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Inauguration Day 2013, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

January 21, 2013

The empty wine glass,

chocolates unwrapped,

dirty dishes,

sleeping cat

Falling eyelids,

aching legs:

day fully savored to the dregs.

Outside the rattling wind portends

the coming cold, the battles to be fought.

But today – Inauguration Day 2013 – a moment

to soak in, to drink up, to pause, to celebrate

how far we’ve come.

The sweet taste of liberty & justice,

flowing wider and wider,

The mighty river of history carrying

us – as we steer the course – to and through

the storms – to the Dream.

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Interlude: Crêpes and Coffee

September 12, 2012
Mug of coffee/latte with chocolate swirl

Delicious mocha from the ill-fated café

We all need a coffee break from time to time, a few minutes to relax, recharge our brains, and come back to work feeling more awake. About six months ago, I decided I needed a coffee break longer than 15 minutes.

I was working in a position that, while in the nonprofit sector with a wonderful organization, was not exactly a perfect fit with my broader career experience and objectives. It was time for a break to reflect and reconsider what I wanted to do, while doing something completely different. And what better place for extended reflection than my new neighborhood café?

But rather than simply parking myself at a table for a few hours (or months), I began working at my corner crêpe restaurant and coffee shop, serving customers, making food and lattés, dicing tomatoes, and cleaning up after closing.

The perks were many: free bottomless espresso drinks, discounted specialty food, free meals at work, decadent leftover baked goods, and, my favorite, an extremely short walk of just a couple block around the corner. I grew to recognize more faces in my neighborhood, to feel more closely connected to the immediate area where I lived after years of Metro-ing across town for work.

Of course, nearly every job has its downsides. The pay in the service industry is generally less than that of “professional” work, though the micro-commute and free food/coffee helped cover some of the difference. The lack of benefits like paid vacation or paid sick days or health insurance, the physical nature of the job – I could write an entire lengthy post on the challenges and need for greater workers’ rights in the restaurant industry.

Surprisingly, though, what was the most challenging was one of the very reasons I wanted a different kind of job in the first place – the non-traditional schedule. I had wanted a greater sense of freedom, time off during the day, maybe part-time hours. The schedule had me working all over the clock, though, (not, thankfully, around the clock, except for a few odd 10-hr shifts), often in the evenings, almost always on weekends, and occasionally at 6 in the morning. It was unpredictable, varying greatly week-to-week and even more month-to-month as staff and needs changed.

Instead of feeling like I had more time, I felt like I had less, with irregular free time and less leisure time during the traditional social hours of evenings and weekends. I had less time for personal pursuits like dance and theatre, less time for strengthening friendships over shared meals. I had come to the conclusion that it was time to return to the Monday through Friday, “9-to-5” world. I was happy, though, that I would be able to conduct my search for my next job while I still had the café job.

And then, the restaurant suddenly closed. For whatever reasons, management decided it should not stay open. There was an outpouring of support from the community expressing sadness, but it was permanently closed.

And now, like too many people I know, I find myself unexpectedly among the ranks of the unemployed. After taking a break to work in a different kind of job for a few months, I’m now looking for a job (or gigs) more in line with my professional experience in the nonprofit sector. (Although, since it went out of business, I guess I was working for a “nonprofit” for the last few months! Hah!)

So check out my new Hire Me page! And I may have a few interesting café stories brewing…

Have you ever worked at a job other than your 9-to-5 for a change of pace or for extra income? Or returned to work or your main career after a brief break? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments!

Accountability: Not as scary as it sounds?

June 27, 2012

The long path uphill ends in light.

Accountability. Something about this word rings big and scary. It’s slung around in politics as a threat of not being re-elected, of being censured for a misdeed or failure. To “hold someone accountable” often connotes a punishment for a wrong action, or a punishment for not doing something you’re supposed to.

But we’re accountable to and responsible to a lot of people: our selves, our parents and family, our partner (if we’re in a relationship), our boss, coworkers, clients or customers, roommates, friends, pets. That’s a lot of responsibility! It can feel overwhelming to think about all at once.

It’s nice to feel needed or cared about, though, to have someone to be accountable to. Instead of being scared by it, I’ve been trying to think of accountability as a positive check/balance. What it comes down to in some cases, especially with one’s self, is, “Hey, have you done that thing you said you wanted to do yet?” or “Have you done that thing you need to do yet?” For me, holding myself accountable, or, as frustrated as I can get when they do, having a parent, roommate, or friend hold me accountable, serves as a gentle reminder not to procrastinate. (Or not to procrastinate any/much longer, at least.)

My frustration at being reminded or held accountable to do something stems from, obviously, not having done it yet and knowing I need to or want to. Gentle reminders can serve as the kick in the pants to move forward, to move things from the “to-do” list to the “done!” list, which is always rewarding and energizing.

So why do we procrastinate and dislike the idea of too much “accountability?” It’s so much easier to keep browsing Twitter, Facebook, reading that article or book, doing that recreational activity, and not doing the thing we know we need to do. Making ourselves do something requires dipping into our reserves of willpower and self-discipline, even for something we want to do. It’s not as immediate a reward as clicking a link or clinking a drink.

But the satisfaction of, “Look, I did it, Mommy!” doesn’t go away, even for adults, even if you’re not telling Mom everything you’re accomplishing. So remember the reward, the satisfaction, the joy you get from getting something done, from meeting or exceeding someone else’s expectations of you – or your own expectations. Hold yourself accountable to being the best version of your self that you can be, to doing the important things, to seeking a richer reward than temporary distraction. And after you get something done and meet those responsibilities and expectations, reward yourself with a little fun! (Or as Mom always said, “First you work and then you play!“)

30th Birthday! A different kind of celebration of self

June 20, 2012

There are those milestone birthdays where one is expected to have a large party with as many of your “best” friends as can fit in a single venue, and (if you’re old enough), drink copious amounts of alcohol, or maybe take a big vacation. But my big birthdays have usually been a little different…

I did have a big pool party when I turned 10, Little Mermaid themed. Probably one of my largest birthday parties ever, with about 30 or so little girls from my school.

13, when a pre-teen finally becomes a teenager. I have to think for a moment to remember my 13th birthday…oh right, on the birthday when I was celebrating “growing up,” I excitedly attended the premiere of Disney’s Pocahontas at the fabulous Fox Theater in Atlanta.

16? Sweet sixteen (or 15 in some cultures), the age to throw a big fancy party, second only to a wedding in the life of a young woman. I went out to dinner with my parents on my 16th to our favorite local, family-owned restaurant. That was my typical birthday celebration: a celebration of family, with my mom’s birthday being the day after mine, and Father’s Day around that time, too. I remember seeing a rainbow as we were coming home from dinner.

20 was a special birthday for me; I was on a study abroad trip to France. I celebrated the end of my teen years all summer with travel, new-found independence, and moderate amounts of French wine.

21! Finally! Now I could legally drink in the United States! So of course I had a big night on the town…with ice cream, in the dry Mormon college town of Provo, Utah. I was at Brigham Young University  for a week-long summer ballroom dance camp, a birthday trip to celebrate one of my passions. My first drink (ok, first legal drink) in the U.S. was a glass of wine at the Salt Lake City airport, kindly bought by a fellow ballroom dancer I had met at the workshop.

The twenties. The doldrums of birthdays. One year rolls ever more rapidly into the next, marked by happy hours, job changes, relationship changes…these soon become the milestones by which you measure your life, instead of that special day on the calendar. “Oh, that was when I worked there;” “That was when I was dating so-and-so.” “What do you do?” becomes the social question of individual definition, instead of the “How old are you?” question that had been so important at the pool as a kid.

So I arrived, all too quickly, at 29. OMG! The last year of my twenties! Start panicking! And I certainly did, for a while. I didn’t like my job, I felt like my career was going nowhere. Relationships were short-lived or not present. Nearly midway through age 29 (already in my 30th year), I began some serious self-reflection. What did I want more of in my life? What did I want to spend less time doing?

In short, those reflections continued for the next six months, instigating and facilitating some major life changes. I changed jobs – changed careers – leaving the non-profit/political/communications/small business world to pursue my passion for the arts: dance, theater, photography. I got back into dancing and performing through some amazing opportunities that appeared at exactly the right time – when I was open to and ready for them. I began working at a café, playing the role of “starving artist,” but with free coffee and food. I started yoga, getting back in touch with my spiritual side, and transformed some long-held bad habits into better, more energizing sleeping and eating patterns.

With my 30th birthday close on the horizon, and my life in transformation, when Mom and Dad asked if I wanted to come home to Georgia for a big family reunion, I was happy to come. When they told me it was on the day of my birthday, I hesitated briefly. What did I want? I thought I had always wanted a big celebration with 50 of my closest friends at a big bar with a big dance floor. Or maybe a house party with about 30 of my friends.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that being with my parents, my aunts and uncles, meeting “long-lost” aunts and uncles and cousins I didn’t even know I had – this seemed more important than a big, alcohol-infused party. It had been about a decade since I celebrated my birthday with my family, and that was the celebrating I remembered the most growing up.

So that was how I came to spend my 30th birthday celebrating with 30 family members. There would be plenty of time for summer revelry back in DC – this family reunion was only for one day, and who knows how many more years we get with our parents and relatives of their generation? (Or with anyone, for that matter.)

Delicious and abundant food was happily eaten. I listened to stories (some I had heard before, and some new) from my uncles and aunts and parents. Wine was drunk. Children were amused and spoiled. Pictures were taken, old pictures happily examined. New connections were made with cousins, and old family ties strengthened. An unforgettable birthday. (Much more memorable than yet another happy hour.)

Sometimes, you want to look to the past, hear stories of who came before you, what was important to your parents and their generation. Sometimes, you need to slow down, to think about and focus on what’s really important to you, and how to spend more energy on that. Reconnecting with family, with my family’s past, I found that I reconnected with myself, in a grander and more authentic celebration of self than anything else I could have possibly planned.

(But you’re still welcome to buy me a belated milestone birthday treat if you’d like!) 😉

Family

Immigration Blogging Archive (or, what I did Fall 2010)

April 1, 2011

Obligatory, looong-overdue “it’s been a while since I’ve blogged…” post chock full of content. From late September 2010 through mid-December 2010, I had the honor and privilege to work with America’s Voice as their New Media Intern. My first true foray into activist blogging, it was a humbling, educational, and inspiring experience. The amazing people I worked with and the awesome young Dreamers – immigrants and activists fighting for the right to go to school, work, serve in the military, and give back to the country they love and call home – touched me deeply and taught me a lot about passion and perseverance.

The only way to sum up the experience is through some of the words, images, and video I posted during that time, featuring actions and people that left a big impression. Even if you are not interested in immigration as a political issue, even if you’re pretty sure you know where you stand, please, take a look at the articles, stories and images below. These young people are amazing, and continue to push for their dreams.

Most of these posts were edited by the talented Jackie Mahendra, now with Change.org. Huge shout-outs also to Mahwish, Matt, and the rest of the AV staff for their inspiration and support.

December and the DREAM Act: DREAM Act votes, week of action. Many outdoor marches and rallies, despite freezing temperatures.

The Election and the Latino Vote

Congressional testimony and Rallying

12 tips for mobile-friendly web content, from Web Content Mavens meetup

August 19, 2010

About 100 web content mavens met up at the Washington Post’s headquarters on Tuesday, August 17th to learn about options and tips for creating mobile-device-friendly web content at the “Making a Mobile Website” meetup. Due to popular demand, the event will be repeated September 14th. Featured speakers were Cory Lebson of Lebsontech and Jerome Ferrara of NetBiscuits, both mobile solution providers. Jasmine Sante, who organized the event, and John Schmidt of Vaya Mobile also provided insight and discussion. Here are some tips shared by the speakers at the event:

  1. As with any content discussion, your first question when creating or repurposing content for mobile use should be Who is your first priority audience? FEMA’s mobile website, for example, is directed to people experiencing a disaster looking for relief and preparedness information.
  2. Think about each component of usability: effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction of specified users in specified context of use.
  3. Keep in mind people are often looking for a quick check of specific, basic information: phone number, address, directions, etc., as opposed to the more extended, casual browsing at a desktop or laptop.
  4. In addition to the quick check, other users may be looking for interactions optimized for their mobile device, such as videos or games, especially if you are an entertainment provider. This type of content will keep people coming back.
  5. Simplicity
  6. Screen resolutions are much smaller and vary widely. Keep content to one column.
  7. Don’t use tables to lay out content as they can be displayed inconsistently.
  8. There is great variability of hardware, screen-size, and software used to access the mobile web. Test what your mobile content will look like across a variety of platforms and phone types: iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, Palm, Nokia, and feature phones that include web access. Recruit colleagues, friends, and family who have different devices and have them run through use scenarios.
  9. Don’t forget about the long tail of users; about 60% of mobile traffic comes from devices that are not the most popular three or four.
  10. Graphics should be used sparingly and only if they are of high importance or value, such as a logo to maintain consistent branding. Colors tend to wash out outdoors.
  11. You may want to default to the mobile site for certain devices, but give users the option of the regular site if they prefer.
  12. Start preparing for the future mobile web now, including bigger screens and faster and more reliable data transfer. By 2014, more people worldwide will be accessing the web from mobile devices than from computers.

In short, the early mobile web bears close resemblance to the early world wide web – lack of standards, inconsistency in hardware and software used to access it, small screen resolution and sometimes slow connections. But we can employ the strategies learned over the past couple decades of traditional web design to make the mobile web just as user-friendly as the modern web.

Contact the individuals or companies who participated for more information on optimizing your corner of the mobile web. What tips, tricks, and tools have you found useful in making your website mobile-friendly?

Movie review: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

August 11, 2010

When a movie’s tagline is “An epic of epic epicness,”
the question is, will it be an epic fail or epic win?
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
is an epic win.

The enticing trailers show Michael Cera playing the likable underdog Scott Pilgrim who must fight the league of seven evil exes to win the girl of his dreams. The movie was like watching a video game and a comic book come to life. Comic book movies are common, but frequently too dark, too violent, too cheesy, or too cartoony.

This movie struck the right note and rocked it. I’m not a big reader of comic books themselves, but I like comic book-based films, and this is the best one I’ve seen in a long time. It was the graphic novel version of a movie, not simply another action flick featuring comic book characters.

I can’t say how faithfully it held to the comic book series, but it was faithful to the comic book style, with shots framed and cut like the panels of a graphic novel and sound effects visualized, in a way that blended seamlessly with the overall film and live action elements. The special effects and fight scenes felt like watching someone play through a live-action video game. I look
forward to playing the video game based on the movie and graphic novels!

Dialogue was snappy and humorous without being over-the-top. All the characters, even supporting characters, were driven by something, making them more realistic and fun to watch.  Supporting characters Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin), Pilgrim’s gay roommate, and Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), Pilgrim’s former love interest, might have stolen the spotlight in another film, but here, the entire cast was strong enough that they elevated the whole film. Main love interest Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) was quirky, mysterious, and aloof, but showed just the right hint of vulnerability at the right moments.

Michael Cera did a great job playing, well, Michael Cera. He’s well-suited to the role of the slightly awkward underdog who goes for what he wants at full power. And the suite of evil exes each have a personality and a power of their own, with different battle styles and strengths required to defeat each one. Many video game genres are well represented, from ninja fighting games to skateboarding to the music genre, while the movie plays well as one truly epic adventure to save the princess.

If you’re a comic book, video game, or fantasy fan, or a fan of geekery, you’ll probably love this movie. If you’re a fan of action and/or comedy, you’ll probably enjoy this movie. I was lucky enough to score free passes to an advance screening, but the movie was already on my must-see list for the summer. Add it to your list.