Monday, December 31, 2007

Looking back

"I never look back, darling. It distracts from the now.
~ Edna Mode, The Incredibles

After much anticipation, the 31st of December has arrived. And the questions ensue. "What resolutions are you making?" "Do you have big plans for New Year's?" "How did you feel about 2007?" "What do you think will happen in 2008?"

The quote from Edna Mode seems very timely and the perfect answer to just about any question you may get as we turn the page on the calendar in a matter of hours. I envy people who don't look back. I look back obsessively, searching for patterns, regretting things I've done or said, or didn't say or do that perhaps I should have. I try to imagine where I was and what I was doing exactly one year ago. Who was I with? What was I hoping for?

I know that many people say they don't believe in resolutions, or they come up with a new name for "resolution" to make it seems less ominous. I make resolutions, and I'm glad I make them and most of the time I've kept them. They give me some direction, a goal, something to shoot for that requires my commitment in some measure. Resolutions are personal creations that determine how we'd like to conduct our lives in the 365 days ahead. They are cause for celebration, not despair.

This year, I'm making a few simple ones. One of them is inspired my Ms. Mode. 2007, for me, was a year of not looking back. I graduated, launched into a new career in a "new" city, and put myself out there. I gave up thinking about old boyfriends and old friends that had faded away, often for the best. I cultivated happiness in every area of my life, and went about weeding those pesky things in my life that detracted from joy. I embraced the now.

So in 2008, I am committed to continuing that train of thought. I am making every effort to look forward, head up, eyes wide, ears open because all we've got is the now, and I don't want to miss a moment of it.

The above photo can be found on: http://www.allmoviezone.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/05/incredibles.jpg

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Michael Feinstein

I've been hearing about Michael Feinstein for many years. My friend, Dan, is his publicist. Last night, Dan took my to see the "By Request" show at Feinstein's at the Regency Hotel. Walking in, I felt as if I was stepping back in time to old world New York. No flashy lights, sets, or costumes - just an honest, warm performance by a man who is a generous, exceedingly talented artist who loves his audience.

Most of the songs were standards - Cole Porter, Gershwin, Sondheim. There were legendary musicians in the band - Bucky Pizzarelli (http://feinsteinsattheregency.com/bio.php?id=27) and Ken Ascher (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenny_Ascher). It was a celebration of times gone by, and musicians working very hard to keep the music that they love alive. Of all the requests that were done, my favorite was a simple ballad, "Old Friend" that Mr. Feinstein performed solo, sitting at the piano. I learned from Dan that this is a staple that he has performed for decades. It's become one of his hallmark performances.

I had never heard the song before, and found myself getting more choked up as the song went on. Even after so many years, its lyrics continue to resonate with people of all ages. It's one of the things I love best about music and art - it lets those across generations share a common expereince. I googled it and found a You Tube video of Mr. Feinstein performing the song, the same way he did last night. A beautiful performance that renewed my belief that all of the flashy elements of so many of today's shows are unnecessary so long as the talent on stage is at the level I saw last night.

See the video of "Old Friend" at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DsoJQeyyIbg.

Delightful Doodles: the art of William Steig

Yesterday I took a walk across Central Park to stop in to the Jewish Museum of Art at 92nd Street and 5th Avenue. There is a new exhibit there that celebrate the art work of William Steig, a cartoonist who achieved early fame as an illustrator of the New York and became a children's book author at age 60. Though he is most famous for conceiving the idea for and creating the story of Shrek, that one work, as wonderful as it is, does not do justice to a career based on enchanting doodles.

Like many art exhibits, this one has multi-media components - a short film, narrated by Steig, about his life and work, models of the Shrek characters, letters he's written to and received from monumental figures in the art world, interactive pieces such as a children's library, and of course, his marvelous sketches. Immediately upon entering the exhibit, the greatest nugget to genius is written plainly on the wall. When asked about how he developed such a successful career, Steig said "I don't think like other people. I never really did grow up."

It's his wonderful sense of honesty and childlike desire to connect with people on a very profound basis that had me smiling all throughout the exhibit. His doodling and intentional coloring outside of the lines kept me dreaming, entering his world of fair tales that had meaningful lessons to teach viewers about their real, everyday lives. Steig said his best work came from drawing with no direction, with no purpose. Drawing for the sake of drawing.

This had me wondering all the way home what works I could create if I had no agenda in my creations. How would I live my life if I just did what I wanted to do without any sense of having to do something "useful"? By letting go, we can break-through.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Apple Sisters

A few weeks agao, I wrote about meeting Bob McClure as he was selling his homemade pickles (http://www.mcclurespickles.com/) at a charity event I attended. Last night, Bob invited me to see a variety show he was in at the People's Improv Theatre (PIT) on West 29th Street. Bob was a part of The Apple Sisters variety show. And for those of you who missed the show, I would suggest logging in to their myspace page, www.myspace.com/theapplesisters so you are sure to catch their next act. I was laughing for a full hour at the comedy act these women put together.

I spent about 5 years working if profesisonal theatre management for Broadway shows and national tours. I left the business largely because I felt uninspired, though I have continued to attend shows whenever I can. The Apple Sisters is one of the best acts I have seen in a very long time. To be sure the show is not without its glitches, though the energy and spontaneity these gals have makes the glitches part of the fun. You won't find polished choreography or perfect pitch in the songs - you'll find something much better. Humor, warmth, and a very talented trio of writers. Their creativity will make you wonder why we haven't yet heard more about these women - I have no doubt that large-scale success is on the way.

Also, if there's an inspiring improv comic inside of you just waiting to get in on the act, The PIT offers classes, workshops, and tons of events. Most of the shows cost $5 - $8 per ticket - so much laugh for the buck that you can't afford to pass it by. http://www.thepit-nyc.com/

Bringing home the goods

When you have a tiny apartment, there's a need to make every square inch of it sparkle. I've been in the market for a few furniture pieces that fit perfectly in my pint-size place. I've had some trouble finding items that fit properly, are designed well, and are reasonably priced.

I was relating this to my friend, Diane, at work and she suggested I stop in at a store called Home Goods, a TJX company. On my lunhc break I toddled over there, expecting to not find too much and found so much that I loved that I had to make sure to not get a cart so all I could buy is what my own hands could carry.

I found the perfect powerd blue metal three tier shelf that will fold up flat should I ever need to store it away, or, heaven forbid, move. It looks so perfect in my studio apartment that you'd think it's been there all along. The store is chock full of every item you could imagine in the home decor category. The company is very much on trend with the "Make It Yourself" look as well as new items that have a retro feel. The store is well organized, easy to navigate, and the merchandise is fairly priced. The company even has a blog that I recommend you check for the latest tips and ideas on decorating. http://openhouse.homegoods.com/

You'll have to go to Jersey to experience a Home Goods, though I promise it is worth the effort!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Wild Revelry Is So Last Year

For the past few days I have been using my drive to work to come up with some pithy and witty commentary on New Year's and why it's my least favorite holiday. I opened the Times this morning and decided I didn't need to write anything - William Grimes said it best.

I'll be spending NYE with a few friends eating delicious, home-made food, and completely avoiding any run in with crowds. I've decided that 2008 is going to be the best year of my life. "Why?" you may ask. Just call it a very good hunch.

William Grimes story in Today's Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/28/arts/28stay.html?_r=1&th&emc=th&oref=slogin

Thursday, December 27, 2007

CEOs can learn a thing or two from cows – more from “Orbiting the Giant Hairball”

My friend, Dan, and I recently went to Maine to spend a weekend doing absolutely nothing of importance. It turns out that Maine is a great place for this kind of activity. I wish there were more Maines in the world. Dan is a master maestro of a delectable mix of jazz, big band, and lounge-y cabaret type music. I am not doing it justice with that description. It’s great stuff. He’s the only guy I know who’s ever run out of space on a giant iPod.

Dan brought his iPod as well as the iPod car kit so that while I drove he could entertain me spinning his fabulous mix. Being avid Sesame Street fans, he played me a set of tunes that included “Cookie at the Disco” and my personal favorite “Proud to be a Cow”. (You can read the lyrics through this link as well as download a “Proud to be a Cow” ringtone. http://www.lyricsdownload.com/sesame-street-proud-to-be-a-cow-lyrics.html. Build it and they will buy!) We should all be proud to be cows.

Today I was reading about those dreaded corporations and how they make it their job to drive every last ounce of creativity out of their enormous legion of exceedingly boring grey cubicles. This isn’t always true – it just happens to be more the norm than the exception. So imagine if dairy farmers judged their cows the same way that executive management judges their employees. Cows spend about 10% of their lives hooked up to milking machines in a barn. That’s the only time they actually produce something tangible. However, the other 90% of their lives they are performing magic turning grass into milk in some alchemic process that I do not even pretend to understand.

What would our dairy cases look like if those dairy farmers pressured those cows to “be more productive”? Impossible. Cows can’t make milk any faster than people can churn out creative ideas. Creativity is a strange alchemy as well. It needs time and patience to percolate. Corporations that think they can speed up creativity are as destined for success as a dairy farmer who thinks he can speed up milk making. If a farmer needs more milk in a shorter period of time, then he needs more cows. And if a corporation needs more creativity, then it needs more creative people.

The picture above can be found at http://www.blog.thesietch.org/wp-content/uploads/2007/02/zoom-cow.thumbnail.jpg

If I were Proust

I am a devote Vanity Fair reader. My favorite feature in the magazine is the Proust Questionnaire put to a variety of celebrities. http://pagesperso-orange.fr/chabrieres/proustquestionnaire.html is a link to an on-line version. Give it a go! Below are my answers:

Your most marked characteristic?
The fact that I am so tiny in stature and yet so large in personality

The quality you most like in a man?
Courage, the ability to laugh at himself, intelligence, and concern for others - people and animals

The quality you most like in a woman?
The ability to carve her own path and not allow others to put her into a box she does not want to be in

What do you most value in your friends?
honesty, loyalty, and humor

What is your principle defect?
I am incapable of hiding my feelings regardless of situation

What is your favorite occupation?
Writing

What is your dream of happiness?
Life-long love

What to your mind would be the greatest of misfortunes?
To die with the music still in you

What would you like to be?
A world adventurer

In what country would you like to live?
Any one with a government that has respect for life as its guiding principle

What is your favorite color?
Green

What is your favorite flower?
Lillies, sunflowers, and lilacs

What is your favorite bird?
Hummingbird

Who are your favorite prose writers?
Those brave enough to tell their stories with honesty and grace, without ego or self-pity

Who are your favorite poets?
Frost, Emily Dickinson, Maya Angelou

Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
Harry Potter

Who are your favorite heroines of fiction?
Alice from Alice in Wonderland and through the Looking Glass

Who are your favorite composers?
Nino Rota and Vivaldi

Who are your favorite painters?
The French Impressionists, Brian Andreas, Georges-Pierre Seurat, Johannes Vermeer, Alexander Calder, Joan Miró, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Picasso

Who are your heroes in real life?
Those who meet life with an exuberance that benefits humanity

What is it you most dislike?
dishonesty, irresponsibility, laziness, and those who take advantage of the kindness of others

What natural gift would you most like to possess?
To freeze time so I can enjoy happy moments for just a bit longer

How would you like to die?
Happy

What is your present state of mind?
Forward-looking

To what faults do you feel most indulgent?
inability to resist chocolate-covered donuts

What is your motto?
There is no time like the present

The picture above can be found at http://www.mercantilelibrary.org/groups/images/Marcel-Proust-1.jpg

Loans like hairballs

I’m all for freedom in any form, though responsibility is good for us, too. If we always had a safety net, always had a trap door or an eject button to get us out of a difficult situation, then we’d never be thoughtful about decisions. We wouldn’t have to be because even if we got in trouble, there would always be something or someone to bail us out. Enablers think they’re being nice people, thoughtful people, supportive people. What they’re really doing is stripping away the basic instinct of survival from those they enable.

Orbiting the Giant Hairball makes this same argument is a less psychological way. Though hairballs are frustrating, they are also necessary. My current biggest hairball: my student loans. I have some left from undergrad and now those from my MBA program have entered repayment. It’s a big number, second only to my rent. I was anxious about repayment, calculating and recalculating my budget. And my anxiety was only driven higher by some friends of mine from graduate school who are frantically paying down the loans and making me feel guilty for not doing the same.

The truth is as much as the large payment is painful to make now, it’s keeping me focused. If I had no financial obligations I could quit my job at the first sign of difficulty. I could spend any amount of money on anything I wanted. The Paris Hilton problem – she has no responsibilities so she doesn’t have to be responsible. The truth is without hairballs, we’d have nothing to orbit around. We would be adrift…

So while I wish the cost of education and life in general was not so high, I’m trying to look on the bright side. Things could be worse – I could feel that there really is no reason to get up in the morning. I know I have to get up and do my best because I need to survive and all I’ve got to help me do that is me.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Learning from Charlie Wilson

Christmas night I went to see Charlie Wilson’s War with my mom. We both loved the movie. All of the Golden Globe nominations are quite well-deserved. The most poignant point in the film came at the very end with a quote that helped me to apply the lessons of Charlie Wilson to my own life.

After all is said and done, Charlie Wilson is credited with saying, “These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world. Then we f***ed up the endgame.” He’s right. The United States spent about $500,000,000, and then matched by the Saudis for a combined totally of $1 billion to aid the mujaheddin and defeat the Soviets. Once the Soviets were defeated, the country of Afghanistan was in shambles. We could scrape together half a billion dollars for ammunition and weapons though we couldn’t come up with $1 million dollars to build schools. As a result, the young population of Afghanistan grew poorer and angrier. The result was what we see today, and try as we might to deny it, we are at the very least partially to blame. We cared about winning the battle though not about winning the war, and as a result, we’re still fighting. The seeds of our problems today in that area of the world were planted by our own actions in the 1980's.

This quote at the end of the movie made me consider how I look at situations in my own life when I put up so much energy and effort at the start and then question whether or not to put forward another small amount to complete a job in the best way possible. I am in no way suggesting that any aspect of my life is even remotely close in gravity to what the U.S. faced in the situation that the movie captures. That would be absurd.

What’s worth considering is whether or not we consciously acknowledge that we are in the game for the long haul. Are we willing to see a project through to completion to make sure that it is done as well as possible? Are willing to do what it takes to protect our investment of time, effort, and heart? If yes, then proceed. And if not, then maybe it’s best to not even begin and place our energies elsewhere.

The photo above can be found at http://www.worstpreviews.com/images/photos/charliewilsonswar/charliewilsonswar3.jpg

Is that a cocoon you're building?

One of the main tenants of Yogic and Buddhist texts is that the world provides the exact teaching we need at the exact moment that we need it. For Christmas, my boss gave me one of the best books I’ve read to date, and I’m only on page 57! Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace. It’s so incredible, that I’m planning on writing a series of posts related to the book. I strongly recommend anyone who works for a living, or who has ever worked for a living, to purchase this book.

I’ve been highlighting like mad, as I am known to do with my books because I think writing in them gives them my own personal touch. I have fought every single impulse to “nest” or “build a cocoon.” I’ve always wanted to feel at home everywhere I go, and wanted to have the freedom to come and go as I please. And then I moved back to New York six months ago, and have a hard time imagining I will ever leave. On page 45 of the book, I read 4 words that helped me realize I must find a way to love this city without needing it. “Cocoons can be paralyzing.” And this isn’t just true for a physical cocoon – an apartment or home – it’s a cocoon we build through relationships, friendships, our family, our job, and our hobbies. The conundrum becomes: “how can I feel safe and secure and confident without feeling stuck in a rut?”

I am not saying that anyone should run out and quit their job, dump their significant other, and move half way around the world to a country whose language they don’t speak. That’s anti-cocooning to the extreme and may land someone is quite a mess of unhappiness. There are ways to keep our outlook fresh while not turning our world upside down, though an occasional shake-up may be needed! Below are a few of my favorites:

1.) Take a vacation to some place new – and I don’t mean to some beach that looks like every other beach you’ve ever been to and lay around in the sun until you are a prime candidate for skin cancer while reading those horrible “beach reads”. I mean get out and meet new people on your vacation. Take a new class. Take a group tour. Learn a foreign language and try to order in a restaurant. Try a new sport. Bringing newness into your life in a foreign place will unlock parts of your personality you may have never known you had.

2.) Make it a point to get out into the world, alone. Some people feel fearful to go anywhere on their own. With kids and a spouse, this can be an especially challenging experience to create. It’s worth the effort. There is something to be said for taking a walk, going for a run, even going shopping, and allowing yourself time to be with yourself. Liking the company you keep in the empty moments is critical to break-through thinking.

3.) Try something you think you will love that is entirely useless. Feeling increasingly crunched for time, we place a premium on activities that are “useful.” I am the queen of utility. I don’t want to buy or receive a single product or experience that isn’t going to “pay off” in some way. This is a dangerous way to think and I know that. It is worthwhile to occasionally do something or buy something for the sheer joy of it. For example, a friend of mine learned Italian despite the fact that the language is not widely spoken outside of Italy. Spanish or French would have been more practical because so many more people in the world speak those languages. Still, he really wanted to learn Italian because he loved the sound of it more than any other language. At the time he saw no utility to learning the language – he did it for the fun of it. Now he’s getting his masters in ESL. Learning Italian gave him an appreciation for how difficult it must be for foreigners who come to the U.S.

4.) If pressed to name my favorite book of all time, I must say Alice in Wonderland. And if pressed for my favorite quote from the book it is "Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things." "I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." Imagine what the world could be like if we followed the Queen's advice. The impossible can become possible.

5.) And my favorite remedy to staying in a cocoon for too long – question everything. Steve Martin recently wrote a memoir of his life, Born Standing Up. In it, he says the way he created his break- thru comedy act was to question every assumption he or anyone else for that matter made about comedy and performing. I don’t think we should all start playing our favorite childhood game of asking “why?” every time we speak. However, there is value is taking a long hard look at what’s confusing us, troubling us, frustrating us, and re-evaluating possible courses of action. Can we re-imagine our situation, and what it would look like if anything were possible?

While cocoons are sometimes necessary, decidedly remaining in them until the cows come home will not helps us to live originally, and living originally may be the most worthwhile task we can ever take on.

The people under the stairs have left the building…

When I first moved in to my wonderful apartment with my even more wonderful landlords, I wrote a post to this blog about the people who lived under the stairs and the very rude note they slid under my door to inform how much my one day of moving was inconveniencing them. (http://christainnewyork.blogspot.com/2007/08/nyc-ordinance-on-carpet.html) This morning I received an email from my aforementioned wonderful landlord and it appears that my good karma is continuing. The nasty note writers have suddenly vacated the premises – merry Christmas and happy new year to me!

My landlord is quickly trying to fill the space and he and his equally wonderful wife leave for Paris just after the new year. Please post to this blog should you be interested in seeing the apartment and I will pass on my landlord’s name and number.

Causes for celebration

"Celebrate what you want to see more of."
~Thomas J. Peters, writer and business management expert

Isn't it amazing how often we draw attention to behaviors we don't approve of, disappointments, things that make us unhappy or angry? And yet when we see things that make us proud or make us smile or make us rejoice in the wonder around us, those feelings fade too quickly because we have too much to do, too many places to be.

During the holiday season we are bombarded by how much a certain retailer is ahead or behind, or what promos are happening to make us buy more of things we won't remember we received by the time the next holiday season rolls around. Where's the celebration? Why is the recognition of good deeds sequestered to the last 30 seconds of a news cast?

Between the nightly news and my favorite prime time TV shows, I have Access Hollywood on in the background while I wash the dishes from dinner or straighten up my apartment . Today they told a story (at the end of the show, of course) about a mountain biker who has been paralyzed from the chest down and is now fighting with everything she's got to walk again. And the lead in to the story was "and now we'd like to tell you a kind of story that we wish we did more of..." Well then for goodness sake do more stories like that and stop reporting on every time Britney Spears stops at the Dairy Queen or Jessica Simpson says something well, typical of Jessica Simpson!

We get what we ask for in this world, and if we want to see more actions that contribute to a world we're proud to live in, then we had better hold up those actions for all to see, and hopefully, emulate.

Monday, December 24, 2007

What candy and a confectioner can teach us

“Invention, my dear friends, is 93% perspiration, 6% electricity, 4% evaporation, and 2% butterscotch ripple” ~ Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka.

I giggled when I read this quote in a magazine recently. We always read about people like Jack Welch or Michael Porter commenting on what elements go into success, or growth, or innovation. It’s refreshing to read what a fictional character thinks about these things while poking a bit of fun at all of us.

There isn’t one element or personal characteristic that helps achieve something. Success comes when we fuse a number of things together – maybe some luck, some support from people who care about us, hard work, a dash of experience, a string of failures we learn from, etc. We all have some special recipe that contributes to how we got to where we are.

The other thing I love about this quote is that the percentages add up to 105%. At first I thought that maybe this was meant as a joke. Maybe Gene Wilder was trying to say that there’s no way to know exactly what contributes to invention. Is it a mystery? Is it something that truly cannot be quantified?

Or maybe it means that even if we have all of our ducks in a row, if we line up all the cosmos perfectly, there still must be that little something extra that sparks invention, the creation of something new and uniquely ours. Is Gene Wilder trying to say that the most important thing we ever do is find our own butterscotch ripple?

The photo above can be found at: http://i.imdb.com/Photos/Mptv/1372/21729_0002.jpg

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Realism isn't the road to success

This week I spoke to a friend of mine and our conversation turned, as it usually does, to entrepreneurship. Like me, she isn't part of the corporate cookie cutter mold that defines many people who get their MBAs. I like to think of us as trail blazers, people who carve their own way through the world. We have a hard time in large companies because they prefer us to stay on the sidewalk and we'd prefer to be stomping around in the grass.

Recently my friend told a family member of hers that she didn't think she was destined to stay in her corporate job for too long, and was very interested in starting her own business. The family member's response - "well, you have to be realistic." I would argue that no, you don't have to be realistic when it comes to career aspirations, and I would argue that if you are ever going to be happy in a career, you had better not settle for anything realistic.

This disdain for realism may come from my days in working in theatre; it may be genetic; I'm a Pisces - that could be the cause. The world of dreaming, imagination, and wild aspirations is really the only world I understand and in which I feel at home. I have to draw from some of the people I most admire and again, must reference Apple's commercial that salutes "the crazy ones." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUfH-BEBMoY

Einstein, Amelia Earhart, Picasso, Martin Luther King, Jim Henson. They were not the slightest bit realistic, and in the end their defiance is what saved them and inspired us. Here's to hoping that we all fight the urge to be realists and forge ahead towards dreams.

The photo above can be found at: http://www.stainlesssteeldroppings.com/images/henson.jpg

My Own "Little Chef"

Clearly I have been in my apartment for too long. Yesterday I had what my friend, Ken, and I call a pajama day - as in we spend the entire inside never changing out of our pajamas. Now this doesn't mean I am not being productive - you may be surprised at how much you can get done by never getting properly dressed. I posted to this blog, did some entrepreneurship research, listened to Christmas music, made apple turnovers from scratch, and spent several hours watching episodes of the Gilmore Girls on DVDs.

The trouble with pajama day is that the inertia of it makes it difficult to not have several in a row. I willed myself into the shower this morning. And just as I was making my way to the bathroom door, I spotted Ike - my pet squirrel. I haven't seen him for a while. He spent most of the summer tapping on my window in the middle of the night, annoying the hell out of me. Until he stopped showing up, and then I missed him. There he was this morning, standing up in a corner of the platform outside my window that is supposed to hold an air conditioner. (I am planning to make it into a plant stand when the weather's warmer.) And Ike, unbeknownst to me, has taken over ownership. He's gained a bit of weight - I guess he's been bulking up for winter.

Now this may be my love of the movie Ratatouille coming through - I started to think that I really should be putting out the ends of my bread loaves, etc. for Ike. I mean, I'm not going to eat them and throwing them away just seems silly. This led me to consider what a balanced diet for a squirrel is. Isn't it amazing what you can find on Google: http://www.squirrels.org/facts.html. According to this site, Ike's diet consists of nuts, fruit, seeds, bird eggs, bugs, and animal carcasses. The nuts, fruit, and seeds I can do. He's on his own for the rest.

I am completely aware that this sounds crazy for me to be thinking of Ike as a pet. He's a wild animal - I know that. But until I can have a consistent number of regular pajama days and get a dog, he will have to do. And now, it really is time for me to get out of this apartment and into the world. Ike will mind the ranch while I'm gone.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Be one of a 1,000,000 before NYE to go pink

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Every time, you search with http://www.lookpink.com/, you help fight against breast cancer! If over 1,000,000 people search with LookPink on any day before the New Year arrives, then over $100,000 will be generated by LookPink Search to help prevent breast cancer.

Help reach this goal by searching with LookPink today and by setting your homepage to http://www.lookpink.com/!

Will you have a blue (iris) 2008?

It’s time for the lists that herald “The (fill in the blank) of the year.” Some look back on 2007 and others look forward into 2008. Pantone Color Institute is a New Jersey-based company that makes predictions of which colors will dominate design markets. The color news for 2008: No. 18-3943, blue iris.

In the Fashion & Style section of the New York Times this past week, Leatrice Eiseman, the executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, said: “Blue Iris brings together the dependable aspects of blue, underscored by a strong, soul-searching purple cast. Emotionally, it is anchoring and meditative with a touch of magic.”

Can 5 people predict what colors will be hot. Maybe. Though if there’s any prediction that’s always accurate – fashionistas and designers will make their own way through 2008, regardless of what’s “in”.

For the full article and photo above seee the Fashion & Style section's post http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/20/fashion/20COLOR.html?_r=2&pagewanted=1&th&emc=th&oref=slogin

Madonna had it right

How many times have we heard that giving of ourselves is much more in the holiday spirit than stopping off at a retailer to participate in the never-ending American consumerism. Great sentiment though what’s a company based on selling “stuff” supposed to do with it?

Enter the HP Activity Center.
http://expressioncenter.wetpaint.com/page/Holiday+Gifts+in+Under+One+Hour
By creating the WetPaint Wiki (http://www.wetpaint.com/), HP provides easy templates and instructions to create unique items from ornaments to cookbooks to toys to calendars to gift wrap. This is the Make It Yourself trend to the extreme and allows all of us to tap our inner artist. Additionally, you can share your creations and creativity tips with the WetPaint community, allowing you to not only make your own wares but show them off as well.

“Express yourself” never had more meaning…

On innovation: flaws in the process

Bruce Nussbaum, who writes the design blog for Business Week, recently published a post on what he sees as the greatest innovation mistakes made by companies. He references a study that was done by three large consulting firms that uncovered how companies that are widely-considered as top innovators actually go about the innovation process. What they found is astounding: most innovation happens by accident and most of the people inside the company achieve innovations by being contrarians and working against the systems in place.

While all of the mistakes are critical to keep in mind when we are engaged in attempting to be innovative, the number one reason that Nussbaum points out is the most important when we are considering whether or not to join a company: CEO sloth. While people within a company that live at the bottom of the food chain can drive innovation up through the ranks, corporate gravity is against them. If a CEO is inherently an innovative person who values ideas and opinions from people on the fringes of the organization, then innovation and innovators have a greater shot at success. Corporate leaders must be committed to walking the innovation talk and opening their wallets in support of the process.

A lot of new graduates crave jobs in “strategy” and to be honest, the universities that educate them are not doing them justice in this department. Here’s what the universities aren’t telling them: Every job worth your time has a strategy and everyone at an organization must consider themselves to be creatives, to be innovators. No organization is going to welcome in a new graduate and think that their ideas are the most brilliant ones ever spouted, even if they are. New ideas are absorbed in bits and pieces and it takes patience, time, and commitment to have them heard by the highest levels of a company. A word to the wise: spend your job search time finding a boss who supports your efforts of creativity, and make sure that person has the ears of the people who control the purse strings. And understand that innovation is a long and winding road.

To read Bruce Nussbaum’s full article, visit http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/NussbaumOnDesign/archives/2007/12/top_ten_innovat.html.

Before jumping off the train

Patience is the companion of wisdom. ~ St. Augustine

Without a doubt, frustration abounds in the retail world this holiday season. Sales are down for most companies, as is morale within these companies. I have a few friends who are working in turn-around situations, and the potentially rocky economy is causing them some angst. In an agitated state, it sometimes seems easier to jump ship than hang around waiting for the other shoe to inevitably drop.

I can confidently say that several times in my career I have lacked patience, mostly because I did not have the wisdom of experience on my side. Simply, I didn’t know what I didn’t know and as a result when the tough times got going, I did too. While I don’t regret my decisions because I am thrilled with the life I have today, there are times when I wonder how things would have turned out if I had waited out the unpleasant times a bit longer.

Patience is difficult to achieve and even more difficult to hang onto once we have it. We begin to look around anxiously for a new and “better” opportunity. We feel we’re spinning our wheels, wasting time. Life is passing us by on the express and we’re on the local. The tug of frustration beckons us to move on when the picture in front of us is less than rosy. Rather than dashing out the door, sometimes it is worthwhile to consider riding out the wave to see where it carries us.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Get down to wise up

"It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer." - Albert Einstein

We spend most of our life dashing around, especially during the holiday season. Parties, meetings, errands, and the endless circuit of email to phone to internet to TV and back again. I’m not convinced that this dexterity at multi-tasking is a good thing. Of course, I say this as I eat my lunch, read a magazine, check my email, and write this blog post. There are numerous scientific reports being released now with the theory that multi-tasking is ruining our ability to think clearly.

We look to people like Einstein as a genius, and to be sure, he was. I do not in any way mean to take anything away from him. I am a great admirer of his works, and have read several biographies on him. When I was 18 I wanted to go to Princeton so I could somehow develop my own inner-Einstein in the very place where he did so much important work.

In all of his glory, he has these quotes like the one above that just bowl me over. Was Einstein brilliant because of his enhanced natural ability? He claimed no. He took the time to wrestle with problems and complications in the world around him, and then formulated ways to make sense of them. Literally, when he came across a problem, he sat down (or went on one of his famous walks) and thought. Toward the end of his life, he hired a scribe to follow him on his walks and jot down things he’d mutter to himself so that he could later sit with the notebook and piece together the thoughts.

I’m not suggesting we run out and hire scribes. One, it’s probably prohibitively expensive, and two, it just looks plain weird unless you are some recognized genius like Einstein. What we can do is sit down and breathe. In our rush to do everything quick quick quick, onto the next thing, hurry up, we gotta go, my to-do list is growing every millisecond, etc. we are losing perspective. We are losing our ability to reason and thinking through challenges and choices.
We all have an inner-Einstein. The question is whether or not we will take the time to listen to him.

The picture above can be found at
http://www.brainboomer.com/.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Getting real to get "unstuck"

"With lies you may get ahead in the world — but you can never go back." ~Russian proverb

It's likely that the Russian who coined the phrase above was thinking about lies people tell one another to get ahead - in business, in relationships, in life in general. When I read it, I considered the lies we tell ourselves and how they distort our perception because if we lie long enough, we actually begin to believe the lies are true. And not only can you never go back; you also may have a very difficult time moving forward. Through lies, we get stuck.

Jim Collins has said that if we want to get great, first we have to get real. So how do we start on this path to real that will lead us to great? I try to start with a vision of where I want to be, regardless of where I am right now. And little by little I work my way back from the vision to my current situation, one very small step at a time. If I want to own my own business, I have to consider the actual tasks I'd be doing when owning the business, and then I'd have to envision what kind of people I want to work with, and then I'd have to think about what kind of service or product I'm supplying and how it's being supplied, and on and on, until I get to my current work situation.

Getting real is much easier to handle when we break down reality into bite-sized pieces. And when we aggregate all of those small pieces together, we're able to build a road that leads us exactly to where we want to be.

Rule breakers by nature

Every once in a while, I hear a broad, sweeping generalization that stops me in my tracks. Today, I was talking to someone about corporate recruiting at large companies and how much effort and funding they spend on recruiting and branding events at top universities. The trouble with recruiting the best and brightest to corporate America is that corporations don't know how to keep them. Students from top universities don't want to work for someone else. When placing bets, the students will bet on themselves. They're bred to have a tremendous amount of self-confidence and they firmly believe that they know best. So, when confronted with a rigid corporation that can't flex, they flee.

There are a few key qualifiers with this generalization. There are bright people at all schools, not just those with a high rank. I went to two fantastic universities, and I was very lucky to be a part of both. And while I met a slew of very smart people in both places, I also met a fair number of people who made me question the admissions standards. And to be certain, large corporations are not devoid of bright people. On the contrary, there are often many intelligent people rising through the ranks.

I don't think it's intellect that separates the different tiers of schools, nor the students who attend them. My belief is that it is all about attitude. From the time I was 18, I was held up to a ridiculously high standard in my academic life. Those without self-confidence didn't make it through - the system beat them up and then beat them out. What top schools are left with are a student body who truly believes they can do ANYTHING so long as they work hard enough and want it bad enough.

And this circles back to the tough part for corporations: they don't give the vast majority of team members the opportunity to do anything they want. Their rigid rules and love of processes stifle the very talent they worked so hard to get. A word to the wise: if large companies want talent that will drive growth and move the company forward, that talent must be given the latitude to do exactly what they were hired to do - think different and act accordingly.

The photo above can be found at http://picasaweb.google.com/kathryn.davidson/Penn/photo#5103173644839047218

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Natural Order

"First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do." ~ Epictetus,Greek philosopher

It's easier to formulate actions than it is to really get at the core of the motivation and then develop actions that support that core. I'm not sure why. Maybe it can be likened to eating a hot bowl of pasta - easier to twirl around the edges and work in than to plunge right into the steamy center. And yet, the few times when I start out on the fringes and work my way in, I end up realizing that I spent too much energy on the edges when I should have dove right in. And when I have jumped in with both feet, even if I got burned, I learned a tremendous amount and had no regrets.

I considered this as I read about Paul Potts, a British cell phone salesman who at his heart was an opera singer. He finally got his chance to do what we loved on an episode of "Britain's Got Talent." Though, imagine what would have happened if not for reality TV. How many other Paul Pottses are out there who "die with the music still in them" as John Lennon would say. Was it that they didn't know their core and spent their lives on the fringes of their potential or was it that they were actually afraid of their callings and spent their lives running from destiny?

This is good food for thought as I consider the hours of my day when I'm happiest and what I have to do to make those activities the predominant way I spend my time. I have also found that in crafting a business case for my own company, I also must start at the core. Yes, I will make mistakes and I will get a burn or two or ten. It's worth the risk - I'd rather end up bumped and bruised than wishing I had sung the song I was meant to sing.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

No one needs to pay you

From my earliest memories about what profession I'd like to have, I wanted to write. And the troublesome thing to me was always that I may never get anyone to pay me for doing what I love. I'm 31 so when I was growing up, blogs and the like didn't exist. We were still living in the days of big blue chip companies dominating the globe. "New media" as it's known today was just a dream inside the imaginations of a handful of people.

Today, I can confidently say that I am a writer. I don't have a magazine gig. I don't write for television of film. You can't see my work in a theatre. I never signed a contract and I don't have an agent. No one gives me assignments. And it's no longer just tucked away in some old journal that even I'll never go back and review, much less have anyone else read. It's out in the world, in this wonderful thing called the blogosphere and I write whatever I'd like to write about. I do what I want, when I want, which is really the only way I am capable of living my life. I have a disdain for authority or anything that hampers personal freedom and creativity and I am largely a contrarian at the mere mention of phrases like "well, you HAVE to do it this way." I actually don't HAVE to do anything, and I won't.

I used to be weird for feeling this way. Now, it's become the way of the world. With user-generated content growing by leaps and bounds by the minute, the limits that have been placed on our lives are being ripped down in the blink of an eye. Agents, creative unions, casting directors, TV networks, producers, and film studios used to rule the roost. And while they still wield some power, it is largely dwindling to a modicum of what it used to be. We are very quickly becoming the "take charge of our lives" generation. Contrarians rejoice, we have worked our own way out of the job of being contrarians. (And not a moment too soon. Being a contrarian is exhausting work and I have other things I'd like to be doing!)

Last night I attended the Mustaches for Kids event at the Montauck Club in Park Slope. A hilarious and worthwhile event. The only nosh available was pickles by Bob from McClure's pickles. (http://www.mcclurespickles.com/) When not in the kitchen whipping up his grandmother's recipes, he's acting and writing. He was telling my friend, Monika, and I about a new webtv show he's on - http://www.theburg.tv/. It's entirely created by his friends from college who live in Williamsburg. They didn't create it to make money, they did it for the love of creating. And here's the good news: they have 4 million people who have watched the show on-line, the audience is global, SAG is contacting, and Michael Eisner's company is interested in investing in the project. The paradigm of entertainment is being torn down and built up by the talent rather than being dictated to them.

These kinds of success stories by the underdog brighten my day. It is indeed a brand new world. Focus on being great and creating your life, and the money will follow.

Keeping time on your side

" Who forces time is pushed back by time; who yields to time finds time on his side.
~The Talmud"

Every once in a while I have a day when it seems that every one of my efforts to do anything productive is thwarted. And I get so frustrated that I think it would have been a better use of my time to just stay home. So, I work harder and put in more effort to try to get done what I need to get done. I fail miserably, and eventually I do give up and go home. Some days, the world has other plans for us.

What I should do in these situations is take a seat somewhere, breathe, and just re-collect my thoughts so that my actions aren't wasted. So when I stumbled on this quote the other day, I wrote it down and tucked it away in my wallet to pull out the next time I'm having one of these "why can't I get this to work?" moments. Because sometimes, staying home is just not an option.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Get your head in the clouds

I spend about 8 hours on my computer, and roughly 10% of that time belongs to some Google application. I stand in awe of a system that can pull up exactly what I'm looking for, regardless of how obscure the subject, in a fraction of a second. Until today, I had resigned myself to the fact that there was some magic Google elf pulling the info for me. I have confirmed that not only is there an elf, there could actually be a million of them out there in the Googlesphere, known increasingly as a "cloud".

While it focuses on Google and one engineer's story, Business Week's cover story this week talks broadly about how our information world is increasingly being built upon this idea of clouds, a group of hundreds of thousands of computers that are all bolted together to store massive quantities of data. While many companies are struggling this holiday season to stay afloat, Google is contemplating world domination of information. Their mantra can be described as "Whatever you can dream, dream it bigger." Imagine being at a company that tells you you're wildest dreams are too small, and that you need to formulate projects that are far more outlandish than even your wildest expectations.

There is a lesson in this wild dream making: every dream can be broken down into very small pieces that can be handled by individual "cloud elves" and then aggregated to get you exactly to where you need to be, all in about half a second. And there is no finite number of tasks. The possibilities are truly endless.

While many companies are in the mode of tempering expectations, pulling in spending, and plummeting morale this holiday season, Google is doing the exact opposite. They are determined to fly high and make sense of the massive amount of knowledge out there. They are so optimistic about what they are capable of accomplishing that they feel these clouds may ultimately push the limits of human imagination. Talk about a tipping point! We have been told for centuries that the human imagination is the most powerful tool on Earth - is it possible that when we pool our imaginations together, we can build something larger than our own sense of creativity?

One last astonishing thing about Google. In all of its success and dreaming, they maintain a public humility that is staggering. They are absolutely fearless when it comes to failure so long as there is learning involved. Their CEO, arguably one of the most powerful and wealthiest men on the planet, sits in a cubicle and moves around from building to building so as to interact with different people at all levels of the organization. And he responds to emails from people at all levels at a unbelievable rate. He is respectful of people's time, both on and off the job. With someone like this at the helm, it's no wonder that Google believes in defying limits.

The Business Week article can be found at http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/07_52/b4064048925836.htm?chan=magazine+channel_top+stories

The picture above can be found at http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/toc/07_52/B4064magazine.htm

Friday, December 14, 2007

Something is blooming in the state of Denmark

I work for a toy company and we are always watching what's happening in Denmark, mostly because there is such a rich history of play there, spurred on by a little company called Lego. Toys aren't the only innovations they're making. There's something so wonderful happening in the world of business education in Denmark that it almost makes me want to go start my own b-school based on this model.

On one of the Business Week blogs, I learned about Anne Kirah and the 180°academy, a business school that seeks to mesh creative thinking, design, and business in one curriculum. Kirah is convinced that this approach will help keep the Danish economy in tip top competitive shape. And Kirah is very convincing.

The 180°academy's goal is simple: innovation. She argues that doing what we know best won't help us be better tomorrow. The whole idea is to break people of their comfort zones so that they can be comfortable anywhere in any situation. Kirah herself is an anthropologist by training, and as such is incredibly focused on human behavior patterns and cultural shifts. Best of all, she is able to apply what she's observing in order to monetize it to a business's advantage.

The school has corporate buy-in at the very highest levels. They believe in value of foreign immersion throughout the education process. For about half the cost of an American education and asks the each student commit to conducting an innovation project at their employer using all of the tools taught to them in the program. Kirah is concerned with having a complete mash-up for a student body and a faculty. She believes in bringing together as diverse a population as possible in order to have them draw on one another's talents.

Very simply, Kirah is changing the paradigm of business school education. She is innovating to the extreme. She thinks different and as a result, may help all of us in business think different.

Take a look at the full article: http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/content/dec2007/id2007125_072960.htm?chan=innovation_innovation+%2B+design_innovation+strategy

Making a mint


For a number of years, I have built elaborate spreadsheets of budgets to keep myself on track. I put myself through college and through graduate school working a whole host of jobs and with more than a little help from school loans and grants. I grew up in a family with very little money and was always paranoid about not having enough money or about not managing well the little I did have. These spreadsheets helped me stay on track and let me know when I needed to reel in the spending and when I could loosen the reigns a bit.
It is a lot of work to keep track this closely. A number of different sites to check, receipts to track, and accounts to balance. www.Mint.com has made that old news. A new, fun site recently featured in Fast Company, the founders wanted to help encourage young people to be more financial responsible and help all people to simplify the process of budgeting. Best of all it's free. You can record budgets, have bank accounts, investments, and credit cards all tracked on one site. It will give you graphs that make it easy to see just how you're faring in the world of balancing your spending and savings, and offer up specials that can help you take advantage of special bonuses from financial products you may not be aware of.
This is no easy feat. Most people don't like the balancing act of money or the complexity of personal financial management. Mint.com just goes to show you that everything, even the most stressful of tasks, can be infused with a little fun for a whole lot of impact.

Words on the street

I am fascinated by language. My dad spoke six of them. While I didn’t inherit his ability to learn language, as is evidenced by my sad attempts at French, I did inherit a love of hearing different languages and dialects. I particularly enjoy studying how a language truly shapes a culture and national behavior patterns. And the dynamism of language allows it to reflect societal trends.

It’s no wonder that my recent discovery of Urban Dictionary, http://www.urbandictionary.com/ , brought a smile to my face. The more tech-saavy readers of this blog will think that I just now have emerged from the dark ages. I fear that this is proof that my long, slow slide from hip, urban chick to crusty old broad may have finally begun. Nevertheless, I think this may also be a new find for some of you, or a refresher of knowledge gained long ago, so it is worthwhile to post the link.

Those out of the know may be asking, “So what is this urban dictionary all about?” It is a slang dictionary that is based on user-generated definitions. Literally, it is helping to define this quickly evolving world around us. And then there is a feature that allows the community members to vote on the definitions added. For example, "wOOt" is top of mind on Urban Dictionary today. It means “an expression of joy”. 3106 people give this definition a thumbs up. 565 shot it down.

The other cool feature that I love is that community members are recording the history of these words. From many definitions, we can learn where words come from, their original use, and how they’ve been adapted to become more main stream. So not only is this a dictionary, it is an anthropological history book. I’m so excited about this, it’s hard for me to sit still!

"WOOt" was recently voted word of the year for 2007 by the dictionary gurus at Merriam-Webster. Facebook was the runner up. In years past words like “google” and “blog” have received the top word honor – not a bad track record as these words are now commonplace in daily conversations. Is "wOOt" destined for this type of fame and recognition? Unclear. But it’s found its place in the American lexicon and I’m all for anything, or any word for that matter, that spreads joy.

Can a mega-company like Google rewire our brains?

A few years ago I switched over to Gmail from AOL and have never looked back. I love the friendly interface, the nearly-infinite storage, the ever-expanding address book, and on and on it goes. It took some getting used to after I had been with AOL for so long. In particular I had to adjust to the lack of buckets and folders in which I was used to grouping my emails.

I am a file fanatic. I like being able to pull a folder on a topic and seeing everything I have on the subject. Doesn’t happen with Google. Instead, it has a robust search function that will pull up every email I have that contains a keyword I type in. It’s forced me to be very deliberate in how I select email titles so that I can easily recall them later on. The trouble with this is I have had to become a synonym expert. For example, if I want to pull up all of my emails relating to “being green”, I may need to search “sustainability”, “eco-friendly”, “environment”, etc. If I had a folder entitled “green”, I could drop them all in there and pull them in one swoop!

Gmail’s search function has forced into a few work-arounds. I am considering starting a business, so I’ve created a new Gmail account of emails that just relate to the business idea. I’ve also become more addicted to blog posting so I’ve started emailing to a new account about everything I need to post on my blog. For the truly important topics like these, I’m still finding that my buckets are necessary.

While I love the idea of a way to simplify and reduce the amount of filing, bookmarking, and flagging I need to do, a certain amount of it may be so deeply entrenched in my behavior patterns that it will be tough to shake! More food for thought for the talented folks at Google to consider in their quest for continuous improvement.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Have a Good Experience

I recently attended the book launch of "The Landmark Herodotus", a new edition of the ancient text edited by Robert Strassler. The event was put on by Good Experience, the dynamic duo of Mark Hurst and Phil Terry. I joined the reading group to get through this text, which begins in March, and was recently poking around on Mark's blog: www.goodexperience.com/blog.

I'm recommending the blog to all my friend for good reason: it provides concise, well-written information that helps you become more aware of your own experience and the experiences you create for others. In this effort, Mark is incredibly generous in providing kudos to companies and people who are entrenched in the pursuit of good experience and delivering results.

One such find is his post "Three websites to be thankful for" which includes links to http://www.freerice.com/ and http://www.dailygood.org/. One is a trivia game that helps in world anti-hunger efforts and the other is a daily post of good news happening in the world. Both are home runs. I hope you'll check them out, and log into Mark's blog!

A Fine Frenzy

At first the title above sounds to me like a perfect subtitle to my life. Instead, it is a really terrific singer / songwriter, Alison Sudol, who has written music that I cannot stop playing on my ipod. The album, One Cell in the Sea, has a five-star rating on Amazon and is flying off the shelves, for good reason.

Her arrangements, lyrics, and voice have an enchantment to them. There are few albums that I can listen to from beginning to end and love every single song. This is one. Stop reading this blog post and get your hands on a copy.

Speaking of Home

"When I speak of home, I speak of the place where -- in default of a better -- those I love are gathered together; and if that place were a gypsy's tent, or a barn, I should call it by the same good name notwithstanding." ~Charles Dickens, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby
I was thinking about this quote over the weekend when my friend, Trevin, and I were at our favorite cheapie lunch spot - the cafe at the Edison Hotel. Trevin and I moved to the city (Trevin for the first time, me for the third time) around the same time and I have no doubt in about 50 years we will become two of those crusty old folks that you hear in the streets of New York saying things like "I remember back when I first moved here...." We will be relics of a time gone by after living out our lives in this fabulous city of ours with tall tales to tell anyone who may be interested in listening.

After wolfing down cheeseburgers and fries, we went over to the Gershwin Theatre for the laying of the wreath at Noël Coward's statue inside the theatre hall of fame. Trevin was invited as he is a member of the Noël Coward Society - http://www.noelcoward.net/home.html. I had never been there before though Trevin has. Actually, he is a walking theatre archive himself. (Finally he is going to create his own blog to record all the inane pieces of theatre trivia he knows. I will be publicizing it hardily once it is up and running.)

Trevin and I were the youngest people in the ceremony group by about 3+ decades. Mr. Coward was an English playwright and actor who wrote a litany of fantastic works including Private Lives, Present Laughter, and Waiting in the Wings. He thought he was a man who would be forgotten, but to this small society and to the theatre community at-large, he is very well-remembered and loved.

I was giving Trevin a hard time about his membership, mostly because Trevin and I give one another a hard time about everything the same way siblings do. We do laugh at one another though we do this at the same time so it all evens out. Though as I looked around at this collection of people in the Gershwin, I could see myself in them. They, at one time, were all young and fabulous in New York City, and were all too happy to tell us about it. I listened with interest, hoping that someday people may do the same for me, too.

At that moment, I realized what I love best about New York. Among its many wonderful attributes, its greatest may be that this city is a home for everyone, with a group for everyone. All you really have to do is find what it is you love, and you will undoubtedly find people who love the same thing. And they all have a story; they all arrived to this same spot by very different routes and we have much to learn from their journeys. New York is a gypsy tent and a barn that Dickens would be proud of.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Make me a Diamond


I love collecting odd ball facts. I heard one today that knocked my socks off. There is a company in Chicago called Life Gem. Anyone can send them a lock of hair or a few grains of cremated remains of a loved one (even a pet!) and in about 18 weeks, they will produce a diamond from it. Makes sense as diamonds are made from carbon, and a large portion of us is carbon. I have always been slightly creeped out by the prospect of ending up in a box six feet under or having my remains scattered about in some designated place. Now I have the chance to be a sparkling diamond!? I had to find out more.

So, I googled Life Gem, and the website, http://www. Lifegem.com, popped right up. You can order a variety of sizes and colors, choose an inscription if you’d like, and have the stone set into a one-of-a-kind piece of jewelry. They even have a family plan if you’d like a set of four! And teh stones, from the photos are beautiful.

The truly touching part of the website houses the testimonials. So many people attest to the fact that having this diamond created was a way to manage the grieving process, a truly beautiful way to pay tribute to a loved one so they would never be forgotten.

And then something really remarkable hit me. Perhaps it’s because during dinner last night I was discussing marriage with a few friends of mine: what if a couple decided to have diamond rings made from each other’s locks of hair rather than trekking down to Tiffany’s or Diamond Row? If I could ever find a guy that would go for something like this, I’d know he was the right one for me!

Just goes to show you that there really is a market for just about anything these days…

Monday, December 10, 2007

What remains

"Oh, my friend, it's not what they take away from you that counts. It's what you do with what you have left.

— Hubert Humphrey"

This quote seems especially poignant this month as my student loans have now entered repayment. "My days of living the high life are over," I thought as I plugged in my payment to my on-line bill pay system. And then my wonderful friend, Steve, said, "Ah, you just get used to it." I thought he may be saying this to me just to make me feel better. Steve's not like that. He wants me to feel better, yes. Though he's a straight shooter. If I'm doing something that's leading me down the wrong path, he'll tell me. No holes barred.

I had dinner with my friends Elizabeth and Kerry tonight and we were discussing relationships. Elizabeth is going to a number of weddings this year, and so we got on the topic of marriage which naturally lead to the topic of divorce and how high the rate is in the U.S. I said that I wasn't quite sure I'd ever be able to handle a divorce as ending dating relationships is hard enough for me. "You surprise yourself with what you can handle," they both said. And in the past few years I have found that to be true. Even when I thought I was down and out, it always turned out that I was down temporarily and that being out was never in the picture.

This same quote also speaks to how much energy or time we have left in our lives after work and other commitments. It's important to consider what we do in those free moments, with the energy that remains. And can we find activities that replace the energy we have lost while engaged in other tasks? It's worth the time and effort to consider "when we are stripped of extra funds, time, energy, relationships, etc., what is it that sustains us?" And how will be make the most of it? Inevitably, at some point, it will be all we've got.

The Fast Track

I took my second shot at speed dating last night. This time, I had 40 mini-dates over the course of 3 hours. And here comes the shocker: out of 40 available men, I found 1 that I’d be interested in seeing again. And that’s only because he’s very good-looking. Now his lack of interestingness could have something to do with him being date #38 for me. He was clearly exhausted from talking about himself so much.

The trouble with speed dating is that the only way you’re really inclined to want to see someone again is if you happen upon an interesting nugget of information about them in the 3 minutes you actually talk to one another (unlikely, though possible) or you have some physical attraction to the person (as was the case with #38.) Now, don’t get me wrong. I did enjoy learning about some of these guys – places they’ve traveled to, where they work, what places they like to go to for happy hour or dinner. There just wasn't any spark of interest with 39 of them.

My romantic sensibilities make me inclined toward nerds and guys who have a goofy sense of humor who don’t take themselves too seriously. These guys aren’t going to be found in speed dating circles. They’re out in the world, doing things, making things, and having a load of fun doing it. By design, speed dating is really primed for “slicksters” and people who put on aires. When you only have three minutes, there isn’t much time to get real. You’re under a lot of pressure to make a good impression right out of the gate, and you know the person on the other side of the table is watching you very intently.

I didn’t realize all of this until giving it a second go. And so, this concludes the end of my speed-dating days. All two of them. Though, I keep reminding myself, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” I just need a new venue, and I need to slow down.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

I understand Rachel Ray and Hillary Clinton

A number of years ago, Hillary Clinton was criticized in the press because she said she was not a woman who was going to stay home and bake cookies. On her cooking shows, Rachel Ray continually talks about her inability and lack of interest in baking. I totally get it - I'm not the kind of woman who will stay home and bake cookies either. Quite frankly, I can't do it. Truly - I am not capable of baking without burning, under cooking, or just plain screwing it up.
So what? I can't bake - big deal! Actually, it is a big deal. I am 100% Italian, people known for their remarkable culinary abilities, particularly their delicious desserts! Every once in a while after enough time has passed since my last baking disaster, I will get bold enough to give it a try again. People outgrow things all the time - maybe the time has finally arrived for my baking ability to emerge.

I made a few pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving that went over quite well and I think this grew my head a bit too big. I was reading through Real Simple magazine's holiday issue and there were so many beautiful cookies on the glossy pages that I just couldn't resist. To up the ante, I decided to make cookies for several people in my office to be wrapped up as holiday gifts.

It's was a mixed experience. 1/3 of the cookies were wonderful, 1/3 were passable but not something I'd give to others as a gift, and the other 1/3, well, let's just say I was grateful to have some extra trash bags in the apartment. So here is the secret to my future baking: I need to make three times as many baked goods as I actually need to ensure that I get a good amount of acceptable product.

The other option is that I just concede defeat to the baking gods, hang up my cookie sheets, and focus on things I do well. There are a myriad of bakeries in New York City that sell incredibly delicious, albeit expensive, sweets. One of my favorites is Rose and Joe's Italian Bakery in Astoria, Queens. http://newyork.citysearch.com/profile/7327721/ And that one is rather affordable and has one of the best traditional dessert selections I've ever seen. Who says money can't buy happiness and keep my kitchen clean and smoke free?

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Bank fees

Just a short rant on the ATM system in this country. I recently went to dinner with my friend, Brooke. The restaurant only takes cash so Brooke paid as I had only plastic and then we stopped at an ATM so I could pay her back. The ATM itself charged me $2.50 and then my own bank charged me another $2. (There aren't any branches of my bank in the neighborhood where we were eating.)

I found this extremely annoying. This is my money and I'm being charged to withdraw it by my own bank. (I'm fine with the ATM at a bank I don't bank at charging me a fee - I'm using a service they're providing and they get no benefit otherwise because they don't house my money.) Worse than that, my minimum balance is very high so a good chunk of my money is always tied up to keep from paying a monthly fee. I wonder when a bank will finally get that customers deserve to be treated with a higher level of concern.

Want to be a hunter of all things cool?

When I tell people that I work in the trend and innovation space, the follow-up question is always "what does that mean and how do you do that?" For a long-time, trend was seen as something that a few far-out people did by peering into a crystal ball. And these people were happy to have the public believe that. No more...

Trends, their tracking, watching, and even creating, are now accessible is everyone, much to the dismay of many fashionistas who prefer to see themselves as the most forward thinking people around. One of my favorite sites that I view regularly is The Cool Hunter - http://www.thecoolhunter.net/. They follow a number of product categories, interior design, as well as track event planning and design from all over the world. There is a weekly e-newsletter you can sign-up for. The visuals are stunning and I promise that no matter what business you are in, these photos will get your creative juices flowing.

Another site that I visit quite often is Faith Popcorn's Brainreserve. http://www.faithpopcorn.com/. I had the great pleasure of meeting Faith at a business meeting a few months ago. She's been in this business of trend for a longtime and she's very honest about how she does her work. She pays attention to what's happening out in the world. Trend is very much a matter of awareness and connecting the dots between seemingly disparate populations.

As with all trends, whether or not they take off in a business has as much to do with brilliant execution as they have to do with the quality of the products or services being offered. The name of the game is still differentiation, effective communication, and helping the guest get the joke through presentation.

The yogurt war is on...


There's an interesting new battle being waged in the world of frozen yogurt. It's been around for a long time - TCBY was always a treat when I was a kid. Now though, frozen yogurt has become high fashion.

Several newcomers to New York City are planning major nationwide roll-outs and garnering PE funding at an alarming rate. And this yogurt has a new twist - no preservatives, additives or excessive sugar. It's a little tart and a little sweet. Most have a groupie group, as well as events and free newsletters they will email to you if you sign up. Here's the skinny on the two front-runners:

Fast Company, my favorite business magazine, recently featured the ladies of Pinkberry. As a business model, I would liken them to the Starbucks of frozen yogurt. They seek to be a third place. Their idea is simple - they want to sell people a $5 dessert that they can eat in a $500 chair. Hollywood types are singing its praises, as is Howard Schultz, the Chairman of Starbucks, who has provided the company with a sizable amount of funding. In New York, there are a five locations. In California, there are over two dozen. In short, I think their experience goal is to be a place to be seen.

Red Mango is also going for the coffee house feel, yet they seem to be a bit more for the everyday guest. They go for chic and modern but also comfy and relaxing. They really bill their experience as an escape from the pressures of life. They aren't into promotion through Hollywood. They also put much more emphasis on the health benefits of yogurt. Their experience goal is to be a place to escape. They have locations in 7 states.

Get your Vital Juice

One of the great benefits of my job is that it requires me to be tremendously well-read, and allows me time to do that. I spend hours a day trolling around on blogs and on on-line publications, as well as burying my nose into dozens of magazines a week. This is the perfect job for me!

One of my recent fabulous finds is a website called Vital Juice Daily. http://www.vitaljuicedaily.com/ It is a wellness site that is a go-to source for living a happy and healthy life. What I love most about the site is its easy and clean navigation, as well as its holistic view of wellness. They appreciate the fact that we are all busy and want to take care of ourselves and those we love as best we can. Their tips are entertaining as well as practical.

Posts are short and sweet and fall into the following categories:
Nutrition
Fitness
Healing
Beauty
Green Living
Social Responsibility
They also have a free daily newsletter that they will send that is very concise and very helpful. This juice is definitely worth the squeeze! Sign up here: http://www.vitaljuicedaily.com/signup-page/

Where to travel in 2008

Before moving back to New York, I was pretty much a nomad. I get to one place, settle in, and start dreaming of where to go next. I've done quite a bit of travel in the last few years, especially out of the country. So much in fact that I received a notice from the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia stating that I was due a refund for all of my foreign expenditures because I was charged unfairly on my foreign credit card purchases. Who knew my nomadic life could lead to some extra cash?!

So now that I've been in New York 6 months almost to the day, I am considering where to travel in 2008. No worries about a return to my life as a gypsy - I am here in New York to stay. But as my friend, Rob, often says, wanderlust is a hard habit to shake.

I will be the first to admit that I have had my issues with the New York Times - mostly because they have always been incapable of executing my home delivery properly. However, I do love that paper, particularly the travel section. When I was little, my father bought that paper everyday. One summer as I was dreaming of how to escape my tiny hometown. Dozens of these things poured into our mailbox, addressed to me and I coveted them. I kept them in a large stack under my bed and would look through them, wishing so much to see these far flung places like the Galapagos and Easter Island.

Today, The Times published a list of the top 53 places to consider traveling in 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/ref/travel/20071209_WHERE_GRAPHIC.html?th&emc=th# I am entranced by the suggestions and possible adventures to be had in this diverse list. - some I've never even heard of! Old habits die hard...

Friday, December 7, 2007

A note from Janet Hanson of 85 Broads

Hello,
I don't typically publish notes like this. However, this email from Janet Hanson, the woman who founded 85 Broads, a women's network that I belong to,sent this to all of the members. I am so touched by it that I felt there was no way I could just let it sit in my own inbox. This story needs to be out in the world.

From Janet:

Dear Friends,
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, I sent an email out to the women in the 85 Broads network urging them to get mammograms and sonograms to detect BC, regardless of their age or family history.

I am writing to you today to tell you about my marriage of 19 years to the most wonderful guy on the planet, Jeff Hanson. Jeff and I were married in 1988 and we were blessed with two spectacular children, Meredith, who is now 19, and Christopher, who will be 17 next week.
There are literally thousands of women in 85 Broads who know Jeff as he attended almost every one of our events and from day one, dedicated himself to our mission "to help thousands of women around the globe define success on their own terms." Many of the women whose stories appear in "More Than 85 Broads" were interviewed by Jeff. What many people don't know is that it was Jeff who "ghost wrote" the introductions to all the chapters in the book As I said in the preface of the book, he was, and always will be, my hero. He was smart and funny and generous and as so many of you know, we were inseparable.

After I was operated on for breast cancer, I was told that it would be a wise decision to have my ovaries removed because of the "type" of breast cancer I had. That operation took place less than two months after I had a bilateral mastectomy. When you have your ovaries removed pre-menopausely you are thrown into what is known in the trade as "traumatic menopause." It means your system goes haywire as your body no longer produces estrogen.

Here is where this story takes a tragic turn: throughout my entire life I always felt extremely blessed to have an "upbeat" personality... a vigor that defied my age... to always be excited about everything. I never suspected that my "zest for life" was an illness. Over the years, it was not unusual for my friends to say "Janet, how can you possibly do so many different things at once?!" And I always laughed and thought it was because I had an entrepreneurial spirit and a passion to accomplish bigger and bigger goals in my life.

There are two types of bipolar disease. Bipolar I is extremely easy to diagnose as the individual is clearly and literally out of control. What I have only recently learned is that I suffer from Bipolar II which involves milder episodes of hypomania (one's mood is "elevated" for several days or weeks and doesn't cause any functional "impairment." ) These elevated moods alternate with feeling a little out of sorts, or "blue."

Typically, a Bipolar II sufferer fails to identify their days or weeks of hypomania as anything abnormal. In fact, they often believe that these periods are what makes their lives so fabulous! Dr. Daniel Lieberman: "People with Bipolar II value their hypomanic episodes highly, so it is imperative that physicians don't misdiagnose the illness and prescribe THE WRONG MEDICATION."

And sadly, that is what happened to me. After my body stopped producing estrogen, I went into a fog of bleak depression. My doctor treated my feelings of extreme sadness with anti-depressant medication. Only recently have many in the medical community come to realize that giving anti-depressant medication to someone who suffers (undiagnosed) from Bipolar II can do grievous harm as the effects of the medication cause a dramatic increase in "cycling" -- aka one's mood swings become more and more extreme.

And that's when the wheels came completely off the cart as the combination of anger and sadness that I was experiencing was terrifying. To make matters even worse, the anti-depressant I was taking caused rapid weight gain - in one year I gained over 30 pounds.
And virtually no one, not even close friends and family, knew what was going on. In the 3 years that followed, Jeff and I wrote and edited the book, I went to work for Lehman Brothers and Jeff took a full-time consulting job at C-Bass. I tried harder and harder to stay focused on our two wonderful children who were happily entering their teens.

Then something else started to happen... it became painfully obvious that I had "memory issues." I was always able to find my car keys but I started to repeat myself, often several times in the same hour. At first Jeff and Mer and Criff thought it was pretty funny, but as I became angry and frightened, they started to feel scared and sorry for me. And so in 2006, I added another prescription to my list- I was given Provigil to help me "focus." This was on top of sleeping medication that I took to alleviate insomnia and night sweats. I was now on a full-blown "medication roller coaster."

By the summer of 2006, Jeff had had enough. I had changed so dramatically that he was watching his own quality of life disappear. We had bought a little lake house not far from our home in Bedford and one day, Jeff moved out. I started "mood cycling" faster and faster as I couldn't make sense of what was happening. One day I would be the "nice Janet" and the next day I would be the "abusive Janet." Sometimes I would be both in the same day. Jeff had been the best husband, the best dad, the best partner any person on the entire planet could ever have, but he had had enough.

What would have made this terrible tragedy preventable is that we NEEDED HELP AS A FAMILY. Dr. Galynker, a leading expert in treating Bipolar II, was quoted in an article a month ago in the NY Times - he said: "A third of all spouses of patients with bipolar illness develop serious depression and anxiety themselves and that in turn affects the patient who is in need of a healthy caregiver."

What we didn't realize was that we were in the perfect storm. Everything that could go wrong did. I was misdiagnosed and was put on medication that exacerbated my mood swings-- I learned ONLY YESTERDAY that as a person who suffers from Bipolar II, I needed MOOD STABALIZERS, NOT ANTI-DEPRESSANTS.

I know you are all hoping that this story has a happy ending but that is what is so terribly sad. After a year of trying to figure out which end was up, Jeff asked for a legal separation and is now in a new relationship with a wonderful former girlfriend from his college days. I know they will have a great and happy life together.

As excruciatingly painful as it is for me to write this, if my story gives you insight and allows you to help someone you know and love who might have this illness then I will believe with all my heart that this network is a "safety net" too. Bipolar II is extremely difficult to diagnose and the wrong diagnosis can lead to the wrong medication which can spell disaster. Many of you no doubt wondered how it was possible that I never seemed to come up for air, that I always had my foot on the gas, that I had ten new great ideas at once, that I was always on a mission to save somebody or something.. I had the best life of anyone I know but I should have been smarter -- it's not possible to run an asset management company, a global network of thousands of women, a dedicated team of over a dozen professionals, work on Wall Street, and take care of two kids ALL AT THE SAME TIME. If I hadn't had cancer, if I hadn't had my ovaries removed, if I hadn't subsequently fallen into a black hole of depression and mistakenly been given the wrong medication which exacerbated an undiagnosed illness, I truly believe that Jeff Hanson would still be here today. I know we would have had a long and wonderful life together. I am grateful for the life we had and for our two beautiful children who are, and always will be, my rocks.

Thanks for listening,
Janet