Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Into The Tea Leaves

I taste cinnamon.

          Oh yes, there’s cinnamon.


          Hmmm.  I don’t think so.

It tastes like black pepper.

           You may be getting close.

Syed stared at a powder blue cup through the lens of his reading glasses.  Each time his mind settled into steady concentration she’d ask another question.

Did you know that coriander is the seed of cilantro?
            Yes, I knew that.  I’m surprised you know so much about spices.

Well, I like to cook.

            I don’t know if I’d be able to pick them out after all this time.

Syed didn’t move his gaze when he answered the questions.  He was tired.  Eight months of living in California and his bones had not adjusted. His muscle memory knew the humidity of India.  His skin was cracking in the dry heat of LA.

            You know California is not America, Jennifer.

What’s America?
            Michigan.  The Midwest.  This is not AmericaChicago.  That’s the greatest city in the USLos Angeles is something different.  I don’t think I will ever get used to it.

Syed lived in India until he was 17.  A month before he moved to the US an older cousin coerced him into borrowing the family Jeep.  He had told white lies to his parents to escape for the afternoon.  Syed and his cousin went joy riding on a muggy road, dirt and gravel jumping like frogs in the path behind them.  Muffled American songs playing on their rusty radio.   Behind his silver sunglasses, Syed watched the moving land in the rear view mirror. 

            I think maybe when you grow up with this food you begin to lose perspective on it.  To me, it tastes like chai.

It tastes complex to me.  Each sip and I catch something different. India is so lucky to have their spices. 

Syed tasted his drink.  The sweet silk liquid trickled over his tongue.  With more years of road in his rear view mirror, it had been a long time since he’d had to think about Indian food.  He wondered how one can see a familiar world with babe eyes.
            Jennifer, did you know the British promoted chai in India?  To compete with Chinese tea.

I didn’t know that.  How much of Indian food is influenced by the Brits? 
            It’s hard to tell.  It’s hard to know what is Indian anymore.

Syed tightened his face and tried to look inward.

          You know I made my parents very angry right before I left India.

            I was with my cousin.  He was the cool one.  He asked me to drive him somewhere.  So I took my dad’s car.    

That doesn’t sound like you.

            My cousin was always taking chances.  Once we got about 10 miles down the road he asked if he could drive.  I think that made me sick to my stomach.  But he was older so I could not say no.

How did your parents find out?

            He was driving like crazy.  He was so dangerous.  I asked him to slow down but he crashed the car.  I was surprised that I didn’t die.

Why did you think he was so cool?

            I don’t remember.  Your mind changes things when you look back.  Now that I think about it I may have been wrong.

Wrong about what?

            I think he was jealous that I was moving to the US.  I think he was angry that he would be left behind.

            Syed opened his eyes and smiled.

            Cardamom.  That’s what you taste, Jennifer.   Cardamom.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A thing or two about fine arts camp

I learned some special things about life when I was 11.  That year I met a boy at fine arts camp.   I think he played trombone.  He had a nice smile and a head full of bushy hair.  Which made him an objectively attractive 12 year old. And somehow he had big enough balls to ask me out.

Getting asked out when you are 11 is a big deal. 
1) Because everyone envies the girls that get asked out and 
2) because none of the kids going on dates have any idea what’s going on 

At 11, I quickly learned that dating meant you had to constantly remind the world that you were taken.  When girls get boyfriends at summer camp they are required to turn their name badge upside down.  And when you are one of the badge upside down girls – everyone expects that you are a girl who makes out.

The easiest way to traumatize a little girl is to ask her if she has French kissed.  And if you’re never met catty 13 year olds – know that they revel in making you feel like shit. So they pestered me every day about which base I had gotten to with the Boy with the Trombone. At that time the thought of making out had me breathing heavily into brown paper bags and flinching at the sight of brass instruments. 

I spent most of the summer paralyzed with fear that my new boyfriend might try to kiss me.  But I was equally worried that I would be an old lady before I ever made out.  So a part of me wanted the bushy haired 12 year old to seduce me. 

Growing up involves a lot of small terrifying decisions where you wonder if you’re really ready.  And you’re also concerned that saying “no” means that you’re far behind.   As an adult you watch your friends get married and buy condos.   And you’re worried that if you don’t jump in, life will pass you by.

There's a couple things that I took from my summer at fine arts camp.  Life doesn’t punish you if you don’t make out at 11 or don’t get married by 35. And it’s important to recognize when you’re not
"there" yet. And a fear of a "big deal" type kiss corrects itself over time.

Playgrounds, work crushes and accountability

My friends get cringing reflexes whenever I tell them that a guy I work with his hot.  And more specifically when he is both hot and married.  Despite the fact that my life has significantly improved since leaving my old job – they’re worried about recidivism.  I understand that alcoholics stay away from bars to make it easier to resist temptation.   But it is very difficult to avoid hot married men when you have to go to work. And the problem is two fold.  On the one hand I have an affinity for older, powerful men On the other hand, they have an affinity for young, ball busting women And given my line of work, the powder keg and the match have frequent interactions.   Thus the “here we go again” look in my friends eyes whenever I mention an interaction.

Last year I was driving a good friend to the airport and I told him “it was starting again” with guy at my new job and that I could see where things were headed.  My friend told me I had to own up to my own decisions. And I told him he didn’t understand – that this just KEPT HAPPENING to me.  And he was concerned that I’d have to quit my job again.  I spent the whole car ride trying to get him to understand how hard this was for me.  How the men who were my intellectual equals I tended to meet at work.  And the men that I spent the most of my time with tended to fall head over heels for me.  These attractions felt like an engine on a runaway train where no one could find the breaks. And he shook his head in frustration and got on a plane. I'm not the easiest person to try to help.  

He came back to me a few weeks later and told me to be careful when I was alone with the new coworker.  I told him I’d be fine because he was "just a friend."  And then he said – well if he’s truly your friend you won’t make it hard for him to stay faithful.  And I argued that faithful husbands aren’t tempted. And he said “trust me; just make sure you’re acting like a friend.”

I used to tell a story about my kindergarten years to male executives.  When I was 5, I paid a boy to kick me.  And then I ratted him out to the teacher for kicking me and got him in trouble.  When a boy kicks a girl after she’s asked him – who is to blame?  Deep down inside shouldn’t he know that kicking little girls is wrong?  On the other hand – asking a boy to kick you isn’t being a very good friend.

I’m starting to learn that very few things in life “just happen.”  It’s easier to veer off onto the wrong roads when they’re well paved.  And as a counter measure – whenever I find myself being too attracted to said coworker I pick on him.  Because truly I’ve evolved very little after 1st grade

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What to do when you’re ready to leave (your job)

Don’t let anyone convince you that your reasons for leaving are stupid.  Whenever you’re thinking about jumping ship at your current company remember that everyone around you has made the decision to stay.  If you tell people at work why you’re fed up this will piss off most and irritate some.  This is like trying to tell a room full of Catholics that you’ve stopped believing in Jesus.  Don’t expect a lot of sympathy from them.  They will try to guilt you into staying.

Take some time off.  I prided myself on working weekends until the day I left my job.  This was stupid.  I wanted to prove to everyone that I was still loyal to the cause until the bitter end.  And in the end I handed over my badge and got my last week’s pay check just like everyone else who had ever left.  My company got the better part of that deal.  They squeezed more work out of me and the last piece of my soul.  I lost valuable time that I should have spent with family and friends.  And in the trade off between the people you care about, your soul, and a Fortune 100 corporation you should think long and hard about which choice you make.

Don’t take the first thing that you’re offered.  When you’re in a shitty work situation you’re like a starving man at a buffet.  You’re going to run for whatever will fill the hunger void, no matter how delicious it is.  Naturally you’re not going to want to wait in line for the prime rib because you’re freaking starving.   But once you’ve got a mouthful of soggy grilled cheese regret will settle in.  Recognize that literally anything is going to sound better to you when your work sucks.  I had moments before I quit my company where I would dream of packing up my car, driving back to Chicago and working at Starbucks.  It seemed like a fantasy but it wasn’t a bad idea.  Instead of giving myself some time to figure out what the hell I wanted, I dove head first into a nicely titled job.  Never mind that it wasn’t the industry I wanted to get into and it wasn’t the type of environment I typically thrive in. It was an escape from my current shitty situation.  Now I realize that if I packed up my civic and headed home the world wouldn’t have ended.  Time would have marched on.  People would have helped me get my life back together.  And my mind would have benefited from a month unplugged from a blackberry, a boss and a deadline.

Tell your mentors how much they meant to you because you’ll probably never see them again.  The one smart thing I did on my exit was set up a face to face with anyone who had ever given me sound advice.  And for those that weren’t in the area – I sent them a card or an e-mail.  I wanted to make sure that they knew just how much they had helped me in my career and how much they had shaped me as a professional.  Some person from or Yahoo! Hot Jobs will tell you to do this because it’s smart networking.  I’m telling you to do this because it shouldn’t be optional.  People get rewarded in their careers for all kinds of crazy crap.  Rarely do people get recognized for the work they did on building the next generation.  Take the time to let people know the value of their wisdom and while you’re at it send emails to old teachers that you loved as well. 

Figure out what you did wrong.  Because nothing is ever one sides’ fault.  Allowing myself to get to a point where I was well beyond miserable meant that I was a participant in my own demise.  For a long time I had refused any help from anyone.  And in the end my friends and mentors rushed to get me what I wanted to stay at the company but it was too late.  Had I let them help me much earlier in the game, things may have improved.  When you’re miserable, recognize that you were involved in some choices along the way. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

My very own Buddha belly

I have spent a significant amount of time hiding from my own body.  I don’t shriek in horror after every mirror I pass.  I do, however, think about how to distract you from my burgeoning midsection when I’m out in public.  I have (for better or for worse) an hourglass shape.  This comes with some genetic gifts (hooray boobs!).  But with my child bearing physique came the hard cold truth that the universe has blessed me with a tummy. 

I have had a flat stomach thrice in my life.  Once when I was Illinois’ (and the world’s) worst female water polo player.  The second time was when I had lost the will to eat (the key to the perfect body is having the love of your life fly off to Argentina for the summer).  And the third time was when I had a maniacal obsession with everything that I ate.  And as my water polo career ended, boyfriends moved on and my relationship with food improved I learned a thing or two about the trade offs that come with life.

I believe that learning to love yourself the way you are is a life long goal.  And not an easy one considering the constant pressure on both genders to look a certain way to achieve happiness.  And as a one woman experiment – I can tell you that I have not been happiest at my skinniest.  Back then I was a miserable person to be around.  I was the girl at the fancy restaurant in Vegas pushing mixed greens and balsamic vinegar around my plate as my friends happily chowed down on beef and guzzled beer.  It was a skinny life but it wasn’t life at all.

I’m generally happy somewhere in the middle of the depravation/gluttony spectrum.  The middle is where I have the general health to move around in the ways that I want (i.e. downward dogs, high kicks on the dance floor, long walks around Santa Monica) and the emotional freedom to enjoy the food and beverages that I like. 

This past weekend I found myself living “in the middle” at a yoga work shop.  The teacher had the class start off by rubbing their stomachs in a circular motion.  For what felt like 20 minutes. Halfway through the process I realized that I almost never touch this part of my body.  Not only that but I try not to even look at it. So I decided that this was not the time to launch into a self induced “you are fat and ugly attack.”  It was probably the time that I had to grow up and put things in perspective.

So I decided to rub my damn buddha belly and meditate on a few things ....

Flat stomachs don’t define you.

Body parts don’t disappear if you avoid them. 

And the body you have is the body you take to the grave so now is as good a time as any to be grateful for it.