Friday, July 30, 2010

Gun-totin' Texan

When you’re going through a career crisis, it’s important to try new things.  Having recently moved to Texas, I thought it was time I learned to shoot a gun.  Not that I’m a fan of guns – I’m basically a pacifist.  And being a vegan, I’m unlikely to do any hunting.  But my dad earned a sharpshooter badge in the marines, so I figured I might have a natural ability, which could lead to an exciting career as a CIA agent!

I know what you’re thinking, but the CIA does have a preference for individuals with advanced math and computer science degrees.  I’m also adept at blending in with my surroundings.  Half the time, my husband doesn’t even realize I’m in the room!  Then I did some Googling and discovered that in order to be a CIA agent, your spouse has to be a U.S. citizen.  Crap, there goes my future in international espionage.  God forbid I leak classified national security information to the Canadians.

I went to the gun range anyway, figuring I could always be a private assassin.  I traded my driver’s license for a cute little lady gun, with downgraded bullets for less kick-back.  Here I am firing my first round...

Okay, so I’m not a natural.  My shots are always too far to the left.  I have the same problem with bowling.  In my defense, I was distracted by the 10-year-old firing the giant hunting rifle in the lane next to mine.  Even with extra earplugs, it sounded like a cannon going off in my ear.  Who knew guns were so loud?

It pains me to admit that my husband out-shot me.  He insisted on bringing home both targets and displaying them side-by-side in the living room.  I had to remind him that it's an unfair comparison because he has experience.  He shot a gun once in boy scouts.  (I was a girl scout, but we mostly slept over at the mall.)  He also spends a significant amount of time playing Battlefield: Bad Company 2Check out his impressive stats!

At least if I’m ever in a position to stop a dangerous criminal, I won’t be the dumb blonde who doesn’t realize the safety is on.  Instead, I’ll be able to graze their right shoulder.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

There's a Career Advice Book for You!

Employment experts claim that it's impossible to quantify the increase in career changes, but all you have to do is look at the number of career self-help books. Seriously, there is a career advice book for absolutely everyone...

For men who like action movies:

For people who are lazy or willing to believe anything:

For aggressive, sassy ladies:

For depressed and bitter women:

For women who miss the late 80s/early 90s (Geez, I wish I had a bodacious career!):

For trendy youngsters who like to text message and say "Dude":

For the religious (what would Jesus do? Oh right, carpentry):

For people who read horoscopes and believe in destiny:

For those who want a serious commitment (sure, you love it now, but will you still love it in 20 years?):

For retired people who aren't enjoying retirement (seriously? try harder):

For me, if time-travel was possible:

For dummies (um, yeah, if you're buying this book, your dream career may be out of reach):

For people who get excited about hand-woven cloth:

For ballet dancers who are now too old:


Monday, July 26, 2010

Mathematical Femme Fatale

Growing up, I saw myself as a tortured writer. As editor of my high school literary magazine, I proudly published my own bad poetry. I took Creative Writing in college and secured star pupil status with a daring piece about a cross-dresser who wore a pregnant suit. I also wrote a praiseworthy poem in which I was a hermit crab who had outgrown my shell and was forced to crawl around naked and vulnerable until I found one with a better fit – what a remarkably clever metaphor for relationships!

Given my obvious writing talent, you are probably wondering, “Why in the world did she major in math instead of sharing her literary gift with the world?”

Well, it wasn’t a completely random decision. I had my reasons. Here they are, in no particular order:

1.) Defying gender stereotypes is fun!

Yes, I am a woman and a natural blonde. I’m also good at math. I have excellent visual-spatial skills. I prefer beer over cocktails and wine. I don’t dance. I hate shopping. I refuse to wear uncomfortable shoes. I’m cheap. I’m punctual. (Of course, I also love make-up and occasionally cry for no reason – I like to keep people guessing.)

2.) Fear of stupid people

If, for some reason, poems about hermit crabs didn’t lead to a financial windfall, I was terrified I would remain in the service industry and be subjected to stupid people for the rest of my life. At least number-crunching came with a computer monitor to hide behind.

3.) The comedic value

My liberal arts friends found it hysterical that I would willingly major in math. They would all gather around, beers in hand, to laugh over my latest issue of Math Horizons magazine. My roommate begged me to smuggle her into one of my advanced math lectures so that she could observe the nerds up close in their natural environment. I did, and it was the highlight of her year.

4.) I knew geeks were cool before they were cool

Deep down, I always knew I wanted to marry a geek. I would never have accomplished this goal had I not possessed the math and computer skills necessary to impress one.

Tip of the Day: Geeks prefer to date their own kind, so if you are ever attempting to seduce one, don't be afraid to fly your geek flag.

Bottom line: It was a rational decision. But why didn’t someone tell me math is so boring? Wait, allow me to rephrase. My actual jobs have involved a lot of boring, repetitive math and very little of the fun complicated kind. Then again, most jobs are boring and repetitive. I'm so glad I don't have one.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Easiest (and Worst) Decision You'll Ever Make

I was recently asked to give advice to a family friend who is in college and having trouble deciding on a major. I wasn't sure what to tell her, given my current situation. But after some thought, I've come up with what I think is some excellent advice:


As an undecided college student, you will be led to believe that choosing a major must involve a great deal of thought and effort. You will be urged to assess your interests and abilities, while considering a dizzying array of job outlook statistics. It will be suggested that you peruse the descriptions in the course catalog and highlight the ones that are of interest. You may be coerced into a computerized career assessment that will offer a series of bizarre recommendations, such as “Avoid religious activities, farming/forestry, and supervision” and “Pursue performing arts, astronomy, and child development.” Someone you love will buy you a shiny new book that vows to help you “Find the perfect career!” and “Discover your life purpose in seven simple steps!”

These are empty promises, I promise you. Forget about deep introspection. The answer isn’t hiding deep inside of you, waiting to be uncovered. Kick back, relax, and accept the fact that you’re completely clueless.

Deciding on a career in college is like choosing a spouse before you’ve ever dated anyone. You can’t possibly make the right decision, because you only have a vague idea of what you’re looking for in an ideal mate. It takes years of unsuccessful dating to nail down the specifics. “Attractive and funny” eventually becomes “a morning person who knows how to use the word ‘ironically’ and is willing to clean a toilet.” It’s the same with picking a profession. Right now, your ideal career is probably something along the lines of “high-paying with unlimited vacation days.” If you stumble upon that job, let me know.

When it comes to declaring a major, I recommend selecting entirely at random. Don’t waste your time and energy agonizing over the decision when you could be drinking to excess or trying to get laid. Flip a coin. Point blindly to a page in the course catalog. Let your Facebook friends decide. Regardless of the effort you put into this decision, the probability of it working out is somewhere in the neighborhood of 1%.

Now, don’t panic, you won’t be stuck toiling away in a job you despise for the next forty years. Thankfully, times have changed. More than ever, middle-aged Americans are switching careers, pursuing multiple avenues, and going back to school. You know that weird old person you’ve seen around campus? In ten years, that could be you!

It’s a fact of life that the path to a fulfilling career entails spending several miserable years in the wrong profession. Five years after you earn a degree in earth science, you will finally recognize your passion for fashion. It might take ten years in advertising to realize that you were destined to become an industrial hemp grower. You may have to suffer the humiliation of being fired from your accounting job in order to discover your promising future as a rodeo clown. But don’t let that discourage you. If you were to survey all of the happy, successful people out there, you’d find that most of them lucked into their calling after a string of other gigs. Do you think the inventor of the Beerbrella could’ve predicted his life’s work at the age of nineteen? Bill Murray was a pre-med student until he got kicked out of school for a marijuana conviction and became the actor we all know and love. Colonel Sanders worked as an insurance salesman and a streetcar conductor and didn’t sell his first chicken until he was forty!

Remember that college is a time to open one’s mind. Aspire to be a well-rounded individual. And when you are forced to join the ranks of the “decided,” don’t overanalyze it. Pick a major, any major. And be prepared to redefine yourself.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Dear Hollywood, Why Won't You Return My Calls?

Back in 2007, when my career frustration had yet to snowball into a full-blown crisis, I decided to enroll in a non-credit class, just for the hell of it. Since I had always wanted to be a writer, Fiction Writing 101 seemed like an obvious choice. The teacher was a one-time novelist who utilized the opportunity to show off his chest hair and promote his band. He did throw in a discussion of Aristotle’s story-telling arc. He also gave us an assignment to write a piece of short fiction that would be read aloud during the next class. I went home and wrote the short story equivalent of a bad Lifetime movie featuring teenage girls who rebel (oh, the drama!). I knew it was awful, so I dropped the class and never went back.

One day, I was riding the subway home from work and saw a guy reading a book on Screenwriting. I considered it a sign and immediately enrolled in Screenwriting 101. This time, I took an instant liking to the teacher. He was bitter and self-deprecating and brought a half-empty bottle of vodka to class. I was also less intimidated to share my writing, since most of my classmates were crazy. My favorite of the bunch was an elderly lady who had recently adopted an 18-year-old boy (no, that’s not a typo). I admired her blatant disregard for screenplay format; she mostly shared handwritten journal entries. Her best story was about a hermaphrodite who wanted to be a ballerina but couldn’t wear a leotard without giving herself away. This lady also had a knack for finding new and hilarious ways of insulting other students’ work. She once told me that I had worked too hard and should try again with much less effort.

I ignored her advice and worked tirelessly to finish my first script, a comedy entitled BEST WISHES, NICE KNOWING YOU. I submitted it to the most prestigious screenwriting contest out there: the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Here I am mailing my submission in April 2008. Aw, look how hopeful and optimistic I am!

Amazingly, I did fall into the top 10%. It was nice validation, but you need a win to get noticed. Two years later, I’m still submitting to contests. As an unknown screenwriter, that’s about all you can do. Although I’ve started (and occasionally finished) other scripts, BEST WISHES, NICE KNOWING YOU is still my best. So I keep trying to improve it, and every year, it places in at least one contest:

2008 Gotham Screen Finalist

2009 Slamdance Top 100

2010 Page Quarterfinalist

Of course, it also gets its fair share of rejections. In the last 24 hours, I got cut from both the Nicholl Fellowship and Scriptapalooza. I did get a P.S. from the Nicholls explaining that I almost made the Quarterfinals. Great, thanks. Anyway, if I’m less funny today, I blame the depression.

And so my smart female comedy will continue to gather dust. But at least I can look forward to the high quality films that Hollywood is sure to come out with: Bride Wars 2 and Sex and the City 3!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

World's Most Unathletic Person Tackles Extreme Sport!

My husband has a strong aversion to both sun and sand, but for some reason we take a lot of beach vacations. These trips usually revolve around some kind of activity, like scuba diving or kiteboarding.

If you’re not familiar, kiteboarding is a water sport in which the rider flies a gigantic kite that pulls them across the water on a tiny surfboard. Allow me to demonstrate…

Note: This picture is misleading in that it implies I am a skilled rider. In reality, my husband used his lightning fast reflexes to capture this shot during the two and a half seconds that I was standing.

So far, we’ve been on three kiteboarding trips (to North Carolina, Maui, and Key West). I always pull off at least one decent ride, and immediately afterward, I find myself fantasizing about becoming a kiteboarding instructor. Without fail, kiteboarding instructors are tan, happy, and seemingly without a care in the world. In contrast, my husband and I are pale, miserable, and usually trying to escape our real life. Sure, kiteboarding instructors don’t make a ton of money, but they’re living the sweet life. After one of our lessons, I watched the instructor join his family for a champagne picnic on the beach. It was a Tuesday. He was having more fun on a typical workday than I was having on vacation.

When I do pick up and move to Hawaii to begin my career as a kiteboarding instructor, I know exactly where I want to live: Lanikai beach on Oahu. It’s in a residential area with not a single hotel in sight. I’ve done a lot of traveling, but I’ve never come across such a breathtakingly beautiful beach. Even my husband is a fan. Look how much fun he's having!

Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I can become a kiteboarding instructor, I will probably need to master the sport. Or at least stop crashing every few seconds.

Tiny problem #1: Kiteboarding is insanely difficult. This is not the kite you flew as a child. It has enough power to rip you entirely out of the water. Even getting the board on your feet is a challenge. You have to float on your back and secure your feet into the board’s footstraps while simultaneously flying the kite with one hand. Then, you have to dive the kite with just enough force to pull you into a standing position (too much force and you’ll hit the water face-first). Then you have to continue to fly the kite. In my experience, the sheer elation that comes from standing is abruptly followed by an unpleasant and disorienting crash as the kite changes course.

Tiny problem #2: I am not an athletic individual. It’s surprising, I know, because I’m built like a linebacker and wear a size twelve shoe (I have to special order my footwear and it arrives in a box labeled “For women who leave a larger footprint.”) Despite my sturdy physique, I don’t have an ounce of athletic skill or coordination. I played basketball for one year and was the only player in the league to go the entire season without scoring a single basket.

Tiny problem #3: My husband and I are super competitive, and kiteboarding trips inevitably deteriorate into jealousy and bitterness. Hence we need a few months between lessons to allow our marriage to recover.

Despite these minor complications, I think it’s about time we sign up for another trip. I'm looking at South Padre Island since we can drive there. Of course, I’m not sure how the Gulf Oil Crisis is affecting the Texas coastline. Just what I need... another obstacle.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Happy Little Beer Logos

My ex-career counselor believed that the key to discovering your new career was to combine old interests with new interests. She had me make a list of my hobbies. I was working full-time, so the list was something like “television, beer.” (You might not consider beer a hobby, but I spend a lot of time imbibing Belgian-style ales, so it totally counts.) After reviewing my short list, she told me to try combining "beer" with a new hobby. For this new hobby, I chose painting.

Why painting? Well, I used to get a kick out of watching Bob Ross on the public television series The Joy of Painting. Anyone remember him? He was the happy-go-lucky painter with the white-guy afro who specialized in “happy mountains” and “happy clouds.” I have a few watercolor replicas of his “happy little trees” tucked away in my box of childhood crap.

Anyway, I went out and purchased some stretched canvas and acrylic paints, read a few articles on technique, and began my first serious artwork project. My happy subjects were the logos of my three favorite beers. I didn't do any tracing, but I did look at the beer bottles for inspiration. Here are the finished paintings:

Unibroue La Fin du Monde

Hitachino Nest White Ale

Delirium Tremens

I also gave one to a friend who loves Guinness:

Of course, selling these paintings would be copyright infringement, so I’m not expecting a career breakthrough. But they look nice hanging in my kitchen.

Jami, Vegan Chef to the Stars!

When I quit my job in finance, I had never cooked anything without the use of a microwave. (Okay, that’s not quite true. I once made a loaf of beer bread – under the influence of many beers – to take to a rooftop party, and the guests made a collective decision to throw it off the roof.) The first meal I ever made for my husband was a Gardenburger patty with a slice of American cheese melted on top, doused in hot sauce – no bun. I’m flabbergasted that he agreed to marry me knowing that he faced a lifetime of similar meals.

Lucky for him, the sheer boredom of unemployment drove me to download a recipe and – for the very first time – cook a legitimate meal. Over the course of several weeks, I figured out how to make rice, fry onions, and measure flour. I learned the hard way the difference between a clove of garlic and a bulb of garlic.

A month into my flirtation with cooking, my husband and I decided to try being vegan, mostly for health reasons. We made this decision during a night of binge drinking, when I make all of my important decisions. I cannot stress enough what a drastic change this was for us. We lived in New York City, home to some of the best restaurants in the world, and our diet revolved entirely around meat and cheese. I still have dreams about the filet mignon at Sparks, the pizza at Grimaldi’s, the buttermilk pancakes at Clinton Street Baking Company, the truffle ricotta gnocchi at Jane…

…Wait, what was I talking about? Right, so we became committed vegans. I bought my very first cookbook: Isa Moskowitz’s Vegan with a Vengeance. Best purchase ever. I now own a dozen vegan cookbooks, and hers are still my favorites.

Cooking a vegan meal is a true test of one’s culinary abilities. If you grate cheddar or parmesan-reggiano over anything, the end result tastes okay – it’s cheating. As a vegan chef, you rely entirely on your spice rack. I didn’t own any spices, let alone a spice rack. It took me several months to build up my collection. It now includes everything from tarragon to mustard powder to anise, and my personal favorite: asafoetida, otherwise known as “devil's dung” or “stinking gum.” I call it “ass-feet” because that is exactly what it smells like. Ironically, it reduces flatulence. And it makes a sublime curry. On the downside, my entire apartment smells like an Indian restaurant.

During last year’s New York Wine and Food Festival, I dragged my husband to Alicia Silverstone’s vegan cooking demonstration, where we happened to be seated next to Gail Simmons. I had graduated from non-cook to rubbing elbows with the culinary elite!

Naturally, my new half-baked career idea is to open a vegan restaurant. I suspect it will be a trendy hot spot for the many vegan celebrities: Zooey Deschanel, Natalie Portman, Ellen DeGeneres, Sandra Oh, Avril Lavigne, Tobey Maguire, Kevin Nealon, Jason Mraz, Prince, Weird Al Yankovic, Mike Tyson… The list goes on and on. I might even get the chance to serve my famous seitan piccata to Oprah on one of her 21-day vegan cleanse diets. As an added perk, my new celebrity friends will open doors for me in Hollywood, so I'll be an Oscar-winning screenwriter in no time!

Of course, I’ve never particularly liked Los Angeles, and I don’t think many celebrities frequent the fine dining establishments in Texas. Also, I hear restaurants have a notoriously high failure rate. Not to mention, I might be labeled a hypocrite because I still occasionally slip up and indulge in something non-vegan. (Classic example: my husband and I attended a wedding, drank too much, spotted a Pizza Hut sign from our hotel window, and ran down a very steep hill, in the rain, in search of pepperoni pizza.)

Still, I’m keeping “vegan chef to the stars” on my list of potential careers.

Friday, July 16, 2010

“Television! Teacher, mother, secret lover.” – Homer Simpson

When my husband and I were dating, I was pleasantly surprised upon walking into his apartment for the first time. It was almost clean. He owned expensive cookware, and there wasn’t a single pack of ramen noodles in his pantry. There were no traces of other women or ex-girlfriends still in the picture. Then I noticed that something was missing. Horrified, I turned to him and asked, “Where’s your television?” He shrugged and replied, “I don’t have one. Watching television is a waste of time.” Our relationship almost ended right then and there. But I’m happy to report that I eventually wore him down, and just last night, he grudgingly watched another brilliant episode of Toddlers & Tiaras.

Television has always been my drug of choice. Although I do indulge in the occasional reality show (only those of the highest quality), I prefer scripted shows – the kind with interesting characters, intelligent plot lines, and witty dialogue. A few months into my soul-searching, it occurred to me that I should become a television writer! Here I’d been searching for my true passion, and the television was right in front of my face the whole time!

In order to become a successful television writer, all I had to do was write a stellar spec script of a current show. I chose 30 Rock because it was hysterical, like me. First, I had to study the show and familiarize myself with the structure, the characters, and the plot lines. I watched all twenty-six of the previously aired episodes back-to-back. Then I watched them again, except this time I took notes. My husband suggested that this was not a productive use of my time, but I assured him that it would all be worth it when I won my first Emmy.

Eventually, I came up with a clever new plot line and began to write the script. But before I could finish, a new episode of 30 Rock aired that was essentially a funnier version of my idea. Blerg!

A month after that, I ran into Tracy Morgan in Whole Foods. He appeared to be lost. Since his character on 30 Rock is based on his real life, I knew everything about him, including his struggle with diabetes. It would’ve been the perfect opportunity to direct him toward the aisle with the low-glycemic-index foods while simultaneously pitching him the genius spec script that I happened to be carrying around in my purse. But sadly, I didn’t have a spec script in my purse (or at home, for that matter). And so, I will probably never be a television writer.

On the bright side, 30 Rock is still a great show. Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

Tracy (Admonishing a bird): "Stop eating people’s old French fries, pigeon! Have some self respect! Don’t you know you can fly?"

Liz: Is that like a corporate retreat? I used to have to perform at those all the time back when Jenna and I were in that improv troupe.
Host: The audience suggestion is “Sling Blade and Oprah on a date.”
Liz: [as Sling Blade] I sure do like dem French fried potaters!
Jenna: No you don’t, Oprah!

Jack: Lemon, I’m impressed. You're beginning to think like a businessman.
Liz: A businesswoman.
Jack: I don’t think that’s a word.

Kenneth: "Nooo, allergies are real. If I have a strawberry, my throat shuts up faster than a girl in math class."

Monday, July 12, 2010

"He who aims at nothing hits it every time."

I’ve always been driven to succeed. I spent my senior year of college writing a thesis on implied trinomial trees. I earned a Master's degree from the Courant Institute, ranked #1 in the US for applied mathematics. I had a thriving number-crunching career on Wall Street. Sure, the work was tedious, the hours never-ending, and the people disagreeable. But I could look in the mirror and feel accomplished.

Then, during a night of heavy drinking, it occurred to me that success is overrated. What’s the point of being successful if you dread going to work in the morning and Sunday nights send you spiraling into despair?

Once you’ve decided not to be successful, it’s easy to make it happen. I walked into the office one morning with a promising career and left with nothing but lofty soul-searching ambitions. I had absolutely nothing going for me, but I was ready to find my passion!

It wasn’t long before I succumbed to self-doubt. “What if I’m passionless? Or worse, what if I discover my true passion only to find out that I’m terrible at it?”

That’s the thing about soul-searching. It has a nasty habit of mutating into daytime television watching and eating Oreos with the curtains drawn. Faced with the daunting task of pinning down your life purpose, doing nothing can be extremely enticing. I’ll start researching a particular career path, get discouraged, and spend seven hours unsubscribing from mail-order catalogs and playing Dr. Mario.

It doesn't help that the careers I'm interested in are about as likely as winning the lottery. I find myself thinking, "Lady of leisure sounds doable. I bet I'd be great at it!" Of course, I'd probably feel guilty for not living up to my potential.

I always assumed that soul-searching inevitably led to waking up one morning happy and fulfilled. Um, yeah, apparently I was mistaken. If I've learned anything, it's that soul-searching is not for the faint-of-heart.

Friday, July 9, 2010

I'm funny, really, I am!

I recently attended the Writers’ League of Texas Agent Conference and pitched a humorous memoir about going down the wrong career path and having to choose a career the second time around. One agent asked me point-blank, “Are you funny?” Although I assured him that I am indeed hysterical, he wanted proof. A wildly popular blog perhaps?

Okay, fine. I suppose I can cut down on my reality television watching and devote some time to entertaining the masses.