Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Private is Public

When I get an email about a job, I do a few searches about the sender and the company, spending no more than 10 minutes just to get a bit of a context. This week I have seen a baby home movie and read a dad's obituary from two days earlier.  There is a lot of personal information on the internet! I'm sure this is the first you are hearing about this.

When most people talk about online privacy, it ranges from concern about strangers being able to watch your virtual movements to the more specific. A few examples? Wanting searches about health conditions and... um... personal interests to remain private. But what I upload about myself to the public domain-- this blog, for example-- is a personal decision with personal consequences. Just for the record, that is not my family to the left.

When I search my own name, my LinkedIn profile comes up close to the top. You can learn where I went to college and the names of some family members. You can see a few pieces of art I've made. My Facebook profile is restricted to friends. If you dig a bit deeper, there are some slightly more personal items but thankfully that picture of me hiking through Utah as a high school sophomore is no longer up.  I don't think anyone accessing my online persona would feel like they walked in on me in the locker room.

What do I do with the information that someone emailed me two days after his father passed away? When I read that article, I had two thoughts simultaneously: I have invaded this man's privacy and why is he working. Watching a 2 minute home movie of another stranger's children was a much more positive experience (so cute) but it felt uncomfortable because I certainly was not the intended audience.

At the same time, these 10 minute searches can reveal extremely useful information so I am glad that I take the time to do them. Being more savvy about what is up in the cloud for all to see is up to the individual. Some might say that I shouldn't be doing these searches if I know the outcome could potentially put me in an awkward position.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Group Meditation

I went to a group meditation in Chelsea tonight with two friends and didn’t know what to expect. 

The oldest Zendo in the United States is a few blocks from my apartment. I’ve practiced there during open practice before but they are super formal. Like, change into a robe and chant formal. I find it intimidating.

This place was nothing like that. The center is in a creaky loft with a clean floor and muslin curtains. The leader told a story about a muscular thin young yoga instructor who was offered a seat on the subway by an older woman, was sure it was because she looked pregnant, and this sent her into a 3 day depression. 

People were invited to share, focusing on how we look for confirmation of stories we tell ourselves. After that, we meditated together for 20 minutes. Most of us chatted informally for a few minutes after the class.

At some point during the meditation, the teacher suggested we count our breath to ten to maintain focus so I started counting in English and got the idea it would be fun to count to ten in as many languages as I could. When I was struggling through the German, I thought that probably wasn’t what he meant so I went back to English.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

An Act of Congress

Over the weekend, I had an odd realization. I considered moving to California before thinking about working off the island of Manhattan. "Why would I ever need to leave?" is the mantra of many a New Yorker.

Why do I live in Manhattan? I lived in Brooklyn for a number of years but Manhattan feels like home now. Is it for the convenience? Stepping outside has the pulse of adventure mixed with the comfort of the familiar. I'm near my friends. My favorite spaces are within walking distance. I don't need a car.  It seems irresponsible to throw away all that is a right in my life for a job. Isn't that the premise of countless gaffs about not one in the hospital wishing to spend more time in the office?

But there is still the question of money. Unemployment is not a fortune but it is essentially enough to live on. Yesterday, I confirmed that my benefits have been extended by an act of congress, giving me the luxury of time to keep looking for the right job in the New York area.

Within hours of realizing that I have have seven months to find the right job, a recruiter reached out to me about an excellent position in New York. I have enough experience with this to know that I may never hear about the job again but it is a sign that my strategy will work if I continue to be a balance of persistent and patient.

This morning was the first time that I applied for a position within the realm of public transportation but off the island of Manhattan.  It is easy to go through the motions-- to continue doing what you are already doing. Taking the time to weigh all the options to make a decision-- even if that decision is to keep on the same track-- is empowering. I am on this path because I have chosen this path.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Zen Cooking

Enjoying this time between jobs has taken a more concerted effort. More moments of anxiety and frustration catch me by surprise as time ticks on.  As a result, I am rediscovering old hobbies like cooking and watching lots of tv. The two converged yesterday when I saw a documentary about a zen chef, best known for writing a bread baking best seller in the 1960s.

The idea of saving every grain of rice and treating food as you would your eyesight is so removed from how I relate to food but I appreciate that it doesn't need to be.

Before working at an office with 3 free hot gourmet meals a day, I was a New York anomaly. During my first decade here, I cooked so often that I could count the number of times I had ordered food to be delivered to my apartment on one hand.  Google changed that. How could my humble dinner ever top the miso cod with heirloom tomatoes and raw mint ice cream at lunch?

The internet makes finding recipes so much easier than pouring over cookbooks. For example,  I had a lot of mushrooms in the fridge and friends coming over for dinner last night. A search for mushroom chili resulted in a dish that fit easily into my cooking-for-an-hour-is-long-enough guideline. 

The end result? I received the best compliment a cook can get: "I thought I wasn't going to like this at all but I'm going back for seconds and want the recipe."

The process of making a dessert-- angel food strawberry shortcake (see above)-- was much more exciting then I had anticipated. I had never made an angel food cake before and it is fascinating to watch it come to life. The recipe calls for 12 egg whites whipped into a frenzy. Uncooked, it is it's own unique substance with a texture between foam and batter.

One of my friends brought over heavy cream, which she whipped up after we finished the chili. Building a fresh strawberry shortcake cake with my friends after sharing a good meal is one of the wonderful experiences that was so much easier to make happen because I'm unemployed.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dear Martha, Thank you for the free spoon

Captains log: week day number 6 of jack hammers in the street outside my apartment. I have just consumed a balanced breakfast of coffee and fresh baked chocolate chip cookies after a brief run in Central Park.

As I have officially passed the "4 months unemployed" mark, this whole not working thing has developed into a strange mix of annoyance at how these unstructured days blend together and trying to savor the experience since I can't go on like this much longer.

Over the weekend, I was in the elevator at the gym (don't judge me) with two people in their 70s chatting. I couldn't help but listen in. "I was talking with Mayor Mike's girlfriend the other day. He is so involved with Washington. I bet they ask his advice on everything. 'What is going on with the economy?' I asked her. She said 'Mike says the economic situation is unfixable.' Can you imagine? What a mess we're in."

It was disheartening since it was confirmation of my impression that finding a good job in New York will take me awhile and it is heartening since we're all in this boat together. This is still New York so the city is filled with a full spectrum of opportunity.

My running team was asked to help promote Martha Stewart's new cooking show yesterday by dressing in matching running shirts, aprons, and holding wooden spoons while getting our picture taken. I'm not sure about the process that led to this publicity photo shoot, but I'm thankful for my new running shirt, apron, and wooden spoon.

It was an odd event. We were supposed to meet at a running store that had a group run scheduled around the same time. People not in our club got confused and put on shirts and were surprised we didn't go outside to run in the rain like everyone else. We were also confused about the people who were not runners and suspected had responded to a Craigslist posting to make a few dollars.

Throughout this whole experience I was thinking "Hey! Lucky me! I get free stuff to go running with my friends just like I would be doing anyway."

The strangest part was not the confused runners or the young women looking to make a few dollars but a conversation with a new woman in her 40s in the club.
She said the most curious thing. She said the wooden spoon was made out of balsa wood and wouldn't last a week "if you really cook with it."

"How do you know what kind of wood it is?"a teammate asked her.

"I cook a lot. And I know a lot about wood." Her tone was firm and challenging.

I knew she was wrong but didn't say anything. The kind of person who is going to make up something negative to say about a free spoon is not my kind of person. I walked away to talk to other people.

How did I know? I looked at the spoon using my experience with high end millwork. It wasn't balsa.  From the grain pattern, it looked like white oak. It wasn't tight enough to be teak and teak is darker. Other hard woods like maple, walnut, cedar or ipe tend to be more expensive and darker.  I did a fingernail test to confirm it wasn't older growth pine. The handle and the paddle are two separate pieces, glued together which makes it lower quality then to other wooden spoons in my kitchen but this one is free.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Confidence of Community

On Thursday night, I met with one of my friends who is moving to London in October to start a new job. She has also lived in New York City for more than ten years. Unlike me, she currently has a job that she is unhappy with. Just like me, she has seen the experience looking for a new job in New York in this economy has been unlike any other time she has looked for a new position.

Getting so much support from the people closest to me gives me confidence that-- not only is this temporary-- but the important pieces of my life are together. On top of having a great network of friends, people who I don't really know have made time to advise and support me as well.

I keep thinking how lucky I am that to be surrounded by great people. Becoming part of a community takes time. I have a beautiful life in New York that has taken years to get to. I'm surrounded by wonderful people who I've chosen and who have chosen me. Friendship isn't just about physical location.

Yet, without a job I don't have the ability to sustain this life in New York in the long term. I am also missing that key component to my happiness-- the sense that I am a contributing member of society.  By volunteering this summer, I've given something back to the city that has taken such good care of me but the is a temporary solution and long term solution.

The reality that there are few jobs that would make me happy and look respectable on my resume in New York given the state of the economy. Just as I have an amazing group of people behind me in New York, I'm lucky to have a group of friends in Northern California who are making it easy for me to move there. Fingers crossed that everything falls into place.

Friday, September 3, 2010

My Unfolding Future

After four months of searching, there is no reason to compromise on my most basic job requirement: looking forward to going to work in the morning.  I know what the right job looks like but it might not be in New York.  That realization opens up a much bigger can of possibility. I've gone from a job search based on an one-foot-in-front-of-the-other approach to being bewildered at the depth of how much is unknown right now.

Historically, I've been a master of the healthy kind of self-deception that it takes to make great leaps of faith. Moving to New York City after college felt like the right thing to do. I don't know the exact dollar figure I had when I moved to a 2 month sublet in 1997. The number was in the three figures and I spent a few hundred of it on an interview-appropriate outfit I pieced together by combing high-end thrift stores when I got cabin fever. I was offered four jobs within a few weeks and whined about not getting offered the fifth one I had interviewed for. My naivety knew no bounds and my good fortune kept me blissfully unaware of the risk I had just taken.

After college, there wasn't anything to stick around for. Moving back in with my dad to figure my next step felt like moving in the wrong direction. With the years in between, I have built a fulfilling life that I love. How much of that is about location?

There is no decision to be made at this point. Thinking about moving at 35 feels different from moving at 22. I find myself watching life more closely... thinking that I need to store these moments up... just in case this New York chapter has only a few pages left.