Figuring out how to get from here to there.
Now that 2012 is behind us and 2013 barrels on, I thought a few life updates were in order. Change has been concentrated and swift since I turned 27, and it’s been a rush to keep pace with it.
I rang in 2013 in New York surrounded by friends and feathered tiaras. Two plus years in this city and I’m lucky to know such wonderful and warm people.
Ryan and I celebrated doubly that night. After a year of long distance, hours of phone time, multiple cross-country visits (and one international one), Ryan moved to NYC. It was a long time coming but couldn’t come soon enough.
Going from long distance to same city reveals a lot. About the other person, about yourself. About your relationship. About NYC. All the amazingness of the other person swirled in with the combination of your complexities, topped off by a city made new when experienced as a twosome. You realize simultaneously how much you enjoy being with him and how much you still need to exist on your own. Through the balancing, growing and everyday to epic adventures, you realize - it’s just as awesome as you thought it’d be.
Right after New Years, I started working at an agency called Firstborn. As a Senior Strategist, I’m being tasked with juicy projects and exciting clients, and the added responsibility is challenging in the best way possible.
One of my favorite things about starting a new job is having that blank slate upon which to establish your voice and expertise. It’s sort of like being the new kid at school and being able to assert yourself as the badass you want to be. Except in a heady, brainsmart sense.
Another plus of a new gig - a whole new batch of crazies to get to know. It’s funny how gradually it happens. Looking back you never can tell when you crossed from co-workers to friends, but after, you can’t imagine it any other way. Some of the people I worked with at JL became my closest and dearest friends in the city. Here’s to more of that.
All told, change is good. It pushes us. Outside comfort zones, inside our selves. I’m loving where life is and where it’s going.
More (regular) writing ahead.
What is it about being at your parents’ house that lulls you into idleness? It’s like this cocoon of regression, back to that comfortable time when ideas like paying rent and exercising X number of times per week were non-existant. It’s no fault of anyone’s - just the mere return to the environment where food is always provided and the most pressing decision was whether to use Clinique Happy or Gap Dream will do it.
(Scenes from home - Kyli.)
What was meant to be a one week Thanksgiving writing hiatus stretched into two. Blogs have been left tabbed but unread, emails unanswered. Save for some Instagram and Facebook scrolling on my phone, I’ve been largely offline, spending time with family, the Northern Californian outdoors, sketching, digging into oldie but goodie books.
(Scenes from home - Morning trails.)
But it’s my birthday, so I thought I’d do some writing.
I’m a fan of getting older, in the sense that with every year, I feel more self-aware, more sure of who I am and what I want, more beautiful in my own body, even more curious about the world outside of me. I was talking with an aunt who was in town about how in hindsight, I was so oblivious of who I was when I was interviewing to get into college. How distant that feels from the current knowledge of self, which has brought amazing friends and an incredible partner into focus and into my life. (Thankful, always.)
This is random and faintly related, but ever since I was little, I’ve sporadically had what I like to call “this is real life” moments. Most often it happens during those totally commonplace in-between bits of life - washing my hands in front of a mirror, waiting to cross the street while running an errand. It’s this sudden and brief reverse out-of-body experience, wherein life stops feeling like a movie unfolding from a third-person’s perspective. My consciousness whooshes behind my eyes, and I look down at my hands or feet and think, “This is real life. This. Happening. Now. THIS.” Not existential, not a passive vs. taking the reins of life flip, not the tick-tick-tick of nihilism. Just a quiet re-realization that happens every once in awhile.
Ideally, each progressive year should be bigger and better than the last, and twenty-seven feels like no exception. From big job moves and news, and the end of long-distance next month (more on both to come!), the start of 27 is rife with the good kind of change.
(Scenes from home - Recent sketch.)
Here’s looking forward.
She walks the last few steps to the top of the hill, her feet pressing cold leaves into the ground. Her fingers brush through the dry husks of former cat tails, their soft brown heads heavily hanging like a genuflect in passing. They rustle and part as she scans the horizon.
She’s been walking all day, having woken in the middle of a broad path, covered in nothing but a white shawl. There was no evidence that she’d been hurt, but the inability to remember the events that led her to that semi-curled position, face down, her arms tucked under her head, sent shivers down her naked spine. Her skin, warmed by the sun, was unblemished by blows or even dirt.
Since she had chosen a direction at random, heading towards the sun in its descent towards the horizon, she hasn’t seen anyone else on the path. She piles her long hair up on her head, knotting it around itself to keep her neck and back cool in the afternoon sun. As she walks, she toys with the shawl, trying to position it to maximize the coverage of her naked body. But no matter how she twists and loops it, she can only cover half of her at a time.
The sun is just starting to touch the Earth, when she reaches the top of the hill. A lake, ablaze with the reflection of the sun, sits glimmering in the distance. The darkened hills beyond it cast shadowy outlines at the edge of the water, distorted by the wind’s playful push. Farther still lay a collection of sparkling lights, settled snugly in a valley. The prospect of other people made her giddy.
She decides to stop at the lake before setting off in the direction of the winking city. With every step, she tries to conjure up the last thing she can remember. The dinner party she and her boyfriend had hosted. They’d invited two other couples to their apartment, shelling out for wine, cheese, fruit and cooking up two types of pasta. They’d had fun preparing everything, laughing at the overboiling pots, splatters of sauce on the counter. When the evening was winding down, she’d slipped her hand onto his lap under the table, running her nails from his thigh to his knee. Once their guests were shuffled out the door, he’d grabbed her hand, pulled her into their bedroom and tackled her onto the down comforter. The last thing she remembers is falling asleep, her face towards the window and his breath on her neck.
She steps carefully over the large, moss-slick rocks that dot the edge of the lake, making her way down to the edge. The icy water cuts into her shins as she wades out. She submerges her cupped hands, then sips slowly. Throwing the shawl onto a rock, she continues shuffling out, until she’s deep enough to slip completely under. The water lifts her hair like floating strands of silk, soft and stringy between her fingers. After a day of clouded memories, the silence that surrounds her is comforting in its enormity. Her feet and fingers start to numb, but she remains submerged, letting the feeling of total weightlessness take over like she used to do as a child at the community pool, much to the lifeguard’s horror.
When she comes up gasping, the sun has slipped almost completely out of sight, and the light has made its swift exit. She swims back to her shawl, her skin glowing against the dusk. She squeezes water from her hair, watching it run down her arms. Drying herself with the shawl, she keeps on walking.
The dark rushes to meet her. She keeps her eyes trained on the lights of the city, each step bringing them minisculely closer. After what seems like ten thousand steps, she turns around and sees that the lake is still closer. She sits down in the middle of the path, stretching her legs out in front of her. While too far to hear them, she imagines the sounds of the city - the swoosh of passing tires, the rumble of the subway below, the intermittent sirens that signify that someone is having a worse day than you.
She lies down, her arm crooked under her head. She shuts her eyes and sleeps.
I’m currently in Philly visiting a friend, so I’ll make this quick.
This is generally my process for my charcoal sketches. First, I’ll sketch the basic outline in pencil, referencing a found photo for body positioning. Next, I’ll ink over those lines, trying to keep my lines decisive and steady instead of sketchy and feathered. Lastly, I’ll lay the shadows in with charcoal. I’ll usually start with the darkest areas so that I have a starting point for my gradient. An eraser helps blend the faintly-grey areas and cleans up any out of line shading.
Something a little more visual today.
I doodled this the other day while thinking about creative brief writing.
If the kite represents creativity, then ideas coming off a brief that’s too broad will be lost to the ether, not tied to reality, or will be relevant to any brand. A brief that’s too prescriptive will ground creativity, and ideas will be unable to lift off. Only a brief that’s both creatively inspirational and borne of observed truths will produce ideas that fly.
I think this applies to things outside of advertising to varying degrees. When I’m drawing, if I don’t have some theme or emotion in mind, I’ll spend way too long cycling through ideas of what I could put down on paper. On the other hand, giving myself rigid instructions on what to include in a piece results in something half-hearted and forced. It’s that in-between of having a vague notion of what I want to convey, but not pre-determining how I’ll convey it. That’s when things click.
(Photo from last January’s trip to Sydney.)
“Every once in a while — often when we least expect it — we encounter someone more courageous, someone who choose to strive for that which (to us) seemed unrealistically unattainable, even elusive. And we marvel. We swoon. We gape. Often, we are in awe. I think we look at these people as lucky, when in fact, luck has nothing to do with it. It is really about the strength of their imagination; it is about how they constructed the possibilities for their Life. In short, they didn’t determine what was impossible before it was even possible.
If you imagine less, less will be what you undoubtedly deserve. Do what you love, and don’t stop until you get what you love. Work as hard as you can, imagine immensities, don’t compromise, and don’t waste time. Start now. Not 20 years from now, not two weeks from now. Now.”
- Debbie Millman in Look Both Ways: Illustrated Essays on the Intersection of Life and Design
Relevant and important to keep in mind when navigating new waters. Pulled from Literary Jukebox, via my friend Victoria.
“As our studies have suggested, the phenomenology of enjoyment has eight major components. When people reflect on how it feels when their experience is most positive, they mention at least one, and often all, of the following. First, the experience usually occurs when we confront tasks we have a chance of completing. Second, we must be able to concentrate on what we are doing. Third and fourth, the concentration is usually possible because the task undertaken has clear goals and provides immediate feedback. Fifth, one acts with a deep but effortless involvement that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life. Sixth, enjoyable experiences allow people to exercise a sense of control over their actions. Seventh, concern for the self disappears, yet paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger after the flow experience is over. Finally, the sense of the duration of time is altered; hours pass by in minutes, and minutes can stretch out to seem like hours. The combination of all these elements causes a sense of deep enjoyment that is so rewarding people feel that expending a great deal of energy is worthwhile simply to be able to feel it.”
- Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
If there’s one thing I know, it’s that I want to maximize the above in my life. And while flow is generally associated with extracurricular activities, I think these criteria should also serve as a barometer for whatever you do professionally. Even if flow all day, every day at your job is unrealistic, holding the overall experience to this standard will ensure that you’re continuing to learn and evolve while genuinely enjoying what you do.
(Master of flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Also, how fabulous is the word “phenomenology”? Image from here.)
After quoting Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi like crazy in the past, I decided it was time to read the source material in its entirety. I’m about halfway through and loving it. Highly recommended for anyone interested in consciousness and its role in creativity, community, meaning, and generally milking life of its sweet gratification.
(Image from here.)
I was brushing up on some Twitter analytics earlier, when I realized that the language that data gatherers and programmers have developed not only serves a functional purpose. It can also be read as poetry.
sweet wooded silence “please don’t go” wind OR whispers near:”the far end of the field”.
I’ll explain. To make it easier for users to find specific set of Tweets - be it by topic, user, location, attitude, or any combination of these elements - Twitter created a simple search interface. Just plug in your criteria and away you go.
(Screenshot of Advanced Search interface on Twitter.)
But those with programming knowledge and who are familiar with the syntax can opt to type any of the following search operators into the standard search box:
(Screenshot from Twitter.)
Whether manual or through the interface, each search spits back a set of tweets (or “No Tweets” if none exist), as well as a summary of the search operators all strung together:
There are several layers to the poetic nature of Twitter Advanced Search. The first is this base literacy, understanding what each search operator means, so that what the author is searching for (literally, or metaphorically) can be read, cleverly extrapolated from the search parameters.
your love deep OR strange OR evolving -reason -distance -boundaries from:me to:you near:”the edges of the Earth”.
“meaning of life” self, OR others -religion, -consumerism, -solitude #seek_it OR #miss_it.
The format of the poem, strung together with little punctuation save the commas, makes for a halting, yet lyrical rhythm (E.E. Cummings, much?). The restrictions of the language result in both tongue in cheek and strangely genuine pieces. In playing around with creating the examples, I tried abstractly generating gibberish that sounded vaguely poetic, but also attempted to hack the format to create lines that made more sense.
I think this would be an amazing meme to start. It’s easy for anyone to generate and share these one-liners - simply type in your search criteria, hit “Search,” then copy and paste the summary. The search operator syntax is straight forward enough to quickly understand. There are so many iterations and “word play” techniques within the language that I didn’t even touch - user mentions, Languages, etc. And if it took off, it would incrementally increase everyone’s analytics literacy, educating people on how to find what they’re interested in on Twitter along the way.
While these search-generated poems may not be the stuff of Shakespeare, I love the idea that any new language is the basis of not only functional communication, but also creative expression.
I had a bad day. You know, the ones that rear up unexpectedly from time to time. Nothing terribly tragic - just a series of small missteps and annoyances that locking myself out of my apartment. I’m in no mood to write, so I thought I’d repost my story of the last time I got shut out. My rereading of it made me feel a little better. Compared to the episode two years ago, today was cake.
(Funfetti, the trashy guilty pleasure cake. Image from here.)
Today, a humorous true story about my harrowing night.
I opened the two doors to my building at 3AM last night, and started climbing the three flights of stairs to my apartment. Around the bottom of the second flight, I began to hear steadying meow-ing from above. A skinny, grey cat sans collar was poking its head through the rails, looking down at me.
I made some of those high-pitched, cute animal sounds as I scooched past it in the hall, but otherwise didn’t dwell. I’m much more of a dog person, and didn’t like the idea of touching a stray right before bed. It followed me to my door, but I slipped inside and shut out the meow-ing.
I threw my stuff on my bed and changed into bedtime attire. All the while, the mewing continued, steadily and persistently outside my door. It started getting to me, because the next thing I know, I’m opening the door to put out a small dish of milk.
Do you ever have those split-second moments you wish you could take back? This was that moment. As soon as I crack the door open, the cat slips in and races past me into the apartment and under the couch. In my panic to keep whatever might be clinging to the cat out of my room, I turn and slam my bedroom door shut.
With the lock engaged. From the inside.
At this point, it’s probably 4AM, and I have several problems on my hands, the weight of which is sinking in as I grip and jiggle the door handle in vain.
1) There’s a feral cat in the apartment.
2) I have no access to my keys, phone, computer or wallet, as they’re safely locked away in my room. I can’t leave the building, or I’ll get locked out.
3) My roommate is gone, presumably at her boyfriend’s for the night and for most of tomorrow.
After half an hour on my knees, alternating between loving clucks and the most offensive of swear words, a can of tuna, a broom and a towel, I was able to get the cat out of the apartment. While the light in my room stayed cheerfully lit, I curled up on the couch and fell asleep.
With no cell phone, watch, computer, or properly programmed microwave around me, I woke up with no idea what time it was (BIZARRE). I turned on the TV, and the news informed me it was 9AM, too early to start knocking on neighbors’ doors, especially on a holiday. I spent one hour reading a random book from my roommate’s shelf, and the second hour watching Jerry Springer (we don’t have cable) for the first time in years. (Random side note - Steve Wilkos, as in “STEVE! STEVE! STEVE!” has his own show now. It’s the exact same format, except instead of passively blocking crazies from killing each other, he provides them with tough love.)
After several failed attempts at knocking on neighbors’ doors, I heard the buzzer go off a couple floors below me. I flew down the stairs in time to catch a neighbor in a towel receiving a UPS delivery. He was nice enough to let me look up and contact a locksmith. Thirty minutes later, and I’m back in my room and down $60.
Being completely disconnected and trapped in the apartment for about 8 hours was simultaneously stressful and thought-provoking. It was such a juxtaposition from everyday life - it’s so easy to take for granted all the things for which I use my phone and computer. At the same time, it made me think - what would I do if I was disconnected?*
*Finally had this question answered by Hurricane Sandy.