Saturday, June 26, 2010

June is bustin' out all over

Well, it may be warm, sunny and pleasant in Maine (location of this scene from Roger & Hammerstein's Carousel, but not here by the bay. After a brief stint in the Chicago suburbs for a work conference two weeks ago, I was a bit forlorn to return to the Bay area. Summer isn't my favorite season, but I actually miss the lick of humidity against my skin that was so integral in the summer season back east. Landing in Chicago, I felt the weight of the summer air and the warmth of the sun beating down reminding me that it was June. It was summer!

The infamous Twain quote (though some question the validity of this attribution), "The coldest winter I ever spent was the summer in San Francisco" couldn't be more accurate. Though the most discouraging thing to me is that once you cross any bridge out of San Francisco, the skies are dry and the sun beams pound against the earth with no obstruction, ringing in temperature more akin to summer.

Friday morning I pulled on a sweater and some pants to start my day in the city. After finishing up a few meetings downtown and swinging south, I headed east to our office via the San Mateo bridge. Right as I crossed the bridge entrance, I put down my windows, slapped on my sun glasses as the sun appeared. I gazed north at the city nestled below a hovering disk of fog circling above. Just as summer breezes attempt to creep in to the streets of San Francisco, the dense summer fog gallops in (and it does gallop!) and deflects any indications of summer.

After work, I pushed further east- to Stockton with my cousin and adopted aunt and uncle for some wine tasting. Cognizant of the severe temperature gradient, I packed a sundress and light shrug for my evening activities. (Remember, I was wearing pants and a sweater for the day.) In Stockton, just 70 miles east of San Fran, I went the entire night without even reaching for my shrug once. Temperatures were in the 80s. When I got home Friday night (around 11:30 pm), the fog was so thick I had to use my wipers and I doubt temperatures were above 60 degrees.

I do love San Francisco, but I also really miss the change in seasons. I'll never miss the bitter winds and negative temperatures from Pennsylvania, but only my jeans and hoodies seem to be making it out of closet these days.

Here is some further reading about the topographic factors that keep summer away from San Francisco.

Google Voice

Last week my tech obsession was the Four Square App for my Droid; this week: Google Voice.

I am so excited about this new tool and want to gush about it, but each time I begin to write this blog entry I wind up sounding like a radio advertisement. I apologize in advance for my abounding excitement: you have been warned.

Google Voice is a tool that allows anyone, for free, to consolidate multiple phone numbers to one master number. There are a lot of ways to already do this, but here is where Google really steps it up a notch: this master number then is linked your Google account so you can listen to your messages online. Oh, and you can listen to them as they are being left. And you can get your voice mails in text form. And you can block numbers. And you make calls or send texts from the online account. And I am sure there are even more fun features evading this newbie!

...I told you I was going to sound a bit like a commercial! Actually, I think this exactly the message Google generates when you sign up your account. (I promise, I'm not collecting any royalties from this entry.)

The only thing that was difficult for me when I was setting up my new account was picking a new number. I'm not bound to distributing my new phone number, but I now have the option. I have had the same exact phone number since I was 16 years old. The number carries with it a bit of nostalgia. I can remember receiving the phone on my 16th birthday, and excitedly passing notes with friends the following day in school with my very own, personal cell phone number. (Back then, the only differentiator between phones was whether or not your phone had the game "snake" on it.) Even though I had no text messaging plan and I predominately still relied on my family's land line to catch up with friends, my personal number has been mine.

Having the Google Voice number now will just allow me to take on multiple numbers (should they accumulate for any reason) or keep fluid transition with friends if I ever do need to change numbers with my mobile carrier. The online features are also convenient, though ironic: the cell phone is a tool to allow you to go about your day yet stay connected with others. Generally, when we are in front of a lap top or computer of any sort, we could feasibly access a phone; however, I do admit that I'm guilty of waiting until my phone battery completely crashes before I plug it in to a charger, and the extra option is reassuring.

I was able to personally select my new "master" number from a list generated off of my current address. (Though I could have technically selected anywhere in the world if I had wanted to.) I don't dwell too much on my number, aside from the fact that it's been uniform for seven years, but I did spent considerable time picking it out. A number has no personalization to it, and aside from honing in on one that was easy to remember, I thought I wouldn't have much preference. But somehow, as I glanced through the list, I felt like this new number was going to define me in some way. It was going to become a part of my life, and I wanted to make sure that it was I'd feel confident rolling off to new acquaintenances.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Tennis has love, but no ties

Day 3 of the Wimbledon Marathon match.

The match was postponed Day 1 at the conclusion of the fourth set. Returning the following day, players Isner (USA) and Mahut (France) took the court again for the fifth and final set. As the players rallied back and forth, so did the set score. In a normal set, a tie breaker is played at 6 all; however, Wimbledon rules mandate that all 5th sets be won by a margin of 2 games, not by a tie breaker. Last year's "marathon" match in the finals between Federer and Roddick that finally closed out with a W for Federer at 16-14 in the 5th has quickly been trumped by the 59-all score posted as the players retired for a 2nd day.

I can't think of any other sports that allows the players to battle on endlessly until a clear victor emerges by a margin of two.

The Wimbledon tournament hardly ever adheres to the outline schedule, frequently interupted by showers. But this year, the sun has beamed affectionately as Isner and Mahut continue to rally for advancement.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

This is Steinbeck's State

I'd spent time in LA with my family 10 years ago during a tour of the California coastline. Though I'd spent the large majority of my childhood dreaming of sauntering down the red carpet outside the Chinese Theatre in downtown LA, I was crestfallen with the absence of glamor and abundant presence of litter in the streets flanking some of the best-known attractions downtown.

Growing up on the East Coast, the general conception of California is defined by images of Southern California beaches littered with the trim bodies of aspiring starlets and surfer boys or the hippies flanking Haight and Ashbury in San Francisco; this is despite the fact that the majority of California is desolate fields of farm land and vast valleys replete of crashing waves or glamizons. In fact, I've been told (and this is without researching, so pardon my perpetuation of "word of mouth" facts) that California's central valley supplies the majority of all US agriculture.

So it was after months of promises that I'd make the trip to LA to visit a good friend that I finally followed through and ventured south late Friday afternoon. Of my 6.5 hour drive, the bulk of the trip was careening through the farms, orchards and vineyards flanking Route 5 of the Central Valley. The rolling hills cupping the sprawling farms speckled with the glint of barn and silo roofs was reminiscent of my own home town in Pennsylvania. Though most generalize California to be beaches cluttered with celebrities or ski resorts, the majority off California most closely resemble the depictions laid out by John Steinbeck in the 19th century.

One of my favorite books in high school was Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. After pillaging through the pages, I moved on to East of Eden, a "modern" twist on the biblical book of Genesis based in the Central Valley of California. I admit that eventually the zeal of a new favorite author diminished and I retired East of Eden to my book shelf (though it still is on my reading queue...), the depiction of the central valley intertwined beneath the character and plot development is accurate even as it stretches along highway 5.

Even though California is generalized by the stereotypes of LA or San Francisco, the vast majority of the state actually has more in common with my childhood Pennsyltucky than the glimmering lights of NYC. And I definitely love living in the city, but as I rolled along through Steinbeck's inspiration, I couldn't help but breath in the country air and feel a sense of relaxation.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Impressionable & Impressed with Impressionism

"Edgar Degas from Paris, France
painted pictures of people who loved to dance."

In elementary school, each art movement and artist we studied was encapsulated with a short poem to reiterate the artists motif(s). The poems were a mnemonic device device to reinforce memory of each artist, and though I believe the Impressionist were studied in the first half of primary school, nearly 15 years later, I can still recite the first verse for Degas. (I remember we had corresponding poems for Cezanne and Cassat, but unfortunately those limericks have escaped me.)

I enjoy art, but I can't say I'm privy to spending money or time staring at stark canvases with abstract shapes or splotches of paint scattered about. I'm very traditional in my art taste, and the thick brush strokes of the Impressionist are closest to my heart. I'm not sure if I knew of Monet and my preference for Impressionism prior to my family's 1998 trip to France, but 12 years after visiting Giverny, Monet's home outside of Paris, I can still vividly recall stepping back and forth in front of the Water Lillies painting, admiring the definition from afar and the coarse strokes up close.

What I love about the Impressionist is the depiction of ordinary people, places or things that are transformed into rustic yet elegant capsules of time through the bold colors and abrupt brush strokes. There is no "message" an artist is trying to purvey through ambiguous hues and shapes. It is honest, pure and tranquil.

Tomorrow night I'll be visiting the Impressionist Exhibit at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, and couldn't be more excited for the evening. Though I was disappointed with the Tut exhibit at de Young, I'm looking forward to browsing some of favorite Monet's- especially the Water Lillies that I haven't seen in person since I was just shy of 11.

la copa mundial

...still my favorite commercial.

The time change from California to South Africa has definitely disrupted my usual sleeping habits. I pull myself out of bed around 5 am to try and catch the bulk of the first game of the day, always end up missing the second game and catching only pieces of the third. While my brother celebrates with all the other lucky fans congregating around the four host cities in South Africa, I rely on my Droid app to feed my world cup cravings.

The Olympics is an incredible international sporting event, but I prefer the World Cup. It's focused. One sport. One team. May the best country win. It levels the playing field: no matter the culture of size of the economy of the country, soccer is uniform throughout. Unlike the Olympics, GDP doesn't directly correlate with qualification for the tournament or success. The Olympics also has expanded almost to its own detriment, in my opinion. The Olympics offers such an array of sports (and some so antiquated I'm amazed any athletes even are able to recruit coaches) that it's impossible to keep up. World Cup allows anyone, even if they only catch a couple of games, to stay in the loop.

My picks for this year are my favorites: Germany and Spain. Germany's strong debut even without Ballack was impressive, and I hope indicative of coming results. Spain has yet to take the field, but I feel pretty confident they'll be celebrating straight victories all the way to the finals.

Each year I keep saying that I'll make it to the next World Cup. Here's hoping that Brazil in 2014 is the year I make it happen. For now, I'll attempt to live vicariously through my brother and keep setting my alarm for an early wake up call.

Dates and Interviews

The interview process is a lot like dating. After a long stretch with no prospects or interest, you begin to lower your standards. You find yourself rationalizing a Thursday night dinner with the slightly sloppy, somewhat attractive guy with whom you entertained an idle conversation at the bar the week prior. A dormant period from the dating scene, even for the most advanced dater, can make you question whether or not your previous aptitude for the sport is as sharp as previously conceived.

When I sat across the table from "prospective employer A", I knew the position wasn't what I was looking for, yet there I sat boasting of my accomplishments and promulgating my greatest skills while we both politely attempted to chew our double-decker sandwiches and sweet potato fries. But it had been months of proliferating my resume, desperately detailing each ounce of experience from college, work and internships through the years yet to no avail. I felt defeated, dejected and confused. I began to doubt my own abilities and wonder if my triple-major in college, countless campus activities and managerial summer positions were void of meaning and if the whole application process was merely a hoax.

I obliged "prospective employer A" with an interview after an exceptionally frustrating day at the office. I was so deep in an abusive relationship with my current employer that any outlet, no matter how bleak or contrary to my professional goals, seemed like a beacon of light. What amazed me was the guilt I felt facing my unaware co-workers in the subsequent days well-knowing I'd been "cheating" on my company though I have still made no official descision. Just like a victim of an abusive relationship so desperate for an escape, I was still hesitant to break free.

And ironically, as has been my experience in the dating scene, job opportunities have not come through my own hunting efforts but rather been through fortuitous encounters as well as arrived in numbers rather than steady increments...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Fated to Fail?

Tonight I shared some naan and samosa with a good friend, "K" recovering from a recent "break" in his relationship. The "break" had come when the strain of long distance and the baggage the accompanies it became too great a challenge. K lives in San Francisco and she lives in Brazil. Though he'd made three trips within the past six months, each spanning a couple of weeks, the lag time in between and the inconvenience of relying on Skype to keep the relationship afloat was insufficient for them both. With no feasible solution in sight, the pair opted to "break" until they find a way to relocate together.

Even though K was noticably ailing from the loss and unsure of how temporary this "break" would be, he was not defeated. He felt that fate, if not for love, had taken him to Brazil to open his eyes to the needs of the poor there. He described the poverty he'd seen when he first landed in Brazil, and the charge of mission he felt to make a positive change.

His experience reminded me a lot of my trip to Ecuador this past summer. I went to visit my then-boyfriend and his family for a couple of weeks. The trip was a tour of the country's finest: Quito, the capital, the Galapagos Island, Guayaquil (his home town) and to his family's beach home along the coast. We spent a great deal of time in his home town of Guayaquil, though generally within the confines of the gated communities where the upper class huddled along the river on the outskirts of the city. One day, we ventured to a separate part of town forcing us to pass through the poorest area of the city.

The abrupt change in scenery was startling: from homes resembling Beverly Hills to thatched huts lining dirt paths caked with withered bodies posted behind fruit and artisan stands. Skeletal children balanced bottles of coke on their heads as they weaved in and out of cars selling cups of the soft drink. The huts leaned, evidence of poor construction and susceptibility to the elements. (My ex informed me that each rainy season most of these huts would be wiped out by heavy rain or mud slides.) When you see these images on TV they are powerful, but when you witness true poverty for yourself, it is life altering.

Even though my ex and I called it quits when I accepted a job in California, and as any break up, I had to fight not to unearth the residual feelings that linger after break ups, I still felt drawn to go back. Much like K, I believed that my failed relationship wasn't just a dead end, but rather the gateway into discovering a population I was fated to be involved with and to help.

I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and even if it doesn't directly influence your life, each event prepares you for something down the road. Regardless of whether K reunites with his Brazilian heartthrob, like me, he has been touched by the experience. Like Reverend Mother advises Fraulein Maria in The Sound of Music, "Whenever God closes a door, somewhere he opens a window." Perhaps the door closing for both K and I may have been the shattering of our hearts when both of relationships reached a point beyond recovery, but somehow a window to a greater purpose was opened.

Dream Jobs and the Tooth Fairy

There are only two reasons to work: for love or money. Over the past few months I’ve fulfilled my passions via this blog and the non-profit I volunteer for. My job has strictly been the way I earn my keep in the city I love and call home. Recently a lucrative offer to switch companies, though doing generally the same thing, fell into my lap with a much higher base pay. Prior to talking numbers, I’d committed myself to only switching companies if it were in the right path for my career ambitions; however, I find myself fantasizing over the pretty little things I could collect in my closet if I was pulling in some more cash. (But if my parents are reading this, I’ll put it all in savings…) Unfortunately, this opportunity has a tight timeline and is just at the cusp of when I anticipate hearing back about beginning the interview process with some of the other ventures I’ve pursued more akin to my passions. I have much too expensive of taste and too active a social life to survive on Ramon noodles in a “petit” apartment in the Tenderloin, but at the same time, I yearn for the opportunity to present my business card with the word “writer” etched somewhere in my job title.

I didn’t prepare for this situation, and I admit that of any job predicament, this is likely the most favorable. Nonetheless, I’m conflicted on what to do: Do I want to work for love or money?

Money means agreeing to join the new company would mean making a commitment likely for 1 to 2 years simply for consistency on my resume. Love would mean waiting until finally the clouds part, a beam of light shines down and a word count replaces my sales quota. Money means I survive the work week to gain financial freedom to explore my passions more freely when not on the clock. Love would mean pouring my heart into my career and sacrificing some of the weekend trips or vacations. Do I want to work to fulfill my passions or work to dabble in them?

I circle back to the crux of the ailment called “growing up” that I’d described in some of my January-March entries. College prepares you to believe that that degree in international studies means you’ll be immersed in rich multi-cultural meetings. College makes you believe that your preparation during your four years will be the key to securing that phantom dream job. But after a year in the “real world”, I’m beginning to doubt that these “dream jobs” are any more tangible than the Tooth Fairy. Were my college advisors simply just perpetuating a fabricated truth so I’d faithfully place my tooth under my pillow each night? I feel like a six year old that awakes the next morning in anticipation only to find no coins or treats, just a pint-size molar with slight blood residue under her pillow.

I remember the exact moment when I felt all the magic escape from my bones. It had been a steady decrease in innocence: first the Tooth Fairy, then Santa Claus and then finally went the imagination only children can have. Prior to that day, I’d still been able to salvage some belief and enjoyment in inventing games and new personas to assume. But that day, when I picked up my toys, I forgot who they had been to me. The personality, voice and adventures, once so inherent and obvious, were missing. Time had simply run out.

As I trudge on in my trek to land the dream job and the endless proliferation of resumes and writing samples, I wonder if one day the faith in its existence, too, will leave me.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Dissolution of Hollywood Movie Magic

A few weeks ago, Gene Wilder was interviewed on NPR regarding his new book, What Is This Thing Called Love?, a compilation of various love tales that encompass the wide spectrum of love, relationships and its entanglements. Aside from discussing the inspiration and production of the book, Wilder also elaborated on his recent absence from Hollywood. He explained that Hollywood has moved away from the essentials basics of quality screen writing and acting and has instead diverted to pumping out high budget films loaded with special effects and action scenes spliced together by minimal character development and acting in between. Without degrading the success of James Cameron’s Avatar, Wilder cited the film specifically alluding to the movement of Hollywood to invest in special effects and 3D yet negating to pay attention to the core of what makes a good film.

I was reminded of the interview last night when I sat through a dismal, trite version of Robin Hood in the Metreon Theatre downtown. Even after downing a couple glasses of Merlot preceding the show, I still found myself willing to movie to finish and taking bathroom breaks just to disrupt the monotony of the poorly developed story line. Though I went knowing that the film received less than optimal reviews from previous attendees, the ingredients of the film seemed too strong to disappoint: excellent stars (Russell Crow, Kate Blanchet), the promise of heroic action (which I anticipated to compete with scenes from Gladiator or Troy) and the epic, classic fable of Robin Hood to carrying along the movie, but nonetheless, I was relieved when the credits finally rolled.

Making a movie is a lot like cooking: if you don’t have patience and allow the flavor to ferment, blend and congeal as they cook, no matter how fancy the serving dish or garnishes, you still don’t end with the same satisfaction. Hollywood keeps serving beautiful starlets, racy sex scenes and edgy battles to carry the weight of the releases, but in between these enticing factions where there should be substance and body through the art of story telling and acting is instead a void.

Hollywood, recently, seems to load up on the spices but skimp on the
hearty meat and vegetables that truly give weight to a dish.

I hope as the summer movie season begins that things will pick up. Otherwise, I’ll save myself the grief of wasting $12 only to suffer through another disappointment.