Monthly Archives: December 2015

Think Tank: The Case for New Year’s Goals

I like the sentiment of making New Year’s resolutions in anticipation of having a wonderful year. The weird in between weeks of one year to the next is a great time to look back and see how to improve your life. I admire people who want to learn new languages, travel more, save money or lose weight in the next 365 days. But at the same time, I also find New Year’s resolutions to be a weird cultural practice.They are something we all continue to do year after year, but most of us are only ever hopeful that we might fulfill them. If you can even remember the resolutions you made last year, I’ll be very impressed.

If you know me personally or you’ve read this blog for even just a moment, you know that I am all about making myself better every day — whether that’s culturally, physically or however I choose to do so. What I am not about, however, is telling myself vague resolutions that “I’m going to eat better,” “I’m going to exercise more” and etcetera because that approach does not work. You say you’re going to lose weight, but never sign up for fitness classes. You say you want to save money, but you keep buying $4 lattes or eating takeout. Telling yourself you’re going to do something without any kind of plan sets you up for failure. If there’s anything I learned in 2015, it was that.

So this is my case to stop making New Year’s resolutions, and start making New Year’s goals. I’m going to set concrete goals for myself that I know I am capable of accomplishing, and make a very simple plan of how I’m going to go about meeting them. The best part about making New Year’s goals will be that setting something simple and achievable will make you feel better and help you make it part of your daily routine. If you want to save money, for example, make goals to brew coffee at home during the weekdays or save all the $5 bills you come across. If you want to eat healthier, make goals to eat salads on Tuesdays or read the nutritional labels on everything you buy. Just the linguistic switch from “resolution” to “goal” is better in itself. Using the word “goal” means you’re actually working towards something to make the change.

I’m ready for 2016, and excited to see what fortune it’ll bring to me at this transitional point in my life. The goals I’ve outlined for myself make me even more excited. Here are my New Year’s goals for 2016.

I’m going to find a permanent job.

How I’m going to do it: My job is set to end in February, so I’m going to look again for a job as an editorial assistant, assistant editor or junior copy editor. My goal is to apply to three jobs a week.

I’m going to go back to yoga.

How I’m going to do it: I am going to find a studio that I like / is reasonably priced and go to a class at least once a week. I miss yoga a lot, and I regret not sticking with it.

I’m going to teach myself how to code.

How I’m going to do it: I’m going to use free resources like Codeacademy to teach myself basic HTML and CSS, which I know will be a good professional skill to have. I’m going to set benchmarks for myself, and make cheatsheets to refer to. I’ve tried to teach myself in the past, but I haven’t been organized enough nor have I really had the time.

I’m going to learn how to make drinks.

How I’m going to do it: I’m going to sign up for a class offered by my city’s community services office. I’m not a big drinker, but I want to know how to make the classics and how to order them.

I’m going to read 50 books. 

How I’m going to do it: I’m going to use Goodreads to make a solid to-read list, and I’ll also use the app to mark my progress. I read 41 in 2015, and I want to up my intake just a smidge.

I’m going to get better at my lettering. 

How I’m going to do it: I’m going to carve out a time on Sundays to letter one quote or word, and take photos to watch my progress. I want to let go of my perfectionism when it comes to my calligraphy and lettering and be happy with what I make, which I think will be a byproduct of practicing.

What are your New Year’s goals? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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Link Party: 12/21-12/25

A detail shot of my family's Christmas tree.

A detail shot of my family’s Christmas tree.

Here’s what I read this week:

1. I first heard excerpts of Gay Talese’s “Frank Sinatra Has A Cold” on This American Life in an episode for Sinatra’s 100th birthday, and the full article is stellar.

2. What the Mast Brothers chocolate scandal tells us about ourselves.

3. I’m not entirely sold on the merits of astrology, but I found this feature about six astrologers fascinating.

4. This story about herding reindeer in Russia was fascinating.

5. Inside the making of Serial, season two.

And two bonuses, as my gift to you: This architect in Bolivia is designing incredible houses that you need to see, and Drake. On. Cake.

Happy holidays.

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Culture Connoisseur: The Best Books I Read in 2015

All the books.

All the books.

In 2015, I read a respectable 41 books. While I attribute part of the 41 to being a literature student, I read most of the 41 in the last six months post-graduation. I told myself that I would work on filling in the gaps of my literature education and catching up with recent releases, and my list just keeps growing and growing. It’s the only to-do list I enjoy adding items to. I know you’re probably tired of the December deluge of Best Of lists, but I’m not going to restrict myself to 2015 releases for this list. We should all be reading the older stuff in addition to the new, but time is arbitrary and this is my blog. Here are the best books I read in 2015, complete with specific recommendations for what to read next — some of which I also read this year.

Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

This is just required reading for all humans everywhere. Ta-Nehisi Coates talks about his experiences of growing up and being black in the United States, framed as a letter to his adolescent son: “This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.” I’ve spent a lot of this year reading and talking about race, and I’ve been making a more conscious effort to read books written by women and people of culture. It was fitting that I closed out the year with this book. Coates writes beautiful prose, and is one of the most insightful authors I’ve read in a long time. This is probably the best book I read all year, and I highly, highly recommend it. If you like it, try If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay.

I waited almost two months to get this through interlibrary loan from my local library (Current students, take advantage of all of your university library resources) and it was entirely worth it. I love this collection of essays a lot and I think everyone should read them, especially college students who are interested in race, sexuality and culture. There were a lot of people on Goodreads who criticized the hell out of this, but they’re just haters. Roxane Gay is a national treasure and we should protect her at all costs. If you like it, you’ll appreciate Loose Woman by Sandra Cisneros.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

This summer, I sat down to try and read this novel for the third time. Both times I tried to read it, I only got a few chapters in before getting distracted with something else. I finally did it, and in only two days.  I love the 2007 film version of this novel, but you have to read this to fully appreciate the nuances of the films. Some of the lines in this novel sent me reeling because of their romanticism, but in a good way. In reading P&P, I got a better understanding of this novel as social criticism rather than just a romance novel. If you haven’t read it before and want to, I highly suggest getting a copy that has really good footnotes: I had the Longman Cultural Edition version. And when you’re done, read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. (And for the record, I prefer Mr. Darcy over Mr. Rochester any day.)

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff.

This. Novel. Is. Incredible. There are two halves to this book, which at its foundation is about a marriage: the first half is about the husband’s perspective, while the second half is about the wife’s. The two things that I loved about this book the most was that it continually surprised me in the best ways, and that Mathilde Satterwhite became one of my favorite female characters of all time. Barack Obama cosigned the love for this novel, so with my and his recommendation you know you have to read it. Make it #1 on your 2016 reading list. And if you love it, read Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. (Fates and Furies is not particularly a thriller, but if you appreciate Mathilde you’ll appreciate Lisbeth Salander.)

The White Album by Joan Didion.

I’ve always felt a kindred spirit in Joan Didion, so it wasn’t surprising that I loved this collection of essays. She’s one of my main writing inspirations, so I’m slowly reading her work and savoring every word. I would try and pick a favorite essay, but it’s too hard because I loved every one. I intensely admire her writing about California, and find that a lot of what she wrote in the 1960s is still incredibly relevant. When you’re done, start right in on another collection of her essays, Slouching Towards Bethlehem.

Citizen by Claudia Rankine.

Reading this book of poetry was a highlight of my college career. Much like Between The World And Me, this is an intensely emotional book about being black in the U.S., and discusses concepts like language and microaggression, as well as analysis of the prejudice and violence inflicted against black people. If you’re interested in educating yourself about the language we use to talk about race and body politics (as you should be), this is a good introductory book that will give you priceless knowledge. I read this book in two classes I took concurrently, and was lucky enough that she visited Cal Poly Pomona to read some selections and explain her stories. To hear her talk about this was an incredible opportunity that I’m glad I took advantage of. After you’re done, read Zone One by Colson Whitehead.

Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein.

This has to be one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read. Carrie Brownstein talks about her life growing up, starting / being in Sleater-Kinney and trying to find a sense of family and belonging. She doesn’t talk about Portlandia, but this book isn’t really about that. Carrie Brownstein is an incredible writer, and I’ve really enjoyed listening to interviews for this book. If you read this and like it, I suggest Patti Smith’s Just Kids.

Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger.

One night in the springtime, I woke up at about 4 a.m. and couldn’t go back to sleep. I don’t know what possessed me, but I decided to watch the Salinger documentary on Netflix. This brought on a mini-obsession where I read two of his short story collections and some of his New Yorker essays, all of which are world-class examples of how to write. Franny and Zooey is about two members of the Glass family and a discomfort with inauthenticity. People know J.D. Salinger for The Catcher in the Rye more so than his other work, but I think his short stories are much better. After you read this, read his Raise High The Roofbeam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway.

My dad had a copy of this book for the longest time, and in sixth grade I tried to read it on my own and had absolutely no idea what was going on beyond Europe and bullfights but finished it anyway. Eleven years later, I enjoyed it so much more — a story about a dude just trying to figure his life out. Now I really know why Hemingway was celebrated as the voice of the Lost Generation. And of course, the Gertrude Stein epigraph sold me immediately. If you like it, read A Farewell to Arms — another Hemingway I read in 2015.

Honorable Mentions: Mr. Palomar by Italo Calvino, On Beauty by Zadie Smith, Underworld by Don DeLillo, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson, A Gate At The Stairs by Lorrie Moore and Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien.

What did you read this year? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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Link Party: 12/14-12/18

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Here’s what I read this week:

1. Meet the stylist with an insane vintage clothing collection that Kanye West and Rihanna like to borrow.

2. I cosign this Album of the Year nomination for the “Hamilton” soundtrack.

3. I don’t usually read a lot of sports journalism, but this personal essay about childhood abuse from a Canadian hockey player was eye-opening.

4. The lasting appeal of George Costanza.

5. This Oscar Isaac interview is very, very important. I’m so glad to see people are joining the Oscar Isaac fan club now that “Star Wars” is out.

And a bonus: I’m not gonna lie — I am very excited for the “Twin Peaks” revival.

Have a great weekend.

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Post-Grad Adventures: Thoughts of a Commuter

I know this map like the back of my hand.

I know this map like the back of my hand.

For my entire life, I have lived in the same house in the same Southern California town of about 50,000 people. I can drive from one end of town to the other in about 10 minutes. Just about every local shopping center has a huge parking lot, and I don’t think there are any parking meters or pay-to-park garages anywhere in the entire area. Parking on the street only really happens during the day and on the weekends, because street cleaning happens in the early hours of the morning.

During the week, I leave my house at 7 a.m. to trek to my job in Santa Monica, which I had only been to once in my entire life before this summer. Depending on the route I take home, I drive about 80 miles roundtrip and 400 miles every week. (The reason I do this is because my job is temporary, and it wouldn’t be smart to move closer to work when I’m not sure where I’ll be in a few months.)  I also don’t have a designated parking spot or even a parking lot to pull up to, so I either have to pay for parking at a 10-hour meter or find a street spot in the residential neighborhood nearby. Thursdays and Fridays are really tough because each side of the street is blocked off for street cleaning, so I get there more than an hour early to find somewhere safe to park.

The reasons why I’ve drawn this all out for you is to say that this shift has impacted my daily life immensely, and that I’ve become well-acquainted with the working commuter lifestyle. I know people commute regularly like this all the time, but for me in my immediate post-grad life, it has been a pretty jarring experience. Obviously change is a significant part of your twenties, and this is one way that change has materialized itself in my life — and I’m guessing that it’s also happening for a significant part of my peer group.

One of the things that makes post-grad life both great and terrible is that you get to go to new places and try a change of scenery. On one hand, I’m glad that I’m in better proximity to the places I like to go to regularly. On the other, being so dependent on my car really sucks in many ways. In the last few weeks, I’ve thought a lot about what being a commuter means and how it has changed the way I see Los Angeles.

40 miles makes an incredible difference. 

Compared to my sleepy foothill town, Santa Monica is on an entirely different planet in a galaxy far, far away. The people (and amount of people) are different: I had to go to the Santa Monica shopping area to catch up on Christmas gifts, and I felt uncomfortable in a mall that wasn’t “mine.” The streets are different: I couldn’t really tell you what any of the houses look like in the residential neighborhood I park in, and they’re all crammed together to maximize the number of lots on the block. The list goes on: the prices, the weather, etcetera. These differences are borderline alienating, which I think just speaks to the entire life-after-graduating phase.

This isn’t to say that this 40-mile difference is entirely bad — I’m glad that I get the experience of spending time in a place so different from where I grew up, because it’s important to get out and explore. Getting in the car and driving to this other galaxy is just a weird feeling.

What are traffic rules?

This should not come as a shocker to anyone, but in general the drivers in LA do not obey the traffic rules that are supposed to keep us all safe during a relatively dangerous activity. Most people don’t use turn signals to change lanes in dense traffic, and a lot cut across lines they aren’t supposed to. Drivers make complete stops in lanes to try and squeeze their ways onto the freeway, and I’ve never seen so many single riders in non-hybrid cars in the carpool lane. I guess the way people behave in traffic is just an extension of how we treat each other in other areas of everyday life. There have been quite a few times I’ve contemplated merging into the carpool lane for the sake of getting out of gridlock, but I can’t bring myself to do it.  It might be naïve, but I’m still trying to follow the rules.

The stress of car culture can really get to people.

I don’t think most people quite understand what a commuter culture does to a person, physically and mentally. Every time I get in the car, I feel like my muscles are slowly atrophying. And I know that if I didn’t have to spend so much time and energy driving, I would feel healthier. It angers me that adults spend most of their days sitting in some kind of transportation or at a desk when we know it’s unhealthy, but that is just #capitalism.

My go-to LA parking story is that one night after work, I drove to Echo Park to take a lettering class. It was after 6 p.m., so I got a spot on Echo Park Avenue. I pulled up to the curb so that the front of my car was about a foot away from the front of someone’s driveway. When I got back to my car at 9 p.m., someone had left a note on my car (using this notepad) saying that I took up too much space and that I shouldn’t be an asshole.

I’ll admit I’m not a world-class parker, but I couldn’t believe that that person had the audacity to leave that note on my windshield. Why did he or she feel an obligation to have that notepad handy, write out the note and stick it underneath my wiper? Why did it matter where I parked if it was legal to park there and parallel to the curb?

I think a lot about space now. 

That last question brought me to think about the idea of communal space and ownership, as well as space as a commodity. From the parking angle, I think a lot about space in terms of how limited parking is in cities, especially LA. It’s more valuable to multiple levels of entrepreneurs and government officials to use real estate to make retail space, offices and apartment complexes, and devote as little space as possible to parking lots.

I also see so much trash and debris while I’m driving that it makes me wonder how humans can keep anything nice. My other LA driving story is that in gridlock morning traffic, I saw a group of teenagers deposit a bottle of urine on the side of the 10 Freeway and drive away laughing (I cannot make this up.) I guess because you can throw something out the window and drive away that drivers don’t realize and/or care that they’re making the driving experience even worse. We don’t respect the spaces we share, but we want to exhaust them for all they’re worth.

What do you think? Am I just overdramatic? (Probably.) Let’s talk about it in the comments.

 

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Link Party: 12/7-12/11

There's this house I walk by occasionally on my way from the car to the office, and the people who live there planted succulents next to the sidewalk. I like their style.

There’s this house I walk by occasionally on my way from the car to the office, and the people who live there planted succulents next to the sidewalk. I like their style.

Here’s what I read this week:

1. Author Jhumpa Lahiri shares her beautiful story of learning Italian.

2. Star Wars: The Merch Awakens. (I love this headline a lot.)

3. I love this idea for a bookstore: curated collections and a more personal experience.

4. A bunch of words will disappear from the verbal section of the 2016 SAT. Here is their obituary.

5. I’m putting the Margaret Herrick Library, which houses an incredible film history archive for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, on my list of places to go in Los Angeles.

And a bonus: I recently discovered Broken Bells’ “The Mall and Misery” and I cannot stop listening.

Have a wonderful weekend.

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Link Party: 11/30-12/4

Lettering lyrics from "Hamilton" is my new favorite thing to do.

Lettering lyrics from “Hamilton” is my new favorite thing to do.

Here’s what I read this week:

1. Read about the original culinary road warriors and their quest to document American cuisine.

2. Sifting through the trash of San Francisco to find art.

3. Tattoos in the fine art world.

4. I didn’t know a lot about SoulCycle besides it being a very expensive spin class, but after reading this first-person account I understand its appeal.

5. The story and influence of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

And a bonus: My best friend Paige and I have been waiting to see this short movie called “Ticky Tacky,” which stars our favorite actor, Oscar Isaac. We found out about it a few months ago, but we couldn’t find it on any corner of the Internet. It’s finally up and it’s fantastic.

Have a great weekend.

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