December 31, 2013

Unintended Consequences of Achieving a New Year's Resolution

Last January, I set out to write something everyday. I bought a beautiful pack of Moleskin journals—one of each month, one page dedicated to each of the year’s 365 days.

The resolution was mostly to get back into the habit of daily writing, but I also had the intentions of using the daily recaps as a way to observe and reflect on my current state of affairs. With the exception of four days in June, I achieved my resolution and have a thorough record of how every single day of 2013 was spent.

Early in December, I read through every single day of the year. I read about each day that was sunny in Seattle (more than you would think), recapped each happy hour, dinner with friends, and any extra meaningful conversations. Each job interview, every awkward/semi-terrible date (the handful of goodies, too), and a daily account of a love story grace the smooth ivory pages in my messy, loopy script. Broad threads of cliché seasonal transitions knit the months together into what appear as a dozen neat chapters.

I have all of this—all of this reminiscence and nostalgia—and with only a couple of hours left in the year, all that I really want to do it rip up and throw away the notebooks.

I wish I could say I found some grand insights into myself and the direction I’ve taken/am going, but really I just have a lot of words on record that maybe weren’t meant to live on past the moment in which they occurred.

It’s the cumulative dinners, happy hours and conversations that lead to friendships. It’s the pattern of feelings (good or bad) that, over time, prompt you to act. The little moments in between that fully capture the greater meaning are the moments we tuck into memory. The ones which are easy to draw from when one of our senses is reengaged to provoke the memory.

But all of the others--the day to day highs and lows—I’m not convinced they’re designed to be remembered with such clarity.

This is the time of year when nostalgia is practically shoved down our throats. The pressure to live up to traditions of yesteryear and create monumental moments during the holiday season is incredibly high. Juxtapose that with the promise of a new start with the New Year – your chance to “press the reset button,” to swear that this year you’ll do better and challenge yourself in new ways.

The combination of nostalgia and future-forward introspection lends to making it nearly impossible to just be in the present.

Social media doesn’t help either. Facebook encourages me to “Remember the best parts of 2013” or to list the “Top things you want to remember” in my About Me section. Not unlike the goal of writing something down everyday, Facebook has successfully recorded our lives in as much detail as the day-to-day minutia.

The idea of scrolling through my seven years of Facebook records is horrifying, it seems like the ultimate exercise of narcissism and borderline self-deprecating. Yet it’s right there for all of us to mindlessly scroll through and look at our lives any time we’d like.

My pride got in the way of simply throwing away December’s notebook, I was too close not to just finish it. Instead, this month’s pages are filled with no more than 10 words per page. Many days just have a single word written on them: a mantra, a statement of gratitude. Nothing resembling a daily rundown.

The writing during the year became secondary to the recap. It instead became end of day reminder of what had already transpired that I had no way of undoing.
In 2014 I will do the opposite. I won’t live in perpetual nostalgia, nor will I live in perpetual planning. It’s going to be a day-by-day thing and it most likely won’t be documented anywhere.

Sorry, future grandkids, no juicy goodies to discover in the pages that might make up bits of my 2014.

Wishing you all a transformative and spontaneous 2014.

 think. improve.

July 15, 2013

The Neighborhood Hangover

Neighborhood observations made my me, a shameless morning person, over months of early morning outings for fitness, food, or general exploration.


This neighborhood is not an early riser, not even on Monday mornings. Not even when it’s an 8:00 a.m.-required day at the office. To be fair though, it’s nearly impossible to function the morning after a heavy night of drinking.

Except that almost every night is a heavy night of drinking.

Capitol Hill groggily blinks open an eye around 5:30 a.m.—about the time baristas arrive for their morning shift and when cleaning crews begin clearing out liquor bottles by the bag-full, tokens of the excess indulgences left from the night before.

Sure, there are the rogue joggers and small handful of morning fitness fiends, but each vignette of life at that time of day is contrasted with another instance of the neighborhood clumsily hitting the snooze button.  

Buns and bits of fried onion and hotdogs are smeared on the corner of 10th Ave and Pike Street just like the stagnant moss that grows overnight in your mouth from the whiskey cokes and 2 a.m. pizza metabolizing in your gut. The crows and seagulls are as uncertain about nibbling on the street corner grub as you are about the decisions made in a drunken stupor the night before.

Despite the grime, hopefulness for a quick hangover cure slowly starts creeping in around 6 a.m. The air is the best indicator of this—the universal morning smell of energized oxygen bits created from several hours without sunlight (take a whiff tomorrow morning, you know the scent) is mixed with this neighborhood’s special marinade of the tangy aroma from the dumpsters outside of Julia's or the Comet Tavern, hints of salty sea air, and general damp from the excess of vegetation.

If the night was warm-ish and dry, the park is speckled with bodies and mini camps of homeless or vagabonds. With the sun shining bright shortly after 6 a.m., a few stir to find shade and relative darkness, but many people lay, oblivious to the day unfolding above them, perhaps hoping to extend whatever trip they started the night before.

By 7:30, the city has usually rolled out of bed, at least on weekdays. By that time, the middle-age Hispanic man, short and strong like my dad, is usually sweeping the last few cigarette butts off the sidewalk outside a concert venue that had a sold out show hours earlier, as his adorable four-year old granddaughter dances around, antsy to go off to preschool.

Buses are buzzing with more frequent stops at that point, delivery trucks have finished up most of their rounds, and the sidewalks are starting to fill with bleary-eyed 20-somethings dressed in anything from a three-piece suit to scrubs or gender-neutral skinnies with a crop top and chunky boots. The common accessory among them all is the steaming latte in their hand.

The hangover is gone around lunchtime. Cured by coffee, a Bloody Mary and eggs benedict, the neighborhood is back to its bizarre, all accepting yet still cliquey, “super hip” self.  When the sun starts to sink later on, Capitol Hill is again ready to wear its party pants into the wee hours. The bright summer sunrise inevitably arrives too quickly, and the neighborhood whispers a wish for the cozy blanket of the omnipresent grey winter sky.


May 9, 2013

Pro Tips From Our Grandparents: Using Generational Lessons to Shape the US Future

Despite the overwhelming barrage of terrible things happening in our world, I have always maintained the belief there is enough compassion and brilliance among the human race that can out-maneuver the most egregious atrocities.

Ok, ok... so that might be a bit idealistic, but if I didn't think there was an ounce or two of legitimacy towards that belief, I would have let it go years ago. 

Every generation is born into different circumstances, each of which have provided moments of trial and poignancy. My grandparents' generation is frequently referred to as "the greatest generation" in the US -- having come of age during the Great Depression only having to immediately fight in World War II afterwards. Though the Baby Boomers were blessed with being born into America's golden age, they were the generation who cried out for civil rights, gender equality, and protested against the Vietnam war. 

Generation X rose during the  Clinton years and pre-internet and housing bubbles and watched as environmental and new international crises emerged. As a Millenial, my generation is old enough to remember September 11 and its implications, but were young enough to acquire a different perspective on how the events and crisis that followed impacted our country and culture. Certain character traits start to emerge once you remove the events and begin to understand how generations respond and grow from the circumstances. 

Last month, I attended Creative Mornings in Seattle. It's a monthly lecture series with a single topic unifying chapters around the globe, each with a different speaker and perspective. April's topic was The Future and August de los Reyes gave a fascinating talk on how understanding the future can lead to smarter design decisions today. What better way to understand the future, he argued, than to have a strong understanding of patterns from the past. (Have 35 minutes? I strongly recommend watching it).

From the American perspective, it's easy to recognize a pattern of four distinct life cycles that make up an entire lifetime, there has even been a theory developed around the it. According to the Strauss-Howe generational theory, the four cycles are:

1. High
2. Awakening
3. Unraveling
4. Crisis

Since the high in the 1950s, American society has traveled through an awakening period where institutions and cultural norms were questioned (1960s-70s), followed by unraveling driven by extraordinary economic booms/busts, new environmental concerns and international turmoil (1980s-90s), and crisis (post 9/11 - now). At this rate, my generation is set to hit the high and prime of our nation's prosperity in the middle of our lives. 

Each of the cycles contain personality profiles that are most often associated as a result of a society's circumstances.

De los Reyes commented that the Millenial generation places a high value on community and social space, whereas the Generation X-ers place a strong focus on preserving the individual. Neither is better or worse than the other, it's just a matter of understanding how the two can work together to mitigate long term impacts of the crisis.

As Claire Thompson puts it in an article shared by one of my [brilliant] friends, 
"We’re already the harbingers of a profound demographic shift in this country; our children will be the ones who fully flesh out this new, diverse, interconnected America (in 2011, for the first time, children born to people of color made up more than half of U.S. births). Included in our necessarily more pluralistic, progressive, tolerant worldview is an acute awareness of sustainability and the need to find a place for it in a political system that increasingly does not reflect our changing values."
Our society is at an interesting threshold right now, the recession has crippled the job market. The majority of the freshly-trained and educated Millenial generation is now thrilled to land a low-skill minmum wage job in order to slowly hack away at their (re: our) massive load of student debt. Meanwhile, many in Generation X are figuring out how to support aging parents while trying not to drown in mortgage woes. The retiring Baby Boomers who were once depending on decent pensions are now looking at the reality of not being able to afford retirement while relying on a social security check too small to stretch very far.

We are evidently in a crisis phase, but looking in the past, we've been here before. Sure the details were a little different in the 1930s compared to today, but the general themes remain consistent: environmental concerns, alarmingly low bank account balances, international upheaval  and a general lack of confidence in many of our country's institutions.

Of course I'm selfishly looking forward to the day when my fellow 20-somethings and I can have a legitimate savings account. But I can't help but be encouraged by subtle societal shifts that are placing stronger emphasis on community, health and wellness, minimizing environmental impact, and a new international dialogue.**

Again, Ms. Thompson: 
That’s why it looks like we’re [Millenials] flailing (and make no mistake: We are flailing, when it comes to achieving any semblance of financial security). We have huge potential and desire to innovate, but we also recognize that we can’t fulfill that potential without same basic safety nets. Things like health insurance. Some level of student debt forgiveness. Infrastructure that supports the kind of smaller-footprint, sustainable lifestyles we’re already creating for ourselves: compact housing in vibrant, walkable communities; functioning public transportation; streetscapes that prioritize cyclist and pedestrians over cars, urban gardens and farmers markets; regulatory room for sharing economies to thrive. -(Seriously, read this article. Especially if you're a flailing 20-something).
We've been in crisis before, yes. And we've made it out ok. We'll make it out just fine again. Our country won't look the same, but I'm confident the changes will be for the best.

**Admittedly, the trends I notice living in Seattle are more widespread and encouraged... America is a massive country, and it's going to take a lot more collective energy to see tangible changes.


May 1, 2013

Quenching the Neighbor's Thirst

After a week of sun, the typical Seattle grey returned to usher in the weekend. The cool weather didn't stop a group of friends and I from celebrating Neighbor Day by setting up a free lemonade stand on the corner of Broadway and John St. in Capitol Hill.

Neighbor Day is designed to do exactly what the name implies -- connect with the people who live the closest to where you live. The Neighbor Day campaign was spearheaded by, a magazine and online community inspired by good things worldwide whose mission is to "convene, empower and connect all of those who give a damn." 

Offered complete freedom to concept and plan the event, I was easily charmed by the sunshine and warmth of the prior week, so a free lemonade stand seemed like the best way to celebrate spring and meet some neighbors.

My neighbors are made up of a menagerie of hipsters, potheads, yuppies, drag kings and queens, homeless people, international students, musicians, vagabonds and plenty of us who don't quite fit into any single stereotype. 

The Capitol Hill neighborhood in Seattle has always had character. The wealthiest pioneers built grand mansions on the very top of the hill more than a century ago that is now a delightfully antique residential area for modern-day upper-middle class families. For the past 50 years or so, the gay community has found the neighborhood welcoming, and it was home to the first ever pride parade. Nowadays, Forbes Magazine (clearly the most accredited judge of "cool") has ranked the neighborhood as one of
 the hippest in the country

Saturday's lemonade stand provided a conduit to actually talk to people walking past. Rather than the usual habit of avoiding eye contact, the lemonade stand was an in-your-face "Did you just say free lemonade!?" way to grab people's attention.

"This is awesome! We need to have more things like this," was the resounding sentiment from most of the people. They wanted to get involved and learn how Seattle can become better connected through a GOOD Local chapter. Soon the sidewalk was decorated with hop scotch boards, doodles, and colorful praises for the neighborhood.

"I'm here visiting and things like this make me really wish my city was more like Seattle," one lady said as she stopped by. "This is such a neat community."

Those three hours on the busy corner also brought attention to glaring contradictions we have in our society. Some homeless people tried to give us donations of spare change, while several couples going to or from brunch skeptically stared at us as they walked by -- almost certain there had to be some sort of strings attached to our free offer.

However, several dozen neighbors stopped to grab a glass and talk about their Capitol Hill experience and how they would like to connect with their neighbors. It's evident there is a strong desire among people to genuinely engage as a more cohesive community. Saturday's lemonade stand was a baby step to start capturing some of that spirit and applying it towards good neighboring.

explore. think.

January 24, 2013

The Never-ending Lessons from 'The Eternal City'

It was an hour’s drive from the airport to the apartment in the city. The van driver was whistling an opera, making noises with his lips that were better suited for an orchestra than a mouth. The day was overcast, but 70 degrees (f) warmer than the -20 temperature I left on the plains. Nothing looked as I expected it to; the cars were so small and squeezed two or three to a lane designed for only one, the trees were new shapes and the architecture unfamiliar. A hectic menagerie of horns honked and beeped along with an increased ferocity as we got closer to our destination in Rome’s heart. The streets made no sense. For the first time in my life I had absolutely no idea which way was North.

The entire concept of foreign was completely unbeknownst to me.

I was 19, fresh off the farm, and three semesters into a university located in a town best known from a film by i fratelli Cohen (the Cohen brothers). The reality of people speaking a language other than English was something I had never truly experienced, each strange word making my mind flinch. It had never occurred to me that not everyone in the US grew up on a farm or went to a state school in a small city. I was baffled by the attitudes and insights of everyone who seemed to know some secret I had missed out on.

Our apartment was spacious with tall, plastered ceilings and large windows. It had the loveliest dining room table and a kitchen that barely fit two bodies. My roommates included a sweet southern belle, two bold and sassy best friends from Boston, an edgy girl from South Jersey, and a heartbroken adventurer from Rhode Island.

Within a week, my first impressions evaporated. Two months in, those girls became my best friends. Five years on, nothing much has changed with our relationship.

Studying abroad in one of the world’s most legendary cities inherently provoked plenty of clichés before I left North Dakota. Rome, after all, was where I was going to fall in love; where I was going to lose myself until I found out who I am.

In some way or another those clichés came true.

I did fall in love in Rome, with Rome.  I adored its dog shit covered cobblestones and its stubbornness to straddle a millennium of history, with one hand in Caesar’s era and the other hand Instagramming ancient wonders. It’s a city dripping with passion – every trattoria, SPQR-stamped cornerstone, and piazza is in a perpetual lovers’ embrace.  The Italian language is as graceful leaving your tongue as it is slipping into your ear. Every sensation in the city lends itself towards love and adoration.

I also got lost in Rome; almost daily and usually on accident. But I always managed to find my way back to my apartment. It was not the romanticized type of losing oneself, oh no. Up to that point, I had never been anywhere where I could legitimately lose my way. My dad engrained in me an internal compass so that I instinctually knew cardinal directions, but that compass was askew for quite some time. It was a huge accomplishment when I finally became ok with losing my way, knowing I’d always make it back.

At 19 I could to go into a bar, travel to other countries, and generally act however I felt without the knowing eyes of family and lifelong friends present. I drank screwdrivers and Sex on the Beach because I didn’t know what else was good whilst attempting to seduce Italian men with my devastatingly amazing language skills.  I danced until dawn, studied like crazy to pull off straight A’s, and threw myself into discussions on topics I had never bothered to express my opinion on prior.

Rome didn’t change me, it exposed me. In six short months, I discovered it was ok if I didn’t aspire to the same societal norms as many of my friends back home. The fear of the unknown transformed into a fascination with new experiences.

In some ways, these discoveries were kind of a curse. Had their existence remained a mystery, the future would have unfolded very differently. But they have engrained within me an insatiable curiosity to see and do more than what might be possible. Consequently, the idea of staying in one place for too long feels like settling rather than striving.

I crave more of those long drives from the airport to the city when the new air hits your face, the unfamiliar language lingers in your ears, and an expectedly unexpected landscape unfolds before your eyes.

Thank you, Rome, for introducing me to the rest of the world.

January 5, 2013

Spin cycle

It was miserable -- I couldn't breathe, my hands were slipping from sweat on the handle bars, and all I could stare at was the glowing green RPM number on the screen near my left knee.

"C'mon!" I thought, "What does it take to get you up to 105?"

The instructor was bouncing between singing to the upbeat tracks and spouting out inspirational nuggets,  "The only thing that's stopping you from success is yourself! You can do anything if you're willing to work for it!

"Ok, dude, I'm working my butt off," (literally, hopefully) and finally, finally! I hit 105!

"Hold it, last 15 seconds. Go!" the instructor shouted.

Feeling as though I was running for my life, the 15-second sprint seemed to take forever. But then as quickly as it started, it was finished and we were sitting down, clipping along at a brisk 85 RPM, catching our breath and prepping for the next set.

My friend and I received a few free classes from a boutiquey spin and barre studio in Seattle that opened recently and I had always wanted to try a spinning class. Flywheel sports is the cousin to the ultra-hip Soulcycle studio in New York. Soulcycle set itself apart with it's dark spinning room and intense life coach-like trainers who add the yoga concept of really being in the room and combine it with bumping music and loads of empowering life lessons.

Flywheel had all of those elements, along with super cool wall-mounted water taps that let you choose the temperature and Evolution Fresh juice samples ready after class, not to mention a friendly and helpful staff that helped calm the intimidation I was feeling. The studio was busy, and easily the average body fat percentage of the class was well below the national average. The room was filled with very fit folks, most of whom were in trendy (re: expensive) workout gear.

The class was a haven for Type A personalities. With a board in front ranking the bikes in order of who was working hardest, it's an easy place to get ultra competitive. Since the lights are turned down low, you don't have to look at anyone around you and can seriously get lost in the music and the trainer's words of wisdom.

Going into the class, I had heard about the high people feel post-spinning. It's the same rush of endorphins that come along after any intense exercise, but running and spinning seem to get the best reputations for the highest high.

Twenty minutes into class I was calling BS on the high. My legs were jello, my arms were in pain, and I just wanted it to be quiet. It was after I hit that low that I started feeding into the trainer's words without even realizing it.

"No one but you is going to know how hard you work, are you going to let yourself fail?" followed by, "Change can't come unless you're willing to challenge yourself and reach out of your comfort zone, how badly do you want to improve? GO!"

Ok, I'm going! I'm going! This. Is. Awesome!, as Nicki Minaj and Justin Beiber crooned in the background. 

About the time I finally let my mind go and really start having fun, class was over. Drenched in sweat and a little shaky, I gingerly walked over to my friend and we shared a moment of mutual "Wow, what was that?" followed almost immediately by "ufff da."

Will I do spinning class again? Definitely. That is of course, pending my ability to move tomorrow... it could hurt a little.
improve. explore.

January 3, 2013

Alleviating Uncertainty 15 Minutes at a Time

2013... it just sounds futuristic, much more so than 2011 or 2012 could ever muster. In fact, it hasn't been since 2009 or 2007 that a year has sounded new and modern that one can't help but think, "how the hell did we actually make it to this point in time?"

Well, maybe that's just the 12/21/12 apocalypse hangover still impacting my thoughts.

Really though, 2013 is starting out incredibly uncertain. We ran off the fiscal cliff roadrunner style, paused just past the ledge, and somehow congress pulled through. Asides from the cliff, there are a host of other prominent issues that are demanding the world's attention now and can't be ignored any longer.

I don't want to drag this post down with the million and one problems the world ought to solve this year, though. Uncertainty most often leads to change, which leads to growth, and ultimately opportunity. So this unknown feeling is a good thing, right?

My goal for 2013 is to tackle the unknown one itty bitty step at a time. After completing 30 consecutive days of bikram yoga a couple of weeks ago, I realized that I don't think I had ever done anything non-essential (i.e. eat, sleep, brush my teeth) every single day for as long as I had done bikram yoga.

The yoga was incredibly time-consuming, usually three hours had passed by the time I left my house from the moment when I finished showering. But I was committed and somehow it began fitting into my schedule with less effort because it just became another innate thing that I needed to do during the course of my day.

I want that philosophy to translate into other parts of my life, I want the things most easily procrastinated to become engrained in my daily routine. Each 15-minute or hour long chunk of time is a step taken to solve my personal uncertainties, while also hopefully aiding the uncertainties of those around me. Collectively, our tiny actions might spur something bigger.

Here are the small things that I intend to do every single day throughout the course of the next year:

  1. Write.
  2. Study: Mandarin lessons,, guitar lessons... bring it!
  3. Move: exercise is good for so much more than just a tight bod
  4. Share: stories, food, resources
  5. Listen: one can't learn without first listening
Small steps to alleviate big uncertainty... cheers to a new year!