Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Why You Should Take “Time Off” After Undergrad to Work*

  1. Confidence: It’s demoralizing to go from debt into more debt. On one h and, you may as well rack it all up at once, in order to avoid having to pay interest on your undergrad loans before you start to accrue graduate school loans. However, the more debt that accumulates as you sit there in the library trying to earn a piece of paper with a stamp on it, the more insurmountable that mountain of unpaid bills looks. At least if you work in the interim, you earn confidence in yourself that you can earn a salary and live independently, not off of someone else’s gift (if you can consider a loan a gift) to you.
  2. Relaxation: Being able to leave your job at work and enjoy nights and weekends free from worry over your next exam or guilt over the paper you should be writing is liberating. Assuming you are a diligent, hard-working student, you will not experience this until you quit attending school full-time.
  3. Autonomy: Yes, you are free from parental supervision in undergrad years, and in graduate school you are no longer bound by silly dormitory and campus rules. Still, having your own money and the time with which to spend it lends life a particularly grand sense of autonomy. You can spend your time and money literally however you like. You can shop for clothing, or travel, or put your money straight into the bank and take a walk in the park instead. You can join a gym, or buy cigarettes, or do both, if you so desire. Your life is really and truly 100% yours.

*Disclaimer: These reasons all assume that you are living on your own. If you are living with your parents, I cannot guarantee that they will still apply. See rules and regulations—as drafted by said parents—for details.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

My personal history with MJ

I am sure that blogs all over the universe are paying tribute to this man, but seeing as he is probably my favorite musical artist of all time, I must honor and remember him, even in this small way.

Michael Jackson was truly the founding father of my love for taste in music “with a beat.” I always have been—and always will be—a lyrics junkie. I love to know “what a song is about,” primarily because I love a good story. Most songs lack much of a plot or storyline (“she broke my heart and I’ll never love again,” or “he’s a cheater, watch out for playas”), but I also appreciate a good political commentary and admire creative plays on words (e.g. Eminem). This is where MJ came into play. He was the first artist for which the lyrics—although I did listen to them—simply didn’t matter. The beat and effect of the music was so infectious, I had no desire to criticize it for “having no original message.”

My father was the one who introduce me to MJ. I’m not entirely sure why that was the artist who “stuck”—he also loved The Beatles, Aztec Two Step, and Spiro Gyra—but he recorded me a copy of my first MJ cassette tape, “Off the Wall,” when I was eight years old. I listened to it so much, I received “Dangerous” for Christmas that year.

”Dangerous” was the true start of my obsession with MJ. Two of the neighbor girls, E___ and K___, would come over nearly every day to play with my sister and me. I would force them to listen to “Black and White” over and over again while we set up board games and fought over what to play next. I owned an extensive Barbie collection, so we played with that a lot, and after I received that album, the Barbies began having a lot of music-related events built into their storylines (we played with Barbies like we were writing a soap opera)—there were clubbing excursions, ice skating competitions, gymnastics competitions (in which every event, not just the floor routine, was set to music), and anything else I could imagine that would incorporate “Jam,” or “Why You Wanna Trip On Me.”

Soon after receiving “Dangerous,” my parents presented me with “History: Parts I and II,” also as cassette tapes. This ruined my official MJ fan-ness, because from this point onward, I would never know which songs belonged to which album. (They were all mixed together on “History,” so I had no way of knowing that “The Way You Make Me Feel” belonged to “Bad,” while both “Beat It” and “Billie Jean” belonged to “Thriller.” Luckily, the songs “Thriller” and “Bad” themselves were pretty obvious.”) However, it expanded my repertoire and, consequently, love for the artist tenfold. Is there any song that makes you want to get on a motorcycle and feel that rumble beneath your body and wind whip through your hair more than “Bad?” Is there a more foot-stomping, head-tossing song than “Beat It?” Does anything make you want to skip freely, swinging your arms to the world, more than “The Way You Make Me Feel?”

If I ever have children, I will probably try to play MJ for them. And as I did with most of my father’s music, they will probably nod politely and then turn up their noses and walk to the other room. But I have to try. Because this man shaped my love of pop into what it is today, and his music deserves to live on in the hearts and ears of future generations.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Snapshot Book Review: A Confederacy of Dunces

A Confederacy of Dunces A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
In a funny reversal of review protocol, I am giving this book a higher "star rating" than I will give it in written description. This is because in terms of literary and written merit, A Confederacy of Dunces does deserve four stars. The language in this novel is absolutely unique: each character has a distinctive and identifiable voice that is extremely appropriate to his/her character, not the least of whom is the book's idiotic genius protagonist, Ignatius Reilly. Moreover, Toole infuses each turn of events with such well-thought-out irony, his careful crafting of the novel can only be applauded.

All of this being said, I didn't fully enjoy reading this novel. Why? Well, perhaps because I didn't find it laugh-out-loud funny. It was funny, and I kept wanting to laugh, but for some reason, Ignatius (the protagonist) just annoyed me so much that I never could manage to release a chuckle. The character who amused me most, truth be told, was Jones, the vagrant negro who gets a job as a janitor at the Night of Joy after sharing a jail cell with an old man who was mistakenly arrested in lieu of Ignatius. His dialect, his speech mannerisms, his sarcasm--I wished I could have been in the same room as this man!

Most of the characters in this novel annoyed me, and--SPOILER ALERT!!!--because the ending was happy for everyone (Ignatius gets away, his mother gets married, Mr. Levy saves his company, Mancuso gets his big break arresting the evil porn peddler), I felt even more annoyed by the time I got to the end. I wanted insolent, obnoxious Ignatius to get what he deserved. Throughout the whole book, I too had sneered at Mancuso, along with every other character. Why should he have the good fortune of arresting Ms. Lee? She was much smarter than him!

Nevertheless, for me to feel as I do about the various characters, I must admit that the book was written well. My largest literary criticisms were 1) Dr. Talc seemed to me to be an unnecessary character; I did not see how his addition and that subplot lent the book any added interest or meaning and 2) that in light of how uniquely every other character was portrayed, Claude appeared rather faceless and one-dimensional after his role as the "communiss-hating old man" in the jail cell was fulfilled. As Mrs. Reilly's suitor, he faded into the background as a stock character, which was unusual considering how dynamically and colorfully the rest of the cast of characters were portrayed.

Note: This was my second time reading this book. I read it specifically to see if I would find New Orleans a more enticing setting after having visited the place last April. Unfortunately, the setting of the book was not addressed in particular detail, so the answer to my query was no. I did, however, realize that upon my first reading, I had skipped over every single one of Ignatius's written passages in my eagerness to "hurry along the story." I am glad that I took the time to read them this time around, because they were usually amusing, if rather wordy and dense (which was why I skipped them in the first place). Considering these passages in the context of both the book and of scholarly writing, this would make an interesting book to teach in high school or college.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

$50 well spent?

This is the 2nd time I've gotten talked into layers and the second time I think I'm regretting them. (At least my eyes look green in this picture. There's a plus.)

What I'm most worried about is the length. How in the world am I going to pull this back? Or up? Or, essentially, out of my face???

Admittedly, however, the cut looks the best from the back. The question is going to be whether or not I can make it look like this myself, without the assistance of a hairdresser....

Friday, June 19, 2009

Snapshot Book Review: The Mysteries of Pittsburgh

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh: A Novel (P.S.) The Mysteries of Pittsburgh: A Novel by Michael Chabon

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
I started out really not liking this book. It felt as though it was written pretentiously--like its narrator was trying to be Holden Caulfield (Catcher in the Rye), Nick Carraway (The Great Gatsby), and Gene (A Separate Peace) all at once, affectations and everything. Yes, I ate up the Pittsburgh references (Dirty O! Bloomfield! CMU! Shadyside!), but there weren't enough descriptions to make me feel as though I was actually there, apart from the elusive Cloud Factory.

However, as I read on, I became increasingly interested in the narrator's relationship with his friends and girlfriend--mostly because they were such interesting and nuanced characters. Without that curious supporting cast, I doubt this book could have held any water. Now, however, I am interested to see how it translated to a movie. I actually think that it might have made a better movie than it made a book, although much of Art's inner sexuality turmoil will probably be lost in the translation. However, I imagine that the "action scenes" will come alive better on screen than they do through Chabon's writing. I never felt any passion in the sex scenes, or drama in the scenes between Art and his father, even though I understood that I was supposed to feel these things. And the final chase scene was so complicated and direction-obsessed, it lost all climactic value.

The beauty of this novel was in the relationships between the characters. Art and Arthur, Art and Phlox, Art and Cleveland, Arthur and Cleveland--they're all fascinating and intricate relationships that Chabon develops with necessary care. And because he created such unique and complex characters from the start, he makes it easier upon himself to flesh out the complexities that they weave between one another.

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The NYC Analogy

Since coming to NYC, every visitor I have had inevitably responds the same way. After about a day in the city, they remark, “Ugh. How do you do this? I could never live here.” Their specific reasons vary—“too many people” being the chief complaint—and although I actually agree with them on most accounts, I, for whatever reason, still love living here.

I wasn’t quite able to figure out why I love living here—since I’m not particularly partial to living in a concrete jungle, being hassled daily by hundreds of harried strangers, or having my nose assaulted by the smell of piss, garbage, cigarettes, and BO everywhere I turn—until yesterday, when I found myself explaining to het another acquaintance sight-unseen what I love about living in NYC.

Actually, it was when I was recounting what I had told this acquaintance on Facebook (we had recently reunited, not having spoken since high school) to a colleague of mine, when we went running at lunch. (Running always helps me think, and talking things out helps even more.) ”I love the fact that I can go virtually anywhere without a car,” I told him in little gasps. “Trains, buses, subways—they’re all such popular modes of transportation, so they’re well-kept and fabulously available. I can walk down the street and catch a subway in the next few minutes. It’s not like the suburbs, where if you don’t have a bus schedule telling you the 45-minute-apart pickup times, you’re stuck. I don’t want to own a car until I’m, like, 40.”

“And,” I added, “everything’s right here. Like, if I forget an ingredient for whatever I’m making or I want some chips or something, there’s a bodega right there on the corner I can run to. And if it’s not open, there’s probably another one less than a block away. It’s all designed for a walking lifestyle, and I like that.”

”And everything’s so close!” I stopped and corrected myself. “I don’t mean the shops and stuff—although they’re pretty shoved together too, when you think about it—but I mean all the major cities on the east coast. Like, I’m going to Boston this weekend. It’s a five-hour trip and is costing me what, $40? If I were trying to get there from Pittsburgh, it’d be more than ten hours, and I don’t even want to think how expensive. And we can go to DC, and Philly….”

I thought for a minute. “You know, I think living in NYC is the closest you can get to living in Europe without actually going to Europe. You know? No other city in the United States has the same mix of ethnicities; you can’t hear such a broad spectrum of languages everywhere. I love that—being surrounded by all the culture. I loved that when I was in England. And in Europe, everything’s so close together, you’re bound to encounter a whole bunch of different languages and cultures.”

And that was it, that was what I loved about living here: the fact that it was as close to being back in Europe as I’d ever be without actually being back in Europe. Everything I loved about living there, I am experiencing here: easy and available public transportation, communities built around foot-transportation lifestyles, big cities located nearby and made accessible by cheap transportation, and a plethora of languages and cultures just swirling around me. Plus, with the added bonus of the NYC’s “everything’s available 24/7” mentality.

Sure, I miss grass and trees as much as any other former suburbanite. (Central Park is a nice substitute, but there’s nothing like living in a community called Forest Hills. That’s what escapes upstate are for.) Yes, the rank smells do vex me, particularly because I seem to have an extra-sensitive nose (and if you don’t believe me, just ask my mother). That’s why I keep my bedroom smelling as pleasant as possible. No, I do not like paying a fortune to live virtually on top of my roommates (imagine trying to cook at the same time as two Chinese girls on literally 1.5 feet of countertop), and no I do not like sandwiching myself between short greasy Mexican men every day on my subway commute to work. (I’m sorry if that sounds racist, but their hair is very greasy, and because all that grease is clearly intentional, I feel no embarrassment in saying so.) Nor do I like waiting in an hour-long line at Marshall’s just to buy a $12 pair of running shorts, never mind the wrestling matches I had to engage in just to get across the store to that line. But these are the sacrifices I am willing to make, for now, to enjoy the perks NYC has to offer. This is my life right now, and truth be told, I am liking it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Snapshot Book Review: Persuasion

Persuasion Persuasion by Jane Austen

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
Shockingly, for a "classic," I actually didn't mind reading this book as much as I expected to. Perhaps "age and maturity" have made me a more tolerant reader, but I suspect that Jane Austen is simply a more interesting writer than Charles Dickens, primarily because she concentrates on detailing the inner lives (i.e. thoughts and emotions) of her characters rather than the external scenery and family histories of every character that appears in the novel. Moreover, the title was tremendously appropriate, something that I, as a fellow writer (although not yet novel novelist) appreciate greatly.

Although I had never heard of Persuasion prior to my mother's informing me that her book club was reading it (which was why I picked it up in the first place), I would have to say it is definitely one of Austen's under-acknowledged novels. I hope more people than just die-hard Austen fans will read it, because in terms of chick-lit love stories, it is right there with any Gone with the Wind or Jane Eyre.
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Monday, June 15, 2009

Corporate Challenge--UPDATED!

When people ask me if I like my job, the only answer I can give is that I love the people I work with. This is a picture from the Corporate Challenge, featuring four lovely ladies from our Wiley lunchtime running group. They are actually some of the first people I met at Wiley and by far some of my friendliest, most considerate colleagues.

My results from the 5k race (although it was listed as 3.5 miles on the website, which is not equivalent to 5k): 23:54. Rank: 58th among women. Total participants = ~25,000. Maybe I should have tried cross-country back in high school!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Snapshot Book Review: In the Drink

In the Drink: A Novel In the Drink: A Novel by Kate Christensen

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
I actually really liked this book, but mostly because I could so easily relate to it at this point in my life. It was one of those "perfect timing" books. The protagonist, Claudia, is frustrated with her life in NYC. She lives in a shanty of an apartment; she eats, drinks, and spends money irresponsibly; she is pining after her male best friend who she is sure does not feel reciprocal interest; and most of all, she is terribly dissatisfied with her work. Her feeling of futility with life comes through Christensen's words like a disease, and it is a disease I fear I have caught at least once-a-week. She feels better than her current station in life--or, rather, the workforce--but she also feels trapped within what she is able and permitted to do.

Honestly, I can imagine the frustration of ghostwriting someone else's novel, which is why I would never agree to do it. Claudia is trapped in the cloak of invisibility, and that cloak easily translates itself into insignificance. The most poingnant scene in the book is one in which she leans out over the subway tracks and imagines invisible hands pushing her in front of the oncoming train. Anyone who says they haven't experienced a moment like this would be lying.

All in all, the book is no literary feat of excellence; the plot lacks "drive" and the characters (except for Claudia's employer Jackie, who is quite distinctive in a love-to-hate-her kind of way) are not particularly memorable. Still, I related to this book, and all of the setting details that placed it in NYC were spot-on. It's worth a look for anyone intimate with NYC or who feels frustrated with his/her station in life.

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Monday, June 8, 2009

Casa Bella

There are so many restaurants in NYC, some of them are bound to be bad. Therefore I typically try to eat out on recommendation only, thus saving myself wasted meals and, more importantly, wasted money. I have found a good number of eateries this way—Pinkberry and the Heights last summer on the Upper West Side, the Taquerilla in Jersey City, and Sri Pra Phai right around the corner from my apartment in Woodside. However, this method is sometimes unsuitable, as was the case when my friend T___, who was visiting from out of town, and I went to Little Italy to meet my cousins for dinner.

I have eaten in Little Italy before, one time last summer when my sister and my friend E___ came to visit me. We chose our restaurant by the walk-down-the-street-and-scan-menus method, and we enjoyed a fabulous meal, so performing this same blind search for a restaurant down Mulberry street a second time did not seem especially risky. This was Little Italy—everything had to be good.

Much to our surprise, the first place to accost us with a menu was also able to seat our party of six at its outdoor "patio" (i.e. sidewalk space), so we grabbed the available seating and settled down to look over the vast menu. Everything on it looked as good as every other place down the street....

My first clue that this restaurant wasn't as good as "every other place" should have been the seating itself: the chairs were plastic lawn chairs, the kind you can buy at Wal-Mart and that have to be thrown out at the end of every season because their white surfaces end up turning mysteriously and un-clean-ably gray. You get what you pay for with these chairs; they are very unsturdy and very uncomfortable. Consequently, no restaurant that values its customers' dining experience would put them through that kind of discomfort.

Unfortuantely, I missed sign #1 because we were all so eager to simply sit down. Sign #2 also went unnoticed, at least until any food was served: the napkins. I understand that cloth napkins are typically reserved for restaurants serving appetizers that cost as much as this place's entre dishes, but I have encountered a variety of paper versions, and some are much better than others. These napkins were thinner than the toilet paper we had in college! One speck of water or oil, and the whole thing would likely disintegrate uselessly right there on my lap. But, of course, nothing had been served yet, so I didn't notice this sign, either.

The growing realization of how poor this restaurant really was arrived along with the complimentary bread. Sign #3: it was bad. One of the two miniature loaves was as hard as a rock, and the loaves were served not with a saucer of fragrant dipping oil, but with small plastic packets of butter--the kind with the golden peel-back foil tops that you would find at a cheap diner.

And then we received our food. Or, actually, everyone at the table received their food except for me. I had ordered bruschetta and minstrone soup--two of my favorite Italian dishes--and when the waiter came out with our meals, he informed me that the restaurant had run out of minstrone soup. Now, I understand a restaurant running out of a popular food item; this phenomenon is not unheard-of. However, the fact that the waiter had waited until he served our meals to inform me there was no soup (when, if I had known earlier, I would have completely changed my order) was truly unacceptable. As a result, I had to settle for their house soup, Pasta Fagioli, which, while it certainly wasn't bad, was not what I had wanted at all.

Unfortunately, no one else was pleased with the food they had ordered, either. W___'s lasagna tasted "weird." A___'s vegetable angel hair was bland. E___'s chicken was dry. And my bruschetta was nothing to get terriblyl excited over. All-in-all, it was definitely not a $25 experience.

Thus, the moral of the story is: if you plan to eat in Little Italy, bypass Casa Bella. And try to check out the chairs and the napkins before you sit down. It may save your dining experience.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Me vs. the Cockroach

So I was in the shower, minding my own business, sudsing up my hair and doing all of those shower-y things people do. In spite of the open windows and the fan, the bathroom was getting sauna-style steamy, probably due to the fact that it’s approximately the size of a glorified walk-in closet. Wondering if maybe I could shove the window open a little farther, I glanced upwards toward the small sill where all of my shower products are situated. And that’s when I saw it: a half-moon of brown, greasy-looking shell and one long antennae peeking out from behind my fat black Tresemme shampoo bottle. The creature was motionless, and it took me a full thirty seconds to realize that the soup-spoon sized thing was on the inside of the window screen. That was when recognition fully set in, because although I’ve never actually seen one before, I know a cockroach when I see one.

Typically, I’m not a shrieker. I don’t ordinarily scream on rollercoasters, unless prompted to do so by my riding partner. I don’t squeal at gross scenes in scary movies, and when a spider is climbing up my bedroom wall, I might feel a bit squeamish inside, but I usually just snatch a tissue and do the evil deed before I can think too much about it. This cockroach, however, was as big as my two thumbs put together. There was no way I was about to squash the thing without getting guts all over the shower, never mind my vulnerable, naked body. And what’s more, it was above me on this window ledge, poised in the position of power to launch its ugly, nasty body right onto me. Just the thought of it scuttling to the edge and taking a flying leap into the spray…. So I did the girly thing. I started shrieking.

“What is wrong! What is it?” My roommates were outside the bathroom door. I turned off the water and tried to climb over the lip of the tub without splitting my head open, all the while trying to keep an eye on the brown thing that was moving slowing down the screen and into the crevice between the windowpane and the screen. By the time I had my towel around me and the door open, the only evidence of the bug were two skinny antennae sticking up from the crevice—and only I could see them, since I am at least a foot taller than my two Asian roommates. “There’s a cockroach in there,” I told them. “It was on the screen, but now you can’t see it.” They stood there helplessly as I dripped all over the floor, and I realized that if I didn’t do something, I would be stuck with shampoo in my hair for the rest of the night and with a cockroach indefinitely residing in our bathroom, ready to rear its ugly head at any moment.

“Okay, we need a cup of some sort,” I instructed L___, the roommate more likely to take action. “A cup,” she repeated, “Okay.” “And a bag!” I called after her as she disappeared from the doorway. Meanwhile, I trailed water into my room as I retrieved my bathrobe in order to make myself slightly less likely to flash my onlooking roommates as I attempted to capture this intruding bug. L___ returned with the cup, and I, clad now in my yellow bathrobe, balanced on the edge of the tub to try and see onto the windowsill better. To no avail. I’d have to go at this blindly. Using the only prodding device available to me—my Venus Gillette razor—I tentatively poked it toward the crevice between the windowpane and the screen, trying to encourage the roach to trot out and investigate the activity. It wasn’t cooperating, though, so I had to poke a little harder, and suddenly the thing flew came flying out. Literally. I had no idea cockroaches could fly!

I nearly fell off the lip of the tub, shrieking all the while and joined in chorus this time by both of my roommates, who were witness to the entire spectacle. When I regained my footing on the floor, the roach had landed inside the bathtub. “Quick!” I said to L___, “the cup!” We swooped down upon the roach and covered it with the cap of a laundry detergent bottle. “Now what?” She looked at me. “Now we have to get it into the bag.” She raised her eyebrows and handed me the plastic shopping bag she had procured from the kitchen. “I don’t know how to do this.” Great I thought to myself. As if I am a professional cockroach-catcher. “Okay,” I said, more to myself than to her. On three I would scoop it up. One, two…. I smashed the bag around the cup and quickly lifted it. Had the thing escaped? I looked around wildly, expecting flapping brown wings and excrement to be spurting everywhere. Nothing.

“Here,” I tied the bag several times and handed it back to L___. “Take this to the trash. Please.” I tried to look as pitiful and as wet as I could, which wasn’t hard considering I hadn’t’ dried off one bit since shutting off the shower. She took the bag with two fingers and retreated with my other roommate. Tentatively, I shut the bathroom door and turned the shower back on. I didn’t take my eyes off of the windowsill until I left the bathroom.