Oct 28, 2014

The Sitting Pose

Homme noir nu assis recroquevillé

I think I fell in love with the nude sitting pose in art, when first I saw Hypolite Flandrin's version at the Louvre.

Image Courtesy: Camille

Oct 27, 2014

Reading Is Not A Career Skill: Or Is It?

I noticed that I had “reading” as a skill on my Linkedin profile. Who puts reading as a skill on Linkedin? Seriously, the last time I told a prospective employer that I liked to read I think I lost the bid for the job.

Curious about reading as a marketable job skill, I punched in "reading as a skill" in the Linkedin search engine, and I got 3,987,983 hits. Certainly most of these hits correlate to “Reading Teacher” or “Reading Stories” and not necessarily to barebones reading.

Lots of ink has been spilled about reading. And most of it good. PSA's love talking about reading! Hey, frigging Harry Potter loves to read. And I think there is a wonderful PSA of Meryl Streep reading a book.

But I guarantee you if you walk into a workplace and see a guy reading a book I bet you a million buck his supervisor’s going to think: “that guy’s not doing his job.”

Hell, when I was a high school English teacher, I think when I brought a book to lunch, or was caught reading during my planning period, I could swear I got the suspicious eyes from my principal.

Maybe I should have been grading papers. Or, something.

I never realized reading as a skill until I started to write for money.

See. Reading is good when you’re a writer. One of my clients needed some copy on the recent Jeff Koons exhibit at the Whitney so I wrote a five hundred word blurb so he could paste it to his blog. Simple.

I think he was impressed. I guess reading the Arts section of the Times paid off.

I like to think there is a special part of my brain that I like to call the Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations catch pan of useless but fun tidbits gleaned from years of idle reading.

I swear there must be a part of my unconscious that tags quotable quotes when I am reading.

It’s weird because I’ll be writing something and an appropriate quote that matches what I’m writing triggers in my Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations catch pan. It’s uncanny.

Now these are the days before making notes on a Kindle.

Now all my memorable quotes are memorized for me by Amazon’s cloud service.

But it takes years of reading to build this skill set.

And I am not sure it is a skill set.

Until I get paid for reading, I am thinking of deleting “reading” from my list of attributes. It’s like one of those secret skills. You tell someone you’re reading, and they look at you like you’re from the get-go critiquing their non-reading.

There’s all this garbage circulating that the Internet squashes reading and replaces it with information pawing.

Now, I have a Feedly, bookmarks, and I paw the Web just like any other troll, but I also take time to fucking read. I mean sustained reading. Like reading for more than forty-five minutes without clicking backspace.

I honestly don’t understand all these Internet cleanse people. They complain they don’t have time to read, and they are all nostalgic for those days when they curled up with a book.

Maybe it’s easy for me because I take frequent local commutes on the New York City Subway System.

Until they install wireless access — that they have been doing in the nicer Manhattan parts — I will be content with reading unmolested.

Image Courtesy:  distinctdisciples

Sep 11, 2014

A Room Of One's Own: Dispatch From My Room (As I Work From Home and Decided to Submit A Blog Entry)

A Room Of My Own (And Virginia's too!)
When I try to find beauty
At the beginning of September, the heat of Summer begins to dissipate in New York. But Summer leaves behind swabs of humidity, still clinging on as I impatiently wait for Autumn. To give context, I’ve been spending a lot of time alone. I’m an extrovert. So it’s an unusual feeling. I plan to spend September mostly alone, for my work is solitary, and it depends on me monetizing my solitude. I’ve lived in the same apartment for quite a long time, but lately, I have come to know my room. It’s probably because I spend more time in my room than I ever did before, and I will admit that is the prosaic reason. To quell my loneliness, I open my eyes, and light upon something beautiful. There are many rooms in one room. The room you wake up to in the morning, in the half-light, where the room is an exit from the dream you've just had, but can't quite remember. Or the room, as it appears when you first enter it, different from the room you sat in all day writing. For the room you share with another person, but you don't notice the room, or the opposite, where all you notice is the space filling up, but words cannot express how you feel. It’s loneliness. But you don’t say it that way because people cannot handle loneliness.

OK. This post is really about loneliness.

We live in a loneliness averse society. Did you read about the study where people chose to administer self-inflicted shocks rather than spend time alone with their thoughts? Albeit, I can be alone in a room  it's because I’m used to being alone and I do not have the gumption to call it solitude. I turned my desk to face the window because I realized how depressing it was to look at the closed door all day. The cars on the Gowanus Expressway never stop gliding past, and I get a faint pleasurable thrill, when I look up, and see the Staten Island Ferry. It’s not there every time I look, but when I have to write copy on a deadline — I’ve been freelancing all Summer — it calms my nerves to look up and see the Staten Island Ferry. In the last three weeks, I have not had much reason to leave my house. I do. Of course. I’d go batty if I didn’t leave my room. But being in my room through this past season has made me feel like a Calmodolese monk, who spend lots of time in their cells, only to come out to pray inside of a stone cold church. I come out to ride the R train (because I have a thirty day Metrocard that I have to use) and to shop at the grocery store. 

In the time it took to write about what I saw, what I saw is gone.

My favorite time of day is the gloaming, since my window faces West, looking out into the bay, the diminishing sunlight casting different shades of orange onto my empty walls. I look up, just now, to find it, but it is gone, and my room is another room, an emptier room. Being in a room, and seeing something beautiful, something you never noticed before, but since you've been spending so much time alone you notice it. But you think you’re crazy, not because it's something beautiful, but you've been spending so much time alone that any shimmer of beauty is acceptable. I'll accept that. And my apologies to Virginia Woolf for copying her writing style. Thanks, Virginia. For everything.

Image Source: Greig Roselli 

Aug 28, 2014

Tips On Studying Case Interview Questions

Companies like to evaluate candidates by using case studies to see how they’d handle real-world scenarios. I did a few when I interviewed in the Education sector. One thing I learned is that companies like the case study. It helps them to gauge not only how well you will think through problems on the job, but it gives them a chance to hear you talk about your values and how you use your own personal qualities to tackle real-life kind of issues. A case study interview allows you to show off your problem-solving skills by tackling a hypothetical dilemma. Here are some tips you can use to study for a case study interview:

1. Get the Question Right

Case study questions are purposefully designed to include as little information as possible. The case study question is like a puzzle. Employers want to see how you put together a narrative using the information that is given. Try to find something in the question that relates to your own experience and run with it. State the question back as an articulation of your own values. So for example, if the question is about what you would do if on an educational field trip and one child is missing, answer the question in terms of your values about the group. Then go about explaining how you would find the kid, but remember to answer the question in such a way that displays your problem-solving skills, as well as how you would help find the student, but also help the group.

2.  Practice a Lot

Rehearse responding to practice questions by saying your response out loud. Delivery is key. Take a moment to think out a strategy. Case study questions are complex. There is no one definite answer. For business strategy questions, there are a million ways to explain how a company should promote a new product, or how to increase workers’ productivity. And hey, if you have an unusual solution to the problem, don’t be afraid to say it.

Practice a lot. Then practice again. No one gets a case study perfect on the first try. Don’t be afraid of getting the answer wrong. For estimate-style case study questions, you will be asked to guess numbers, for example, how many mobile devices will be completely touchscreen in 2019, or estimate the number of public telephones in New York City. Get used to doing basic multiplication and percentages in your head. Most companies won’t allow you to use a calculator.

3. You Don't Have Much Time

On the job, you’ll be dealing with real people’s hard questions all the time. Employers want to see how you’ll react. You’re expected to engage with the other interviewers in the room. Maximize your resources: they’ll give you supplies, like writing utensils and paper, so don’t be afraid to jot down ideas as they come to your mind.

You won’t have much time to tackle the case study question, only 10 or 15 minutes at the most. To help with the time crunch, time yourself responding to your friends' questions, like how to set up a mutual fund. Or even a quick one minute summation on how to butter your toast. Or how to fight a bear.

4. Structure Your Answer but Talk Like a Human

Questions like why a company has a drop in profits or whether a company should make a new acquisition do not have a right answer. You’re being screened not for your ability to correctly answer the question, but for how you go about analyzing the problem. Show you understand the question by summarizing it out loud for the interviewer. Use pauses to let others in the room speak. If they give helpful advice, use it.

Articulate out loud how you’re breaking down the basic elements of the problem. For example, in a discussion about how a company’s new product should be marketed, break it down into parts. What do you think the price of the product should be? What are some strategies you think could better promote the product? Do people use the product in ways that differ from how it was intended to be used? Remember, you may not finish the question. That’s not a bad thing. It’s how you thought out the problem that counts in the end.

5. Mine Resources

Thankfully, there are resources available for free online that can help you practice case-study questions:

- Check out your local university’s consulting club. Duke University has a succinct guide which includes a transcript of a successful interview. They also provide Vault’s in-depth guide for all things case study, too.

- Harvard Business School has plenty of case studies to peruse along with a list of concepts to frame your answer. Not only do they provide a list of practice cases, HBS guides explain common marketing strategies.

- The London School of Economics and Political Science’s case study page is a useful index of curated case study resources. Articles and links are updated regularly, and you can view a six hour case study video tutorial.

With the rigor of practice, thinking out loud, and navigating a novel response, it is possible to be prepared for this kind of employee interview.

Image Courtesy: Matt Vance

Aug 26, 2014

Public Libraries Still Matter in the Age of Amazon

By Greig Roselli (with Ray Pun)
News flash: libraries have been offering e-books for free long before Amazon started doling out an e-book subscription service. With Amazon’s recent Kindle Unlimited service, readers can access thousands of books for free. The catch? It’s ten dollars a month. But libraries have been offering a similar service for free to patrons for years. Why not more press on libraries? To answer some questions about libraries, free books, and bridging the digital divide, I teamed up with New York University Reference Librarian Ray Pun to discuss how libraries are helping to mind the digital gap. The result is this commentary.
Use It Or Lose It
There's a saying that goes "use it or lose it." It’s an apt reason to keep your brain active, because, you know, you’ll lose it. The analogy applies to why we use libraries and how they’re helping to not only bridge the digital divide but adding more fodder to the trough. If you don’t use books — well — I don’t even want to think about what it would be like to lose it.
Libraries Matter
I have a hunch that people think that since there’s the Internet then libraries don’t matter. It’s just a hunch, but it’s hidden in the comments I get on being a librarian: “You need a degree to do that?” Yes, librarians need a degree to do “that.” Putting aside my rancor for such questions, I think it tells us a little bit about the current cultural zeitgeist and where we’re going.
There's a misconception that if I can Google it then it must be free. While the open Internet is indeed a treasure trove of knowledge, it's also a depository of useless junk. Librarians keep the door open between the open Internet and its mass chaos of information and the stuff that’s behind closed doors.
To give an idea of what I am talking about, take a look at the Internet Public Library. It’s a deceptively simple website, but it does something different that Google does not do. Behind the HTML code and links are a team of librarians who are constantly updating links to provide access to good information. So, if you need to get reputable and accurate sources you could Google it, but knowing that a team of information specialists curate and cull the “good stuff” makes the Internet Public Library, a unique place.
Knowledge Deserves To Be Free
We tend to think of libraries as brick and mortar buildings that house books, and while this is true, the concept of “the library” is less about locking knowledge up in a safe deposit box, and more about the free dissemination of ideas. The word free is cheap, and I do not mean to suggest that “free” equates with “worthless.”
Libraries are free in the sense that they keep us as a community free from all the nasty stuff that comes from not being free. What would it look like to live in the tyranny of a library-less world? I’d say it would be rather gloomy. And not too pretty.
We might think, “I already own an iPad, and my house has enough books, so why should I bother about using the library?” The logic that stipulates freedom with “I already have that” is the logic that one day could threaten the very concept libraries embody — equal access to knowledge. I use knowledge in the broadest sense of the term. Knowledge cannot be confined by a book, iPad, or even Google’s vast search engine. Yet -- not everyone owns an iPad. And while according to an April 2014 Pew Research study, 87% of adults have access to the Internet, it isn’t 100%. Some libraries have started to mend the gap by lending out tablets such as iPads to people, library users and complete strangers with library cards! Other institutions such as the New York Public Library are experimenting with a new service: lending portable MiFi Hotspot devices to underserved youth and communities by allowing them to have Internet access outside of the library hours.
Knowledge is bound up with community. Knowledge is supposed to be shareable, and the access we enjoy through our libraries is only as free as we struggle for its freedom. That’s why libraries, even though they are strapped with mounting operational costs and the threat of being cut off from state, local, and federal funding, continue to innovate, to continue to bridge the digital divide. For example, the simple innovation of providing MiFi devices to users who cannot access library services during opening hours closes the gap a little bit. Or loaning out iPads and laptops to users who otherwise cannot afford these gateways to knowledge.
Support Libraries
Support your public library, starting today and in numerous ways: whether it is with monetary or book donations, paying off your library fines or writing to your state and local assembly person about why your library is important to you and your community. You need to stand up for your library because you are standing up for your community. When you keep visiting your libraries, it brings up their “public services metrics” or in layman’s terms, the “headcount” reader goes up, which translates into more resources libraries can roll out for public use. Keeping the building filled with people who use it is good for the library. They can then report to their constituents about the increases of public users in their libraries on a quarterly basis.
I'll End With A Story
It reminds me of a story a friend of mine told me that I thought reflects what libraries do. When he was a teenager, he lived in a small town in South Louisiana with a local municipal public library. He went to the library in the Summer to find a book he wanted to read. He told me, “I don’t remember who told me about the book, but it was called Birdy by William Wharton.” The library did not have it nor did any of the local branches, so the librarian looked at him with a smile on her face and said, “Let’s do an interlibrary loan.” He told me that he didn’t know what an interlibrary loan was, but it sounded neat. “She had me fill out a form — and mind you; this was before the Internet was all the rage,” he said. “In a few weeks, the book arrived from the State Library, and I was able to read the book. I had no idea such a small miracle was possible.” For him, it was like Christmas in July; he’s now a writer and teaches philosophy. Now that ninety percent of all libraries in the U.S. loan out e-books, interlibrary loan looks like an antiquated version of lending, but most libraries still have it and it’s the most thanked-for feature of public libraries by patrons.
Librarians intrinsically know the value of libraries. We just don’t talk about it enough. Let’s spread the word. A call to action: use it and don’t lose it — for the present and future lovers of knowledge out there. Including me. And you. All of us. You can still subscribe to Kindle Unlimited if you want, but check out the library too.
Image Source: Greig Roselli

Aug 8, 2014

"Back to School": When You’ve Been Out Of School (For Awhile)

Talking to an adult learner on the N train today, she told me she likes to see the young kids squirm in their seat when she gets to interpret Shakespearean sonnets. "I have a whole different outlook on love than them. It's not the same." My N train companion is not alone being older than her colleagues. One out of three students in this year’s Freshman class will most likely be over twenty-five years of age.
Screen Shot 2014-08-08 at 5.31.27 PM.png

1. Diving in
More adult learners are going back to school. What’s the number one motivation? Desire to learn. As the baby boomers retire, more are fueled with renewed cognitive interest or are tired of doing the same thing time again. It's like Camus imagining Sisyphus pushing that damn rock: you got to think of something new for the descent.

2. Fitting in
Part of going back to school is a brain thing. Older students report feeling out of place among younger students, and find it hard to adjust to new educational attitudes that may differ from what they remember from previous schools. It’ll be different for sure, but fitting in is part of the cognitive process of starting something new.

Video Courtesy: ZaTbone

There are challenges to returning to the classroom, but if Rodney Dangerfield could do it, so can you.

3. Finding your way
Anyone can go to university if they have a passion. In fact, having a passion makes more sense for those who have already straddled careers and family, because they have had more time to think about what they want. One indicator of success is just that: focus and knowing what you want, having goals, joined with life experience.

4. Revitalizing options
Who says you can have only one career? Billie Letts, of Where The Heart Is fame, wrote her first novel when she was in her 50s. Older and older, it doesn’t mean sapping innovation and creativity. Older people are seeking second, third, and even fourth career choices. It’s a glimpse into the future. It’s where we’re going, so don’t let ageism creep into the hallowed halls. The younger set now vie for the honor roll with a silver haired genius.

5. Being an outlier
We’re living longer. The adult brain is still spry. Voices from across the age spectrum offer different takes on life. You might be older than your professor, and your age has made you an outlier. But outlier status means you give a fresh perspective in the classroom. You’re changing the bell curve. Like Shakespeare meditating on love (or the lady on the N train), learning something new at the apex of life is not letting got of that “ever-fixed mark” that "looks on tempests and is never shaken."

Jul 26, 2014

A Lagniappe Of Dumplings At Xi'an's Famous Foods

A trio of my friends decided to eat dumplings on Saint Mark's. Xi'an's Famous Foods serves up a delicious spinach dumpling in a sour soup; it's fast, savory, and filling food. I was craving a heap of deliciousness,  and I had a tenner in my pocket. I was freelancing at the time  money was tight.

The eatery is small, and hungry weekenders (it was a Saturday afternoon) fill the space. Two thin, attractive men seated already had gotten up to leave. I offered to dispose of their plates since I was already adjacent to the trash bins.

"Hey," I said, noticing the blonde hadn't eaten the remaining four dumplings that sat green and plump on his plate. "Are you going to eat that? I'll eat it." 

The guy, nonplussed, said "sure," and he and his companion, both wearing crisp white shirts and chinos departed the restaurant.

I ordered a second round of dumplings, and one of my friends suggested we walk down Saint Mark's and ask people dining on the sidewalk to give us their food.

Yeah, we didn't do that, but the lagniappe of dumplings and a carbonated apple fizz soda was my delight for a day in the East Village.

Jul 25, 2014

A World Within A World

"A World Within A World": Photograph taken in the Fordham neighborhood (The Bronx, New York City) 

Jul 6, 2014

Le Petit Amour (Kung Fu Masters!)

Jane Birkin and Mathieu Demy Le Petit Amour (Kung Fu Masters!), Dir. Agnès Varda (1988)

I recently saw Le Petit Amour (Kung Fu Masters!) (1988), directed by Agnès Varda, on Mubi. I am familiar with her most famous work, Jacquot de Nantes, and her exquisite short documentary films.

The movie tells the story of Mary-Jane, a recently divorced older woman (Jane Birkin) who unwittingly falls in love with her daughter's (Charlotte Gainsbourg) younger teenage classmate, Julien (Mathieu Demy). In real life, Demy is Varda's son, and Gainsbourg is Birkin's daughter. Birkin conceived the story, and Varda wrote it (also it is quite the cinematic family-affair, considering the real-life relationships among Varda, Demy, and the Birkin clan).

The plot concerns a taboo subject of intergenerational love, but I thought the film was redeemed (and Roger Ebert agrees) by its ability to capture feelings without the use of overwrought words, or a display of gratuitous sex. While the story is fantasy-driven, it touches upon the feeling of passionate love and how it can come upon you when you least expect it.

The film taps into the fears and anxieties of the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, which becomes a political subtext underlying the main characters' search for sexual expression. The movie is understated in its emotional playfulness. Julien watches Mary-Jane sing to her younger daughter Lou (Lou Doillon), and we see in the boy's hazel eyes a glimmer of desire. Mary-Jane acts on his desire, and insinuates herself into Julien's life. Demy does not force the role of Julien, and Varda manages to treat the two's subsequent love affair with sensitivity, recognizing it is doomed from the start.

I liked the expert insertion of Mary-Jane's inner dialogue, coupled with Julien acting out his feelings through his bold behavior. Each is caught in their own fantasy, and one sequence in particular on an island off the coast of England, seems straight out of a Grimm's fairy tale (no intrusion from the outside world). Mary-Jane wonders "Do all women fall in love with a boy, or just those without sons?" and Julien plays out his adolescent fantasy through an arcade video game. A Kung-Fu master fights wizards and goblins to save the damsel in distress, Sylvia.

At the end of the movie reality eventually crashes through, and Mary-Jane picks up the pieces. The movie ends with a jarring scene of Julien telling his schoolmates how he got laid by an older woman, puffing on a cigarette, putting on a thin veneer of machismo. He's grown tired of her, while his older lover is still awash in the memories of the affair. 

The movie does not map well onto the current sexual politics. I saw someone on Mubi's message boards decry the movie for being traumatic and triggering. I'm not sure if we have become either blasé or intolerant of difficult subjects, but while the movie is touching and beautiful, today's pragmatic audience will not have much of a stomach for its forays into forbidden love.

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