Career counseling

[Below is another tiny excerpt from my novel project – Wonderland. This post serves as a tribute to the modern, post-recession job hunt. For those job seekers out there, find a handy, middle school-esque career quiz at the end of the post. It’s simple: Download each of the songs loosely based on an occupation. If you like the song, that means that you should pursue that career. Yes, it’s that easy! Enjoy, and hang in there, job hunters.]

Pen against face = anxious job hunter? Maybe. They look like Vampire Weekend.
Pen against face = anxious job hunter? Maybe. They look like Vampire Weekend.

I’m a perfectionist.

What do you consider to be your biggest weakness?

Really, honestly. What is it?

And I’m not talking about the stock answer that you provide in every job interview – you know, one of the following required responses, all of which can actually be spun into positive things: “Sometimes, I don’t take enough time for myself, because I work too hard… Sometimes, I care too much… Sometimes, I’m too much of a team player.”

My biggest weakness at the moment, as it seemed as I was getting dressed before hopping on the train en route to my interview downtown, was being able to find a matching shirt and pants that were (a) clean, (b) not wrinkled and (c) coordinated with the one suit jacket I owned. Deciding that the slightly crinkled pale blue shirt would do, I headed out to the train station in a dash, convinced that I would be late.

Interview number one, as it turned out, was for a canvassing director position with an environmental non-profit organization, Green Illinois. The position did not pay well and demanded long, exhausting hours and I doubted that I would accept an offer even if it were granted to me. That said, I figured that it was worth the practice, and I was certainly not in a position to be turning down interviews from anywhere, anyone.

But then again, a job is a job…

Ding. Daydream over. I was now in an ornately-decorated elevator and had arrived at the floor of the office where I was to be meeting with Harrison Davis, an executive with a sister organization of Green Illinois’.

As I stepped out of the elevator, I glanced at my phone – 2:54 p.m. Six minutes to spare! Walking into the office, a group of three casually-dressed possible environmentalists turned simultaneously toward me with looks of disdain at being interrupted.

“Hi,” I said, with my voice cracking. “I’m here for the – the interview with – um, Harrison. About the canvass director position that you, or, the Fund has an op–”

“Interviewers go over there,” said a brunette wearing trendy Dolce & Gabbana frames a tight-fitting gray cashmere sweater, tweed skirt and hooker boots. She did not seem to be impressed by my inability to spit out a complete sentence explaining my presence in the office.

I walked past the cubicles and piles of boxes of sheets of paper and approached Harrison Davis, a somewhat gawky, awkward-looking man with short mousey brown hair, wearing a gray pinstriped suit and a purple striped tie. His initial expression toward me was only slightly less annoyed than the welcoming committee head that I’d encountered upon entering the office. I sat down on a metal folding chair after handing over a clean copy of my resume.

He looked it over pseudo-pensively for several seconds before launching his first question.

“So, it looks like you don’t have any direct campaign experience here. What makes you think you can just walk in here and do this job? Do you understand that this is difficult work?”

“Well, yes, I understand that there are a lot of responsibilities involved in the position, and that it is probably quite challenging…” I began as Harrison sliced a hole through my forehead with his menacing stare. “When I was in my undergrad in Madison, I learned several lessons right away, while trying to balance school, work, internships and volunteer work. First of all, it was that priotizing was crucial. Second, that sometimes you need to ask for help and build coalitions. For example, in one of my jobs…”

“No, I mean, you can’t just waltz in here and think that just anyone can do this,” he continued, staring at the wall while avoiding my eye contact until he suddenly shifted his gaze back in my direction. “Really, what skills do you have?”

“I have good organizational skills, can run meetings, have recruitment experience…” I slowly realized that I was growing increasingly sweaty – I felt my chair sink in the floor as I faced cross-examination from the defense stand. “And on my resume you’ll notice the computer programs I’m familiar with are quite numerous. And –”

“OK, OK – Got it, you’re not a moron. Super.”

“Um, yeah, I guess,” I replied, as face deepened to a medium shade of pink. “I mean, what I’m getting at is that I have employed many leadership skills in my previous positions, actually including quite a bit of volunteer and intern coordination, in addition to fundraising and team-building. I–”

“Okay, well… I have a meeting coming up, so let’s just get this over with. Would you relocate?”

“Honestly, probably not,” burst the words from my mouth before I had even given them a thought. I began to sweat. My face: From pink to a light red – what shade would they call that? Suddenly, the job I was barely sure I even wanted in the first place seemed bigger than the room. Bigger than the entire high-rise office tower. Bigger than the world. “I mean, I just moved here from Madison and have a one-year lease I was planning to live out. I live in Andersonville, it’s a really nice neighborhood and–”

“Right, right. We’ll see what we can do. How about you fill out this informational sheet. Be sure to list the places you would be willing to relocate to right here. I’m sure we’ll be calling you later this week, I think you’d be perfect for this job.”

“Oh, um, thank you.” Confused.

“Yeah. You can show yourself out. Nice… meeting you.”

He tentatively extended his hand while standing up, before leaving the room.

The next day I was offered the job for which I was (apparently) completely unqualified for.

Maybe it was pity, or maybe it was a fluke, but whatever the case may have been, I turned down the offer for a position entailing 70+ hour work weeks and a fair share of street canvassing, which is only a few steps above panhandling.

CAREER QUIZ MIX — The song you like most represents your ideal future career! (Sorry, no one sings about accountants..)

Download: St. Vincent ‘Actor Out of Work’ (mp3)
Download: Garotas Suecas ‘Ghostwriter’ (mp3)
Download: The Barmitzvah Brothers ‘Thrift Store Owner’ (mp3)
Download: Final Fantasy ‘The Butcher’ (mp3)
Download: M. Ward ‘Underaker’ (mp3)
Download: Tori Amos ‘Waitress’ (Live in Chicago, 11/6/07) (mp3)

Love is..

wepod

They say that love is kind. Love is patient. Love is all you need.

I think those are all too convenient. At least for today’s world.

Yesterday, while riding the train to my heartless, passionless job that pays my rent (but not much else), I had to smile when I witnessed the display of true, unbridled love: Sharing a pair of iPod earphones with your lover.

There they sat, hand in hand, taking turns choosing their next song and holding the communal iPod. wePod. usPod. ourPod.

No quibbles, no fights – here’s a couple that can agree on a playlist. Sure, it’s likely a premise filled with the occasional sacrifices, but isn’t that indicative of any relationship dynamic?  <Really, Feist again, baby? … Choose your battles, choose your battles…>

Now, if only Apple comes out with a contraption fit for the three-eared, socially-aware, American Apparel-clothed family of the future. And then this couple’s adorable baby could have joined in on the fun.

**Cue Audience Participation** What music would you listen with your S.O. and baby on your wePod (via a three-pronged earphone set-up)? Do you even like children? Would you adopt an Asian baby? Do you ride public transit? Do you know someone who does?

MY FUTURISTIC, FAMILY-FRIENDLY 3-EARPHONED WEPOD PLAYLIST (IN THE MAKING):
Download: Loney, Dear ‘Everything Turns to You’ (mp3)
Download: Yeah Yeah Yeahs ‘Hysteric (Acoustic)’ (mp3)
Download: Tori Amos ‘Welcome to England’ (mp3)

Those krazy kats…

This is probably old news to those of you who follow other blogs, but I couldn’t help but comment on Spaghetti Cat, a pasta-dining feline that has been popping up in the strangest places as of late.

Just earlier in the month, on the Morning Show with Mike and Juliet, the cat suddenly appeared during an episode on binge drinking, and then disappeared as quickly as it came, accompanied by no explanation whatsoever (watch around 0:44):

The origins of Spaghetti Cat have proven to be a mystery. Where did the cat come from? Why is it eating spaghetti? As it turned out, the photo was taken from an upcoming segment being produced for the show, and was used in place of a bleep — a so-called “bleep photo”.  The talented kitty was apparently also featured on a previous episode of “Pet Star.”  The damn cat wants to eat dinner with Oprah Winfrey This is the way we wash our pawww.

In other news, for those of you tired of looking at your cat’s boring old ears and head, there is a new product line for you!  Kitty Wigs! Really.

Electric blue's the one for my pussycat.
Electric blue's the one for my pussycat.

The only question left is which one best fits your kitty.  Bashful blonde?  Electric blue?  Silver fox?  The sky is the limit — particularly with new wig designs coming in the near future!

I couldn’t help but admit that the kitty wigs made me think of my absolute favorite wig-wearing non-drag queen, mistress of the piano, Miss Tori Amos, who just last week (August 22) celebrated her forty-fifth birthday and is on the heels of the release of a new graphic novel created with Neil Gaiman and an enclave of other artists, Comic Book Hero.  As a belated birthday treat, here’s one of my favorite old-school clips of a live Tori fuck-up (Mr. Zebra):

Download: Ratatat ‘Wildcat’

Download: The LK ‘Private Life of a Cat’

The power of free speech

I love Super Bowl Sunday. And not for the game itself. Or the parties. Or the commercials. But it’s a wonderful to actually be able to get a table with an outlet at whichever coffee shop your heart desires on State Street.

So, I’m taking advantage of this rare opportunity by stepping back for a moment and acknowledging the privilege that I am taking advantage of by publishing this blog. Over 200 years ago, our forefathers codified into this nation to a series of unalienable rights, including the freedom for all to speak without risk of government intervention, welcoming (at least in theory) differing opinions and views: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Our nation experiences such a degree of freedom that Tori Amos can go on a diva-rant about what a twat-hater the writer of Britney Spears’ Toxic is, in this November 2007 Blender.com interview. (As a sidebar: I would have to agree with her reasoning here. I mean, toxic shock syndrome is nothing to toy around with.)

As Americans, we eat this stuff up. It’s suddenly front-page news with Diane Keaton says “fuck” on Good Morning America, Amy Winehouse snorts up, or Brit-Brit continues her near-tragic plight — all of which I have, for the most part avoided covering in this blog. Granted, I am not innocent from feeling a certain degree of curiosity with these events, but in many ways, I am distubed to see what democracy has created in this country.

This is far from the case in other nations.

In China, blogger-activist Hu Jia was arrested in December for “subverting state power,” joining the ranks of at least 50 other online dissidents. His wife and two-month-old daughter have now been placed under house arrest and barred from accessing the Internet. Similarly, in Havana, Cuba, Yoani Sanchez continues to blog about life under stifling communist rule, using Internet cafes, alias and disguises in order to skirt the surveillance efforts of their government. And why does she continue to do it, constantly risking arrest, or perhaps even her life?

Yoani Sanchez, blogging from her Havana, Cuba apartment.

“The latest reflections of Fidel Castro have ended my patience,” Sanchez wrote on her blog, ‘Generacion Y’. “To try to evade or distance oneself from our problems and theorize about things that occurred thousands of kilometers away, or many years ago, is to multiply by zero the demands of a population that is tired, disenchanted and in need today of measures that alleviate its precariousness.”

The written word still has incredible power. Let’s not take that power for granted. It has the power to inform, to persuade and maybe even the power to change. Complacency? Apathy? Defeated. Let’s give the generations to follow something to talk about.

Download: Rage Against the Machine ‘Calm Like a Bomb’

2007’s best beats

Although this is not an explicitly music-focused blog, given the blogosphere’s obsession with year-end “best-of” lists, I felt it would be appropriate to try it on for size for this blog. Music has always had a major presence in my life, from singing self-created ballads to myself softly while wandering through the woodsy area behind my childhood home to prancing along State Street to a beat emanating from my iPod today.

This is a sampling of the many albums, songs, concerts and videos that, in my opinion, stood above the rest over the course of the past 365 days. The MP3 downloads that are included are meant for non-commercial purposes. If you like what you hear, I hope that you will consider going out to your music dealer of choice (or online to the iTunes music store) and supporting these artists’ fine work. (Or check out elbo.ws to dig around for more free downloads).

2007’s Top Albums

Feist’s “The Reminder.”

1. Feist “The Reminder”
This album is masterful. Canadian singer-songwriter Leslie Feist has an incredible voice that can speak to any emotion imaginable, and the music on this album paints a picture that is at once bold and nuanced. Beyond the standout single “1234,” which has unfortunately been bastardized (and even mocked) by the iPod television ad, every track on this album carries significance from the chill-inducing, flawless notes on “The Park” to the upbeat, organic energy of “Sea Lion Woman.” If you don’t already own this album, check it out immediately.

2. M.I.A. “Kala”
Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam’s much hyped follow-up to 2005’s Arular has matched and surpassed all expectations. This album has managed to bottle M.I.A.’s signature raw, unhinged energy with tracks that have become immediate club anthems for scenesters the world over. “Paper Planes” has become a particularly notable track, becoming a point of controversy following MTV’s decision to censor the sound of gunshots and many obligatories from their airing of the single’s video.

3. Jens Lekman “Night Falls Over Kortedala”
The bloggers are all over this one, and though I was skeptical at first, from first listen I was an instant convert. With his third major release, Swede Jens Lekman has crafted an intricate and witty album that is beyond comparison to other artists, with his use of complex and varying sampling, strings, guitar and other instrumentation to accompany his distinctive voice. “Friday Nights at the Drive-In Bingo” is doused in a flavor that seems to have come direct from the 1950s, while “Your Arms Around Me” carries a sweetly ironic air.

4. The Arcade Fire “Neon Bible”
This Montreal band have been considered by many to be something of a Canadian Beatles since their release of 2004’s exhilarating Funeral, and much like M.I.A., this album faced a great deal of pre-release hype that it has more than lived up to. This is epic music in the style of some of the greatest rock bands of all time, and the best is clearly yet to come for the Fire. Simply a flawless album — from the driving opening notes of “Black Mirror” to the desperate, organ-fueled crescendo of “My Body is a Cage.”

5. Chris Garneau “Music For Tourists”
American “Baroque pop” artist Chris Garneau’s Music For Tourists is the only debut album to make this list, and for good reason. Garneau’s whispering, piano-infused style has been described as the quirky gay male equivalent to Regina Spektor, but his talent goes far beyond that. This album is darkly whimsical and introspective, with each note being delivered with equal parts of pain, regret and longing. The single “Relief” is one of my all-time favorite compositions of all time, and I consisently take new things away from the album each time I listen to it — which is almost always from beginning to end.

6. St. Vincent “Marry Me”
7. Daft Punk “Alive 2007”
8. Tori Amos “American Doll Posse”
9. Patrick Wolf “The Magic Position”
10. Justice “Cross”

2007’s Top Songs

M.I.A. roxx.

1. M.I.A. “Paper Planes” [download]
2. The Arcade Fire “Keep the Car Running” [download]
3. Feist “I Feel It All” [download]
4. Chris Garneau “Relief” [download]
5. Architecture in Helsinki “Heart it Races” [download]
6. Patrick Wolf “Bluebells” [download]
7. Jens Lekman “Your Arms Around Me” [download]
8. Tegan and Sara “The Con”
9. Kanye West “Stronger”
10. Rufus Wainwright “Going to a Town”
11. The National “Fake Empire”
12. St. Vincent “Paris is Burning”
13. Stars “In Our Bedroom After the War”
14. Justice “Phantom, Pt. 1”
15. Tori Amos “Big Wheel”
16. Menomena “Muscle ‘N Flo”
17. Yelle “Je Veux Te Voir” [download]
18. Bishop Allen “Click Click Click”
19. Kate Nash “Foundations” [download]
20. Patty Griffin “Getting Ready”
21. Beirut “Nantes”
22. Air “Once Upon a Time”
23. Bon Iver “Skinny Love”
24. Britney Spears “Gimme More”
25. Roisin Murphy “Overpowered”

2007’s Top Live Shows

Tori Amos rocking it.

1. Tori Amos, 11/3/07, at the Riverside Theatre (Milwaukee)
The haters will hate, but Miss Diva-Turned-Mommy still puts on an incredible show, and it didn’t hurt that this particular show, my third time seeing Amos live, took place on my birthday. Highlights of the show included moving performances of “Winter,” “Code Red,” “Little Earthquakes” and “Siren,” in addition to this precious blooper during an attempt at playing “Strange.” The show could not top Tori’s performance at the Vic Theatre in Chicago the following week, but it was still pretty damn amazing. And yes, I cried.

2. Feist, 11/16/07, at the Orpheum Theatre (Madison)
Even though Leslie had injured her leg a few days prior at another stop, and was relegated to sitting throughout the show (after tentatively stepping onto the stage with the use of a cane), this show was still electrifying for the sold-out audience at the Orpheum. I spent about half of the concert standing in the front, and then later retreated to the balcony to grab a seat for the conclusion, and from both vantage points, the experience was still incredible. She rocked out “Sea Lion Woman,” giving that song a new life that it doesn’t necessarily have on the album, and also included her acclaimed hits, such as “1234” and “Mushaboom.”

3. Chris Garneau, 5/26/07, at Cafe Montmartre (Madison)
Anyone who can silence a Madison bar for an hourlong piano with string trio set deserves some sort of honor, and that’s exactly what Garneau did at this show. Playing several songs from his debut album, Garneau demanded the audience’s attention with his heart-on-sleeve performance, showing an adorable degree of shy humbleness, particularly when he made a mistake during an unplanned encore to “Halloween.” Another highlight, captured by this YouTube clip, was a heralding performance of “Not Nice.”

4. Leslie and the LY’s, 9/8/07, at the Union Terrace (Madison)
5. Girl Talk, 3/24/07, at Club 770 (Madison)

2007’s Best Videos

1. Architecture in Helsinki “Heart it Races”
2. Feist “1234”
3. Patrick Wolf “The Magic Position”
4. Justice “D.A.N.C.E.”
5. Arcade Fire “No Cars Go”