Monday, November 29, 2010

Cacophonic Faces, Euphoric Songs

This morning I caught my reflection in the elevator doors and immediately began to scrutinize my hair and make up. While I do consider myself a confident person, very rarely does anyone look at themselves and feel a sense of admiration and enjoyment. We inspect ourselves, finding our greatest flaws: a blemish or freckle, an age spot or wrinkle, an eye smaller than its partner...

I find it strange that we constantly berate ourselves for our physical imperfections, yet somehow we are all blessed with the ability to sustain and appreciate our own singing, regardless of how out of tune. How curious that we fail to recognize our own beauty, yet our ears deceive us to believe that our attempts at harmony are euphoric. I do wonder the rationale behind instilling in each of us this unbalanced assessment of our appearance and musical talents...

Could the fault lie with the wiring of our inner workings or perhaps the culprit is society?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fe Fi Fo Fum

As a little children, my grandfather would slowly stomp down the grand staircase of his old 1920's home bellowing, "FE FI FO FUM, I SMELL THE BLOOD OF AN ALTDOERFFER SON" as my brother and I would crouch beneath the billards table of the room adjoining the kitchen. As he slowly moved through rooms, nearing our hide out, his voice would grow and we'd try to suppress our snickers of anxiety until finally he'd reach the table and snatch us from below, greeting us with hugs and kisses. The routine continued for years, and consequently my dad's parents became known as "Grandma and Grandpa Fe-fi-fo-fum" (as if our 11-letter, German last name wasn't enough of a mouthful).

Friday I awoke to learn that my grandpa had gone into cardiac arrest and passed away. Though death is inevitable, and witnessed him age and his energy wane as he neared 85 years old, his passing was not expected. My mother had warned me during my last visit home that I might not have too much time remaining with my grandpa, however I dismissed the premonition when his laugh erupted over lunch despite the state of his weakened lungs. As I hugged him goodbye after lunch, a few hours prior to my return flight to California, I had no idea that it'd be the last.

Death does a funny thing. It makes you reflect on all the memories you shared with that person. The little moments that get tossed away with the tide of time until finally unearthed when deeply contemplated. Memories such as a smile, a laugh, or like my grandpa's dedication to family. As my family grew and dispersed throughout the country, occasions where he could gather us all together in one room to share a meal grew rarer and rarer. And though we will continue to populate various regions throughout the country and world, he will once again be able to be with each of us, though now, only in spirit.

Rest in peace, Grandpa. You will so be missed.

(Photo by my cousin, Drew Altdoerffer)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


I love technology, and I love social media, so it does seem ironic that I have refused to even check out Twitter. I dismissed the site as another way for celebrities to permeate the world with banter about what they order at Starbucks or for their publicist to promulgate needless information about publicity stunts... (I know, I sound incredibly cynical.) I was aware that there were more influential and powerful figures that used Twitter to update and release information, however I still prefer the comforts of "old fashioned" outlets- online and TV when a newspaper is out of reach.

But last week, I struck a deal with a Twitter employee: I would sign up for Twitter and actively use the site in exchange for his purchase of a YAO Gala ticket. While perhaps it appears that prostituting out my patronage to Twitter (a free service) while he foots a $45 ticket to our fundraiser is an unfair exchange, I do want to point out that he did win the raffle that night and walked away with more than $100 of wine just for purchasing his ticket.

In any case, per the agreement made, I am now indulging in the strange world of abbreviated news and information. Come the conclusion of this accord, will I feel a wash of guilt and remorse for committing such an exchange, or will I have become entirely Twitterpated?

To learn more about Opportunity International, try clicking here. Or, while we're on the topic, check out my chapter on Twitter. First impressions of the site is that it could be come an addiction, however three rejections for updating my profile is creating some aversion.

Fishing and Anarchy

"Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after." -Henry David Thoreau

If only we could take some of our high school courses again as young adults. I think I would have had a greater appreciation for Thoreau, and possibly have retained more information from the American Lit course during my sophomore year of high school. (While I do remember discussing Thoreau's hermitage at Walden pond, Poe's litany of poems, my despise for the unending metaphors contained in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, my most distinct memory is my teacher's strange obsession with a poem discussing the beauty of a woman's forearm... information that in no way positively pigmented my education.)

However, I do remember Thoreau's reputation as being a nonconformist, escaping the pressures and monotony of mainstream life. Though occasionally viewed as an anarchist for his resistance to the institution of power in the United States, Thoreau's criticism of the government simply showcases the desire for improvement innate to the innovators of all society since the dawn of time.
"I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government"
-Henry David Thoreau
Feeling a persistent sense of discontentment and the desire to forge forward in new directions can often seem like ungrateful restlessness, but those who have striven constantly for more are those that we best remember as the great innovators of time. No great change or evolution has occurred without something, or someone daring to break the mold.

While I don't fashion myself the person that will change the world, I do, in regards to my own life, feel a sense of Thoreau's nature in my blood. I ask for, not at once no stability, but at once better stability.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Voice From the Futures (squared)

While I am once again contemplating and meddling with my future, I came across this response to my article from the Wall Street Journal: (If you have not yet read my article, here is the link)

After getting my article published, I did frequently check back to the site to read subsequent postings and what other guest writers had contributed, but today was the first time I had come across the response
directed to me. I was shocked that I'd missed this, and embarrassed that I had yet to reply. Though it did not offer an immediate or absolute answer, the advice was tactful, tangible and encouraging.

After reading her article, I joined the others that had commented before me saying,
I really appreciate this article in response to mine from August. It’s been a year and a half since I graduated college, and never once have I given up on my dreams. It definitely gets frustrating as the months elapse and still I have yet to find the job that makes my heart sing. Yet, this challenge and the unending oscillations in opportunities and rejections have fueled me to continue to write in my personal blog to share the experience with others. And though I’d much rather have the dream job, at the least the hunt has inspired me to write even more. It is refreshing to hear real, tangible advice instead of the suggestion to find contentment with the status quo. I appreciate the encouragement and feasible suggestions in your piece. Thank you!
Dreams are a funny thing. We can't explain them, and often we hide them to conceal our embarrassment should we never fulfill them. My boyfriend had gifted me a copy of Finding Forrester, a movie about an elusive author that adopts a teenage boy with a gift for writing. At the end of the movie, after the mentoring has concluded, Jamal, his student receives this letter from the author:

Dear Jamal:

Someone I once knew wrote that we walk away from our dreams afraid that we may fail, or worse yet, afraid we may succeed. While I knew so very early on that you would realise your dreams I never imagined I would once again realise my own.

{{Seasons change, young man. }}
While I waited until the winter of my life to see what I've seen this past year there is no doubt I would have waited too long, had it not been for you.
Seasons change. And much like the hard, arduous winter of the North East that seemed to drag on and never end, sometimes finding patience and a warm coat (or a volunteer opportunity) help us get by until the reprieve of summer. Because eventually, one day, seasons will change.

Friday, November 19, 2010

There May Be a Storm 'a-Brewin

A few months ago, I had read an article about creating and upholding a quality blog in an issue of Writer’s Digest. The article emphasized the importance of retaining a thematic consistency in the content and a manageable frequency of postings. Warned the article, a blog that spans from politic advocacy to food interests to house hunting with too little frequency to build interest or too many postings to keep up with was a recipe for disaster. At the time when I read the article, I was stilled immersed in aggressive networking and my quest for a job, relaying my tales of success, leads and my bountiful failures in posts and just a dash of side tangents (an act permissible when done in moderation, according to WD).

Once I had closed in on t
he new job, I wondered how I would continue the theme of forging the path of my desired career now that I’d checked off the first box in my course of action. I wasn’t aspiring to return to the despair of a demoralizing job just for the sake of keeping in tune with the running theme of my blog posts, but I worried that maybe the few readers I had garnered would trail off as my adventures of the hunt came to an end. And even though most of my blog visitors are personal friends of family members that I surreptitiously entice to check it out my blog, having a few readers that occasionally leave feedback or spend some time on my site just makes me happy. (And according to Writer’s Digest, though I beg to differ, my personal blog qualifies me as a true, living, breathing writer.)

{{deep sigh}}

I’ve toyed around with topics to continue on with: my non-profit volunteer work, my budding post-college athletic career, things to do in San Francisco, my love life… but I’m not sure I want to focus in on any of those things. (And I’m wary to ever publicize anything about my boyfriend, though he is wonderful, for fear that I’ll transform this blog from the voice of a young woman to a watered-down Sex and the City or worse, a Nicholas Sparks novel knock-off.) But sometimes, even the things that you never expect to alter and dictate dreams or plans move in with sweeping currents and a fanciful under toe that cradles you and pulls you in a completely different direction…

And that I suppose is the beauty of being an adult: as a child, you are only subject the decisions and actions others m
ake. As an adult, you get to engage in which way to steer the boat when a storm approaches. And I guess, with a storm brewing on the horizon, I’ll soon be taking the wheel and decided whether to turn right, or turn left and such decisions will manage the direction of this blog.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Strolling to Remember

Monday (the 8th) was my first day at the new job and I could hardly wait for my alarm to ring to announce the commencement of a new work week. It was the first time I'd felt excited to get to work since I graduated college (and it wasn't just because I could wear blue jeans to the office). With exuberant energy, I found myself ready for work about an hour ahead of schedule. Too antsy to watch CNN for the remaining time, I grabbed my jacket and headed on foot to work.

Though voted one of, if not the most, walkable of US cities, getting anywhere on foot in this city requires some strategic planning. The modern "grid style" urban planning is corrupted by sudden escalations and curvaceous bay shores causing sudden stops, turns and abrupt transitions to one-way streets. When walking, a reasonably flat path suddenly arches up, transforming a morning stroll into unexpected cardio exercise.

Monday I mentally mapped the lightest walking route, though it upped my walk time from 30 minutes to about 45. The long stroll with the morning sun gleaming off the freshly swept sidewalks and the bustle of school children rushing off to meet the bell reminded me a lot of my morning walks to the university in Spain.

Although Seville is not a booming metropolis like Barcelona or Madrid, Seville proper is an expansive city sprawl. (As any good European Catholic city, all building is outward rather than upward to prevent any roof from towering above the steeple of the Catholic church.) In January, when I first arrived, I'd awake freezing cold each morning. The chill of the night lingering on the tile floors and walls with no central heat to chase it away. I'd lean over my night stand to click on the space heater and wait for a few moments until I sensed the warm air begin to fill the room. I'd change into my robe, tip-toe into the kitchen where I'd ignite the hot water.

Showers in Spain are not the luxury we have here: hot water is expensive, and while lathering up my hair or shaving, I was always instructed to shut off the water to properly ration the month's hot water supply. With the constant oscillation between shivers in the cool air and the comfort of warm water pelting against my body, my shower time rarely surpassed four or five minutes.

After showering, I'd return to my room to change where my space heater had adequately warmed my room enough that I wouldn't catch a cold while I dressed. In record speed, I'd be ready and out the door to enjoy my 40 minute walk to the university.

Mornings were a beautiful collection of the modern Spanish population: armies of young children parading their way to school. Old couples sauntering down the sidewalks in unison, linked together at the elbow. Gypsies adorned the high-trafficked corners with hand made jewels and pipes. Shop owners scrubbed the sidewalks to remove the grime and residue of the night and shouted, "¡Tío, hasta luego!" as a familiar face passed them by. The sidewalks were as alive and bustling as the streets, crammed with buses, cars and motocicletas.

Though I generally scuffled off to the university in a huff, the typical American always in a hurry, there were the mornings where I'd deliberately leave early to force myself to pause to admire the tranquility and simplicity of the morning commute- on foot.

Thinking back now to my days in Spain, my memories are only faint . Small memories lost amid a blizzard of experiences. My six month stint in Seville isn't clouded by many regrets except for one: I never wrote it about it. Little moments and cultural revelations that didn't overpower that radar, yet nonetheless were crucial to my growth and experience abroad have been lost in transition.

And now, though insignificant as it might seem, my walk through San Francisco on a busy Monday morning is worth writing about. Perhaps not the most exciting, but at least so that in 15 years I can more vividly remember.

Happily Ever After

In stories, once the protagonist's objective is fulfilled and enemies vanquished, the back cover immediately follows. In Cinderella, once she finally escaped from indentured servitude under her evil stepmother and disappeared into the horizon with Prince Charming, the story ends. Though I have yet to see or read the final installment in the Harry Potter series, I can reasonably suspect that after a series of perilous battles and suspense, Harry will inevitably avenge his parent's death. Aside from some pathetic attempts at poor sequels, most stories find a happy ending and close the story. As viewers or readers, we accept this conclusion and feel content to know that it all worked out.

In childhood, most chapters of life offer the same concise beginning, middle and end that we enjoy in our books and movies. The freedom of summer adventures comes to a close with school buses lining up to transport kids back to the classroom. School years begin with a mild review of previous knowledge, ramp up with a crammed exam schedule- the climactic moment of the story- and conclude with graduations and diplomas.

But not all stories offer the comfort of an absolute and tidy ending: when did I become an adult? Was it when I turned 18? When I graduated college? Moved out? Is it when I get married? Was it when I pared through my belongings and packed away the books and Barbies I'd left abandoned for months? Was it when I went to college?

And defining beginnings, middles and ends in the real world only gets more convoluted.

My initial plight was to rescue myself from my corporate job when I felt like I clocked hours spinning in circles, yet never building for the future I desired. After traveling for months down a bleak and winding path of interviews and networking, I shook hands with my new employer and gave notice to my former. After my last day, I celebrated with friends over an expensive bottle of wine I’d held on to specifically for that occasion.

...and I worked happily ever after.

But my story doesn't end there. Unlike Anne Hathaway in the Devil Wears Prada, my story doesn't end at a job offer after a tornado of a first position. And now that I have new job, I have to wonder whether this will be a brand new story, a cheesy spin off or nearly identical sequel.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Mile Marker 1

One of the themes that distinguishes youth from the blasphemous "real world" is the presence commencement and termination of epochs with temporary reprieves in between. Growing up, school years begin in late August, come to a close in June and offer a summer vacation to refresh and reload for the imminent next step. Though at times the ailments of growing up and the strain of a heavy workload can appear arduous, the time line is always absolute and a temporary recess breaks us from the monotony of routine.

Not so in the real world.

Sometimes the real world feels a lot like signing up for a long distance run, yet having no idea what the path will be, the pace nor the markers. Not being able to estimate and create goals along the way becomes daunting and the ambiguity seems overwhelming.

Yet tomorrow I will close the chapter on my first job out of college and relish in the solace of putting behind me the distaste and scorn I've endured daily when my alarm would interrupt my dreams. Though this job in no way meets my career ambitions or develops the skills I aspire to eventually specialize in, I do recognize that there have been some benefits. Tomorrow feels like the day after finals in the AP Bio class I elected to take my junior year of high school, believing that I'd find myself passionate about cells yet quickly realizing that I'd rather do be confined to a solitary cell for an hour in lieu of taking notes about any science...

However after I completed the AP Bio class, I emerged with a better grade than I'd have estimated based on my interest. And knowing that I'd overcome the hurdle of battling complete disinterest and still managing to perform filled me with a sense of pride.

The sentiment, as my final hours approach with my first employer, are equal: true that it was not the first step in my desired career, and even though it was a concerted effort to engage, I did it; and I received high remarks upon my exit.

Though obviously mile-markers don't lead the path in the real world, I'm appreciative to have passed my first, though it felt as though I've already trekked a few marathons.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Fall in the Sky

Pennsylvania has it's vivid and lush Fall foliage, a burst of color before the thick green pigments give way to lurid grays. During my first Fall in San Francisco, I found myself pining for the smell of crisp autumn air, the whisper of summer in the air as it faded away into cool, dark winter. I missed the signs of Fall I'd always known: bursts of red, oranges and yellows shimmering through wooded hills and fields. Fall didn't seem like Fall without having to dig out thick sweaters and the crackle of a fire churning in my living room.

This year I spent Halloween weekend in San Diego and happened to have my camera handy when I was struck by quite possibly the most beautiful sunset I've ever witnessed. Though coastal California doesn't have fiery Fall shades painted in the tress, they were strewed across the evening sky as the sun slipped away behind the foreground of the Pacific Ocean.

I was so captivated by the cascade of colors cradled between the neutral blue-gray tones of the ocean and lingering clouds, that I felt a bit like Brendan Fraser's uber-sensitive character in the 2000 movie, Bedazzled:

At first the loss of obvious seasonal changes made life seem a bit surreal. Summer bled into Fall, Fall to Winter, Winter to Spring... Weather in San Francisco is more distinct week-by-week rather than season by season. Without the indications of each season, the reality that it truly was summer or fall seem irrelevant. I'll never fully overcome the loss of the cyclical beauty ever-changing seasons that dictated my life back East, but with art like this filling the canvas of the sky along the coast, I think I'll cope.

The Stress of Quitting

I seem to be making a habit out of making my flights recently. While I certainly tend to operate at peak performance when subjected to a heightened level of stress, the added drama of arriving at security exactly 12 minutes before departure isn’t the M.O. I really strive for. Fortunately I was able to gallop in my stilettos with overstuffed carry on bags dripping from my shoulder to the gate just as the airline announced final boarding and struggled to eek out an accurate pronunciation of my intimidating German last name.

And added stress on top of the extracurricular non-profit week I’ve scooped up this month, and the stress of quitting, sprinting through the airport in my business casual was not what I needed. Yes, quitting has been stressful.

Although I’ve put in my two weeks notice, and it seems as though I should be gracefully tying up loose ends and prancing about the office in an effervescent, careless glee, I’ve actually found myself putting in even more hours than usual and skipping lunch entirely in efforts to get out of the office before seven. I’m determined to turn over a clean and organized account database, driven to preserve my legacy with the same fervor as The Crucible’s John Proctor, “Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life!” The pursuit of preserving my name and the image I’ve worked to establish has propelled me to make my final two weeks a productive purgatory.

Perhaps it is masochist, but I’ve even begun to feel nostalgic for the empty-feeling that haunted me over the past 16 months. The same feeling that would drive me to rush home, bang against my keys until I’d produce the semblance of an organized, sane blog post.

When I wrote my last blog entry about quitting, I almost had a worry that by closing out my enduring saga of getting a job that actually made want to spring out of bed the way college had I would have run out of things to write. Certainly I’ve sprinkled ounces of unrelated topics amid my entries mourning the missing passion from my professional day-to-day, but the invariable theme has been “wah wah wah: I want a new job.” With that contest checked off the to-do list, what will I write about now?

The beauty of keeping a personal blog rather than an actual freelance job assignment is that there truly is no restriction to what direction my words blow or sway. And the original intent of this blog was quickly dissipated when I realized that inviting homeless men to a sit down dinner intimidated more than I’d wanted to admit. So now that I can “mission accomplished”, I’ve created a crux where I’ll have to reinvent this blog site. (Unless I want to continue to pine away for yet another new job- which hopefully won’t happen for at least another year or two, and should that be the case, I might have an internal altercation with myself.) I’ve considered opening up this blog to get a little political (a liberal exposé that might cost me the subscription of my parents) or even gush about being in love…

Hopefully inspiration finds me as I amble on in my new endeavors, and hopefully I awake to feel the rush of wind at my back rather than the overwhelming dread of diving into a ocean to tread water.