phrase. The flux is real. Chaotic disruption is rampant, not just with the Facebook, Twitter, and Googles, but across industries. You see the writing on the wall in New York, as more and more people quit their corporate jobs and become their own boss by creating pockets within pockets among niche industries.
The future is about self-reliance, and this is another reason why New York paves the way. New Yorkers are famous (or infamous?) for being self-reliant. Tonight at a joint Mashable -BMW iVentures event, Albert Wenger of Union Square Ventures likened the age we’re living in now to the period of time when we shifted from an agrarian economy to the industrial age. The possibilities of where we could be post-digital are..who knows. Figuring out how to properly monetize workspace is one issue. Will it take on a sharing model similar to our homes (AirBNB) and cars (Zipcar)? What about the jobs crisis? The jobs of those whose industries are dismantled?
Looks like the future is already here.
*Many of the insights from this post originate from a talk given by Tony Bacigalupo, co-working evangelist, from a Brooklyn Venture Community meetup on November 14. You can download his presentation at nwc.co/bkv-preso. I also highly recommend his blog, Happy Monsters.
*Also, if you’re interested in finding a co-working space in New York, here is a super handy guide compiled by Charles Bonello, a member of the NY Tech community, that includes details on every co-working space in the city. He also shares some interesting stats: “There is currently about 600,000 square feet of co-working space available, which is equivalent to 400 Starbucks, the entire 11 story building that houses Lord & Taylor’s flagship store in NYC and the Port Authority/NYC’s lease at the World Trade Center.” Wow!
Last night, I attended a NYC VIP shopping event for a store opening. The event was sponsored by a reputable magazine and the magazine’s style editor was in attendance. I went, armed with a purpose. Pitch startup idea, make an impression, smile and conquer.
<<< I also shopped a lot. Though in retrospect, I wouldn’t suggest pitching while wearing green pants. People may not take you seriously.
Easy in theory. Here was the reality:
1. Unless you personally know the owner, an event is never as “exclusive” as you think. I arrived 15 minutes after opening and the store was packed. With doors wide open, people were pouring in because…everyone was invited! Receiving a forwarded email from a fashion friend with the word VIP in fancy font had fooled me into believing that this was an actual exclusive high-brow event. Apparently I’m naive enough to believe everything I read. Reality check #1.
2. Upon finding my target, I froze. What was I actually going to say? I had rehearsed the pitch a million times only to realize that you can’t just go up to someone and begin pitching. To be a smooth criminal, you must determine how to start a conversation with someone who has far more better things to do than talk to you. Reality check #2.
3. Once you finally begin to pitch, everything that’s been rehearsed goes unrehearsed. Words sputter and things you swore you’d never say come out. Rambling commences. The perfect elevator pitch is not what you need because the circumstances for a standalone elevator pitch to thrive don’t exist. Instead, proper cushioning and social grace are more effective. Reality check #3.
4. Leaving with 3 new business cards, I’m quite satisfied. Only to realize later that I’ve lost them! Alas, I remember their names! A simple search reveals all the necessary contact information…and Google saves the day! So wait, was all that networking anxiety even necessary?
In summary: if you’re a startup or someone trying to win hearts and minds, note the following:
1. Your pitch doesn’t matter. Context does.
2. What is advertised is not what you get, usually.
3. Brevity, transitions, and cushioning are gold.
4. Contacts, shmontacs. Schmoozing doesn’t work. Be genuine and people will respond. (Dressing well helps a little too.)
5. Try hard, but not too hard. Nothing is ever worth the anxiety.
The number twelve symbolizes completion, forming a whole, perfect and harmonious unit. It’s been 12 days since I started writing, so I thought this would be a numerically opportune time to reflect on the journey thus far.
Standard reflective photo.
It’s been exhausting. This lexophilic marathon could not be more inconvenient. Shortly after vowing to write daily, I took on 2 more freelance projects, then 2 mini-trips. There have been several nights I haven’t been home until 10 or 11 pm, so it’s close to midnight by the time I begin writing. Often, my posts aren’t even published on the day I’m writing about. This publishing schedule is so reflective of the general state of my life: erratic and frantically late to everything. (I didn’t write about the day I was close to a half-hour late for my first day at a part-time job; I was probably too tired to spell out the details of the occasion. Funny enough, it ended up being my first and last day working there. I’ll save that story for another day.)
12 posts. However tired I’ve been, there’s an undeniable sense of accomplishment with each ‘Publish’. Thoughts elucidated, I am able to experience the intangible value of my day, leaving me depleted yet satisfied. It’s why I will continue to put myself through this glorious ordeal because deprived as I am, I am simultaneously filled. The audience, however small, pushes me to produce. Relegated to privacy, I would certainly never do it. All ‘ye consumers have the power. I write because I know someone will read and for whatever effect that has, I push through the yawns. To my loyal screen readers, thank you.
Also, I just realized that I missed a day of writing and so I’ve actually only written 11 times. For the love of incompletion. Tomorrow it shall be rectified.
About half the professional contacts I meet are through friends. In some cases, these people introduce me to their friends which then makes these new contacts friends of friends of friends, or something like that. At some point, you stop keeping track and accept that we’re all just sort of connected in some…connected…way.
There have been quite a few studies about the importance of weak ties in building powerful, diverse networks. This weekend was a perfect example of that. I had three separate meetings with people I knew through friends, for three separate reasons. Turns out all three of them knew each other, or at least of each other, unbeknownst to them . Despite being in different fields (journalism, fashion, web developing), and attending different schools, our interests have since converged through tech, thanks to its unique capability of crossing previously insular industries.
I love where I am now for the sheer opportunity to meet people. It’s not about collecting business cards or climbing the social ladder because quite honestly, that’s annoying and not even all that helpful. Building relationships is intriguing. I do it out of wonderment, wonder at seeing how all these linked tiny nodes organically evolve into a live, buzzing web of activity. When you have our greatest resource – people – at your disposal, the possibilities are endless.