Thursday, August 26, 2010

Backpacks, France, Tipper Gore, and Architecture

Yesterday was great. In the afternoon, I volunteered for the second time to fill 600 backpacks with school supplies for children in need.  One of the other volunteers had this tattoo on his neck and let me take a picture.

All the work me and a few other volunteers did ahead of time served us well. It went super smoothly. Well, there was a slow working odd lady in her 50s with frizzy 1970s hair and glitter patches all over face (I found the lip liner particularly disturbing) but watching us working carefully around her was entertaining enough to make up for any delays.

Last Monday was the first time I helped out. It was me alone in a room with boxes of backpacks that needed to be unpacked and labeled. The repetition of the work involved many wandering thoughts. Making a game of such tasks always serves me well. Trying to unpack each box faster than the last, finding new little tricks to make that happen, are desperately needed to make six hours of organizing alone an entertaining way to pass the day.

Something about thinking about late summer and going back to school triggered a reflection on the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college. I certainly had my fair share of problems growing up but if I could justify the expenditure, the money was always there.

The summer of 1994, I continued a French class in France for a few months. The best part of that trip was meeting an Australian, whom I also shared an amazing summer in New York two years later while working as an intern at a museum. She invited me to stay in Europe a bit longer to see more of France, followed by Italy and Switzerland.

I called my father, who was happy to pay for it-- if that was really what I wanted to do. It was so much more expensive then living with a host family during my language classes that I decided to go home to DC instead. I missed my high school friends.

Once home, I combed the Help Wanted section of the paper and quickly found some odd jobs, many of which were as much fun as unwrapping backpacks. I had a few shifts each week as a cashier at a nice deli. The slow hours seemed to drag on forever but the thick activity of breakfast and lunch was intoxicating. I would calculate change in my head, impressing most customers but annoying a few who didn't know for sure how much I owed them.

Late one afternoon, after the lunch rush, Tipper Gore came in with secret service and a friend. She ordered a fancy coffee drink from me. While giving her change, I complemented her speech from the day before-- which I had seen on CSPAN the previous night.
"You watch CSPAN?"
"I don't work here all the time."

On another day, a friend's mom stopped in asked if I had found a major. When I told her I was planning to become an architect, she arranged for me to meet her friend-- a successful woman architect-- for lunch. When I was looking for a winter internship, literally sending a letter of interest to dozens of firms, she recommended me at a firm recently started by a former employee. It was the first job I had in my field.

A year later, when I was interviewed to be an intern at a museum, I was told that 6 week internship was the reason I was being considered. It set me apart since no other applicant had experience with architecture. If I hadn't been working in that deli, I wouldn't have gotten that first job in New York.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Kentucky KVI

The past week has been another Summer vacation. This time was in Kentucky. It was a great week. Key Vacation Indicators (KVI) listed below:

Miles Driven: 2,015

Hours floating: 9

Dairy Queen Blizzards: 4

Friday, August 6, 2010

Friday Summary

Looking back each week, I feel like I've done a lot but since I don't have a job there is a different sort of rhythm and satisfaction. Tons has happened in the world this week--  Kagan, 9.5%, A-Rod, BP, 49th birthday, Russian fire, Prop 8-- but dialing it back, here is how just me spent 168 hours.

Movies: 5
Whip It 
The Incredibles
Shanghai Surprise
Sliding Doors
Home for the Holidays

Books: 2
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Museum: Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Museum: 3
Always talk to the security guards. They live with the work. It's just like asking about roommates.

Exercise: 4
You know you're a Central Park regular when you chat with friends you bump into while running. This happened twice this week.

Volunteer: 1
Fancy fundraiser.

Scheduled meet ups not included above: 13
Sunday trip to Mitsuwa, a Japanese mall in New Jersey, resulted in many ginger flavored treats.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Candidate or A Courtesy

The best part of not working is being a better friend. Moving? I can help pack. Having a rough day? Give me a call. Preparing for a marathon? I'll run with you at 6:00 am. Surgery? I'll look after you.

I've volunteered to be on post-op smile duty for two short days in the middle of August. It's the least I can do considering how much my friends are there for me and how much free time I have on my hands.

Let's back up a minute. Six weeks ago, I applied for a job that is a good fit. This "good fit" came from a friend who works in another department. It sounded like they would be excited to meet with me, once they had a look at my credentials.  Three weeks ago, I had an extremely positive informational interview. Within a week, I heard that lead to being recommended me to the head of the department.

I was asked to schedule an interview and replied to with a phone call immediately. Just to recap, here is the time line so far:

June 25: Background meeting about job
July 1: Applied for job
July 20: First interview
July 27: Call in response to email about scheduling second interview
July 28: Email about second interview

Aug 2: Reminder call about second interview
Aug 3: Reminder email about second interview
Aug 5: Follow up with first interview about second interview

That step lead to a flurry of behind-the-scenes emails, resulting in a proposed interview during the two days I have committed to candy striping.  It was easy to explain to my friend that I appreciate the opportunity but another day would be better. Now the interview is scheduled before the surgery. Did I mention the interview is supposed to last 15 minutes?

One of my friends told me about how, when she applied to law school, she had a letter of recommendation written by a trustee. Like, a building named after him trustee. Instead of getting updates on the application process sent to her, they were sent to the trustee. Scheduling this second interview reminds me all too much of her story.

Clearly, the person who is interviewing me is interested in keeping my reference happy. It is unclear if he is considering hiring me. Does it matter if I am a candidate or if I'm meeting him as a courtesy? I'll find out in a few weeks.

Second interview is scheduled for Aug 16. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Why I Love to Volunteer

Yesterday,  I helped assemble gift bags for an event for about 250 people. In my mind, that is a very small event. The volunteer coordinator apologized to us for not having music to help keep us happy while we helped out.

The people working on the event had the room well laid out for an assembly line, starting with an open bag, passing the bag down the line to another volunteer to add a trinket from the station and pass it down.

Since I've worked for many non-profits and my old job involved supervising the events team, I enjoy helping out with a large scale events. It's always fun to be at a party and  I like seeing the variety of ways in which people solve event day problems. 

The people you work with also make these events fun. Yesterday's star was at the station after mine. Let's call her Xio. One of the gifts was a branded basil plant. Seeing the plants Xio says "Can you smoke that when it grows? They should have a plant you can smoke as a gift. That would be great!"

She was laughing at her joke and I was like a moth to a flame. I decided to stand next to her. Nothing is better than working with someone without a mind-mouth filter to pass the time.

Wait. I take that back. If Xio was an everyday coworker, I would daydream of her as the bunny in The Book of Bunny Suicides.

Xio was really entertained with her joke about smoking. "I wish I could have something to smoke right now. Roll it up and smoke it. Basil."

Everyone politely ignored her.  She chatted with the person on her other side. He was in real estate. Her spouse owns a real estate company. She went on and on about it and didn't let the other guy say another word.

I loved the look on his face. He was tall, dignified, and black. Being in sales, he knows how to make himself more interesting by pretending to listen.

We got a nice little rhythm going with the bags and the trinkets. There was the hum of bags shuffling between stations.

"I'd love a drink right about now. Beer. Maybe vodka mixed with something. I wonder how long before we can take a break for a drink."

Oh, Xio. You don't need to say everything you're thinking. But it certainly was entertaining. I didn't laugh but I just had this image of her as a total train wreck of a woman smoking and drinking and stuffing bags all the time.

No one responded. The hum resumed its proper place as the dominant sound in the room. A few minutes later Xio engaged me for the first time. "What do you do?"

"I'm between jobs right now." I was so excited to see what she would do with this piece of information without any of the qualifiers I might have attached to it under other circumstances.

She just let it all out. "You'll find something. I wish I had more time off in the summer. You could go to the beach for a few months. That would be fun. I bet you're having a better summer than anyone with a job. That sounds great."

Xio put this whole scenario in my head. While sipping mia-thais at my ocean side bungalow, a job would knock on the door. I'd throw on a slik wrap over my bikini and put on a pair of high healed slippers with pom-poms on top before answering.

"What do you do?"

Xio was eager to tell me. "I'm in marketing and PR for a law firm."

Job applications: 0
Networking events: 2
New contacts: 2