Monthly Archives: March 2010

Following Fuzzy Dreams

I grew up in a small town outside of Boston, not destitute-poor nor ostentatious-rich.  I had a perfectly normal upbringing, fraught with wonderful childhood memories of uncontroversial activities and agreeable relatives.  I made it through middle school and high school without ever getting arrested, pregnant, or high off crystal meth.  And although I once slept in a parking lot, I was still nestled in the comforts of a Coleman campers tent.

My early life of relative contentment lent me an idealistic view of the world.  It’s easy to be idealistic when everything has worked out, for the most part.  I believe that people are inherently good, even if they can be incredibly stupid.  I believe that government, when run efficiently, can do a lot of good.  And I believe that in our endless pursuit of happiness, we should wholeheartedly follow careers that we love.

Of course, my idealism has always been tainted by another convincing worldview: cynicism.  I’m not sure where my cynicism comes from (there is no reason for it), but it’s always been there, loud and brash. The cynic sits on my left shoulder, while the idealist sits on my right — mirroring the eternal left brain/right brain civil war battles in my head.  To the cynic, my idealism is construed as naivete, as folly; to the idealist, my cynicism is just an excuse to keep accepting the status quo.

So far, the cynic has won.  No, I’ve never taken a risk in my life (even our tent was placed on school grounds).  I’ve taken the steady jobs, made the uncontroversial decisions, and traveled the safe routes.  Along this road, I’ve been incredibly happy and lucky — I really cannot complain about anything.  And yet, there has always been a nagging feeling, pulling at me from that unfulfilled idealist side, telling me that I need to follow “my passion”, as if I knew what it was.  I have an idea, sure… but following your dreams?  Ha!  The cynic gave up on that years ago.

After a few years in the working world, I found myself listening less and less to the idealist.  After all, the cynic is practical, reasoned, and easy.  It’s hard to give up the easy stuff (having a job, having money) to go follow those crazy, fuzzy dreams.  Idealism is for the weak-minded, the cynic says.  It’s for people who don’t have any better options.  It’s for people who don’t actually try anything, because once they do, they become cynics!  (…or so the cynic says.)  So as we get older, the idealist fades.  It only preys on the young, the innocent, and the weak-brained.  As learned, intelligent adults, we should know better… right?

I thought so too.  But then, in December of last year, I decided that I needed to take a totally clichéd leap of faith.  I went into a meeting with the CFO of my company, which was set up to talk about my budding finance career.  In that meeting, I told her that while I enjoyed finance, my real passion was in writing.  She argued.  I tried to fight back.  She argued some more.  I dropped off a script that I wrote.  She gave me the cynic’s trademark move: a deadly raised eyebrow.  But I had already made up my mind.  Though I could never persuade her otherwise, I was glad to contribute kindling for her office fireplace; I was going to become a writer.

So in May, I’m moving out to Los Angeles in my first real attempt to try and make it as a writer.  What kind of writer?  I’m not sure.  It’s still a somewhat fuzzy dream, but with support from friends and family, it’s getting clearer.  And although I’m not taking a completely crazy leap of faith (I still have a full-time job), it’s one step closer to the fuzzy end goal.

Even if it doesn’t work out, at least I’ll have saved the fading idealist in me, who had been teetering so close to the edge of the rye field.  After all, I still need a left-brain counterweight to tone down that cynic.

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The Minority Report

Last week, we celebrated “Diversity Day” at work, where our company CEO held a town hall and proclaimed his everlasting commitment to diversity.  That is, he’s working hard at it, but “we still have a ways to go.”  He then introduced an ex-NBA star who shared his thoughts on the matter: first, he told us that diversity “drives ROI”, and second, he told us that black people don’t eat scones.  It was a rousing start to our commitment to challenge racial stereotypes.  D-Day finally ended with a montage of clips, concluding on one where Michael Scott from The Office called us all “homos”… homo sapiens.   

There’s been a lot of talk about diversity lately, even outside of our company.  The buzz around the U.S. Census has somewhat validated the Harvard fluff class “Counting People”, because, apparently it takes $10+ billion to do so.   But once the Census Bureau tabulates the results (by Dec. 31, 2010), most people expect that diversity will be the theme: minorities will become the majority in two of the largest states (California and Texas)… more than 40% of children under 18 will be non-white… and there will be a lot more people who hate scones, including Hispanics and Asians. 

As a diverse, first-generation, scone-hating female, I’ve always felt an unusual relationship to contrived diversity celebrations.  On the one hand, I think it’s great to highlight (and promote) people with different backgrounds … on the other hand, I believe that differentiating diversity also cheapens it, feeding resentment from “non-diverse” folks who now have something to blame (“she only got the job because she was a woman”).  It’s the whole affirmative action debate, revived… If we have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, then shouldn’t Diversity Day be followed by a Homogeneity Day as well?

So, to test out my theory, I tried to celebrate Homogeneity Day today.  First, I took the subway to work, because it’s the New York thing to do.  I wedged myself between the door and a homeless man and tried to look as crazy as possible.  Once I got to work, I decided to follow the lead of a co-worker and try lemon tea.  Yes, it looked like a cup of hot, steaming pee, but I drank it in the spirit of togetherness.  At lunch, I continued my yellow-only theme by eating a plate of macaroni and cheese with chicken, corn, and rice pilaf.  I even seriously considered reading “Eat, Pray, Love” while listening to Justin Bieber.  

But at the end of the day, I wasn’t sure that I had captured the true essence of American homogeneity.  Was the typical American a red-blooded teabagger who enjoys shooting guns and protesting healthcare reform?  Or was the typical American a society-minded idealist who eats kale and subscribes to progressive list-servs just to feel good about themselves?  Is diversity defined just by the color of our skin, or the money in our banks, or the links to our ethnic heritage?  Or, could it also be determined by our judgment of Tiger Woods (gross), or our opinion of goat cheese (gross), or whether we have a gag reflex to Sarah Palin (yes)?   

Diversity Day should be intended to celebrate and accept our differences — all of our differences, not just the noticeable ones.  But every once in a while, we should also celebrate our common thread of humanity.  Because like Mr. Scott said, at the core, we’re all just homos.  

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You Are The CEO of Your Own Life

It’s almost the end of first quarter, and I’m not pacing well.  Last year, I gave myself some rather lofty 1Q goals: read four books, lose five pounds, spend less money, and start looking less like a hobo.  All of these goals, I believed, would help improve my first quarter profitability and drive ROI. 

But quarter-end is almost here, and the outlook is grim.  Over the last couple months, I read one book and gained two pounds.  I spent $400 on movers who made me sit outside my new building and yell for cops.  And after I started wearing furry boots as my primary footwear of choice (Uggs in the morning, Uggs in the evening, Uggs at suppertime…), my stock dropped even more.  

I’ve started to notice the free-market consequences of my slide downhill.  People won’t lend me money.  My friends don’t call as much.  Even my spam mail has gotten wind of my hard times: instead of sending me Viagra ads and invitations to bingo tourneys, I’m getting notifications about Vicodin to “help ease the pain.”

I’ve looked internally for the root cause of the problem.  To cut costs, I shut down all my charitable activities.  To improve cash flow, I started looking for under-the-table jobs on Craigslist.  And to ensure that I am efficiently allocating my emotional capital, I evaluated my friendship investments.  It seemed that maintaining relationships with some friends just wasn’t worth the hassle. During their performance reviews, I gave it to them straight: “I can’t deal with all your issues right now. You’re taking up too much of my time…  I’m sorry, but I have to let you go.” 

So, I’m going to fall short of 1Q expectations, penniless, friendless, and fat.  To make matters worse, I got a call from an investor last night, who immediately started berating me about careless spending.  Finally, she hinted that I could always resort to aggressive accounting practices to get through the quarter.

Thanks, Mom.

Life’s a bitch when you’re your own CEO.

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Unbreak My Lung

Everyone in this world has a rival.  It could be your BFF, like Bert and Ernie.  It could be your sworn enemy, like Tom and Jerry.  It could be a totally contrived rival, like the E*Trade baby and Lindsay Lohan.  In any case, the worst feeling in the world is when your rival gets spotlight, and you get the shaft.

There are numerous examples of rivals overshadowing their just-as-deserving counterparts.  There’s the Anorexic Olsen Twin and the Other One.  There’s “Abercrombie” and “And Fitch.”  There’s John Hancock and everyone else who signed the Declaration of Independence, except with uglier handwriting.

However, the most lopsided pairing in terms of misguided attention is the rivalry between the heart and the lung.

While lungs have mainly focused on their job (breathing), the heart has developed a frivolous side hobby: enchanting an entire subculture of lovestruck followers.  The heart has become a symbol for romance, lust, desire, wanting, turtledoves, cupids, and other things that can make you gag.  Its popularity has spawned thousands of songs featuring hearts, from artists like Toni Braxton, Phil Collins, Billy Ray Cyrus, and the Backstreet Boys.  The heart has become so synonymous with love that it has catapulted to the top of the vital organs list.  We’re fine with losing our lungs, but please don’t break our hearts.

And yet, the irony is that actual hearts look nothing like pictorial hearts, the defacto symbol of love.  If you want me to show you the shape of my heart, I’LL SHOW YOU UPSIDE-DOWN LUNGS.  But lungs, the dutiful workhorses of our bodies, get no attention.  No one worries about lung-ache.  No one says “I lung you,” even though “lung” sounds more like “love” than “heart”.  Other than Radiohead’s obscure 1994 song, “My Iron Lung,” no one writes sappy songs about lungs, even though we can’t live without them.

Our lungs have never gotten credit for love, romance, and happiness.  Instead, the heart has basked in all its glory. Our attention-whoring heart is the A-Rod to every Jeter, the Warhol to every Malanga, the Edison to every Swan.

But then again, times change.  So, if you ever encounter another example of an unfair rivalry, a healthy mediation is necessary: sit down with both parties, take a deep breath… and have a lung-to-lung.

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Flying Coach On The Wings Of Love

To preface this post, I hadn’t watched The Bachelor all season.  But on Monday night, in Olympic withdrawal, I decided to turn on the season finale.  And after watching five minutes of The Bachelor in St. Lucia, I almost regurgitated my dinner.  See, I never knew I was lactose intolerant until I had to watch all that cheese.

Let’s start with Jake, the sexy Texas pilot who probably set a world record for cheek dimples and lame comments.  Some of his ringers last night included originals like, “I just followed my heart” and “There’s heat.”  Thank you, Cicero.  After his awkward date with Tenley, Jake couldn’t even find the words to describe the “physical” thing that was missing between them.  Jake, that “mysterious”, “inexplicable,” feeling is called erectile dysfunction.  Check out a Cialis commercial.

Unfortunately for Tenley, she couldn’t shake her saccharine image as the cute, cheery, all-American, limp-noodle girl.  There was something about her that made me think she’d be better off selling candy necklaces at a Care Bear Convention and dating the guy from Blue’s Clues.  After her disastrous date, she even seemed to acknowledge that herself.  By then, she had turned on the tear jets to try and capture some sympathy in a pre-audition for The Bachelorette.  Unfortunately, she lost that one too.

Ultimately, Vienna just had too much “spark” for Mr. My-Dimples-Look-Like-Cavernous-Mountains, and she sailed off into the St. Lucia sunset with her ring, her man, and a stirring video montage set to Jeffrey Osborne’s “On The Wings of Love.”  During the aftershow, the happy couple reminisced about their wondrous journey, and also deflected any talk surrounding the tabloid fervor that a) they broke up, b) she has a secret boyfriend, or c) she is nutso.  Of course, in Bachelor-speak, “nutso” means “misunderstood”.  Then the pair started dancing in an on-air display of awkward PDA in front of a serenading Jeffrey Osborne.  Nice touch, ABC.  That was like adding Cheez Whiz to a pile of Mac and Cheese floating in a fondue pot made of gouda.  Excuse me while I shove a rose stem into my eyeballs.

But despite my cynicism of this television show about a six-week instant-gratification romance, filmed with a beautiful St. Lucia backdrop and favorable lighting, I do recognize that last night was truly a joyous occasion.  It was the beauty of two people coming together as one, flying through the majestic skies as a unit, bound together by an inexorable feeling that the world was just the two of them, in the moment, living, laughing, loving each other, feeling hope for their shared future, feeling excitement for their vaunted spark, and smiling down on the rest of us as they soared, gleefully, on the wings of love.

[Insert sarcastic comment here to ruin the moment.]

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