Monday, May 31, 2010

making lemonade

When Erik Proulx lost his job last fall, along with hundreds of thousands of other Americans, he was devastated. Then, he made a movie, and he called it "Lemonade". Ok, so things didn't happen that quickly, or in exactly that order. Proulx used his newly inherited free time to think about the course of his career thus far, and to re-think where he wanted it to go from that point on. He learned that being laid off wasn't the curse it was made out to be; in fact, it was one of the best things that could have happened to him because he ended up discovering his real passion for documentary filmmaking.

Despite the sticky sweet saccharine message, this story is true - not only for Erik Proulx and the dozens of people he interviews in the film. But for countless others who in the last two years have found themselves with no job and almost unlimited amounts of free time - many, for the first time in their adult lives. Imagine what all that free time would feel like at first: hopeless, daunting. But once the initial shock wears off, imagine the sense of opportunity, empowerment, and excitement that would set in with the realization that you could literally do whatever you want.

This film, my blog, thousands of other blogs, books, news articles, and speaker series are all part of what I see as a turning tide for the American worker. It's a real acknowledgment that thirty years on the corporate track (or any single track) can rob you of your creativity, even of your self; and that a sustained pause is good, even necessary - no matter if it's forced or voluntary. It's an acceptance that although we can't control everything, we can thrive simply by controlling our selves, and the way we approach our chaotic, unbridled world. It's a shift in where we place our trust - not in ambiguous organizations and agencies and systems; but in ourselves, our own intelligences, talents and capacities; in our communities and networks of other like-minded people. It's a self-sustaining method of working and producing that is constantly evolving, and incessantly inspiring.

I think the greatest part of this newfangled approach to employment is the accompanying realization that you don't even have to wait until you get handed the lemons to make lemonade. You can make it anytime you want, if you're thirsty enough. If you're patient enough.  And if you don't have the right tools or live in the right climate to grow a lemon tree - you can always find someone who does. Offer an resource of your own in return for their plot of land.
Well, I've gotta run. My seeds need to be watered.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

the carrie bradshaw complex

It's perhaps only fitting that I follow up the post on Superwomen with a post on the venerable Carrie Bradshaw, a fictional character that has been alive and well to scores of women - and increasingly girls - for about fifteen years.
Now before I begin and to set the record straight: I'm going to see the second movie tonight with my gal pals and Cosmos in tow; so I'll preface the coming critique by saying that I'm totally a fan and a follower of all things SJP and Michael Patrick King come out with. But I am just a little irked (ok more than a little) by the movie's take on what was once a semi-believeable story of four working gals figuring out life, love, and fashion in the big city. Now it's become a story of four gals (still supposedly working) figuring out marriage, motherhood, and push-up bras in...Abu Dhabi?? In the words of Ms. Bradshaw herself, "I can't help but wonder"...what happened to Carrie Bradshaw?
I'm not sure at what point the character took on a larger than herself life outside of the show, but it's probably around the time that I began watching the re-runs on TBS. As it has with me, The show has caught on among young women who were practically babies during the time it first came out. I always thought that its continued popularity was a testament to the show's relevance: the topics it addressed had not yet been figured out, they still mattered. And with the exception of a few misguided attempts, the show's fashion had been so forward that it didn't look funny or outdated even five years after its original airdate.

Back in 1997, Carrie Bradshaw was a modern-day Cinderella with the shoes and clothes to match, only she needed no Prince to do the rescuing because she had made herself into what she was. Women looked up to her and aspired to fashion their own careers and closets after her's. Fast-forward to today: the Carrie Bradshaw of my generation has long hair extensions, cleavage up to her chin, and a seemingly bottomless pocketbook (does she work anymore?) that she flaunts on a camel in four and a half inch heels and dresses with glittery diamond details. I can't help but feel let down that this is the image of Carrie and women empowerment that my generation is getting: a faux sense of girl power through buying power. Case in point: the movie is releasing its own sparkly bottle of Skyy Vodka (which I'll admit, I was interested in finding) and probably a hundred other products to coincide with the release. Though I wasn't around to witness it in its original state, I miss the Carrie Bradshaw who sometimes wore lipliner that was too dark and sat in her tiny apartment smoking cigarettes and typing the contents of her next column. Somehow that Carrie seemed a lot more empowered, or at least, more real, than this stylized caricature of Carrie.

So why am I going on and on about this - why does it matter? For young women my age, and for women even older, Carrie Bradshaw is iconic. And for young aspiring writers like myself, she is an even more dominating force. Think of every fashion and lifestyle blog, the Whitney Ports and Lauren Conrads of television, the scores of 20-somethings who move to New York City every year. Her influence is everywhere, to the point where it's become problematic. I once read a job posting for an online bridal magazine looking for copywriters. In the heading, in bold-
faced caps, it read, "Carrie Bradshaw Wannabes do not apply". Sadly, I
can't help but think this is true, both of the Wannabes and of Carrie herself, whose real life applicability has become as ridiculous as her jewel-encrusted headpieces and midriff-baring tops (even if she does look great in them, she is 40+ years old. Can we just accept that?) She has crossed over into pure fantastical territory; a symbol no more of the modern-day woman but of a Queen fixed to unattainable proportions. But, I'll still go to the movie tonight for the over-the-top fashion, to see what happens (Aidan! Liza! Miley!), and for the warm nostalgia it brings to my group of friends of the first time we watched the seasons, of the outrageous bedroom scenarios, and of a gal named Carrie just trying to make her way in the big city.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


(art via Anthony Lister)

Everyday I wonder: How do they do it - the superwomen of the world? Not even the world - but this city, that town, that house? How do they work and create and tend to and care for and manage and lead and write, so successfully and so poignantly? I never aspired to be someone who quote-unquote 'does it all'. As a student, the term "go-getter" practically gave me an anxiety attack. And now, finding myself in circles composed of some fearlessly go-getting women (intimidating, awesome), it can be difficult to realize my own adequacies and talents in the towering face of their's. But anytime I start feeling this way, I [usually] just give myself a quick slap or splash of cold water to the face to wake myself up. If anything, being exposed to these women makes me lucky. Because I'm getting dozens of free templates on how to go about building a career and life that I will love, with bit and parts from them mingling with pieces of my own design. I think so much of our anxieties for our future job, career, life or whatever, stems from the illogical belief that we will have to come up with it entirely on our own, that these ideas and decisions and motivators sprout from an individual, original source. When in fact, our lives are assembled mosaic-style with direction and inspiration pulled from a myriad of people and places.
Most days, when I'm in my clear, right mind, I am consciously affiliating myself with superwomen - of all kinds. And this has provided me a healthy dose of inspiration that's encouraged me to start go-getting, although what I'm going and getting is still ambiguous. .
What is completely clear to me, however, is a dual sense of personal responsibility and achievement. And contentment. Empowerment. 
Everyday I wake up: overwhelmed by the possibility of the day and what I can/will do. 
This image of superwoman sums it all up for me: her lines are undefined, a little blurred around the edges, and the shapes and colors overlap in a way that leaves room for interpretation and invites input. That's an image of Superwoman I can live with.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

the new (feel good) dailies

Oh my. These days and nights fly by too furiously. To-do's get stacked up, one after the other, night after night, just like the dishes on my kitchen counter. We are busy, busy, busy. It's nothing new.
Lately I've been struck by inspiration from a hundred different directions, which makes the days feel even shorter, even more frantic as I try to harness and collect and propel these ideas and actions into their appropriate channels.
But today, I stumbled on this blog which so simply manages to shed insight, humor, and guidance on these complex, up-and-down, hectic lives of our's - all through daily thank you's. I may not have time for much physical exercise, and I'm definitely maxed out on mental exertion by nightfall, but this daily exercise in gratitude is one I can happily stand behind. I really can't think of a better way to end - and begin - each day.

See this amazing blog here.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

the anti-gen Y

I just read this post on Bitch magazine's blog that raises some interesting and serious qualms against the terms Generation Y and Millenials (terms I often use here) and their actual meanings vs. their purported meanings. The author rightly identifies these terms as having little to no sociological or demographic value - as they tend to leave out vast numbers of non-white, non-middle-class 18-26-year-olds; but instead, she recognizes these terms and their associated (near implicit for some) meanings as being entirely contrived for marketing or economic purposes. So what? Well the problem is that these terms are largely unchallenged and undergoing mass appropriation and replication, utilized by one specific, yet powerful group of this generational class - the one with the most access to technology, the one with the most college degrees, the one with the broadest networks of profitable social capital. As it so often seems to be, the term is driven and powered by the exact group that it is representative of, however incomplete that representation may be.
Why do we only ever hear about student debt load and the plight of college grads who are moving back to the safe haven of Mom and Dad's suburban oasis? What about those who never made it to college in the first place? Who don't have the option to lean on their families, because these families are every bit as financially strapped (if not more so) than they are? What about young adults who, by virtue of culture, religion or upbringing, have different values or a different relationship to technology than those which defines the Millennial archetype? 
 These are all valid concerns and I can easily recognize my compliance with the problem as someone with a close familiarity to racial and cultural homogeneity (less somewhat with class). The most troublesome in my eyes is that last question regarding technology. I often read about how the Internet has become a tool to level the playing-field for the modern worker, and its potential to enact a near democratization of job markets, with the idea that age, gender, race, and especially geography no longer act as strong factors for hiring and recruitment, just as long as someone has aptly demonstrated the required skills. Of course, this leaves out one other important category: class. So it seems the tremendous scope of technology/social media and its inherent potential for creating economic opportunities, fostering collaboration and network-building, establishing an online presence and personal brand will be completely futile in terms of democratizing the playing fields if it is not actually accessible or transmutable to the anti-Gen Y - that group of young adults who did not grow up with computers or laptops and may never 'catch up' to its generational counterparts who did, whether because of economic circumstances or other tangential circumstances.
For me, this all points to the need for being explicit in my use of such terms, and resist the urge to fall into the myth of Gen Y homogeneity; while encouraging the promulgation of a more sociologically sound definition that can be made more useful to generational analysis and forecasting.

Monday, May 10, 2010

(belated) mother's day happy's

Happy Mother's Day (a day late, but would you expect anything different from me?) to my mama. Thanks for my dark eyebrows and my tiny ears. Thanks for my big feet and lovely penmanship. Thanks for my goofy humor and my quietude. Thank you for my steady composure and subtle strength. Thank you for my gracefulness and ability to keep my chin up, even in murky water.

Thank you for being you, so that I could become me.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

free pass

Oooh I do love me these Wednesday mornings. It's like drawing one of those Monopoly cards that tells you to pass Go and collect $200. I get a free pass through midweek. Delicious.

Ils sont tres magnifiques, les mercredi. See? I love them so much I want to talk in gramatically-incorrect French to them.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

faking it

Which of these bathing beauties do you think is faking it? (Answer: All of them)

When I was thirteen, I imagined myself as a sophisticated, put-together, well-spoken sixteen-year-old. When I was sixteen, not quite as sophisticated or put-together as I'd hoped, I envisioned the twenty-year-old me: stylishly brazen, with a bright red pocketbook and nails and toes painted to match. At twenty, my hair still frizzed on top, toothpaste still crusted in the corner of my mouth, and I almost never had an umbrella when I needed one. But, I just knew at twenty-three, I would finally have stopped leaving the house five minutes late, with mismatched socks and unhemmed pants that I tripped on and ripped as a consequence. 
I'm twenty-three. And still... 
On the days I manage to wash my hair, its ends are sticking out like a confused compass pointer by noon. My toenails seem to grow at the pace of a super-weed, and I am continuously losing all three sets of my nail-clippers. I rarely have a pen on me when someone asks for one, and if I do, it's stenciled with the name of a company like "Enemas R Us".  I'm messy, unorganized, distracted, fumbling; and the days wherein through some miracle, I actually have an air of somebody who has got it together, there can only be one explanation. I'm faking it.
And I know I’m not the only one doing this. A recent conversation between myself and the other interns at the company which shall not be named – a company that prides itself on being the most stylish accessory for the quintessential urban-girl-about-town - affirmed my long-held suspicions. I found that we were all faking something: our technical know-how, our fashion sensibilities, our ability to juggle multiple jobs or internships, our mastery of local trends and hot spots. None of us cared too much for writing pieces on cupcakes, or thigh-tightening techniques; but we were all willing to, even if it meant faking something in the process. The collective sigh that was released upon admitting this was indicative that women are far too good at keeping this a secret. Because the most refreshing part was that we could all actually admit it to each other, and that alone, somehow made the pretending part less shameful. In fact, it erased the shame entirely. 
I know the image that we’re working to project via the company and our little articles is fantasy and entirely unrealistic. No woman can possibly have it all together as flawlessly and effortlessly as magazines, tv shows, and movies depict. And if it looks as though she does, it only mean she has mastered the art of faking it. And if she's a master, I'd do well to get to talking to her. 
I often write, on this blog and in real life, about being authentic in your work, being honest in your communications with yourself and others. But when it comes to this, I've got no problem putting on an act. Why is that? Well for one, we all do it in one way or another. If not at work, then in a relationship, or elsewhere. We are always working to make ourselves seem slightly better; more intelligent, more productive, more exciting that we actually are. 
It’s fun to imagine ourselves as having it all together, even if we never will. Pretending for a night that we are as well-dressed, perfectly-heeled, and immaculately-coiffed as a Glamour-girl is something like the grown-up version of dress-up. So while I could sit around lamenting the fact that at age twenty-three, I still can't get my hair to fall just right - and it probably never will; I am perfectly content to get by with faking it.