Friday, December 31, 2010

2011: Sure To Be My Most Productive Year Ever

Since it’s the last day of 2010, I should probably take stock of my accomplishments over the past year. Let’s see, I know I must’ve accomplished something…   Well, I did attend my first writers’ conference, where I pitched a humorous memoir to a number of literary agents who all encouraged me to start a blog. Then, I started a blog.  And a few months later, I managed to get one of my humorous essays published in a real magazine for actual money!  I also pitched my screenplay to a big-shot studio executive who said he’d call but never did.  And, um, that’s about it.  I was kind of hoping to make more progress, considering that I don’t have a job to distract me from my career goals.  I mean, what the hell was I doing with all of my time?

Oh, that’s right – I was watching television.  According to the latest Nielsen study, the average American watches 4.8 hours of television per day.  I’m not sure if I watch that much, but I have been known to spend an entire evening watching back-to-back reality shows.  I've already confessed that watching television is one of my worst habits.  In the past, I've defended myself by asserting that, as a humor writer, I’m required to keep up with pop culture.  But I suppose that, in theory, I could leave my apartment and converse with a real person.

If I did give up television, just think of all the free time I would have!  In 2011, I would have an additional 1,000+ hours with which to accomplish my career goals!  Now, I don’t have the mental fortitude to face an entire year without television, but I figure I can start with 30 days and then reevaluate.

If I actually want to do this, I should probably establish some ground rules.  So... I'm not allowed to watch any television shows, reality or otherwise, and that includes online content and DVDs.  But I am allowing myself to watch the occasional feature-length film, since the social life of a 30-year-old consists almost entirely of going to the movie theater with equally boring couple friends.  That being said, I will limit myself to two films per week.  The only other exception is that I’m allowed to go to a bar during Saints playoff games, but I promise to close my eyes during the commercials.

Having fully committed to the idea, I went to break the news to my husband.  I knew he'd be thrilled.  He didn’t own a television when we met and blames me for ruining his productivity.  About an hour ago, I walked into his office and announced that I had made a New Year’s Resolution that he was going to love. Before I could continue, he asked if I was going to stop wearing my hideous blue pajama shorts.  So now I have two resolutions: to not watch any TV for 30 days and to wear those "hideous blue shorts" as much as possible.

I was hoping to make the most of these last few hours by watching as much television as possible, but unfortunately, I already agreed to host a New Year’s Eve party tonight, so my afternoon is reserved for cleaning and cooking and decorating.  I invited everyone I know in Austin, so that makes 3-7 people. Should be a total rager.  I hope no one calls the cops.

I’m probably overdoing it with the preparations, but my past failures as a hostess have made me paranoid. The last time I threw a party, I started drinking several hours beforehand, and at around midnight, I thought to myself, “I’m starving!  Why doesn’t this party have any food?”  Then I realized that I had forgotten to put out the appetizers.  I ended up eating the entire cheese plate the next day, by myself.

This time, I’m putting everything out in advance.  The upside of only having a handful of friends is that you’re not afraid to break out the good stuff.  Whoever does come over tonight will be feasting on organic chocolate truffles, taking shots of Patrón Silver, and toasting with the most expensive champagne that Target sells.

And at the stroke of midnight, my guests will have the privilege of witnessing the start of my television boycott.  I get excited just thinking about all of the productive things that I might do tomorrow, after my horrible hangover wears off.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas: Round Three

Sorry for the long silence.  I’m currently on a whirlwind Christmas tour across North America.  After kicking off the Christmas season in Austin, my husband and I flew to Florida to visit my parents and then to Western Canada to visit his family.

Yesterday, I was planning to write a very touching blog post reflecting on family traditions and the spirit of Christmas.  I was even going to incorporate this picture of the hand-carved jewelry box that my great-grandfather made for my great-grandmother for their first Christmas as a married couple...

It would’ve been an incredibly moving and inspiring post – perhaps my best one ever.  But it was a long day and by the time I got around to it, I couldn’t even bring myself to type “Merry Christmas.”  I only managed to get as far as “Merry Chr” before I fell asleep.

In my defense, I had just prepared a vegan Christmas dinner for eight people in an unfamiliar kitchen with only two small pots.  It was like my own little Top Chef holiday challenge.  And every time I felt overwhelmed by the threat of an impending gravy disaster or having to mash eight pounds of potatoes in one tiny bowl, I would take a sip of red wine.  Two hours and two bottles later, I was in no condition to reflect on anything.  But fixing dinner was the least I could do.  My in-laws, who normally skip the whole Christmas tree tradition, had gone out and purchased an artificial tree in my honor, knowing that I'm something of a Christmas fanatic.

Anyway, now that Christmas is officially over, it seems that the moment for deep reflection has passed.  So I’ll just briefly summarize my various Christmas activities and traditions by region:

Austin: combining heavy drinking with holiday movies, and scouring the stores in order to accumulate an infinite supply of soy eggnog (it's highly addictive and lasts a good two months in the fridge)

Florida: decorating our seven-foot freshly-cut Christmas tree specially imported all the way from North Carolina, drinking piña coladas and pumpkin beer poolside, eating crab melts and carrot cake and spritz cookies, and assisting my parents with all of the newfangled technology (iPods, Kindles, all-in-one remotes, and wireless printers that won't print)

Canada: having real snow on the ground, the vegans outnumbering the non-vegans and hijacking Christmas dinner, Christmas crackers, lemon squares and snowball cookies, and a lot of extremely competitive board games

Ah, you gotta love tradition.  Well, however you celebrate, I hope you all had a wonderful holiday.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Happy Holidays! From: Someone Incredibly Thoughtful

Technically this blog is supposed to chronicle my ongoing career crisis, so I usually feel compelled to tie in a possible career choice or previous job or at the very least throw in some thought-provoking, soul-searching mumbo jumbo.  But today I'm not even going to pretend to be on topic.  I've always believed that the holidays are a time for celebration, distraction, and ignoring one's problems.  It would be sacrilegious to do any real work.  Even if I did have a job, I'd probably be doing exactly the same thing right now: deciding where to go for happy hour and taking care of some last-minute online shopping.

As I mentioned previously, one of my many talents is buying thoughtful presents for people.  So today, as my gift to you, I'm offering up a few pointers and suggestions for those of you who are still struggling to find the perfect gift for that special someone.

The key to good gift buying is to tailor each gift to the recipient.  Start by making a list of their personality traits, hobbies, and interests.  Try to avoid the obvious.  Giving golf balls to an avid golfer certainly makes sense, but I'm afraid it won't earn you any points in the thoughtful department (unless they're the ridiculously expensive, top-of-the-line golf balls and they're hand-delivered by Tiger Woods).  Remember, thoughtful gifts are full of thought, so if you came up with the idea in less than a minute, keep thinking.

To get you going on the right track, here are a few examples of creative, specific gifts…

[In case you're wondering, I don't get paid to promote anything.  I promise you, this blog earns negative income.]

If your special someone has a sweet tooth, you might consider giving them the world's largest gummy bear.  Or if you know what their favorite candy bar is, pick up a few hundred and then use them to spell out "Merry Christmas!" on their living room floor.

If you're shopping for a desperate single woman who happens to find baby animals adorable, give her the 2011 Hot Guys and Baby Animals calendar.  Or if this is a Hanukkah gift, go with the 2011 Nice Jewish Guys calendar.

Is your special someone a complete narcissist?  Then give them a customized stuffed animal that looks exactly like them.

For the introvert on your shopping list, buy a t-shirt that discourages social interaction.

Shopping for someone who really hates their job?  Help them vent their frustration in a creative way with a mousepad that reads, "I've Quit Better Jobs Than This."  Also available in a tote bag, coffee mug, or wall clock.  Don't think they're ready to take their job hatred public?  Then how about a pair of "I Hate My Job" thong underwear?

And for your loved one who suffers from road rage?  How about a remote-controlled LED car sign that displays messages such as "Idiot!" and "Back off!"

Still stumped?

If you're shopping for your boyfriend or husband, practical items are always a good fallback.  If there's a new video game or a cool gadget on the market, he's the first person in line.  But I'm betting his underwear has been around since the beginning of time.  Buy him some new pairs, throw out the old ones, and consider it a thoughtful gift for yourself.

You can never go wrong with alcohol.  Sure, it's not the most thoughtful gift, but have you ever seen anyone look disappointed when they're handed a bottle of booze?  Even if they don't drink, alcohol is perfect for re-gifting.

And of course, there's always cash.  Who doesn't want more money?  Unfortunately, cash is commonly regarded as the least thoughtful gift possible.  Some people say it's better to give a gift card, but my husband likes to point out that gifts cards are just "money with strict limitations."  Instead, try giving cash along with something small, like a highly personalized ornament.  That way, your gift says, "I'm capable of being thoughtful, but I also want you to have this money."

Boy, nothing gets me in the holiday spirit like solving someone else's gift-buying dilemma!  Now if only I knew where to go for happy hour...

Monday, December 13, 2010

“Hallelujah! Holy s***! Where's the Tylenol?” – Clark Griswold

There’s no better way to spend a Monday in December than watching half a dozen holiday movies back-to-back.  As an aspiring screenwriter, I naturally have impeccable taste in films.  When it comes to Christmas movies, I pretty much stick to the classics: Miracle on 34th Street (1947), It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, Home Alone, Love Actually, Elf, Bad Santa ...

And then, of course, my number one favorite holiday movie, Christmas Vacation.  An undisputed classic movie masterpiece.  I can’t understand why it wasn’t nominated for Best Picture.  Casablanca, The Godfather, Christmas Vacation – these are films that will stand the test of time.

For the most part, I avoid the hundreds of crappy Christmas movies that play non-stop on ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas.  Fred Claus, The Santa Clause 3, The Christmas Shoes – seriously?  I don't want to sound presumptuous, but surely I could come up with a better premise than “a poor kid struggles to buy his dying mother a pair of god-awful shoes."

Time for some Christmas brainstorming!  Here are a few holiday movie ideas off the top of my head...

The In-Laws Who Stole Christmas.  A Christmas fanatic unknowingly marries into a family of Grinches and desperately tries to convert them.

My Super Sweet Sixteen meets Trading Places.  Wealthy parents carry out an elaborate plan to teach their spoiled teenager a lesson by forcing her to spend the holidays as a lonely homeless person.

The Hangover, holiday-style.  When a hated boss goes missing after a wild and drunken holiday party, several co-workers fear that they are to blame and must retrace their steps.

Milk Money meets Prancer.  A not-too-bright kid encounters a down-on-her-luck stripper wearing a sexy holiday costume and assumes she’s Mrs. Claus.  When the stripper plays along and explains that "Mr. Claus kicked her out," the kid insists that she stay in his basement.  Meanwhile, he tries to reconcile her with Santa, who happens to be visiting the local mall.  A bizarre romance ensues.

Just think, one of these ideas could be my breakout screenplay!  My former screenwriting teacher knew the guy who wrote Elf, and that one cute little script totally made his career.  Although apparently, the major studios are increasingly resistant to holiday movies.  Hence the complete lack of holiday films this year.  They must be waiting for someone to pen the next Christmas classic.  Don’t worry, Hollywood, I’m on it!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Inspiring Friend #5: Ali

I’ll admit that ever since I saw the movie The Bucket List, I keep a list of things I want to do before I die.  So far, I’ve been knocking off the low-hanging fruit, like “fire a gun” and “start a blog.”  Chances are, I’ll never get around to the more challenging items.  And after I’m gone, someone will come across my list and think, “Oh, how sad.  Look at all of the things she never did.”  This fear propelled me to start a second list of things I’ve already done, so that the person going through my belongings will then say, “Oh wait, she did do some cool stuff after all.”

In general, people spend a lot of time talking (or blogging) about their crazy, impractical goals but never actually go out and pursue them.  Instead, they wait and hope that, one day, they'll just happen to end up climbing a mountain or running a marathon.  "Someday.  When the timing is right.  Maybe next year.  Or the year after."  I find it inspiring when someone stops making excuses and does what they've always wanted to do.

One morning, my friend Ali was having brunch with some friends.  Out of nowhere, she set down her fork and said, "I'm going to quit my job and travel the world for one year."  And then, to everyone's surprise, she went ahead and did it.

Ali and I first met in college while studying abroad in London.  A few years later, we both moved to New York and started working in finance.  In fact, we were roommates while I was dating my husband.  I got engaged around the same time Ali decided to go on her around-the-world journey.  While I was preparing to settle down and make a huge life commitment, Ali was handing in her resignation, getting rid of her apartment, and putting all of her belongings into storage.  Literally days after my wedding, she set off on the adventure of a lifetime.

Although she met up with friends and family along the way, it was mostly a solo mission.  She was tackling everything on her bucket list all at once: glacier trekking, surfing, exploring the Australian Outback, scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef, skydiving, Full Moon Party in Thailand, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, safari in the Serengeti, cage diving with great white sharks, a 13-day trek to Mount Everest.  I was exhausted just hearing about it.

While Ali was traveling, everyone else was obsessed with the book Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia.  Sure, it was a nice story, but it paled in comparison to the journey of my real-life friend.  Three countries?  That’s the best she could do?  The subtitle of Ali's memoir would be: One Woman's Search for Everything Across New Zealand, Australia, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Hong Kong, Japan, Ethiopia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Portugal, Germany, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Iraqi-Kurdistan, Jordan, Israel, Nepal, India, Italy, Wales, and England."  Seriously, that's one hell of a subtitle.

Not many people would have the guts to take on such an itinerary.  She went to Iraq based on a single paragraph in her Lonely Planet guide book, entitled “If you wanna go, this is how.”  Throughout the year, she faced more than a few challenges, including visa issues, lost bookings, sketchy hostels, 36-hour bus rides on unpaved roads, religious festivals that shut down entire countries, and one very close call with a terrorist bombing.  And she still managed to fly back for the occasional wedding.

One year later, she came back for good.  She found an apartment, got a job, and resumed her normal life.  Looking at all of her pictures, I can’t help but feel incredibly jealous.  I would love to spend an entire year traveling.  It's already on my bucket list, right between "have a kid" and "find a career I love."  I’m sure I'll get around to it... someday.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Crappy Job #4: Last-Picked Intern

[Note: Since this is my 50th blog post, I've made it super lengthy.  And as a special commemorative bonus, I've included a drunken rant.  You're welcome! ]

I went straight from college to graduate school, mostly because getting accepted to graduate school seemed easier than finding a job in the post-9/11 recession.  Unfortunately, my graduate program required its students to obtain a summer internship in finance after the first year.  To me, it seemed like an impossible feat.

At the time, the work experience section of my resume listed the following: gas station attendant, shoe saleswoman, and waitress at Big Pecker’s Bar & Grill.  I had applied for finance internships while I was in college but hadn’t so much as gotten an interview.  My frustration over not being able to land a respectable summer job reached a boiling point during my junior year while I was studying abroad in London, prompting me to send the following drunken mass email:

Well, I've sweated my way through a dozen online application forms, telling these snotty firms how I flipped shoes at Payless (i.e. facilitated the maintenance of a conducive purchasing environment) and how I wore a skirt up my [@$$] while waitressing at Big Peckers (i.e. utilized suggestive selling at B.P. Inc. to increase profit shares).  But after all of this superior BS-ing, I have received five letters this week alone saying, "We sincerely appreciate your interest in our firm but regretfully can not pursue your application at this point in time" (i.e. we used your application to [do something inappropriate]).  […]  Now I’ve devised a back-up plan, and I'm letting you guys in on it.  First, I'm taking my Optimization textbook, my TI-82, and my raincoat straight to the pawn shop.  Then, I'm going to hop the first plane to Jamaica and begin my career behind the tiki bar a la Tom Cruise in Cocktail.  And until I learn how to flip the bottles and really start raking in the tips, I'll be shacking up with the hot guy from How Stella Got Her Groove Back because he will have realized that Stella is a lifeless, loveless investment banker who gave up her dream of making furniture whereas I am carefree and ready to devote my life to piña coladas and making love at midnight.  […]  Any of you who want to cast aside your cover letters and join me, simply respond to this email with “[something highly offensive]", and I will keep you updated as the plan progresses.

Now that I was a graduate student, I hoped it would be different.  Most of the work was being done for me.  The director of my graduate program had compiled our resumes into a book that would be distributed all over Wall Street.  So what if I was the loser of the bunch?  I had been hand-picked by the admissions department of a prestigious university to be the token female!  Even if I was the flawed diamond in the display case, surely someone would still be happy to have me.

A week after the resume books were sent out, I received no less than a dozen calls asking to set up an interview.  Suddenly, I was brimming with optimism!  I would be a professional business lady after all.  No longer would my resume be a source of embarrassment.  Finally, I would be able to replace “Server at Big Peckers” with a position that reflected my true potential.

My optimism was short-lived.  I soon realized that our prospective employers were interviewing every student and then choosing the best candidate.  My rejection letters arrived in the form of a fellow classmate boasting that he had been offered the position for which I had also interviewed.  Time and time again, I had to smile and say, “Congratulations on being the superior candidate.  You must be thrilled.”  I was like a fat kid waiting to be picked for a sports team, and between every round of picks, I was forced to run laps.  By "laps" I mean a grueling four hour job interview during which I was interrogated about my lack of work experience.

It came down to me and one other guy.  The hiring season ended, and rumors of unplaced interns ran rampant through the halls of the math building.  Even my back-up plan fell through – the hateful manager of the Applebee’s in Times Square felt that I was under-qualified to waitress in such a classy establishment.  I had never been more depressed.

Then, in a suspicious coincidence, two intern positions suddenly opened up at the company where one of our professors worked.  I suspected that our professor had gone to Human Resources and said something along the lines of, "Listen, the unemployable rejects from my program need an internship, so bring them in and let them sit around on the fortieth floor for a couple of months.”  Don’t get me wrong, I was incredibly grateful, but the whole thing was kind of humiliating.

At first I took comfort in the fact that I wasn’t alone.  The other guy in my program was there, and every day we ate lunch together in the cafeteria at a table reserved for losers.  But our lunches turned awkward after it became clear that he was the favorite intern.  I blame the fact that our quantitative mentors weren’t accustomed to working with women.  There was only one other woman on the entire floor, and it took me awhile to figure out that she wasn’t a man.  She had short hair, wore masculine-looking suits, and stomped around the office acting strangely aggressive.  This was my female role model.  Her advice: act like a man.

I spent the summer drafting reports that would never be read by anyone.  When the summer was over, many of my classmates were offered a full-time position after graduation.  I didn't receive such an offer – not even when the other intern turned his offer down.  It was pretty obvious to everyone (myself included) that I was a bad fit for that particular group.  The experience propelled me to seek out a smaller company with cooler, younger employees.  I found just such a company, and they were happy to have me.  There, I not only excelled but also met my future husband.  Accepting that job was probably the best career decision I ever made, and it was all thanks to my crappy internship that sent me running in the opposite direction.

And I lived happily ever after for the next two years.