September 18, 2008

Live from Chicago!

Five more days stand between me and my first class as a bona fide journalism grad student, but these days my mind is stuck on trivial, mundane tasks like finding bedding that's softer than a hardwood floor.

I already did the hard part and found an apartment within two days of touching down in Chicago and I even baked a tasty loaf of banana bread for my friend as a thank you for letting me crash on his futon while I hunt for said bedding.

But actually furnishing my room is turning out to be my most difficult task, which is really saying something considering how I burned and possibly gassed myself while making the banana bread.

My old college roommate saved my butt big time when he let me stay at his place. His apartment is north of downtown Chicago and south of the Northwestern campus so I've had the opportunity to reacquaint myself with the joys of public transportation during my frequent bargain-hunting and sightseeing trips.

My best bargain so far is my new room, which is about three blocks from campus. It's big enough to fit one and a half Hummers and it's got four windows and a closet and all for the low, low price of 500 bucks a month, including utilities. My fellow apartment-mates are a Chinese marketing grad student and some dude whose name may or may not be "Car" – the Chinese marketing grad student is a little difficult to understand over the phone sometimes.

The city itself rushes around like New York but the short walking distances and waterfront parks give Chicago the small-city charm of San Francisco. Attractions like Millenium Park are extremely well cared for and the dining is excellent. I highly recommend a Kobe burger if you ever temporarily lose your mind and want to toss twenty dollars on a cheeseburger.

My to-do list over the next five days includes buying textbooks, hauling my stuff uptown to my new place, getting internet access installed (already ordered it), and last but not least, finding a damn bed.

September 2, 2008

The Perfect Storm: When Polarizing Politics meets the Blogosphere

As of Tuesday morning it looks like New Orleans avoided the worst of Hurricane Gustav although the city did not escape unscathed, with several deaths attributed to traffic accidents and falling trees. Meanwhile, a different kind of storm has been gusting its way across the political landscape.

Perhaps you've heard of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin?

It's pretty hard to avoid news of Sen. McCain's new running mate. Flip through ABC, NBC, FOX, or CNN and you'll get nearly equal coverage of Hurricane Gustav and the latest on Sarah Palin and her family.

Click on any news website and the focus on Sarah Palin is even more intense.

Now I'm as guilty as the next guy of hunting down info on Mrs. Palin's involvement in "troopergate," her support for the Alaska Independent Party, and her switching stances on the "bridge to nowhere," but the judgmental frenzy about Mrs. Palin's pregnant teenaged daughter highlights everything that is wrong about twenty-four hour news coverage dominated by highly partisan politics. 

I think, deep down, most people wish health and happiness for young Bristol Palin. But both sides can't help holding her up as a symbol to further their own causes. For conservatives, Bristol's decision to carry her child to term validates her mother's pro-life beliefs. For liberals, that same decision represents a right that the girls' mother wishes to rob from everyone else.

The situation is really much more complex than that because Bristol Palin's actions are also being interpreted through the lens of family values, sexual education policies, religious beliefs, and countless others.

Bristol Palin doesn't deserve this scrutiny, but she stands right in the center of a fierce political debate that has been stirred to extraordinary fervor thanks to the blogosphere. Presidential races can turn best friends into snapping dogs, and blogs and other online news outlets now spread more information (both rumor and fact) and amplify opinionated voices in a way that wasn't possible even four years ago.

In a fairer world, Senators McCain and Obama would clearly state their views on abortion, foreign policy, education, the economy, and every other major issue and the media would demand explanations when their words or actions were inconsistent with their promises. Unfortunately, we've been settling for the play-by-play which, while exciting, merely tells us what to think or gives new excuses for everyone to bang their heads against each other like crotchety goats.

As disturbing as this situation is, at the very least it's helping me understand what happens when a pervasive media (and I'm including blogs in that term because the distinction between amateur blogs and mainstream media outlets is getting harder and harder to see) loses sight of the facts for the compelling but false and/or inappropriate narrative. 

August 4, 2008

Getting Back to Nature

Last weekend I hiked with my dad up a muddy, windy trail to a peak on the Ko'o'lau Range, one of the highest points on Oahu. A downpour drenched us within minutes of entering the trail and we chuckled to ourselves when hikers around us slipped into swan dives and back slides on the slick path. Then I got to enjoy a laugh all to myself when my dad tripped onto his belly and did his best mud angel impression. At the summit we could see miles of beaches and bright turquoise waters and the dark purple ocean beyond the reefs. We were up high enough that the clouds raced by above our heads like giant tumbleweeds made of grey, bushy pubic hair.

My family used to be quite familiar with nature. I've seen photographs of me and my brother enjoying the Yosemite camping grounds from inside our strollers while my mother hulked over our little bodies like a 4'11" mama bear. I remember going on regular hikes with my brother, my dad, and our uncles and cousins. My brother frequently displayed a divining rod-like ability to locate any body of water on a trail, be it a puddle or a lake, and then fall into it. I can also recall at least two occasions I thought I poisoned myself when I tried to sample a plant and instead tasted a flavor that belongs on a spice rack under the label "Nature's Ass."

I have a lot of fond memories of the Great Outdoors, but, like a friend who drifted apart after high school, we haven't seen too much of each other lately. It's been years, actually. When my family left California, we felt like we'd left all the best hiking trails behind. Then we hooked up our internet connection and later came our plasma screen television, and by then nature had become one more channel amongst hundreds of others featuring better car chases and more gratuitous head explosions.

My dad rediscovered his love for photography a few years ago and -- who'd of thought? -- Hawaii has been a great place to find breathtaking vistas. He began taking trips to outer islands like Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island. Then I started joining him to see what he'd been seeing.

A couple months ago I hiked with the family up into a bamboo forest on Maui. The trail is dry and dusty for a couple of miles before a bridge delivers you smack dab into a peaceful green forest that belongs in one of those inspiration posters. A path takes people deep inside the bamboo until the sun is almost blocked out overhead, even at noon on a clear, bright day. The wind is constant up there and everything sways back and forth with a soft "whooshing" sound. It's very peaceful and hearing and feeling that place is worth a couple of days without my computer.

June 25, 2008

My Modeling Days are Over

Several weeks ago I banged the ring finger on my right hand playing basketball and it swelled until it felt like a cold baby carrot jammed into my finger socket. I didn't let that stop me from grabbing, touching, and rubbing things willy-nilly but when I examined my still-throbbing finger yesterday, I noticed that it was still red and swollen and now also crooked enough to perform the "Smooth Criminal" dance in Michael Jackson's Moonwalker video.

When I was in college, a friend claimed that his mom hand modeled part-time and that he was an over-sized cuticle away from being a hand model himself. I put my mitts in his and asked for his honest evaluation. (Keep in mind this was before America's Got Talent when fewer opportunities existed to simultaneously display and humiliate oneself). My friend gave me the once over, nodding. He pronounced my paws well-proportioned and suitably delicate with the caveat that they were likely too small to get work in the industry.

I didn't pursue any hand-modeling work, but I always kept the possibility in the back of my mind in case things didn't work out relying on my brain for a living. But that opportunity may have galloped into the sunset now that I'm damaged goods.

I chalk this experience up to one more sign that age and decrepit-ness are catching up to me. I recently turned twenty-five -- thank you, thank you -- and signs of my advancing years are becoming harder to ignore. The lone white hair on my body, curiously placed on the second toe of my right foot, is growing at an alarming rate. My thighs and buttocks become inflamed after a few hours throwing bowling balls on the Wii (not to mention the Wii Fitness regiment says my athletic age is forty-four).

Perhaps the most dramatic sign that I'm getting older is my recent attempt to watch what I eat. My months in New York helped me slim down thanks to my soup-and-crackers diet, and I've tried to limit my meal portions to keep those few extra pounds off. The process reeks of the long-term thinking which I've long avoided, but my speedos have never hugged me so gently in all the right places. (kidding)

I may have subjected my finger to irreversible damage by avoiding a doctor for the last few weeks and the constant rubbing and grabbing probably hasn't helped either. I suppose it's time to admit that I'm getting older and my hand-modeling days are behind me, if they ever existed in the first place. Heaven help me, I may have to rely on my brain after all.

June 13, 2008

The Write Stuff

It's said that you don't fully understand something until you can teach it to another person. If that's true, then I'm about to learn if all my years of reading guides and pounding keyboards have imbued me with a deeper understanding of the writing craft when I begin tutoring my cousin in preparation for his SATs and college application essays.

I've read plenty of books on writing and the two most commonly stated prerequisites for strong prose are 1) reading everything you can get your hands on and 2) writing frequently and in large quantities. Apparently there are no shortcuts.

My cousin is a smart enough guy but he doesn't like to read and he certainly doesn't like to write. He's planning to become an engineer; a profession, which, until recently, he didn't think required any writing skills. Fortunately, my cousin realized that everybody benefits from an improved ability to communicate, especially when that ability grants access to an institution of higher learning.

My plan is to attack my cousin's reluctance with a two-pronged campaign by forcing him to read and write every day. The initial goal is to make writing approachable, so I'll be assigning him free-writing exercises. Later on, we'll work on improving the clarity, brevity, and energy of his pieces but he must become comfortable putting pencil to paper (or finger to keyboard) first.

The second prong of my tutoring offensive will focus on reading critically. I'll be assigning On Writing Well by William Zinsser and I'll also require my cousin to read his choice of material with the idea that he examine the author's organization and stylistic choices.

I'm looking forward to working with my cousin and in the process I expect to learn a thing or two myself.

May 14, 2008

Photography One-Doh-One

Jeff Jarvis once told a crowd of prospective CUNY Journalism students (including me) that the best preparation for graduate studies in journalism is to read actively, write frequently, and develop the technological skills that all reporters are expected to know. Since I'm currently unencumbered with employment, I decided to follow his advice and learn how to take pictures.

My dad is an avid photographer so it wasn't long before I was armed and outfitted with thousands of dollars worth of equipment that I was hopeless unqualified to use. Still, I shambled my way through some beaches and awkwardly pushed some buttons and it soon dawned on me that golfing and photograph-ing have a lot in common.

I didn't take this picture, but I do tie it together (that's me in the center)

Both activities make me very uncomfortable; in golf, trailing teams like to enjoy the spectacle of me hacking at my ball like a butcher cutting up a slab of meat. When I pretend to be a photographer, I can feel passer-bys's eyes measuring my dad's huge camera clutched in my hands, then judging my pained expression, and finally concluding that I am waiting in the bushes because I'm trying to snap a primo shot of twelve-year-old flanking.

The biggest similarity, however, lies in the aching promise of semi-adequacy. Whacking your way through a golf course and snapping a photo that doesn't incorporate your thumb requires suffering through a hundred bad shots before a hint of mediocrity will excite you beyond rational thought and convince you that your next photo of a perfectly composed sparkling landscape, or primo twelve-year-old flanking, is one more button click away.

The one photo without my thumb

Fortunately, my dad has enough toys to make even the most amateur photographer (me) look like I know what I'm doing, so roughly one photo turned out okay. Here it is. And before you ask, Hawaii does not normally look like Mars except when viewed through an infrared lens.

May 13, 2008

Job Hunting in Hawaii

Now that I'm back in Hawaii and free of the drudgery that is paying rent and wearing pants around the house, I can instead focus on preparing myself for a journalism career by reading a lot, writing a lot, and (failing at) job hunting a lot.

I nabbed my New York job and apartment through Craigslist, but so far locating a decent paying job that's tangentially related to writing has been more painful than that time in elementary school when some guy parked his 20 lbs. backpack atop my gonads. At least I've unearthed a few chuckles from the steamy crapshoot of Craigslist job listings.

Here are some of my favorites:
  • Get in Now or Slap Yourself Later! $1000 Daily - As far as I know, slapping myself shouldn't cost me a thousand bucks.

  • Don't not try this unless you need money! - I need money... so I shouldn't try this?

  • My 8 year old daughter makes more money than you! - The sad thing about this ad is that it's probably true.

  • Lazy guy makes $1500 a day. He'll show you how - I found this listing tempting, but I couldn't muster the energy to investigate further. I'm holding out for $2000 daily.

  • It's literally raining money at my house! Want some? - This actually sounds legitimate. Literally.
So which listing do you think I should look into?