Simple Civility

Two weeks ago, I checked a major item off my life bucket list: running the New York City Marathon.

img_0074Words can’t quite capture the experience of running through the streets of New York City with 50,000+ other runners. What I can say is that running through the five boroughs — from the mass exodus in Staten Island across the Verrazano bridge into Brooklyn (admittedly, my favorite borough), followed by Queens and a stampede of supporters on 1st ave in Manhattan, into the toughest miles in the Bronx, and then concluding with the final stretch along Central Park West — evoked a powerful sense of unity.

Somewhere in the Bronx between miles 21 and 22 when my legs began to give way, I also began to meditate and pass the time by drawing a line of comparison between the race itself and the race of life. (This is what happens when your neurotic brain calms down!)

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Though I am far from seasoned in either race, here are a few racing takeaways that emerged along the path:

  • Pace yourself. You’ll burn out by going full blast too quick, too soon. As an all or nothing type of person, this level of control is something I’m still trying to learn in life.
  • And yet, you’ll inevitably get tired regardless. It’s ok to stop and take a break when you need it. Recognize when to stop because it’s not about crashing and burning; it’s about finishing the long game.
  • Be prepared to lose some shit along the way. I threw out an old hoodie and a jacket as it started to heat up, and allowed my headband to fall to the ground. Some things you’re better off without, for no better reason than to simply lighten the load.
  • Go with the (ebb) and flow. There are various phases along the course: times when you’re riding high and filled with determination, and times when you’re on the major struggle bus near drunken stupor. During miles 3–9 in Brooklyn, I felt like I could run forever, as well as miles 17–19 along 1st avenue in Manhattan. The energy on the streets was infectious; when you see people from all walks of life cheering, you can’t help but feel like the whole city is on your side.
    Reality hits during what I call the ‘desert miles’; these were miles 12–15, while crossing the Pulkalski bridge into Queens, and miles 19–22, while crossing the Willis bridge into the Bronx. The crowd peters out. You’re alone and doing everything in your power to not give up. The going gets really tough.
    We all get by a bit easier with a little help. That said, we don’t always have the luxury of a personal cheering squad which means we ultimately need to rely on our own beating hearts to charge towards the end goal.
  • Get over yourself. Just when you think you’re struggling hard, you’re reminded that everyone else is running the same race while facing a battle of their own. People are overcoming challenges beyond what you could ever imagine. Towards the later stretches of the marathon, I found myself running next to a a group called Achilles International. Not knowing who they were, I was a bit irked when one of the runners ran into me. I think I gave her a look, only to realize that she was blind and guided by a volunteer with Achilles International (awesome organization btw, they pair those with sight with the sight-impaired so that they can participate in marathons and running events). Life is filled with humbling moments like these.
  • Everything is in your head. We are capable of more than we think. Running a marathon is highly mental. During those moments of immense pain and perspiration, the only thing that kept me going was sheer will, not athletic ability. The physical act of putting one foot in front of the other is easy compared to quelling the brain’s desire to quit. Conquer the mind’s restless chatter and truly, anything is within reach.
  • Have fun. A marathon is not something people generally do for leisure. But willpower is in short supply. As with all things in life, if you opt to train for something, you need to do it not because you “have to” but because you “want to”. Develop a strategy to make it fun. It will make the journey a lot more enjoyable.

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The marathon is one of those milestones that puts everything in perspective. I actually wrote this post two weeks ago without publishing, in between the marathon and our presidential election, but decided to post now because its lessons seem particularly trenchant to our current state of affairs.

Two main takeaways:

  1. What a gift it is to be alive and healthy. Training and completing the marathon makes me more cognizant of the gift of the human body and all the elements that allow me to move, particularly my 2 legs, 2 arms, 2 eyes, and healthy lungs.
  2.  Unity is possible. If people of all backgrounds can show up on the streets of New York and cheer a simple act of human endurance and resilience — running — why are we so divisive in other areas of life?
Which leads to one final thought about the topic on everyone’s mind –

 

Though we may not all be on the same page politically, may we aim for simple civility in the days to come. As we enter a potentially transformative time in our nation, let us remember the freedom we are afforded and use it wisely. Fight in the way that matters most, which is inside. And just like the long and winding path on the marathon, press on towards the victorious finish.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” – Martin Luther King Jr. 

Hello Again, New York

On Thanksgiving Eve, while most New Yorkers eagerly shuttled out of the city, I befittingly found myself glued to my couch in Alphabet City, alone, milking a bottle of wine. Solitary gulps couldn’t replace my family’s embrace but somewhere between the self-pity and nostalgia, I found a silver lining. This week marks my 2nd year of living in New York. Bottoms up!

20131130-004650.jpgShould the occasion warrant celebration or consolation? In the past month a number of authors have written emotionally wrenching tales about their breakups with the city. “Why I’m Glad I Quit New York At Age 24” likened the city to the overrated “prom king”. Most recently, “The Long Goodbye“- a NYT commentary on well-known writer’s broken love affairs with NYC – prompted me to ask whether it was time I cut the cord soon too.

2 years is not a long time, but it’s enough to begin embodying characteristics unique to a place. Certainly, my expectations of the city have evolved since day 1. I still remember arriving on a bus with an oversize suitcase that could barely fit in the aisle. Scurrying to the dinner I was late for (the beginning of a recurring New York theme) only to have my dinner date keep me waiting for an additional 30 minutes. Within 24 hours,  I had learned an important New York lesson: never wait longer for someone than they will wait for you.

The rest of it reads like a once-poignant-now-trite Thought Catalog riff. But in New York’s defense – or perhaps I’m stuffed with Thanksgiving propaganda at this time of year – I’ve learned lessons which can only be attributed to New York’s hard-knock teaching style. Here are a few:

1. The city moves fast, but you still need to wait at the station.

*applies to more than just commute times.

People can respond to your emails in a heartbeat, but getting anyone to do anything is like moving a mountain. When you’re young, resistance finds you at every corner. You have to pay your dues.

In a literal sense, you need to add at least 20 minutes to a projected commute time because the R or F train will likely be delayed.

The moral is that plans, ambitions, and dreams often get derailed by unforeseen obstacles but usually (God willing) you get to where you need to be. It just takes patience and waiting for the train to come.

2. The city gets smaller, while the world gets bigger.

New York City is the center of the universe and there’s always people to meet.  But as my network has expanded, I’ve experienced a shrinking of the “center”. This simultaneous shrinking and expansion of worlds is interesting. The more people I meet, the fewer degrees of separation I am from other people in the city (and the more I treasure my close circle of friends). Neighborhood establishments become part of the routine and former strangers become friends. New York City essentially becomes one big town and way more manageable.

Then I flip to an article on Syrian refugees fleeing to Europe and never does anything seem farther away.

3. The hero is redefined.

Few places embody beauty, wealth, and status more than New York does.  I arrived here as starstruck as the worst of Bieber groupies.  But after meeting a handful of personal role models- some as impressive as I imagined and others rude as rats – I’ve had to destroy my gods. Working in media taught me that so much of what we see is a marketing blitz and once all the fluff is stripped away, well – celebrities are mere mortals too.

Perhaps because of the preponderance of celebrities in this town, titles and money are a dime in a dozen. What’s harder to find is genuine compassion, a desire to listen, and an ability to think deeply about meaningful issues.  While I’m not immune to the allure of wealth and its impact (we all need to make a living), New York’s in-your-face inequality reveals the inflationary value of certain attributes and a gap in appreciation for the everyday heroes who display value beyond the short-lived hoopla of models, millionaires, and moguls.

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For the past two years, I’ve raced to keep up with NYC’s speed, size, and glitz. It’s kicked my ass. But I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished overall: building a network within the tech and startup community, writing for one of the most-read US digital publications, working for the government of this grand city of cities, and most importantly, learning more everyday about this intricately woven world. While I have acquired certain archetypically New York characteristics, the hardest part about living here hasn’t been about becoming more assertive, professional, or socially savvy. It’s been refining the qualities that often aren’t associated with New York: patience, humility, and compassion. In its own prickly way, New York City has forced me to reconcile its somewhat contradictory nature (movement-stillness, expansion-shrinking, glitz-poverty) in a way that tamer cities simply can’t.  

Saying “Goodbye to All That” is justified. For my friends wondering when I will leave, my answer is not yet. Two years ago, I came to audition. Two years later, I’m still perfecting my routine. I’m still naive enough to believe that, more than anywhere else, New York City is the place for reinvention. Tomorrow, I will say “Hello again, New York” – like I do everyday – and audition for the next month, year, future. The show is yet to begin.

5 Reasons Why You Should Read This Awesomely In-Depth Post

For starters, this post is not about crepes. And it’s actually a pretty obnoxious and superficial post. But I can promise that I’ll get you outta here in less than 3 minutes (4 minutes if you’re multi-tasking) , so we can all get on with our merry royal baby-stalking lives.

This post is really about the 5 things I learned from my 2-month journalism internship. In reality, I learned a lot more than 5 things- not just about writing, but about technology, multimedia, and the way we consume information . Most likely, you wouldn’t have the bandwidth to read it all (nor I to write it). About 40% of you have already clicked away. Half of you will dart off after this paragraph. And I understand: there are more exciting GIFs waiting to be explored.

For those of you remaining (thank you), here are some lessons I learned from Business Insider that are invaluable not just for writers, but for anyone looking to leverage some influence in our modern, distractible, cyborg world.

I. Inflict emotion. 

Why should anyone care? Ultimately, it boils down to framing: picking a nugget of information that will resonate.

The age of objective journalism is gone. A headline like this will get clicks, Dunkin Donuts Hired Psychotic Credit Card Thief Carolyn Kravetz As Director Of Communications ,

or Here Are The Angry Texts A Mom Sent Her Bonehead Son Before He Ran Across The Field At The All-Star Game 

These headlines sound like bullish statements made at the bar, which is exactly the point. Read them, and you’ll see that they’re actually marvelous stories: the first being a serious piece of investigative journalism, the second a creative integration of new media.

We act on our instincts which are guided far more by emotion than logic. So, appeal to the audience with colorful adjectives , and the way YOU feel about something. It’s not completely PC, but I guarantee it will leave an impression and get people to bite into an important issue worth reading.

II. Simplify simplify simplify.

Humans like to digest information in compact bits, so any sort of list you can compile will be dopamine for the brain.

III. Pictures are (sometimes) more important than anything you’ll write.

I hate to use this story, but it’s a telling example of how superficial we are.

I manned a daily business advice column which averaged about 200-300 views per post. Each post had a picture of the person offering the advice. One particular post came from a businesswoman  who shared an uncanny resemblance to Kim Kardashian. (Before you ask for the link, it wasn’t her.) Within a day, her post received over 1000 views, more than most of these posts receive in a lifetime.

Several commenters admitted the only reason they clicked was because of the “hot picture”. Admittedly, this post was not written better than any other post, but having a fair face certainly got people to care.

IV. Brother, be brief. 

V. And clear.

I love a good story that weaves its way to an unforeseen ending in novel form. But theres a time and place for that, and the web is not that place. Albeit a few exceptions, a modern reader (or friend, colleague, whatever) wants to learn something new (with some context) fast.

The writer’s first job is to help us understand, not to dazzle.

———

Thanks to Henry Blodget, CEO of Business Insider, along with my editors Vivian and Gus, who helped elucidate these insights along the way.

I’m not saying page views are all that matter. I’m going to work for a government agency which isn’t exactly known for provocative, click-baiting headlines. Impact will be measured by relatively dry economic initiatives. But, for every silly story out there, there are a myriad of other stories that matter. If you can figure out how to get people to care about really important issues, you can maximize your impact and maybe, just maybe, increase your chance of doing something truly world-changing.

The Backstory

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Bad hair reporting days. You rarely get to see this.

What makes a good story? Writers are often judged by what appears below their byline, but there is so much more to a good story than that. The public rarely gets to see the exciting grunt work behind the scenes. An initial story idea, like any entrepreneurial venture, goes through several pivots and iterations, before the golden story materializes.

Pitching to my editors is my favorite part of the job, but it’s also the hardest. Balancing what the public wants to know with your moral compass of what you think they should know is tricky.

You spend a lot of time swatting bugs behind the scenes.

You spend a lot of time swatting bugs behind the scenes.

There are a million backstories behind the final product. The vetting process – determining what is worth writing about, what people will like, what they should know – involves asking the right questions. What are readers curious about? What is their perception on a topic? What do they know that I don’t?

I’m creating a newsletter to involve my friends and family in story development. Each week, I’ll share stories I’ve posted, stories in the pipeline, and stories that need some fleshing out. I want to hear your thoughts on the stories in queue. Think of it as a sounding board, and your chance to add input to a story before it is published.

My strategy thus far has been to post a question on Facebook and Twitter. “Hey, what internship advice do you have for new interns?” “Do you know anything about Atlanta? Let me know!” It can get annoying. So, one other purpose of this newsletter is to reduce my clutter and create a targeted community of people who do actually want to participate in the development of stories without bombarding everyone else’s social feeds.

If you’re interested in participating, here’s the link to sign-up and feel free to forward to anyone else who is interested:

https://tinyletter.com/lynneguey

ps. the inspiration for a newsletter came from Ann Friedman, who wrote this helpful post on How Writers Can Use Email To Share Their Work. Her weekly newsletter is a mix of her original work, suggested reads, pie charts, and funny gifs.

editing, defined.

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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.

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Editors of all experience levels, w/ Poynter Faculty

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.

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*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.  

Why I’m Back on Facebook

“You have to get offline. I’ll say it again. You HAVE GOT TO GET OFFLINE. YOU HAVE TO GET F***ING OFF F***ING LINE.”  – advice from legendary E. Jean Carroll, of Ask E. Jean, America’s longest currently running advice column

Better advice could not be more emphatically expressed. I took it to heart for 4 months. 4 months of purposeful separation, living life offline, unplugged…or at least as unplugged as life can be when you have a smart phone and still tweet and email and you know, do almost everything except Facebook + Instagram. Still, give a girl some credit: pulling the plug on Facebook was a big deal, kind of like moving to a desert island. I even wrote a goodbye letter.  (melodramatic twentysomething)

I remained pretty social on the island. Before I knew it, 3 months had gone by. One night I thought about the social network and tried to log back in. There were several tell-tale signs I had been gone for a while; for one, I couldn’t remember my log-in. My web history was clogged with news articles instead of the usual Facebook photo albums and in fact I momentarily forgot who some people in those albums even were. Months before, merely typing www—>> triggered automatic completion of “site-thou-shall-not-be-named”.com, and now… LinkedIn has replaced it as the most frequently visited site. If ever there were a sign of professional maturity (or boringness)…

Upon sailing Home a few days ago, Facebook almost seemed foreign, like returning to college after being abroad for a couple months. Soon, though, the falsely jolly, slickly disingenuous first-world details that had ceased to exist during my time away came trickling back into consciousness. Bloop! There went the little red notification. And here we go again…

Ignorance is bliss, I had told myself. But what I’ve realized is that the problem was never really about Facebook or the technology or all the obnoxious statuses out there; the problem was me. I needed to clear out my own cache of judgement.

——

I deactivated my Facebook and Instagram accounts on 12/12/12. Since it was supposedly the end of the world, I decided to enter the ‘new’ world with a clean slate. I wanted to return to the root of being social without the distraction of a buzzing phone, without feeling compelled to take pictures of my brunch, and without the aid of a red Facebook notification to alter my serotonin level. I entered detox mode.

My primary justification was personal. I thought that my personhood – the very root of my identity – had been reduced to a set of data points on Facebook. I was living my life out online. How could I allow a single website to simplify my life to a bunch of photos, text, and information? It was naval-gazing for sure, but I couldn’t shake it.  So, I left to return to my offline roots but not before posting a status on Facebook asking people to send me their email; I would write occasionally with life updates, philosophical meanderings, and other angsty Thought Catalog-like topics. Several people did reach out and I was happy to keep my social network limited to these newfound thought followers, family, and close friends. It was my way of keeping in touch.

Life offline was revolutionary & simple. It gave me greater appreciation for things beyond the digital realm such as parks, museums, and coffee shops with no wi-fi. I spent a month at home in Tennessee, a month in San Francisco, another month eating a bunch of really really good food for my job back in New York. Normally, I’d be sharing & posting like it was my job but I restrained. I just ate, just observed, just explored. The ‘justs’ were more than enough. No one was validating the awesomeness of my adventure, so I could focus on the actual act of exploring. It was great. There were moments when I wondered if I was missing out (and for sure, I later found out there was A LOT) but I was aware of the really important things.  In fact I remember secretly gloating that I knew about the new Pope before some of my Facebook-hounding friends did.  (Twitter – 1, Facebook – 0)

Ultimately, however, I discovered a glaringly simple truth through deeper offline conversations : we’re lonely. Some more than others, but at the end of the day, it’s a large reason why social networks like Facebook and Twitter have taken off. Introvert or extrovert, we’re all searching for some form of connection.

Yet connection is thrown around like free lunch these days. Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook mission, “to make the world more open and connected” is noble. But just like lunch, real connection never comes free. You don’t amass friends and spit stuff into the never-ending stream of content and expect connection to magically appear. (You also don’t sell that information to marketers, but that’s another topic for another day.) Facebook is not the magic ingredient. If we truly want connection, we must first change ourselves.

When I logged back onto Facebook a few days ago, updating my profile with an affirming Facebook status “They always come back”, I found myself digging back into connections – weak, strong, and the many in-betweens. While catching up with the lives of those I had almost forgotten about, I was reminded of life’s continuous march. Over the course of our lives, things happen, people change. In this digital age, social platforms are there to document it all. While I traveled coast to coast, going from San Francisco to New York, life for others did not stop and wait for me to press ‘play’ to be reenacted. People continued to post, comment, like, and tag whether I was there to participate or not. I had missed a Canadian friend’s trip to New York with her band. I had missed lovely photos from an acquaintance’s wedding. I had no idea the company I worked for had uploaded and tagged an embarrassingly hilarious video of me. (Self-scrutiny commence.)

Anyway, I’ve come to the conclusion that my view of personhood must evolve like the times. I am nostalgic for a Web that no longer exists. I’d like to think of myself, as author Zadie Smith puts it, “a private person, a person who is a mystery, to the world and to herself.”  But I am naive. I’ve taken 4 months time (and an entire Facebook timeline of inner sciamachy) to set aside this identity crisis. I come back because I want to write. Truthfully. Part of that means knowing people. Social media is a way to be part of a conversation you’re creating together with fellow beings. For all its clutter, social media can be rich and multi-faceted. On other days, it can be also be self-glorifying, artificial, and so damn annoying that I wonder if I should just disconnect again.

But that’s life. Life is not always beautiful. Take it or leave it; I choose to take it. Not being on social media means I will simply know less about what is going on with other people.  That is not a bad thing. But even so, I firmly believe humans are not made to be fully removed from each other, whether that is physically or virtually. Do you want to participate and steer the conversation toward good? Yesterday’s Boston Marathon terror serves as an example. People gathered updates and news real-time to help those in need.  Coverage through social media was a mix of qualitative and informative, creating a complete (while heartbreaking) picture of the unfolding scene. The Internet, if we choose, really can be a useful tool for good.

For all its good, though, we must be reminded that the data points we generate can underrepresent reality. Living offline is messier and more complex. Walking away from social media, at times, is not necessarily practical, as we live in an age where many of our communities and lives are built on these platforms. So what I’m granting myself is an approach, a mindset: one of connection rather than comparison. It’s easy to look at the filtered photos and artuflly written statuses as gunk that clogs our news feed. But lighten up. On the days you peer into the screen of your laptop and simply can’t find any semblance of relation to your perfectly posed fellow human beings, just remember that what you see is a mere half-reality and carefully selected portion of life. Life isn’t simply the story you tell about yourself on the Internet. It’s merely one of many.

This is my relapse. I’m back to listen, contribute, and document the evolution of our virtual selves. This time, I realize I am not above it all. While I can’t promise zero judgment, I welcome your sharing. In a sense, I agree with Zuckerberg: our selves evolve and like it or not, it’s a story worthy capturing.

Writing + An Announcement

“If you aren’t journaling what you’re seeing and doing so in a thoughtful way, you’re running yourself based on year or more old information, never cleaning off your blind spots. Just because you have funding doesn’t mean you put your head down.”

This was written as a word of advice to entrepreneurs on how to manage companies. However, I modified it for general life purposes because, entrepreneur or not, we are each our own company. We shouldn’t run our individual motors on year-old information. Similarly, cash flow in our bank account is no excuse to rest on our laurels.

On that note, I’ve been rather happy these past two weeks eating ice cream, watching movies, and on occasion, drafting lyrical tweets and emails. Somehow I think that’s enough to call myself a WRITER.

It got me thinking about why we write and situations that warrant burning the midnight oil,  – – or in writer-speak, ‘writing by candlelight’. (which I have never actually done)

I’ll share here, candidly, what often really drives me to write:

1. FEAR: Buried in my conscience is a deep fear that the day I stop writing is the day I deteriorate back to simple googoogaga speak.  Short S-V-O sentences. “Go here.” “Feed me.” “I want.” Flashback to the day of my 3rd grade writing assessment when I could barely construct an introductory paragraph with a ‘hook’, a 3-paragraph body with 5 supporting details and a zinger conclusion, resulting in a barely passing grade and making me despise writing, thus dashing all hopes of becoming a writer.

Engrained fearfully in my memory, this drives me. Like the gym rats who drag themselves to the gym for fear of gaining weight, my fear of being stripped of all ability to express is often just as extreme. So, I write.

More sensibly, I view writing as a way to clear off the mental counter, to make abstractions concrete in an otherwise tangled, dusty mind.  When the clutter piles up, what results is clusterfuck in the brain.

So, I write.

2. GUILT – I call myself a writer on Google + and Quora.  So, I better damn write.

3. THERAPY – My theory: writing mixes the disconnected new facts we pick up everyday with the existing knowledge we already have, creating new hunches.  It provides the self-reflection to sift between hunches by understanding my innate bias, allowing me to pick out the best ones to follow.

4. VANITY – Finally, there is a self-serving aspect to it. Life can be awesome and I want others to know it. I like telling others about my life. Not sure when it kicked in but it was probably around the time in college I started taking pictures of myself with food. Though I am less inclined to do that now, I still believe that certain milestones are worth sharing and for that reason, I write these posts with an element of personal candor.

On that note (and since I can’t think of a better segue), I have an announcement to make:

This week, I start work at ZeroCater, a San Francisco-based startup dedicated to connecting companies with the best food in town. I’m their first account manager in New York City, so I’ll be helping them set up shop there.

After a few months of dabbling in the freelance life, I’m ready for this. While I felt liberated by my open schedule and enlivened by the opportunities, I was often plagued with uncertainty. Uncertainty with where random projects were leading me, how much would be in my bank account, how much longer I could afford to stay in the city on a shoestring budget. It was, I believe, the closest I’ve gotten to ‘real life’. I had to make choices and live the consequences, with nary an alternative to fall back on. It was trying and terrifying. But a lesson learned. Rarely does anything come in an easy 9-5 package unless we constrain ourselves to that bubble. I learned to more readily deal with the gray because Choice A and Choice B weren’t available. It was a necessary time for reflection.

I have no idea what this new position will bring. I can only guess that it will be wildly different, challenging, and tasty. Ultimately, I’m just excited to learn more about 3 of my favorite things: startup culture, food, and the workings of delivery/transportation/logistics in the never-ending gluttony of New York City. My two main goals are:

1. to begin each day with specific goals in mind, and

2. to be openly communicative with my co-workers.

Tomorrow, I fly out to San Francisco for 3 weeks of training, and will be back in New York mid-February to get the office started.

Before I turn the page and scribble on, I cast my shadow out into the air. Out with the old, in with the new.  Cheers!

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“On a good day, I’m caught up by something larger than myself, held in the light by some celestial movement. For a brief charged time I may be irradiated, able to cast a shadow version of something I only imagine. The shadow will never be the bright true self that I know exists, but it will be as precise as I can make it, as real, as sharp, as beautiful. I will cast this shadow into the air, where it may never be seen, or where it may be seen at a great distance, and only by one person, someone I will never know. The point is to cast the shadow out into the air.”

Roxana Robinson, on writing

Day 29: Coast to Coast

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.

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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’.IMG_1489

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.

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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.

Other highlights:

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– 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)

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– 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

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– 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.

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“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.

Day 22: Vision

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.

Day 21: Gratitude

It would be culturally disrespectful for me to not mention some version of the words thanks, appreciation, or gratitude today.

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).

11. Art.

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)

15. Life.

16. Sleep.

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.

20. AMERICA!

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.

 Happy Thanksgiving!