Saturday, February 28, 2009

Credit crisis explained, infographic-style

Think of this "Crisis of Credit" video as the adult version of Saturday morning cartoons ... if you recall your favorite cartoons as being expertly designed, sobering, and/or tied to your mortgage.

Hat tip to Jacob for passing this fascinating, educational piece along. Trust me -- learning why your 401k is tanking is much more palatable with bouncy music and sound effects.

The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

What the Top Chef finale taught me about writing

With Top Chef*, you expect to learn about regional flavor profiles or how to butcher an alligator (yes, I Googled that phrase). But to learn about writing? That's the secret ingredient that comes out only in the finale.

And thank god it taught me that, because otherwise the finale was boring and lackluster. But I digress ...

Carla, Hosea, and Stefan -- all good chefs with distinctive personalities -- illustrated three essential writing tenets in their journeys to Judges' Table, despite their medium being spice and flame rather than grammar and narrative. Here goes ...


Hosea went with his gut instinct to not cook a dessert -- and won the competition. Stefan's best dish was one he grew up cooking -- and judges said it was the evening's most memorable. And Carla (aka Beaker, according to my Aunt Rita) -- well, Carla bent to the suggestions of her sous chef and changed her menu. Her original items? Stellar. The new items? Total flops.

As she said in tears at the end, "I've proven that when I cook my food, it's really delicious. Do I think that my food is good? Yes. When I make it? Yes."

Writers, take note: Heed your gut on your copy. If something feels awkward, forced, or stilted, recalibrate it while you're editing. You wouldn't send an undercooked dish out to a restaurant patron; so why should your half-baked, half-hearted copy be given reluctant life for a client? Fix it fast, fix it right, and send out work you can stand 110% behind.


Carla struggled with this all season, often producing dishes she thoughts others wanted to see, rather than owning her decisions and making food true to her ethos. Stefan, on the other hand, tilted to the cocky side, which resulted in the occasional lazy or blah dish. And Hosea walked the line, always believing he could win the top spot while learning quickly from his missteps.

Writers often waver between all these mindsets. We want people to love and approve our work. But we sometimes believe we're right on the first draft, and won't listen to edits otherwise.

To best develop technique and style, you first need to recognize and embrace what makes your approach unique ... and then recognize and embrace where you fall short. After all, there's always something to learn and improve, and you'll make the greatest strides when you believe in your talent, worth, and maximum capacity for development.


Hosea and Stefan sparred all season, while Carla instead professed love for the world and never seemed out for blood. No surprise, then, that the contestants who pushed their own limits by competing with one another were the last two at judges' table.

Believe me, I'm all for love. You're never going to get anywhere with teamwork and understanding la la la let's all hold hands and rainbow-gaze. But to really sharpen your skills and your game, it helps to have a challenger.

If you're self-disciplined, that person can be yourself and your personal limits. Most other times, it's another colleague or peer who inspires you to write faster, write sharper, write clearer. In the end, though, the challenger's identity doesn't matter -- just his or her existence. So get ready to face off.

Oh, and for the record, I think Fabio, Jaime, or Jeff should have won. But that's all roux under the gumbo now. I'm just here to learn about writing.

* I'd like to reiterate at this point that I used to have a life not watch reality programming. But my IMS activates with shows like Top Chef, so please indulge me. Or do what I do and blame Jacob for triggering my addiction. That works too.

Image by FngKestrel

Julia is UN employed!!

I've waited nearly three months to write a headline like this (and four days for this particular typographical joke). Why? BECAUSE I AM EMPLOYED AGAIN!

That's right, kids, I'm stepping out of the breadline and back into the working world. You can now find me at the United Nations Foundation as part of the Web team, saving the world through content, outreach, and other online fun that supports the many fine UN programs.

So between starting work again and performing in Hexagon Theater's "What So Proudly We Bailed" (order tickets now!) over the next month, I can't promise the same volume of blog posts. Rest assured, though, I will try my damndest to continue delivering nourishing food for thought to y'all. Because let's face it -- I'd rather be blogging than sleeping.

Also, lest you think me ungrateful or forgetful, BIG FAT HUGE THANK YOU to everyone who supported me throughout this process, from contacts to free meals to meetings to prayers to comments to phone calls to hugs to the occasional alcoholic beverage. You all rock my socks.

And though I don't want to have to return the favor -- i.e. may you all remain safely and happily employed -- know I am always here for you when you need help.

Now, I think I'll go take a nap. I'm tired for some reason ... ;)

Photo by emotionaltoothpaste

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Making the case for joy

Alms. Fasting. Hair shirts (for the truly medieval among us). It's all part and parcel with Lent, the season of Easter preparation kicked off today with Ash Wednesday.

But, as the priest pointed out in his sermon today, most of us already feel like we're living a penitential life. The winter ... and the news ... and the economy ... have all been bitter. We, by extension, are bitter. So the prospect of entering a formal period of hardship and deprivation does appear just to be more of the same.

Unless, of course, we choose to make it otherwise. Turn the season on its ear. Opt for optimism. Celebrate Easter early in our faiths, our work, and our relationships.

Because the priest also said that such Lenten periods, formal or not, create an opportunity to smile and rejoice. The good stuff isn't on its way -- it's already here. We've all proven we can make it this far in one piece, so let's take a moment to applaud and celebrate that fact.

I'm not saying we can rest. As a family friend said to my father recently, "I'm working harder for less money. But we're in a recession. This is no time to be tired."

What I am saying is that we can allow ourselves to be happy. It's ok to trumpet the small victories. It's ok to feel content, even when others around you may not be. It's ok to acknowledge that life goes in cycles, and while we're on the bottom now, we'll one day be on top again.

I appreciated the reminder to smile today. It's all too easy to droop when weighed down with mortgages, rents, job searches, and general insecurity (not to mention with a big dark cross etched on my forehead -- a symbol of all things sacrificial).

So instead I walked home in the warming sun and smelled spring in the air. I called some old friends I've been neglecting. And while Ash Wednesday is not typically a day you bust out chocolate cake and champagne at 2 pm, Susannah and I are doing exactly that to celebrate the not-so-small victories in our lives.

There will always be need and reason for alms, fasting, and hair shirts. But today, I am anticipating a glorious spring and all that feeling joyful will bring.

Photo by santacrewsgirl

Monday, February 23, 2009

Prayer #54: Retread

Ah change, that fickle mistress. Now more than ever I needed a reminder of what it's like to be knocked down, helped back up, and set on my own two feet to make a decision about what meaning my life and career will bear.

Today was one such reminding day. May I make it alive to the next one.

Prayer #54: Retread

I'm walking down a familiar path of doubt, worry, and fear. Though I know this road well, I still get lost every time. The damn route never looks the same. Trees keep moving. Shadows keep shifting. And You're always there somewhere, just out of sight, Your only hint an occasional footfall ahead.

Make yourself known, mysterious traveling companion. Don't bother reminding me that whenever I've trailed behind You here before, we've always made it out whole and happy on the other side. Consider this fact forgotten the minute the sun sets and I'm surrounded by hooting owls and howling wolves.

So step forward. Or step harder. Just do something to remind me that the briefest whisper of You is enough to base my journey on. Because right now, the idea of making my way on false pretenses is terrifying, and I don't want to misinterpret any signals You send up.

I look forward to seeing the flares and hearing the whistles. And don't forget the rescue helicopter.

Thank you.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Funny Baby Pictures: And the bow does what?

It's a great mystery to me why parents feel compelled to put headbands on their infant daughters, despite their having no hair.

Exhibit A:

But she's pretty stinkin' cute, so we'll leave all questions aside. Happy Friday, everyone!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Lessons from the breadline, part 4

It's now 2.5 months into the search. Thanks for following along with part 4 of my Lessons from the Breadline series!

LESSON 10: Don't let the pit in your stomach pull you into the pit of despair.

It is really, really, REALLY hard to wait for answers from employers. And watch the phone. And stay productive. And keep your search moving forward. And ignore -- or at least live with -- the awful pit in your stomach.

I found, however, that once I let myself feel the stress and cry/yell/pray/clean/hug it out, I was better able to put the waiting aside and proceed as if nothing was going on. This little mental trick keeps me motivated to continue applying to other jobs, even if I'm praying one particular one comes through.

LESSON 11: "Be strong, and mighty forces will come to your aid." {Goethe}

As career coach Karen Batchelor at Midlife Career Path told me, OWN IT. As in, own my success. Own my vision. Own my future. "Bring that good energy your way," she said. "It's yours and no one can take it away from you." Amen to that, sister!

LESSON 12: Let your friends know you need a hug.

All the networking and stuff is great, but what I've needed in endless quantity during this search is love and understanding from my friends.

Pam Slim expressed this need beautifully over at Escape from Cubicle Nation, so I won't rehash it all here. But just in case you can't make it over, here are her high points of wisdom:
* If you feel the weight of a challenge (financial, personal, health-related), find someone safe and confide in him (or her).
* Look to others who have gone through similar situations and come out thriving.
* Stand by someone else.
* Don't try to do everything yourself.
* Get connected with those outside of your day-to-day circle.
This is why I flat-out told my roommate I needed a hug and some company ... and got an entire afternoon of his time, including lunch out and a baby visit. This is why I told Sus at Color of Happiness I really wanted to do a museum day with her ... and she carved out a morning in her very busy schedule for us to go next week.

Believe me, these generous gestures do NOT go unappreciated or unnoticed. And as a result, my debt of joy will be higher than our national bank debt when this search is through.

Bonus material for you readers who are safely employed and supporting your friends: Penelope Trunk's How to talk to a friend who's been laid off.

Ok, enough about me. What new wisdom have you all picked up since we last chatted?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How to reverse the downfall of the American man

We all know the manly archetype: the cool, calm cowboy, hat pulled low, hand resting on his holster, with one eye on his horse and the other on his woman. It's one of the more romantic images of the tough, red-blooded American male ... and also one on the verge of extinction.

So says author Guy Garcia in his new book The Decline of Men: How the American Male Is Tuning Out, Giving Up and Flipping Off His Future. Procrastination Twitter led me to this Ad Age interview, where Garcia discusses his book's main themes. Among them: women's increasing competence (and numbers), lack of strong masculine examples in media and society, and the need for a new kind of man.

This last point in particular gave me pause. Here's what Garcia had to say about it in the interview (my emphasis):
The new kind of man will take many shapes and forms. That's what's new about him. We know that the old, rigid definitions of manliness are outdated and dysfunctional. Men can no longer hammer women -- or the world, or each other -- into submission without ramifications. That game is over. It's time for us to resurrect the masculine virtues that are much older than modern society: compassion, generosity, loyalty, modesty, humility, farsightedness, curiosity and patience.

[...] There's one more: courage, as in the courage to change; the courage to be different and not apologize for it; the courage to care about a stranger or cause that does not directly benefit you. And don't forget the courage to frankly admit and talk about the decline of men.
Um, call me idealistic, but isn't he describing traits that define any solid, productive, well-adjusted person? Last time I checked, compassion/generosity/etc. weren't masculine values -- they were human values.

As such, I think Garcia's points are a little overblown. What he terms as a disaster route to extinction, I see as growing pains. Yes, men's roles are changing in society. But they're not necessarily changing for the worse.

What's happened is that the masculine stereotypes (good and bad) Garcia cites in the interview have come back to bite the gender. Their long-cherished structures no longer allow for individuality or flexibility -- exactly the traits what women fought for in their equal rights struggles.

Indeed, look at what women achieved with the feminist movement, based on the belief that women could do anything they wanted beyond stereotypical gender roles. It wasn't that they HAD to do everything that men did, or do it better. Rather, they worked to have every option available to them, and then enjoyed the freedom to pursue what best fulfilled their personal humanity. Now, men have to work toward that same destiny.

This might lead some of you to think I'm advocating a masculinism movement. I'm not. Women were unequal for centuries; men have felt like they're in decline for at most the last 60 years. The reaction must be proportional to the action. So a revolution isn't needed. Acceptance is.

Acceptance that men are as free as they ever were. Acceptance that opportunity for growth sits squarely in their own hands. Acceptance that the media is a reflection of society, not a driver, so the onus is on men to become the role models they seek. And acceptance that it will all take time, energy, and initiative.

I have a progressive father, a Millennial brother, two male roommates, and scores of other compassionate, generous, kind, courageous men among my friends and relatives. They are examples of all that men -- indeed, people -- can be.

So when I look at them, I don't see the decline of the American male. I see the rise of a stronger, balanced, understanding society. And if the rest of American men follow their lead, we should prepare for a much more positive interpretation of the phrase "be a man."

Photo by crowt59

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Prayer #53: Aches and Gains

Photo by hugovk

Prayer #53: Aches and Gains

Pop the pills.
Ice the bruises.
Heat the muscles.
Drink the tea.
Stretch the limbs.
Open the heart.

Lord, we put our aches and pains that indicate a life actively lived at your feet. Thank you for keeping us safe in our adventures as we use our bodies to celebrate Your creative engineering genius.

We also put those aches and pains that happen beyond our muscles before you, Lord. Thank you for being balm to wounded spirits as we exercise our souls' free will and work to carry out Your mission of love.

And may all our hurts, no matter their degree or source, result in greater strength and closer connection to You.

In the name of the One who bears all suffering--

Saturday, February 14, 2009

An open letter to all the boys I haven't kissed yet

Dear boys of the world,

I have been on this earth for 25 years, and in that time, I have kissed barely a handful of you. This, to me, is an egregious oversight in need of immediate remedy.

Not because I'm a floozy, mind you, or a flirt or a thrill-seeker. I'm suggesting this in the name of research, so that we might identify a mutually beneficial pairing.

I realize the logistics could be difficult. There are 3 billion of you and one of me. Still, I think with time, patience, and an large inventory of Chapstick, we can make this a success.

Here's my plan: Each of you take a number. Go about your daily lives. Wait for me to call you when your number comes up. Travel here. Introduce yourself. Pucker up.

If this sounds daunting, you'll be relieved to learn that I'm a woman who knows what she wants. I know a good man when I see one. And I do see a lot of them -- I just don't kiss that many of them. This exercise should fix that disconnect, without wasting too much of your time and energy.

In fact, if you're a man who knows a good woman on sight, then we increase our chances of reaching a successful conclusion. What's more, it could succeed in record time if we have the same definition of good -- that is, kind, confident, intelligent, and eager to leave the world a little better than when you found it.

I don't think any of this is too much to ask. Because I believe people are fundamentally good. And that good kissers are fundamentally fun.

Are you amenable to my proposal? If so, please leave a comment with all pertinent information here. I will be in touch shortly (though please have patience, because there are 3 billion of you, after all).

Thank you in advance for your consideration and cooperation. I look forward to kissing you.


Photo by Jeremy Brooks

Friday, February 13, 2009

Word on the street: "Love is kind of by your trachea"

The scene: Emily's pre-K classroom at Goddard, where she is known as Ms. Em. Her task -- to interview them about love and write down the answers.

Ms. Em: What is love?

Kid: Wellll, love is when you marry someone. Like when you think they're pretty. Like Talia. She's pretty because she has curly hair like me. I'm pretty too. I think I have love.


Ms. Em: Where do you find love?

Kid 1: In your mouth.

Kid 2: In your heart. And your heart is in your chest. Kind of by your trachea.


Ms. Em: Who do you love and why?

Kid: Samantha. (another kid in class)

Ms. Em: Why?

Kid: Because Sammy plays with me outside.


Ms. Em: Who do you love?

Kid: My mom. Even though she is bossy a lot, I still love her.


Ms. Em: Is love a color?

Kid: Yes, love is red ... like Valentine's Day! Anddd ... green and blue and yellow. Oh yeah, and pink and purple. Oh yeah, and red. Wait, I already said red. And white. Yes, love is a little bit white.


Ms. Em: Is love a color?

Kid: Yup! It's red like the heart in your body.

Ms. Em: Where is your heart?

Kid: You know your heart is there because it kind of jumps around. The doctor can hear it with the steposcope.

Happy (early) Valentine's Day, everyone!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

My first time skiing -- or, How not to end up in traction

Ok, so there weren't any four-part harmonies or 'agony of defeat' moments when I skied for the first time this past weekend. But there was plenty of good, clean, terrifying fun.

Allow me to present you with choice photos and carefully researched facts about this strange culture of people who willingly strap planks to their feet and hurtle down mountainsides on them.

FACT: Wear one pair of light wool socks with your 50-lb. boots. Why? Because 1) you won't get angry red blisters, and 2) you won't add extra weight to your did-I-mention-they're-50-pounds ski boots. You'll also be more comfortable later when you manage to fall over while standing still.

FACT: They have to remind you to have fun and enjoy yourself, because otherwise you might burst into tears at the sight of the ski lift alone.

FACT: Some people look adorable in ski goggles.

FACT: Others look like mosquitoes.

FACT: Even if your instructor says you're ready for Green Circle hills after your 1.5 hr beginner lesson, indulge yourself anyway in an hour or two of practice on the bunny slope. This will help avoid irreparable heart and spinal trauma later.

FACT: Surround yourself with people who have at least a vague idea of what they're doing. Bonus points if they know how to summon a MedEvac.

FACT: You're golden if you bring someone who has skied since they were six (see woman on left). People like these are brave and patient and helpful and able to stay upright for longer than 35 seconds.

FACT: Use ski lift time to rest. Having the bar down for the foot rest helps. Or, if you're a seasoned skier, don't bother with the bars, light up a cig, whip out your cell phone, and multitask all the way to the top. (This was witnessed on our trip.)

FACT: When the instructor yells "WEDGE!", really ... wedge. Don't cross your skies. (I may have learned this the hard, painful, and crashing way. Multiple times.)

FACT: And if all else fails, throw your bra into a tree.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

[FOLLOW-UP] Evangelization: A Jewish perspective

A month ago I wrote about my ice skating-turned-proselytizing adventure. The post struck a chord with many of you, and I had some great conversations with folks on and offline about their views on evangelization.

Today, I'd like to share with you my friend Rachel's perspective, informed in large part by her Jewish upbringing. I found it helpful to hear a non-Christian take on the whole discussion, so I hope you find it useful too. Thank you, Ray!!

Now, in Rachel's words (paragraph breaks and links are mine):
Thanks for sharing a rather personal experience on the topic in the net. I want to point out that evangelicalism is a purely Christian word. I find it queasy that it is used in the same sentence with other religions like Judaism and Islam. I do however understand what you are asking. so I'll answer it in the best of my ability.

First of all, no, "evangelizing" Judaism in the way evangelicals do it (at least the way the couple did it to you) is NOT a component of Judaism. NOT AT ALL. Instead of preaching, it is doing (doing mitzvahs -- good deeds) and learning (study Torah, Talmud etc). And Jews do not actively recruit people, especially non-Jews. It's against the "good deeds" to do that in Judaism.

Now, it's always a fine line, right? I mean, you've seen Jews walking about with a lulav and estrog from the Chabad movement. Yet, the first question they asked, usually to a male, is if he is Jewish. It's just their way to reinforce Jews to remember, re-learn and to actively participate in the religion, but they are not Jehovah's witnesses, knocking on every door to say welcome to our church. And, it's only the Chabad that do it somewhat -- a large sect in the orthodox movement.

The one thing I love about Judaism is a sense of community, applicable structure and strong values. I find it hard to practice alone or without a family, which is why I'm not actively participating in a religious sense. But I'm active in it in other ways, culturally and value-wise. So, religion is a rather personal decision people make for themselves.

So, the need to help others in their quest is absurd. Even rabbis do not help them out -- they always recommend books. They won't say you must attend services every week for your salvation. They may give you guilt by saying, why wouldn't you there last week?

Evangelism is a scary business. So as long as people are actively doing it for themselves and to grow up with a strong consistent structure as I did, people may drop religion later on in life, but it doesn't mean that they forget. And if they are looking into it now for the first time, they just have to be careful not to go overboard. Even Jews who converted later on in life are crazier than those who grew up orthodox with strict structure.

Have questions for Rachel? Feel free to follow up here. Or, if you have a different angle, please share it!

Photo by Jrwooley6

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

DMV = designating myself as Virginian

Dane Cook The DMV - Watch more free videos

As the fitting conclusion of one of my more serious bouts of procrastination, my much-loved, intact, slightly sticky PA driver's license went the way of the dinosaurs today. In its place: a not as pretty but equally serviceable VA license that proves my identity and shows service people I'm really not trying to pull a fast one on them.

I spent my time at the DMV wallowing in nostalgia. Oh, the places that PA license took me! Back and forth to college, up and down the East Coast, over to DC. I could display it at bars and act like I was visiting. The license design was so legible, clean, bright. And I had such a good hair day in my picture.

Now, my VA license is new and unfamiliar. The background holograms are blah. I messed up my signature. My face looks bright red (thank goodness I'm smiling), and I'm tilted in my chair. Worse, I have to memorize a whole new number, though let's be serious, I didn't bother memorizing the old one, so never mind.

But that's all of little consequence (at least until 2016 when I renew it). The important thing is, I have committed to my new state. One year after moving here, I am declaring that yes I drive here, yes I do business here, yes I live here, and yes MY home -- not my parents' -- truly is my home base.

Now, if only I would get around to changing my cell phone number ...

Monday, February 09, 2009

Prayer #52: Baby Steps

My friend Susannah over at Color of Happiness was the bearer of sad news today. Her friends just lost one of their newborn twins, and the other baby is still fighting for his life.

Though I've never met this couple, I was overwhelmed by the enormity of their situation, characterized by a complete lack of control. What must it be like for new parents to experience elation when their children arrive, fear when they sicken, and grief when one dies -- all within a month?

The baby will never know his twin. He won't walk or talk or go to school. All the potential of a life fully lived is gone, because of rare genetics and our universe's strange mechanics.

One could say this little boy's life, though short, taught his parents the full depth and strength of their devotion to God, to each other, and to their children. From where I stand, it's a faint silver lining in a dark cloud.

Perhaps they'll recognize it one day. Perhaps they see it already. In either case, all they can do now is love, hold, pray. And this seems the hardest, heaviest part of all.

Susannah said something that struck me: "If I were in my friends' situation, I'd be asking God for whatever this is to just end so I at least know where I stand."

Indeed, what is still in store for these young parents? Where will they stand when this nightmare closes, hopefully with their other son recovered and healthy? Will it still be with God?

Prayer #52: Baby Steps

Whatever You want me to know, I will learn it.

Whatever You want me to endure, I will feel it.

Whatever You want me to recognize, I will see it.

Whatever You want me to experience, I will live it.

But promise me, Lord, that You'll give me the grace to take it one small piece at a time, so that the darkness of the universe does not swallow me, and the brilliance of Your love does not blind me.

And I promise that, in time, I will meet You.


Saturday, February 07, 2009

New meaning for the phrase "skee ball"

As in, I'm going skiing for the first time this weekend, and it promises to be a ball.

Because of the traveling and the swooshing and the lack of Internet, however, you might not see a post from me until Monday.

There's also a distinct possibility I'll end up in traction. In which case you'll see LOTS of blog posts from me, because I won't be able to do anything else.

Unless my arms are broken. That would suck. Let's hope it's just my legs or something.

To put it another way ... my weekend could look like this:

Or it could look like this:

Guess which one I'm hoping for.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Come hail "What So Proudly We Bailed"!

Hey everybody! Did you know today is Shameless Self-Promotion Friday? No? Well, it is! And I'm marking the occasion at Italian Mother Syndrome by sharing the deets about the upcoming play I'm in.

And if you're on the fence about coming, just remember ... I can-can in this show. And pop and lock.

Nuff said. With the exception of all the important info I'm about to give you:

Laugh your economy blues away at Washington's ONLY original political satirical musical comedy revue-- Hexagon Theater's What So Proudly We Bailed! We sing. We dance. We act. And all proceeds go to area charity Rebuilding Together DC.

"What So Proudly We Bailed" will be at The Burke Theatre inside the Naval Heritage Center at The Navy Memorial, located at 701 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC, directly across from the National Archives. It's easily accessible by car and Metro.

Preview night is Thursday, March 5 (tickets are half price). Opening night is Friday, March 6. The show runs Wednesdays through Sundays until Saturday, April 4 (Closing Night). ORDER NOW -- we've already sold over half of them!

To order tickets or for more info, please visit

Can't wait to see you in the audience! (Nor can my can-can boots.) Thanks in advance for your support!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Interviews: The professional confessional

You enter a small room. You feel nervous, self-conscious. You sit face-to-face with the person in charge. You share personal information about yourself and your deeds. And in the end, you hope to receive acceptance and absolution.

No, I am not talking about Confession. I'm referring to Interview, a necessary and nervewracking stage in any job search process.

Believe me, I'm not complaining about interviews. They validate all the hard work you've done at your previous jobs and in your search efforts. They prove your cover letters, resumes, and contacts are effective. And they mean that if you smile enough, speak clearly, and don't wet your pants, you might end up on payroll.

I was in one of these coveted meet-ups yesterday when I experienced an out-of-body experience -- the sense that I was indeed confessing. For those of you unfamiliar with the Catholic Sacrament of Reconciliation, here's a brief lay person's primer:

1. You sit in a booth or a room opposite a priest. Screen optional.

2. You fudge tell him how long it's been since your last visit.

3. You detail all your sins while wiping your sweaty palms on your jeans and trying not to think about that one time, at that bar ...

4. You listen to comforting words of counsel and understanding.

5. You say the Act of Contrition or completely make it up if you're me and have a huge mental block with this particular prayer, receive absolution, say Amen, and leave to go back to that bar.

And no, people do not enjoy artistic cinematography with light through the screen or hide in there for sanctuary or pose as priests to gain access to secrets. That's just in the movies.

It's still intimidating, though. Even the Church's semantic crusade to emphasize the kinder, gentler phrase "reconciliation" -- rather than the harsher, more accusing "confession" -- doesn't diminish the fact that it's tough to be on display.

Interviews are the same way. Despite the understanding that you're scoping out the organization too -- a mutual grilling, if you will -- the fact remains you are under a microscope.

No wonder people get nervous. You become acutely aware of your image and responses. You feel your faults pricking right beneath your skin, begging for a misstep or tongue slip, a chance to reveal themselves. You learn anew how intense it is to answer probing questions about your decisions and actions for two hours.

At least in Confession, you know God's going to accept you at the end, because, well, that's His job. But the same guarantee doesn't exist in an interview. You can only prepare and pray and try your hardest, and hope in the end that it's enough to get you into employment heaven.

I think we need a professional variation on the Guide for Examination of Conscience (the questions that help people ready their hearts for Reconciliation) to help alleviate some of the stress. It could go like this:

* Am I committed to the quality and integrity of my work?

* Did I represent myself honestly and accurately in my resume, cover letter, and interviews?

* Can I admit my shortcomings, and take steps to address them?

* Can I recognize my strengths, and make full use of them?

* Do I believe in my own dignity and worth, and understand that others' hiring decisions do not necessarily confirm or negate my value?

* Do I know what I'm talking about?

* Is my fly zipped?

... and so on.

If we are prepared to be transparent and authentic in interviews, then chances for acceptance skyrocket. And if all else fails, and your interview is a disaster, then pull this out:

Bless me, employer, for I have applied ... it's been three weeks since my last interview ...

Photo by xmascarol

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Happy anniversary to DC me!

One year ago today -- Feb. 3, 2008 -- I was standing in a hallway of a Courthouse apartment building, choking back tears as my parents hugged me goodbye and headed back to Philly. Without boxes. Or plans to return. Or me.

In that moment, my "firsts" list seemed endless: first time on my own as an adult, first time Philly wasn't my homebase, first time I didn't have my car, first job in the nonprofit sector, first job working downtown, first big move since college ...

I was overwhelmed by excitement. And loss. And a profound sense of growing stronger, growing smarter, growing up.

Now it's a year later -- Feb. 3, 2009. I'm sitting at my desk in a Ballston townhome, contemplating how I never in a million years would have predicted my life would look like it does right now (for better AND worse).

Indeed, the "firsts" have been endless: first Cherry Blossom festival, first (and repeated) Kennedy Center visits, first successful attempt at blogging, first substantial salary bump, first website redesign, first city youth group, first time laid off, first "in DC" job search, first DC-area theater production ...

I'm overwhelmed by excitement. And loss. And a profound sense of growing stronger, growing smarter, growing up.


Something's telling me this is exactly where I'm meant to be. Exactly where I will always be. Not DC, per se, but on an evolving path. And in a time of great uncertainty and no-small-amount of personal doubt and worry, I consider this understanding to be a bonafide blessing.

Not to mention it keeps me from drinking in the morning. Well, most mornings. Ok, maybe only on the Lord's day. But still.

Usually in posts like these, you'd wrap up the narrative thread with a look ahead, a question: "Why, wherever will I be on Feb. 3, 2010?" And then some hopeful, overly ambitious predictions would follow, such as "I will singlehandedly cure cancer" or "I will engineer the resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict" or "I will look like Jessica Alba -- without the aid of plastic surgery."

Me, I'll be happy if I can hang the rest of my pictures in my bedroom by 2010. Because, yes, it's been a year and I still haven't finished that. (Obviously, some bigger, more important things have come up.) And if my friends still invite me over, and my family still wants me home for the holidays, and you all still read my blog, then I think those will be signs of success, too.

Happy Anniversary, DC Julia! Many happy returns.

P.S. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the other big milestone happening today -- my parents' 30th anniversary! The couple that was first introduced because "they're both Italian" is going strong three decades, two kids, and one journey later. Have fun, you crazy kids!

Monday, February 02, 2009

Prayer #51: Antic-cipation

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you ...

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same ...

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run ...

Then -- I predict -- you'll need a Valium!

{select verses from "If" by Rudyard Kipling, with some modification by Italian Mother Syndrome}

Prayer #51: Antic-cipation

Change is the only constant. So you think I'd be used to it by now.

But just because I'm used to things changing doesn't mean I'm yet accustomed to the changed things. That takes time. And patience. And faith. And fortitude. And did I mention patience?

So ...

For the changes others force upon me,
And for the ones I design with accountability ...

For the changes wrought by others' indecision or confusion,
And for the ones wrought by MY indecision and confusion ...

For the changes spurred by my lethargy,
And for the ones my responses set in motion ...

For the changes I fidget off onto others' shoulders,
And for the ones I accept, some with reluctance, others with courage ...

For all these changes that insist on changing, just as I start to grasp them ...

I ask for grace on this roller coaster ride, and pray I find You in the liminal spaces.

In the name of the One who laughs when I plan --